How to Avoid the Most Common Pitfalls of Public Speaking

by Engager Olive Persimmon

I’ve been doing public speaking for ten years and coaching public speaking for four. Throughout this time I’ve given some amazing, rev-up the audience, not-a-dry-eye-in-house speeches.
I’ve also totally bombed. Red-faced, voice-shaking, forget-your-freaking-words bombed.
Luckily that happens far less frequently now because I’ve learned the common mistakes for why speeches don’t go well. Looking back, there are three basic reasons why I failed: 1. I didn’t 1915974_1021261141282455_1190844854930300062_nprepare enough 2. I was overly worried about the audience’s opinion of me, and as a result 3. I got in my head.

So let’s talk about what you can do to avoid these common pitfalls:

1. Prepare and then practice:

Too often I see clients who want to “wing it” so they “sound natural.” This is one of the main reasons why speeches fail. The speaker didn’t prepare enough. It’s probably the single, most important thing you can do to deliver a great speech. Figure out exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write it down and then practice it. Practice your presentation or speech alone. Then practice it again in front of people. If you have a fear of public speaking, it’s critical that you practice in front of other people, and often. The more frequently you do it, the more likely you are to decrease your fear.

2. Practice some more:

When we’re feeling nervous, our body goes into something called fight-or-flight mode. This causes our heart rate to elevate along with spikes in cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to sweatiness, shaking, redness, and even blackouts. The last thing you want to be dealing with is figuring out what the heck you’re gonna say. I’ve seen this end two ways, the speaker blacks out and stops or the speaker starts to ramble. You want the words to be so engrained in your brain that you can keep going even if you’re having an out-of-body experience. Practice until you sound fake. Then keep practicing until you sound real again. That doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from your prepared talk, it just means that your brain won’t be scrambling for words at the wrong times.

3. Remind yourself that the audience WANTS you to succeed.

Olive with her book "Unintentionally Celibate!"

Olive with her book “Unintentionally Celibate!”

There’s a good chance that someone asked you to speak. That someone could be your boss. It could be a group of people interested in a topic. Those people BELIEVE that you will be successful. No one in their right mind would ask you to speak if they thought you were going to fail. The audience is on your side. Truly they are. Yet, for so many of us, we are obsessively worrying about what the audience will think of us. Before you start speaking, take a second to assess your audience. Find a friendly face. Smile at that person (it will release wonderful chemicals into your brain). Remind yourself that someone believes you deserve to be speaking. Take a deep breath and then begin.

4. Get out of your head

It’s impossible to connect with the audience when you’re in the middle of a conversation with yourself in your head. One of the easiest ways to get out of your head, is to make authentic eye contact with people in the audience. A lot of coaches recommend looking above the audience or looking at a lot of people in a short amount of time. Don’t do this. Instead, really look at the people you’re talking to. Not only will this help you connect with them, it will help ground your body and get you out of fight-or-flight mode.

Avoiding these common pitfalls is the first place to start if you’re trying to become an excellent speaker. Hopefully your next speech will be a home run. Follow our blog for more tips on speaking and other communication skills.

Election Response

Dear Friends of The Engaging Educator:

The last week was difficult for many of us here at EE. I can say without hesitation, as a 100% woman-owned and operated business, we’ve had a rough week. Personally, I’ve found myself in a myriad of emotions – from sad, to rage, to charged, to distracted, then back to sad. And you know what? It’s all ok.

This isn’t a plea to move on. This isn’t an ask to cheer up, or to protest, or to rage, or to make beautiful things. It IS an ask to start listening better. We at EE maintain that listening and communication are essential skills that we all need to be better at.

The two most powerful things I’ve seen this past week – the first, a post on Twitter from a friend: “Request: stop dictating how others are handling their grief/confusion/fear. It only divides us. Just be a good human, please.”

It is ok to be whatever you are feeling right now. People have been giving flack for posting happy photos, or ‘normal’ posts, or Harry Potter quotes – and if you’re just ignoring what happened, that’s on you – but do not criticize how people are handling this. We’re all different. Let everyone deal with grief in their own way.

The second was a friend’s photo from the protests in NYC. She had captured a sign that said “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” We will all grow from this – I refuse to believe this is the downfall of all that is good in the world. After we grieve, we take action.

More on our post-election thoughts here, in our weekly video. I’ll let you decide to watch it or not:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB6CL-AXHxY

Finally, just take care of one another. I’ve hugged more people in the past week than every, and while a hug can’t save us from the hate in the world, the fact we are all in this together can. Elevate each other, look out for one another, and again, listen better.

Yes, Anding and Elevating Ya’ll Forever-
Jen Brown, Founder
The Engaging Educator

On Flexibility As An Instructor

By Engager Jill Frutkin

I love it when educators come to class. There is a knowing look when I tell them I was an elementary classroom teacher for years.

You can plan the world’s greatest lesson – complete with the most appropriate standards, the most engaging materials, the most thoughtful grouping – and then there’s a fire drill. Or half the class is absent. Or what you thought was engaging is actually totally boring to them.

copy-of-img_4469To be a great teacher means you think (and eat lunch, and do most things at work) on your feet. You need to be taking the temperature of your students needs constantly, and re adjusting accordingly. Something you did not expect is always going to happen – and this is actually a very good thing.

By being in the moment and paying attention to how students react, you can seize the real teachable moments. The combination of planned activity, uncontrollable circumstance and a listening teacher ready to respond creates an ideal environment for real learning.

I found this to be true in an EE improv workshop this fall. I was leading a session in an office with a team of employees, focusing on team building, agility, and communication. I started the session with my favorite warm up, “Rubber Chicken”. The exercise aims to connect our bodies with our voices with our heads and our hearts. We shake out our limbs (body), while loudly counting down from 8 (voices, heads) and making eye contact with someone in the circle for each limb (hearts). It’s a great exercise to bring a group together, warm up, and create a safe, unison space.

copy-of-img_4484Before we started, I modeled how the exercise looks and sounds, shaking my arm and loudly counting to 8, projecting my voice and connecting it to my movement. I noticed a few alarmed faces, and told them not to worry, we’d be doing the exercise in unison, so that nobody would be listening to any one individual voice. The alarmed faces told me that volume level was a definite no-no. We couldn’t be that loud – people were working down the hall.

For a split second, I froze. I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone, and this was not a great start. Then I turned the moment into a lesson. I was there to teach flexibility, and this was an opportunity to model agility in the moment.

I thanked the participants for letting me know the parameters of the room. Then I pointed out that the objective wasn’t to be loud – it was to warm up, and to connect our voices to our bodies. We could easily keep the same intention and intensity with a quiet volume. I made my agility transparent – thinking aloud with participants. When a situation you didn’t expect copy-of-img_4461comes up, one way to imagine a solution is to look at what is most important. In this case, the warming up and connection was most important, not the volume. We could easily make the adjustment and continue with the exercise.

It was a fantastic workshop, and the participants were engaged, joyful, and reflective. The moment of flexibility was a great lesson to me – it deepened how I see an exercise I use daily – and I hope that by making my agility transparent, I modeled flexible thinking and problem solving. I truly believe that using the principles of improv help us find valuable teachable moments in every situation.

Happy Birthday, EE!

OMG, we are FOUR YEARS OLD TODAY!!! Thanks to the Engagers and Staff who took a little time to share something they’ve improved upon during their time with EE, or something they love about their job!

IMG_9948As a new member of the EE team, I’m excited to Inspire others to feel confident in front of a room, whether it’s for work, their hobby, or even just a gathering of old friends and new. Feeling comfortable in your skin is something that I’ve learned is so important when being your most genuine and authentic self! All my love, Jen – Jen Glantz, Engager

Being an engager is a dream job: I get to meet new people and learn, laugh and improv(e)! It is endlessly satisfying to see how improv – and the EE ethos – helps us listen, communicate and make progress on our goals. I feel so lucky to work with such an inspiring, smart and caring staff of women as we grow and expand. Happy Birthday, EE! Let’s all eat cake! – Jill Frutkin, Engager

museummashup-2016_24464992703_oAs an engager, I have learned the enormous potential held in every single person. I have witnessed what is possible when we come together to explore how to share our voice with the world. – Minna Taylor, Engager

I love working with people who are so enthusiastic and passionate about the work they’re doing. I love feeling like it’s okay — encouraged, even! — to be excited about the work we’re doing and the folks we’re doing it with. – Shaelyn Amaio, Social Media and Graphics

I’ve definitely improved on initiative taking and thinking outside the box for creative admin solutions! Working with a team of people who are all creatives, not to mention just awesome people, makes admin work a joy! Plus, I love that our team is all women! – Erin Moncada, Admin Director

image5What I LOVE most about being an Engager is being a part of a group of bad-ass (can I say that?!) women who bring a varied set of skills, strengths, and accomplishments to the table. I’m inspired every time I co-teach, observe, and speak to the fellow engagers. The Engagers and the professionals that take EE’s classes always challenge me to bring my A-game – and no two classes are ever the same. I’m undoubtedly a better facilitator and educator because of my time with EE, and I’m looking forward to another amazing year. – Lawrese Brown, Engager

I LOVE my job. How many people get to say that? I get to help people get out of their heads and feel good about their communication. Not to mention, it’s fun! Seriously, huge love for EE, the other engagers, and all the wonderful people we’ve had the privilege to teach. – Olive Persimmon, Engager

improv. jpgWhat I love most about being an Engager is what I learn from students. A lot of people think that teachers are the ones with the answers, but I’m constantly being taught by the people who take my classes. It’s so inspiring to see how bravely people embrace something so foreign to them and it makes me more courageous in my life and work. – Molly Anne Coogan, Engager

Engaging Educator has made me more fearless! I love being part of a team of fearless woman who take risks and ‘yes…and” to success. – Hillary Murrell, Engager

How Improv Enhances Creativity

By Engager Lawrese Brown

“Think outside the box.” We’ve all heard the expression before. It’s the call to action to innovate, the definitive dog whistle for Think Different. In the past, us non-creatives were off the hook, because the creative types were easily spotted: They worked in theatre, fashion, music, and media. But now every industry calls for us to create and innovate. With technological disruption and an ever-changing hustle and gig economy, innovation is everyone’s responsibility.

And we can do it, right? At least we think we can. What’s so hard about trying to think of new ways to approach our problems, products and processes? So when pushed to take risks, we raise our hands and nod our heads in agreement, and then we soon realize that relinquishing our boxes isn’t so easy. The irony of creativity is that it takes work.

Why? Because everything about us as professionals is trained towards obsessive logic. In school and business, there is a right answer and wrong answer. There is efficiency and inefficiency, there is time saved and time wasted, there is work and play….and play can’t be work?

We can’t ovethink creativity, and even that is counterintuitive. Creativity is a tool best offered when we let loose. It’s in that freedom that we are most imaginative, instinctive and inventive. For example, one of my favorite improv games is the active listening game, “Last Word Response.” The game calls for participants to use the last word of the previous person’s sentence as the first word of their sentence. So if I said, “I love you,” the next person would say, “You are the greatest,” and then “Greatest love of all,” and so on and so forth. The game usually works well until someone says something like, “This is cool” and someone says cool is…. Cool *pause*…..cool *longer silence* ….suddenly without an immediate answer….we feel stuck.

As one improviser said of the game, “It’s hard because there is pressure to make sense.” To which I ask, “who said you had to make sense?” Who’s to say you can’t say “Cool cats,” “Cool is an adjective,” “Cool Kids rule” or “Cool Whip is my favorite topping on pancakes?!” In those moments we realize that “the pressure to make sense” is code for saying something that “we know works.” Something that is familiar. Something that is reasonable.

Improv enhances our creativity because it pushes us to think outside the box by encouraging flexibility, increased initiative, positive risk taking and fun. Quite simply, improvisation and creativity shift us out of what’s proven into more of a focus on what’s possible.

Expectation is the sister of anticipation, and there’s no anticipating in improv. The skill set teaches us to be comfortable with the unknown and enables us to take risks, constantly shift, and elevate what could be. Essentially, improv kills the box and with no box, we realize that the greatest obstacle to our creativity are ironically, the limits and rules we continue to put on ourselves.

EE Announces Weekly Video Series!

FRIENDS!!!!! We have exciting news: Starting in October, we will be posting a new video each Monday, with improv tips, tricks, and lessons you can take and use in your life!

Here’s the announcement video from our Founder, Jen Brown:

Also… JUST KIDDING!!!! We couldn’t wait until October! Here’s the first one!

Doing Something: Reflections on Year 1 of SECCA Summer Art Camp

I’ve been busy in North Carolina.

Now, I moved for all the right reasons – love, a need for a life, a quieter pace. While I do have that, and a healthy work life balance, I’m still working a lot. I haven’t been vocal on the company page, EE Twitter or my personal Facebook (happily deleted) – it’s been absolute bliss following my little EE heart, experimenting with the things I couldn’t afford to experiment with in NYC. This makes for a busy schedule with ideas that get the follow through they deserve.

The Outdoor Gang goes on an adventure

The Outdoor Gang goes on an adventure

This summer I had the pleasure of co-teaching and co-creating an Art through Improv Camp with the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Full disclosure – I got to do all of this with my husband, Alex, who is the Programs Coordinator at SECCA, so it was pretty awesome right there. But it was the first time in a long time that I got to create a public museum program with improv where it wasn’t my job to focus on the art-making and gallery component. Improv was an equal component as a way ‘in’ to the exhibition. For the first time in my little museum educator turned improv educator turned business owner and educator heart, I got to run with ideas.

The entire week was one success after another. I think it can best be described from the difference on the first day and last day: SECCA’s awesome Executive Director Gordon Peterson came down on the first day to say hi to the campers, and they looked at him like…well like he was a fancy guy in a suit. These kids were QUIET. And SHY. SILENT might be the best word. They basically uncomfortably stared at him until he stopped talking and left.

I think at this moment Alex got nervous that we (I) were (WAS) crazy.

We started in the gallery with Keith Haring and created our very own Pop Shop Prints, which were available to the public. In the afternoon, we focused on repetition within improv, to echo our repetition within printmaking.

Zip Zap Zop was like pulling teeth.

Gallery Talks

Gallery Talks

Slow, scared, and just a general ‘nope’ attitude. But slowly, I saw the kids taking little risks, even on that first afternoon. Being a bit louder onstage. Slowly taking the lead and initiative in scene work. By the end of the day, we played Hot Spot – and a few kids balked at it. For those of you who haven’t experienced my ‘way’ of playing – one person stands in the center of a circle and starts singing a song. When the people on the outside of the circle know the song, they start to sing along, backing that center person up. The moment someone on the outer circle thinks of a new song in relation to the song that’s currently being sung, they tap the center person, take their place and start the new song. Up to this point – that’s how Hot Spot is traditionally played. It’s a pretty standard improv game. You don’t want someone to ‘die’ in the center; you always want everyone to look out for each other.

I make everyone go.

The kids take the stage!

The kids take the stage!

Yep, everyone has to sing. And you can’t get out of it – because as I tell students, kids and adults, I will wait. Before people start thinking that I’m some kind of crazy horrible person that makes people sing in public spaces in front of strangers for fun, here’s the thing: chances are, singing in public in front of strangers with no backup music to hide in will most likely be the scariest thing most people do that week. Sometimes even that month. I’ve heard people say it was the scariest thing they do all year. People fear public speaking more than death – singing? Forget it.

But think about it – you do this and the world DOESN’T end. You don’t die. You get nervous, people have your back because they are also scared shitless and you all win. And the kids behaved JUST like adults do – fear, trepidation, nerves. Kids saying, “Not doing it.” Me saying, “Too bad, do it.” And as usual, they nailed it, went home and I collapsed, exhausted but believing in this crazy idea that improv really does magic.

Fast-forward to the next day when the kids asked to do more improv than art, and ASKED to play Hot Spot again. I asked the girl – the same one who had the most trepidation around the game – why she wanted to play it today. And she said, “I was scared yesterday, but I did it and it was fun and worth being scared. I learned a lot.” (Kid, please remember this in life and tell it to all of our clients and potential clients.)

Indoor Art-making Fun

Indoor Art-making Fun

Fast-forward to the third day of camp when they asked to do improv first, before art. Improv at 9 am is not for the faint of heart, but this crew nailed a group scene with 9 people onstage at once, all sharing the focus and on the same page, with a scene that gave me goose bumps because it was so fluid, so focused and so good – this after practicing sharing focus in relation to composition within art.

Fast-forward to the fourth day, where they decided they wanted their parents to play improv games in the final culmination. Also, we were working on wrapping up some art projects in the afternoon, and Gordon’s wife Nancy came by to see camp. Since we were doing art, I asked a few students if they wanted to do a quick improv game to show Nancy what they’ve been working on. Three girls jumped up, killed it and walked off like no big deal. Shyness around random adults? Gone.

Fast-forward to the last day when they led their parents through the galleries, showed them their favorite art, taught them printmaking, and performed a 30 minute improv show better than 75% of my ex-improv team performances, complete with a parent segment. Afterwards, the parents that were onstage said they had a new respect for thinking on the fly (YES AND) and to what their kids did so seamlessly (YES AND). Oh and the first day awkward visit from SECCA’s Director? Gordon came back on the last day, and the kids were completely comfortable around him, grabbing snacks and walking around like they owned the place. Casually saying hi like it was nothing at all. Same shy, silent, scared kids + 5 days of improv.

That progression from a group of nervous kids to an ensemble who exhibited more comfort and confidence in a contemporary art museum than I’ve seen in a lot of adults – that’s why I do what I do. EE came out of me noticing that museum professionals, specifically educators, didn’t follow the visitor enough. Agendas surpassed interest – whether those agendas were museum orientated or personal or both – and I’ve seen too many programs that were curator-lite, focused more on academics and content regardless of the audience. And that’s lazy museum education behavior.

Non-stop glamourBut this program – we planned, but were ready to be flexible. Maybe it was because I co-taught with my husband, who has seen the incredible power of improv and focusing on your audience instead of going through the motions, but we were open, ready and able to follow the group. They wanted to do improv first, great, done. They wanted to take the structural elements of sculpture and architecture we taught them and make a sword out of paper, awesome. They’ve always wanted to paint a tornado in a field? Great, here’s a canvas and you’re still using color theory, which you didn’t know before, so paint whatever you’d like. That openness by US allowed them to be completely free.

As long as this post is at this point, the entire week can be summed up by one conversation with a boy named Oliver. He was pretty quiet, strong instincts onstage, and liked art. One of the first things he said on the first day during art making was “You mean we can make whatever we want?” and when Alex and I said, “Yes, of course!” (Initiative! Choice! Improv LIFE principles in disguise!) he replied with the widest eyes and literally rushed back to his seat to create TONS, and I mean TONS of prints. He played with ghost prints, multiples, layers of ink – all of the techniques we had talked about. There wasn’t a wrong, or a failure – he just got to explore. He went on to say it was nice to not just recreate someone else’s work – and while I’m sure my NYC friends/readers are commenting “Oh it’s because his art class isn’t like [insert snark here about NYC].” Guess what? He goes to literally THE most progressive and advanced school I’ve ever set foot in. It’s an incredible school and he STILL felt like he didn’t have the freedom to create something that was truly his. So there’s that.

Oliver – you’re doing EXACTLY what I’m doing here in Winston. I’m creating something that is truly mine. I’m doing fantastic collaborations – real creations of new projects, not just partnering or pushing my own agenda. I’m taking the community around me and teaming up with some awesome and incredible people and MAKING THINGS HAPPEN. Remember this article I wrote almost a year ago?

I’m doing something.

Peace out and Yes, And loves-
Jen

The Critical Way Improv Improves Communication (It’s Not What You Think)

By Engager Lawrese Brown.

Many people come to improv classes to improve their communication skills. Communicating is one of those elusive skills we work on the entirety of our careers and ultimately our lives. Whether our motivation is wanting to become image5better public speakers, quicker on our feet, more creative in our responses, and more direct in our intention – we all want to express ourselves better. Yet, in focusing so heavily on what we say, we easily overlook the power in how we say it.

In 1967, Dr. Mehrabian did a study on how the mind configures meaning and found that the formula for interpreting a message is seven percent verbal, thirty eight percent vocal and fifty five percent visual. Yes, that means most of how we communicate is not with our words. The fact that we convey so much meaning with our bodies is easily overlooked. Yet, when having a conversation with someone who stares at us blankly, asks questions monotonously, and never makes a gesture, we’re quickly reminded that true connection and true conveyance of our message is improv. jpgin the body. Improv is king when it comes to communication courses because it’s grounded in movement, meaning that improv exercises not only strengthen what we say, but actively increase our awareness of what we are doing when we say it.

Whether we’re playing “What Are You Doing?,” Translator or simply scene building, improv challenges us to bring words to life – and with no props, no scripts, no scenery and no judgment — we do that in the most organic way possible – with our selves. So next time you are talking to someone or preparing for a speech don’t just practice your talking points, but take a moment to look at how you move.

Consider the following:
(Tone) How are you saying it?
– Are you irritated? Excited? Uncertain? Anxious?
HUM 6(Facial Expressions) How we look when we say it:
– How’s your eye contact? Is your mouth open? Are your eyebrows furrowed?
(Gestures) How’s your body?
– What are your hands doing?
– Are you leaning? Swaying? Standing completely still?
– Is your head tilted? Is your chin down? Are your toes curled?

As Amy Cuddy proclaimed in her famous TED Talk, our body language not only shapes others perception of us, but it also shapes how we see ourselves. And that fits in perfectly with the second most important rule of improv (after YES AND of course) – no matter what happens, just keep moving.