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Speaker's Digest | Fundamentals of Public Speaking | EMS Glossary of Terms

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Speaker's Digest

March 2017
Volume 16, Number 3

In this issue:

International Relations professor Robert Kelly became a global sensation a few weeks ago. He was on-air with the BBC via a Skype connection from his home office in South Korea. The topic was very serious: they were discussing the consequences of the actions of South Korean president Park Guen-hye, which included impeachment and possible jail time. (The country's constitutional court has since upheld her impeachment, effectively ousting her from office.)

The video of this interview has been shown around the world so many times that we really don't have to show it to you. But we will anyway, because it's not just funny-it's hilarious. And we'll bet that 99% of viewers had no idea what the interview was about in the first place. Watch it for yourself by clicking here.

This leads us to our first topic this month-how do you handle distractions so that people can remain focused on your message? Read on for our thoughts on that topic, as well as a look at President Trump's address to Congress and the impact of adjusting your style.


Handling Distractions: Acknowledge, Don't Ignore

Back when Ronald Reagan was in office, and shortly after he was shot in an assassination attempt, he was giving a speech during which a balloon popped. He stopped his speech, exclaimed "MISSED ME!" and continued with his remarks.

There are many ways that an audience can get distracted during a presentation. And for the purpose of this particular discussion, let's be sure to include one-on-one meetings, phone and video conversations, and any other type of presentation that technology has now made available to us.

As the presenter, realize that distractions can range from things within your control to circumstances that are far beyond your control. Some examples:

  • You have a black eye, a big cast on your hand, or some other visible issue.
  • You can't stop coughing, or you begin to noticeably perspire.
  • There is a problem with the room, such as unexpected noises in the background, temperature issues or problems with the sound system.
  • Unexpected noises fill the space, such as babies crying, dogs barking, or police sirens.
  • Your slides become out of sync, you lose your place in your notes, or find you are missing a page or a key visual aid.
  • Any one of hundreds of other kinds of distractions that you can't even predict.

Often, a presenter's first impulse is to plow through the distraction as if there is no problem. In February 2013, for instance, when Senator Marco Rubio gave the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address, he had a case of dry mouth and awkwardly guzzled a bottle of water without taking a break, causing both speaker and audience to lose focus.

Our recommendation about distractions is this: DO NOT IGNORE THEM. Distractions happen all the time, and while they are sometimes embarrassing, people will remember them more than your message unless you take action. ACKNOWLEDGE THE DISTRACTION.

Here's an example of how you might handle a distracting situation. Eric gave a speech a few years back and, in the middle of his presentation, the maintenance crew in the back of the room started to move things around, breaking down tables and making quite a bit of noise. People in the audience, clearly distracted, were turning their heads around to see where the noise was coming from. Eric paused, then quickly invited everyone to take a look behind them and wave at the people who were making the noise. Then, after everyone had a good laugh, he said, "Now that we've got THAT part out of the way, let's continue."

Do your best to acknowledge and disarm distractions. When you notice your audience might be distracted:

1. Pause and take a short break.
2. Acknowledge the distraction and, if necessary, take a moment to resolve it. (Get some water, get the kids/dogs out of the office, get your slides caught up.)
3. If it helps, lighten up the situation. Say something like "that's not the way we planned it" or laugh about it. (Remember what Jimmy Kimmel said last month when they realized that the Academy had just announced the wrong winner for Best Picture: "I just knew I would screw this up.")
4. Continue on when ready.

Worst-case scenario when your audience is distracted-they remember only the distraction and lose track of the important message you were sharing. Best case-they bond with you, they understand that you're human, and decide to listen more attentively.

And remember what happened AFTER the now-famous BBC interview with Robert Kelly-they invited him back on a few days later, this time with his wife and two children in the room with him, where they laughed together about the original interview and talked about the impact it made in social media circles. Watch that interview by clicking here.

Closed Circuit to those who can anticipate distractions: If you have to walk in on crutches or spilled mustard on your tie at lunch, take a moment to acknowledge what happened in advance. You'd rather have people listening to your brilliant thoughts on how to break through the marketing clutter than having them wonder "I wonder how she hurt her foot?" or "Does he know he has a stain on his tie?"

Similarly, we often see presenters who get interrupted by phone calls. It's usually good practice to turn your phone off, but sometimes you're expecting a call that you have to take. We're not referring to the call that updates you on your NCAA bracket, but perhaps the one from your pregnant wife telling you that IT'S TIME! If you're expecting an important phone call, let your audience/client/associates know in advance why you'll be leaving your phone on.


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Trump Changes Tone - And Succeeds!

When you, as a presenter, are not breaking through to your audience, try something different. Try anything different!

Since our last Digest, we all had a chance to watch as President Trump addressed both houses of Congress, his first major speech since his Inauguration address in January. According to two commentators from Public Radio International, "he employed a different style of speech than we've come to expect."

The result was noticeable. CNN reported: "7-in-10 said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction of the country." This represents quite an improvement from a president who had been facing "the lowest approval ratings of any new commander-in-chief of modern times," according to the same source.

What did Trump change? He noticeably toned down his delivery, he stuck to his script, he emphasized positivity over negativity, he reached out-in his own way-to both sides of the aisle, and spoke about a larger vision for America. Stephen Collinson at CNN noted: "Trump made a palpable effort to court voters who didn't support him with an offer to lay down the battles of the past. In fact, his address checked almost all the boxes of a traditional State of the Union style appearance."

By now, we recognize Trump's typical style that served him well during his campaign-brash, loud and over-the-top. His low ratings, we believe, were due in part to his inability to "sound presidential" in his new role. In short, this time he toned it down, and that made a big difference in how this speech was perceived. We know this wasn't his natural style, but people seemed to notice and appreciate the difference.

Making seemingly minor or subtle changes to your approach can have a huge impact. We once worked with a CEO who was so soft-spoken that he was having trouble getting people to buy-in to his message, internally and externally. We spent a good part of our day pushing him to speak LOUDER, to the point where he thought he was SHOUTING. At first this felt way out of his natural comfort zone. But as he practiced it, the difference was dramatic. He looked more engaged, sounded more excited, and gave the impression of being more credible and confident in his delivery.

Take a risk, shake things up and try something new with your presentation style. Pause more often, and allow the silence to feel longer than usual. Make your gestures dramatically more pronounced. Pump up the volume and energy. Or try smiling more that you normally would. We predict your audience will appreciate the difference!

Happy spring. Hope your brackets have survived the first two rounds mostly intact. And we'll see you next month for baseball season!! 


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