Coaching fun Presentation public speaking

One Simple Mind Game That Can Make You Feel Better About Public Speaking…

People say they’re scared of public speaking, but are they really? I see these people speak in public all the time. They’re relaxed, confident — and they seem to be enjoying themselves.

Take a friend of mine. Let’s call him Greg, because that’s his name. Greg insists he’s terrified of public speaking.

Yet, I’ve seen Greg at parties. I’ve seen him at work. He enters into conversations with ease, even with strangers. He tells engaging stories. He’s a good listener. He encourages other people to tell stories with his eye contact and body language.

“Well, sure,” he said when I pointed all those things out to him. “But that’s not public speaking. That’s just talking to people.”


Because that’s the definition of public speaking. Greg’s not afraid. Greg enjoys it. And he’s good at it.

So why does Greg promote the idea that he’s scared of public speaking? What’s wrong with Greg? Why is he such a dirty, rotten liar?

“No, no, no,” Greg laughed. “Give me a microphone and a stage, and I’ll clam up. I’d get the shakes. I’d stammer. I’d probably faint or fart or both. It’d be ugly.”

Oh, I see.

Greg’s not really afraid of public speaking. He’s afraid of the unknown. He doesn’t speak in big rooms or on a stage. Greg’s never used a mic.

Instead, Greg is afraid of the idea of Public Speaking, with a capital P and a capital S. He’s not afraid of speaking in public. He does it all the time.

So what’s the difference between Public Speaking and speaking in public? A microphone? A stage? More people, less interaction?

According to Greg? Yes. Yes. And yes.

All these unknowns? That’s what makes Public Speaking terrifying for Greg. He’s laid a big, scary head trip on himself.

So I laid a different head trip on him. I suggested Greg might want to change his relationship with the idea of public speaking. I asked him a question:

What are the factors that make you feel most confident when you speak in public? 

“Easy,” he said. “I’m at my best when I’m interested in the topic. I also like talking to individuals or small groups of people. And I like interaction, so I get to hear what others have to say and react. I prefer being spontaneous.”

Great. Why don’t you rebuild your relationship with public speaking? You’ve got a strong foundation: so why not grow from these strengths?

Think about it.

If you identify with Greg’s feelings on public speaking, you might want to consider changing your relationship with it, too. Rebuild it from a place of strength. Ask yourself the same question I asked Greg:

What are the factors that make you feel most confident when you speak in public?

Be specific. What kind of audience, room, content? What level of interaction?

Identify your current public speaking strengths. That’s your foundation. Grow from there. If you’re afraid of something, it could be the unknown.

But you can learn new skills and approaches. You can build upon your strong public speaking foundation. You can layer in new techniques as you learn. And you can grow stronger with practice.

Whether you’re nervous or confident, you have plenty of opportunities to practice public speaking. You can learn and grow every day. Because every time you speak in public, guess what?

You’re a public speaker, my friend. Grow from your strengths. Be open to learning new techniques. You’ll get there.

Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. You can take her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking.

Coaching fun

Engage in the Power of Negative Thinking

I’m a cheerful person. But I don’t like positive thinking. It makes me cringe.

Instead, I try to spend some time every day engaging in negative thinking. For me, it’s a joyful meditation.

“What’s the worse that could happen?” is a question I ask myself every day. And then, I imagine it. I take some time to meditate on my own set of personal worst-case scenarios.

Taking some time to dwell on the negative every day helps me in four powerful ways.

1. I cultivate toughness. Strength of character is like a muscle. I don’t want my character to get flabby. By facing my fears regularly, I become mentally and emotionally stronger.

2. I prepare myself. Terrible things happen. There’s no sense denying this. When I imagine the worst, I take a first, brave step to confronting reality.

3. I solve problems. Instantly, my brain starts working on coping strategies and tactics. How will I deal with my worst case scenario? I start assessing risk and devising plans.

4. I feel better. Let’s say I felt upset before my meditation. But now? Now, I’m thinking about my future. And I realize I’m doing OK in my present moment. I grin.

At least, that’s the way negative thinking works for me. But I’ve been doing this for a while.

I know it’s a popular sentiment to encourage denial. Think only positive thoughts! Repress any idea that might be negative! But that approach doesn’t work for me. It leaves me feeling unprepared for any real world challenges I might face.

I don’t see the value of deluding myself on a regular basis. Wishful thinking about the nature of reality doesn’t help me when I’m faced with a real-world crisis.

To me, positive thinking seems like a balm for a weak mind that has suffered some kind of trauma. It’s like a numbing agent you take to block out pain.

I might need some positive thinking for a while when I’m sick or down. But I can’t take it as a regular practice. Not if I want to stay healthy.

Positive thinking is like booze or drugs. An occasional hit is OK. But I don’t want positive thinking to become a regular habit.

If the idea of positive thinking alarms you as much as it does me, why not try the opposite? Engage in a little negative thinking. What’s the worst that could happen?

Photo credit: OverdueBook

ps – Every sentence in this post is under 140 characters. Totally tweetable.

Education fun PowerPoint Presentation

Do you want me to bore you?

Tiger Yawning

“I can bore you to death with a couple hundred PowerPoint slides for the next hour, or we can have a discussion and make this fun and interactive,” said the speaker.

Seriously. Those were the first words out of his mouth. The audience of around 50 just sat there, including me.

After about 5 silent and stunned seconds, I was the first to speak.

“Let’s make it fun and interactive,” I said.

“Oh, good,” said the speaker. “I was hoping someone would say that.”

He flipped off the projection unit that showed the title page of his slide deck. He began interacting with the audience. He held our attention for over an hour. I walked away learning quite a bit and enjoyed the give-and-take between speaker and audience members.

But it left me wondering. Why would he give us a choice? And why would anyone choose the boring option?


fun social media

What can you do in 30 seconds?

Throwback Thursday…

In 2005, Merv Griffin said he wrote the Jeopardy! theme song in under a minute. “That little 30 seconds has made me a fortune, millions,” he said.

How much exactly? Somewhere between 70 and 80 million.

And that was ten years ago.

Let’s pretend it took you 30 seconds to click through and read this post.

Is it possible that I just cost you a couple million?


It took me under a minute to write this. Wonder how much I’ll make…

Coaching crisis fun

Why bother with a cover-up?

People in Washington say it’s not the initial offense that gets you in trouble. It’s the cover-up. They say you should admit what you did, get the story out, and move on. What this overlooks is the fact that most of the time the cover-up works just fine, and nobody finds out anything. I would imagine that’s the rule rather than the exception. My advice: take a chance. Lie.

-George Carlin

Is George Carlin right…again? If an internal investigation reveals that your organization has done something awful or embarrassing, should you really lie? Or try to cover it up?

I loved George Carlin. So cynical! So smart! And so funny!

My clients know that I don’t recommend a cover-up. Admit your mistakes. Show remorse. Take responsibility. Repair the damage.

However, I take Carlin’s point. Most of the time, lying and covering up worked pretty darn well for the rich and/or powerful in 2014.

I’ll take Carlin’s cynicism one step further:  is it even worth the time and energy it takes to cover something up? You might as well be brazen about your misdeeds and atrocities. People might be outraged for a few days, but they’ll quickly move on to something else.

After a while, the public may even like your organization a little more for giving them a reason to feel smug, self-righteous, and morally superior! Your misdeeds gave them a fun little outrage high. Eventually, they’ll make excuses for you or even defend your actions.

So why even bother to cover-up any of your organizational wrongdoings, ever?

fun Presentation

How well do you welcome?

Your “Welcome” mat may be a visual cliché. You may think it’s de rigueur — but is it really making your audience feel welcomed?

We’ve reached a point where merely saying or writing “welcome” doesn’t even mean anything. It’s too generic to be useful or inviting.

That’s why you don’t see many websites with a welcome page anymore. A welcome page gets in the way of the content.

Why not skip the “Welcome” session at the beginning of your event, too? After all, they don’t mean much.

Think about it for a sec. If people have assembled for an event, your signage tells them the name of the show. Your brochures let them know what’s going on, where. Your event app keeps them aware of any late breaking changes in the schedule or speaker line-up.

Why welcome?

Might it be more welcoming to jump right in? How many “Welcome” sessions have you already skipped this year because you know that nothing important ever gets communicated in the opening session titled “Welcome”?

What else might you say or do other than a traditional welcome? What might be more welcoming than a welcome?

fun social media

Are word mashups pathetisad or helpfunctional?

I came across the words smetiquette and framily for the first time in January. I didn’t need to look these words up: I knew what they meant instantly and intuitively.

  • Smetiquette is a portmanteau: a mashup of the phrase social media (SM) and etiquette.
  • Framily is Sprint’s marketing mashup: it means “Friends and Family”.

We seem to be living in the era of the word mashup. We quickly create new words by combining fragments of old words to meet a rapidly unfolding technology-enabled milieu.

I can understand how conservative folks and grammar snobs might bristle at these new words: they aren’t “proper”. They aren’t in the dictionary. They’re “slang”.

And yet, mashups can be useful and playful words. Language is a living, growing thing — it grows in the wilds of everyday use, not in lofty libraries and laboratories detached from pop culture. And language often flourishes and adapts itself before an official governing body can determine if a particular word is useful enough to be considered acceptable for inclusion in scholarly works.

What if you use a word that doesn’t officially exist, but every English speaker you encounter knows exactly what it means? What if your audience can swiftly decipher a new word’s meaning through context? Might this word have what it takes to hang around for a few decades?

What do you think? Is this current wave of portmanteau usage pathetisad? Or do you find word mashups to be more helpfunctional?

What mashups have caught your ear or captured your imagination lately?

fun Presentation

How do you dress for success during a cold snap?

Balaclava Laura
In subzero temps with 50 kph wind gusts, I’m inclined to wear a balaklava and ushanka.

“We’re enduring a subzero cold snap, so pack warm clothing. Bring a coat, hat, gloves, and boots,” I advised a southern client over the phone.

She was planning to fly up to deliver a series of training presentations for her northern clients. I was to make introductions and serve as her co-presenter in my home state of Michigan.

“Laura, that’s unprofessional,” she replied. “You don’t want to walk into our client’s offices dressed like an 19th century fur trapper. It doesn’t reflect our brand.”

She gave me a short phone lecture on how to dress appropriately for business presentations. No matter how hot or cold it is, you simply don’t let it bother you, she said.

Rise above the forces of nature to project confidence, she said. You don’t need a coat, gloves, or a scarf — you can wear that stuff in the car  — but you need to take it off before striding confidently into an office building to meet with clients.

I advised otherwise. I encouraged her to wear warm clothing.

But when I picked her up at the airport, she was wearing a skirt, blouse, and high heels. Bare legs! No hose. No coat. No jacket.

I suspected my highly confident colleague might feel a twinge of regret as we walked through the snow to my car. Instead, she clutched at me like a frightened child and howled about wanting to die.

“Did you bring ANYTHING warm to wear?” I asked.

“No,” she cried. “Who knew anything could ever be this cold?”

“I’ll have to take you to a department store. You really need a coat,” I said. “And either pants or hose. And real shoes.”

“Can’t I just wear something of yours?” she asked. “I don’t want to spend money on clothes I’ll never wear again, because I am never coming back to this frozen wasteland in my life.”

This was after only a few minutes. I was concerned about how she was going to handle the next 3 days.

“I’m over 6 feet tall,” I said. “You’re what — 5 foot nothing? Other than a scarf, you’re going to look silly in everything I own.”

She wailed that we didn’t have time to shop. Just throw some of your winter wear on me, she begged.

We stopped by my house and went through my wardrobe. Everything she tried on made her look like a little girl playing dress up in her mommy’s clothing.

“This will have to do,” she said. My hat and mittens didn’t look too bad on her. Too big, but not too bad. Everything else was just amazingly too big for her, but she was too cold to care.

For the next three days, she looked like a bedraggled ragamuffin. She actually wore one of my cardigan sweaters over her own clothing. It engulfed her tiny body. Still, she would shiver and shake through our presentations like a brave chihuahua.

Our meetings, however, went surprisingly well. Her clients were too polite to say anything about her weird appearance to her face.

A month or so after she went home, I was still working with my client’s clients. Every single one mentioned her woeful wardrobe and obvious misery.

And we all laughed at the memory…a curious blend of empathy, sympathy, and schadenfreude. If our southern colleague ever returns to Michigan, she is going to face some good-natured ribbing from her northern colleagues.

(Post-script: she never returned.)

At this point, I’d like to present you with two completely contrary takeaways from this story:

  1. Dress appropriately. “Dressing appropriately” depends on circumstances. Even if you feel absolutely positive about what’s appropriate and what’s not — ask a trusted local, anyway. Taking a minute or two to have this conversation can steer you in the right direction. Plus, it also creates a moment to bond and connect with your local host or event coordinator.
  2. People love a fish out of water. In a perverse way, our presentations went well BECAUSE of my client’s inappropriate attire, not in spite of it! Although her clients were too kind to say anything to her face, we all recognize and love a “fish out of water” story. Her appearance gave us a reason to feel kinder, more sympathetic — and let’s face it — a little more superior than usual!

Personally? I have definitely dressed inappropriately more times than I’d like to admit! I’d rather not be a fish out of water — but it happens.

If you ever find yourself acting or dressing inappropriately, how can you use the ‘fish out of water’ theory to your advantage?

Coaching fun Presentation

Beware the uncanny valley of presentation design and delivery

uncanny valley

A performer and presentation can be overly polished and perfect. Creepily so.

Borrowing from the world of robotics, I call this phenomenon the uncanny valley of design and delivery. This is when a presenter looms a bit too near perfection. I don’t run into the uncanny valley of presentation design and delivery too often, but when I do — my hair stands on end.

Yours will, too. Presentation perfection is creepy. It’s just not human.

When presenters carefully design and deliver a flawless presentation, the audience will dislike both the topic as well as the presenter. I’ve seen that happen twice in my lifetime.

throat punch

See? It’s not just me. Presentation perfection can be off-putting.

If you find yourself making a mistake during your presentation, rejoice! You’ve escaped the uncanny valley.

If you find yourself tirelessly rehearsing the smallest gestures and facial expressions before your presentation — be warned! You might be unwittingly entering the uncanny valley!

As you rehearse, remember that your goal is not to deliver a perfect speech or presentation. The perfect speech or presentation does not exist.

Rather, what’s your real goal? To educate? Inform? Persuade? Entertain?

Being human will help you achieve these goals better than striving for perfection.

And hey — it may save you from a punch you in the throat!

Have you ever encountered a presentation that was a little too perfect? How did it make you feel?

fun Presentation

OK, so never start a sentence with these 10 words…

No offense, but I recently had to leave a lecture because the speaker began every other sentence with either “So…” or “Alright, so…”

His information may have been spectacular, but after a half hour, I felt too distracted to listen anymore. When your audience starts playing a mental drinking game based on taking a sip every time you say “so” and downing the whole glass every time you begin a sentence with the word “so” — and they’re hammered in 5 minutes — you might want to face the problem.

Saying “so” is so over.

The dreadful part about saying “so” is that it’s insanely catchy. A half-hour of listening to someone repeat so like a neurotic cuckoo clock, and you’ll find yourself doing the same damn thing.

The “so” phenomenon has spread like wildfire over the past few years. If we’re conscious of it, maybe we can make that little devil go away.

I’m trying like mad to drop that absurd little word from the start of my sentences, and it’s going pretty well. But all I have to do is listen to an interview on NPR for 10 minutes in the car, and it comes galloping back at my next meeting.

Vexed, I scrawled a list in my Moleskine: Top 10 words never to begin a sentence with —

1. So…

2. OK. So…

3. Alright, so…

4. Alright…

5. OK.

6. No offense, but…

7. I think…

8. I feel…

9. Ahem…

10. Just…

It’s a hastily scrawled list, based largely on my own annoyance that these words have actually flown out of my mouth. It’s a monkey-hear, monkey-say situation: I hear these phrases and I repeat these phrases.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop saying these phrases with any kind of frequency. If one slips into my speech a time or two, that’s acceptable. But I don’t want to have it escalate into a drinking-game distraction!

What “stop words” are on your Top 10 lists?

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.