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5 Tips to Great Public Speaking

I just got off the phone with a client who’s got to speak in front of 500 people next month – probably in some impersonal hotel ballroom complete with dais, a lonely wooden lectern in center stage and flooded with very bright lights…focused right on HER.

She knows her material, speaks well in front of smaller, more intimate groups.public-speaking-melbourne

But every time she speaks to large groups of people physical changes happen. Her voice gets shaky; her vision blurs; she feels wobbly.

So, other than that things are just fine, right?

Can you relate to this?

I definitely can. Every time I had to speak I would begin stewing about it as soon as I hung up the phone or sent an email saying I would speak.

That could be six months in advance or two weeks.

My negative self-talk would begin immediately like a gunshot starting a race.

What if my mind goes blank? What if I faint? What if my throat constricts and my voice sounds like I’ve just taken a huge dose of helium. Someone on stage sounding like Daffy Duck does not carry much gravitas.

On and on I would go, focusing on all the bad what-ifs, dreading my speaking date and wondering why I had accepted.

I’ll tell you why we accept those dates. Because we’re professionals who know our material. In fact, we often are in a position of authority because we are experts in our field.

That’s why people call us to speak.

Our material excites us and we’re happy to tell anyone we meet about it.

publicSpeak3But especially if they come in groups of 10 or fewer.

However getting on stage with 1000 eyeballs staring at you…well, we don’t even want to go there.

Where are the doughnuts or scotch when you need them?

Miraculously I now speak comfortably to large and small groups. I even teach others to get over their fear. Can you believe it? I can’t.

I love to talk with people, even in enormous impersonal settings. I’ve learned to avoid ruminating about all the bad what-ifs; to focus on the material, and to practice a few tricks I’ve learned that have helped me when my anxiety creeps back – which it still does at times.

I refer to it as –  I’ve learned to manage my own personal anxiety attack.

Here are five tips:

1. Know your material cold. I know you know this but it’s still the number one thing to do. Especially if your personal anxiety attack renders you slightly blind so you can’t read your notes. Which, by the way, should be only a sparse outline – NEVER READ YOUR TALK.  But you know this too.

It’s incredibly boring; you sound stilted; you’ll lose your place and then you’ll be stuck with really frightening silence as you try to find where you left off.

You know it’s better to speak with your head up, looking out and engaging with your audience. So do it.

2. Talk to people in your audience. Take some time before you speak to talk to a few random individuals in your audience.

Somehow this works to break the ice forming in your brain.

You no longer view your audience as one scary mass sitting before you. They are individuals; you’ve met a few. You know they aren’t out to hurt you.

You might even incorporate a conversation you had into your talk. It can make your speech more relevant and the person you mention will feel like the Most Important Person in the Room. You now have a new best friend.

3. Throw a question to the audience. This is really helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I feel fine until I’m introduced and I make the looooooong walk to the podium.

All the physical reactions can come up – sweaty palms, dizzy feelings, dry throat (have water near the podium, by the way).

When I feel this happening I will almost immediately ask a question of the audience. There is something comforting about this interchange and it breaks my brain freeze. I am then speaking to ONE person and he/she is just speaking to me.

It has a significant calming effect.PublicSpeak2

4. Walk around (and don’t forget to breathe). You can take your outline with you for security if you like.

Moving will make you feel better – it gets the blood flowing. Your brain needs that. Now.

Besides, I know you’ve watched speakers as they clutch the podium for dear life, not moving an inch.

It’s much more interesting to see speakers moving and gesturing appropriately. Remember, this is the way we speak to people when we feel normal.

Let me add here: don’t overdo it.

I’m not recommending that you flap around the stage. That is a distraction. But moving as you speak is normal and will help engage the audience in what you’re saying.

5. Prepare. This is sort of a summary point. It assumes that you know your material. But I want you to practice presenting it. Many times: in your living room to a bunch of empty chairs and the piano.

Or ideally go to a hotel ballroom, walk around, get on stage, get the feel so it breaks the spell of doom and disaster.

Ever heard the expression, “what you know can’t hurt you.” It’s true here. But certainly get to your talk early. Make sure things work – audio, slide presentation, lights (maybe ask if they can dim them).

Know the questions you’re going to throw out to the audience.

And how about making a connection with the tech guy. You will want to have a close personal relationship in case something happens.  Ask him (it’s usually a him) to please stick around.

 

I promise you, if you do these things you will feel better. And that alone will help you give a better presentation. The more you speak the better you’ll get.

That doesn’t mean you won’t ever have unsettling feelings. You may, but you’ll be better prepared to handle them.

And besides, it really is true that when you have some adrenalin moving through your system you will give a more dynamic talk.

If you want some more pointers, take two breaths and call me.

 

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Interview Questions You Wish They Wouldn’t Ask

These are topics you’d like to avoid…like maybe something you wish the employer might not notice.

I call them dreaded topics. Everyone has one – at least one. What’s yours?woman and man

Let’s discuss a few.

Gaps in Employment?

Not everyone in this world starts a fulfilling job right out of school and then remains employed until retirement. In fact, can I think of one…?

The majority of us has had fits and starts in our employment history. Some with longer fits – and often through no fault of our own. In the recent, severe recession many people were laid off and despite their best efforts could not find another job. Unemployment turned from weeks into months.

There are also people who have chosen to leave the work force for a period of time. The reasons can include taking care of children, illness, elderly parents, travel.

Too Young or Too Old?

Well, with that headline you can’t win! Interviewers are not allowed to ask your age in an interview. Why? Because the conversation might be viewed as age discrimination which is against the law.

That doesn’t mean age discrimination – on both sides of the age spectrum – doesn’t happen in the job market. It happens every day.

For example, there is a generation of Baby Boomers many of whom don’t want to retire or they can’t afford to retire.

However, an employer may be concerned about hiring an older person, fearing she might leave after a short time or be a know-it-all and not trainable.

Age is an understandable dreaded topic. And don’t think the interviewer isn’t wondering about your age. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that your resume says you graduated from college in 1978. A quick math calculation and voila – this candidate is probably not 39.

No Job Experience?

If you’re right out of school you may not have much work experience. That’s a concern for employers because they want to know about your work ethic, how well you work with others – and why you haven’t held a job. This topic needs to be handled the same way any dreaded topic should be handled: Head on.

More about that later.

Multiple Job Changes?

Does your resume look like you’ve been job hopping? That too is an understandable concern for an employer. If you’ve changed jobs a lot, why should he trust that you’ll stick around his company? It costs a lot to train an employee.

The Best Way to Handle Dreaded Topics

Head On! Bring it up if the interviewer doesn’t.

I guarantee you if the topic is a concern to you, it’s likely a concern to the interviewer. Clear the air. Get the topic on the table. If the interviewer doesn’t mention your obvious concern, you bring it up and explain the issue. You take control. The issue will likely become a non-issue.

Isn’t that better than wondering if it might affect your being hired. And being concerned about something could affect the way you come across. You might be hesitant or distracted.

When you address the topic it gets diffused. It’s no longer a threat. You’ll also come across as more confident.

Prepare your explanation before the interview and be ready to address it. If the issue is not mentioned, you explain calmly and confidently what happened.

Some Example Responses:

Work Gap – “In 2007 I was laid off from my job as were many people at my company. As you know, it was a very difficult market. But while I looked for an engineering position I took a part-time job and volunteered in my community.”

Experience – “I may not have a lot of work experience because I just finished school, but I want you to know about the things I learned in my volunteer jobs and as a teaching assistant…”

Age – “I’ve been in the work world a while but want you to know that I plan to work for many more years. I’ve got a lot of experience but I also know I have more to learn and more to contribute.”

These answers may not sound perfect but they’re the truth and you’ve addressed the issue head on. The interviewer is likely to admire you for this plus it will resolve any qualms he may have had about you.

But most important, you’ll feel more confident and be able to present yourself clearly.

The bottom line? You’ll be a much stronger candidate.

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I'd love to help you market yourself or your business. Please fill out the form below to contact me and I'll get back to you within one business day.

Comments or questions are welcome.

Common Mistakes on Skype Calls

Video chat programs (Skype, G-chat, Google Hangout) are wonderful technological inventions that allow us to simultaneously talk and be seen during a call.

And let’s remember the emphasis on the “be seen” part right up front.Girl w cat Video chats are not your old fashioned phone call.

Remember Why Video Chats are Called Video

You need to be mindful of at least three things:

  • What you look like.
  • What you’re doing during the call.
  • What’s behind you.

Let me be specific – especially about business calls involving several people where you may be less aware that what you’re doing can be seen by everyone on the call.

This came to mind a few weeks ago when I was on a Skype call with a colleague who lives in Boston.

Because I’m in marketing, if this person had been a client I would have said something immediately about what was happening during our call. She was clearly oblivious.

This was a business call. By definition that means you want to look like you’re at work. That includes combing your hair, washing your face, putting on fairly decent clothes. As I write this you’re probably thinking: how basic can you get. Who doesn’t know that?

Most of us should know it, but apparently it’s easy to forget because I have more than one memorable video call stories. This is just one – and it’s a cautionary tale.

The colleague I was speaking to last week is a professional, in business for many years, working from her home office that day. I’m pretty sure she was in her nightgown.

How do I know that? Because during the call she got up several times to retrieve papers…and I can tell you I would not be wearing her outfit to work including the baby blue terry cloth slippers.

An additional entertainment feature of this call involved her robe which she (fortunately) pulled around her to cover her nightgown every time she got up from her desk.

What was she thinking you might ask?

I thought it was pretty amusing but I’m a woman so maybe was less startled. But I can tell you this experience has affected the way I think about her professionally – and not in a good way.

It’s also interesting to note that I remember the visual peculiarities of this call more than the serious substance we discussed. That’s not good, especially if you’re trying to sell me something.

Another entertainment feature of this call included my colleague’s hair which was in an interesting formation. I’ll call it pillow perm – an apt description of most of our hair-dos when we roll out of bed.

And she looked like she just rolled out of bed.

More Skype Mistakes

Moving on, here’s another Skype-world caution: before your call, look at the camera light and then notice what’s behind you. How’s that artwork on your wall? Are people constantly walking behind you creating a distraction? Are your dogs wrestling in the background or doing something unseemly?

Another video call oddity: when you change chair positions you often lean forward toward the computer…and therefore, the camera. This movement can look like your head and face are going to crash through the viewer’s computer screen.

Additionally, the close-up distorts your features, sort of like a fun house mirror. Maybe not your best look.

Keep this in mind and stop fidgeting – or at least back up in your chair so you avoid these fast close-ups.

A final point – don’t pull down the lid of your laptop while the video call is running.

Depending on where you’re seated that little camera light at the top of your screen will land with a full frontal view of your lap. Perhaps not the feature you’d like to showcase during a business call. But it will keep people entertained.

With the sudden lap shot during my call I had to bite my lip to stop laughing. My colleague meanwhile was oblivious about what was going on.

What to Remember During Your Skype Call

So what are the take-aways from my experience besides a few laughs at this person’s expense?

We have probably all done something weird during video chats and not known it. Try to remember that little camera light, where it’s pointed, and what it’s seeing.

Dress like you’re going to work – duh, you are going to work! This is a virtual business meeting.

Consequences of Video Chat Mishaps

Don’t forget this is a video chat – everyone can see you. And if you’re doing something interesting, that will be the focus – watching you, not paying attention to what’s being said.

This means no scratching, nose picking, or adjusting clothes. Things get magnified in video chats. Again, think fun house mirrors.

Video chats are powerful, efficient ways to communicate but you’re on camera. Some consequences I’ve seen from inappropriate video chat behavior include: firing, being taken off the project, not getting the contract, or (at best) a diminished reputation.

Those consequences are not so funny.

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Comments or questions are welcome.

Upspeak – A Big Mistake in Your Job Interview

My job is to help clients do whatever they can to present themselves more effectively in this job market.Dog w gramaphone

It’s pretty competitive out there and I want my clients to be memorable in their job interviews –  but memorable in a good way.

So we talk about the importance of establishing a rapport with the interviewer. Have good eye contact, ask smart questions, smile, and be engaged in the conversation.

I’ve recently noticed, however, a weird development among some members of the younger generation (20s and 30s) that may make them memorable as a job candidate – but not in a good way.

Upspeak can be the difference between getting a job and being turned down.

Upspeak or uptalk got its start back in the ‘80s when it was known as Valley Girl talk.

I’ve also heard upspeak referred to as high rise terminal. To me that sounds like a piece of hardware, but the terms mean (I had to look it up) “towards the end of the statement (the terminal), the intonation starts high and rises.” Wow, don’t you love it!

We’re now in the midst of a resurgence of upspeakers, mainly people aged 16 to even late 30s. And it’s not just women. Men can be upspeakers.

So What’s Upspeak?

Upspeak is when your voice goes up at the end of a sentence, turning statements into questions – when you’re not asking a question at all. Here’s an example:

“Tell me about yourself”, asks the interviewer from a major urban hospital.

“Well, my degree is in biochemistry, but I’ve always wanted to be a doctor? I’ve had summer internships in hospital labs and am very interested in the job opening at your hospital?”

What is that all about, you may be asking yourself?

Now read those same sentences as sentences –  without the question marks.

This candidate’s response is pretty good: Clear. Articulate. Strong. As a hiring manager I probably want to learn more about this person.

But add the upspeak and this same candidate comes across as immature, tentative, and inexperienced. Not the qualities one looks for in a job candidate.

Why Do People Upspeak?

I think it’s a habit, likely picked up in high school or college from friends with a similar habit. But it’s a habit that needs to be broken.

When I ask upspeakers why they do it, the typical response is: 1. they don’t realize they’re doing it and 2. they think it helps them sound interested, enthusiastic – and might actually be an asset in their job interviews.

Is Upspeak an Asset?

Let me respond as quickly and as firmly as possible: NO!

Upspeak will not help you. It is not an endearing trait and in fact distracts from what you’re saying – in the same way that saying “like” multiple times in one sentence.

But that’s another subject, for another article.

As the interviewer is looking at you in disbelief, wondering why you’re saying every sentence as a qustion, she’s also asking herself: Is this the person I want on my staff?

The response I’d give at the end of the interview is: “Thanks for coming? I’m not sure your background is appropriate for this position?”

Got the picture?

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I'd love to help you market yourself or your business. Please fill out the form below to contact me and I'll get back to you within one business day.

Comments or questions are welcome.

Top Tips on Behavioral Interview Questions

Let’s begin by defining what a behavioral question is because I think it’s a confusing term…and who thought up that name anyway?

IKEA cartoon

A behavioral question is used in job interviews to help employers better understand the candidate’s work experience and skills. And they’re being used more and more so it’s important to understand what they are and how to prepare for them.

Behavioral questions are always open-ended which means you can never simply respond with a yes or no. Employers want you to give examples from your work experience that will help them understand how well you’ve performed in a certain area.

Maybe that’s why the term “behavioral” is used – they want to know how you’ve behaved in certain situations. Nonetheless, I still think it’s a strange name but I can’t think of anything better.

Some Examples of Behavioral Questions

If an employer wants to get a better idea of, say, how well you work with others, she may ask behavioral questions like:

  • Give me an example that shows how you were able to develop productive relations with others, even when there were differing points of view.
  • Tell me about a time when you were able to motivate others to get the desired results.
  • Tell me about a difficult situation with a co-worker and how you handled it.

Need I say how important it is to prepare - or at least think about – what your responses to these questions will be before your interview?

Behavioral questions require you to pull up specific examples from your work history. If you’re not prepared it’s very easy for your mind to go blank. Not good to stare at the prospective employer like Bambi in the headlights. Take time to think about your work experience and identify examples you’d like to highlight during your interview.

Why Behavioral Questions are Important

From the candidate’s perspective these are very tough questions that really make you think – and they can also make you freeze. But if you’ve thought through your work experience before your interview, your responses to behavioral questions can make you shine. They can make you stand out from your competition.

From my perspective as a career consultant, behavioral questions are very powerful and can give the employer a much deeper understanding of the type of employee you will be. They are being used more and more in the interview process so it’s a good idea for you to expect them.

What are the Most Important Behavioral Questions?

That depends on the job you’re going after. If you’re looking for a customer service position you better be able to site specific examples of how well you handle customers. If strong communication skills are key to the job, be able to give work examples that show you are above average when it comes to communicating effectively.

There are also many focus areas for behavioral questions. Too many to mention here. The best thing you can do is review the job description. Get a clear understanding of the types of skills and experiences they are looking for. Think through your experience in each of those areas and then jot down a few examples that show you have those skills.

Here are a few more focus areas with related behavioral questions. Email me if you’d like my complete list.

Problem Solving

  • Tell me about a time when you had to analyze facts quickly, define key issues and either respond immediately or develop a plan that produced good results.
  • If you had to do that activity over again, how would you do it differently?

Communication

  • Give me an example of when you had to sell your idea to someone else.
  • Describe a situation where you persuaded team members to do things your way. What was the effect?
  • Tell me about a time when you were tolerant of an opinion that was different from yours.

Customer Service

  • Give ma an example of when you had to deal with an irate customer.
  • Tell me about a time when you made a lasting, positive impression on a customer.

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I'd love to help you market yourself or your business. Please fill out the form below to contact me and I'll get back to you within one business day.

Comments or questions are welcome.

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