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7 Vocal Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Presentation

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What does your voice say about you? Whether you like it or not, people will make judgements about you based on your voice. They’ll make assumptions about where you’re from, how well educated you are or how confident you are.

Regardless of the words you speak, your voice will impact on how engaging a speech or presentation is for your audience and how well your message is received.  Here are 7 vocal mistakes than can ruin your presentation:

Monotone

When my workshop participants discuss what makes a poor presentation, inevitably someone will mention how awful it is to listen to a presenter speaking in a monotone. It’s boring and tiring to listen to and it gives the impression that you’re not interested in what you are saying or that you don’t care about your audience.

Too Fast

When you speak too quickly it’s very difficult for your audience to keep up with what you’re saying. We often speed up our speech when we’re nervous or want to get a presentation over and done with but this doesn’t serve your audience. It will most likely be the first time they have heard your message and they need time to process the information you are providing.

Too Slow

Whilst it is important to slow down your speech when giving a presentation, speaking too slowly can be frustrating for your audience and sometimes make you sound uncertain about what you’re saying.

Too Soft

As a communicator, it is your responsibility to ensure your listeners can hear what you’re saying. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to hear someone who is not projecting their voice appropriately. It can make a presenter seem like they don’t care and also make you sound nervous and uncertain about what you’re speaking about.

Too Loud

People who speak slightly louder than normal are often perceived to be more powerful and confident; however, if you speak too loudly it can sometimes sound far too aggressive. It’s uncomfortable for people to listen to and you lose the nuances that help communicate your message.

Upward Inflection

An upward inflection at the end of a sentence will make what you’re saying sound like a question which can make you seem uncertain and undermine your credibility. Compare a downward inflection on “Hi, I’m Mel Sherwood” with an upward inflection on “Hi, I’m Mel Sherwood?” As an Australian I am very conscious of this common vocal trait!

Trailing Off

Whether it’s through nerves, habit or simply running out of air, many presenters start off a sentence with the right amount of projection and trail off as they end the sentence. Often this is repetitive which creates an undesirable rhythm and pattern that’s hard to break and difficult to listen to.

Are you making any of these mistakes? One of the best ways to find out, apart from asking someone, is to record yourself delivering your presentation and listen back to it (if you record it on video, make sure you listen back to the audio without the visual).

If you find you are making these mistakes, you’ll obviously need to add in some vocal variety to keep your audience engaged – varying the pace, the rhythm, the emphasis and the volume will help to bring your speech to life. You can do this consciously; however, the best place to start is to really connect with your material and fully express how you feel about it – keep it conversational and allow your passion and enthusiasm for sharing your message to give your voice the extra energy and variety required.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_

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Pitching Tips from the Scottish EDGE Final

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Yesterday I attended the final for Scottish EDGE round 8 which saw 22 companies pitching to a panel of expert judges for up to £100K each in grant funding and loans. Once again, I was delighted that several entrepreneurs who have attended my training or had individual coaching with me were awarded money to grow their business to the next level.

I’ve attended most of the finals and I thought the standard of pitches for this round was very high. If you’re considering entering any kind of pitching competition, read on for my tips on how you can ensure your pitch stands out for all the right reasons.

Do

  • Have a good hook to capture attention from the opening (here are some ideas)
  • Make it simple and straight to the point (the more you tell me the less I remember)
  • Be prepared to elaborate on your points during the Q&A session
  • Be confident with humility
  • Get set up quickly (ideally rehearse everything including walking on stage and setting up)
  • Familiarise yourself with the space prior to the event
  • Express your enthusiasm (if you’re not enthusiastic, why should anyone else be?)
  • Practice your timing so that you can complete it within the required time frame
  • Project your voice (it ensures people hear you and you will sound more confident)
  • Ensure you have variety in your voice; emphasise the important words and phrases
  • Show your products where possible (carefully consider what you give the panel to look during the pitch at if you want the focus on you)
  • Incorporate stories as well as some humour where appropriate
  • Know your market, your figures, your competition, your customers, etc
  • Use strong simple images on your slides with few words
  • Do something different to help you stand out from the competition
  • Make your delivery conversational and engaging
  • Put your Twitter address on all slides if there is an audience and they are encouraged to tweet
  • Know your audience (get your free Know Your Audience guide here)
  • Be your wonderful, authentic self – the best version of you

Don’t

  • Read from your notes (it looks like you’re unprepared and it is difficult to engage your audience when your eyes are on looking down)
  • Learn your script and simply recite it (think about what you’re saying and inject some energy and meaning into it)
  • Hold notes unless it is bullet points on cue cards (notes can limit your ability to gesture)
  • Rush your delivery (less is more)
  • Say you’re passionate if you’re not actually expressing that through your body and voice
  • Be arrogant
  • Say ‘um’ before answering a question (instead pause briefly to gather your thoughts before answering)
  • Use words like ‘hopefully’, ‘might’, ‘probably’ (instead use words like ‘certain’, ‘will’, ‘confident’)
  • Finish a sentence by trailing off with ‘erm’ or ‘and’…
  • Go over your allocated time
  • Look bored (especially if presenting with a partner and you are waiting for your turn to speak)
  • Fold your arms across your chest or leave hands in pockets (it can look quite casual or too defensive; keep your body open)
  • Rock from side to side as it can be distracting; stay grounded and centred (bringing your weight slightly forward onto the balls of your feet can help with this)
  • Show ‘busy’ slides with too many words (people can’t read and listen at the same time)

These are just a few tips; here is some additional advice I wrote in a previous post. Remember, you can have the best business idea in the world, but whether you’re entering a pitching competition or not, if you can’t communicate it effectively you will struggle to make it a success.

Basically a great pitch boils down to my simple formula:

PREPARATION + PRACTICE + PASSION = PITCHTASTIC!

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

12 TEDx Talks: 12 Lessons in Public Speaking

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On Thursday 18 February the TEDx University of Edinburgh (TEDxUoE) 2016 Conference was held in Edinburgh’s Central Hall for an audience of around five hundred people.

TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission – Ideas Worth Spreading (if you’ve not heard of TED, check it out at http://www.TED.com) TEDx supports independent organisers who want to create a TED-like event in their own community and the student-led team at the university did a brilliant job of organising an exceptional event.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to coach 10 of the 12 speakers for this event and was incredibly proud of the way each of them delivered a clear, concise and engaging talk. There were a few minor hiccups on the day which can sometimes be the case with a live event, but overall the standard of talks was excellent and a fantastic example of how to do it right.

So, from my perspective as an audience member, here are some public speaking lessons inspired by each of their talks:

  1. Jo Simpson – Talk Title: The courage to trust yourself… listen to the nudges

Jo is a leading authority on values based leadership and a professional speaker. She has an excellent command of the stage and took a moment to pause before she began which demonstrated her confidence and authority. She also used just two slides; simple images that enhanced a particular part of her message. The screen was black at all other times throughout the speech so that the attention was focused on her and her important message of listening to, trusting and acting on your intuition.

  1. Sabrina Syed – Talk Title: How to feel in place, any place

Sabrina was one of three student speakers and charmed the audience with her relaxed style and touching anecdotes. By incorporating personal stories, she connected emotionally with everyone in the room. She smiled, used effective gestures to enhance our understanding and she also used her voice to great effect; her diction was clear and her tone rich, varied and expressive which was both pleasing to the ear and a useful tool to emphasise her key points.

  1. Lynne Copson – Talk Title: How to demystify academia (and why we should bother)

As a teaching Fellow in Criminology, Lynne is no stranger to speaking in front of a group of people but we could see and hear that she was nervous as she staunchly delivered her talk despite some distracting problems with the sound system. About half way through, Lynne admitted that she felt out of her comfort zone and incredibly nervous in front of the TEDx crowd, and it was this vulnerability and her self-deprecating humour that really added to her talk. Whilst I generally don’t advise admitting you’re nervous, by introducing some humour and pointing out her obvious discomfort, the audience really warmed to her proving that being your authentic self is crucial if you want to connect with people.

  1. Michael Gidney – Talk Title: Change is in your pocket

Michael is the CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation. He commenced his talk with a series of rhetorical questions which immediately engaged the audience and introduced his topic. He connected the key message of the talk to his talk title, wove in some amazing statistics and pulled at our heartstrings with horrifying photographs and stories about the people who mine for the gold we buy and wear. His message was driven home with sound bites of tweetable quotes and he included his twitter address on his final slide so that the audience could easily quote him and spread the message further.

  1. Elizabeth Dulemba – Talk Title: Is your stuff stopping you?

Elizabeth is a successful children’s author and illustrator. During her preparation she worked very hard on refining her idea to a single sentence which became the title for the talk; this ensured a succinct and easy to understand message. She had a warm relaxed delivery style enhanced by her dazzling smile, open and expressive gestures and comfortable shoes! (Many of the speakers were challenged by wearing stilettos on the red carpet rug they were standing on; always find out about the floor surface where you’ll be presenting and choose your footwear accordingly!) When Elizabeth couldn’t recall a particular word she wanted to use, rather than get flustered, she just moved on so smoothly that the audience barely noticed.

  1. Vimbai Midzi – Talk Title: Writing Ourselves into History

Vimbai was the second of the student speakers. Having worked as a freelance journalist and someone who frequently blogs, her writing skills were evident in her well-crafted talk. Apart from her beautiful posture, confident stance and charming smile, Vimbai shared a personal story about her father to engage the audience and reinforce her message. She also used the rule of three throughout her talk – this is a powerful technique which gives the listener a sense of completeness and helps to ensure that key points are remembered.

  1. Catherine Wilson – Talk Title: Making Poetry Loud

Catherine is a successful performance poet and her talk stood out as a result of this. Her skilful use language was a real treat and demonstrated how using descriptive expressions, rhyming, alliteration and other writing techniques can connect emotionally with an audience and take them on a journey. In addition, Catherine owned the stage, was fully present and really lived the words as she spoke them, taking time to think and connect with her thoughts before using her body and voice to portray the feelings linked to her words.

  1. Jennifer Culbertson – Talk Title: The hidden symmetry of language

A Chancellor’s Fellow in the Language Evolution and Computation research group at the University of Edinburgh, Jennifer was able to take a complex topic and provide a simple example to prove her argument that despite the huge differences between languages spoken around the world, language is still a unifying force of human connection. She used a well-designed slide presentation to demonstrate the idea and she concluded with the words “The final message to take home is this…” before sharing her closing comments which left a very clear message with the audience.

  1. Matthew Bailey – Talk Title: My genes don’t fit! Living in a salt-saturated society

Matthew is the Director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science in Edinburgh and he bounded onto the stage with liveliness and enthusiasm which radiated into the audience. His energy, open body language and eye contact were very engaging. Whilst there were opportunities for some of his slides to be simplified, he did use his own hand drawn images which made his presentation more unique. After talking about the implications of too much salt in our food, Matthew also left every individual in the audience in no doubt about what they should do next. He strongly encouraged everyone to 1. get their blood pressure checked and 2. be salt aware, then reinforced his point with his final line, “We have to change it, we can change it and I think that’s an idea worth spreading.”

  1. Chloe Edmundson – Talk Title: Unleashing the potential of university eco systems

Chloe was the final student speaker and a perfect example of how taking on feedback and practising diligently can transform a presentation; the difference in her talk from our first coaching session a few months prior to the masterclass a couple of weeks ago to the actual event was outstanding. This was not only in the way the content was structured but also in her body language which was much more relaxed than I had seen previously. Chloe also incorporated a quote in her talk which neatly connected her opening to her conclusion and underpinned her message.

  1. Emma van der Merwe – Talk Title: Why I do something every day that scares me

The biography in the programme states that Emma is a storyteller, world traveller and amateur adventurer and this was demonstrated in her moving talk which started with a beautifully told personal story and was filled with anecdotes throughout.  Emma also shared a statistic about suicide about three minutes into her talk and made it relevant by explaining that since she started speaking four people somewhere in the world had died by suicide. By sharing three decisions she made and how they had helped her manage her depression she was able to demonstrate the life changing benefits of stepping beyond your comfort zone. She offered a simple challenge to the audience with her final line “Why not do something every day that scares you?” – a powerful ending to an inspiring talk.

  1. Deri Llewellyn-Davis – Talk Title: Everest: F*** the fear, it’s not real anyway

Deri is a speaker, entrepreneur and author who aims to enable businesses and individuals to fulfil their potential. Whilst sharing his personal story about being on Everest when the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015 resulting in an avalanche and the death of more than twenty people on the mountain, Deri demonstrated a number of techniques that set him apart as a speaker. His well-designed slides included personal photographs and diagrams to indicate the scale of Everest and he specifically acknowledged his Scottish audience by mentioning Ben Nevis as he talked about the mountains he has climbed. Whilst he was speaking about his own experiences, he turned this around and frequently used the most powerful word in presentations: YOU, which really helped him to connect with the audience. And he used the element of surprise; for example half way through his speech he revealed that F*** in the title was for Face The Fear, Feel The Fear and Free The Fear which brought an audible chuckle from the audience. Finally, rather than scurrying off the stage immediately he was finished as I have often seen presenters do, Deri owned the applause and gave his audience the opportunity to show their appreciation for his talk.

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During the conference, we are also treated to some videos of TED talks from around the world and I particularly enjoyed seeing Benjamin Zandar’s talk ‘The transformative power of classical music’. I loved his energy, humour and fabulous demonstrations on the piano which helped people to listen to classical music differently – watch this TED talk if you want to know how to fully engage an audience.

 

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

 

What Mary Poppins Can Teach You About Public Speaking

Mary Poppins - linkedin2Image: Shutterstock

Whilst in Australia recently I had the pleasure of watching a brilliantly produced and performed amateur production of Mary Poppins. I had seen the professional stage show previously and the 1964 Disney film was one of my favourite films as a young girl. I watched this production completely captivated from beginning to end and, as is so often the case when I attend live theatre, I identified a number of tips that can be easily transferred to your talks and presentations.

Use the Element of Surprise

Mary Poppins is a magical show but given the relatively small budget of an amateur production, I didn’t expect the special effects to be particularly good. However, I was surprised and delighted to see Mary Poppins fly across the auditorium to make a grand entrance and to watch her glide up the stairs unexpectedly during the second act. Not to mention her ability to pull out a lamp, a mirror and a coat rack from her carpet bag! You can use the element of surprise to keep your audience engaged and entertained during your presentation.

Repetition Repetition Repetition

How often have you had a set of song lyrics stuck in your head? The phrase ‘Anything can happen if you let it’ was used in a song as well as in the dialogue during the show. And who can forget that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down? Just like when we get song lyrics stuck in our head, repeating key phrases in your talk will help your audience to remember your message.

Tell a Story

The story of Mary Poppins may not appeal to everyone but it does have all the elements of a good story – interesting characters, magical settings, plot twists and turns, conflicts and resolutions, morals and life lessons. People love listening to stories so by incorporating stories in your presentation you will ensure your material is more relevant, interesting and engaging for your audience.

If You Feel Good, Your Audience Will Feel Good

Throughout the entire production the cast were completely committed to their characters and they put 100% effort into ensuring that their production was the best it could possibly be. They all clearly loved being on stage and this positive energy exploded into the auditorium, generating a warm feel good factor for the audience. When you are asked to give a talk, it is important that you approach it with a positive mind set. Even if you don’t enjoy presenting, you need to find a way to turn that around, because if you’re not enjoying yourself or interested in what you’re saying, no one else will be either.

Proper Rehearsals Are Vital

Unlike some amateur productions I have seen, the cast and crew in this show all knew exactly what they were doing; in fact it was probably the slickest ‘amdram’ musical I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The musicians were in time, the singing was harmonious, the dancing was tight, the set changes were seamless; this was a team of people who were clearly prepared, extremely well-rehearsed and committed to excellence. As an audience member I was extremely satisfied; I felt my evening’s entertainment was exceptional value for my money. Regardless of whether your audience has paid a fee to hear you speak, they are paying you with their time; therefore, you owe it to them to prepare and practice so that you can give your best possible ‘performance’.

Things Will Go Wrong

No matter how much you plan, prepare and practice, there is always a chance that something will go wrong. In this particular production there were two quite noticeable incidents. Firstly, a massive crash could be heard backstage when one of the actors exited the set (I’m still not sure what it was but the actor appeared unhurt when he returned to the stage!) Secondly, Mr Banks experienced a challenge when a vital prop caught on part of the set and he had to give it a huge yank to free it; he simply said “Whoops!” (which produced a short chuckle from the audience) and he carried on with the scene. Audiences recognise that live presentations and performances won’t always be perfect. Whilst they won’t tolerate lack of preparation, if you have clearly done everything you can to prepare effectively, you’ll find that people are very forgiving of any mishap. As a presenter, you need to take any distraction or interruption in your stride, remain focused and continue your talk as planned.

And of course if all else fails, you can simply saySupercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’


Mel Sherwood prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential

 

How to Kill Your Credibility (and Lose a Customer) in 3 Easy Steps

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What do you want from a salesperson? For me, it is someone who asks me the right questions to find out my requirements and someone who has the knowledge and expertise to advise me about the right product or service to meet my needs.

What don’t you want from a salesperson? Someone who does the complete opposite!

Recently I went to a specialist shop to buy a new portable recording device. I haven’t bought a portable recording device since dictaphones had cassette tapes in them so I’m a bit behind the times in terms of what technology is going to best suit my requirements. After asking a few of my friends and colleagues I had a vague idea of what I would need, but I wanted expert advice to make sure that I purchased the right product for me.

On entering the store, which I won’t name but which claims to be ‘the electronics specialist’, I walked directly towards two salespeople and told them what I needed. An older guy said to the younger guy ‘You okay to help with this one?’ The younger guy hesitated before replying, ‘Um… I suppose so’.

The look on his face and the slump in his shoulders indicated that he wasn’t comfortable about it. He set off in one direction with me following before he turned and walked in the opposite direction muttering something about the products being in two places. Already I was not feeling confident about this interaction.

When we reached the products I was expecting him to ask me some questions about what I would be using the device for, but instead he gestured towards a range of approximately six different products.

I asked what the difference between them all was. ‘Um… I’m not really sure… um… I think these are a bit better than these… um… I’m not trained in every product in the store so you could just check the packaging to compare.’

When I jokingly mentioned that he wasn’t filling me with confidence about my purchase he replied, ‘All the sales staff have our areas of expertise and mine is in phones and computers.’ Hmm… pity I wasn’t buying a phone or computer. Digging himself deeper he added, ‘We do have experts in these products, but they’re not in today.’  By this time I was getting pretty frustrated. Fortunately I had done a tiny bit of research before I went into the store so I had a vague idea about what might suit my purposes. I was in a hurry so I selected the one I had seen online, thanked the salesperson for his help and headed to the checkout to purchase the product (making sure to check the returns policy should the product be unsuitable).

All in all, it was a fairly unsatisfactory exchange and it is unlikely that I will waste my time heading to this ‘specialist’ retailer in the future.

So what went wrong? Following are three of the key mistakes made by the salesperson:

Credibility Killer Number 1

Incongruent body language – your body language and facial expressions can communicate a strong message (often a different message to what you may intend) without you realising it. I knew how he felt about serving me before he opened his mouth to speak!

Credibility Killer Number 2

Lack of knowledge – if you’re going to promote yourself as a specialist, it is important that you can back this up with proof of your knowledge or at least a willingness to find out. (I appreciate that the company had most likely put this young person in the position of being undertrained for the role, but that’s for another post!)

Credibility Killer Number 3

Poor word choice – phrases such as ‘I think…’, ‘I hope…’, ‘I’m just…’ can undermine your credibility and make you seem uncertain. As can littering your conversation with ‘um’ and ‘er’.

So what can we learn from this experience? Being aware that your attitude can affect so many aspects of your communication is crucial. Adopting a confident helpful approach will help to overcome any concerns about your lack of knowledge; it will show in the way you express yourself through your body language and it will influence the words that you use in conversation. And portraying confidence, especially in a sales situation, will ensure that your customer will feel confident about investing in you or your product.

Confident, credible communication keeps customers – a new mantra for salespeople perhaps?

What do you think? Do you agree that adopting a confident, positive manner is the key? Maybe you’ve had a similar experience – share your thoughts in the comments section.