At this point, we all know that public speaking is feared more than death. No surprises there, but in all these years that we’ve been throwing out these stats, why are we still here? It might be something to bring up the human reactions of fight or flight – why we succeed or freeze when we’re in situations of public speaking and presentation skills, but beyond that, we still have to do it – whether we like it or not. Because of that exciting fact, it’s in your best interest to get better – here are three tips to nail your next presentation, all focused and grounded in improv:
Practice like you play
I performed off-Broadway for almost 10 years, toured with a few national tours based in improv and performed in my fair share of Chicagoland improv. We rehearsed for everything – even in my NYC years, we rehearsed every single Wednesday evening in prep for our weekend shows, and it showed when we didn’t. Worse, it showed when we didn’t take rehearsal seriously and just screwed around the entire time.
When you practice in a lax manner, you’re going to play in that same lax manner.
If you’re practicing whatever you’re going to do that matters to you in a way that shows it DOES NOT matter, do you know how that’s going to look when the moment is here? It’s going to look like it doesn’t matter to you. Worse, if you don’t practice? It’s going to show.
Before every show I’ve ever done, we warmed up. Anything from running around to get energy up to quick thinking games to singing and getting in the moment. Why warm-up? Well, would you warm up before a run? Yeah? Same idea! We use muscles to speak and when we’re talking for an extended period of time and don’t warm up, we end up losing our voice, tripping on words and forgetting what we’re supposed to be doing because we aren’t tapped into the moment.
Raise your stakes
No one wants to see an ordinary moment in an improv show. They want to see an ELEVATED moment that is heightened from the every day. When you raise the stakes in improv moments, you suddenly start to care quite a bit more and things matter.
In real life, if you start to raise the stakes, things start to matter a bit more and you start investing more energy and care into what you’re saying. Don’t let this slide all the way to feeling neurotic about everything – because it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake – at the same time, if you invest more energy and care into what you’re doing, it’s going to show.
BONUS: Fail often. The more you fail in public speaking moments, the more you learn, and the better you get. If you keep playing it safe, you’re going to end up in the same place you started: being nervous about public speaking.
Upcoming Classes: Speaking and Presentation Skills
If you asked me to identify the number of clients that tell us that they need to be more concise at work I would say “high 80%”.
Yes, that many.
It might take form in being more concise and specific in meetings, emails, and conversations. Maybe presentations need to be tighter, updates for clients and internal staff more specific, or just getting your point across through the path of least resistance. It’s a common issue, and one that can definitely make your client, coworker or boss lose interest. My go to phrase is “Words are currency, don’t waste money.” We have literal seconds (a recent study says 8!) to connect with another person, and if you’re wasting it on things that don’t matter, you’ve already lost.
Here are three quick tips to being more concise at work:
Understand your audience
By digging into your audience and understanding what makes them tick, you’re ahead of the game. Think about what they want: often times, it’s not small talk, jokes, weird stories – it’s the information that you possess. Once you have that information outlined, you can add a few details if you know you’ll have to gain trust or likability. If they are interested in just the facts, skip the fluff and get to the point. They might need and desire fluff, so add that story about your dog, dinner or partner.
Remember: this isn’t what YOU need – it’s what they need.
Start in the middle – idea first
Hand in hand with understanding your audience is starting in the middle. In improv, you’re taught to skip the background. You start in the middle and move forward with the action, letting smaller details come out as the action progresses.
Same with presenting information in a meeting or a conversation – don’t build the stage to folks who already know the story! Get to the point with what they need to know, and if you’re uncertain, lead with the middle and idea, then tap back to other information if they ask questions about content.
Bare bones first
Have time to prep? Take the idea and par it down to the bare bones. A nice way to try this – if you can explain the idea in two minutes, try it in one minute then again in 30 seconds. The point isn’t to talk as fast as possible, it’s to whittle down the information as much as possible to still get the point across. When you have that figured out, you can add necessary details to connect with the audience AND ensure you’re still starting in the middle.
Hysterical laughter erupts post scene – two students created a picnic moment that turned into a horror movie with a cult leader that believed ants were Gods. I was even in tears, laughing so hard my stomach ached – and truthfully, I can’t remember a time I laughed so hard before or since. The best part? These folks weren’t actors or comedians – they were entrepreneurs, in all different stages of their business from startup and ideation to folks who have been in business for 10+ years.
All of the entrepreneurs were taking this improv class to make them better at running their business – and for good reason! Aside from improv being the best boot camp in listening and interpersonal communication skills, five major improv rules are used daily by entrepreneurs.
Denial is death to improv. When you say no to a reality, an offering, a suggestion or idea in improv, you’ve killed the scene and the moment. Negation is the first thing you’re taught to avoid. While you’re not saying YES to being a doormat – you are saying yes to the possibilities.
When you start a new business or want to grow, you have to say yes. If you’re constantly making excuses and saying “no that won’t work” or “no we can’t do that” or “no, that’s not the way we work” you’re shutting down possibilities. Business 101: stay open to possibilities when you’re growing!
Make Statements, Mind Your Questions
Questions pass the buck. If you’re asking questions in improv, you’re confused: you might not know where something is going! Makes sense in real life, right? Ask a question and you can get answers from the people around you. Full stop: you’re passing the buck to the other people when you ask a question. When you make a statement, you’re not only taking initiative in a conversation, you’re also adding to it, and pulling your weight.
In business, there is a time and a place for questions and a time and place for declarative statements – and if you’re managing a team or making big choices (even smaller ones!) you have to take some initiative! The responsibilities around making choices for your business need to fall on you – sure, you can get help from folks, but in the end, a LOT of those decisions have to come from you.
Be Real, Not Funny
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that improv makes you funny. Nope, not one bit – when you try to be funny, you’re not, unless you ARE FUNNY. It’s pretty awful when someone who isn’t funny tries to be funny or tells jokes, but doesn’t understand comedic timing. What makes improv funny is the truth – when people are real, living the reality they create, THAT is funny. Not bad comedic timing – reality, and heightened reality at that is hysterical when you’re watching.
Fake and inauthentic entrepreneurs are, for lack of a better word, gross. You’ve read their posts, heard their talks and been bothered by their social media campaigns – probably all while saying “how are they still in business?!” When you’re running a business, your clients will be able to tell if you’re being real or pretending. And fake it till you make it can only get you so far.
When I was an improv performer, I performed off-Broadway. Know what one of the worst feelings in the world? Bombing in front of a full house. I still remember when I was running in as the ref of a competitive improv night and I tripped UP the stage. I didn’t fall down, I fell up.
And I can tell you after that night, I never once bit it jumping up on stage again.
Improv is best when people fail freely – you risk it all for the moment, and maybe it works, and maybe it bombs and you trip up the stage. You’ll never do it again.
The best entrepreneurs are the ones that risk failure: starting a business is a risk! You might lose time, money, friends – and you might gain everything by risking that failure. Even if you only lose face, it’s more than many people risk. The status quo? Not for you.
Follow the Fear
Quite literally, the phrase “Follow the Fear” comes from the great improv teacher Del Close. In improv, victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where the funny lies.
In entrepreneurship, things are going to scare you – from going full time to scaling up to hiring someone. Victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where your version of success lies.
Originally Published in Forsyth Women Magazine
According to a recent study by LinkedIn Learning, 75% of respondents believe feedback is valuable, 60% reported they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis and less than 30% said they actually receive feedback.
That last one is not a typo.
Feedback is hard – people could get defensive, we don’t quite know how to give it (or how to take it) and when it doesn’t happen it’s often not followed up on or given with action items, so it’s like giving someone an IKEA bed without instructions. You might figure it out, and you might get frustrated and throw a wrench.
Here are three tips for giving feedback.
- Good and Bad
If you are only giving someone feedback when they do something wrong, feedback is going to be a scary looming monster on a professional – or personal – relationship. Think about it: you hear nothing until something fails. What will you remember? The silence leading up to it or the negativity?
When giving feedback, remember that it can be given when something is going right and when something isn’t going according to plans. I like a “glow” and “grow” idea – if something is great, tell them about this glow! What are they doing right? If something needs work, that’s a “grow” – it’s not a failure, just something that needs time to develop.
The side point here: make feedback a regular occurrence. It becomes part of your culture and life if it happens all the time, and that makes the negative feedback that much easier because it’s all part of the same system – not just something scary that comes up when folks are in trouble.
- Specific and ImmediateThis one is simple: when you’re thinking about giving feedback, don’t wait too long. If you do, you’ll end up either forgetting what it was for or not associating it with the behavior you’d like to either change or affirm.
The slightly more complicated side: it has to be specific. “You did a great job” is very different than “Your empathy with that customer was great, they seemed to feel much better after talking to you.” Being specific is HARD, and that’s ok! Start with the simple statement and give it the million question toddler treatment. What does great mean? What was great? Can you describe what they did that worked well to someone that wasn’t there?
The specificity works for negative feedback as well: if you aren’t clear and concise with what you want to be different – or what you’d like them to “grow” – then how will they know what to change and how to change it?
- Plans Please
You’ve made feedback a regular thing! You’ve got specific, concise and immediate! And…nothing changes.
If you’re not following up on the feedback with a plan and then following up on that plan, why would it get done?
Sure, we like to think we’re all independent workers in the remote day and age – but, sometimes we aren’t the best at accountability, which is why so many people look for coaches and trainers when they go to the gym. At the same time, if no one is giving you a plan to improve – or to grow – how can you? Many of us can figure something out on our own, but when you’re stuck in the trees it’s hard to see the forest.
If you’re giving “grow” feedback, take a moment to step back and also think of a plan, or at least a few action steps you can work on with this person. Even if it’s as simple as “let’s follow up in a few weeks to see how this is going” you’ve given them a point to work towards and a date to check in – which creates accountability.
Feedback doesn’t need to be a scary professional moment – use it to your advantage to rise above the status quo!
Originally Published in Forsyth Women Magazine
In 2017, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer created a third cofounder for their online e-commerce platform: Keith Mann not only got more email responses from potential investors and partners, he got more respect. Never mind he didn’t show up, ever – and ONLY communicated via email. Gazin and Dwyer faced everything from investors refusing to acknowledge them by name to developers threatening to delete everything if they didn’t get a date. No wonder they created Mr. Mann.
Unfortunately, this is consistent throughout leadership and entrepreneurship: women are just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and those statistics are reflected across the board. Women aren’t being seen as leaders in organizations, and if they get there, they often end up feeling imposter syndrome. As funny as Mr. Mann might be, it’s not a recommended strategy for leadership. Here are three ways you can start leading like a woman:
- Find your best qualities
Repeat after me: stop trying to be a second rate version of someone else. You’re wasting the first-rate version of yourself. Not all leaders have the same qualities! Gone are the days of every leader wearing a suit and walking in with their briefcase and coffee in the morning, off to sit in their office and order from on high. Leadership looks different on everyone!
Take a few minutes thinking about a leader you admire. Write down a few of their qualities that you also possess. You can definitely strive for being better and improvement: build your foundation first with your qualities. Maybe you’re an amazing delegator or a great listener. Note those qualities and bump them up! You can build additional skills on top of your foundation: you need something to build on first.
- Listen first, talk second
No matter what kind of leader you are or strive to be, you need to listen. Spend as much time as possible developing your active listening skills – and using them! If you find yourself losing some of those critical listening skills, step back. When someone is talking, try to remember two bits of information and figure out one question to ask to get more information about what they are saying. Before you even start tasking yourself while you’re listening, be sure you’re actually listening and showing it through non-verbals: nodding, making eye contact and facing another person are simple and powerful ways to show that you are indeed listening to the person talking.
If you know you are not a great listener, remember listening is a choice: it’s not something that you naturally do. When someone is starting to talk to you, take a breath and make the choice to listen.
- Professional Development
Remember that list you made about the qualities you admired from a leader in your life? Take stock in that and start growing. Professional development programs can be in person, online, created by you or by someone else – the sky is the limit! Do your research before you jump in.
The larger focus with professional development: growth. Great leaders don’t stagnate. You have to keep learning, evolving and changing with your team. Professional development isn’t simply recreating another great leader: it’s staying up to date with what’s happening in your field, with your team and with leadership as a whole. Find articles, read books, have a conversation and talk to your team. Pay attention and again, make a choice to be engaged with the process. Your work doesn’t end when you get the leadership position, it begins.
Now that you’re at the end, the jig is up: there is no way to lead like a woman. You have amazing qualities that you need to succeed!
Originally published in Forsyth Women Magazine
Boundaries used to be one of the hardest things for me to set and stick to, and to this day, I still struggle with them. As a people pleaser in recovery, I hate disappointing people. As a business owner and freelancer, if I don’t set boundaries, I will explode.
Boundaries are often described as
“guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”
While Wikipedia and Google can give great definitions of boundaries, you have to set your own and practice upholding the boundaries you set.
One of the biggest lessons my therapist taught me is that boundaries aren’t meant to feel good; they are meant to keep you safe. I think we often forget that when we’re holding up a boundary and the other person is pressing – it feels awkward and uncomfortable, and we think, oh! If we just give in, it will be fine. (It won’t.) Here are three ways to set and keep your boundaries for the last few months of 2019 and well into 2020:
New to boundaries in your life? Start small. Maybe it’s something as simple as not answering work emails after a certain time, or not accepting work texts. If you set one boundary to start with, and get comfortable with that one boundary, others will follow and will get easier.
I use a gym or working out comparison a lot – you can’t expect to wake up one day and just run a full marathon if you haven’t been training. If you’ve always been the ‘yes’ person, you can’t expect to have incredible skills setting and holding to boundaries.
Do a few easier ones with yourself and your time. Maybe you only take personal calls between 9 am and 7 pm, or you don’t text after 8 pm. Build your skills!
The “best” boundaries are clear and specific. If it’s complicated, with loads of clauses and possibilities, people will either find loopholes or misunderstand it, creating a lot of opportunities for you to either hold the boundary strong or give in. If you’re just starting to set boundaries in a situation, use the first-grader rule of thumb: be so simple that a seven-year-old can understand it.
Here’s an example that comes up with my entrepreneur friends: being asked to do things for exposure. Yes, you should do some things to add to your business and the social capital that comes with exposure. No, you can’t do everything for free because Duke Energy does not accept exposure bucks. Say your boundary is five “free” events a year. This is clear, specific, and concise. When you’ve done your five, and someone asks for your number six, and you physically cannot do that because you need to work, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, I’ve committed to all of the free events I can this year. I’m happy to chat with you next year.”
If someone is pushing on a boundary, don’t be afraid to say you need some time to think about the decision they are asking you to make. That bit of buffer will give you the time you need to think about a response. If they keep pushing when you ask for some time (even if it’s five minutes), stop and think: this isn’t respectful for you, so feel free to say no.
An example that I hear about a lot is working extra hours above and beyond what you already have to do and outside of the scope of work. This happens more in non-profit work, I think, but I’ve seen it across the spectrum of professions. If someone is asking you for something like this, feel free to say, “Let me look at my schedule and get back to you tomorrow,” if you are feeling like you can’t immediately say no, or are struggling with the no. Then, take some time to practice the no, or send it in an email to avoid the conflict you might be adverse to.
There’s one overarching lesson I’ve learned about boundaries over the past few years of developing mine: the people that have the most trouble with other people’s boundaries are those who don’t have any themselves. Remember that, and you got this.
Improv and teambuilding is hardly innovative: traditional icebreakers that usually embarrass more than they break ice are usually based in some improv slash drinking game. Since the 90s are long gone, improv for teambuilding should go the way of over plucked brows and butterfly clips – out.
Improv can do so much more for businesses than break the ice. Here are five reasons businesses are turning to improv for professional development:
Folks in the office not communicating as well as they should? Improv might be the cure: not only do you practice specific skills like active listening, responding and conversation, it fine tunes your personal style. You get to practice interactions and moments without repercussion: when in life do you get the possibility of a do over like you do in an improv workshop?
Public Speaking, Presentation and Pitch
Improv is heightened reality: everything exists at a higher state with higher stakes. What better way to practice the stressful act of public speaking and pitching than in with the playful activities of improv? Not only do you get to rehearse, which is more than most people do before they speak (we see you!) you’ll be able to find nuances that you never knew existed. Sure, you’re not going to pitch like you’re in a western, but what if practicing like you’re in a western helps you slow down when you are explaining something?
Feedback – Giving and Getting
Reflective practice is imperative to a healthy company culture. How do you help people feel comfortable giving feedback when they are nervous about giving feedback? Improv involves group and partner activities and giving feedback should be part of every activity. We like to do Glows and Grows: what are you doing well, and what needs work?
Conflict Resolution and Customer Service
Yes, And is the magic conflict resolution phrase. Affirm what the person who is upset is saying – YES, I hear that you’re unhappy, YES, that flight was very delayed, YES, those nacho fries were cold – and then add to the conversation – AND I want to help you, AND can I offer you a voucher, AND, here’s a free order. Most of the time someone is upset, they want to be heard and not argued with – and most of the time when someone is upset, we say the dreaded word BUT: a confrontation building conjunction.
“Follow the Fear” is a BIG improv principle – greatness lives on the other side of fear! Improv builds confidence not only by embodying a “go for it” attitude, it helps you think about what risk ACTUALLY is – is making a mistake or looking foolish going to end your life and career? Probably not, so why not suck it up and just go for it? Most people are too afraid – you’ll immediately look, and feel more confident!
This post was originally published: https://www.conferencecalling.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-interruptions/
Giving a presentation can be nerve-wracking even to the most seasoned public speaker. When you’re already on edge, interruptions can be hard to handle.
We talked to more than a dozen people who give speeches or presentations regularly. This is how they recommend preventing interruptions during your next speech or how to deal with them if they do happen.
How to Prevent Interruptions in the First Place
Preparation is critical to giving a good speech. In the same way, it’s important to prepare your audience to hear it. These strategies will help your audience settle into listening mode and give you an air of authority.
This post was originally published on BizGalz
Late last year I was about to present my company a sample curriculum at a national training session geared towards trainers. An acquaintance came up to me and said, “Oh, you look taller!” I laughed, knowing it wasn’t a height thing. In truthfulness, it was a confidence and owning my business thing. I told him as much – I went through a lot and was finally taking charge in my life, and it was showing all over the place.
And then his partner, a woman, laughed and said, “Oh, it’s her hair – and she’s an actress so she probably is wearing lifts in her shoes.” For some reason, that infuriated me – I was confident and that’s why I looked taller – I was carrying myself differently! I said this, and she scoffed again, and said, “Sure, Jen. Maybe it’s your outfit.”
Ever been disrespected or disrespectful? This video is for you! Unless you are a sociopath or terrible human being, chances are the disrespect happened because of a lack of self-awareness. Check out this week’s video to learn more!