Tips for Mastering Public Speaking

The most obvious difference between a conference call and a presentation in an auditorium is in one you have people in front of you, and with the other you don’t.  Looking past the obvious, there are far more similarities than differences between the two.  So when I found some tips on BusinessWeek.com about improving face-to-face public speaking, I knew they could help when we do the big presentation on a conference call.

  • "Believe in the Audience" – Most of the time, the audience is rooting for you to succeed, or at least to put on a good show.  To do this, talk about what they want to hear.  Research the audience beforehand, or begin the conference call with, "What do you want to hear about?"
  • "Say It Out Loud" – Your presentation will be spoken, so keep your practice sessions realistic.  Say it aloud and not just in your head.  Call up a friend to listen so you can get feedback on your "phone presenter" voice.
  • "Mimic the Situation" – This tip suggests you go to the location you’ll be presenting to get acquainted with the layout, and you can do the same for conference calls.  Do a test call with a few people to see how everyone sounds.  Try out the mute buttons, and use the lecture mode.  If there’s also a web conference, practice sharing your desktop and running applications.  Make your mistakes during practice.

How do you get over the fear of public speaking?  What tips can you share with us?

From Conventions to Teleconferences

Teleconference

In the Church of the Customer blog, Jackie Huba wrote about what it takes to throw a killer convention, especially as conventions and the like are taking hits from the recession and swine flu.  Looking over her list, I realized that many of her suggestions could be used to improve teleconferences and make them stand out.

The biggest example I can point to is avoiding the urge to skimp on the guest speaker.  For the convention Huba talked about, they pulled out the stops and got Seth Godin.  Now it might not be a good fit to get Godin for a particular teleconference—or too expensive—but his industry equal would be well worth the trouble; not only to draw attendees, but to give them their money's worth.

Bringing people together is the main point of a convention or teleconference, but we can enhance an participant's experience by taking things a step further than just putting them on a conference call.  A registration page is a good place to start, but instead of having that page as a stand-alone on our website, let's create a portal where they can read about the teleconference; its agenda and speaker—and read about the speaker—see who else is attending, provide a place for comments, download the agenda and other pertinent materials, and send in ideas of what they'd like to hear about.

It's great to get all that information, but now we need to put it to good use.  We can email a newsletter about the teleconference, and provide updates in the weeks beforehand.  We can set up a twitter for the teleconference and engage in pre-discussions about the topics to be covered.  All these things bring us closer to the future attendees, but make them a tighter group as well.

All this doesn't end when the teleconference does.  We can email or make available for download the recording of the teleconference.  We can arrange a post-teleconference Q&A with the speaker on a page on our website.  And if they're up for it, we might even have a discussion session with the speaker on twitter.  All while making ourselves available through twitter, forums on the website portal, email, and phone.

It's the little details that make a great convention, and it's the same for a teleconference.  Taking that extra step, providing another outlet to connect is how we can reach our participants on more levels than just talking at them.

How have you augmented your teleconferences?  Tell us about it.

Three Rules for Twitter and Conferencing

twitter

If you don't know what Twitter is by now then you should probably crawl out from under the rock that you've been underneath. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's true. Read any blog and you'll be told that social media is the way of future enterprises. What better way to extend your arms worldwide and invite a multitude of people to get to know you and your business a little better than to connect with them via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter?

Not too long ago, another one of our fabulous bloggers, George, wrote a blog about using Twitter while being on a conference call. From a small internal conference to the large conference where you're pulling out all the stops, Twitter is a really powerful tool to share ideas and thoughts while you're conferencing.

With that being said, there are some things that you should keep to yourself when you're Twittering while conferencing. In my observations of those who Twitter about conferencing, I have found a couple of things that maybe we should rethink when it comes to integrating Twitter into our conference calls.

Remember that companies who use Twitter use it in a way that allows them to search out people who might be talking about their company. If you're on a conference with a company and you tweet something about wanting to pay attention but you can't because you drank too much the night before (which I have seen many times), and the CEO of CompanyX finds that tweet, you might have just done yourself a lot of damage.  Twitter is for the most part an open forum, so be careful what you say and who's name you start dropping.

Secondly, and this one is very brief, I never want to know what telecommuters are (or not wearing) on a conference. Please do not share. Not just for my sake, but for your own too. The last thing you need is your boss finding out what you're doing when he's letting you work from home or a client seeing what you do in your self employed glory.

Finally, I'd like to address language. Now, I am no saint or angel but there is a time and a place. In your twitter stream in the middle of a conference call as you rant on about how much you hate conference calls is not an acceptable place to express ones anger with such colorful words. In my opinion, you should remember that you might have to answer for these tweets one day and if you're making comments about what an idiot someone on the conference call is or how you would rather be stabbed in the face, I don't think that's going to look very good.

Maybe it doesn't matter though.

What do you think? Is Twitter an open forum for anything or should you use some judgment in what goes out there while you're handling business?

Riddle me this:  As an employer, what action, if any, do you take if you happen upon one of the above mentioned tweets?

Expanding "Going Offline"

We all know what "going online" is, so it's not too tough to figure out what someone means when they say they're "going offline."  Basically, when the multiple emails back and forth between people get to be too confusing or inefficient, it's time to pick up the phone, call the person, and go offline.

Gina Trapani of BusinessWeek.com wrote a great article about the benefits of taking it offline.  Sure, you don't get the dense and hassle-free transfer of information like email or instant messaging, but a phone call can clear up a misunderstanding, convey urgency and tone, and in some cases can get something done faster than through internet mediums.

One point in the article that really jumped out at me was Trapani's example of an email sitting in ten different inboxes, waiting on different responses—with some responses even waiting on other responses—and with a message chain the size of a novella.

An email like this has gone far beyond what a simple phone call could clear up.  No, in this situation, and as soon as the topic goes beyond two people, it's time to start a conference call.  In about the same time as it would take to type out another reply, we can start a conference with the three or ten people involved.

A ten-person conference call may last longer than the five-minute phone call needed to clear up a well-traveled email or IM miscommunication between two people… but not that much longer.  And it can clear up a day's worth of emailing in relatively no time at all.

Try this experiment: next time you've got a complex situation and need to call more than one other person to straighten things out, start a conference call.  Then leave a comment and tell us how it helped the situation.

How to Wear Your Conference Service

Closet

A conference service is like your closet.

You've got your jeans and t-shirts, slacks, and Polo's, all hanging up in neat rows. In the back of the corner is a suit that you paid too much for but never seem to have the opportunity to wear.   It seems like a crazy analogy but think of it like this: You have different outfits depending on what event you might be attending. A conference service is essentially set up the same way, with different features and abilities depending on what kind of conference call you need to have.

The standard interoffice conference call with a couple of co-workers could be considered your jeans and t-shirt call; no recording needed, no Q&A sessions, and no operator needed. Invite some of your clients into the conference and you need upgrade the wardrobe to the slacks and button down shirt. You might add a pre-conference or record the conference.

A good closet, like any good conference service, is going to offer you a variety of features that you can use depending on what might be appropriate. What happens when you have that conference coming up that you feel like you need the full suit, tie, and vest?

Easy. Schedule an operator on the call.

Having an operator is a little known gem in the conference world.  Conference call services are set up in such a way that you are able to use everything that an operator can, but there are always times when you need that extra little something.

It's the nice suit that you have hanging in the back of your closet. You might only drag it out every once in a while, but when you do, you make a great impression.

Large events require something a little swanky. The next time you invite a large number of people to a conference call, you should add an operator to assist in the conference. The operator will do an introduction, turn the call over to presenters, and moderate the Q&A session for you. This operator is fully focused on making your conference go as smoothly as possible.

Not only do you look fantastic, but it takes the pressure of moderating the call off your shoulders and you can concentrate on the information being presented. You worked hard to put this conference together and you should get to enjoy some of the spoils.

You should drag out the suit and wear it on conference day, just for fun.

The Strength of Voice

Conference Call Voice

Conference calls are hosted for a variety of reasons, depending on how they can best be used by your company. Many companies began using conference calls to bring clients together, but have since branched out and are using conference calls to replace the old system of updating employees via email memos.  Using conference calls are a great way to update employees on new policies or changes and give them a platform for asking questions.

There is an overwhelming amount of information on the web about how to present on a "large" conference. But if you're the manager of the sales department just trying to keep your people up to date on corporate policies, you'll be hard pressed to find a useful "how-to" about that. Plus, most of the time, your standard department conference call isn't going to have all the fancy bells and whistles like PowerPoint presentations or video. You just need to get the info out there, make sure that everything is clear, and then get back to work.

Any information you need to relay needs to be done with your voice – no visual cues to back you up. No more pretty pictures or graphs explaining everything. It's just you and the telephone. How do you use your voice to stand out and keep the attention? Here are a couple of things that can help get you through your standard conference calls, and they could be two of the most important things I ever tell you.

Save the handouts. The most important thing on this conference is going to be keeping your listener's attention. You need your people engaged and invested in what you're saying. Send out handouts or email copies after the conference is over.  Since natural curiosity will prevail over the need to multitask, most people will focus on the handouts instead of giving you their full attention.

It's all in the voice. Remember college? Remember that professor you had who wasted your time by giving you a handout and then reading word for word from the page for an hour thinking that was going to help you retain the information (never mind the fact he would pop quiz you the next day.) Here it is, clear and simple:  Don't be that guy. Don't script your conference but have some bullet points of things you need to cover, and never read word for word from a page .There are two very simple things you can do on your next conference to keep interest where it needs to be.

What are some of your tips to keep interest on a standard audio call?

The Unseen Audience

For some strange reason, public speaking is one of a human's greatest fears.  Not so much for me; I rank sharks as much scarier than getting up in front of a bunch of people to talk.  Actually, making someone face jumping into a tank of sharks, but at the last minute giving them the opportunity to skip the sharks if they'll give a twenty minute speech could possibly cure anyone of their fear of public speaking.

But I digress.  Naturally, a conference call is much less terrifying a medium than an auditorium, simply because there's no one looking at you.  However, those "eyes" are still there—only now they're ears.  I found some great tips from The Eloquent Woman blog about speaking to an audience you can't see.

Stand Up – Even though you're probably by yourself during a conference call, put on your headset and walk around.  You'll sound more energized, and the better alignment of your diaphragm will make your voice more powerful.

Talk Visually – Like nodding to say "yes" over the phone, a lot of gestures and such can't be seen by the audience.  Tell them what you're doing, holding up, or picturing in your mind.

Outside Help – Have a friend listen in on the conference call.  Ask them to send you instant messages telling you to speed up or slow down.  They can also tell you if you're doing well—encouragement is always a good thing.

Raised Hands – When giving a presentation to an unseen audience, you can't see the puzzled looks.  Enable lecture mode so that people can "raise their hand" by indicating they have a comment.  Also, tell people to use twitter to send you quick questions or comments mid-lecture.

Which do you prefer, speaking in an auditorium or on a conference call?  Tell us why in a comment.

The Middle of the Night Idea : Make It Work

It's happened to everyone. You're sitting at your desk, lying on the couch, or even trying to fall asleep when an idea jumps into your head. You hastily reach for pen and paper to jot down this wonderful idea so that it can be remembered and cultivated the next day. You jot down something like “tethered picture” or “life path” or some other random combination of letters and when you get into the office the next day, all you can do is scratch your head and wonder what you meant.

Idea

It might come back to you, it might not, but if it doesn't, don't trash the idea.  Maybe your brain just needs a little coaxing to bring it back to the surface. It could be the greatest idea in the history of your company, it could be the cure for cancer, who knows, but don't trash it just yet.

Here is a suggestion: it's the perfect time for an impromptu conference call.

Send out an email to your co-workers, asking if they have a moment free to dial into a conference call for brainstorming.  Tell them the story of how the seeds of a wonderful idea were planted in the middle of the night and now you just need a little water to help it grow (remember humor is a great ice breaker!). If you are looking for an outside opinion, use your social network to get some feedback from the people who might end up using your product. Send out a tweet or a message to your Facebook friends and ask them to DM you or send you a message if they would like to help you brainstorm. Since these are often the people using or interested in your product, surely they would like to be a part of a new idea you've had.

Getting others on the conference call can not only help jog your memory, but can also be the key to another great idea looming around the corner.

Do you reach out to your community of friends, followers, and co-workers to help you build on, brainstorm, or remember a great idea? Why or why not?

Stay Healthy This Flu Season

Flu season is not on the horizon, it's here!  Already we've hit the early wave of cold and flu viruses that herald the sick-season.  And if you watch the news even a little bit, we've got swine flu to deal with on top of everything else.  So what can you do to avoid getting sick over the next four months?  Here's a quick but good list:

  • Wash your hands… a lot
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible
  • Get a flu shot
  • Wash your hands—seriously, very often
  • Stay away from sick people
  • Use teleconferencing

Nope, I'm not joking about that last one, especially as it ties in so neatly with the one above it.  Using and encouraging the use of conference calls, web conferencing, and video conferencing can reduce the loss of productivity that flu season usually causes.  How can teleconferencing do this?  Well…

On one hand, there are times when a sick employee at home is feeling better, even though they're still contagious.  Well, they don't have to do nothing if they don't want to.  They can still attend the meeting, or brainstorm with their team.

And on the other hand, it's obvious that someone needs to stay home when they're feeling sick, but sometimes when someone feels okay, they might go to the office, even thought they could still be contagious.  This means that any sales call, meeting, or even water cooler chat can be an unsuspecting ground zero for the flu.  That one almost better employee can send five or ten others home with the flu!

But with teleconferencing available, that sick employee can stay home and still be a productive part of the office, and you and all your employees are protected from catching the flu… at least from that one person.

Done reading?  Good!  Now go wash your hands.

Building Barriers for Better Communication

Normally I'm not a fan of any barrier to communication, but today I'm going to make an exception with this caveat:  barriers to clear and open communication are bad, UNLESS it's done on purpose… for the purpose of communicating with a specific target audience.

Look at QR codes.  These graphic 2D images can contain contact info, URLs, or even just notes, but they can only be read by people with a decoder on their iPhone or other mobile device.  So it seems silly to put only a QR code on a billboard, but this is pretty common, especially in Japan.

Why?  Well, first of all, it's ideal for advertising to teenagers, or any other technophile group.  Second, it's mysterious, and the only way to satisfy the curiosity is to decode it.  Finally, when it's decoded, the information is automatically stored on the mobile device so that even the most unmotivated potential customer is spared writing down your message.

In other words, QR codes break through communications barriers, even as they create them.

Conference calling is another good example of this good type of communication barrier/barrier breaker.  They're a barrier because no one can simply pick up a phone to join a teleconference without first obtaining a conference code.  And conference calls break through the money, time, and distance barriers to immediate and effective meetings.

Like QR codes, conference calls help reach target markets.  Using a teleconference registration page on your website for example, provides you with participants that:

  • Have been to your website
  • Are somewhat familiar with your products
  • Are motivated enough to exchange contact information for a conference code.

This means that a conference call with these particular participants will be a far more effective use of time and money than say, simply buying some leads and cold-calling.

Putting my money where my mouth is, I'm going to put the QR code pictured above on a t-shirt to wear next time I go out.  The embedded message is one that speaks to my personal target audience: smart, tech-savvy, and has a good sense of humor.

(If you have an iPhone and want to read the QR code in this post, download the free “QR app” from the app store.  Or, you can simply click here to go to the decoded message.  Also, tell us about your QR code experiences.  Go here to QR code your comment to us!)