Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PowerPoint? Please! No More!

Anyone in the business world has been inundated with PowerPoint. Yes, it's a way to convey information, and is especially helpful for data-heavy presentations. Of course it has its place. And I abhor it and use it as seldomly as possible.

Why? The true power of a speaker comes from direct connection with an audience. If they're looking at slides - and you are too - then you're not looking at each other.

If you are an expert and embody what you are saying, the power of speaking is direct transmission. It's an energetic exchange. And for it to work, it requires looking into each others' eyes. Imagine declaring to your significant other, "I love you," while looking at the TV. Not quite the same impact as maintaining eye contact, is it? While a speaking engagement or presentation may be less heartfelt (although it shouldn't be, actually - but many speakers are afraid to truly be openhearted and authentic).

But since I like to push myself test my own theories, I created a PPT deck for a presentation recently at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, speaking on "The Elevator Anti-Pitch." Although I received a very positive response afterward, it was utterly clear that I was far less effective than if I were just speaking as me. Why? Yes, they could follow the flow of the presentation a bit better, and I got to utilize visual humor. But they just weren't engaged. Sure, as I was told afterward, it was the end of the day after a conference, and people were tired. Nonetheless, I just love being a master of engagement, and taking them along for the ride. They learned, but it just didn't live up to the norm for me. Certainly not worth the price.

So the next time you look at using PowerPoint... maybe try an experiment, and don't use it. Or use only a few slides, when truly necessary, with attractive pictures in between. Focus on true connection, and trust that You Are Enough.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Best Elevator (Anti-)Pitch

Whether you're an entrepreneur, job-seeker, a yoga teacher, or a performer, it's essential to be able to effectively tell anyone you meet what you do (and subtly convey why they'd want to work with you). However, no one likes feeling like a prospect or being sold to, and people can spot the “I’m-not-really-interested-in-you-but-hire-or-buy-from-me” tone or verbiage in a heartbeat. So, what to do?

OK, I admit it: I hate the term “elevator pitch.” It sounds contrived, forced, and implies that you’re basically trying to sell to someone, but neither listening to nor connecting with them. So I prefer to reframe it as “effective engagement.” The problem is: when at a large networking event, mixer, or party, you have only a few moments to get people’s attention. How can you do this both effectively and organically?

Let’s start out with what you don’t want to do. First, don’t look around the room distractedly as if there might be someone better to talk with. Please. Second, and very importantly, don’t simply say, for example, “I’m an accountant” or "I teach yoga" or "I'm a drag queen" (yes, I'm fortunate to have a wide variety of readers). The other person has then labeled you, put you in a nice little box, and is ready to move on to the next person - which is not what you desired.

Do these instead:
1) Make strong eye contact, and take deep breaths while listening.
Give them your full attention, and sincerely enjoy meeting the mystery that is another human being. Yes, nonverbal communication is an essential aspect of engaging others. But really - it should be fun! Sure, it's fine to go with the idea of making new contacts, but relax about it.

2) When saying what your work is, address how you solve people’s problems – and state how customers feel afterward. For example, in my work as a Performance Coach, I say something to the effect of, "Well, I help entrepreneurs and executives radically transform their 'everyday performance' - such as improving their public speaking and presentation skills, and just performing in life more effectively - which helps my clients become much more comfortable and effective and leads to bottom-line results."

Yes, I intentionally employ so-so grammar in my anti-pitch, to make it more real. This doesn't translate so well to print, as the written word lacks any nonverbal communication, and it also makes it sound very formal (as does overly rehearsing it). Each time I meet someone, I change it somewhat depending on the connection. Rather than an exact pitch, I utilize a couple of phrases (out of several that I've found people respond to), which allows me to follow up in more detail depending on whatever grabbed them.

Your "pitch" is really just a sentence or such that begins the engagement; let the rest emerge naturally and conversationally. Regardless, it's best to mention how you solve problems for people, and always address emotional needs - by conveying how you resolve troubling issues, or mentioning how clients feel after experiencing your work. (This may sound basic to some, but over 90% of people I meet at networking events don't do this!) Keep in mind that these are very basic suggestions, and you need to adapt them so that they're comfortable for you.

A few other tips:
  • Don't explain your work in detail. A surgeon wouldn't tell you how she performs surgery, would she? You just want to know that your life will be saved. If a new contact really wants to know more, then explain, but largely focus on the problem being solved and/or the result. And don't try to squeeze in too much information, no matter how persuasive, in the first breath - let that be your follow up.
  • Don’t memorize your "pitch." Many elevator pitch techniques say you should memorize it exactly, and also not reveal what you do at first, so they have to ask. I find both of these to sound forced and fake, and makes me want to run away and meet someone "real." Yes, the goal is to get them to inquire more about what you do – but these tips just don't work well. Instead use a “keyword search” and pull up phrases in a more relaxed manner, within the context of the conversation. Do, though, practice this conversational approach, so that you're comfortable with it.
  • Make connections, not sales. Sure, someone might walk away wanting to do business with you - but in a chance meeting, it's not likely. The point is to simply make a connection; you never know who might become your biggest fan and refer many customers, even though they never work with you. Plus: if you've effectively engaged them, you're actually creating space for them to say they want to work with you.
  • Express your joy and love for what you do. Would you want to work with someone else who doesn’t enjoy how they spend their time? Sure, at some point or another, what we do is a job – but you have to focus on your joy of helping others and, in one sense or another, improving your clients’ lives. Let this come across.
Think of it as an ever-evolving art form: how to be relaxed, spontaneous, and effective. By trying out this method, instead of Pushing People with your Pitch, you can Draw them in organically, through the pleasure of meeting another human being, and sharing about your lives and what you love to do.

6 Ways to Network Authentically and Effectively - and Get Clients

You've been there. Yes, that networking event you had to push yourself to attend. After heading to the bar and getting a drink, you plaster a smile on your face, grit your teeth, and make small talk. And hope that, somehow, it leads to new business.

If this wasn't you, you've surely witnessed it countless times. Or, perhaps you've avoided such events for fear of the above. Is it possible to truly enjoy ourselves - and also to really be ourselves, in a relaxed way, as if we were enjoying a nice dinner with close friends?

One question that often arises, for public speaking, presentations and when networking, is authenticity. Have you ever met someone at a networking event, or witnessed a speaker, who just felt fake? Or... have you ever felt fake? Most of us have. Whether we try to or not, we usually seek to conform with perceived societal norms and expectations. These get in the way of being ourselves and expressing ourselves easily. Ironically, even if we try to rebel against them, we’re still “in relationship” with them, and thus can’t escape them. So, what to do?

Tip #1: Get present. A good first step is simply focusing on the breath. It’s the most fundamental means of finding yourself amidst everyone else. Instead of worrying about how you're being perceived, practice deep abdominal breathing, the most essential bodily activity. Then, stretch and loosen up to let go of unnecessary physical and mental tension.

Tip #2: Play. What we think of as “natural” or “ourselves” is really a series of habits. We can find a new range of expression by playing. Have fun! Alter your voice, your facial expressions, etc. This can break us out of our habitual expression and constriction, and help us take ourselves less seriously – a good step forward.

Tip #3: Don’t try to look good. The more you try to make a good impression, the worse you’ll actually do. Let go, relax and speak with much less effort. You’ll be surprised how much less stressful it feels, and how much better you’ll be received.

Tip #4: Focus on who you’re communicating with - and let your own work arise in conversation. Regardless of whether it’s an audience or an individual, really listen. Even if they don’t express anything deep back, look for hints about how their work is either important to them or an important service in the world, and engage them about it.

Tip #5: Frame what you do engagingly and in terms of how you help people. If you just say, "I'm a CPA," they'll put you in a nice box and psychologically move onto the next person. However, if you say something more along the lines of, "I'm a CPA who works with small businesspeople and helps them save money," it gets them thinking. (No, that's not a stunning example, but you get the idea.) Always find a way to get them to engage you and ask questions; don't give a final answer right off the bat. But, in the end, communicate both what you love and how people have benefited - and let them realize on their own what they'd gain from working with you. Caveat: be wary of "elevator pitch formulas" that sound good in theory but forced when they come out of your mouth. Find what works for you.

Tip #5: More than anything, connect. It's far better to make a handful of great connections than superficial talk with two dozen people you forget. Enjoy just meeting people! They'll appreciate your attention. So focus on quality connections, and don't try to get around the room as fast as you can. Caveat: put your attention where it's warranted. If someone doesn't feel like a good connection (either personally or business-wise), give a "Very nice to meet you" or such, and move on. Use your time wisely.

Tip #6: Follow up. Immediately. As in, the next day. Write a brief note. Don't, however, go right into the hard sell, which will turn them off and make others think you just want to make money off them, and didn't appreciate them as people. And, if you had a great conversation, seek them out on Biznik or LinkedIn too.

The above tips are just a beginning - but they'll get you started, and go a long way.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The King's Fear

In the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, the once-and-future King suffers from an incapacitating stutter. Although he gets expert coaching from the unorthodox yet adept Geoffrey Rush, he doesn’t fully unlock and transcend his impairment until he digs deep into resolving his fear.

So, the question is: might fear be holding you back from doing what you truly want? Sometimes it’s obvious – and at other times, subtler. For example: procrastination and aversion are great ways to deflect what’s really going on underneath. “I’ll get to it sometime.” But what is the real reason?

Yes, fear applies to many things. But the statistic is true: more people are afraid of public speaking than dying. Far too many people have told me they haven’t taken the next step in their career because it involved speaking or presentations. People generally think this can’t be changed – that they’re hopeless, or that it’s just part of their identity.

This is just one of the reasons why, when I start to work with people, I discuss my philosophy of “everyday performance” – that we’re performing all the time in accordance with what we’ve learned. How we dress and gesture can more easily be understood to be a type of “performance” in the world. But it also includes emotional responses – such as fear and nerves. Yes, your nervousness (and even subtle, occasional discomfort) is a learned behavior, that surfaces in relation to particular stimuli happening around you.

This means that it’s not part of your essence. Fear/nervousness is something you do – not what you are. Which therefore means you can learn to do something else – and actually find true comfort and ease – even joy – in front of others.

No, faking it doesn’t count. You have to feel great – comfort is one of my five essential components of holistic communication. But it’s actually a faster process than you might think. If you’d like to know more, please drop me an email.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Presence

As a Performance Coach, I identify four elements that make us better speakers, performers, and communicators: comfort/ease, connection, presence, and technique. However, they overlap: increasing one affects the others.

Let’s talk about presence and connection. As you know, the holidays can be both a joyous and a difficult time. Spending time with family can alternate between being wonderful and a minefield. Or we may feel alone. it’s easy to get down and have old stuff come up.

In this holiday season, perhaps the best present you can give is your full presence. But it can be hard. When with someone we have a difficult time with – an in-law, a co-worker or, well, anyone else we find challenging – we often check out. Perhaps we wish they were different.

How would it be to fully embrace this singular, unique moment? Choosing to be present brings the possibility for something new to arise. Sure, it may be scary and not as safe, but sometimes that’s what is needed for true transformation to happen.

And the same goes for how you experience yourself. When we get depressed or fearful, in some sense we abandon ourselves. We don’t remember that we have abundant resources, and that new people and things may enter our lives at any moment. We forget about our true nature as incredible human beings.

Holiday Presence Exercise: When you find yourself in a moment of difficulty with someone, place your feet flat on the floor and straighten your spine. Keep looking them in the eye while taking long, deep breaths. picture your breathing coming in and out of your heart. As you breathe, imagine inhaling their energy, and exhaling your own. Accept what’s offered, and give back.

Allow yourself this holiday season to give and receive – from your whole self.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Authenticity... get real.

One question that often arises, for public speaking, performers, and when networking, is authenticity. Have you ever met someone at a networking event, or witnessed a speaker or performer, who just felt fake? Or... have you ever felt fake? Most of us have. Whether we try to or not, we usually seek to conform with perceived societal norms and expectations. These get in the way of being ourselves and expressing ourselves easily. Ironically, even if we try to rebel against them, we’re still “in relationship” with them, and thus can’t escape them. So, what to do?

Tip #1: Get present. A good first step is simply focusing on the breath. It’s the most fundamental means of finding yourself amidst everyone else. Instead of worrying about how you're being perceived, practice deep abdominal breathing, the most essential bodily activity. Then, stretch and loosen up to let go of unnecessary physical and mental tension.

Tip #2: Play. What we think of as “natural” or “ourselves” is really a series of habits. We can find a new range of expression by playing. Have fun! Alter your voice, your facial expressions, etc. This can break us out of our habitual expression and constriction, and help us take ourselves less seriously – a good step forward.

Tip #3: Don’t try to look good. The more you try to make a good impression, the worse you’ll actually do. Let go, relax and speak with much less effort. You’ll be surprised how much less stressful it feels, and how much better you’ll be received.

Tip #4: Rather than thinking about your own work, focus on who you’re communicating with. Regardless of whether it’s an audience or an individual, really listen. Even if they don’t express anything deep back, look for hints about how their work is either important to them or an important service in the world, and engage them about it.

Try any of these, and let me know the results. And if you'd like to learn how to do these really effectively, ask me about coaching, in-person or on Skype.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What to Do When You Screw Up

Okay, so the title isn't very poetic. But it's how it feels... and internally we may draw upon far more colorful terms. You know how it goes.

You’re in the middle of a speech… a performance… a job interview. And even though you’ve prepared extensively (or, at least, are ad-libbing really darn well), It Happens. You say the wrong thing. You realize you’re wearing different shoes on each foot. Your audience doesn’t react the way you want them to. You feel like shrinking into a tiny little ball and disappearing.

Yet you can’t. You’re there, and… they’re there. So what should you do?

When we stay preoccupied with a mistake, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Rather than continuing to connect* with the audience and stay present*, we keep thinking about how we messed up. It’s over. No one will like us, our loved ones will hate us, and we'll never get hired on this planet again.

But this self-flagellation doesn’t help us. (Plus, it's not true.) So what can we do instead? If we give ourselves permission to go outside our comfort zones, to try new things, and to not be perfect (gasp), our audience actually likes us more. I can’t tell you the number of times, when acting or speaking, that I’ve made ghastly mistakes... but it’s more than I’d like to admit. Or is it? Guess what. I make mistakes. Or, um, creative solutions. OK, they’re really screwups.

So, What’s best to do? A few possibilities:
A) Keep going, and act like it didn’t happen. For something minor, this is often just fine. They won’t know if you don’t tell them! So, don’t.
B) Stop, acknowledge it, back up, and offer the correct information. As awkward as this may feel, if it’s truly necessary to not sound completely wrong, then do it. But use humor if you can, and act like it’s really okay. Take yourself lightly, and they will too.
C) Offer a correction later. “Just to clarify, as I might have used an ambiguous wording earlier….” I don't recommend this often, as it can make an error stick in people's minds, but is occasionally appropriate.

No matter what, be okay with it. We’re all human, and most people appreciate being able to admit mistakes and offer corrections without it being a big deal (an interesting juxtaposition of humility and confidence). Most importantly, don’t get in your own way.

*The four key elements to successful performing – be it as a speaker, on stage, or in everyday life – are Presence, Technique, Comfort and Ease, and Connection. All four are easily learned. Inquire if you’d like to learn more.


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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Overcoming a Monotone Voice

Many presenters and performers struggle with having a monotone voice. We often think that we're far more colorful than we actually are. Darn! What to do about this?

Videotaping, as well as Toastmasters, aren't bad ideas. But it's also important to know specific techniques to create variation - which is the key to keeping an audience's attention, and to breaking out of monotone and other consistent habits. Doing so via emotional cues (speak lines in various tones - sad, happy, playfully, etc.) are a possibility; or, heighten various facial expressions, which then connects emotionally and changes the voice. Simply smiling should help change the tone as well; regardless of the seriousness of the topic, speaking with a smile makes it more approachable.

Another approach is to break down the vocal possibilities technically. The following are a few of the the elements that can be played with:
- volume (which sounds like it's an issue) - getting quieter is just as effective as getting louder
- pitch (higher or lower tones)
- enunciation (more enunciation highlights words)
- tempo (speaking slower or faster)

When coaching or in my advanced, workshops, I teach a vocal adaptation of Laban Movement Analysis, which gives clients many different speaking styles to work with - but this is harder to convey in a blog. Darn! But the above four are a good start.

Where to apply them? In a written speech, underline key words - be it a noun, adjective, or whatnot - and apply variation there. If you're speaking extemporaneously, it's helpful to practice with a nursery rhyme or something else you already know. By first practicing these skills with a set text, you'll then have an easier time applying it to a speech that's off the cuff.

If you give it a try, post your results and let us know how it went!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's luck got to do with it?

Much of the time, when we have an important speaking engagement, interview or performance, we wish upon a lucky star for things to go well. Being St. Patrick's Day, let's take a look at this. Is this practical or helpful?

In my humble opinion (IMHO, as they say), it really isn't. Desiring luck is placing power outside of yourself, hoping that some unknown force in the universe will bestow upon you a positive outcome. Here are two more practical tools:

1) Utilize visualization. Really seeing, sensing and feeling yourself performing at your best. That is, fully immerse yourself sensorially in the peak experience. Feel the sensations physically in your body. See yourself calm yet energized, confident yet open. Imagine people really receiving you. See, trust and know that you're at your best, whenever you need it.

2) Warm up beforehand. Fully warm up beforehand - physically and vocally. Don't just think about what you're going to say. Performing (be it speaking, interviewing or acting) is a full contact sport. Okay, without much actual body contact, but you need to engage your entire being just as much! Engage your entire being. And if you don't know how to do this, work with an expert. It's worth it.

Leave luck to the 17th of March. Draw upon these two tips, and your pockets will surely stay green.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Significance of Breathing

I posted on this some time ago, but it's big enough a subject to warrant another entry. It's almost impossible to overemphasize the importance of breathing. Aside from the fact that, without it, you'll die.

But the opposite is also true: the more you breathe, the more life you can breathe into you. Most people don't take advantage of the full capacity of their lungs. Did you realize that they are actually bigger on your backside than on your front, and extend further down?

Learning to breathe properly is one of the key ways to develop presence, which is largely about being fully embodied, and present. Why do you think so many meditation techniques focus on the breath? Because they bring us into this moment. And when you're speaking, connecting or engaging with a person or group, Being present is what creates presence.

It's also about connection. When you breathe in, you're breathing in the air that others are breathing. (I know, it sounds gross, but it's a fact.)

Exercise: Visualize that when you breathe in, you are taking in the other person. When exhaling, you're giving back to them.

This simple exercise easily transforms interactions, and fosters open connection. Try it - and leave a comment below as to the results.