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The 5 Worst Ways to Begin a Speech or Presentation…

5 worst ways to start a speech or presentation

Let’s explore 5 of the worst ways to open your next keynote or major presentation…that we hear ALL TOO OFTEN!

  1. Ahem! (clearing your throat – do vocal warmups beforehand, please!)
  2. Thank you…. (your audience doesn’t need to hear this.)
  3. It’s really great to be here….(you’re wasting even more time.)
  4. Can you hear me? (do your audio check before you hit the stage.)
  5. Hey, can you see my slides? (check your visuals beforehand, please!)

    If you’ve done one or all of these, you can do better. I know you can!

    Start with a strong opening technique.

Consider this: I cover five strong opening techniques in my public speaking foundations course on LinkedIn Learning.

The full course is one hour. It’s a great resource to revisit before your next big speech or presentation, free for LinkedIn Premium Members.

I get paid when you click on the link and take the course, though.

Check it out. >>>

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Team Presentations: what position will you be playing?

Team Presentation 4 roles

So, you’ll be presenting as a team. Super!

Make sure you know what position you’ll be playing.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in team presentations is when one person on the team is speaking — and the others on the team don’t exactly know what to do with their bodies.

Just because you’re speaking doesn’t mean you’re not presenting.”

Know your role in the team presentation:

💡Are you the team leader – acting as an MC or visionary?

🖊Are you the closer or subject matter expert?

🙌Are you supporting your team by being an ally?

👁Are you observing the body language of the audience and looking for unspoken questions?

When you know what role or position you’re playing, you’re more likely to really present as a team — instead of a rag-tag collection of individuals.

Get into a huddle before you present as a team. Know your position.

Support each other while you present. Go team!

Laura Bergells is a professional story finder. She writes, coaches, teaches, and speaks. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.

If you’re a LinkedIn Premium or member, these courses are free! If you’re not a member, you can either become a member or buy each of these classes à la carte.

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Walk and Talk: give it a try

I went for a walk in the park. As I walked, I talked.

I attached an $11.99 lapel mic to my phone, and talked for four minutes straight. With Google Docs Voice Typing on my phone, my words were instantly transcribed into a document.

When I got back to the studio, I had a 552 word first draft. And only one error.

Basically, I talked my way through an idea I had been wrestling with in the office. The idea was going nowhere, so I took a walk. 

And you know what happens when you take a walk. It’s like taking a shower. A new idea hits you while you’re walking. Instead of letting the idea go, I captured it with my voice.

In only 4 easy minutes, I had captured 552 words. It ate up only 13.79 MB of data. And Google Docs Voice Typing? It made only one mistake, and this mistake was entirely justifiable. 

The mistake? I walked across a wooden pedestrian bridge. It had been raining, so the bridge was slick. I unexpectedly slid for about 3 feet.

I made a bit of a screech as I slid. Google interpreted my unintelligible utterance as the word “seat”.

Even with my insane outburst: I logged 552 words, with one 1 error, in 4 minutes. Can your fingers do that? I don’t know about yours, but mine can’t. 

If it has been a few years since you’ve tried voice typing, try again. It’s come a long way in the past few years.

Did I look insane as I walked and talked? Probably. But no more crazy than someone who walks and talks on their cell phone. Because that’s literally what I was doing.

The guy throwing Frisbees to his black Labrador didn’t even seem to notice me. Neither did the dog.

How do you feel about walk and talks? Too crazy? Or something you think you might want to try?

Laura Bergells writes, coaches, and teaches. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Signup for LinkedIn Learning

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Don’t let cold hands stop you from writing: try Voice Typing

Sometimes, voice typing can come in handy for really unexpected reasons!

It’s October 1, and it’s freezing. My poor fingers are now cramped from typing in a cold room all morning.

Google Voice Typing to the rescue! I’ll open up Google Docs, activate voice typing, and talk through a first draft. 

Google Voice Typing within Google Docs comes to the rescue of cold, cramped hands!

I can always go back in and edit this first draft with my fingers later. But for right now, I’ve got deadlines to meet. I can’t let cold hands stop me from writing!

There are three other great reasons to use voice typing instead of finger typing for a first draft:

  1. You talk faster than you type. With voice typing, you can increase your total word count.
  2. You shut off your internal editor. When you talk, you resist the temptation to edit yourself as you’re talking.
  3. You reduce distractions. You’re not goofing around on social media or opening up another tab on your browser. You’re talking.

I find myself using voice typing a lot now. I get 97% accuracy with no special equipment. I just use the mic that comes with my $320 laptop.

No big whoop. In the olden days, you needed a special microphone and pricey software. Now, you can probably just use equipment you have on hand.

Voice recognition is getting better all the time. It makes sense.

Think about how many of those Google Home devices have been in use over the past year. Or how many times people use their Android devices to say “OK, Google” — then use their voices to issue a command.

Google is drawing on an enormous amount of data to be able to understand a wide variety of voices. I expect Google’s accuracy will only get better over time.

Cortana and Alexa and Siri? If they work for you, great. But they don’t work for me.

In my experience, Cortana, Alexa, and Siri are far slower and less accurate than Google. And this makes sense: these services aren’t drawing from the vast amount of voice data that Google continues to collect.

If you haven’t checked out voice typing in a while, give it another try. You may find that it works better than you ever expected!

(And as the weather gets colder, I’ll probably use voice typing even more.)

Are you a voice typing fan? Why or why not?

Laura Bergells is a writer and instructor. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Laura Bergells writes, coaches, and teaches. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Signup for LinkedIn Learning

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Hey, you used to ❤ Show & Tell. What happened?

Hey remember third grade? You got up and you did show-and-tell and  you loved it. ❤

You didn’t feel nervous or anxious. So what changed?

What made you thrilled about public speaking when you were eight… and anxious about it as an adult?

Three things:

One: you’re more inhibited as an adult. You now know you stand the risk of ridicule or humiliation.

Two: you tell yourself the stakes have changed. What you’re doing now is just so much more important than when you were eight!

And three, you stopped practicing. In school, you did book reports oral reports plays and sports… and you did it on the regular.

One, two, & three?

They all add up to one diagnosis: you are living in your head. That is what’s making you anxious about public speaking.

So, get out of your head. Get up. Find opportunities to speak in front of people.

Do it today. When you practice regularly, you’ll feel way less anxious & way more confident.

Anxious Public Speaking V. Third Grade Show-n-Tell

Laura Bergells writes, coaches, and teaches. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Signup for LinkedIn Learning

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Power posing debunked: the truth about power poses

Some people feel scared or nervous before they deliver a speech. To gain confidence, they might go somewhere private right before they speak and strike what’s called a power pose.

This is a broad, expansive gesture like putting your arms over your head and looking up. It’s a classic pose of someone who just won!

Someone who’s victorious. A champion!

Or they might stand with their hands on theirs hips while looking up. Just like a superhero! Strong, confident, large and in charge!

And these kinds of expansive poses are a form of warm up exercise. You can gain emotional energy from putting your body into these types of postures that make you feel more powerful.

Huddling and crouching? Those are classic postures we adopt when we feel scared or submissive.

Huddling and crouching poses send a message to your brain to feel afraid. Using broad gestures sends a message to your brain to feel confident.

And while the science on power posing isn’t exactly clear right now, consider this: warm-up exercises have been a part of theater tradition for a long, long time. That’s because the warm up exercises you perform off stage can help you project the emotional energy you want to portray onstage.

Power posing is actual a riff on an old acting technique. It’s a simple but powerful warmup exercise. And it’s one that’s worth trying.

After all, when you’re performing on stage or in front of a camera, you need to put out about 25 percent more energy than you might do in a normal, everyday conversation.

If you’re just being ‘yourself’ on camera — and you don’t project a little more emotional energy that you normally would, you’re probably going to come across as lifeless and flat.

Actors often do warmups before they go on stage.

Professional performers know it’s way easier to come down from an amped up emotional state than it is to try to ramp up to a heightened emotional state.

So if you don’t believe in the science of power posing, why not take a centuries old tip from the world of acting and performance?

Get yourself a ritual. Try some warmups before you hit the stage.

Look at it this way. You have nothing – zero – to lose.

And best of all, you might be delighted by the results you achieve with a few simple warmup exercises before your next speech or presentation. Give them a try. Let me know how power posing works out for you.

Laura Bergells is a writer and instructor. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Laura Bergells writes, coaches, and teaches. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Signup for LinkedIn Learning

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Don’t create a false sense of urgency

I got a special offer in the mail on Saturday. It was marked “Urgent”.

I felt puzzled. After all, the mail isn’t an urgent medium. The postal service takes its time.

But I skimmed the letter, anyway. It offered me 20 bucks if I would do a thing.

I don’t even want to know what the thing is. I read a few paragraphs and got bored. I shredded the letter.

A few moments later, I got an email from an organization marked “urgent”. I read a few paragraphs of babble, then deleted it.

We all know the score by now. Messages marked “urgent” aren’t urgent.

Twenty bucks of “free” means I’m going to become an indebted servant to some corporate scheme that’s going to drain my resources and patience for years. And if it takes someone 3 paragraphs to get to the point, there’s no urgency.

If it’s really urgent, you don’t say “urgent”.

You say “fire”. You scream “get out”.

I don’t need corporations creating a false sense of urgency for me. Children are being separated from their families. People are being rounded up in the streets. We’re surrounded by matters of real urgency.

Marking something “urgent” means it’s “urgent” for them to make money. It’s not urgent enough for your immediate response.

You’ve got better things to do with your life.

Laura Bergells is a writer and instructor. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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My one (really obvious) tip that can make you amazing at reading body language…

You’re a bit psychic. You may not know this. But you can forecast the near future pretty well.

For example, you can look at a stranger’s face as she walks toward you in a crowded airport. With one wordless glance, you know where she’s going next.

In a split second, you’ve analyzed her facial expressions and body language. Expertly, you navigate around her as she travels to her intended destination.

Oh, you don’t know whether she will be going to Bangkok or Paris. But you know that stranger is going to walk to the left as she passes you.

That’s why you walked to the right. You avoided collision as you both made your way to your next destination.

Perhaps you perform small actions like these hundreds of times a day. You read people. You glance at their body language and facial expressions.

You gauge intentions. You make split second calculations as you navigate through time and space.

You do all this without words. You don’t think twice about it.

It’s too ingrained. Too basic. Too obvious.

Or is it?

Your ability to understand other people without them saying anything?

It’s actually amazing.

And your ability to communicate without using words? Also amazing.

Yet we often dismiss or ignore this kind of nonverbal communication. We take it for granted. And when we ignore it– we can get into big trouble.

We’ll stand at a crosswalk, absorbed in our phones. Our faces and bodies aren’t signaling our intentions to passing motorists. 

Passing motorists don’t know how to interpret this. They don’t know what our next move will be.

That’s because we’re not using our bodies to signal to the world around us. Instead, we’re using our faces and bodies to communicate to another world – a digital world.

The digital world is much (much) less urgent. 

We almost always get in trouble when we ignore communication fundamentals. This morning, I read a headline:

Honolulu is the first big US city to ban phone use at crosswalks

I actually read this headline out loud, while shaking my head.

“Not a bad idea” said a colleague. His face, 4 meters or so from mine, was buried in a mobile device.

Got that? He didn’t gauge my feelings on the subject. He responded to my words without looking at me. He didn’t see me shake my head.

“Is it a good idea?” I thought. I stared at him and arched an eyebrow with skepticism.

The Honolulu scenario is too Orwellian for my tastes. I like the idea of safer crosswalks. But I don’t like the idea of ‘distracted thoughtpolice’ issuing tickets for ‘distracted thoughtcrimes’. Surely there must be a better way to help people.”

That’s what I was thinking. But my colleague? He never looked at me to read my expression.

He had no idea I was ruminating on Orwell and the thoughtpolice. He kept staring and poking at his device. I grinned and shook my head at the irony.

I doubt issuing him a distracted thoughtcrime ticket would help our situation. Nonetheless, I could tell by his body language he wasn’t really interested in the headline or my feelings on it. I let it go.

The skeptical raise of my eyebrow? My ironic smile? The shake of my head? My colleague’s disinterested tone and bent head?

All minutia. Subtle little gestures with little long term impact or significance.

Or might they mean more than that?

Could missing day-to-day nonverbal cues like these threaten our chances at survival? Perhaps not with the immediacy of an oncoming car.

But over time, these minute miscalculations can erode the strength of our relationships and our communities.

But we can increase our body language competency with one simple tip:

Look up.

Seriously. That’s it. It’s the first obvious step we can all take to become amazing at reading body language.

Look up.

Sounds too basic, right? Give it a whirl, anyway.

Try being present. Notice the nuances.

We all communicate more than we know without even trying. And we all understand more than we know without half-thinking about it.

So think about it. (At least start by half-thinking about it.)

You’ll never know what you’re missing if you don’t look up. You might miss an oncoming car.

That would be great.

But by looking up, you can also gain a more powerful understanding of the emotional context of the life you’re living. Don’t miss out.

Look up.

Use your eyes from Establishing Credibility as a Speaker by Laura Bergells

Laura Bergells writes, coaches, and teaches. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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Beware the false dilemma! How to pivot away from either-or questions…

Consider these four questions. You’ve seen headlines like these in your social media feeds:

  1. Who suffers more: Alzheimer’s patients or Alzheimer’s caregivers?
  2. What’s more important: presentation content or presentation delivery?
  3. Office work or remote work: which is better for productivity?
  4. Why would anyone need to go to college when they could just take online classes?

Media outlets that depend on advertising dollars often like to post false dilemma questions like these. They do it with the aim of “increasing engagement” or “starting conversations.”

A casual reader or viewer might not even care that deeply about the posed question. But once they’ve responded by picking a side – uh, oh!

They’ve entered a trap.

Once people answer one way or the other, they might feel as if they have to defend their position. Sometimes, they’ll even fight with people who selected the other side of the either-or equation.

You know what happens next. Fights draw crowds.

With one simple either-or question, the media outlet that posted the question used an agitation technique. Deliberately posing a false dilemma question to ‘increase engagement’ is propaganda.

Often, the intent is not to inform or educate. The true aim of the false dilemma question is to agitate, confuse, and/or polarize.

Keep your eye out for these kinds of questions. You’ll see and hear deliberate agitation techniques all the time.

Some polarizing questions are posed innocently, but most are deliberately designed to agitate. They create pointless fights and arguments. They prevent any kind of substantive progress.

Increased engagement? More like “increased agitation”.

And it’s not just media outlets who use this technique to cause fights or draw crowds. Sometimes, you’ll be presented with an either-or question in everyday work or personal situations.

Let’s say you’re presented with a false dilemma question in real life. Unlike social media, you can’t choose to not participate. How can you answer it without helping to create an unstable and contentious environment?

Sometimes, you can’t say nothing. You must respond. If so, you might like to try a classic, 2-step pivoting technique.

For example, let’s say a public speaking student asks me, in front of class:

“For our next class presentation, tell us. What’s more important: content or delivery?”

Since the student is asking an either-or question, I might use a pivot statement.

I might say, “I wouldn’t frame the question that way.”

Then, I say how I would frame it. Then, I answer that question.

And my answer? It’s almost never either-or. It’s almost always both-and.

For example, I might say,

“I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Content and delivery are both important, so you need to work on both. Don’t forget – you need to make a connection with your audience.”

Remember that two step process:

  1. Use the pivot phrase “I wouldn’t frame it that way” to politely reject an either-or, false dilemma scenario;
  2. Proceed with framing a both-and response.

Let’s see how this 2-step technique might work in a TV interview. Pretend a reporter asks a doctor:

“Who suffers more, Alzheimer’s caregivers or Alzheimer’s patients?”

The doctor might recognize the false dilemma from media training and say:

“I wouldn’t frame it that way, since both groups suffer in their own unique ways. Nor should we try to make suffering some sort of competition. Instead, I’d rather use my time here today to address what we can do to ease the suffering of both patients and their caregivers.”

Well, done, doctor!

And now, I’ll give you two brief exercises to try on your own. Now that you know to recognize a false dilemma question when you see one, practice answering this either-or question:

“Which scenario is better for productivity: office work or remote work?”

Try using the two-step technique to answer. (Here’s my take on the subject…no peeking until you’ve answered on your own!)

And now, here’s your last exercise. Answer this oft-asked question:

“Why would anyone need to go to college when they could just take online classes?”

Go ahead. Once again, formulate your own answer.

Here’s my 11 second pivot response to the Classroom v. Online learning question.

Learn to recognize and respond appropriately to inflammatory and polarizing questions. Life is seldom an either-or scenario.

Your life is bigger than “either-or”. Your life is almost always “both-and”.

Laura Bergells is a writer and instructor. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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Lose your fear and learn to present on-camera

Three years ago, I organized an online web conference. At the request of an organization, I interviewed three of their Subject Matter Experts to get background information for a presentation.

The following photo is a re-creation of what I saw in this online meeting:

Uh-huh. That’s right.

For almost the entire interview, I stared at a close up of one man’s ear. After a few minutes, I told him he might want to adjust his camera.

“Oh, sorry,” he said. I then got an extreme close up of what appeared to be his hairline. 

“Is that your neck?”


“I think I preferred your ear.”

“Oh. OK.”

For the next hour, we all looked at his ear. 

My interview subject never saw his audience. He never looked at the camera. We could see his ear twitch a bit as he talked, but that was about it.

Let me be clear. The expert with the wiggly ear?

He’s brilliant in his field. He had wonderful information to share. And he’s also a delightful person.

He simply didn’t know anything about presenting on camera. It was his first time, and he was too intimidated to tell anybody he didn’t know what he was doing.

He thought he could fake it. And in a way, he was right. 

We were a friendly group. We didn’t judge our colleague too harshly.

We were in a time crunch, so we smiled and went on with the meeting. And after all, we all knew the guy was a genius.

But I also know he’s doing much better now. Post-meeting, he took some good-natured ribbing and sought help.

He learned more about delivering online presentations. And of course, he continues to gain valuable experience.

There are plenty of tips available to help you improve your own online video performance. Here are six of my favorites: they’re all available through LinkedIn Learning:

1. Successful video conferencing tips

2. Developing your on-camera presence

3. Setting up your home or office filming environment

4. Wardrobe and makeup tips

5. Lighting tips

6. Tips for on-camera body language and posture

This sort of specific information and advice can help get you going in the right direction with regard to your next on-camera presentation. Think you don’t need help? That it’s no big deal? 

Your audience was raised on TV or online. We have expectations for how people look and perform on a screen. You may be warm and wonderful in person – but how do you come across on camera?

We were all kind to “ear guy” — but you don’t always have the luxury of being in front of an audience who loves and accepts you no matter what crazy thing you do. You’ll want to learn and practice some of the basics before you present to employers, clients, key stakeholders, and the public. 

You probably don’t think of yourself as a film star. But if you’re asked to present on camera, guess what? 

You’re a video star now, my friend. It may be a low budget production from your home office, but who knows? One low budget presentation could have enormous business stakes…or at least lead to previously unheard of opportunities. (It happened to me.)

Prepare yourself. We’re all video stars now.

If it hasn’t happened to you already… it’s going to happen soon. We’ll all be presenting more on camera in the future.

See you online!

Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a LinkedIn Learning course author. Check out Establishing Credibility as a SpeakerCrisis Communication and Public Speaking.