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Coaching communication Presentation public speaking video

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.

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Coaching communication public speaking social media video

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.

Categories
Coaching communication Education fun Presentation public speaking video

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?”

“Probably.”

“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.

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Coaching communication public speaking

Fashions change. Fundamentals don’t.

In the 1990’s, I worked for a company that changed its dress code. We went from business formal to business casual.

Employees accepted this change readily. I felt like I got a raise, because my dry cleaning expenses almost disappeared. And the comfort of ditching a suit for the dark jeans, tee-shirt, and blazer combo? Whee!

Last year, I read about a relaxed dress code at Goldman Sachs. In the same year, I heard the controversy over bare arms.

The buzz about “well, what do I wear now?” hums and throbs with a fair amount of regularity. Why, I wrote a blog post on this topic in 2011. I touched on it in another post in 2012.

In 2017, I did (more than one) workshop and consult on the topic of “Establishing Credibility as a Public Speaker“. In it, I answered the “what do I wear?” question yet again.

In 2018, I filmed a course for LinkedIn Learning titled “Establishing Credibility as a Speaker“. In this 2:35 minute video, I discuss the whole “what do I wear” concept in more detail.

For the past few decades, my advice hasn’t changed that much. Bottom line?

Fashions change. Communication fundamentals don’t.

And guess what? I suspect my 2017-era advice still be apt in 2027 and beyond.

Know this: your non-verbal communication impacts your credibility as a public speaker. As you face your audience, think about your fashion choices.

How will your fashion choices help support your message and intent?

Sometime you’ll want to blend in. Other times, you’ll want to use your fashion choices to stand out…or to make a stand. Depending on your message and intent, dressing provocatively may help you establish credibility and inspire change more than playing it safe.

What do you think? In 2037, will I be dispensing the same “what to wear” advice? Or will we have evolved beyond judging others on their appearance?


Laura Bergells is not a fashion expert. She’s a writer and teacher. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking. The above video is an excerpt from a 2018 course, “Establishing Credibility as a Speaker“.

You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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Coaching Education fun Presentation public speaking

What are you doing with your face + body during a team presentation?

Being a part of a team or ensemble can be fun and uplifting. And for the audience, a great team is a joy to watch.

Ask any sports fan. They’ll tell you this is true.

In contrast, let me describe the on-screen action I saw in a recent online group presentation. Maybe this will sound familiar to you:

Two guys fiddled on their phones while one colleague talked. Then guy #2 started talking.

Guy #1 and #3 started playing with their phones. When guy #3 talked, a woman seated at the conference table rolled away and faced the door.

Let’s pretend the content of this meeting was strong and the information was outstanding. What did the non-verbals say?

distracted

Hot. Mess. 

You guessed it. This was not a great team showing.

Each person focused solely on their own personal performance while speaking. They barely acknowledged the others in the room.

My guess? They didn’t know what team role to play while they weren’t speaking.

That’s not a team presentation. That’s a series of individual performances.

If you’re not talking, you’re still presenting. You need to be active and engaged in a team presentation.

What role should you play in a team presentation when you’re not talking? It depends.

Huddle with your the team before the show. In general, there are two non-speaking roles:

1) cheerleader or 2) observer.

cheer leader

What do I mean by cheerleader? What role do cheerleaders play?

By cheerleader, I mean when one of your team members is talking, you look at them. You focus on the speaker and give them your energy.

You smile and nod when it’s appropriate. You make it clear to the audience that you think the presenter is a genius.

You give your team member your undivided attention and full support. That’s what I mean by cheerleader.

You’re not waving pompoms. You are sending positive energy to your team member so they deliver a better presentation.

You’re also sending a great non-verbal message to the audience. Your body language puts the audience at ease.

When you pay attention to the speaker, so does the audience. When they see you smile and nod, they’re more likely to mimic your behavior.

But cheerleader isn’t the only position you can play. You can also be an observer.

observer watchdog
Watch, Dog.

What’s an observer? What role do observers play?

The observer looks at the audience and picks up on their non-verbal cues. Hey, did somebody look confused when your speaker said something?

Or if it’s an online presentation, did someone write in with a question or comment? The observer watches quietly, and sometimes takes notes.

The observer can feed the speaker with questions after he or she finishes speaking. Observers often positively rephrase any parts that may have caused confusion.

For example,

“That was great, Laura. I especially liked that part where you said ‘just because you’re not speaking doesn’t mean you’re not presenting.’ To me, that means I’m not going to check my phone or otherwise check out mentally while you’re talking. I’m on your team, so I’m going to give you my attention. Good advice!”

See what the observer did? The observer was active and engaged. The observer supported and reinforced the speaker’s message.

If one of your team members or co-presenters is talking, give that person your support. You may be a cheerleader or an observer, but decide ahead of time what role you’re going to play when you’re not talking.

Then, act your part. When you’re giving a team presentation, be mindful of what you’re doing when you are not speaking.

team presentation

Go team!


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a LinkedIn Learning course author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking.

Laura has decades of experience as a business communication coach. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and leads workshops on effective communication. You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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Coaching communication crisis Education public speaking

Face it: you need to fake it. Authenticity is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Authenticity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. To show our care and compassion for others, we often need to put aside our feelings.

There are higher truths that need to be served. Ask a mother whose child has fallen off a swing set. The child is bleeding and crying.

Does the mother give in to her worst fears? Does she start weeping and screaming? Nope.

“You’ll be OK, sweetie. We’re going to take a quick ride to the emergency room! Won’t that be exciting!”

In business, we often find ourselves in situations where we need to be brave. We need to show confidence we don’t feel.

Let me share three situations where this can happen:

  1. A novice speaker feels terrified. She’s never stood in front of a group of professionals before. She has wonderful knowledge to share, but she has butterflies. 🦋 She feels so nervous, she’s scared she might throw up.

  2. A seasoned pro feels confident. He’s stood in front of groups a zillion times before. Minutes before a critical speech, however; he learns of a grave personal tragedy. 💔 Heartbroken, he feels like bursting into tears.

  3. A mid-career pro is on stage, wowing the audience. Suddenly, an alarm sounds. A flurry of text alerts go off, advising everyone in the room of a weather emergency. 🌪️The on-stage performer is so afraid, she feels like fleeing.

When “being authentic and keepin’ it real” means puking, crying, and/or running away — you’ll want to consider other options. If you feel afraid: it’s 100% OK to muster up courage and instead show confidence.

A one minute video, where I offer a little pep talk to a nervous speaker…

If you’re standing in front of an audience, you’re in a leadership position. Your fear can spread like a contagion. For the good of your audience, you can’t risk starting a panic by acting on your worst fears.

You need to show courage. You need to be brave.

It you want to be self-deprecating, you can call your real bravery ‘fake it ’til you make it’. That’s cool. I get it. I think it’s a shame, though…

Social pressure forces you to re-frame your “real bravery” as “fake confidence”.

…but I see you. When you say ‘fake it ’til you make it’ – I know who you really are. You’re my favorite kind of person.

You’re brave. When you feel scared, but carry on with confidence – that’s almost the dictionary definition of courage.

Hardihood?

So let’s say you’re faking confidence…does this mean you’re an impostor? In a word, no.

I know social pressure can be a monster, though. You’ve probably heard voices say “fake” anything is wrong and bad.

Social conditioning may have laid a vicious head trip on you. It’s an ugly voice telling you any display of confidence needs to be “real” not “fake”. It’s this dreadful and simplistic notion of:

“fake always bad; real always good!”

News flash: sometimes, real confidence can be a real disaster. Further, a wellspring of heartfelt self-assurance is not likely to magically radiate out of a real expert who is suddenly thrust into a completely unfamiliar situation.

It’s why experts practice and drill. It’s why we rehearse and edit. It’s why we put ourselves in new and challenging situations.

We need to develop more than a shallow “just be authentic” form of self awareness. How can you “just be yourself” if you don’t really know yourself… or how you might act in unfamiliar situation? How do you work with authentic “fight or flight” instincts that might not serve you well?

Thoughtful, introspective people choose continuous learning. They’ll often pick an environment like a classroom or workshop to build experience, knowledge, and confidence.

Smart people don’t sit around and hope for confidence to magically appear when they need it the most. They go out of their way to develop and nurture it with training and practice.

Consider these three learning scenarios where almost everything is fake:

  1. In beginning public speaking classes, we practice physical exercises in a friendly environment. When we work on techniques and gain experience speaking in front of others; we start to feel less afraid. 🦋
  2. In speech workshops, speakers receive feedback. They may decide to tweak their content structure and word choices before going public. Editing and coaching often improves messaging.  ❤️
  3. In crisis communication sessions, we drill on worst case scenarios that have yet to happen. We role play to be mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared to face tough challenges. 🌪️

In each case, we’re not being 100% authentic. The classroom is a simulation, not reality. Through learning, we build confidence.

When you’re navigating through difficult and complex issues, be aware of nuance. Instead of a clinging to simple gut-level truisms; consider serving a higher truth.

Courage.


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking. New this month: Establishing Credibility as a Speaker.

You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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Coaching fun public speaking

Impostor Syndrome is not the problem. Expert Syndrome is.

Apparently, I have Impostor Syndrome. An estimated 70% of us do.

Even so, I don’t feel I should write this post. Who am I to write about my own experience?

I don’t even know how to spell it. Is it Imposter Syndrome? Or is it Impostor Syndrome?

E or O?

That’s the essence of Imposter Syndrome. I always feel someone else knows more than me, even about my own life experience.

I’ll research to the point of ridiculousness. I feel like a giant fraud, at all times.

But my Impostor Syndrome? It’s totally reasonable.

I know millions of other people must be more talented and knowledgeable than me. That’s basic math.

My accomplishments? I got lucky.

I was born into a family that loved and supported me. I was born into a social system that gave me advantages. That’s basic Sociology.

If you try to sooth me by saying, “But you work hard!” — I will reply, “Hard work is irrelevant. Zillions of people work harder than I do. They weren’t as lucky as me.”

I know this. I will not be soothed. I will not be convinced of my worthiness.

Also, I’d rather not be labeled with any kind of syndrome. But if I had a choice between Impostor Syndrome and Expert Syndrome, I’d pick Impostor Syndrome. Some cool and accomplished people have Impostor Syndrome.

Tom Hanks? Maya Angelou? Sonia Sotomayor?

Shoot. I’m in good company.

So why is it that I’m frequently targeted with a blizzard of self-help articles on how to overcome Imposter Syndrome? My Impostor Syndrome has some positive outcomes. It fuels my self-deprecating humor. It inspires me to appreciate and respect the contributions of others. It motivates me to keep learning more.

In contrast, what about all those know-nothings who seem high on self-importance? Why aren’t they being hammered with articles to help them overcome their Expert Syndrome?

Check out these search results: that’s some kind of disparity in self-help volume.

expert syndrome doesn't exist

It turns out, Expert Syndrome isn’t even real. It seems I made the term up in a fit of pique. Expert Syndrome doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. Instead, it’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

That’s not phrase parity. I’m gonna continue to call it Expert Syndrome, by cracky.

Because no offense to Dunning or Kruger, but people instantly know what I mean when I say Expert Syndrome. You see it everywhere.

If someone with Expert Syndrome browses an article about a topic, they feel they’ve earned a Ph.D. on the subject. If they do an hour’s worth of mediocre work, they update their resume with their accomplishments — then alert the media. They might be tone-deaf, but they believe they can win American Idol.

I crown myself

Buoyed by overconfidence and entitlement, people with Expert Syndrome actually think they understand topics deeply or do things well. They feel they possess an incredible wealth of experience, talent, and knowledge.

But they don’t. They’re delusional.

It sounds hard to believe, but someone can demonstrate a long track record of failure – and still project confidence. And often, the public will overlook their obvious lack of knowledge, talent, and experience. Instead, they’ll fall for the swagger.

Expert Syndrome is a huge problem for organizations. People with Expert Syndrome interview well. They write impressive résumés. They display the charm that wins over recruiters, interviewers, and hiring managers. When they fail at work, they get promoted: because in our culture, outsized confidence often trumps lackluster results.

It’s not only a personal failing, it’s a cultural one. Organizations that value braggadocio are top heavy with people who lack knowledge, ability, empathy, and understanding.

And that’s one reason why there are few self-help articles directed at solving Expert Syndrome. There’s no target audience. A person with Expert Syndrome won’t recognize themselves — so they won’t even feel tempted to read it.

I'm drunk on self-importance

Society provides no incentive for those with Expert Syndrome to seek help. Instead, they are often rewarded for their behavior.

That brings us back to Impostor Syndrome. The 70% of us who have it? We might be the only hope to end the scourge of Expert Syndrome.

We need to take an ironic first step: we need to pretend we have confidence. When it comes to displaying confidence, we actually need to become the impostors we think we are.

I know you won’t do this for you. You’re probably not much of a “personal gain” kind of person.

But maybe you’ll fake confidence to help others. We need talented and thoughtful people. We need people with empathy and insight. We need to work with people who are actually aware of the simple fact they don’t know everything.

That’s why you need to at least pretend to be confident. If you don’t, we might have to continue to work with insufferable blowhard know-nothings.

So don’t be selfish about this. Embrace your Impostor Syndrome — and learn to fake confidence.


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking.

You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Categories
Coaching Presentation public speaking video

The science is IN! What every anxious public speaker must know before their next big presentation…

After a student gives a class presentation, I’ll sometimes conduct a quick poll. I’ll ask the entire class: on a scale of 0-10, how nervous did the speaker appear?

The audience might give the speaker a 2 or a 3. But the speaker? A nervous speaker might rate themselves a 7 or 9. That’s a pretty big gap in perception between speaker and audience.

This perception gap is a wrapped up in a cognitive bias called the Illusion of Transparency. Here’s an example of how the Illusion of Transparency works:

Let’s say you believe others know what you’re feeling when they look at you. They can tell exactly how nervous you are. They all know you’re a giant fraud.

That’s your Illusion of Transparency talking. But guess what?

It’s an illusion! It’s not real!

My informal classroom poll lines up with a 2003 study published by Savitsky and Gilovich. The title of their study is “The illusion of transparency and the alleviation of speech anxiety“. It was published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

The reality? Other people have a hard time decoding your feelings. If your audience had to guess, they’re likely to rate you as “more confident” than you rate yourself.

While a public speaker might think “I’m a nervous wreck and everyone knows” — the audience might think, “Wow, that speaker is super passionate and enthusiastic!”

It’s important for speakers to know about the Illusion of Transparency. This tiny bit of knowledge can actually help you become a better public speaker. Here’s why:

If you didn’t know about the Illusion of Transparency, you might feel nervous. But you’ll assume everyone in the room thinks so, too. And this cognitive bias can make you feel even more nervous: because it makes you meta-nervous.

Meta-nervous:

When you’re nervous about being nervous.

The Illusion of Transparency sets you up for a downward spiral of nervousness. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can make you feel increasingly anxious. 

But here’s the great news: now that you know about the Illusion of Transparency, you’re in a better position to cope with public speaking anxiety. Savitsky + Gilovich found when they informed public speakers about this cognitive bias right before a speech, speakers presented with more confidence.

So now that you know about the Illusion of Transparency, you can say to yourself,

“Hey, it’s just my cognitive bias talking. It’s not real. I might feel nervous, but so what? No one else can tell.”

And that tiny bit of knowledge can help make you feel more confident. You can relax and deliver a more compelling presentation.

Bonus: now that you know about the Illusion of Transparency, be sure to share this knowledge with a friend or colleague. Chances are, you’ll feel even better when you help someone else gain confidence as a public speaker.

Instead of a downward spiral of nervousness, help create an upward spiral of increased confidence.


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking.

Laura has decades of experience as a business communication coach. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and leads workshops on effective communication. You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Categories
Coaching public speaking social media video

How clearly do you speak? Try this one insightful public speaking test:

As a public speaker, you’ll want your audience to understand you. You’ll want to be clear.

To gain insight about your speech clarity, try this insightful and easy exercise. Take the one-minute “speech pace” exercise I posted last week.

Then, upload your one-minute video sample to YouTube.

Unlisted YouTube Video

Within a few moments of uploading your video, YouTube will automatically generate closed captioning (CC) for your one-minute vocal sample. Read the captions YouTube generated. You can find them in the YouTube Creator Studio, under “Subtitles/CC”.

closed captioning YouTube

(You can also just press “CC” at the lower right of your published video.)

How well did YouTube translate your spoken words?

If YouTube had a hard time translating you — it’s not them. You can blame Siri and Cortana and Alexa for misunderstanding you in 2018. But you can’t blame Google-owned YouTube. Not anymore.

YouTube/Google has become shockingly good at understanding and translating speech. It may not understand proper nouns (like my uncommon last name). It may bobble homophones (I.e., “pique” may become “peak”. Or “Tide Ad” may become “Tie Dad.”). However, YouTube/Google understands most conversational speech fairly well.

If you see multiple errors in your YouTube transcript: you may need to work on your speech clarity. Consider the four P’s of your vocal performance: projection, pace, pausing, and pronunciation.

Projection:

Was your volume level loud enough for YouTube to hear? If your voice sounds soft or weak, is it you…or your recording equipment? It might be your mic: but it could be that you speak too softly. If you speak with a weak voice, you may need to work on breath support so you can speak with more volume and strength. Or, you may simply need to step closer to your microphone.

Pace:

If you speak too quickly, your enunciation can suffer. Try slowing down to a conversational pace. A conversational rate is between 140 and 170 words per minute. Practice reading my 1 minute speech pace script until you can record it in one minute – give or take a few seconds.

Pausing:

Introduce pauses into your speech. Pausing can help you catch your breath and organize your thoughts, so you can pronounce your words more clearly. For an exercise, pretend you’re introducing yourself to someone who doesn’t know you. Say your full name.

Now, say your name again. This time, slow down…and put a slight pause between your first and last names.

Sample script:

Hi. I’m Laura (split second pause) Bergells. (longer pause) You can call me (split second pause) Laura.

(This may sound unnatural to your own ears. You’re used to your name, so it might sound too slow to you. However, people who don’t know you will appreciate the extra effort you made to be clear and memorable.)

Pronunciation:

Look at your YouTube transcript for patterns in misunderstanding. Do your trouble areas have anything in common?

Sometimes, people get sloppy when they pronounce words with more than 3 syllables. Other times, they can drift over short connector words like “to” and “a” and “and”.

If you spot patterns like these, make a note of them. Work on your specific issues by marking up your problem areas with hashes for pauses, and bold for emphasis.

For example, let’s say YouTube had trouble understanding you when you read this sentence aloud:

“This rate of speech typically ranges from around 140 to 170 words per minute.”

You might try re-writing it with vocal cues like these:

“This rate of speech | typic-LEE | ranges from around | one hundred forty | to | one hundred seventy | words per minute.”

(Use emphasis and pause cues that work for you.)

Projection, pace, pausing, and pronunciation: the 4 p’s of vocal performance can impact how well your audience understands you. Try uploading a one minute vocal performance to YouTube to gain more insight into your own speech clarity.

What other techniques do you use to work on your speech clarity? How else can you make sure you’re understood?


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking. NEW! If you’re a writer, check out Laura’s latest course: Scrivener Essential Training.

You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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Speech pace: do you talk too fast, too slow…or just right?

I designed an exercise to give public speaking students insight into the concept of pace. If you’re curious about your own speaking pace, you can complete this exercise in minutes. Try it alone, or as part of a class (or party?) activity.

Step One: The script below contains 170 words. Read it to yourself, so you’re familiar with it. Pretend you’re delivering the script as an informational talk. Next, read it out loud. Make it as conversational and engaging as you can. Time yourself. Stop talking after exactly one minute. Count how many words you spoke aloud. (Hint: if you don’t finish, count the words you missed and subtract from 170.)

<script>

Do you think you speak too fast, too slow, or just right? When it comes to public speaking, you’ll want to talk at a conversational pace. This rate of speech typically ranges from around one hundred forty to one hundred seventy words per minute. If you speak much slower than one hundred forty words per minute, you’re probably not speaking fast enough for your audience. You might be putting them to sleep. However, if you speak much faster than one hundred seventy words per minute, you could be talking too fast. An audience could have a hard time understanding you. You also need to vary your pace. Sometimes, you’ll want to speak more quickly to demonstrate urgency or excitement. Other times, you’ll want to slow down or pause for dramatic effect. To check your pace, record yourself. Listen to the playback. A recording not only lets you time your speech, but it also lets you evaluate how well you vary your pace within the conversational range. Give it a try.

</script>

Step Two: Record yourself reading the above paragraph. When you play it back, listen to yourself talk. How well did you vary your pace as you delivered your speech? What specific techniques might help with tempo and phrasing?

(Often, the hardest part of this exercise is listening to yourself talk out loud. Many people don’t like to hear recordings of their own voices. The reason? We most often hear our own voices from within ourselves; not outside our bodies. Hearing our disembodied voice can sound…well, creepy and weird! Don’t worry: other people probably don’t think you sound weird. Also, the more you listen to recordings of your voice, the less strange you’ll sound to yourself.)

You might have a hard time evaluating your own voice, so ask a classmate or colleague for feedback. To guide the discussion, ask your evaluators to focus on pace and tempo. Here are some sample questions:

  • Did you think I was talking too fast, too slow, or just right?
  • When I paused, how did that seem to you? Too long, too short, not enough?
  • When I quickened my tempo, was I understandable? How did it sound?
  • When I slowed my pace, how did it sound to you? Did it sound appropriate?
  • Reflection and class discussion: How did you do? Did you fall within the conversational range of 140-170 words per minute? What public speaking techniques can help improve pacing? (I.e., what kind of breathing, rehearsal, body language, writing, or other techniques help?)

Final thought: Sometimes, students say they experience pace problems because of the script.

“It’s not a good script. If I could write it myself, in my own words, I’d do better.”

This is fantastic feedback. I love this criticism! Writing and speaking in your own voice is key. If you can do better by rewriting the script, do it.

What other techniques can help your pace?


Laura Bergells is a writer, teacher, and a #LinkedInLearning author. Check out her courses on Crisis Communication and Public Speaking

You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

PS: I recorded this class assignment on my phone. Similarly, you don’t have to make your own recording fancy. No special microphone or lighting is necessary. Use the tools you have at hand and record the script in one take. If you make a mistake, it’s OK. Keep going. We’ll talk about handling mistakes in class.