The 21-Day Communication Challenge


Transform Your Approach . . . Achieve Results!
Are you up to the challenge?
This month we’ve created a 21-Day Communication Challenge aimed at revitalizing your speaking skills and preparing for your next high-stakes presentation.  And we are so committed to helping you step up your game that if you take on the challenge you may win a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com.  Here’s how it works. . .
Below you’ll find a skill-building theme for each of the next three weeks. Your challenge is to use each week to assess your personal strengths and identify practical techniques for achieving a self-assured confidence that engages your audience, strengthens your credibility and maximizes your success. 
Please share your lessons learned throughout the month by leaving a comment below. Your tips and stories may be featured in a future issue of SpeakerNotes and you may be eligible to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate.
Week 1:  May 9 – 15
Grace Under Pressure
Unforeseen snafus — from blown electrical connections to loud construction noises in the next room — happen all the time. While looking shaken or embarrassed may be the typical human reaction, you need to always appear in control. Your audience is looking to you for leadership, and an unflappable response to unexpected interruptions speaks volumes.
If you’re someone who is easily caught off guard, use this week to make a list of “what’s the worst that could happen” scenarios. Then brainstorm ways to handle them, from carrying a spare projector bulb to creating a list of one-line humorous responses. You’ll find that a bit of preparation goes a long way to boosting your ability to handle the unexpected.
Week 2:  May 16 – 22
A New Creative Approach
The expression “familiarity breeds contempt” definitely applies when you feel so comfortable, so secure in your content and your skills, that you’re no longer truly in the moment and actively engaging your audience.
This week, consider new ways you can convey information to your listeners. Can you try a different presentation format, like a hands-on workshop instead of a straight lecture? Or try the highly structured Pecha Kucha style, in which presenters speak to 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds, for a total presentation time of 6 minutes 40 seconds.
Week 3:  May 23 – 31
Thinking the Thought
Audience members can always detect when a speaker is mindlessly reading a script or slides, and their reaction is to shut down, too. After all … if you’re not engaged in your material, why should they be?
Take some time this week to review your content. Think about what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and the impact it’s having on your listeners. Tweak a favorite line or two, interject new examples, and add some interactivity like a rhetorical question to freshen things up.

Though self-assessment is not always easy, it’s always eye opening. Take the 21-day communication challenge to transform your approach and achieve desired results next time you step up to speak. Be sure to share your progress, tips and stories for inclusion in an upcoming issue and be eligible to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

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20 Responses to The 21-Day Communication Challenge

  1. Laurel,

    I love your reminder to “stay in the moment”. I just saw a group of talented middle-schoolers participate in a public speaking contest for the Optimist Clubs. They were very poised and polished — this was he third round of competition, and they were all trying to win a $2,500 scholarship prize.

    I could tell that they had rehearsed and prepared thoroughly. After the event I congratulated them on their performances. They were as good or better than most adult speakers I have seen, even among professional speakers and regional competitions in Toastmasters.

    My one piece of advice to them was to really have fun when they speak. The more I can be myself on stage, and listen to the audience, and see their reaction, the more fun I have with a speech. One of my favorite moments in speaking was when I related a story that I was very emotional about — it was about the failure of a complex project, and it did not reflect well on me personally. One of the attendees raised their hand for what I thought was a question, and they thanked me for sharing the story. She shared some thoughts that took the business topic into an almost spiritual and religious direction. We took a few minutes to talk about these ideas, which were not at all planned and were not part of my prepared speech.

    Those kind of opportunities come rarely, even if you speak before audiences hundreds of times every year. It is such fun when you are really “in the moment” and ready to explore something new with the audience that way. Every now and then the audience takes you places that you as the speaker were not thinking of.

    –Alex

  2. Thanks Laurel! I sympathize with those difficult situations when there are significant, last minute changes to the message. Worse yet is when those changes create a disjointed message. Thanks for sharing your strategies for staying personally engaged in your message.

  3. Hi Steff,

    Many of the obstacles to really connecting with your material and your audience can be eliminated by making a commitment to really stay “in the moment”. If I am able to
    1)focus on the meaning behind the words of a speech and
    2)really care about the audience’s understanding of the message…it creates an engaging delivery, even if I’ve given the same speech many times or even if I’ve gotten last-minute changes to the material.

    The part of my business that includes training medical professionals has required me to give hundreds of presentations to doctors, scientists, etc. Much of the time, we have last minute changes to the content and/or message. I confess that I have been really nervous some of those times! The things that worked best for me were:
    1)ensuring that I was clear on the 1 or 2 most important messages I needed to deliver and
    2)strategizing a couple of different methods/stories for imparting these messages and
    3)making personal contact with my audience – talking to them a bit just prior to my presentation

  4. What great ideas. . . do yo happen to have one of your sing-alongs posted somewhere so SpeakerNotes readers can listen in and perhaps see how they may be able to adapt this technique?

  5. I do a variation of things to keep the audience engaged during my presentations including…

    * asking open ended questions
    * asking rhetorical questions
    * using pertinent stories
    * breaking them into small groups for an activity
    * having a uniquely designed sing-along

    One of my favorites though is to have each participant write down their #1 stressor, a work/life challenge, or something else that’s appropriate to the topic and audience. I inform them that these will be read aloud anonymously, so they may use a fictitious dilemma and should not use any possibly incriminating details. They crumple these in a ball and throw them into a clean wastebasket. Then, throughout the presentation, either I or a participant retrieves a crumpled paper and reads it out loud. Participants suggest solutions to the problem and the originator has the option of identifying herself. This activity can be repeated during the presentation. Sometimes, I use it towards the end and create ‘lyrics’ based on what’s written on the papers and lead a fun sing-along. This technique makes the presentation practical, involves the audience in problem-solving, and maintains the audience’s attention while everyone has fun while participating.

  6. Thanks for your helpful tips, Nancy.

  7. Bravo! Thanks for your insight and tips. Having heard you speak on numerous occasions, I always find myself totally engaged by both the care you put into developing your message as well as your authentic delivery style — that is also very fun!

  8. Hi Stephanie – relative to gaining audience participation, my experience has been that if I can bond with the participants prior to the formal presentation and learn something about them or their organization that relates to my presentation I can engage them directly during the presentation. The bonding also helps them connect with me on a more personal level than simply “The Presenter”

    Above all else, the one thing that has worked the best for me is remembering that I am simply having a “conversation” with the audience when I am presenting. I have found that the audience responds more to how I am being that to what I am saying. Thus, if I am comfortable, authentic and sincere I find that the audience is more willing to participate.

  9. Nancy Adelis says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I use many creative techniques to engage my audiences that may prove useful to your clients. For example:, I have been known to:
    a. throw candies
    b. throw balls
    c. give out stars for positive responses
    d. play games
    e. do many small group discussions and activities.

    Of course, some work better than others, as you well. The candy works all the time.!!! Take care.
    Nancy Adelis, SPHR, Adelis Development Systems

  10. Thanks Natalie. It is so true, when a speaker can be in the moment, than he/she can usually handle a snafu with grace and possibly humor (what a gift that is!)

  11. As speakers we dread the embarrassing moments on the platform! We can’t possible plan for everything that might go wrong before, during or after a program when we are there to share our expertise with the audience. Years ago, one of my biggest concerns was getting up in front of the group with a run in my stocking. After tripping while I came onto the stage once, dropping all of my notes another time, and having equipment failures more often than I care to remember, I’ve learned to go with the flow. With all eyes upon you, it’s how you recover from a snafu that matters even more than the snafu itself. We couldn’t possibly stage these as well as they naturally occur. So, although I’ve learned to practice and be prepared, it’s being in the moment and having a sense of humor that will help anyone recover from any snafu that could possibly occur.

  12. Thanks Lauren. . . humor can be a useful strategy when it supports what you want to accomplish. . . and breathing is always a smart move. . . that can also help with the butterflies. In case it is helpful, here is a link to an article on managing presentation anxiety: https://speakernotes.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/arm-yourself-and-knockout-stage-fright-for-good/
    I can promise you, after umpteen years, I still experience it as well.. . I have just learned to manage it. If you have a specific question about those “untamed” butterflies, please let me know!

  13. Now that’s grace under pressure! You were able to keep a bold face and forge ahead — letting your audience know that you had things under control. Great example that others can certainly practice. Thanks, Lisa!

  14. Lisa Fahoury says:

    Every speaker’s worst nightmare: The “supplied” projector never materialized, and attendees had to gather around my 12” computer screen to view a very visual workshop presentation. So I made a joke about my child-sized “Fisher Price laptop” and how we’d all be getting to know each other very well having to cluster around the small screen. It also reinforced the importance of bringing a backup printout that can be copied in a hurry! Biggest takeaway: My not getting flustered told the audience they had nothing to be worried about either; this would still be a great use of their morning regardless of the technical glitch. It ended up as an intimate, productive discussion with lots of give-and-take that probably would not have occurred otherwise.

  15. Grace Under Pressure: My natural instinct (which usually happens before I can stop it) would be to use humor. However I do realize that may not always be the best way to go. So to stop, breath and assess first (even for just a few moments) can probably make all the difference in what my reaction is and how I manage the unforeseen snafu! Thank you Stephanie for this challenge, I do believe it will help me be more prepared for my next presentation.
    Now, how about tips to calm those butterflies!

  16. Interesting twist to turn things around. High stakes presenters need to be prepared as well as creative when responding to “environmental conditions” that can disrupt a presentation. Actually incorporating the disruption into your talk is a good strategy, and as in your example, can become a “teachable moment”.

  17. Once, when conducting a negotiation training, laughter, music, and what sounded like stomping of feet pierced the walls from the session next to mine. The noise level sounded like the people in the other room we’re either having lots of fun, or fighting. Not to be outdone, I shifted my presentation to discuss how to negotiate when you’re not face to face, using nonverbal verbal communications (not an oxymoron).

    Every time the group in the other room let out loud laughter or other loud noises, I requested that people in my group wait until those noises abated and then retort with louder sounds. I told them, the goal of our efforts were to get the folks attention in the other room, while soliciting their efforts to ‘lower their’ volume. It was all being done in fun, in an effort to highlight the usage of nonverbal verbal communications in a negotiation.

    After several exchanges, between the other room and mine, someone came from the other session to inquire about the noise level emanating from my room. I apologized for the disturbance and told that individual that we’d keep the noise level down, and we understood how thin the walls were. The noise level dropped noticeably in the other session and attendees in my group received a ‘live’ unrehearsed demonstration of how to use the nonverbal verbal strategy during negotiations.

    Greg
    http://TheMasterNegotiator.com

  18. Thanks for the reply, Stephanie. I put many samples of my speeches on-line at:

    http://www.alexsbrown.com/speeches

    Most of my podcasts are for a web seminar program that I offer to project managers as part of a subscription program. I have a lot of fun doing them, and it has really challenged me to improve my speaking.

    I find it harder to speak into a telephone with feeling and enthusiasm for an hour than to go in front of an audience. Without the feedback from the audience, I really need to keep up my internal energy and focus. When I can speak before a live audience, it is a treat!

    –Alex

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience and lessons learned, Alex. Great insight. What topics are discussed on your podcasts? How can we listen to them and perhaps learn from your speaking style?

  20. The #1 way that I have found to improve is “practice, practice, practice.” I found Toastmasters International to be a great place to get started speaking. Even when I was not very good, I got lots of applause, and that helped motivate me to get better.

    Now that I speak professionally, I improve mostly by recording all my speeches and reviewing all the recordings. I turn almost all of my speeches into podcasts, and I edit out most of my fillers and goofs. Editing is time consuming, so I have an extra incentive to give a spotless performance — I do not have to spend as much time listening to it later!

    –Alex

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