Archive for the 'Delivery' Category

Aug 03 2017

How to speak when you’re put on the spot

Published by under Delivery

We’ve discussed the necessity to practice to be a better communicator, but many of you have told me that you love speaking extemporaneously; to your mind that means you would be better off not practicing.  Practicing may take the joy out of something that you really like to do, to shape ideas as they come to you, to put new ideas together and form them on the fly. In fact, that is a great skill.  However, a skill is usually developed with some guidelines.  This is where improvisational comedy, or “improv” comes in. People who are good at it have learned through a lot of practice to adhere to some rules even though they are still speaking extemporaneously.  Although there are many variations of these rules, (after all, this IS improv!) here are some  from the Improv queen, Tina Fey:

  • Say “Yes.” As a speaker, this means to respect what others have said and to start your talk or conversation with an open mind.
  • Yes isn’t enough. Say “Yes, and…” This can apply to presenters and public speakers as the responsibility to add to what others have said rather than start with remarks on a completely new topic or ones that don’t reflect what has gone on in the room before you spoke up.
  • Make statements. Be committed to your ideas. Have a point of view. Speak clearly and with confidence.
  • There are no mistakes. Be open to opportunities that present themselves. If something appears to go wrong, what can you do with that to make lemonade?  When the power went out at a Chris Botti concert I attended, he seized the moment to walk into the audience and give an “unplugged” concert that had the audience transfixed and gave the artists a standing ovation.

The skill of improv is a great tool for leaders who have to think on their feet all day. It can help you be more aware as well as more innovative. It can help you be better at extemporaneous speaking. Think about it. How would the conversation change or what would happen if you just say “yes?”

Another rule of improv that some use is “don’t practice.” At first glance this may seem to reinforce that you will improvise best when you don’t prepare, but, in fact, improvisors do exercises around all of these rules and practice over and over to be able to be clear and think on their feet so that they can do their work well.  They do exercises to be aware of what they are and are not doing. Practicing makes them stronger and more able to think quickly on their feet.  Here’s how practicing can create more skills for extemporaneous speaking:

  • By practicing to eliminate filler words from your talk, you have to pay more attention to how you say what you say.  Doing that makes you more aware in general.
  • By practicing to eliminate indirect language you have to pay closer attention to whether or not what you are saying is accurate and whether or not you are committed to your own ideas.  Eventually your use of language improves in its meaning and you are much more able to express yourself clearly.
  • By practicing to bring in elements that engage others, you have to pay more attention to human connection and what makes others tick.  You have to listen more because you now require that you connect rather than be detached.
  • And by practicing aloud what you are going to say in a presentation or conversation, you allow your brain to use the ear/brain feedback loop and do its job of helping you to build more logic or more persuasion or more motivation…whatever you set as your intention.

Thus, the bottom line here is that in order to be at your best when you are asked to speak without much time to prepare, you have to prepare to speak. In an article on, Andy Boynton, Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, says that improv can teach us “how to perform better, how to collaborate, how to build ideas,” all of which are essential skills for being a speaker who can speak well when put on the spot.

A book on improv that you may find interesting:

Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madsen

© Micha Rosenwirth | Dreamstime

© Ronnie Wu | Dreamstime

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Mar 30 2016

How to be more expressive

Published by under Delivery

dreamstime_m_33164277Some people are just more expressive than others. When you listen to an expressive person, you hear lots of pitches and pace changes and even more pauses than someone who is not as expressive. For years, in American business, people were taught to get rid of their vocal variety. Vocal expression was something you had to be careful about in order to avoid being “too emotional,” or even “unprofessional.”

Well, times have changed. Fellow blogger and Forbes contributor, Nick Morgan says it this way: “Somewhere between the 20th and the 21st centuries, the general public became tired of hype and decided that it wanted authenticity instead. It’s the most important quality in communications today.”

Expressive speaking, where your words are tied to emotions and meaning, is the sound of authenticity. This means that if you feel an emotion, you can talk about it, reflect it in how you sound, and even be demonstrative without being unprofessional.  I don’t recommend that you have a temper tantrum even if you really feel like it, but, in fact, if you don’t demonstrate some emotions, you may lose your audience completely.  In addition, besides authenticity, an expressive voice conveys the meaning of the words and makes it easier for your audience to follow what you are saying.

dreamstime_m_62079818I’ve noticed that many people don’t know how to find the expressiveness in their voice, let alone use it. As with all behavioral changes, you have to be aware before you can do it differently. Therefore these three steps will get you started on the road to discovering a more expressive you.

1. Get in touch with your feelings. (“Oh no,” you say! “Not that again!”) Well, yes. Authentic expression is attached to an authentic feeling. But if that’s hard for you, let’s make it more clinical: when you feel a feeling, how does it sound in your voice? For example, sadness may slow down your delivery. And frustration might make you clip and punch your words. Observe and take notes.

2. Play with your voice. You can’t use a sound you can’t hear first. This means that you may need to experiment with the sound of your voice. Think of the different sounds you can make as your expression tool box. Think of the meanings of the words you say and how that effects the way you say them. Just as sad music is often in a minor key, how do different sounds make you feel? And remember, you weren’t born with the ability to make funny sounds only to keep them to yourself! Play aloud!

3. Be brave. Once you have discovered a new palette of sounds to express your emotions, try it out. Practice it with your friends and family. Use it in your next talk. This may feel unauthentic at first because you aren’t used to feeling the feeling and doing it anyway. However, if you keep trying, you may find that you really enjoy getting in touch with your more colorful, human side, and that your listeners like it too. Dave Grohl called this the importance of the “The human element. That thing that happens when a song speeds up slightly, or a vocal goes a little sharp. That thing that makes people sound like PEOPLE.”

Intention: The prescription for an authentic voice


What is your vocal variety saying about you?


© Mimagephotography | – Young woman with happy expression pointing fingers

© Dragonimages | – Expressionless face

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