Aug 03 2017

How to speak when you’re put on the spot

Published by under Content,Delivery,Public Speaking

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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Jul 10 2017

How to water your voice

Published by under Vocal Health

I was standing in the wings, about to make my entrance when I noticed that it was raining on stage. I mean it wasn’t supposed to be, but it sure looked like rain to me. Then I realized that what I was seeing was saliva raining forth from the mouths of the chorus! “OMG! Get me an umbrella,” I thought. It was then that I made an important realization: it takes water to sing! Yes, I had heard that it was important to keep hydrated when performing, but this was solid proof of why. You spit when you sing! And, just in case you public speakers think you cannot be blamed for a soggy audience, I assure you that you spit when you speak, too. And the more vigorous and energized your speaking and singing, the more you spit.

Besides spitting when you use your voice, your vocal folds require a nice coating of mucous to work properly. The only way you achieve that without having a thick, cough-inducing mess on your folds is to drink water. According to singer/teacher Rachael Gates in Voice Council Magazine, you also need to drink more water if you drink caffeine, as every ounce of fluid from a caffeinated drink needs to be replaced with non-caffeinated fluid.

Water helps vocal folds to work more effectively, and a recent study in South Africa on voice quality as it relates to hydration showed that positive changes in young professional singers’ voices after hydration included the ability to sustain notes longer and to reach higher frequencies. They inferred that this showed promise for helping them create and sustain better careers.

Summer is a great time to address this issue because water bottles are particularly popular in July and August. I see them everywhere. However, I’ve learned that just any water bottle won’t do, and I don’t recommned that we fill up landfills with plastic bottles. My daughter just got one that’s eco-friendly, keeps the water cool or warm all day long, and has no nasty plastics or other chemicals to make her toxic. If you don’t already have one, here are some guidelines for determining how much water you need in order to establish a hydration habit that will have your audience crying out for umbrellas:

  1. How much water do you need? According to the Mayo Clinic, that’s 13 cups a day for men and 9 cups for women. But that depends on how much you sweat and how active you are. To get a more accurate idea, Camelbak, the makers of very posh and green water bottles have a water calculator you can use. The results are in both liters and ounces.
  2. Are there other physical goals to consider? According to the Livestrong website, water may help you lose weight by filling you up AND increasing your metabolism. For this purpose, you will need to consume 4 cups of water a day for every 50 pounds of body weight, regardless of gender.
  3. How will you keep this interesting? Although sugar is not useful in hydration OR in losing weight, adding flavoring such as cucumbers, citrus or whole fruit to your water jug can be a nice way to get some variety in your hydration. Or better yet, try singing The Drink More Water Song. Thanks, Andy Z. Bah badah bah.


© Cheryl Casey | ID 5219139, hot sweaty girl
© Vipatter | ID 24061199, water glass



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