Tag Archives: public speaking

A superteacher’s perspective via What The Speak

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I’ve had teaching and superteaching on the brain for days now, and this week’s Creating Communication offerings only helped reinforce thoughts of all things pedagogy and superteaching. Alex Rister recently sat down with Bryan Kelly of What The Speak to share her insights on teaching presenting in the 21st century. If you know me, you know I am Alex’s “hype girl,” biggest fan, and superteacher bff. I am proud of her pursuit of her bliss, awesome communication, and am inspired by her work ethic and passion! As a superteacher, Alex shares with What the Speak viewers several important lessons about presenting in the 21st century:

1. Help students understand the importance of public speaking and effective communication from minute one

Whether she is teaching an introductory class or advanced class on presentation, Alex starts with why–she doesn’t throw her students into jargon and lecture. Instead, she gleans from them what matters about public speaking and engages them on a discussion how students can use these strong communication skills in every mode (online, in person, synchronous, asynchronous).

2. Understand your origins

Pamela Slim, in Body of Work, emphasizes that the first step to articulating your body of work and understanding how the diverse pieces of your life and experience fit in is to know your roots. In this podcast, Alex shares her roots with viewers and finds ways to thread her early experiences with her current passions and objectives.

3. The teachers who are memorable are the teachers who engage

Information doesn’t matter as much as inspiration. As a teacher, one of my biggest challenges and concerns is letting go of my responsibility to be the “mouthpiece for information.” Our job is not to spew information via lecture (though this is the stereotype of “teacher”); our job is to spark and facilitate learning–the student must guide and drive his or her own journey. Breaking out of the lecture model isn’t easy, but it is a necessary step in the journey towards better teaching and better presenting.

4. Great teachers ask questions and make changes

Tweaking is a way of life. It’s the practice of acknowledging challenges, pinpointing the sources of student problems, accepting your role in perpetuating problems, and then taking action that will create positive results for students. The best teachers look for the roots of a problem, find actionable solutions, put those solutions in practice, and then test those solutions against student performance.

Check out the rest of the interview here or by clicking the image above. If you haven’t check out Bryan’s podcast, you must start today; he speaks with all the top voices in presenting and communicating and brings you the insights of those who live, eat, and breathe public speaking!

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Tweak Your Speech: 9 Great Speaker Habits from Business Insider

It always warms my heart when a former superstudent shares a link to an awesome public speaking, presenting, or design article (for instance, my favorite new typeface, Intro, comes by way of superstudent Alexandria Pham). Today’s “Tweak Your Speech” share comes from Bernardo Simoes. Jeff Haden, Business Insider, INC. contributor, and author of over 30 non-fiction books brings us his “9 Simple Things Great Speakers Always Do.” In this article, Haden shares the nine things great speakers do consistently. He draws from the expertise of entrepreneur  Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten in developing his nine tips. Three that are particularly relevant to the PCP reboot and to the course I teach in general are “reinforce who you are,” “time it perfectly,” and feel free to repeat.

Reinforce Who You Are

One of the best parts of a TED talk is when the speaker shares a bit of his or her story. Learning more about a speaker can help build connection with an audience.

One of the best parts of a TED talk is when the speaker shares a bit of his or her story. Learning more about a speaker can help build connection with an audience.

While Nancy Duarte warns Resonate readers against starting a presentation with too much “me-ness,” (Source) she also reinforces that the audience does need to know something about you–enough to help you establish your credibility, shared values, and common ground. van Zanten reinforces this in the article when he states that you as a speaker shouldn’t “overload everyone with information, but in one or two sentences explain how your background matters and makes you the perfect person to share what you’re about to say” (Source). Focusing on establishing credibility from the beginning of a presentation is key to establishing rapport and connection with an audience.

Time it Perfectly

Your audience can only retain so much information; even if you are engaging, keep it shorter than the time given to you.

Your audience can only retain so much information; even if you are engaging, keep it shorter than the time given to you.

Every public speaking and presentation teacher focuses on and values different parts of the presentation stool (content, visual story, delivery). While most people would assume that my main focus is visual story, in reality I value content development and organization most. Students are often surprised when I deduct points for both going over time and organization when they exceed their time limits. In reality, time is an indicator of more than just a failure of execution. To me, going over time in a presentation is an indication that you don’t care enough about your message or your audience to stick to your pre-set time limits. It also says to me more focus needs to be placed on organization and rehearsal. As van Zanten says, “[y]our primary goal is to entertain, inform, and make your audience’s investment in time worthwhile. Your goal is not to use up every available minute” (Source).

Feel Free to Repeat

Repetition reinforces and motivates. It's only ineffective when used to mask a lack of preparation.

Repetition reinforces and motivates. It’s only ineffective when used to mask a lack of preparation.

Another common source of anxiety for students and presenters is the fear that they are repeating themselves and how audiences perceive repetition. But, there’s a difference between repeating something because you have no idea what to say next or because you are lost and repetition for emphasis and for a purpose. As Andrew Dlugan explains in his analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream,” repetition can be a great way to build momentum and reinforce important ideas. Would we remember that speech as readily without the repetition of that key phrase? Maybe not. van Zanten provides another use of repetition in the article. Repetition helps you cut through that internal dialogue your audience is having while you present: “In reality, people hear about 30 percent of what you say, and of that they’re constantly translating it to fit their own perspectives or agendas” (Source).

Read the rest of the article and learn the other 6 things great speakers do here.

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TED Talk of the Day: Diana Nyad Finds a Way


Alex Rister of Creating Communication has been posting a series of articles on the subject of resilience, failure, and success. This theme was echoed today during a consultation with a student who is preparing for her first speech in Professional Communication and Presentation, an analysis of Diana Nyad’s latest TED talk, “Never, ever give up.” If you are not familiar with Nyad, she is the incredible human who swam from Cuba to Florida through 100 miles of shark-infested waters at 60-years old. Her completion of this task was the culmination of a 40-year long dream, her answer to the question “how much life is there left?”

Nyad’s talk is inspiring; it emphasizes the importance of failure and fearlessness as keys to achieving a goal. This is a key mindset shift that every student of presenting and public speaking (even teachers themselves) must make in order to truly grow into the type of communicator who can inspire and move others. The belief that only those who we deem amazing public speakers (Jobs, King, Churchill) have the ability to succeed in a speech situation is what keeps many of us from even trying or tackling a public speaking challenge in the first place. Without a willingness to be vulnerable, to be open to failure, to expect that yes, you will fail at giving an amazing speech or moving others, you will never be able to push and grow and change enough to finally succeed.

But, Nyad teaches us another important lesson related to presenting. Sometimes, even the most impacting and empowering ideas mean nothing unless they are communicated and delivered in a certain way. From her first incredible pause and beautifully vivid description to her honest retelling of the triumphs and trials of her experience, the audience is hooked. Nyad brings her words to life, she empowers the audience not only with her words but also with the way her words meet her audience’s ears. Check out Nyad’s talk below–not only will you learn a bit more about how resilience can help you reach those public speaking, teaching, communicating, designing, or living horizons but you’ll also see just how much power the delivery of an idea can have on that idea’s ability to live.

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Real Delivery is a Top Presentation on Slideshare!

I woke up today and pretty much right away had a Professor Farnsworth-like moment:

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If you haven’t watched the 7 seasons and 4 film’s worth of gold that is the highly under appreciated Futurama, get yourself to Netflix! It’s cartoons for grownups!

It is, as always, a pleasure to share my work with others, both Slideshare visitors who are slide nerds and those who are slide nerd curious. Real delivery came out of my frustration with my previous lesson on delivery as well as a desire to push myself in terms of design and content (despite finding a terrible alignment error on slides 35-37 that I’ll correct in a few days–darn my eagle eyes!). On Monday, I’ll be sharing with you the first is a multi-part series on real delivery. Stay tuned for “Why it all comes down to delivery” tomorrow!

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Debuting on Tweak Your Slides: Real Delivery

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Today, I am proud to share with you the first in a monthly series of Slideshare.net deck debuts. The first (as I’ve noticed quite a few slide design decks but not too many presentation delivery decks) is Real Delivery. I’ll be breaking down the pieces to this acronym (Readiness, Engagement, Authenticity, Lasting Impression), but for now, check out the deck below. Happy Friday!

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What’s your POWERful POINT?

Check out Gavin McMahon’s Finding Your POWERful POINT webcast. I loved his Slideshare deck, but am completely immersed in this excellent and relevant webcast version of the deck. Lessons I drew from the first 20 minutes:

You are not Steve Jobs, but that’s ok, you are not supposed to be.

Harness your natural strengths as a presenter and grow from there! 

Teachers need to simplify and get out of their heads.

Gavin is a master of speaker analysis–his insights on the various presenter types has really caused me to do a bit of soul searching about my own role as presenter/teacher.

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Dr. Tweaklove: Or, how I learned to rehearse and love presenting

You know, I’ve come to believe that bullet points kill. I say this from day one in my class–bullets kill. Don’t use them (unless you absolutely have to). But, after three years of teaching public speaking, I realize that I’ve seen lots of zen-like visuals, loads of neat ideas for how to convey information, and a plethora of subjects discussed in a myriad of ways, but that I’ve equally been witness to disjointed, chaotic presentations, complete with moments of cognitive and communicative disaster, verbal diarrhea, and sloppy delivery.  So, perhaps my focus has been misdirected. Perhaps it’s not only bullets that kill, but also unrehearsed, unpracticed presenters. This realization surfaced after a rather painful series of worst case scenario/how to team presentations.

Bullet points present information in a static, sterile way, boring audiences. Unprepared presenters confuse, irritate, bore, or shock audiences.

It was painfully evident from the time class started that most of the groups had not rehearsed or practiced together once. I had to remind most of the class that this was a formal presentation, and that they were expected to dress professionally. Several groups had not even finished their slides. Because my classes are small, I open up the first 90 minutes of presentation day to dress rehearsal with me, after all, I am the one assessing the group’s presentation; it also makes sense to do at least one run through in the presentation environment/context.

One hour into dress rehearsal time and only one group came to me indicating an interest in rehearsing. Another group sat in front of me and explained that practice would make their performance seem disingenuine. Then, about 30 minutes before presentations were to begin, the groups started scrambling to rehearse. The three groups who did rehearse had clearly not even spoken about who would tackle what information; they hadn’t even considered if they had enough information to go on, nor had several of the groups even developed a strong hook. I was five minutes from canceling the presentations and asking the students to present the next class.

Needless to say, presentations themselves were mostly forgettable. It was clear to everyone present who had bothered to practice and who had not taken the assignment seriously. During our post presentation Q & A, we all agreed that I did not have to lecture them on the importance of practice and rehearsal. They were first hand witnesses to what happens when you don’t rehearse or practice, when you believe “winging it” will give you that Ken Robinsonesque level of comfort and conversational tone. Now, in a perfect world, these students will learn from this lesson and always practice in the future. However, I know from observing their final project business pitches that they don’t practice when the stakes are higher, that there is a great divide between theory and practice when it comes to rehearsal. The average presenter devotes little time to practice and rehearsing, perhaps from nervousness, perhaps from overconfidence. But, my students are amazing people; I want them to be amazing presenters.

Presentation skills are not cookies. Chocolate chips won’t compensate for you being an average speaker. Your audience spends a lifetime in meetings listening to people who are average speakers and wishing they were somewhere else. –Andrew Dlugan, Six Minutes

This experience has caused me to do a bit of self-reflection on my own approach to teaching this subject and the amount of time I spend holding students accountable for practice and rehearsal. It’s also caused me to think a bit more about why people don’t practice, and how I can reinforce in others that great presenting is not magic, great presenters don’t just happen, great presenters practice; they mold and shape themselves into super stars through consistent learning, expanding, and practice.  In my search for inspiration, I found the work of Nick Morgan, Forbes contributor and passionate communicator. Nick shares the story of a CEO, whose overconfidence and lack of experience culminated in a speech that was so awful that it generated a catch phrase in the public speaking world: “Jumping the Couch,” a phrase originating from the presenter’s odd delivery choice: Jump on a couch, do a martial arts trick, speak a few lines from the speech. Repeat for 60 minutes. Morgan’s final comments in the Forbes article struck me as a particularly relevant idea for my students:

You must rehearse. You don’t want to jump the couch. Adrenaline plays funny tricks on the mind, and you need to establish the muscle memory of a full, physical rehearsal in order to give your body something remembered to do when the adrenaline kicks in. A mental run-through is not enough. You must rehearse.
If find yourself arguing with me, or yourself, giving reasons why you don’t need to rehearse, that’s a red public speaking flag. Professionals rehearse. Amateurs jump the couch. So rehearse. Please.

While reading this, I couldn’t help but think about how often my students resist and argue with me that practice makes their presentations robotic, that they are great at improvisation, and that they will just “wing it.” I teach my students to present in the Pecha Kucha style. We watch my PK, not because I want to regale them with tales of my awesomeness, but because I want them to see that I don’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.

Watching myself is torturous, but helps me become a stronger speaker. When will I stop saying the word “now”?

As we watched my speech yesterday, one student marveled at my ability to synchronize my slides and my verbal points. He said it felt like he was watching a magic show. My response: no magic, just hours and hours of practice. Great speech is not magic–great speech is systematic, logical, methodical, and critical. Great speech takes great practice!  Okay, so how should we practice? I’ve gathered a few of my favorite people’s advice on practice as a starting point.

From Dr. Nick Morgan, “Seven ways to rehearse

From Nancy Duarte, “10 ways to prepare for a TED-format talk”

From Garr Reynolds, “Steve Jobs and the art of the swordsman”


From Felix Jung, “Guide to Making a Pecha Kucha Presentation: Practicing”

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Present the way you converse: the TED speech epiphany

Today in Professional Communication and Presentation, my amazing students this month delivered their TED analysis speeches. This assignment has been a staple in my class since I discovered TED three years ago. I was and am consistently amazed by the humanity, passion, compassion, humility, energy, empathy, enthusiasm, innovation, genius, wisdom, and spirit of community embodied and lived by TEDsters (those of us who consider ourselves complete lovers of TED, those who present at TED, those who attend TED, and the geniuses who began–Richard Saul Wurman–and grew–Chris Anderson–the wonder that is today’s Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference).

Courtesy of TED.com

TED has grown from a rather elitist, by invitation only, extravagantly expensive conference to a creative commons, open sharing, open conversing, education-driving, source for all ideas worth spreading. Either way, I love it. I love TED. Not only for what it teaches me and my students about the human condition, but also for its ability to transcend barriers–socio-economic, cultural, gender, racial, sexual, environmental, political, and ideological.

My students are given the task of choosing a TED talk to analyze. They must choose something that grabs their attention, resonates with them personally, and that embodies the TED Commandments, a set of unofficial rules or caveats given to TED speakers before they present (they also get copies of my two favorite books: Presentation Zen and Slide:ology by two of my gurus, Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte). This month’s students are an eclectic mix, a delicious spectrum of humanity–from the introverted intellectual to the deeply passionate, emphatic, (and vocal) extrovert.

Their chosen talks were a reflection of their personalities, interests, and whether they realized it or not, their needs and wants as audience members. Today, we discussed the harrowing child prostitution problem in India as eloquently and passionately told by Sunitha Krishnan; we explored how to truth seek with Pamela Meyer and heard the tale of Norden’s bombsight as told by master storyteller Malcolm Gladwell; we learned of John Francis‘ story, the story of a man who neither used motorized transportation nor spoke for 17 years, yet taught earned a PHD, taught at the college level, and worked as a UN Ambassador; and we marveled at Jae Rhim Lee‘s amazing mushroom death suit. Yup, TED speech days make me feel like dancing a jig…with some unicorns…on a rainbow….made of all my favorite cheeses.

The speech that stood out to me the most was not delivered by the gentleman who proclaimed to all of us that he only prepared for the assignment the night before, chose his TED talk at random, and explained that he would be “winging” his presentation and he hoped this would not result in lost points. Surprising? No, not really.

The speech that stands out to me the most was delivered by someone who, upon first glance, one might dismiss as the sort of pensive, shy student who rarely makes ripples or an impact (though I must admit, I was enamored with him right away–he is, after all, a self-proclaimed nerd, and I can never resist a nerd!). This student’s speech was well-prepared, exquisitely delivered with the right amount of humor, personality, and relevant content (he went so far as to reenact Ken Robinson’s excellent opening to “Bring on the Learning Revolution!”). This student included personal experience, used storytelling, revealed his passion for the topic of education, and wholeheartedly shared his reaction to Robinson’s point. But, it wasn’t any of this that created a truly resonant moment in class, not just for me, but for everyone else in the classroom. What was this amazing, mind-blowing epiphany aka aha moment?

Present the way you would have a conversation. If you wouldn’t do it in a conversation; don’t do it in a presentation.

That’s it? Really? I’ve said keep your presentation conversational for years! How could this mere nerd show us public speaking teachers up with something we tell our students day in and day out?

The answer is in how he framed it. He managed to say what I’ve been trying to show and teach for years. His idea resonated with everyone in that cold, sterile room today:

How do you have a conversation with someone?

  • You maintain eye contact and work to even physically connect with whom you are conversing
  • You convey information through stories
  • You appeal to emotion (some conversations make you cry, some laugh, some rail at the injustices of the world)
  • You respect your conversation partner and listen
  • You focus on clarity
  • You illustrate empathy and goodwill
  • You don’t keep barriers between you and the person with whom you are speaking
  • You don’t memorize what you are going to say, but important and worthy conversations have some element of preparation to them
  • You are reactionary and adapt to the conversation partner
So, how does this relate to presenting? Can we really approach a presentation like a conversation? Will this somehow help people avoid some of the habits that make presentations sterile, robotic, forgettable?
  • Great speakers maintain eye contact; they also move away from a podium and detach from their notes. Great speakers “sweep the room” as my fellow Super Teacher Alex Rister asserts.
  • What sets apart a forgettable speech from a resonating, life-altering communication experience? Storytelling. As the Heath brothers say, by combining information, knowledge, context and emotion, “stories are important cognitive events.”
  • Great presentations make us FEEL. It’s not enough to know and believe; we are human, we are born knowing that emotion generates results (baby crying = some grown creature responding to said baby crying).
  • Great speeches are clear, direct, and specific. As Ben Zander put it, Martin Luther King did not add the caveat “I’m not sure they’ll be up to it” to his proclamation, “I have a dream!” Watch his TED talk, and see another wonderful example of humble wisdom. It’s my absolute favorite. Hands down.
  • I am still seeking the perfect way to emphasize the importance of empathy to my students. I often get the sense they think I am being “soft.” But, empathy is the driving force of the human universe. Empathy, as Jeremy Rifkin explores in “The Empathic Civilization,” is built into our biology. We are soft-wired, from our mirror neurons to our recognition of the human experience and its basis in suffering, for empathy. Empathy, or the need to belong and connect, is the invisible hand. The speakers I admire empathize with their audiences; they consider what their audience needs, wants, and what’s in their best interest (not the speaker’s own agenda).
  • One reason great presentations resemble great conversations is that great speakers erase the barriers between themselves and their audiences. Garr Reynold’s discussed this beautifully in The Naked Presenter–podiums, lecterns, technology, dimmed lights, busy slides–all of these are barriers (as is poor preparation).
  • Great speeches are often extemporaneous, at the very least, even with rehearsal and practice, the speeches we remember, for instance, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” contain moments of improvisation, speaking entirely from a place where the message is internalized, so that speaking and digressions from prewritten plans or ideas are second nature.
This student’s words truly made an impact on me. I say this gladly after watching hundreds of speeches each year both on campus, online, at TEDxOrlando or PechaKucha Orlando, and at school workshops. One simple idea, constructed in a way that resonated with a small group of people became the idea I share with you now. Present the way you converse!
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Slidedeck of the Day: Ethos3’s “How to be a Presentation God”

I love the folks at Ethos3. Their approach to presenting is fresh, hip, young, and at times irreverent. One of my current online students chose an Ethos3 presentation for her analysis of a designed visual aid this week, and in my exploration of said deck, I ran across this preview for Scott Schwertly’s How to be a Presentation God, which is a book I’ve been considering purchasing. If the book is anything like the preview–chock full of excellent storytelling, engaging, clean, and impeccably designed, then I am sold.  Check it out!

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