I was cleaning out some old files over the weekend and came across a spiral-bound notebook that triggered a bit of PTSD. It’s dated February 24, 1998, from Ketchum Public Relations. That was the day a friend and I from a consulting firm we worked for flew up to New York City for a day of media training.
After spending about half of the day learning the tricks of the trade, they conducted videotaped role-play sessions, on set, on camera, and under the hot lights, while skilled interviewers tried to twist our words into something we didn’t mean. Those interviewers used what I later learned to be industry-standard questioning techniques referred to as “machine-gunning,” “interrupting,” “paraphrasing,” and “dart-throwing.” Then they replayed the videos in front of colleagues and proceeded to pick apart every nuance of our message and intonation. Suffice it to say that day was so tough on our self-esteem that my friend Lee and I required full makeovers at Nordstrom before we could leave the city!
So why did I hang onto a notebook that, to this day, gives me flashbacks? Because that class provided some of the best advice and training on public speaking that I have had in my career. Back in the late 90s, because video conferencing was so bad, the only time most professionals would be on camera was under the hot lights of a media interview. But today, we’re on camera every day, and as I flipped through the pages of this old guide, there were several tips I think still apply to our zoom filled days, whether we’re in networking meetings, recording for our YouTube channel, or delivering a webinar.
The fundamental principle of being in front of an audience is to tell your story. Your personal brand or business story has strong messages to hold it together. It becomes richer through examples and details that make it relevant and understandable. Remember that you are the best person to tell your story. Here are some tips on how to do so effectively.
- Know your story. This advice may sound simple but before you speak, whether you’re delivering a webinar, a ten-minute presentation, or a networking commercial, develop your key messages. If it’s your commercial, choose one key message and if it’s a webinar, choose three. Support each message with examples, figures, data, or a third-party endorsement. Use quotable language that includes active verbs, full sentences, and positive phrases. Say the name of your organization. Have a newsworthy theme that is current and relevant. If you are answering questions, use each question as an opportunity to deliver a message. You’ll see talented high profile speakers do this all the time. Each time they answer a question, they use it as an opportunity to talk about what they want to talk about. Unlike the political debates, however, at least start by answering the question! Overall, keep your message concise, coherent, and clear. And be confident. Remember that no one can tell your story better than you can.
- Consider the audience. Use the zoom camera, or whoever is asking you a question, as a conduit to your audience. Keep your language clear and straightforward. If you state data and facts, be sure to interpret them. Don’t expect the audience to interpret complex ideas accurately. Come prepared with examples that are relatable to your audience. If you can find a relatable analogy, that can be a great way to make your idea memorable. That’s why you’ll often hear descriptions of property size relative to a number of football fields.
- Reinforce your points. Select 3-4 salient positive points that you will return to and reinforce. Memorize them and find ways to bring them up again during Q&A. Each point should be a simple spoken thought rather than a well-written phrase. The points should also be connected, and you should be able to move quickly between them. Don’t forget to include examples. There are some phrases you can use to call attention to your key messages. Some examples include, “the key thing is…”, “the best part about…”, and “the three most exciting parts are…”. You’ll come up with your own, but this should give you an idea.
- Prepare push-button responses. Go into any presentation anticipating questions your audience might ask, and develop a response in advance. This is particularly important if you need to speak to issues in your industry or with your company. One answer that should be automatic is, “what is your title and area of responsibility?”. Pay attention to how other skilled speakers in your industry answer questions.
- Turn negatives into positives. If someone asks you a negative question, pause, appear thoughtful, and don’t repeat the negative language used in the question. Sound bytes can be deadly when recorded! Find a way to give a positive answer to the negative question by building a bridge to one of your key messages. Be as specific as you can, and stick with your story. Avoid sarcasm, jokes, and speculation when you’re being recorded. They may not play as well later. And if you misspeak, calmly repeat your statement as you’d like to have it recorded.