Jan 132020
 

If you’ve ever felt you were the only one fearful about making a presentation, be assured, you’re not alone.  In fact, you have most of the world agonizing with you.  

For many people deciding what to say, how to say it, then standing up in front of others is like confronting a fire-eating dragon.

  • The fear of speaking in public, “glossophobia” affects at least 75% of the population.

  • A 2012 research study showed that participants feared “speaking before a group” more than “death.”

In an earlier article I wrote about stage fright or “performance anxiety” among famous individuals.  Can Stage Fright Be Good For You?

The great ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ella Fitzgerald suffered from stage fright but forced themselves to go on with the show.  Sometimes notable performers find other ways to continue their careers: the actor Daniel Day Lewis left the stage during the middle of a performance and never returned. He dealt with his stage fright by continuing his acting career solely in the movies.  A fairly extreme solution for a famous actor!

  • Some performers prefer to call it shyness, not stage fright.

Carly Simon took off six years from live performance.  But when asked about her decision, she declined to call it stage fright and defined it as “shyness.”  Being center stage, exposed to criticism, may be the underlying reason for what we refer to stage fright.

  • So how can this be overcome by the average person who doesn’t necessarily have to perform in front of a large audience?

Changing one’s thinking about public speaking as “exposure” is a starting point.  Giving a presentation, report or making a toast is not a performance.  If you have prepared sufficiently and most importantly have rehearsed — out loud — in front of a coach or trusted friend/colleague, it’s not a performance. You’re presenting your research or experience to individuals who probably want to hear what you say.  

The best way to slay the dragon of stage fright is to focus on your task, not whether you’re inherently shy or afraid of the audience’s disapproval. Planning, practice and professional coaching are the tools to make you successful — and success creates confidence!

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, communications, speech pathology and executive function.

 

 

Sep 142018
 
  • How important can storytelling be if it’s not taught in school?

In a recent article in The New York Times by Frank Bruni entitled, “How to Get the Most Out of College,” he writes: 

“Every successful pitch for a new policy, new product or new company is essentially a story, with a shape and logic intended to stir its audience. So is every successful job interview. The best moment in a workplace meeting belongs to the colleague who tells the best story… take a course that exposes you to the structure of narrative and the art of persuasion.”

For many years, storytelling was the means of communicating the important events of a group of people and carrying on the traditions of a tribe, sect or culture.  The value of transmitting “oral history” was unquestioned as an essential skill for thousands of years.  With the invention of the printing press and the rise of reading literary, less emphasis has been placed on oral history.

But on a personal level, “telling one’s story” remains as important as “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.”

  • If story telling is such a valuable skill, why isn’t it taught in school?

The old adage of going to school to learn “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic” has been translated into Common Core requirements during the last decade. While these remain critically important skills for students, the value of verbal expression has been lost in the drive for mandated educational goals and standardized assessment.

In today’s educational environment, teachers can be faulted for not teaching to a state-mandated curriculum that will be measured at various intervals by comprehensive testing. In some areas of the country teacher salaries and retention have become directly linked with testing results.

  • So where is the incentive and the time to implement storytelling skills in the school curriculum?

Few teachers or school districts will defy the current movement for accountability by allocating time for public speaking, learning to express oneself verbally and telling a personal story. Yet, clearly, this is a skill that will shape an individual’s future, as Frank Bruni emphasizes in his insightful article.

If schools cannot be relied on to teach storytelling skills, then it falls to families to foster these skills as much as possible. Find opportunities to share the stories of previous generations, as well as the daily incidents of life in your family.  Encourage everyone, even the youngest child, to share experiences and ideas, and give each person the time and opportunity to be the center of attention by “telling a story.”   

For adults who need to hone their storytelling skills, seek out opportunities to relate stories to friends and colleagues.  If you feel uncomfortable with this prospect, work with a professional who can help you shape a personal narrative and develop your speaking skills.   Being able to represent yourself may be the key to achieving your personal goals — as well as modeling those skills for your children.

Practice your skills by telling stories and equip your children for success by finding ways to help them become storytellers.

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, writing, speech-language pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 152016
 
  • When you speak do you capture people’s attention ?
  • Are you convincing and persuasive?

Whether you’re addressing a convention (as we’ve seen in the last month), a small group, or one other person in an interview, using the “authentic voice” can lead to a “yes” answer to these questions.

Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama project this authentic voice.  Hillary Clinton is trying to capture the voice but struggles with the problem of authenticity in her style.  What separates the two?

When I work with clients I recommend they “tell the audience the story.”  Doesn’t everyone enjoy hearing a story? From early childhood and even as adults, a storyteller captures our attention.  There are many elements to “telling a story”, including the structure of the story.  But for now, let’s focus on the voice.

A good storyteller uses a natural melody that varies in pitch and rhythm.  He or she connects with the listener through a soft vocal quality, not harsh or grating.  This “tone” conveys the message, “Come with me as I tell you my story.”  A “natural” voice has an authentic feel and brings the listener into a dialogue with the storyteller.  Michelle Obama used this technique at the convention when she drew listeners into her reminiscences of her years as First Lady as she watched her daughters grow from little girls into young women.

Throughout this past year none of the Presidential candidates have captured this “authentic” voice.  In one way or another, each one has taken a strong, critical approach and employed a voice with features that emphasize power and authority — but not the persuasive connection that the natural, authentic voice creates.

If you want to persuade another person, you need to draw the listener into a dialogue. Consider using the storyteller’s voice to convey an invitation: “come with me on the journey of my story.”  The “authentic” voice creates a connection between the speaker and the listener, a necessary beginning to the persuasive process.


Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, writing, executive function and speech-language pathology.

 

Jul 052016
 

Interview on WVOX.6.10.13Hear a clip from my latest radio on Peter Moses’ show, “Eye on Westchester” and learn tips on how to be an effective speaker.

Jun 022015
 
  • Are the 3 r’s,”reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic” the basics of what one needs to know?

For many years, educators have emphasized “the 3 r’s” as the cornerstone of skills students must have for academic success.  While these remain critical skills, the fourth part of the cornerstone has rarely been given appropriate focus but remains essential for students and later in adulthood. Speaking, the other half of reading/writing, remains a neglected skill in education — but has major significance for students and adults.

Acquiring the ability to find words to express oneself, string them together in phrases and sentences, and articulate these complex sounds with the standard production within one’s spoken language is a process we take for granted.  Only when the process becomes disrupted do we question what is truly a miraculous feature of the human brain and nervous system.

When children have difficulty with developing speech and language — for a variety of reasons — we may come to understand how unique speaking is among all the living species.  So too, only when an adult has an injury or illness that disrupts the normal process of speech and language do we come to realize that these are skills usually taken for granted.

  • What about healthy, educated adults who find expressing themselves difficult?

To those individuals who have difficulty speaking — especially where they’re being judged or evaluated — it may appear that everyone else speaks fluently and easily.  This isn’t the reality, however.  More people have difficulty expressing their thoughts in formal settings than they will admit.  Adding to the pressure to speak well, the contexts for speaking/presenting occur more frequently as one progresses up the professional ladder.

  • Do poor speaking and/or writing skills make a difference in a world where technical knowledge remains most important?

In my practice I have worked with educated, intelligent individuals who need to express their ideas to clients and present their work in public forums.  Even further, they need to create reports and written documents to summarize and illustrate their expertise.

The critical abilities for organizing information and presenting in front of other professionals in a variety of contexts becomes a stumbling block for many people seeking professional development.  The link between the organization of material — focusing on key features (critical for any presentation) — and making a strong verbal presentation involves both writing and speaking skills.

  • Even in our technologically-oriented world, the twin verbal skills of speaking and writing remain critical life skills.

It seems clear that in the 21st century, the “3’r’s” need to be modified to the cornerstone of “3 plus 1”: “reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and speaking.”  Technology has become an important tool for information management and presentation, but the spoken/written word remains essential.

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, writing, speech pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 212015
 
Apr 232014
 
  • To become a good speaker, develop your listening skills

So many people believe that a good presentation or interview depends solely, or almost entirely on, how they speak.  I advise my clients, individually and in workshops, about the importance of creating a dialogue when they speak.

  • Communication is a two-way process — always.

Too many people put an emphasis on “telling their story,” forgetting that they need to make a connection with the individual or group listening.   One of the keys to being an effective speaker is engaging your audience, whether it’s a one-to-one situation, group or large gathering.

If you’re making a presentation where dialogue isn’t possible, you still need to engage your listener.  Make eye contact.  Consider your body language: maintain a good posture with relaxed arms, using your hands for emphasis where appropriate.

  • How Listening Makes a Difference

When the situation allows for active give and take, listen to the individual speaking and respond to comments or questions.   This becomes critical in an interview where many people have carefully planned what they think they should say and don’t deal with a change in “the script.”  Allow the interviewer to describe the job and respond to this information, even if it means deviating from your original plan.

Developing the ability to listen and respond to questions, to engage in active thinking, remains one of the most valuable tools for effective speaking — and succeeding in today’s competitive job market.

  • Is listening an art or a skill?

It may be a bit of both, but it’s definitely an ability anyone can develop.  Just as becoming a good writer takes practice, focus and training, so does listening.  While some people have what appears to be natural talent as a writer or speaker, many learn to exercise these skills by working at the process.

Becoming a good listener, and in turn, a good speaker, is not a mystery.  Listening is an ability that can be developed.  It will serve you well as a valuable tool for personal and professional success.

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Check back soon for more thoughts on communication, speech-language pathology and executive function.

 

Mar 172014
 

“STAGE FRIGHT”

The word conjures up sweaty palms, dry mouth, pounding heart, throat closing, butterflies in the stomach, a light-headed feeling…

Most people have felt some of these symptoms when preparing to speak in public, whether making a presentation, asking a question in a symposium or even offering an opinion in a meeting or a class.

Actors, singers, all types of performers experience some degree of stage fright, often  at an opening, sometimes every evening before a performance.  Is this a terrible situation?  Something to be avoided?

When stage fright becomes handicapping, it becomes a problem.  Why?  Because it creates body stiffness, reduces vocal intonation, sometimes makes the speaker seem robotic, disinterested or at a minimum, less genuine.

The great Russian dancer, Rudolph Nureyev, used to be overwhelmed by stage fright before every performance.  He would spend hours stretching and drinking copious amounts of tea and honey to release his tension.

The legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, was supposed to dance during a talent show at the Apollo Theatre but she became so nervous she sang instead — and we’re probably all the beneficiaries of her way of coping with stage fright that night.

How can stage fright be good for you?

When you experience “performance anxiety,” the other name for stage fright, your adrenaline begins to flow and you raise your awareness level.  If you focus that awareness and use it as a means of concentration, you can separate the content of what you want to say from the way you deliver your message.  In other words, you split your objectives.

Every good speaker monitors his or her delivery while keeping the process of content flowing.  If you read a prepared speech, especially if you’ve rehearsed adequately, you can concentrate more on delivery (maintaining vocal features and body language, as I’ve written about in previous articles.)  For the most part, however, I advocate well rehearsed, more spontaneous speaking, if possible.

Many of the people I coach concentrate so much on the content of their presentation, they find it difficult to consider how they need to speak .  Their attention is wrapped up in the ideas and words, not the dynamics of their voice, eye contact, body language and other important features that are essential in public speaking.

Raising your consciousness and monitoring how you  speak will improve your presentation.  Without a slight level of anxiety, it is easy to fall into a speech and movement pattern that conveys reduced enthusiasm, even lack of interest — creating a dull presentation.

Using a little “stage fright” to channel and focus your attention, not only on content, but delivery, can become a tool for a better presentation.  Coping with stage fright will actually increase your confidence as a good speaker.

So let a small dose of adrenaline improve your performance, not freeze and handicap your speaking.

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Check back soon for more thoughts on public speaking, communication skills, and speech pathology.

 

Nov 012013
 

Whether you’re an executive giving a speech, a student making an oral report, or an applicant interviewing for a new job, you’re probably concerned about how you sound, how you communicate (and if you’re not, you should be.)  For many people that concern turns to dread, and even worse, to nervousness, both of which don’t improve the situation.

How can I be a better speaker?

I’ve written about this question in several articles: “Almost Everything You Need To Give A Great Interview,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/09/20/almost-everything-you-need-to-know-to-give-a-great-interview/ “Speak Up, Speak Clearly: Is That All There Is To It?”, http://lazarspeech.com/2013/09/04/speak-up-speak-clearly-is-that-all-there-is-to-it/ “The Two P’s For Effective Speaking,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/04/30/the-two-ps-for-effective-speaking/ and others you can read on my blog.

Confidence, Preparation, Reducing Um’s and Ah’s:  These are just a few of the topics I’ve covered and they remain critical for communicating  effectively.  What else should do good speakers know about making a presentation so it doesn’t become a dreaded event?

Timing remains the key to being calm and effective.  Don’t rush, no matter how pressured you feel about covering a certain amount of material.  It comes back to my recommendation about preparation.  Consider what you need to cover in the time you have to speak.  Plan carefully and don’t over plan.  So many speakers succumb to their eagerness to convey everything they know about a topic so they literally speak at a rate that’s too fast for listeners to process.  Slow down.  Pace yourself as you speak.  Think about speaking in phrases, not just sentences.

Maintain a natural voice by considering your intonation.  What does that mean?  Intonation is the rhythmic up and down of our voices.  If you speak too quickly you lose intonation, the stress on key words.   Without proper intonation your speech will take on a monotone quality, one of the annoying things about synthesized speech, those automated, recorded voices — what we call robotic speech.

Considering the words you want to stress will make a big difference in maintaining natural intonation.  Most languages, including English, are spoken with stress on syllables and words, otherwise we would sound flat and boring.  As a speaker you keep the listener’s attention by stressing important words — these can be highlighted in your notes or even in a scripted presentation (if you’re actually reading a speech.)

Breathe.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, of course I breathe.”  Yes, we have to breathe as we speak, but too many people take rapid, shallow breaths when they present.  They don’t monitor their breathing so they run out of air and may make themselves even more nervous.  Effective breathing has a calming effect and puts you more in control of your speech.

Singers and professional speakers who work from a script actually mark their breaths as cues to be sure they breathe at appropriate times.  This helps their timing, stress and intonation, all critical factors in giving an effective speech —  a presentation you won’t dread making!

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Check back next week for more thoughts on communication, speech and language and executive function skills.

 

 

Sep 042013
 

“Speak up, speak clearly.”  Sounds like a mother’s or a teacher’s reminder. Growing up, most people hear these words of advice.  Speaking in front of a class, an audience, interviewing for a job, meeting new people  — these are just a few situations in which speech counts.  Not speaking too softly, not mumbling or rushing your speech seem to be the keys to being a successful speaker.  Indeed, they can be considered as  cornerstones for effective speech.

But what’s behind the idea of speaking clearly? Surprisingly perhaps, the individuals we consider good speakers all share the virtue of what used to be called good “elocution,” a term one rarely hears now.  The basis of elocution is pronouncing the sounds of the English language with “standard sounds; that is, speech without articulation errors. Good articulation develops in childhood and needs to continue throughout the adult years.

Doesn’t everybody learn to imitate what they hear when they’re young?  The majority of people learn to articulate the sounds of our language in their early years.  But not everyone.  Frequent ear infections, colds, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are just a few of the reasons that speech skills may not develop uniformly. Children who don’t pronounce the standard sounds of English by the time they’re five or six years old may need speech therapy to learn to speak properly.  When these problems aren’t addressed or solved in the early years, the same speech patterns continue into adulthood and become one of the key reasons why some adults don’t “speak clearly.”  And if they realize they don’t “speak clearly” they may not be confident in “speaking up.”

Can articulation be remediated at any age?  While it’s certainly easier to change a speaking pattern at a younger age, adults can modify their speech at any age.  With children, the process usually works best in a play context in therapy supported by home practice with parents.  Older individuals can make these changes as well, sometimes with less difficulty because they recognize the problem and bring self motivation to the process.

What about the other keys to speaking up and speaking clearly?  The basis for all good speech rests on pronouncing the sounds of our language in the same way as everyone else in society. Once the fundamental issue of proper articulation is resolved, the other factors critical for effective speech can be addressed.

I’ve written about some of these other important elements in previous blog articles:  “The ‘Um’ ‘Ah’ Problem”  and “The Two ‘P’s’ for Effective Speaking“.   You might like to read further on the question of how to speak clearly.

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Check back next week for more thoughts on speech and language, communications, and executive functioning.