Coaching social media

Talk like a human, not like a robot

This morning, a company rep told me, “”Customer satisfaction is our number one priority.”

I laughed, because no human being actually talks like that, right? Clearly, he was badly coached. Stilted words guaranteed a clumsy delivery. This turned into an awkward, laugh-out-loud moment.

Later this afternoon, I worked with another service.

“Customer service is our top priority,” the customer service person squawked at me, stiffly.

I didn’t laugh this time. I felt alarmed. Twice in one day? Two different companies? What gives?

When did training employees to talk like robots sneak back into fashion?

talk like a robot

The rise of social media taught us that robotic corporate scripts do little to help customers connect to the brand. Instead of training employees to ‘speak to a script’ — it’s far superior to learn business improvisational skills.

  • How might a customer react to a certain situation? How might an employee respond?
  • How might an employee initiate a conversation? How might a customer respond?

The answers to each set of questions are limitless. Limiting conversations to a small set of scripts dehumanizes the interaction. It’s a painful and humiliating experience for both the employee and the customer.

Instead of scripting your business interactions, imagine a training session where employees present each other with a variety of customer-facing situations. Employees can practice responding to the many moods and scenarios they encounter on a daily basis. Employees learn and practice empathy skills when they act as customers in each scenario.

Why would anyone ‘stick to the script’ when they can instead present an opportunity to make an authentic personal connection?

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For your next video conference: think Nixon…

Watch the first televised presidential debate on YouTube. Kennedy and Nixon go head-to-head in 1960. Today, this debate is often discussed as an example of how much your personal appearance matters when it comes to an important televised presentation.

Kennedy took great care to look good on camera. He wore a neatly pressed dark suit. He appeared clean shaven. Also, Kennedy actually wore makeup during the debate.

Kennedy Nixon First Televised debate

By contrast, Nixon didn’t seem to bother much with his appearance. He wore a rumpled suit. Under the bright lights of the TV cameras, every wrinkle in this light-colored suit became deeply exaggerated. Nixon also pooh-poohed makeup. At certain points in the video, you can see sweat beading on Nixon’s face.

And, oh dear…I wonder if Nixon even shaved. Is that razor stubble I see?

When people talk about the first televised Nixon-Kennedy debate, you most often hear them discuss the way each candidate looked. Very few people talk about the actual content of this debate.

For the TV generation — appearance matters.

Let’s fast forward 35 years from 1960. In 1995, I participated in my first video conference for business. In the mid-90’s, video conferencing was very expensive, but it allowed us to significantly trim travel costs with our established customers.

Today, I still participate in business video conferences. Inexpensive and easy-to-use tools like Skype and Google Hangouts help keep travel and productivity costs in check. I also participate in webinars and perform in online videos on YouTube and video tutorials.

But if there’s one tip I’d like to share with you about appearing in any web video for business purposes today, it’s this:

Think Nixon.

You may think, “Oh, but I’m an engineer/programmer/technician. The way I look in my web video conference doesn’t matter. People really care more about my content. They won’t judge me on the way I look…”

Think Nixon.

Or if you’re a salesperson and you think, “Hey, my customers and prospects are smart. They understand that I’m not really greenish-grey. They know that fluorescent lighting just makes me look that way on camera…”

Think Nixon.

Or if you’re a designer and you find yourself saying, “Honestly, looks don’t matter…”

(Wait…you’re a designer and you think the way stuff looks on screen doesn’t matter???)

Think Nixon.

Your audience is the TV generation. They have expectations for how people look and perform on screen. If you fall short, they’re probably not going to tell you to your face.

But will they secretly judge you? Sure. They can’t help it.

There’s a heck of a lot of work that goes into looking and sounding acceptable on camera! Lighting. Hair. Makeup. Wardrobe. Camera angles. Props. Set design. And much, much more….

In person, you may look like a polished professional. And even if you’re slightly “off” — a few small raindrop stains on your suit, a bit of a 5 o’clock shadow, faded post-coffee lipstick – we regularly overlook these minor flaws in people we work with in person.

But on camera? With people you have yet to meet?

As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!

Think Nixon.

If you’re going to participate in a video conference for business, I strongly suggest that you try conferencing with people who already know you. Meet people in person first – they’ll be far more likely to forgive any technical shortcomings with regard to your video appearance. If they already like you in person, they’ll actually be glad to see you on camera.

However, if you’re looking to make a positive first impression with customers by offering an online video experience — invest in the important facets of video production. Take some time to polish your personal appearance and presentation techniques.

Think Nixon.

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What’s next in online education?

Earlier this year, I wrote and performed Public Speaking Fundamentals for the Online Training Library. I wrote the scripts from April through June, and then flew out to California to shoot the series in July. The course went live on August 31. Go check it out — beyond my course, provides a massive library of very high quality video instruction. (Get 10 days of free unlimited access to

Now that it’s October, I find myself back in the traditional classroom. I’m teaching Creativity in Marketing and Social Media/Web Marketing at Grand Valley State University. And I coach/train corporate clients, as well.

I enjoy teaching. Always have.

But it’s not a classroom that makes you a teacher. More likely, it’s a passion for learning and the desire to enthusiastically share knowledge makes you a teacher.

Other than the traditional classroom, there must be a zillion different ways to teach and learn. Some of the best computer programmers I’ve ever worked with are self-taught. They read, they tinker, they pick things apart, they experiment…and they become absolutely phenomenal at what they do.

My adventure this year got me thinking — what’s next with education? I see and hear vivid discussions about college courses going online. For example, sites like Coursera partner with top universities to offer college courses online — for anyone, for free. Other sites like Udemy and Skillshare let teachers create and market hybrid courses that can feature both online learning as well as in-person workshops.

Where are we going with online education? I hear mixed reviews. Some of my colleagues and students bristle at the idea of online education: they feel it cheapens the credential of obtaining a ‘real’ education in the ‘real’ world. Others view online education as new material that can help enhance the learning experience.

Obviously, I’m biased. After all, I’m a learning junkie. And I never would have participated in the adventure if I didn’t believe in the quality and efficacy of online education. (And did I mention that people are particularly great at delivering high quality content?)

On the other hand, I also believe we learn tremendous amounts by bumping into each other in the real world. Grand Valley State University fosters a diverse and inclusive atmosphere. When students get to jam it up with people with different backgrounds and perspectives, why, that in itself drives creativity and innovation.

I have my own opinions, but I’d like to hear yours.

Where are we going with online education? What’s new — and what’s next?

Coaching fun PowerPoint Presentation Presentation

How do you feel about the “thank you” slide?

At the end of a presentation, you can say, “thank you.”

Sure, it’s not the strongest close in the world. However, it’s certainly acceptable to say “thank you” if you’re feeling especially grateful or moved.

But a slide that reads “Thank You” at the end of your presentation? That’s weak.

Thank You Slide

A “Thank You” slide takes the focus off the genuine emotional gratitude of the speaker. It reduces authentic warmth to an emotionally hollow visual cliché.

Further, it shows that you assume that your audience will be grateful for your presentation. What if they aren’t? What if they’re hostile to you and your message? And then you go ahead and put up your ‘thank you’ slide while they’re all booing, further antagonizing them with your sarcasm.

What’s your excuse for using a “Thank You” slide at the end of your presentation?

Coaching Presentation

How to Effectively Coach a Public Speaker: try the “ONE” thing…

You can read a ton of books and blogs that offer advice on how to become an effective public speaker. However, you don’t have the capacity to implement all the advice at once.

Instead, let’s look at the core of the word “presentation”. It’s the word “present”.

I know I’m at my best when I’m truly present for my audience. I’m mindful.

When I’m present, I’m not worrying about what I’m doing with my hands. I’m not wondering whether the look on my face is serious enough or if that bit of mouth noise was too distracting…

Instead, I’m in the moment. I’m present for my presentation.

That’s why, as a coach, I like to focus on only one technique for a student or client to work on for every speech or presentation. A singular focus helps with presence.

When I’m coaching someone — especially someone who’s a novice presenter and very nervous — I’m not going to destroy their confidence. I won’t work on every single aspect of their public speaking performance!

If presenters work on too many things at once, they’re not fully present… and it shows. A speaker who’s trying to work on everything will look distracted. They may come across as overly self-conscious and unnatural.

As far as I know, no one on the face of the planet has ever delivered a perfect presentation. Thank goodness!

You’re supposed to be human. Humans make mistakes. And ironically, making mistakes can often help you to better connect emotionally with your audience.

If you’re coaching people on their presentations, please keep this in mind. Don’t try to fix everything, all at once. You’ll end up destroying the very essence of their presentation — their confidence and their ability to be fully present for the audience.

Instead, try this coaching approach. I call it “The One Thing.”

Find one thing you appreciated about the presentation. What worked?

You’re going to let the speaker know what that one core strength is. And you’re going to work with them to build their presentation around that strength.

Next, find one thing they can improve. Sure, you may have found 20 things they can do better.

But here’s the mark of a good coach: prioritization.

Find only one thing they can work on for each presentation. Don’t aim for complete mastery in one session.

Layer in new techniques and skills over time. Time and practice and coaching and feedback – that’s how you build mastery.

And here’s the magic of only working on “the one thing”. By focusing on only the most important issue, you may find that you’ve radically improved 5 other issues — without even trying! As a novice speaker gains more experience with public speaking, they can keep working on new areas.

Even seasoned speakers never stop learning. We keep looking for ways to better connect with our audiences. Technology changes — and we need to adapt our style.

Or we can sometimes get too comfortable in front of an audience — and we start to get sloppy and lose technique. There’s always at least “one thing” to work on in every presentation!

So please — continue to devour all the public speaking tips you can! But when it comes to your next presentation, try working on only one of those insights.

When you learn and grow from a place of confidence, you’re on a continuing path to becoming a more mindful, present, and effective public speaker.

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

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Coaching fun public speaking

End hiccups instantly with this amazing mind trick

I haven’t suffered from a case of the hiccups in over 40 years. And I have helped dozens of people end bouts of hiccuping instantly — without props, goofiness, or drama.

All you need is the power of your own mind.

Here is what you do if you ever get a hiccup: talk to yourself, mentally.

Tell yourself,

“OK, for my next hiccup, I will concentrate on making it the LOUDEST hiccup ever!”

Concentrate on making it really loud.

Then wait.

You will not hiccup loudly.

In fact, you will not hiccup again!

The mere act of concentrating on making a LOUD hiccup lets you regain control! It’s that simple.

Try this phenomenal trick, and you may never endure a case of the hiccups again. You may hiccup once, but once you deploy the mind trick — you’ll never have another “case” of the hiccups.

Ah, the irony! Every now and then, I’ll run into someone with seemingly unstoppable hiccups. I’ll tell them to concentrate on making their next hiccup super loud. If they comply, their hiccups end. Many will say, “Oh, wait, my hiccups went away… I never had a chance to try your trick and make a loud hiccup!”  The funny part is that they think the hiccups went away without using the trick — when in fact, it was the mind trick that made the hiccups end!

Alternately, I’ll run into a neurotic hiccup-er who says, “Absolutely not! I will NOT make my next hiccup loud. I don’t want to make a fool out of myself…” And so, they will hop up and down, hold their breath, drink water, plug their ears and noses with their hands, twirl around in circles, or beg their friends to find a way to scare them.

And yet, they say they don’t want to appear foolish. Irony at work, again!

If you’re serious about ending hiccups instantly, permanently, and without drama — try my little mind trick. I doubt you’ll ever have a case of the hiccups again.