Finding common ground with your audience is crucial in public speaking and business presentations, especially when the goal of your talk is to persuade. It is nearly impossible to change the minds of people in your audience without making connections with them and establishing common ground is a great way to build those connections.
The video clip above, from the movie 300, provides a great example of how speakers can establish common ground by positioning themselves as equals with their audience. In this scene, the Spartan Queen, Gorgo, appeals to her audience “not only as your queen” but as a mother, as a wife, and as a Spartan woman.
Common ground can the key to achieving uncommon results.
One of the exercises I have my public speaking students do is stand and read quotations from famous speeches. One of the quotes is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” More than half of the students who read it out loud trip over their tounges when saying it.
Sometimes what looks really good on paper is hard to say when spoken out loud. Our brains sometimes get ahead of our tongues. This is one reason why you should always practice your speeches and business presentations out loud. You may discover words and phrases that just don’t come out right. If you do discover problems with the flow, you have two choices:
You can practice the troublesome verbiage over and over until you can say it consistently right
You may replace the troublesome words with something that means the same thing but is easier for you to say.
One thing is for sure: It’s much better to trip over your tongue while practicing in front of your bedroom mirror than it is to have a tongue-twister disaster in front of your business colleagues or a live audience.
In today’s fiercely competitive business climate, how well you present yourself can make the difference in getting ahead or going home. When it comes to winning a new client, getting a project approved, or closing the deal, the smallest things can make the biggest difference. You don’t want to blend in you want to stand out! From shaking hands, exchanging business cards to storytelling these all have a powerful impression on how people perceive you. Most people underestimate the importance of these interactions and just get by. But by knowing a few simple secrets, you can turn that around.
That was the premise of our “Speak Up and Stand Out” public speaking workshop held last week. The sold out event was sponsored by the Phoenix Business Journal and held at the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce.
Among the topics we covered were:
Using your body language to influence and include
Using storytelling in presentations to turn heads and win hearts
Introducing yourself to make a great first impression
Exchanging business cards so that you are remembered
If you missed the workshop, don’t worry — We’ll be adding new workshops soon!
You know this cat. You see this cat and his raised paw almost every time you enter an Asian-owned business. Some of the cats have a battery operated paw that moves back and forth. The cat is known as Maeki-Neko, which is Japanese for “beckoning cat.” That’s right “beckoning cat” not clawing cat.
Maeki-Neko’s raised paw is meant to resemble how people beckon you to come inside in Japan and in many other Asian cultures (hand raised, palm down, fingers moving in and out quickly). The cat is intended to bring customers and good fortune into their establishments. But to many people in Western cultures, the cat looks like he’s trying to claw something. Maeki-Neko is a great example of how things can be interpreted differently by people in different cultures.
Public Speaking Requires Homework
Before you speak to any audience, particularly an audience that is culturally different from you, you need to do your homework. Research is key to an effective presentation.
Here are some questions to ask when doing audience analysis:
What is my audience’s feelings toward my topic?
What common ground do audience members share with one another and with me?
How relevant will the audience find my content?
What can I do to enhance my credibility with this audience?
How can I make it easier for audience members to understand and remember my main points?
What language or cultural differences do audience members have with one another and with me?
Am I using colloquialisms, idioms or humor that won’t be understood?
You can’t anticipate and research everything when dealing with cultural complexity. My wife grew up in the Philippines and we encounter unexpected cultural differences on a daily basis in our household. But with my family, and in my travels to other countries, I’ve always found that being respectful of different cultures and seeking to understand your audiences will get you headed in the right direction. Most people are forgiving of occasional slip-ups if they know your heart is in the right place. So speak up — and don’t let the cat get your tongue.
“Be silent, or say something better than silence.” ~ Pythagoras
Before you step before an audience to deliver a speech or a business presentation, you need to ask yourself one crucial question: Do you believe in your heart that you have at least one thing to say that will be meaningful to at least one person in your audience? While it’s not a high hurdle to cross, it can determine success or failure for you.
If your answer is “yes” and you believe it in your heart, you now have a reason to deliver your speech. This belief can help to build confidence in you and allow you to perform at your very best.
But if your answer is “no,” then you have two choices: (1) rework your speech until you do believe it is worthwhile or (2) stay home. It’s that simple. To be an effective public speaker, you need to believe in your message.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you are involved in public speaking. Imagine you are in the midst of a presentation and you suddenly develop a case of dry mouth that causes you to cough. It can happen to anybody at any time. If you’re prepared with a small bottle of water nearby, you can quickly recover and move on with your speech. No big deal. But without water, a small case of dry mouth can turn into a big distraction and maybe even ruin your speech. You have to stop. Someone now has to fetch you water while the audience waits restlessly. A five-minute wait is an eternity when an audience is waiting.
You don’t need a big bottle of water to save the day. You usually only need a quick sip to recover. I like the little 6 ounce bottles that I can easily place on a podium without them sticking out too much. The water should be room temperature. Cold water can cause your throat to tighten up. Of course, hot tea works well for your throat too, but hot tea is not easy to carry around with you like a small bottle of water.
I talk a lot so I also carry a supply of throat drops with me to soothe my often overworked throat. I don’t recommend using cough drops that contain menthol. Also, because I use a lot of throat drops (and because I’m a Type 2 diabetic), I prefer the sugar-free drops.
These small items can make a big difference in a speech or business presentation. So pack a small bottle of water and maybe a couple of throat drops in your briefcase. It just may help you to pull off a perfect public speaking presentation.
Had a great time presenting my Speak Up and Stand Out public speaking workshop this morning. We’ll be offering another session July 22 and presenting another in conjunction with the Phoenix Business Journal on July 27. Check out our Events page for details.
Our July 8 Speak Up and Stand Out workshop is full and we are no longer taking reservations but we still have spots left in the July 22 public speaking workshop. The workshops are free but you must reserve a spot. To ensure personal attention, the workshops are limited to 10 participants.
Start your journey to public speaking success by signing up for our July 2 session today!
I attended a wedding awhile back and snapped this photo of the groomsmen. The wedding was deep in the heart of Texas so, of course, it was held in a barn and the groomsmen were wearing matching western shirts, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. It was a fabulous wedding, the people were sure ’nuff friendly and I loved every minute of my visit to the Lone Star State.
The groomsmen stood like guys stand when they become conscious of their bodies and don’t know what to do with their hands. It’s a common problem I see with my public speaking clients every day. Each groomsman represented one of the ways I teach speakers not to stand when making a speech or business presentation — the military at ease position, the hands in the pockets, the fig leaf, and the hands the belt loop. The groomsmen were standing respectfully and they were just fine for the wedding ceremony but the problem with all these positions when you are speaking is that they inhibit your ability to gesture, which is key to being an effective presenter.
What Should You Do?
So, what should you do? How should you stand when speaking? And what the heck should you do with your hands?
What you should do is be yourself — yourself when you’re not nervous or overly self-conscience of your body. I’m going to bet that you don’t stand in any of these unnatural positions when you’re talking to your friends in the parking lot or at the water cooler. And, I’ll bet that you’re not at all concerned about what to do with your hands either.
Your Public Speaking Goal
The goal is this: to gesture naturally as you talk, the way you do when you’re telling a story or a good joke to your friends. So how do you get there? After all, you are nervous! Start by putting your hands at your sides. Then, and this is key, relax your arms from the shoulders down. Once your arms are under control, the nervous energy will travel to your legs and feet so your next step is to plant your feet solidly on the ground. Imagine that your feet are nailed to the floor. With your arms relaxed and your feet planted solidly. You’re now ready to begin speaking.
It will feel awkward at first. Most things do when you start. Remember the first time you shot a layup, tried to rollerskate, swung a golf club or went bowling? It was awkward, right? But through practice, it became second nature. The good news with gesturing is, you already know how to do it. You just need to relax. Following the steps outlined here, you gradually will forget about your body and begin to gesture naturally. I’ve seen some folks stand awkward with their hands at their sides for 45 seconds before they finally forget about their stance and began to gesture naturally. But eventually, they did. And the next time it only took 20 seconds, and the next time 10 seconds, and finally, after enough practice, they just did it from the get-go. They became themselves.
All Hat and No Cattle?
Public speaking isn’t about making you into someone you’re not — or as they say in Texas, someone who is all hat and no cattle. Effective public speaking is about making you more comfortable being yourself. Trust me, I wouldn’t steer you wrong. So go ahead, stand up straight, relax those arms, plant those feet. And before you know it, you will be gesturing as natural and as wide as the horns on a Texas Longhorn.