Can public speaking be fun? How can you conquer public speaking fear? Should you use a green screen when presenting on Zoom? What role does storytelling play in public speaking? What are common mistakes to avoid? These and other questions are answered in the lively podcast interview I did with Book Marketing Mentors recently.
Book Marketing Mentors is a first-rate podcast and I am very thankful that Susan Friedman, CSP, asked me to join as this week’s guest expert. I’ve been a huge fan of Susan and her podcast since it began about four years ago. I always get a few actionable tips off of every episode. So, this time, I was the one giving tips.
Did I choose public speaking coaching as a career or did it choose me? Here’s the story of how I went from a 20-year career in corporate communications to became a public speaking and business presentation skills coach.
Here’s the fastest way to become an expert on any topic that you need to speak on – research. Yes, solid research can give an immediate boost to the credibility of your business presentation or persuasive speech.
Pick credible sources for your research and be wary of advocacy groups that have a clear bias. My general rule is: the more controversial your subject is, the more credible your research sources need to be. If you do choose an advocacy group that is clearly on one side of an issue, make that clear and consider having a counter opinion from someone on the other side of that issue.
You don’t want to give a full citation in your presentation because, well, that’s just plain boring. However, you do want to mention the research you gathered in a conversational way, such as “According to the Centers for Disease Control …” or “I think Bob Burg had it about right when he said …”. This casual mention will let your audience know that you’ve done your homework.
Meanwhile, you do want to have the full citation at the ready in case members of your audience ask about it after your presentation has concluded. You may get a skeptic who wants to validate your source. Or, you may get someone who is excited about the citation and wants to share it with their colleagues.
Finally, consider this: A presentation with good research data but without a story to illustrate your point lacks emotion and makes it more difficult for your audience to connect with your point. The audience may be numb from all the data. Does that sound like any business presentations you’ve sat through? In contrast, a presentation with colorful personal anecdotes but without research data may lack context and may strain credibility. The audience may be left thinking “that’s your story, but what about everyone else?”
So, what’s a poor presenter to do? Here’s the winning combo: Combine your research data with personal anecdotes. It might go something like this: “So, now that you’ve heard my story, you may be wondering how this issue affects people nationwide. Let’s look at the data.”
The first time I remember being aware of public speaking was when I was 10 years old. It was a sermon at church and it was the first time that I had seen a large group of people focused on just one person speaking.
Even more amazing to me was how the audience reacted. The laughed when he told a joke and and they nodded in agreement during his stories. They were engaged.
Following the sermon, the parishioners met the pastor on the front steps of the church. They said good morning and shook his hand. Many told him what the sermon had meant to them personally. Some of them were transformed by it.
The lesson I learned that day was the magic of public speaking: the ability to engage and transform an audience.
Do you remember the first time you saw a public speaker? What was your reaction? Tells us about it in the comments section below.
Lights, camera, action! If you’re going to present frequently in a virtual world, you need to look and sound your best to be an engaging speaker. That may require an equipment upgrade to get the right look and sound.
When the COVID-19 virus hit and the lockdowns began, like most everyone, I had to pivot quickly. I had been a public speaking coach on the move. With my rolling computer bag and MacBook Pro laptop, I went from client to client, from Starbucks to Starbucks. When my home office suddenly became my sole place of business, I tried several “do it yourself” solutions to look and sound professional. I experimented with lighting, green screens, and the built-in equipment, but I just couldn’t get the quality I needed to be an effective presenter.
Eventually, I decided to make the investment to upgrade my equipment. I wanted high-quality but budget-friendly equipment. And once I made the switch, it became one of those decisions where I thought, “Why didn’t I do this before?”
The following are the equipment choices I made for a total of $347. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no one is compensating me in any way for these endorsements.
> Lighting: After consulting with my professional photographer friend, Patrick Rapps, I chose the Neewer Ring Light. It has a dimmer control that adjusts from 1% to 100% and it puts off very little heat. It does not come with a stand, but as a speaker and musician, I had an extra mic stand. It is now mounted so that it is shining head-on at me. My Neewer also has come in handy for casual family photos elsewhere in the house. Cost: $66.
> Camera: The built-in FaceTime HD camera on my iMac just wasn’t cutting it. I chose the highly recommended C922x Pro Stream Webcam, a full 1080p HR camera. It clips on top of my iMac and also can be mounted in a wide variety of places. It has built-in light correction and a 5-foot cable, so it’s versatile. It also has built-in microphones that are better than the iMac built-in microphones, but not as good as my next choice. Cost: $151.
> Microphone: The webcam mic was better than the iMac built-in, but not nearly as good as my Blue Yeti. You can hear the difference between the built-in mic and the Blue Yeti. The Blue Yeti has settings for cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo. That makes it good for Zoom meetings, podcasts, and even recording my guitar for those random “public speaking blues” songs I post on my Instagram occasionally. The Blue Yeti also has a volume control, a mute button, and zero-latency headphone output. Cost: $130.
So, those are the equipment choices I made. I encourage you to shop around and discover what works best for you. And when you find the right fit, you’ll be well on your way to being a virtual business presenter that can turn heads, win hearts, and get results.
The great Zoom meeting debate is on – green screen vs. real background. What say you? Which do you prefer? If you’re not sure, here are some things to consider that will lead you to the answer that’s best suited for your presentation.
Green Screen Do’s and Don’ts
My $7 “green screen”
Green screens can provide a layer of privacy if you don’t have an attractive home office and they can be professional looking when done correctly. But if you want to look professional, ditch the unrealistic and distracting views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the fun but silly palm trees blowing in the wind. Instead, go with a simple background, such as a solid color with your company logo or an uncluttered photo.
I know some folks who painted an entire wall green or purchased green screen backdrops. These solutions work well and are a good choices if you’re using them enough to warrant the time and expense. However, there are less expensive options. I set up a simple green screen in my home office using an appropriately colored green blanket I bought at Walmart for $7. Then I created a solid-colored Zoom background with my company logo for meetings I was hosting and a solid colored non-logo background for meetings where I was a participant.
Although I was able to get my green screen to look good, I prefer my actual bookshelf background for most business situations.
Actual Background Do’s and Don’ts
Note empty space for head
A natural background allows you to show your audience a bit of your personality. And, of course, it’s also more authentic and less pretentious.
If you go with a real background, make sure it is framed correctly on your webcam, free from clutter, and lit properly. A well-placed book and a houseplant can add a nice touch to the ambiance of your presentation. However, make sure the area behind your head is empty so you don’t have knickknacks or plants appearing to grow out of your head.
In addition to my bookshelf, I also had a large foam board logo printed at OfficeMax and hung it on a blank wall for presentations that I deliver from a standing position. This is what I use to record my online courses and marketing videos.
The Bottom Line on Zoom Backgrounds
As Zoom meetings continue to be the way we do business meetings, conferences and even networking events, we’ll continue to weigh the pros and cons of virtual backgrounds and the actual backgrounds. Whichever option you choose, make sure your background isn’t distracting. As always, you are the star of your presentation, not your background or technology.
The bottom line is this: Choose the background option that will best connect with your audience. A virtual conference audience with hundreds of participants may respond best to a presenter that stands out with a professional-looking green screen background. However, a 1-on-1 coaching client or a small group may engage more with a presenter that has a more personal background.
As with all effective communication strategies, let the audience guide you to success.
WHETHER it’s a small business, a large company, or the entire nation, when a crisis hits, people want to hear three message types, they want to hear them in a particular order, and they want to hear them right now. If you’re a business leader or a spokesperson for your organization, you need to be able to respond immediately and effectively to your employees, shareholders, the news media, and other key audiences. There’s a lot at risk, the stakes are high, and the clock is ticking.
The three message types can help you to respond like a good leader. To help you remember them, I’ve classified the essential message types as the three Hs: Heart, Heroism, and Hope. So, fasten your seatbelts; here’s how to use the three Hs.
1) Lead with Your Heart. First, people need to know you care before they care what you know. It sets the appropriate tone. Your audiences need to know you care in a credible, authentic way. If they don’t believe you truly care, they won’t listen to anything else you have to say.
2) Be a Hero, Do the Right Thing. Once people understand that you truly care, it’s time to “be a hero.” Talk about doing the right thing and speak with conviction and confidence. Begin to set the stage for solutions. “We won’t rest until we get to the bottom of this.” “We will spare no expense.” “We will put steps in place to make sure this never happens again.”
3) Close with a Hopeful Future. You’ve shown you care and you shown that you are committed to doing the right thing. Now close with future-oriented messages of hope and inclusiveness. “I know that, with your help, we will defeat this.” “The things that bring us together are stronger than the things that pull us apart.” “Together, we will get through this.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
You don’t have to look far for a crisis these days. There have been plenty of real-world examples in 2020 and plenty of leaders trying to respond to them with varying degrees of success. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Think about leaders who spoke about COVID-19 and what needed to be done. Or think about the tragic murder of George Floyd and how leaders responded in the midst of the worldwide outrage that followed. Who were the leaders who conveyed messages that resonated with you and made you feel confident and hopeful? Who were the leaders who conveyed messages that didn’t leave you feeling confident or maybe even filled you with enough rage to throw your shoes at your TV set? Pres. Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci, former Vice Pres. Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill di Blasio, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and many others all had their moment in front of the microphones.
I’m betting the leaders that resonated with you followed the three Hs. You believed they cared and were speaking from their heart. You liked the conviction they conveyed as they began to talk about what needed to be done, and you liked how they painted a picture of a brighter more inclusive future. Those that had you screaming back at your TV didn’t show they cared, or at least not in a credible way, they didn’t speak about doing the right thing with resolve, and they didn’t offer a hopeful future or talk about bringing people together. Learn from their examples and think about how you can apply the three Hs for your audiences.
The three Hs can help you be a more effective leader when people need you the most.
But wait, there’s more…
The three Hs are just one part of a simple but powerful, step-by-step methodology we’ve put together that allows you to craft crisis messages that turn heads, win hearts, and get real results. This methodology was put together over decades by crisis communication experts and used in multiple situations across multiple industries.
You can learn the entire system in under 50 minutes for under $50 in our online course. Oh, and there’s a money-back guarantee so you really have nothing to lose. You know you need this. The next crisis is coming. Everyone will be looking to you. Will you be ready to step up and lead?
If you’re like most people, you’ve been in a lot of Zoom meetings lately and you’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of virtual presentations. In addition to the tips we’ve offered in previous posts, here are a few more we’ve picked up along the way.
Thumbs Up. Ask for the audience to give you a thumbs up if you have a question for the group and don’t want participants talking over one another. Like polls and chatbox questions, it also helps to engage the audience. “If you can hear me OK, give me a thumbs up.”
Short and Snappy. It’s expected that virtual meetings will be conducted in less time than traditional meetings so keep them short and snappy. This is not the time for long-winded stories.
Circle Back Often. If people are joining late or coming and going, be sure to circle back and recap often to catch everyone up. Also, if you’re recording the session, point out how participants can access the replay. I post mine to YouTube with an unlisted URL and then send them out via email.
Look Through the Camera. I’ve been coaching folks to look at the webcam and not at the faces on the screen but my colleague, Michele Trent, takes it even a step further. She coaches virtual presenters to look “through the camera” to visualize their audience. That extra subtle touch can make a big difference in how you engage your audience.
Be Upbeat. It’s difficult to project enthusiasm in a virtual environment so be sure to engage your audience with smiles and an upbeat tone. Avoid sarcasm, dry humor, and cynicism because it doesn’t carry well virtually.
Talk to Only One Person. Public speaking coach Joel Weldon, a legend in the business if there ever was one, advises virtual speakers to talk to just one person in their presentations to help engage each audience member. Say “you should try this” not “you guys should try this.”
Keep Backgrounds Simple. Virtual backgrounds can be fun and add a layer of privacy, but some are just too distracting. Another tip from Joel Weldon is to keep your virtual backgrounds simple. Joel’s is a solid color with just his logo in one corner. Find the right background answer for you.
Combined with the tips we provided in earlier posts, these ideas will help you stand out from the crowd and make a great impression on your next Zoom meeting. As always, we’d love to hear your do’s and don’ts. What have you seen that works? What have you seen that is downright awful? Please share your ideas in the comments field below.