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5 Public Speaking Secrets: What Every Speaker Should Know


VoicePro, Public Speaking, Communication Skillsby Scott Danielson



VoicePro, Public Speaking, Communication SkillsWhat’s your secret? At VoicePro®, our clients consistently ask us for public speaking tricks and secrets.  Though everyone’s method is different, there are five secrets about public speaking that everyone should know.

#1 Everyone Gets Nervous

There’s nothing “normal” about speaking in front of large groups of people. The body knows it.  That’s why it sends a rush of adrenaline through your system right before a presentation (the fight or flight response in action). The difference between an experienced speaker and a novice is how they harness that nervous energy.

Start by shaking out the tension in your muscles and breathe deeply. Then shift your attention to the well-being of your audience and frame the speech as a conversation. With this more positive mindset, you can use the adrenaline surge to speak with passion.

#2 Audiences Are Nicer Than You Think

Business presenters often believe their audiences are prone to hostility, just waiting for them to fail. Not so. Most business audiences are looking to you to make their lives easier. Customers want to hear how your products and/or services will work for them. Executives and colleagues want information relevant to them. Your audience wants to hear how you can help them.

So, don’t dwell on whether or not the audience likes you. Chances are, your audience really wants you to help them.

#3 No One’s A Natural

There’s a widespread myth that some speakers are just “naturals.” In reality, “natural” speakers tend to be the most practiced, the most experienced, and the most prepared. A great example is basketball legend Bill Walton. As a player, Bill suffered from a debilitating stutter that plagued him during post game interviews. Once he left the game, however, Walton worked tirelessly to overcome his stutter and became a successful broadcaster for ESPN.

This is an extreme example, but the point is simple. Practice and preparation over the long haul will turn you into a “natural” speaker.

#4 Something Always Goes Wrong

Considering how nervous inexperienced speakers can get, telling them that something is bound to go wrong might seem counterintuitive. However, acknowledging the inevitability of minor mistakes can ease your pre-speech tension.

The perfect presentation doesn’t exist. Attempting to create one will keep you awake at night. A more realistic goal is to keep the worst disasters at bay. Prepare an outline that allows your thoughts flow naturally. Practice until you’re comfortable with your material. And always, ALWAYS test the electronic equipment before you begin.

Once you’ve taken all necessary precautions, accept that something may not go according to plan. Without the pressure of a perfect presentation, you can take minor slip-ups in stride.

#5 Too Much Enthusiasm Can Be Abrasive

My least favorite motivational speakers all use the same trick.  After eagerly asking how the audience is doing and hearing grumbles, they declare the audience can do better. “Come on,” they say, “let me hear you make some noise.” The forced “Okay!” that follows couldn’t be more insincere.

Energy is crucial to a good performance. Unchanneled energy, however, is oft-putting and can detract from your presentation. Pacing from side to side and speaking a mile a minute is energetic, but it will distract and confuse your audience. Likewise, speaking with the bubbly enthusiasm of a pre-school teacher at an early morning conference will surely irritate those who missed their morning coffee.

Instead, slow down and match your audience’s energy level. If your speech is engaging, the audience’s enthusiasm and excitement will build naturally.

What's our secret? Public speaking isn't as terrifying as you think.   

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How To Speak Like An Arrogant Snob


VoicePro, Public Speaking, Communication Skillsby Scott Danielson



VoicePro, Communication Skills, Public SpeakingIn your lifetime, you’ll run into a lot of snobbish people. Most of the time you’ll experience something subtle, like a judgmental look when you wear the wrong outfit or eat junk food, or a scoff when you tell a friend your favorite song is, “Eye of the Tiger.” I know I’m guilty of snobbery, because I gag out loud when someone tells me he/she watches MTV’s Jersey Shore.

Regardless of the time, place, or situation, the message is clear: I am judging you. And I am better than you.

However, not all snobbish behavior is a reaction to personal preferences in music, movies and food. There are surefire ways to talk down to your presentation audience like you’re a true member of the high and mighty elite.

Use Flowery Language & Technical Terminology

As I author this composition, I earnestly yearn to overwhelm my readers with my incalculable vocabulary (and mastery of Microsoft Word’s thesaurus).

In an effort to sound intelligent, novice speakers often load their speeches with language straight from Shakespeare. There’s only one problem: Your audience isn’t there for a staged reading of Hamlet. Therefore, an excess of overblown, unfamiliar language will make your presentation difficult to follow and leave them feeling less intelligent.

Technical jargon can be a similar problem. Using industry specific abbreviations and terminology among experts is a great way to indicate, “I’m one of you.” By contrast, an audience that barely knows what Facebook is will be lost immediately if your first sentence mentions the switch to “Timeline.”

When you’re preparing your speech, be sure to ask yourself if your wording is appropriate for your intended audience.

Find A Way to Insult Them

Almost everyone knows a good lawyer joke or two (half of them probably include references to reptiles). So, of course it would be great for me to open a speech to a bunch of lawyers with a couple of light jabs at their profession. There’s just one problem: I’m not a lawyer.

Telling a joke at the expense of other people is insulting. Regardless of your best intentions, it’s a surefire way to lose their respect. If you are going to tease your audience in any way, make sure it’s at your own expense. Doctors can tease doctors and lawyers can tease lawyers. Anything else is one-sided and mean-spirited, because the audience has no means of fighting back.

Put Your Audience Down

While using fancy language and jargon is an attempt to put yourself above your audience, treating them like simple minded fools is demeaning. Even novice speakers know not to call the crowd a bunch of idiots, but there are more innocent speaking habits that have terrible implications. 

Some speakers begin their speeches with a rhetorical question the audience has no way of answering. It’s a simple attempt to be provocative and get people thinking. However the message conveyed is, “I’m sooooo much smarter than you.” Likewise, sales people will very subtly try to put down their competitors, a tactic that is a real turnoff if your customer currently buys from them. Motivational speakers are similarly guilty when they imply everyone is living life the wrong way and needs to make drastic changes. And if you want to clear the room of good vibes, just use an excessive amount of sarcasm.

Inexperienced speakers worry about themselves and what the audience will think of them. As a result, many of them sound like snobs as they try to dazzle their audience with a huge vocabulary, jokes, and provocative gimmicks. If you truly want to impress your audience, speak to them as an equal and always keep their point of view in mind. 

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Image provided by Jeremy Brooks

3 Management Tips From The Avengers


VoicePro, Communication, Leadershipby Scott Danielson




VoicePro, Leadership, CommunicationThe summer movie season has started with a bang.  After years of anticipation and five films of preparation, Marvel Studio has finally released their super hero team up of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk. Excitement has been especially high here in Cleveland (VoicePro’s® headquarters), since many of the scenes in The Avengers were shot in the downtown area, with locals filling the ranks of the extras. 

The results have been unprecedented.

The Avengers has broken box office records, critics are giving the movie high praise, and it will likely be either the first or second highest grossing film of the year. As a comic book and movie fan, I fit right into the target demographic and I rushed to see the movie on opening weekend.  As expected, there was action and spectacle aplenty. On top of that, I was fascinated to see how the heroes worked as a team—or didn’t. It was a great lesson in team dynamics. While it’s unlikely you’ll ever lead a team of super powered beings to save the planet, there’s much to learn from the struggles of this all powerful team.

Here are three tips I learned from The Avengers. Use them to run your own squad of office super heroes.

#1 Demonstrate Clear Leadership

One of the main problems the Avengers face is lack of central leadership. The heroes are all accustomed to either working independently or taking orders from others. This leads to a number of miscommunications and dustups, including a battle between Iron Man and Thor. Without a clear leader, it becomes almost impossible for the team to function.

While the lead-by-committee option sounds appealing, the need for a clearly defined leader can’t be denied.  Forbes author Mike Myatt likens consensus decisions to a baseball manager letting the players determine the lineup. If left entirely on their own, even reasonable employees will jockey for power and personal gain.  It’s the leader’s job to keep the team on task.

#2 Put Personal Issues Aside

For a team full of super-powered beings, the Avengers have a lot of personal problems.  Bruce Banner hates turning into the Hulk, Tony Stark doesn’t trust authority, and Captain America feels completely out of place in the modern world. However, once hordes of aliens begin a hostile invasion, all their petty issues take a back seat to saving the Earth from destruction.

When employees clash, they tend to mistake personal problems for business problems.  For example, bringing up flaws in a proposal can be seen as an attempted power play, instead of the helpful advice it’s intended to be. Encourage your employees to keep their eyes on the goal. Foster a sense of unity so that, when the going gets tough, they band together.  If conflict does arise, teach them how to disagree in ways that move the organization forward.

#3 Define Roles and Responsibilities

The Avengers each have both strengths and weaknesses.  The Hulk has the power to level buildings but lacks…subtlety. It would be a huge mistake to give the big, green, rage monster a task involving precision or subtle human manipulation. Captain America quickly realizes this and gives Hulk a simple task: “Smash.”

In an attempt to avoid micromanaging, many managers fail to clearly define individual roles.  This can be maddening for employees, because a major cause of conflict in the workplace is unclear roles and responsibilities. An equally disastrous mistake is to misjudge an individual’s abilities and try to jam a square peg into a round hole.  Your job as a manager is to determine your team’s strengths and assign responsibilities according to each individual’s skills and expertise. 

Assembling a team of talented people is no small feat and certainly improves your chances for success. However, with strong employees come strong personalities, beliefs, and egos.  It’s up to managers to grab the reigns.  Take a lesson from the Avengers. Leadership may not be a super power, but it’s essential for any team to succeed.

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3 Ways To Wail Like Jimi Hendrix


VoicePro, Public Speaking by Scott Danielson



VoicePro, Communication Skills, Public SpeakingRecently Rolling Stone magazine updated its list of the one hundred greatest guitarists in rock history. The first ninety-nine will likely be debated for years; however, the number one slot was a no brainer.  It had to be Jimi Hendrix.

Arguably, no one before or since has harnessed the electric guitar’s power. But the question remains: What made Jimi so special? I believe that what made Jimi special, aside from a supernatural understanding of his instrument, are the same qualities that make any performer, speaker, or business presenter stand out.

#1 Do It Your Way                                                 

Nothing about Hendrix’s guitar playing was conventional.  He played a right-handed guitar upside down and restrung it for a left handed player.  He couldn’t read or write music.  His guitar playing was full of distortion, feedback and fuzz.  The end result was a sound that no one had ever heard before. 

A memorable speaker is different from other speakers. A memorable speaker is unique. For example, if you can insert your own humorous drawings on a dry-erase board into an otherwise mundane PowerPoint presentation, you and your information are more likely to be remembered. If you can engage your audience in conversation, they will have better recall. In addition, you will be far more likely to enjoy the experience if you’re doing it your way.

#2 Update Old Material

Despite a decent catalog of original songs, two of Hendrix’s most famous songs are not his own.  First is his electric (pun-intended) cover of Bob Dylan’s, “All Along the Watchtower.” The second is his signature Woodstock moment: playing the “The Star-Spangled Banner”. This is noteworthy because it’s a take on a song we hear so frequently and know so well.  Not only does Hendrix not play our national anthem as it is intended, he also throws in interludes of noise and dissonance to imitate the sounds of  planes flying and bombs bursting in air. The end result is stirring.

Hendrix’s rendition of the national anthem offers a great blueprint for updating your sales pitch.

First, throw out what doesn’t work.  In Jimi’s case he didn’t parade out a marching band or orchestra (I doubt Woodstock would have approved).  In your case, you might have a signature line or joke that’s worked for years.  Throw it out and find something new.  If your material is stale, it will show.

But keep the theme the same.  Hendrix’s version of the song is different, but anyone familiar with the “Star-Spangled Banner” will recognize the melody line.  If your company has a distinctive advantage, such as extraordinary customer service, low prices, or top quality goods, continue to emphasize it.  Unless your customers are chanting for change, your basic message still has appeal because it’s recognizable.

#3 Feel It

I’m almost convinced Jimi Hendrix never opened his eyes once he began to play. At the same time, I’ve never watched footage of Jimi and felt he was going to screw up.  Instead, I’m just aware that, “Jimi is feeling it.” For Hendrix, his powerful onstage persona developed from years of meticulous practice and obsessive attention to detail.  Not that you could ever tell once he picked up his guitar.  It was as if he was experiencing the music for the first time and loving every minute of it.

Even if you’ve presented the same material a hundred times, you can always find something new to enjoy. A sales presentation may be stale to you, but your customer has never experienced it. You will get different reactions each time and enthusiasm is contagious.  Bearing this in mind, don’t forget to have fun!

Jimi Hendrix was a stunning performer that set the stage on fire, literally and figuratively. However, you don’t need an electric guitar and superior song-writing skills to channel your inner rock star. Be yourself, avoid the norms, and play with passion.  You may not get groupies or a best-selling album but you will win over your audience.

Image provided by basspunk

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The Hoodie Question: 3 Ways To Improve Your Visual Impact


VoicePro, Communication Skillsby Carolyn Dickson


VoicePro, Communication Skills, VisualsMuch public discourse recently has centered on the “hoodie question.” Are hoodies a symbol of suspicious behavior or merely a common way of showing group membership? Should hoodie wearers be singled out for increased police scrutiny, or in moments of tension should cooler heads prevail? Do we need to be uneasy when we encounter young men, alone or in groups, whose uniform includes the ubiquitous hoodie? Or should we go beyond initial appearances and look for the person within?

These are tough questions that go to the heart of issues America has long struggled with surrounding race, drugs, crime, and the angst of adolescence—issues that go far beyond the scope of this article. One facet, however, has not been addressed anywhere in the media that I’ve seen. It’s an aspect we at VoicePro® address daily in our executive coaching and our workshops. This is the question of how we as a society (indeed humanity itself) react to visual stimuli.

The fact is that upon first meeting we place a greater emphasis on the visual than anything else. It’s how we instinctively determine whether someone is friend or foe. Our reptilian brain takes over, fight or flight kicks in, and we react accordingly. Cultures throughout history have developed ways to greet people in non-threatening ways. The early Native American way of holding up one hand, palm facing out to denote unarmed and friendly, has evolved into today’s handshake greeting.

We can’t escape making snap judgments based on how someone looks. We’re hard-wired to do so. The question for business people becomes: How can we shape our visual impression so as to exert a positive and powerful impact on the people we meet? Here are some suggestions.

 #1 Dress for who you want to be.

The “hoodie question” highlights the fact that what you wear makes a difference. It’s a fact of nature that you’ll be judged on your visual appearance, and your personal dress code plays a huge part. In business, this means wearing clothes appropriate for the environment in which you find yourself. At VoicePro® our normal office environment is casual, but in deference to our clients we step that up a notch or two when we conduct workshops or meet with clients. I was in a retail store recently where body piercings and visible tattoos seemed appropriate, but they would be totally out of place for us because we work in a more conservative environment.

#2 Stand tall and stay open.

Many of our clients have a tendency to try to make themselves smaller. They cross their arms, round their shoulders, and almost disappear into their chairs. This is especially true of women who are generally smaller to begin with. In the professional world, it’s important to take your space. Stand and sit tall. Maintain an open posture with your shoulders down and back and your chest open. Curb the inclination to curl up and physically protect yourself when you feel threatened.

#3 Look at people.

Along with noticing an open, non-threatening posture, people immediately read and react to the expression on your face. As I walk the North Carolina mountain trails, I’m watchful of the folks I meet. I immediately warm to those who greet me with a smile and a friendly hello. And I’m uncomfortable with the people who avert their eyes and pass me by without a word. In the mountain wilderness, I instinctively revert back to the primal question: Is this person a threat to me or not?

At a sales call or in the corporate boardroom, the reactions may not be quite as overt, but they are the same as I experience on my mountain adventures You can’t expect people to look past your outward appearance and “accept you for who you really are” if what you present to them is beyond the fringe of acceptability.

It’s said that in an interview, an employer will decide within seven seconds whether or not he or she wants to hire an individual and then spends the rest of the interview finding ways to support their initial decision. No matter how much you want it to be different, you will be judged by others based on your outward appearance.

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