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Steer Into The Skid!: 3 Ways to Survive Public Speaking Disasters


VoicePro, Public Speaking, Communication Skills by Scott Danielson




VoicePro, Communication Skills, Public SpeakingThe corporate offices of VoicePro® are located on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, in the middle of the Great Lakes snow-belt. Needless to say we drive on icy roads….a lot. Still, years of winter driving experience can’t save us from black ice, the thin coating of ice on an asphalt road.

Hitting a patch of black ice triggers a scene right out of an action movie.        

The brakes screech, the car veers, your heart races, and panic strikes—until you remember one of your earliest driving lessons: steer into the skid. You make the correction and soon the vehicle is back on track. Your heartbeat slows and once again all is well.

Have you ever made a mistake during a presentation? The feelings are strangely similar.  Here are three ways to steer into the skid and avoid driving into a metaphorical ditch.

#1 Pause

What do you do when you see debris in the road? Steer around it.  What do you do when your car drifts off the road? Get back between the lines.  Now what do you do when you hit a patch of ice?

There’s a reason we’re taught to steer into the skid.  Our first reaction is to steer away from it.

We have a strong instinct to rush in and try to rectify our mistakes immediately, but doing so can lead to avoidable errors. One verbal stumble easily becomes five when you’re rushing through your material.

Take a moment to pause and collect your thoughts, and then move forward. The actions you take will be more reasoned and the flow of your presentation will remain intact.

#2 Don’t Freak Out (On the Outside)

I will always respect race car drivers for their grace under pressure.  Despite ten car pileups, and a car spinning out of control, their radio communications also sound calm and reasoned. Based upon their vocal tone you'd never guess their car was on fire.

When you’re in front of a group, even a tiny mistake feels equally monumental. 

I was once in a show that required my character to cut himself with his sword. When the moment came, the flimsy plastic sword broke on my hand and three pieces flew across the stage.  I was mortified.

However, after a brief pause I looked at the sword and pretended to marvel at my strength. No one in the audience was the wiser and the unintentional joke was added to the show.

There are some mistakes your audience will never know about, unless you tell them. My unstable stage sword could have killed an entire scene if I rushed to pick up the pieces or cursed out loud.  If your mistake isn’t big enough to rattle the audience, don’t let it bother you.

Maintain your composure and avoid letting an unseen mistake from spoiling your show.

#3 Admit Your Mistake

Some mistakes cannot be ignored. You drop papers all over the floor. You forget the name of your own company. You trip and face plant on your way to the podium. This is when steering into the skid means fessing up and owning your screw-up.

If you pretend nothing happened, your audience will wonder if you noticed it, or worse, presume your ego is massive enough to pretend it didn’t happen. Now your mistake is the highlight of the presentation, and no one will hear another word you say.

An audience will forgive almost any mistake. What they will not forgive is ignoring it. So, own your slip-up.  Take a moment to poke fun at yourself, then, go ahead and correct the mistake.  This gives the group an opportunity to laugh with you and celebrate your humanity.  If you embrace your mistake, your audience will as well.

Black ice and speaking mistakes are terrifying because they occur unexpectedly. However, your speaking mistakes offer you an opportunity black ice does not.  If you own your mistakes and maintain your composure, you will endear yourself to your audience.

For more public speaking tips...follow us on Twitter!

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Words: The Building Blocks of Communication Skills


VoicePro, Communication Skills by Leslie Dickson


VoicePro, Communication SkillsFor 37 years, Lake Superior State University has been publishing an annual list of “Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." A frightening number of this year’s entries come from the business realm, including: shared sacrifice, blowback, the new normal, and win the future.

Newly coined phrases can have real expressive power in the beginning. They can help us think about an idea in a different way, see it in a different light. Over time, though, their popularity is their downfall. They become clichés, so overused that all meaning is drained out of them. Is there some tired, worn out language used in your workplace – or by you? Maybe it’s time to find a “new normal” for your new normal. 

Words define reality

Of course, thinking about language is more than eliminating the weak phrases. It’s about finding more powerful ones. Words have shades of meaning that can help attune the mind to an idea, shape an opinion or sharpen a point of view. Think about these pairings and how they communicate differently.

History vs. legacy

Parent vs. Daddy

Community vs. town

Change vs. update

Rules vs. standards

Streamlined vs. sleek

They feel different, don’t they? Each has its own connotation that conveys a different underlying thought. I’m not suggesting one is better than the other in any given situation, just that you should choose mindfully. Words convey emotion:  anger, trust, fear, excitement, belief, doubt. Be aware, so that you don’t set a tone you don’t mean to. By the same token, it doesn’t benefit anyone if you whitewash a problem with words that hide it. 

The words behind the words

Remember the adage, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.” Let me rephrase it. “If you keep saying what you’ve been saying, you’ll keep getting the behaviors you’ve been getting.”

That’s the reason to take your wordsmith work deeper – to its most valuable communications level. Use words to uncover – and convey – ideas deeper than the surface information. Here are some examples.

What are the words that form the underpinning for customer service? “Trust”? “Delight”? “Constancy”? 

How can you communicate change? “New landscape” or “changed priorities”? “Possibilities” or “survival skills”? “Overhaul” or “new paradigm”?

Think of words that reshape the familiar. Are “customer commitment dates” more motivating than “due dates”? Is “personal responsibility” stronger than “job description”? Is a “goal” more or less achievable than a “must-do” or “competition killer”?

So what’s the good word today? Think before you speak, and it’ll say more than you imagined. 

For more ideas on saying what you mean in every situation, follow us on Twitter or contact us for more information

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3 Leadership Lessons From Elementary School Valentines


VoicePro, Communication Skills

by Scott Danielson



VoicePro, Communication SkillsLove it or hate it, the social obligations of Valentine’s Day are hard to ignore. Husbands and wives exchange gifts, casual daters wonder how much they should spend on one another, and children (and some adults) celebrate a new stash of candy.

With all the romantic implications and pressure of the holiday, I often wish I was still in elementary school. Valentine’s Day was simpler then. And I didn’t worry about consuming half my body weight in candy. 

As I reflect back on my youth, I realize that a grade school Valentine’s Day offers more than nostalgia. It offers lessons in leadership.

#1 Include Everyone

It’s generally expected that schoolchildren will buy Valentine’s for all of their classmates. Although I barely spoke with some of my fellow students, I knew I would be writing their names on Valentines. It’s important in the early years that no one is excluded.

Much like schoolchildren have best friends, bosses have employees they naturally relate to more than others. It’s hard to avoid giving preferential treatment, but you will be deeply resented if you show favoritism to certain employees. 

To avoid jealousy, make sure to interact with every worker on a regular basis. Likewise, get input from as many employees as possible during meetings and take every idea into account. You don’t need to agree with every individual, but taking the effort to hear them out will enable them to feel included and improve your long-term relationships.

#2 There Are No Universal Solutions

Being a typical boy, I didn’t like valentines with Barbie on them. I was far more interested in superheroes and sports stars and I purchased valentines accordingly. Not surprisingly, the other kids felt the same way, so I got mostly sports valentines from the boys and Barbie valentines from the girls. 

There was one exception. One girl (or her parents) knew third grade boys would cringe at the sight of Barbie and gave the boys valentines featuring Spiderman. Needless to say, she was our favorite classmate that day.

We all think differently. In VoicePro®’s Leading Relationships™ workshop, we use the DISC assessment to determine the participants’ personal communication styles. Managers quickly discover why their managerial style doesn’t work with every single employee. Knowing how to adapt one’s style to the needs and personal styles of others is an incredibly valuable skill and results in increased productivity for all.

#3 Use Treats

If you get trick-or-treaters at Halloween you don’t want to be the one house without candy. The same rules apply for third grade valentines. Everyone wants candy. As an eight-year-old, my favorite valentines had a small pack of Skittles or M&M’s attached. 

Many leaders forget how important positive feedback and rewards are to employees. Salary increases are important but, as Inc. Magazine columnist Jeff Haden states: “Getting a raise is like buying a bigger house; soon, more becomes the new normal.”

Use rewards to set you and your company apart. Everything from simple compliments to the handout of annual awards shows you value your workers and their contributions. A variety of treats will give you an increasingly motivated and happier workforce.

Though some may boycott the “greeting card holiday”, it’s hard to imagine anyone turning down an unexpected display of affection. Surprise your office with a Valentine’s Day’s gift. Use these lessons from elementary school to show your employees you care.

For more leadership tips follow us on Twitter

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Pack Your Bags With Global Communication Skills


VoicePro, Communication Skillsby Leslie Dickson


VoicePro, Communication SkillsChances are, your organization is operating in a global community with colleagues, clients, suppliers and partners in other countries. Do you worry that your relationship may be getting lost in translation? The topic comes up with VoicePro® clients, many of whom are multinationals. And, it’s top of mind right now because I’m flying to Australia to work with U.S. client offices there. 

My advice? Yes, there are cultural practices you want to understand. That’s more than we can handle here, but rest assured that just a little research will go a long way. What we can talk about here, though, is the simple tools that work in the common language of connection.  Whether you’re making a presentation to a group or working with a small team, these elements can make a difference.

Body language is universal language. 

You convey an easy confidence when you keep an open, relaxed stance. Some studies suggest the most relaxed person in the room is perceived to become the leader. When you take a hunched-over stance or shrink into the chair at the conference table, you give up authority and strength. 

Eye contact is always understood. 

Eye contact communicates that you’re truly listening to other speakers and signals authentic belief in your own words. More important, it gives you a way to see if the listeners understand your message. In this case, it may signal a language barrier, but in any communication there’s a possibility of misunderstanding.

Skip the local clichés. 

I don’t think starting my Australia workshops with “G’day, mates” makes me an instant Aussie. It reminds me of a southern colleague who’s a bit annoyed when colleagues from the north start tossing “y’all” into every sentence. When visitors latch on to clichés, it conveys the message that they see the audience as sterotypes instead of flesh-and-blood individuals.  

Learn to pronounce foreign colleagues’ names. 

Ever hear your own name pronounced incorrectly? It’s an awkward start to a relationship at best, insulting at worst. Try to get a list of new contacts before your meetings so you can get pronunciation help (and practice, if necessary) before the first work conversation.  

Ask checking questions. 

This is a crucial part of communication with anyone, familiar or foreign, but particularly helpful in new working groups. Remember to ask often during the interaction, “Do you have any questions about that?” It opens the door for clarification. You may also consider asking someone in the group to recap next steps or key points. It’s another way of being sure you’re being clear.

Listen as well as you speak. 

This is another bit of advice that knows no boundaries. Still, any time language, accents or simply local practice may cause confusion, make sure you’re as focused on what others are saying as on your own presentation.

Still have concerns?  

Before you leave, set up a one-on-one conversation with a few of the key colleagues you’ll be meeting and ask for advice. It’s to everyone’s benefit to help you make the most of time together.

The world is getting smaller, your communications need to reach farther.  Put the accent on clarity, authenticity and relaxed focus, and you’re speaking the world’s language. 

For more ideas on being a powerful communicator, follow us on Twitter or contact us for more information

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Public Speaking For Normal People: A Reaction


VoicePro, Storytelling, Communication Skills,by Scott Danielson



VoicePro, Communication Skills, Public SpeakingThe other day, while I was scanning the internet for communication tips, I stumbled across an intriguing article by Jason Freedman entitled,“Public Speaking For Normal People.”

Because I had recently written an article aimed at performers, I eagerly read Friedman’s article, looking for new and interesting tips. My reactions were mixed. Some of the advice mirrored the teachings from VoicePro®’s Speak! Present! Influence!® workshop. On the other hand, others felt like a public speaking survival guide rather than ways to connect with the audience. 

Of course, we compliment Jason Freedman and anyone else assisting inexperienced speakers, and we’re reluctant to discount potentially helpful advice. So, instead of highlighting what we disagree with, here’s a tip-by-tip response to the article.

Tip #1: Dribble Twice, Spin Once

I loved this tip: Develop a relaxing physical routine before you speak.  At VoicePro®, relaxation before and during any pressure situation is a core value, and we offer numerous activities and exercises to help rid the body of nervous energy. In addition, warm-up routines prevent your brain from going into overdrive and over thinking your presentation.

However, I will caution readers against striking a “confidence pose.”  Forced poses are constrictive and block the release of energy. Instead, stand tall, breathe deeply, and shake out tension in the same way athletes do before competing.

Tip #2: Death To PowerPoint

The language is extreme but the point is well taken. Many speakers use PowerPoint as a crutch, with their eyes glued to the screen instead of speaking directly to the audience.  If you’re accustomed to using PowerPoint, ask yourself the following questions: Does my presentation truly need PowerPoint? And if so, how can I clean them up so everything is more clear? Then analyze your slides, making sure they can be read with a quick glance and easy to read from a distance.

Taking these precautions ensures your slides won’t become a distraction.

Tip #3: Speak To Two People

In the author’s example, he details his experience speaking in front of 150 people.  As he spoke he found that focusing on two specific individuals kept him relaxed. This may have been helpful to the speaker but it fails to take the audience into account. The audience Freedman spoke to likely wondered what was so special about those two people.

At VoicePro®, we emphasize the importance of connecting with your entire audience. So, move your eyes around, connecting with people throughout the audience, really seeing them and watching for their reactions. This may be outside your comfort zone, but the effect is powerful.

Tip #4: Embrace Your Ums

In the article, Freedman states filler words like “um” are subconscious and getting rid of them is nearly impossible. He also argues that unless you’re a politician, no one will care (I’m paraphrasing of course). I had two problems with this tip. First, filler words aren’t noticeable to a speaker but they’re maddening to an audience (especially after five minutes). Second, it’s very possible to get rid of filler words. Once I identified my filler words and made a concentrated effort to eliminate them, my speaking improved dramatically. It is an achievable goal.

Tip #5: Don’t Memorize

No arguments here.  Memorized speeches feel disingenuous and staged. And if you lose your place, it can be impossible to get back on track. We recommend creating an outline for your main ideas. Your expertise will fill in the blanks.

Tip #6: Practice With Live Ammunition 

We’ll never argue against practicing your presentation, especially in front of a crowd. However, Freedman’s idea of “live ammunition” includes being put on the spot and performing your speech at social gatherings, without preparation.

That’s panic inducing.

As an alternative, practice in front of selected co-workers or family members. You’re simulating a real situation, and the positive environment will give you confidence.

Public speaking can be a daunting task for the “normal” person, and Freedman’s post offers numerous tips to make a speaker feel comfortable.  Still, we should never lose sight of a speaker’s true focus—the audience. 

What tips do you find most effective? Post your comments here or message us on Twitter!

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5 Public Speaking Lessons From Comedians


VoicePro, Communication Skillsby Scott Danielson



VoicePro, Public Speaking, Communication SkillsImagine your last business presentation.

Ideally you were well prepared and your audience was eager to hear your ideas. Now, picture a slightly inebriated, potentially hostile audience with no qualms about voicing their displeasure, and you have one goal: Make them laugh. Such is the terrifying realm of the stand-up comic.

In his memoir, Born Standing Up, Steve Martin humorously notes why comedians declare that they “killed” after a successful show: “Because the audience is fully capable of killing you.”

Although I hope you never have to fend off insults from an angry drunk, I believe successful comics offer numerous lessons about how to engage with any kind of audience.

#1 Be Unique

There are two unspoken rules in comedy: Don’t steal, and don’t be a hack. A thief lacks originality and reeks of dishonesty. Anyone trying to perform like Robin Williams is a Robin Williams knock-off, and comedians such as Carlos Mencia are ostracized for using other comedians’ jokes.  

The hack talks in worn-out clichés about how terrible airline food is and the differences between men and women. They’re slightly amusing but entirely forgettable.

Mainstream comics develop their own signature voices. Steve Martin was a physical buffoon. Jim Gaffigan rose to fame with routines about food and Hot Pockets, along with high pitched asides.

If you want to be memorable, find your own speaking style. If you’re not a high energy personality any attempts to be excessively lively will be blatantly disingenuous. Find your comfort zone instead. A delivery that builds on your natural tendencies will make your presentation come alive.

#2 Get Personal

Most modern comedians don’t tell jokes. They share personal thoughts and experiences. Richard Pryor famously poked fun at his highly publicized personal struggles including addiction, setting himself on fire, run-ins with the law, and having a heart attack.

Sharing personal experiences is a wonderful opportunity to connect with your audience and put your humanity on display. Also, never underestimate the value of self-deprecating stories like Pryor’s. Sharing your flaws states “I don’t take myself too seriously,” and invites your viewers to laugh with you.

#3 Learn From The Best

George Carlin’s recent passing brought about an outpouring of sympathy and appreciation for the comedian’s work, most notably, his influence on other performers.

In an honorary piece for Entertainment Weekly, Chris Rock cited Carlin as his greatest influence for showing him comics didn’t need to do characters, they could just be clever. Likewise, a newly successful Louis C.K. said that George Carlin changed his career with the concept of abandoning routines after a year, thus forcing him to scrap tired material and dig deeper.

Any successful business presenter offers lessons for inexperienced speakers.  Learn from them. You may learn about connecting with your audience, how to organize material, or how to gracefully handle technical difficulties. Regardless, your presentation skills will improve by internalizing their lessons.

#4 Know Your Audience

About a year ago, I went to see Patton Oswalt at the Cleveland House of Blues.  It was a dark time for Clevelanders, because LeBron James’ infamous “decision” to play for Miami was televised the night before. As Patton took the stage he began apologetically: “I’m so sorry, guys. I just got a call to perform at the House of Blues in Miami with two of my friends.” Oswalt then detailed the ideal revenge against LeBron James. The audience laughed and groaned and loved every minute of it.

When you know what your audience wants, or what frustrates them, you can create a presentation to their liking. The end result is a personalized experience for the viewer. Word of Caution: If you ever use a local reference, avoid stereotypes or old news (referencing LeBron James now is way out of touch).

#5 Practice is Essential

The documentary Comedian follows comedy icon Jerry Seinfeld as he struggles to re-enter the world of stand-up comedy. During a drop-in performance at a local club, Jerry suffers a comic’s worst nightmare: He completely forgets his next joke and freezes onstage.

Even seasoned comics struggle with new material. Hour-long TV specials are a culmination of months of preparation, practice, and often failure.

It’s dangerous to believe everything will come to you in the moment.

Work through your growing pains before you present. Practice frequently, and if possible get a friend or family member to act as your audience. You’ll never regret practicing more, but you may regret practicing less.

Stand-up comedians aim to inspire laughs, but their goals mirror any business presenter.  They’re trying to connect with the audience. Embrace your inner comic and “kill” your next presentation.

Follow us on Twitter for more communication advice.

Let us know how we can help you improve your communication skills today!.

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