Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

Why You Need a Mentor

As a longtime member and past president of the Lee Emerson Bassett Toastmasters club (located at Stanford University), I’ve gotten a lot out of both club mentors as well as being a mentor. Mentors can help expedite your growth as a speaker as well as a leader.

Mentors in public speaking can help your development in a wide range of areas, such as in speech content, structure and delivery, among many other things (For more examples, view the Why Seek an LEB Mentor pdf).

In the business world, mentors are also extremely valuable. CEO Jason Nazar wrote a Wall Street Journal guest column last spring on this topic. He notes the biggest challenges you’ll face in business are the things you don’t know you don’t know.

Mentors will help identify areas of opportunity or risk that weren’t even on your radar.

The full WSJ column is definitely worth reading, but here are a few nuggets.

He notes the quickest path to success is to simply model the person who has already achieved what you want to. Identify step by step how they achieved their goals, and you have a proven pathway to your own success. A valuable mentor will provide you this roadmap and a lot of sage wisdom along the way.

How to get the Most From Mentors. Nazar says you need to ask folks for help directly. To find them, start with personal relationships and identify people in your sphere of influence who have some sentimental or personal (and nonfinancial) incentive to help you.

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The Power of Words

If you have ever debated with someone who disputed the importance of choosing the right words in a speech, presentation or pep talk, show him/her this video by Purplefeather. It definitely demonstrates the power of words.

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How to Engage Your Audience Using Metaphors

Using stories as a metaphor to make a point is a great way for public speakers to engage their audiences and make their speeches memorable.

That’s exactly what former Stanford baseball star Mike Robbins did Saturday in speaking to the Northern California chapter of the National Speakers Association. His talk focused on the importance of authenticity for public speakers, which is the theme of his new book Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Jossey-Bass/Wiley).

Being authentic is often a challenge for public speakers because sometimes the more they rehearse to familiarize themselves with their material, the more their body language can appear to be staged, rather than authentic.

Robbins, who now makes a living as an author and public speaker, was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and played three seasons in the minors, before an arm injury led to the end of his pro career. One of many metaphorical stories he told Saturday that was especially memorable and relatable to public speakers centered round a minor league teammate named Geoff Jenkins.

Jenkins was a massive guy, who would later go on to play 12 years in the Majors, mostly with the Milwaukee Brewers. Robbins described the burley guy as always swinging for the fences, regardless if it was batting practice or the ninth inning of a tie ball game.

“One time, Jenkins swung so hard in bating practice he broke the platform he was hitting on,” said Robbins, adding that he then walked off the platform flexing his chest with pride.

“Why do you swing so hard?” Robbins recalled a teammate asking him.
“In case I hit it,” Jenkins replied.

This story wound up wrapping up one of Robbins’ key points: When giving a speech, some people hold back, fear that they might make a mistake. But they should be like Jenkins and put everything out there. “Don’t hold back. You might hit the ball.”

Another one of Robbins’ stories on Saturday demonstrated that the challenge of being authentic is certainly not restrained to public speakers. For this, he described the day he had to pitch the Be Yourself book proposal to the president of his publisher. Initially, he assumed he was driving into San Francisco from the suburbs for an informal brainstorming meeting with his editor. However, his editor phoned and said the president was flying in from New York to join them.

This last minute bit of information compelled Robbins to initiate an emergency conference call with his wife to script what he would say in this all-of-a-sudden not-so-informal meeting. Hours later, Robbins found himself in full pitch-mode in a Jossey-Bass conference room.

The pitch, however, only lasted a few minutes, before he nearly broke down, and said to the president: I appreciate you flying here to meet with me. But I find myself putting on an act to impress you. Is it O.K. if I stop this act?

What unfolded next was a very candid conversation and brainstorming session leading to the book outline.

Robbins left that meeting with much uncertainty on how that discussion was perceived. He later got a call from his editor, who said: “After you left, we talked about you.”

“Oh?” Robbins gulped.

His editor said that was one of the most unusual meetings with the president. Then added: Robbins had the green-light to write the book.

If you are reading this blog post and thinking this is the formula to get a book deal, you may want to make sure you already have had the success of a published bestseller. Robbins’ first act was Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation, also bankrolled by the same publisher.

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Winners of the “Ads Worth Spreading” Initiative Announced

When was the last time during the DVR/iPhone-era you consciously watched a commercial? In other words, you didn’t text, tweet or email during the commercial.

The organizers of the TED conference, which aims to inspire Ideas That Spread, say they are tired of ads being “aggressively forced on users.” Therefore, they recently promoted the Ads Worth Spreading Initiative, encouraging the development of ads “so good, you choose to watch – and share,” according to Chris Anderson, TED curator.

Last Friday, the results were announced on its Web site. Out of 1,000 submissions from around the world, the top 10 winners of the inaugural contest came from both major ad agencies to tiny boutiques to college students to nonprofits.

If you are unfamiliar with the TED Conference, its organizers challenge its world-class speakers to give the “talk of their life” (usually in 17 minutes), aimed at changing the world. Many of their best presentations are on its Web site. Its ads run after the talk, not before or during.

“As well as avoiding the annoyance of interruption, this positioning means they can run longer than the TV-standard 30-seconds,” Anderson says. “And that’s the key — in 2-3 minutes, there’s more time to tell a story, share an idea, make an authentic human connection. These winning ads, many of them long-form, powerfully demonstrate these strengths. We think they represent an exciting new way for companies to engage with the world in the Internet age.”

Many of them are very engaging, such as The Girl Effect, by the Nike Foundation, Target Kaleidoscopic, and Sapporo: Legendary Biru.

See the full list of winning videos here.

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Repurposing A Presentation For Multiple Occasions

Repurposing A Presentation For Multiple Occasions

The ability to condense any full-length presentation (whether it’s 7 minutes or an hour) to two minutes is a valuable skill to have. Two minutes is the perfect length for just about any question in a job interview or a business-networking event.

If you are in Toastmasters, you are familiar with Table Topics, the impromptu speaking exercise, where you have two minutes to answer a question on the fly.

But how many times have you taken one of your favorite 7 minute prepared speeches and condensed it into a two-minute answer?

Some time ago, I had prepared an hour-long presentation for a client, which showed key performance indicators for the recently ended economic quarter. I hopped on a plane to the client’s headquarters, and was shocked to hear the CEO tell me in the hallway: “Hey Kevin, I can’t sit in on your presentation. I’m short on time.”

Right there in the hallway, I condensed that hour-long presentation into 3 or 4 minutes – focusing on the biggest nugget of the presentation: an analysis that benchmarked the company against their competitors in a very challenging economic climate. That peaked his interest. “I look forward to reviewing your PowerPoint. Make sure you leave it behind,” the CEO said.

The formula for condensing a speech to its core – in many scenarios – is:
1. Outline the problem
2. Explain the solution
3. Demonstrate the result after implementing the solution

This formula fits perfectly into one of the most common job interview questions: Tell me a time when you’ve used your skills when tested?

In the end, each two-minute speech should wrap up with a single sentence containing a key message or lesson learned.

If you prepare a few of these succinct success stories to have at-the-ready, you will master the art of communicating under pressure in no time.

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Reynolds: 15 Tips For Your Continuous Improvement

Reynolds: 15 Tips For Your Continuous Improvement

September 27, 2009

Presentation design expert Garr Reynolds posted a fascinating blog item today about the kaizen approach to improve, or ways to continuously strive to improve your presentation skills. (BTW – many of the 15 tips can be applied in other areas of your life or career beyond public speaking.)

In his lengthy blog item, he stresses the importance of daily, continuous steps toward a goal are far more valuable than most people think.

“Tiny improvements are o.k.,” he writes. “Over the long-term, these add up to great improvements.”

Reynolds is a former Apple Computer manager, author of Presentation Zen and a marketing professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. As a result, his design methods are often heavily influenced by the Japanese culture.

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Why Some Presentations Really Connect With You

Why Some Presentations Really Connect With You

July 9, 2009

If you ever wondered why some presentations and keynote speakers really connect with you, it’s often because they use the power of storytelling and great images (rather than bulletpoints) that help their audiences to visualize their message.

In this fascinating Ted Talk recently posted online, information designer Tom Wujec discusses why animation, graphics and illustrations are powerful ways to create meaning for audiences emotionally.

One of the key points that drives home Tom’s message is in a slide shown half way through the talk about the fact that we make meaning by seeing. If you consider that for the next time you prepare a slide deck, remember Tom’s three points:

1. Use images to help clarify what we are trying to communicate.
2. Make the images interactive so we engage more fully
3. Augment your memory by creating a visual persistence

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How to Write Great Speech Openers

How to Write Great Speech Openers

March 22, 2009

All public speakers should learn to grab their audiences’ attention within the first 30 seconds. One of the best ways to do that is to appeal to their emotions.

And you do this by building anticipation, said Carmen Taran, managing partner of Rexi Media, during a Presentation Camp workshop at the San Francisco office yesterday.

“We love to anticipate the future,” Taran said, as she listed examples, such as things that are “new” and events that are full of “uncertainty.” As she echoed that word uncertainty, Taran flashed up a presentation slide of a tennis ball teetering on a net.

It’s hard to imagine a more effective visual.

She went on to discuss things to avoid in introductions. Things that can kill a speech opener include presenting a slide of bullet points (i.e. – agenda), lack of enthusiasm, showing a lack of preparation, and of course, self-indulgence.

“It’s much better to make (the opener) about your audience, rather than about you,” she said. “Get your audience involved early.”

Following an engaging 30 second opener, an audience’s attention will start to drift, unless the speaker shifts gears, or adds “variability,” Taran said. That’s because the audience will be craving closure, unless the story takes a turn. This closure (in psychology) is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
BTW: Taran is not only an engaging presentation coach and a former United Nations interpreter, but she is also a Phd candidate in psychology, according to her LinkedIn profile.

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The Creation Myth in Politics

The Creation Myth in Politics

March 5, 2009

Just like a CEO of a company getting a lot of press, politicians also have to be prepared to rattle off their Creation Myths.

Sometimes they are totally made up, like eBay’s launch myth. Sometimes, they are true stories, slightly exaggerated to add flare.

If you caught Morley Safer’s 60 Minute’s interview of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal last Sunday, the Republican party’s rising star echoed his own Creation Myth when asked about his Americanized name. He is of Indian descent and was born with the name Piyush.

So where did “Bobby” come from? He told Safer, “Everyday after school… I’d watch ‘The Brady Bunch, you know? He was about my age, and Bobby stuck.”

To be clear, this is not a political blog, but I’m simply pointing out the importance of trying to make your Creation Myth believable, at least a little.

Perhaps Jindal’s PR machine is not that savvy, I mean The Brady Bunch? That has got to be among the weakest fictionalized Creation Myths of all time. Let’s try to get beyond that it’s the Brady Bunch. In the first season, Bobby Brady was about nine, which would make him in the third grade, and we are led to believe this is when Piyush is telling his classmates to call him Bobby for now on, you know like Bobby Brady?

If this politically minded conservative kid is going to be influenced by a TV character, how come he’s not Gov. Alex P. Keaton of Louisiana?

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The Creation Myth – Branding Your Business

March 1, 2009

When you hear the Hewlett-Packard Story, the image that often comes to mind is that of a Palo Alto garage. When people think of the eBay Story, they think of the founder’s fiancée trading pez over the Internet (even though eBay acknowledged years later that that story was fictionalized).

Most well-branded companies have a creation myth, says Terry Gault, VP and managing partner of communications consulting firm The Henderson Group, based in San Francisco.

The Creation Myth was the title of a highly interactive workshop Gault led yesterday at Presentation Camp at Stanford University. He defined the Creation Myth as a unique quality of a company or person.

To illustrate this, Gault told two stories, or “myths” of the creation of two separate companies. One was how David Henderson decided to leave a lucrative law practice and take a chance on launching a communications consulting business, which eventually landed Oracle as a client.

The other story was about the launch of Cirque du Soleil, the wildly successful circus show. After a successful launch in Canada, bankrolled by the Quebec government, the founders took the show to L.A., with only enough money to fly the crew there. If it had failed, they were stuck. However, it not only succeeded, Cirque du Soleil has launched an unprecedented 15 spin-off shows without a single failure.

While the story behind corporate Creation Myths may be at least partially true to some extent, if not completely fabricated, they all have several elements in common.
1. Memorable characters: Characters need names, because audiences have a hard time rooting for a nameless protagonist.
2. Vulnerability: the protagonist must show a vulnerable side, because it makes your character human, and your audience can relate to that.
3. High stakes: for a story to be truly compelling, stakes have to be very high. For example, if Cirque du Soleil failed in L.A., then what?
4. Details: Providing details that make it easier for your audience to visualize the story is key. In fact, details are far more powerful than adjectives.
5. Be Selective in Details: How do you know what details to put in and what details to leave out? The answer: If the details don’t enhance the scene or contribute to the myth, they should be left out.
6. Dialogue: In describing a scene, give the characters first-person dialogue. Instead of saying, he was panicking, demonstrate it with visual details. His hand shook as he held the phone. Sweat poured down his face.

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