I had the honor and privilege to be part of the team that hosted Dr. John Gray (author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) in Bahrain. This involvement provided me with a rare opportunity to interact with this thought leader and great speaker. In this article, I will share with you some of the world-class speaking skills John used throughout his insightful and entertaining talks.
Localization. John realizes it is important for speakers to use local supporting materials that include examples, statistics and stories to connect better with the audience. When we had lunch together, he asked us many questions and he was probing for deeper answers. When we talked, he gave us his undivided attention. This was clear when he used one of my stories I shared with him during lunch in his evening talk. In addition, he asked me if I could find him some data about divorce trends in Bahrain and its causes. Moreover, he asked if I could find him some Narrations and Verses on relationships from the Islamic literature. These resonated very well with the audience.
Connecting with the crowd. John used every opportunity to connect better with the audience. He went around the halls shaking hands and chatting with the attendees to establish a deeper bond with them. He also used the book signing breaks to interact with the audience by validating his points with them and looking for more insights about the local culture. I especially liked the fact that he moved around during meal times to connect and interact with the maximum number of delegates.
Dealing with the unexpected. John is world-class speaker who is always prepared for the unexpected. As per Murphy, if anything can go wrong, it will! John delivered three talks to three different audiences. In two of his talks, the mike did not work properly. He used these two opportunities effectively by making a funny remark about the sound system that made the audience laugh and immediately went on to illustrate an important point on communication failure between husbands and wives: Just like the mike, sometimes our communication with our partner does not work!
Body language at its best. John is an animated speaker. His hands gestures and his facial expressions complement his messages effectively. In addition, I am sure his body movements and gestures keep him energized throughout his talks. From the audience perspective, he comes across as a speaker who is dynamic and energetic. Think about it, would you prefer listening to a speaker who standing still as if he was pinned to the stage or a speaker who moves on the stage with purpose?
Vocal variety. Just like using effective body language, speaking with different tones and pitches help you in conveying the emotions of your stories’ characters. John used vocal variety effectively throughout his talks to bring his characters alive and make his stories more interesting to the audience. He conveyed many emotions like anger, dismay, happiness, sadness, joy and much more by just using his vocal variety. For example, instead of saying “they were angry”, he showed us how angry they were through his voice.
Superb Staging. John is a master when it comes to staging. He used the stage effectively to illustrate his points and stories. He moved with a purpose in all directions. The audience had a big laugh when he demonstrated how & why wives hide from their husbands and how & why husbands hide from their wives. He also used the stage to demonstrate the difference behavior between men and women when it comes shopping! My ultimate magical staging moment was when he placed an imaginary giant brain on the stage to illustrate the thinking patterns of men and women. I loved it and I will never forget it!
Humor all the way. If you have heard me speak on humor, chances are you have heard me saying: When it comes to humor, weave it, don’t force it! John did just that throughout his three talks. He brilliantly weaved humor in his stories and his vocal variety and facial expressions helped a lot. The audience was enjoying his talks thoroughly. This was evident at the end of his three talks. The audience remained in the halls until the very end of his talks to be inspired and to be entertained.
Powerful props. John has used different props masterfully during his talks. His two main props were a stool and roses placed in a crystal and transparent vase. But that wasn’t it. He used a bottle of water and a glass to demonstrate an important point relating to the thinking patterns of men and women when it comes to efficiency and romance as well as the nature of men and women when it comes to tenderness and toughness. His illustrations made the points clearer and more vivid in the minds of the audience.
No slides. Yes, no slides period. John talks do not require slides as visual aids. He uses the stage and props effectively to illustrate his points through stories and anecdotes. By doing this not only he establishes more credibility with the audience about his expertise about his subject matter but also relieves himself from potential technology failures and frustrations.
Building excitement. As an experienced speaker, John knows how to build the energy of the audience through his personal stories, superb staging and audience involvement. He involved the audience in his talks by borrowing props from them, having them respond to his questions and completing different sentences. He carefully built the energy and excitement of the audience in a gradual manner until he reached his ultimate excitement building activity. You can watch this in the video clip below.
I could go on and on writing about John Gray’s world-class speaking skills. However, I truly believe that “seeing is believing.” Accordingly, I encourage you to visit John’s website to see him in action and learn from him; take notes and apply what you learn.
I am sure you can speak the “John Gray” way!
At last, I met the Remarkable Ron Kaufman who writes, trains, speaks and consults on his area of expertise – customer service. I heard a lot about him from my friends in Unilever but I never had the chance to be in one of his sessions during my time with the company. Since 2002, I have always wanted to see him in action. I wanted to experience his infusion of magic. My dream became a reality yesterday at the Service Leadership Workshop.
Before I talk about his speaking skills which are remarkable, I would like to share with you this little story. Before the event started, I approached Ron and told him: Ron, I have been waiting for years to meet with you. I am so excited to be here. Ron surprised me by saying: “Come here, let me give you a hug!” Then he added: “Why don’t we take a picture together.” And sure we did. And here is one of the pictures we took after the event ended.
Now, I’m not telling you this little story for the sake of showing you the picture but rather I wanted to show you how Ron hit many birds with one hug! First, he established a connection with me when he knew about my desire to meet with him for a long time. Second, I am sure the delegates who saw the hug were surprised too. They must have thought: “This speaker is hugging people; we have never seen anyone do this before. What else would he do today?” Thirdly, he demonstrated to us he is a speaker who can add value by simply having a small encounter with you. We took the pictures using my friend’s iPhone. The moment, we finished taking the pictures, he shared with us two quick tricks. We thought: This is great, what could we learn from him during the day!
Then, I was disappointed. Ron began his workshop by saying: “Good morning.” I thought this cannot be happening. How can you start with good morning! You should start with a big bang. You should capture our attention. In his language, that was criminal. In a few seconds, I was relieved because he added: “This is not the official opening. I would like to introduce my introducer because the introducer often goes without any recognition or appreciation for their hard work.” Like everyone else, I was taken by surprise. This was the first time I witness the speaker introducing his or her introducer. This was different and created a high level of energy among the hundreds of delegates attending the workshop.
When Ron took center stage officially, he shared with us his passion of creating a world where everyone is educated and inspired to excel in service. His passion about the subject was clear during the entire workshop. This has validated my belief of speaking about subjects that I am passionate about. If you speak, speak with passion or else you will not add value to your audience because it will be clear through your voice tone, body language and your level of energy. If it is boring for you, it will bore them too!
An expert speaker like Ron knows how the different seating arrangements impact the audience. Since he was planning to sprinkle the hall with high energy and excitement; he managed to move the audience to the empty seats in a clever manner unlike other speakers who would order or beg the audience to move to the front. Here is what he did. He asked the audience few questions about traveling by airplanes and then he asked them: If you are traveling on economy class and you are offered an upgrade to business class, would you accept the offer? The audience shouted: Yes. This is when he retorted: Great. Come forward we have empty business class seats. The audience laughed and moved forward to occupy the empty seats.
Ron had the audience move forward not only managing the energy levels but also to accomplish something else. He wanted to fill the seats because he was planning to have the audience discuss and reflect on his questions and case studies in groups of two or three at most. These brief discussions kept us engaged and excited during the entire workshop. He provided us with ample opportunities to exchange ideas and to make notes for our future use and reference.
I could go on indefinitely writing about Remarkable Ron; perhaps about his fascinating stories, fabulous impersonations of his stories’ characters, his crazy gestures, body language or voice tone. However, I will write about the one thing most speakers forget when they speak: Connecting with the audience. During the workshop, one delegate went on the stage and presented Ron with a Bahrain flag pin and asked him if he could wear it. Ron pinned it to his suit without any hesitation and commented: “Now, I feel I am more connected to you.” The audience clapped profusely. Ron you will forever be remembered by the delegates because you were unbelievably Remarkable.
Last time, I introduced you to Dynamic Dave. This time, I want you to meet Poor Peter. When I wrote about Dave, I wanted to share with you some tips about becoming a good speaker. This time, I am sharing with you some bad speaking habits to avoid especially when you use slides for your talks. But before doing so, please allow me to thank Poor Peter for inspiring me to write this article. Thank you so very much Peter, you made my day!
Peter started his presentation poorly. When he was introduced to us, he immediately went to his laptop to project the slides but the projector would not work. He struggled with it trying to make it work. He was tracing the cables and the power switches to make sure all were in order. The audience started chatting with each other. He lost an opportunity to capture the audience attention. Peter could have avoided this awkward situation by checking the equipments in advance.
Once the slides were up and running, Peter struggled with the slide clicker. He was going back and forth with his slides. Again, he should have tried using the clicker in advance. Personally, whenever I speak, I always take my own clickers. Yes, clickers. I always carry two clickers with me just in case one of them fails to function properly and as a precautionary measure, I always take spare batteries with me.
He then committed the speakers’ biggest unforgivable sin when it comes to using slides. Peter was reading from his slides. He forgot an important fact about using slides; they are visual aids not notes to read from. By doing this, he missed an opportunity to connect with the audience through his eye contact. In addition, he sent a wrong signal to the audience, in a way, he told us: “I’m not fully prepared that’s why I’m reading.” Finally, why didn’t you send us your slides to read in our homes or offices at our own convenience instead of boring us to death!
Let’s talk about Peter’s slides. His slides were cluttered with text and pictures. For example, in one slide he had four pictures on the left side while having one full paragraph and five bullet points on the right side. What a way to confuse the audience! Think about this analogy for a moment. What happens when you present too many toys to a child? He or she gets confused on which toy to pick. However, if you present one toy to a child, chances are he or she will focus on that toy only. As a speaker; you should make your slides simple to help the audience in focus on your ideas and thoughts.
Now, allow me to share with you few more mistakes Peter committed in his slides. Firstly, his text font size was inconsistent. In some slides, the font size was big while in others it was small. This is not a good practice. Secondly, the pictures colors were poorly chosen and the lighting level in the hall complicated this matter further. All the pictures seemed to be in black and white; they did not add vitality to his slides. He should have asked the event organizers on the lighting levels of the hall and whether they are adjustable to support the visibility of the slides.
Finally, at many times Peter stood between the audience and the projection screen. If you are projecting your slides, why you are not allowing us to see them! As a speaker, you should always think about how to use the stage effectively. If your slides are in English, it is better to keep the projection screen on your left side while are you facing the audience because this will make it easy for them to watch you when you speak and then shift their attention to the slides when required. If your slides are in Arabic, stand on the right side.
Whenever you plan to use slides, think about your speaking situation. Answer this basic question: Do you really need slides to support the ideas you are trying to communicate to the audience? If not, leave them out and save yourself all the hassles associated with slides. However, if you think that you should use slides because they will support you in speaking to the minds, hearts and the funny bones of the audience, plan their use carefully and never be like Poor Peter!
The audience laughed loudly after he uttered his first eight words. The audience loved him after he presented his expensive pen to the event organizer as token of appreciation. The audience connected with him after he stepped down from the stage to be closer to them. This all happened in the first few minutes of a great seminar by a great speaker. Meet Professor Dave Ulrich who was our speaker in a recent conference in Bahrain. I like to call him Dynamic Dave because of his high level of energy. His energy level was felt across the commodious hotel hall.
During his seminar, I had a dilemma on whether I whether I should be taking notes about his insightful materials or about his speaking skills. I made up my mind very early on, I decided to take notes on his presentation materials and simultaneously take mental notes about his speaking skills. So, here are few notes about Dynamic Dave’s speaking abilities:
Firstly, I liked the way Dave introduced his family members early on in his speech and relating his family stories to the subject matter of the seminar – Leadership and Human Resources (HR). That was brilliant; it made us connect more with him through remembering our own families’ stories.
Secondly, I liked the way Dave weaved in countless punch-lines during the seminar using two main humor techniques – surprise and setup-punch structure. I loved him for that because this is what I coach my clients, never add humor to your speeches; just weave it in. By having humor in his speech, the speaker made us alert and engaged.
Thirdly, I liked the fact that Dave was spontaneous most of the time. He was reacting to the comments and the questions of the audience by sharing stories from his research and consulting projects. This showed us his depth of knowledge and increased his credibility tremendously. We all thought, here is a man who knows what is he talking about.
Fourthly, I liked the way Dave was managing the time of his different seminar sessions by taking quick looks at his watch to make sure he is progressing according to the event’s schedule. In addition, when he heard the call to prayers from a nearby mosque/masjid, he informed the audience of his intention to break in 20 minutes for those who wish to pray.
Fifthly, I liked the fact that Dave did his homework by studying our regional culture by respecting our norms and traditions. That was evident on few occasions. For example, before congratulating a woman on her wedding anniversary, he asked her: “Is it ok if I shake hand with you? I know, not all women shake hand in this region.” He avoided an awkward situation for him and for the woman.
Sixthly, I liked the way Dave made me think and reflect about my past experiences in the business world by sharing different business stories. For example, he reminded me about my bank customer service representative who was frustrated about her working conditions and the businessman who was inspired to establish a car dealership after having a car accident!
Seventhly, I liked the way Dave took absolute interest in the questions of the audience. I cannot remember how many times he sat at different tables addressing their questions in a conversational and a friendly manner. He was very methodological and made sure he answered the questions to the best of his ability and knowledge.
Eighthly, I liked Dave’s innovative activities for getting the audience to vote on different concepts. His activities were easy and effective. For example, to gauge the audience views on certain business matters, he asked them to stand up and then sit down when they agreed with his statements. Then, he would relate the audience views to his research and consulting work findings.
And finally, I liked the way Dave concluded his speech. It was both effective and emotional. He informed us why he likes the subject of HR and why he flies around the world to spread HR Best Practices. He is doing this because he wants his grandchildren and great grandchildren to join companies around the world that truly appreciate the importance of HR and the development of people. During his entire seminar, I never expected to hear such a closing. I thought he would recommend the first step to start upgrading our HR activities in our respective companies. I expected a call to action but I got a better closing.
Thank you Dynamic Dave for coming to Bahrain to share with us some of your insights and interesting research and consulting work findings. We thoroughly enjoyed your session. You spoke to our minds, you touched our hearts and you tickled our funny bones. And thanks for your fatherly hug; I do not think the audience will forget it.
God bless you Dynamic Dave.
What do you remember from the last conference you attended? Think about it for a moment before you continue reading. So what did you remember? Chances are you do not remember any lessons from the talks you heard. If you are like me, perhaps you may remember some of the buffets selections that we’re on offer. For example, I have attended many courses and conferences in the lavish and the luxurious Jeddah Hilton Hotel. What do I remember from the courses and conferences there? Simply, nothing. But I can tell you, they served the best food ever.
Most speakers commit a big mistake when they deliver their talks. They rarely use stories to make their points more understanable and memorable. I recently attended a three-day conference on a vital business topic. During the conference, I listened to around 18 sessions and to 18 different speakers. They all were medicore except for a marvellous speaker who kept telling us real-life business stories. I raise my hat to him.
Here is one of his stories: Back in the 80′s British Rail suffered a significant dip in their revenues; their travelling passengers figures were dropping daily. To deal with this unfavorable situation, they talked to a strategic marketing consulting firm to help them figure out what was the problem and more importantly what are some possible solutions to tackle it.
The consulting company asked British Rail to provide it with an opportunity to gather some data before they officially meet. Few weeks from their initial call, the consulting company invited British Rail executive to its premisis.
Two senior executives from British Rail arrived and immediately approached the receptionist who was talking over the phone. They told her: “Good morning, we are here to meet the managing director.” She just kept talking without giving them any attention. They told her: again with an irritated tone “We are here to meet the managing director” and she just continued talking. They waited a little bit for her to finish the phone call but they got more irritated because she was talking about the last shopping trip she had and her plans for the New Year eve. They told her for the third time: “We are here to meet the managing director.” To which she replied with a gesture: “Go to that meeting room over there and wait” and continued talking over the phone!
So, off they went to the meeting room. The room was messy; they were notepads, pieces of papers, pens, pencils and food leftovers on the meeting table. One commented: “I don’t think we should seek the advice of this company because they must get their house in order before they help others.”. The other executive retorted: “Absolutely.” This is when someone entered the meeting, collected few documents, and off he went. He even didn’t acknowledge the existence of the two irritated executives.
They kept waiting and waiting until the managing director arrived and greeted them. They vented all their irritation on him; the complained about the receptionist, the untidy meeting room, no one offering coffee and the delay in starting the meeting. To which the managing director replied: “This is how your customers perceive you. Your customer service levels are poor and that’s why you’re losing out to you competitors.”. The two executives from British Rail were speechless. What a valuable and insightful lesson on the importance of serving your customers right!
Our marvelous speaker used storytelling effectively to make his point clear and memorable. He used most of the elements of successful storytelling including the plot in terms of time and location, making the characters alive by having us listening to their dialogue and feeling their emotions through thier tone as well as sharing the moral of the story.
If you want to be better than most speakers, you should become a master storyteller.
(This post was written from 41,000 feet above the ground while I was on my way to London on 7 March 2012)
January is almost over. So, how are you progressing towards your new year’s resolutions? If you’re not, don’t worry about it.
I have a proposal for you. You can implement it today. Here it is: Scrap all your new year’s resolutions and have only one resolution – improving your public speaking skills. You may disagree with this proposal but I challenge you to disagree with it after you finish reading the next paragraphs.
A few months ago, my childhood friend entered a business startup competition sponsored by few large companies. After the elimination process, he qualified for the finals of the competition. Five minutes separated him from winning or losing the competition. All the work he accomplished over two months was to be judged on those five minutes. He had to face five tough judges – the CEO’s of the companies sponsoring the competition – to convince them that he had the best business startup idea. And he did. He won over the rest and was crowned as the best. He received a prize of around $100,000 and free consultancy services until he established his business.
I was so happy for my friend when he told me about his story. I asked him: What was your edge against the other contestants? Was it your business idea?
He replied: Not the idea. I won because of my speech. Some of the contestants had good ideas too but they could not communicate them effectively to the panel. $100,000 for a five minutes speech! It is mind boggling if you break it further. For each minute he spoke, he received $20,000. This story confirmed my firm belief that public speaking skills can do wonders for our personal and professional lives.
This belief was confirmed further two weeks ago when I finished reading a book entitled “How to Sell Yourself” by Ray Grose. The book offers practical ideas on how to sharpen up your personal image to impress everyone in your organization and to achieve promotion quickly.
In one chapter, the author suggests five tested and tried ways to boost your image. Here they are: (i) public speaking, (ii) Giving “Good” presentations, (iii) the nasty word “Selling”, (iv) the morning welcome and (v) step forward. When I finished reading this chapter, I thought the author could have summarized it in one sentence:
“Become an Effective Speaker.”
Apart from the last idea, all ideas relates to public speaking skills. For example, giving presentations is one form of public speaking where speakers inform the audience about certain matters. In addition, when it comes to “the nasty word,” the author is referring to speakers who are selling things like their ideas.
In this article, I am selling you the idea of scrapping all your new year’s resolutions and having only one – improving your public speaking skills. Effective speakers know the sales process and prepare diligently before they approach their audience with their ideas. Sales is part of life. We sell when we try to persuade another person to do something, buy something or take on board an idea, whether the object of your persuasion is work colleagues, friends and family members. So why not start learning how to use public speaking skills so that you achieve your life dreams faster?
Finally, effective speakers know the importance of the morning welcome. They arrive early in the speaking venue to greet the audience as they arrive with a warm welcome with a sincere smile and a confident handshake. They do this because they know that rapport with the audience should start before the speech begins, and they know that the audience will be friendlier if they have already met the speaker.
The benefits of being an effective speaker are many and are beyond this article. Look around you; many people attribute their success to this one skill – Public Speaking. The choice is yours. You could continue working on your many New Year’s resolutions or focus on this priceless skill but before you do so, keep this in mind: my childhood friend did not win his $100,000 because of his business idea but because of how he communicated his idea. I trust you will make the right choice. Work on your public speaking and it will be a step forward you will never regret.
The place smelled like money; the company must have spent at least USD 500,000 on the event. This amount is peanuts for the billionaire investor who has investments in all major business centers of the world from New York to London and Tokyo.
The place was so well decorated; I thought I was walking in one of the internationally famous galleries. The gorgeous servants were wearing very short and tight skirts along with high heels. They were as busy as bees serving the VIPs. In the right side of this commodious reception hall, there was an old man playing a strange musical instrument, it looked like an enlarged guitar but sounded very disturbing. I felt like a stranger because I did not meet anyone I know and these VIPs were busy talking to each others, perhaps striking lucrative business deals. Few minutes, I was lucky to meet some of my business contacts and few friends.
The organizers called us to enter one of the halls of Bahrain RitzCarlton Hotel to begin the official launch ceremony. It was on the eve of 1 February 2011 around 8 o’clock. We sat comfortably on one of the round tables. Without waiting for the organizers permission; we attacked the samboosa, spring rolls and the cheddar cheese cubes on our table. We were so hungry!
The Master of the Ceremony tapped the microphone to check whether it was on or not and then began by opening in the usual way: Your Excellencies, Your Highness, Dignitaries and our most welcome guests: Good evening. I thought this was very boring and expected. This well-known TV news anchor lost an opportunity to make an impact on the audience by having a better and stronger opening. She then continued with her prepared remarks and introduced the different segments and speakers of the event. She was very formal and dull. She did not smile at all. I thought we were supposed to be happy and jolly because a new company is born. But instead I felt I was in a funeral.
Unfortunately, the pain and suffering continued. All the speakers she introduced lacked the basic skills of public speaking and had common areas of improvement to shape up their speaking abilities.
For example, the first speaker did not start with an attention grabbing opening, instead he had the same boring opening of the MC. He almost put us to sleep because he spoke in monotone voice. He would definitely be a good babysitter. In addition, he had zero eye contact with the audience because he was reading his remarks from his notes. I did not connect with him at all; he did not use stories to engage us. I thought: Please tell us about your vision for the company, share with us your dreams for it, tell us how all this started, and take us with you in a journey. He was pouring facts and figures that did not make any sense to me because he did not put them in perspective. His speech was verbose. Five of the six people on my table started typing and fiddling with their Blackberries and iPhones. I even overheard someone telling another: “Can you believe it, we are in the RitzCarlton and we do not have a 3G network!” When he finished everyone was clapping for him, instead I grabbed another spring roll.
I remained in the hall observing the speakers and making mental notes about their performance while I was indulging myself in the starters available on the table. What would you do if you were in my place? Stay or leave? I decided to leave the event because I was so bored but then I decided to stay few more minutes because they started a fantastic laser show. It was so colorful. The two performers were magnificent. They knew their routines, they perfected their choreography and they were so entertaining. The audience clapped for them several times during their show. What a change from the powerless speakers who did not prepare very well and did not make us listen to them. When the show finished, I left the hall to go home.
Do you think it would be a good idea for those speakers to join Toastmasters International to enhance their public speaking skills? You bet. On the other hand, if these executives are too busy to attend Toastmasters meeting regularly, they could have hired a speech coach to help them in crafting their speech messages and improve their speech delivery because the last thing you want as an event organizer is to have a powerful event but powerless speakers.