Kelly Vandever - Communications for Everyone

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

#NSAUN Twitter Stream – From the Webinar – Tweet Me Right: The Speaker’s Guide to Killer Audience Interaction Using Twitter

In Twitter & Presenting on March 31, 2011 at 5:08 pm

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Tweet Me Right

I’ve captured the tweets from today’s NSA Webinar:  Tweet Me Right:  The Speaker’s Guide to Killer Audience Interaction Using Twitter.


Click the link below to see the tweets.  And note, just like in the Twitter stream, the most recent posts at the top.

Twitter Stream NSA Tweet Me Right Webinar


If you have any further questions or want to add to the conversation, please add them into the comments!



Pecha Kucha – Turn On’s & Turn Off’s

In Presentation Tips on March 30, 2011 at 10:41 pm

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Pecha Kucha #SMCAtl

I just got home from my first ever pecha kucha event, sponsored by the Social Media Club #SMCAtl.  For those not familiar with Pecha Kucha, it’s a unique form of presentation… the presenter has 20 slides that automatically advance every 20 seconds… if my math is correct that’s like 6.666667 minutes per presentation.  Interesting concept, eh?

Six minutes or sixty minutes, I think certain things are universally a turn off and a turn on when it comes to presentations.  See if you agree.

Turn Off – Flagrant Self Promotion Before They Providing Value

There was one presenter who started immediately talking about his company and why they did … blah, blah, blah…. that’s what I heard – blah, blah, blah.  And my thought was… so what?  Why do I care about you and your (stupid) company?  Sales pitch!  Icky! I get the often speaker present to gain exposure for their business.  But starting talking about yourself and not about me or something interesting… well… I zoned him out for the rest of his 6.6667 minutes.

Turn On – Value, Value, Value

Most of the speakers packed their presentations with their most important, most valuable advice.  Hugely helpful!  Very much appreciated.

Turn Off – Slides with Lots and Lots and Lots of Words

You thought you had a hard time reading a slide with too many words?  Try reading it when the slides only up for 20 seconds!  Not as icky as the sales pitch.  But unnecessary.

Turn On – Visually Beautiful and/or Fun Slides

Most of the presenters used a combination of visually stunning or sweetly funny slides.  The photographs filled the screen and enhanced the verbal message delivered by the speaker.  Yummy stuff!

Turn On – Great Content

Speakers who were expert on their subjects fluidly provided their content.  They provided their insights and the presentation just flew by.

Turn On – Fun Factor by Proxy

A couple of the presenters talked about the South by Southwest Conference – SXSW for short.  Knowing that you’re speaking to a social media energized audience about the mecca of social media conferences, their personal experiences were both fun and entertaining.  Sometimes it’s fun to live vicariously through others.

Thanks to the Social Media Club for sponsoring the event.  It was great connecting to other social media geeks and learning from the speakers!  Well done!

Now It’s Your Turn

If you were there, what did you think?  What would you guess were the biggest challenges for presenters with 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide?  What do you think are some of the challenges for audiences?  What are some of the benefits for audiences?  Add your comments!


Improving Your Presentation Skills – What to Do about Your Presentation Weaknesses – Part 3

In Presentation Tips on March 29, 2011 at 10:41 am

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What Should You Do Instead?

“And, And, And!  You’re saying it wrong.  It’s and not And!  Stop saying And!”

The director at a local community theater was trying to coach an 11-year boy to say the word “and” with an English accent.  But what I noticed was she said the Americanized “And” more times than she said what she wanted, the British sounding “and.” To me it seemed that the time would be more effectively spent saying and asking the boy to pronounce “and” rather than repeating the “And” she did not want.

Find a Substitute Behavior to Replace a Bad Habit

Often times we do what the director above did when it comes to presentation skills.  We emphasize what we don’t want rather than finding a substituting behavior that we do want.   I’ve heard Robert Bradford say something to the effect that it’s easier to move away from something we don’t want if we are moving toward something we do want.  If you are doing something you want to stop, ask yourself, what can I do instead?  What do I need to move toward?

Let’s look at some common presentation delivery problems that distract from a presentation and see what behaviors you can move toward to replace the behavior.

Instead of “Stop Wringing Your Hands” Move Toward … Natural Gestures and Leaving Your Arms at Your Side

If you struggle with figuring out what to do with your hands when you present and you know that you tend to clutch them in front of you or wring them together, then consider trying this.

The next time you are talking to a colleague and telling them a story, watch what you’re doing with your hands.  How are you moving your hands in that natural setting?  That’s what you want to do with your hands when you’re in presentation mode as well.

Or there may be times in your presentation that you don’t want to gesture.  Maybe you’re making an important point and you want your audience focused solely on your words.  In those times, try leaving your arms relaxed at your side.

Instead of “Stop Saying ‘Um’ and ‘Ah’” Move Toward … Silence and Pauses

It’s a fairly natural phenomenon, to add a sound like “um” and “ah” when speaking in every day conversation.  But when done to much in a presentation, it can be hugely distracting to the audience.

When you hear yourself starting to say “um” or “ah,” replace that sound with the sound of silence.  Pause.  Think about what you want to say next.  When you have the next sentence in your head, say it.

For those of us who have this “um” and “ah” crutch, it’s difficult to overcome.  But luckily we have ample opportunity to practice the technique in every day conversation.  As you go through your day today, replace the “um” noise with silent reflection before you say your next words.

Instead of “Improve Your Eye Contact” Move Toward … Look at One Person and Complete a Sentence or a Phrase.

Somewhere along the line, some people were told that if they are nervous speaking in public, they can just look over the heads of the audience and the audience will think they’re making eye contact.  Poppycock!  The audience knows you are not looking at them.  Looking individual audience members in the eye is a really important way in which to connect with an audience.  If you have a large audience, you may not be able to look everyone in the eye.  But if you do make genuine eye contact with several people within your audience, your audience as a whole will feel more connected to you.

I once heard a speaker say that to establish good quality eye contact, you should hold each person’s gaze for 3 to 5 seconds.  Personally, I can’t speak and count “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi,” in my head at the same time.  I learned the tip from Patricia Fripp to instead, maintain eye contact with one person while you complete a sentence or a phrase, then move to a new person for the next sentence or phrase.  This I can do at the same time as I speak.  I’m not always perfect.  But thinking about this while I’m speaking does help me maintain better eye contact.

OK, Now It’s Your Turn.

What are examples of ways you’ve helped yourself or others replace undesirable presentation habits with good helpful habits?  Do tell in the comments below.

One area where I’ve struggled to help clients more is in the area of being monotone.  What have you come up with for this problem area?  Here’s my stab at it…

Instead of “You’re too Monotone” Move Toward … Saying Important Words and Phrases More Loudly and Slowly.

Here’s how I’ve handled being monotone in a coaching situation.  I ask the person I’m coaching to pick out some key words or phrases in their presentation that they feel are especially important to their message.  I ask why the word or phrase is important.  Then we pick one sentence and I have them say the sentence.  When they get to that key word or phrase, I’ll ask them to say it more loudly and more slowly.  It usually takes a few tries to get the person to adapt to saying the words or phrase more loudly and slowly.  Then I ask them to say the sentence again but within the context of that section of the presentation.  That process normally has to be repeated again as well.  Then we add more words and phrases to that section.  I’ve found it takes a lot of patience and a lot of repetition because the monotone habit is hard to break.

What have you tried that has worked?  What’s the thing that has replaced the monotone habit?

What other presentation skills bad habits have you found a great replacement for?  Please share in the comments!

Improving Your Presentation Skills – What to Do about Your Presentation Weaknesses – Part 2

In Presentation Tips on March 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

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What's Your Cotton Picking Detractor?

I love my dad.  He’s a great guy with a playful sense of humor.  Last summer when he was in Atlanta for a visit, a bunch of us were chatting and the subject came up that my dad said “cotton picking” a lot… it was one of his go to phrases.  He was surprised by the comment.  He genuinely disagreed.  “I don’t say that,” he insisted.  Five minutes later he was complaining about the “cotton picking” way something had happened and we all burst out laughing.  “You just said it!  You just said cotton picking!”   Even dad got a chuckle out of the observation.

When we present, we’re all subject to what I call “the detractor that is hidden only to you.”    Whether it be a verbal or physical habit, we sometimes have ticks that can distract our audience from our message.  The hardest of those to correct are the habits that everyone else notices, but that are hidden to you.

Verbal Detractors

I was watching a video of myself speaking recently and noticed that I repeated the phrase, “that kind of thing” several times.  I had no idea I was repeating that particular phrase.  After watching the video, I started listening to myself in ordinary conversation and – there the phrase was again!  It was my own version of “cotton picking”!

Most often, the verbal detractors come in a common form such as:  um, ah, you know, so, and, like… the list goes on.  Record yourself and see if you have any of these common detractors.  Be brutal with yourself.   Count the number of times you use one of these detractors.  You may not think you say “you know” or “um” a lot, but if you’re wrong, those detractors can be extraordinarily distracting to your audience.

Ask your family, co-workers and friends if you have any “cotton picking” or “that kind of thing” phrases that you use a lot.  They’ve wanted to tell  you but didn’t want to hurt your feelings.  Ask them to be honest and tell you so that you can get better.

Body Language Detractors

I once listened to a speaker who had this habit where his tongue would dart out of his mouth past his lips like a snake every couple of sentences.  It was very distracting.  I know the speaker.  I know this isn’t something that he does in normal conversation.  And I’m certain he had no idea he was doing it that night.  Luckily I guess, it was a small audience.  This is where watching your video can be beneficial again.  As can asking others to tell you what body language habits are hidden to you.  If you want to get better at presenting then knowing those detractors and eliminating them will be worth the initial embarrassment of realizing you have the bad habit.

Can You Find the My Hidden Detractors?

Here’s the link to my YouTube channel.  Do I have any verbal or body language detractors that are still hidden to me?  If so, please let me know!  For the love of God and my future audiences, please do tell me!!

Do You Want Us to Look for Your Hidden Detractors?

If you want us to look at your presentations on YouTube to look for your hidden detractors, please add your YouTube link to the comment section!  Let’s help one another overcome those detractors hidden only to us!

Improving Your Presentation Skills – What to Do about Your Presentation Weaknesses – Part 1

In Presentation Tips on March 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm

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Presentation Performance Evaluation

When I first started Toastmasters in 2001, my club had this incentive called the “Well-Rounded Orator.”  For those not familiar with Toastmasters, it’s a non-profit organization where people join clubs to grow their communications skills.  One way members grow their skills is by filling various roles that are needed to run a meeting.  Our club had the “Well-Rounded Orator” incentive which was just a sheet a paper with a big circle on it.  The circle was divided like a pie into 10 slices and the name of each different type of meeting role was typed within a slice.  The meeting roles included such things as the Toastmaster of the Day (the person who runs the meeting), the Joke Master (someone who tells a joke or humorous story), the Speaker (someone who delivers a prepared speech), and so on.  I performed every meeting role in the circle but saved one particular role for last.  I put it off as long as possible.  But if I wanted to get my Well-Rounded Orator incentive, I needed to do that role.  What was the role?  Evaluator.  The Evaluator gives written and oral feedback to the prepared speaker.  It’s an important role so people can learn and grow.  But I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t want to criticize people.

Well my competitive nature got the better of me and I wanted to get my “Well-Rounded Orator” incentive.  (I don’t think there was a prize for the incentive.  Just bragging rights.  But anyone who’s ever been a “mayor” in FourSquare knows that bragging rights are their own incentive.)  So I finally signed up to be an Evaluator.  Turns out, with some practice, I actually enjoyed the role.  And I was good at it.  In fact, in 2006, I was named the top speech evaluator for the state of Georgia.  And now, people pay me money to provide them with feedback on their speaking abilities.  Talk about ironic!

So a discussion about improving presentation skills would not be complete without some discussion of overcoming your weaknesses as a presenter.

Areas for Improvement

Since none of us is perfect, chances are, we all have an area where we can improve in our public speaking.  For me, I need to get tighter in my word choice.  If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you know I probably use too many words.  My daughter the English major could probably cut my word count in half!  I tend to do the same thing when speaking.  I need to be more judicious with the words I use.

Have you ever come out of a presentation and naturally repeated some of the words the speaker said?  I need to get me some of that!  I know that certain concepts would have more legs if I had a cool analogy, some key words or a groovy phrase to go with them.

We’ve all got those areas within our speaking where we know we could do better.  Whether it’s the words we choose, the gestures we make, or the how we structure our speech, we’re all able to rattle off a list of areas for improvement.  Sometimes the areas for improvement can be overwhelming.  What should we do?

One Change at a Time

Pick one thing to focus on first and dedicate your next ten presentations to working on just that issue.  If you don’t have presentations planned, use other opportunities to practice the area you’re working on.  Business meetings, social gatherings, at church, join a Toastmasters club.  We all have multiple opportunities to speak up even if it’s not a formal presentation.  Hone your skills during those occasions.

Alternatively, find another means to focus your attention on the area you want to improve.  For me, this came in a really strange form.

The National Speakers Association is currently having a contest and I decided to enter.  For the contest, I need to submit a video.  I decided to include a particular story in the video but it’s too long for the contest.  The contest video can only be 3 minutes long.  As I worked on the video footage I have, I realized just how much more verbose I was than I needed to be.  I was able to get the story down to fit the time requirement and still have the emotion and the impact I wanted with the story which tell me, I have room to trim in the story too.  Now I can work on tightening up that story.

Given the one thing you want to work on, consider how a recording could help you.

If you’re trying to make your words or content tighter, consider the exercise I went through with forcing yourself to trim your time and see if you can retain the impact.  I heard Patricia Fripp recommend that speakers have their speeches transcribed with all the utterances that come out of their mouths included in the transcript.  In other words, many transcriptionists will take out the “um” and “ah” and stutters from a transcript.  Leave the foibles in your transcript.  Then work on verbally editing out your problem phrases and repeat the process with each new recording.

If your area of concern are with your body language, look at the tapes with the sound off, concentrating on only your troublesome gesture.  Then work on the problem area and record those results.  You formed the habits over time.  It will take time to break them.  Give yourself time but use the discipline to make the change.

More to Come in the Next Post

In the next post, I want to spend a little more time talking about other ways to improve your weaknesses.  But in the meantime….

What Tricks Have You Learned to Improve a Problem Area?

Have you stumbled across a technique to help you focus on making an improvement?  If so, share in the comments so we can learn from you!

Self-Evaluation of Your Presentation Strengths and Area for Improvement

In Presentation Tips on March 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm

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Do You Know Your Strengths as a Presenter?

As I mentioned in the last blog post, during our seminar, we asked participants to comment on themselves.  Specifically we asked:

How did you feel?

What did you do well?

What areas do you still want to work on?

One guess as to which question stumped people the most.  If you guessed the second questions, “What did you do well?” then you’d be right.

Why Can’t We Love Ourselves?

OK, maybe that’s a bigger question than a presentations skills blog is prepared to answer.  But in any endeavor, we are more likely to excel if we approach it by building on our strengths rather than correcting our weakness.

“But Kelly,” you may be thinking, “what if presenting is my weakness?!”  I’ve yet to see a person who stinks 100% at all things presentation.  Maybe that person is out there.  But I’m pretty darn sure they’re not reading this blog post!  You have strengths as a presenter.

Are you likable?  That’s a strength.  Do you have a voice that easy to listen to?  That’s a strength. Do you have a nice smile?  Strength! Are you sincere?  BIG strength!  You have strengths!  I guarantee it!

Then why do so many of us not concentrate on our strengths?   Why did one of our participants, as he was answering the “What did you do well?” question move directly into the answering the “areas to work on” question before it was even asked?   My theory it’s a combination of factors.  Part being taught not to brag on ourselves.  Part being harder on ourselves than others are on us.  And part not recognizing our own strengths because they come to us naturally.  So what to do?

Listen to What Others Tell You

Ask others to watch you present and ask them to tell you what they think you do well.  Ask multiple people and on multiple occasions.  If you ask one or two people, they’ll say something to be polite.  But if you hear the same comment from multiple people, that’s what we call a trend!  And a trend is going to ring truer than the platitudes people will be tempted to give.

Give Yourself Permission to Like Yourself

You don’t need to be arrogant to feel good about yourself.  Audience want to see a confident speaker.  Be that confident speaker!  Know that it’s OK to feel good because you do something well!

Now Put It to Work!  Tell Us What You Do Well as a Presenter!

So what is it you do well as a presenter?  Tell us below!   Feel good about what you do well!



Other People’s Feedback – Getting Better Through the Feedback of Others

In Presentation Tips on March 23, 2011 at 10:27 pm

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Presentation Feedback from Others

Today I facilitated a presentations skills workshop with two talented professional speakers.  After we covered different aspects of strong presentation skills, we had each attendee do a 5-minute presentation of their own.  Of course my colleagues and I provided our feedback but before we did, we asked each of the attendees to state how they felt, comment on what they had done well and explain what they still wanted to work on.   Then, we asked their fellow classmates to talk about what they thought went well and what their classmate could do better.   In the next post, I’ll discuss a little about the self-evaluation but for today’s post, let’s talk about getting feedback from others – and in particular comments from those who haven’t studied presentation skills extensively.

Do People Who Haven’t Studies Presentation Skills Have Something to Offer in the Way of Feedback?

The short answer is YES!

Regardless of the amount of experience or the level of comfort that the members of the class today had with presentations skills, they have eyes, they have hearts , they had life experience and they can comment on what they liked, what confused them, and how they felt as a result of the five minute presentation.  Just because someone hasn’t devoted dedicated time to studying the art and science of presentations doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have thoughtful meaningful, feedback to give.

Toastmasters has proven this fact for more than 80 years.  One of the foundations of improving communications skills in the Toastmasters organization is the concept of peer coaching.  (For more information about Toastmasters click on this link.)  In a Toastmasters meeting, fellow club members give written and verbal feedback to fellow members who give prepared speeches.  The Toastmasters program does a wonderful job of providing a venue for feedback.  Is the feedback good?  Not always.  But with time and repetition, it absolutely helps people improve their skills.

We Can Learn From Others

The lesson here is that even if you don’t have the time or money for a presentation skills class, or to hire a coach or to join a Toastmasters club, you can get valuable feedback from others be they friends, family or colleagues.  Take advantage of the wisdom and life experience of those you know.  Seek their feedback as the ways you can improve your presentations.

What Have You Learned?

Do you agree?  Have you learned great tips from peers?  Share those below!


Presentation Preparation

In Presentation Tips on March 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm

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Ever Wish You Had Another Week to Prepare?

Tomorrow I’m doing a public seminar on presentation skills for business leaders with two gentlemen that I have a lot of respect for.  Yesterday, we met to go through the program and I remember thinking “Gosh, I wish we had another week to get ready.”

Please don’t misunderstand.  We’re ready for the presentation tomorrow.  I’m convinced that the attendees will receive great content that will help them improve their presentations.  But I rarely ever feel prepared enough for any presentation.  I guess that’s my form of speech anxiety.

Clients and colleagues ask me what I do to prepare.  Here are some of the things I believe help.

Make Yourself Practice

This morning, before I writing this post, I practiced a portion of tomorrow’s workshop.  I stood up next to my desk.  I faced my mock audience – an empty couch on the other side of the room – and I started telling my opening story.  A couple sentences in, I fumbled around for words.  I thought through what I was going to say then prodded myself, “OK, Kelly, now say is out loud.”  Ugh!  It’s painful.  But I owe it to the people who are attending the class to fumble around in the privacy of my home office rather than in front of them tomorrow.   Standing up, saying the words aloud gets the muscle memory working for me.  I even practice eye contact by looking at specific objects around the room as if they were people seated in chairs.  It’s all part of the process and it makes for a better presentation.

Know Your Subject Well

Tomorrow’s presentation is on presentation skills.  I know this subject well and in particular the parts of the presentation that are mine to cover.  Given our backgrounds, we each gravitated to the areas of presentation skills where we have the most passion.  But my passion for presentations can’t just rest on the topics I already know and blog about.  I keep looking to push myself by reading others writings on presentations and watching other presenters.

This past weekend, I attended the monthly meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the National Speakers Association.  Our guest speaker was Mark Sharonbrock.  OMG is he great!  Watching such great presenters teaches me and enriches my knowledge.

I also recently found a free app for the iPad and iPhone called ProSpeak by Do It Marketing.  They’ve got links to several great speaker blogs – one central place for reading about speaking related topics.

That’s why I went to TEDxAtlanta last week even though I had other things to do.  I knew I’d see at least a couple of great presenters – and lucky for me, there was more than 2!  It’s important to always be focused on knowing our subject well.

Be Prepared for Questions

Prepping for questions is a hard one for me.  My goal is to be clear enough in my presentations that people don’t have questions.  But like everyone else, I have blind spots where I’m not as clear as an audience needs me to be.  Luckily though, knowing my subject well helps when it comes to answering the questions the audience has.

Inevitable there are questions that come up that are outside the scope of a particular presentation.  I respect an audience that wants to bring up other related topics.  If they have a burning question that I can help them with, then it’s good for us all!

I know some people have advised me to have some “canned questions” at the ready.  Their logic goes like this…”If you ask for questions and no one asks any questions, then make the statement, ‘Audiences often ask me XYZ’ then answer the XYZ question.”  To me the problem with that approach is that if audiences frequently ask me that question, then I’d modify my presentation to address that question!  Plus it sounds a little forced and disingenuous.  I prefer to get questions throughout the presentation and if there aren’t any questions right way when I pause, then I stay quiet a little longer and wait.  Usually there is a question and the silence gives the audience member time to formulate their question before asking.

When I have an important presentation coming up, I prefer to present the material first in front of a “friendly” audience to see what questions and feedback I get before going in front of the high stakes audience.  For me, the friendly audience may come in the form of a speech to my Toastmasters club or by giving the presentation to a colleague I trust.  Getting practice in answering the questions with my friendly audience, gives me more confidence that I’ll be able to handle the tough questions when they come from that critical audience.

Focus on Connection, not Perfection

My new mantra is “With your presentations, it’s not about perfection.  It’s about connection,” because I believe it’s true and I need to be reminded of it as well.

I want to be prepared so that I deliver a great program.  But more importantly I want to make a connection with the audience.  I want to connect the audience to something valuable that will help them.  I want to be present and connect with the audience as people.  I want to connect to develop a deeper relationship with the individuals that make up the audience.

So while I may always wish I had another week to prepare, I will give it my all on the day of a presentation so that my clients get what they need.

How Do You Prepare?

What do you do to force yourself to practice?  Or do you?  How do you keep up with your area of expertise?  How do you prepare for questions?  How do you make a connection?  Tell me more in the comments below!


The Paradox of the Rate of Speaking and Listening

In Presentation Tips on March 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm

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How Fast or Slow to Go

Back in my corporate days, I remember taking a break to use the facilities (which I guess is my way to try and politely say I needed to go potty).  In the office building where I worked, the men’s room and the women’s room were side by side and between them is a large bulletin board.  Along with the obligatory OSHA and HR postings was the monthly safety announcement.  As I’m walking past the men’s room, toward the women’s room, I notice a little cartoon on the safety announcement about paying attention to where you were walking in the work place.  I kept looking at the cartoon, trying to read it as I hurried past toward the little girls’ room.  As I craned my neck to keep walking, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was headed and sure enough, I nearly ran head long into another woman coming out of the bathroom door who was also in a hurry.  Lucky for me, she was looking where she was going!  I had to laugh.  How ironic, that as I was reading the safety poster about paying attention to where I was going when I nearly ran into another person!

Life is like that sometimes.  You try to do the right thing, like reading a safety poster, but you don’t always do it safely.

I was thinking recently about other ironic situations and it occurred to me that another paradox that I struggled with has to do with the rate at which we listen and the rate at which we speak.

The Paradox of Rate of Speech and Listening

When I studied listening skills a few years back, I ran across some stats that said people can listen at a faster rate than people can speak.  So today, I sought out the go-to authority for everything in the world today, Wikipedia, to see what they had documented on the subject.  Wikipedia says that people can listen and comprehend at a rate of 300 words per minute (WPM) while the average PowerPoint presenter speaks at a rate of 100 WPM and that typically fast-talking auctioneers speak at a rate of 250 WPM (though Wikipedia is still waiting on formal citations for these stats).  The point I remember from years ago when I was studying listening skills was that it’s easy to get distracted when listening because we can listen so much faster than the person we are listening to can speak.

As someone who is often trying to cram way to much information into the time frame that’s been given me, does this give me permission to get more in if I just talk faster?

Now let’s contrast that with another idea…

I’ve also heard it said that sometimes, as a presenter, you need to slow your rate of speech and add pauses to give people a chance to process what you’ve said.  This rings true to me.  I know there have been times when I’ve heard a speaker make a statement, started pondering the point then realized she’d moved on to another point…which I’ve then totally missed!  Sometimes, I will stop her and ask to review to the earlier statement but other times, I’m not comfortable doing so.  If she’d just taken a pause, I could have digested what she was saying, and then maybe I wouldn’t have missed her next point.

So which is it?  Can listeners listen at a faster rate than most people speak?  Or do speaker need to slow down to give people time to process.

It’s both…

Life is messy.  You can’t categorize everything to fit into a nicely aligned box and make it fit.  There are times when we can speed up and get our message across and there are times when we need to slow down to let people absorb what we have to say.  But for all those fast talkers out there, here are a few places I think we need to slow down and let our audiences absorb.

Radical Departures

When we’re introducing an idea that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, then we need to give people a chance to absorb what we’re saying.  Pause long enough to give people a chance to ask these kinds of questions in their head.  “Did she say what I thought she said?”  “What?  That can’t be right!”  “Hmmm, really?  I hadn’t thought about it like that before…”  Some people will become more open to what you have to say next.  Some people will be thinking, “I don’t believe what you’re saying Speaker Girl.”  But you want to slow down and pause so that people can at least choose a side before you go on.

The “Oh My God” Moment

My husband is a prosecutor and a brilliant orator.  When he trains other prosecutors, he encourages them to look in each case for the “Oh My God” moment.  The “Oh My God” moment is the piece of evidence that when shared or when put in perspective makes the members of the jury think, “Oh My God.”

I was 23 the first time I was called to jury duty, long before my husband was ever an attorney.  The “Oh My God” moment in that experience came when the prosecutors read the alleged charges.   It went something like, “John Doe aged 21 is accused of rape again Sally Smith aged 80…”  I didn’t hear anything the prosecutor said next.  He had his “Oh My God” moment right there with me in those first few words.  (I was not chosen for jury duty that day… probably because the defense attorney read the “Oh My God” expression on my naïve face.

If you are sharing information that is truly shocking and hard to hear, slow down and pause.  Give your audience time to have that “Oh My God” reaction in their own minds.

What’s This Like?

Good speakers seek to connect their message to their audiences’ circumstances and one way they do that is by asking thought provoking questions.  For instance, if I said “What are the ‘Oh My God’ moments in your speeches?” you might want to think about that question for your speeches.  In every day conversation if I asked you a question and didn’t pause long enough to let you answer, that would be considered rude.  Well, if we don’t slow down and pause long enough to let our audiences think about their answers, I think that’s not just rude, it’s ineffective.  It hurts the application of our message and it hurts the bond we are developing with an audience.  If you want people to be able to take what they’ve learned and apply it to their lives, give them time to ponder how the information you share applies to them.

Did I Get This Right?

What do you think?  Do you agree with the premise of the paradox between the rate of listening and the rate of speaking?  Do you think that presenters need to slow down and pause more?  Or do they need to speed up to match the rate at which we listen?

Share your comments below!



Don’t “Start with a Bang” – How to Improve the Opening of Your Presentation

In Presentation Tips on March 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

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Don't Start Your Presentation with the Blah, Blah, Blah Opening

I knew it would happen at TEDxAtlanta.  I hoped it wouldn’t.  But it did.  Several of the speakers started their presentations with the old blah, blah, blah opening.  The blah, blah, blah opening occurs when a speaker starts her presentation by… thanking the event planners for having her… or thanking the audience for coming… or mentioning how nervous they are… or stating how the guy before them was a hard act to follow… or any other “blah, blah, blah” that the audience doesn’t care about.  The blah, blah, blah opening is all about the speaker and not about the audience.  Please don’t do it!


The two speakers that made my “top 2” (see yesterday’s post) did NOT start their presentations with the blah, blah, blah opening.  They just started… and in each of their cases, they started with a story.  But there are other ways to capture the audience’s attention in that critical opening section of a presentation – and that’s what we’re talking about here in this post.

Opening Your Presentation

Tell a Story

As just mentioned, both of my “top 2” speakers form TEDx Atlanta started their presentations by telling a story.  There’s just something about a story that draws us in as human beings.  From our ancestors sitting around the campfire to modern day television and movies and novels, people love stories.  Judge for yourself.  The next time you’re sitting through a sermon or listening to a business speaker and they start to tell a story that you haven’t heard before, observe how you react.  Do you perk up a bit?  Do you find yourself drawn in?  Then why not start your presentation with a story that will do the same for you and your audiences?!

Make a Startling Statement, Not a Tired Clique

“War is Hell but Sometimes Necessary”

That’s a quote from a poster I saw… when I was in the 8th grade!  (To give you a hint how long ago that was, I’ll being going to my 30-year high school reunion this year!)

I remember that quote from the 8th grade because it was startlingly different from any other poster in the classroom.  The poster belonged to one of my classmates who created it for a course requirement.  And I still remember it all these years later.

Cliques are boring.  Startling information stays with us.  If you make a startling statement – one that goes against traditional wisdom or flies in the face of boring old cliques, you’re going to gain the audience’s attention.   They may not agree with you.  But they certainly be tuned in  trying to figure out what the heck you’re talking about!

Share a Startling Statistic

“Mistakes in hospitals are the 8th leading cause of death in the United States… It’s like a 747 crashing every other day.”

That was a statement that a client shared with me.  Talk about shocking!  Do you think that statistic gained the attention of his audience?  It sure got mine!

What startling statistic can you share with your audiences?  How can you put it within the context of something they understand?

What Else?

What are some other ways that a speaker has gained your attention when opening a presentation?  How do you start your presentations?  Do share in the comments below!!