Dealing With a Defensive Audience

Apr 18, 2024

Here's a hard pill to swallow: Sometimes an audience doesn't want to hear what you have to say. 

Sure, public speaking can be fun when you're delivering a wedding toast about how much you love your college bestie. 

But what about when you're tasked with being the bearer of bad news

  • It's less fun to give a presentation to your work colleagues about why their last project flopped. 
  • Or giving a speech to your constituents about why they all need to take shorter showers in the midst of a drought.  
  • Or leading a training about how to identify unconscious biases when hiring. 

Any time you tell an audience that they should change their behavior, you risk dealing with any speaker's nightmare: A defensive audience.

Looking into the crowd of frowning faces, you can almost hear their thoughts:  

  • Who is she to tell me how to live my life? 
  • I don't have to sit here getting judged by this person. What does she know?
  • Okay, I get it. But does...
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Do I Sound Stupid?

Mar 21, 2024

I have bad news...

Most audiences aren't going to let you know if you've lost them.

  • Even if at the beginning of your presentation you say, "Please feel free to interrupt me when you have questions." 
  • Even if midway through your presentation you ask, "Is that all clear? Anyone have any questions?"
  • Even if at the end of your presentation you say, "Now let's open things up to Q&A. Who has questions?"

It doesn't matter how many opportunities you give folks to get back on the path--most people simply won't let you know they're lost.

It breaks my heart, but it's the truth. Audience members are often reluctant to admit when they don't understand what a presenter is saying because they're afraid of looking stupid

And the truly wild thing? Often the reason the audience is confused is because the presenter is afraid of the very same thing.  

I've seen so many presenters completely lose their audience because they were so concerned...

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Why do stories work?

Jan 18, 2024

“Let me tell you a story”

To me, that is one of the most beautiful sentences in the human language. And fortunately for me, I get to hear it a lot in my line of work. 

Story, my friends, is the word of the day. 

Today I want to talk about the science of story and a simple trick for weaving storytelling into even the driest of presentations

Here's a fun fact about Story:

When we hear a good story, our brains release oxytocin

Oxytocin is one of those feel-good hormones that's specifically associated with trust and bonding. You can see why this might be especially powerful when you’re giving a presentation.  

Perhaps you've heard that old business school adage, “We buy from brands that we know, like, and trust.” 

Well, this doesn’t just apply to our shopping habits. We also buy into ideas from people that we know, like, and trust.

So, if you want...

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A Poem, A Picture, and a Puzzle

Aug 17, 2023

This morning I found myself in a bit of a creative rut. I sat down to write this blog and simply was coming up empty. 

This is something clients complain to me about all the time. 

“Sometimes I’m so terrified of saying the wrong thing, that I can’t think of anything to say at all.”

To which I usually say, “Okay, let’s practice saying “the wrong thing” and see what happens!” 

It’s amazing what you can come up with when you lower the bar. When you sit down with the goal of writing a messy first draft as opposed to a Pulitzer prize winning novel.  

Or…when you change the prompt altogether.

Today, I was feeling uninspired by the prompt of writing a blog. 

So instead, I’m going to share with you a poem, a picture, and a puzzle

A Poem

 "Ode to a Zoom Meeting"

A baby cries. 

A dog barks. 

David, you’re on mute. 

Can someone put the link in the chat? 

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Speak Before You Think: Public Speaking Hacks for Chronic Overthinkers

Jul 13, 2023

Are you a notorious straight-shooter who always says exactly what's on your mind without a moment's hesitation? 

This blog is not for you.

Today, I want to talk to my overthinkers.

My friends who always think before they speak (sometimes to their own detriment). 

Growing up, we're often told to “Think before we speak.”

This is excellent advice in general. Having a filter is a very useful thing in polite society. But, as with so many things in life, a trait that starts off as adaptive can very quickly become maladaptive.

Let’s talk about this idea of “the filter.” 

When it comes to speaking, I like to think of verbal filters like curtains

Each idea we have is a ray of sunlight. 

In an ideal world, these rays are filtered through the curtain, letting an appropriate amount of light into the room. 

People who have no filter often get in trouble for speaking without thinking. 

They’ve built a house without curtains...

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Why Preparation is Overrated

Jun 08, 2023

I'm feeling spicy this morning, so allow me to make a blasphemous claim about my industry:

When it comes to public speaking, preparation is good, but technique is better.

Now, am I saying you should wing your TEDTalk? Absolutely not. 

But, I do think most of us are over-emphasizing the importance of “preparation.” (Or, at the very least, we’re defining “preparation” wrong. 

You’d be amazed how many times a week I play out some version of this scene: 

Future Client: I’m not bad at public speaking, as long as I have time to prepare.

Me: Okay, great! How often do you feel like you’re given adequate time to prepare? 

Future Client: …almost never.   

And therein lies the problem with relying on “preparation” when it comes to public speaking. 

If you define “preparation” as spending hours outlining, drafting things out word for word, memorizing, and rehearsing in front of...

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What the Muppets Taught Me about Public Speaking

May 11, 2023

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, where I got the opportunity to meet some true ICONS of public speaking. 

I'm of course referring to...the Muppets. 

Perhaps I should explain...

There are two particular Muppets that come up in my speaking sessions about once a week. 

  These guys.   

Perhaps you're already familiar with Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men who heckle the other Muppets from the back of the theater, as Kermit, and Fozzie, and the rest try their best to put on a show. 

The reason these two cantankerous old puppets come up so often when I'm helping folks with public speaking, is this:

They are the perfect embodiment of the noisy inner critic that plagues many public speakers. 

That voice that pops up mid-presentation to say unhelpful things like: 

  • "There was a better way to say that."
  • "You tripped over that last sentence."
  • "Do you hear how...
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Can ChatGPT Write my TEDTalk?

Apr 13, 2023

Yesterday morning I did an experiment that I've been anxiously avoiding for weeks.

I tentatively opened up my laptop, opened my browser to the famous (or infamous) AI chatbot "ChatGPT," took a deep breath, and asked it a question...

"Hey ChatGPT, will you please write me a blog post about the importance of public speaking skills in an age where content writing will increasingly get outsourced to artificial intelligence such as yourself?"

10 seconds later, sitting before me was a well-structured and largely accurate email newsletter. 

It was pretty dry and generic, but it was passable. 

(Important note: THIS is not that blog. Please be reassured that any and all typos and malapropisms are completely my own. )

Like so many people, I was equal parts impressed and distressed by this technology. 

Sure, I can write better content than ChatGPT, but I certainly can't write it faster.

What will this technology mean for creatives like myself who are largely...

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We're Defining "Public Speaking" All Wrong

Feb 23, 2023

I can’t tell you how many times a week I hear some version of the following statement: 

“I don’t really do a lot of speaking. I mean–I have one-on-one conversations all the time, but the idea of speaking to a crowd TERRIFIES me.”

This statement always puzzles me. 

(Not the part about public speaking being scary–that I totally get. Performance anxiety is a completely normal fight or flight response that I will get into later in this very email!)  

No, the thing that puzzles me is the first half of that statement: 

How can someone say that they “don’t do a lot of speaking” and immediately follow it up with  “I have one-on-one conversations all the time”?

This is one of my biggest gripes about the field of Public Speaking.

Most of us are putting far too much emphasis on the word “Public.”

Public Speaking does NOT have to mean “speaking to a crowd.” 

If you speak...

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Some Hard Data about Soft Skills

Jan 12, 2023

Happy New Year! 

Hope you got to enjoy some much needed rest before launching into 2023. 

I know for me, the last week of December is all about rest and reflection.

You will not find me in Times Square for the ball drop! I spent the last moments of 2022 enjoying a sleepy board game night with a handful of good buddies.

And as much as I love a good new year's resolution, I feel like that process is doomed without a healthy dose of old year reflection

That's why before I sit down to create my New Year business goals, I always take an afternoon to review my past year's numbers. 

(As much as I'm a word nerd, I also appreciate some cold hard data!)

And here's the big stat that hit me as I conducted my 2022 audit:

In 2022, more than 60% of my business could be traced back to public speaking events that I participated in.

That means more than 60% of the folks that hired me in 2022 did so because they attended a talk or workshop that I...

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