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Lessons from TEDx – it’s not all about you

Richard Wasson TEDx

Firstly I’d like to say I have the upmost respect for anyone who stands up to speak in front of a group of people.   If you’re nervous about speaking, I completely understand.

The reason I know what you’re going through is because in 2014 I got invited to give a TEDx talk in the great hall in Stormont, in front of 200 or so people and a film crew. It was to be filmed and put online forever.

Scary is not the word – even the great hall itself invokes nerves due to it’s grandeur and history.

In my preparation for my TEDxStormont talk, I learnt quite a few things that have helped me up my public speaking game.

Key learning number one- ‘it’s not all about you’

In the weeks after receiving the invite, any time I thought of the talk I would get obsessed with negative thinking all about myself. Things like:

  • “What if I trip and fall on my face?”
  • “What if I stutter and stammer and sound like an idiot?”
  • “What if they don’t get what I’m talking about?”

I even started thinking what would happen if I went on stage with my fly down!

I then met with a very wise speaker and he pointed out that this talk is not about me at all. He wisely informed me that a speech is about the audience, not about the speaker. He asked me:

  • “What are you giving your audience?”
  • “How will they benefit from listening to you?”

He then politely informed me I was getting very self-centred and to focus on the audience’s needs, not my own. He was right.

This really resonated and I took it a step further by writing a profile of a person who I felt would benefit from hearing my talk. I then crafted the talk to speak to that person directly. It obviously worked as only minutes after coming off stage someone came up to me and thanked me and said it was exactly what they needed. That person fitted exactly the profile I had drawn up.

So here are some questions to help you with crafting your speech:

  •  Who are the key people you are talking to?
  • What are their needs and desires and how can you talk directly to them?
  • How will they benefit from listening?

This advice has helped to keep me on track when I’ve been asked to speak, I hope it will help you too!


Richard Wasson

Richard Wasson has sailed the world on exploration superyachts. He has many stories to tell from his years as captain and chief officer to the very rich and the very famous! Now officially retired from sea, his quest to help people be happier in their life and careers is ongoing. Watch Richard’s TEDx talk here.

“This post is the first in a series of three posts, where I share just some of the things I learnt from my TEDx experience. You can read the others here and here.

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How top speakers manage nerves

Managing nerves when you’re asked to speak in public is something that you might struggle with. And you’re not alone! One of our favourite discoveries at Bespoke Communications is the Harvard commencement speech from the great American tv host, Oprah Winfrey.  In her speech, Oprah talks about the nerves that even well-known performers feel when taking part in a tv interview with her. She name checks President Obama, Beyonce and beyond.  Regardless of how famous they are or how frequently they appear on tv or in public, every interviewee she’s worked with looks for feedback after their tv appearance – ‘Was that OK?’  or ‘How did I do?’. Even at Bespoke, we don’t have to look too far to realise that’s true. Sarah has a tv career spanning two decades, and will readily admit to managing nerves before going on air.

Managing nerves

So it’s liberating to know that everyone feels nervous before appearing in public. Its not just you! Nerves come knocking to remind you that you care – that you want your words to mean something to those that hear them.   Giving a speech requires that you open yourself up, even just a little.   Your audience wants to get to know you and what makes you tick.  And when you’re being yourself, and showing empathy, then it’s natural to want the respect and approval of your audience.  Let’s face it, it’s a basic building block of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Your preparation process

The great news is that your nerves can be harnessed to help your performance rather than hinder it.    You can use the principles of performance psychology to develop a preparation process to help you when you’re called upon to present in public.  Identifying the source of your anxiety and breaking it down into skills to be mastered is the first step.  For some people, that means practicing a killer opening.  For others, it’s about structuring their content so that they get their message across more easily.  And many people just want to focus on the pace of delivery. Finding low-risk situations to help you to practice those skills is key.  Giving yourself the opportunity to practice, knowing that you’ll make mistakes is the best way to learn and improve. Your preparation process is very different to your performance process when you’re on stage with all eyes on you.

Your performance process

Your performance process will be unique to you, but here are some tried and tested techniques to help you on the day.  There’s something in here that you can adapt and make your own.  Here’s Sarah talking with Denis McNeill on Q Radio recently about the Speakeasy Club, and how to overcome public speaking nerves.  With the right tactics, you’ll master those nerves to give a great performance every time!

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Why do great staff training programmes just work?

Teamwork, staff training

I’m sure the board of the Sussex Football Association had the best of intentions when they published their widely-ridiculed considerations for increasing participation in women and girls.  The idea – to encourage more girls to take part in football.  Their well-meaning plan was to to buy lots of pink whistles and nice-smelling bibs. The plan was panned on media channels up and down the country after it was published last week. It’s very likely that the plan was cooked up without much consultation with the women and girls it was intended to benefit.

 

Where are your staff coming from?

If you’re planning staff training in 2017,  there are lessons to be learnt from the FA debacle.  Just as great public speakers consider the needs of their audience, great L&D managers know where their team’s pain points are. You’ll get better and more lasting results by obtaining the commitment of your team before rolling out new staff training.  Over the last year, we’ve worked with clients on several skills development programmes, including this one with Ulster University. We’ve seen some stellar successes that have contributed to culture change within the organisation.

Successful training programmes

Some factors that have made training successful include:

  1. Consider raising the bar for participation. If you can put a selection process in place, you immediately change perceptions of the programme internally.  Work with your line managers to identify your initial cohort, and let word of mouth spread to encourage discretionary participation. With a well-planned training programme, other staff ask to join future training sessions –  a win-win for everyone.
  2. Align the programme with strategic priorities. Plan your programme for big results, start small with a carefully selected cohort, reflect on the experience, and refine the programme to make sure it’s working.  Then go ahead and offer it more widely.
  3. Find what makes your team tick. Maybe an internal competition to promote participants achievements will give everyone a sense of pride? Or you might consider empowering staff with the skills they need to win prestigious external awards. Great training programmes boost morale as well as develop new skills. If you can tap into your team’s intrinsic motivations, your programme will be off to a flying start.

We’ve considered some of these factors when we developed some of our more popular training programmes – Talk like TED, Leadership Communication for Impact and Influence and Persuasive Presenting. If you’ve found an innovative approach to staff training, we’d love to work with you – do get in touch!

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In a post-truth era, how can your message stand out?

post-truth

After two bruising political campaigns in the US and the UK in 2016, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to watch leaders and aspiring leaders in action as they tried to win public approval. The most successful political campaigns have been built on short, easily understood messages. But a message doesn’t work in a vacuum. We’ve been hearing lots about post-truth tactics, where showmanship and grandstanding have been the order of the day.

Does ‘post-truth’ really  just mean ‘truth+’

Watch this fiery exchange between alt-right journalist Milo Yiannopoulos and Cathy Newman of Channel Four, to understand how Yiannopoulos understands post-truth.  In his own words ‘Just telling the facts is no longer enough. You now have to be persuasive and charismatic and interesting.’

post-truth Milo Yiannapoulos Cathy Newman

Milo Yiannapoulos during his Channel 4 interview with Cathy Newman

What can you learn from post-truth tactics?

So how can you beat the post-truth brigade at their own game?  What if you’ve got an idea that you want to share, and it’s falling on deaf ears?  Without resorting to fabrication and falsehoods, how can you make sure that what you have to say gets listened to? Is there something to be learnt from the post-truth approach?

A persuasive presentation appeals to your audience’s needs and wants. Trump’s ‘Make America great again’ campaign slogan was aspirational, appealed to patriotism and tripped off the tongue. As ego-centric as Trump is, he made the voter the hero of his campaign.  He made sure to put his message in a context that resonated. Too many presenters just brain dump a series of facts, and forget about why the audience gave their time to turn up in the first place.

And do make sure to tell the audience why you’re there – what qualifies you to speak on this topic – but don’t labour the point. Give them just enough references that they understand your authority. We’re the selfie-obsessed generation, this presentation has to be all about the audience! Aristotle had it right when he talked about ethos, pathos and logos in a persuasive presentation.

post truth Hillary Clinton with selfie takers

Hillary Clinton with selfie takers during her US presidential campaign

In the immortal words of Albert Einstein – ‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.’  In a noisy world, only concise, clear messages are heard. When you frame them in a way that resonates, your message will stick with your audiences.

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Speak up, and increase your influence

office meeting speak up

We’ve all been there – sitting in a meeting where you just don’t agree with what’s being said. You have two choices. You can speak up and express your opinion or stay quiet and go along with #groupthink. Maybe it’s the fear of judgment from your own peer group or management that’s holding you back.  As a result, it’s quite likely that you’re not bringing your full potential into the workplace. But what’s the worst that could happen? If you can back up your point of view when you speak up, well then surely you deserve to be heard?

Gender Bias

The research suggests otherwise. In a recent piece for the New York Times, influential commentators Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant exposed an unconscious gender bias within organisations. They found that women speaking up were perceived as less loyal and likeable than men. This was reflected in flatlining performance evaluations for vocal women but significantly higher performance evaluations for men that contributed their ideas.

Amplification

Whilst we’re sure there are many men out there simmering in frustration at the lack of attention their ideas get, there seems to be a greater problem for women. The power around the table is not always balanced. So there’s a technique gaining attention that women have adopted to make sure their voices are heard. It’s called amplification and it depends on a system of mutual collaboration. Every time someone in a meeting contributes an idea, her colleagues around the table repeat the idea, and credit her with coming up with it. Obama’s female aides used amplification to redress the gender balance around the table in the Oval Office.

Socialisation

Former Boston Heart Diagnostics CEO Susan Hertzberg decided on a different approach – she decided to socialise her ideas with key attendees before the meeting took place. It helped her to rebalance power in her favour and make sure that she didn’t end up in unproductive battles with colleagues.

On-the-spot planning

And just sometimes, you need an approach to formulating your thoughts quickly on an issue so that you can react to an opportunity. At Bespoke Communications, we use the SABA structure to help you to build a compelling presentation or speech. We find that it’s just as effective in a tricky meeting situation as at a public event. Learning a transferable skill can give a confidence boost for more situations than just one. Get in touch if you’d like to hear more.

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Nerves when presenting – how to cope

Nerves, Relaxation

What’s holding you back from stepping out and making that speech or presentation? For many people, it’s fear of fear itself! Nerves when presenting are common and – believe it or not – necessary for a good performance! But if your nerves are getting in the way, here are some coping strategies that we’ve used to help us manage that negative inner voice and overcome presentation nerves.

nerves Amy Cuddy Powerposes

Amy Cuddy Powerposes

Visualisation

Imagine what success looks like to you. Create a mental picture to enhance motivation and confidence. Envision what it feels like to have the audience in the palm of your hand, the go out there and deliver your speech with confidence.

Affirmations

These are positive statements to overcome your negative inner voice. We always think that the Huffington Post talks a lot of sense, so here are 35 Affirmations to change your life.

Exercise

If you’re a runner, go out for a run that morning. Or a brisk walk. Exercise gets the serotonin going, and will put you in a more positive frame of mind. There are those that advocate taking yourself off to the bathroom before your presentation, and doing some star-jumps. Try that and see if it helps?

Reframing

Reframe your nerves as excitement. Adrenaline gets your nerves going, but it also gets you excited. Swap your negative emotions around felling nervous for positive emotions relating to excitement. And don’t just listen to us, Harvard Business School have studied this technique and found that it works!

Plan ahead

It may sound like common sense, but this is feedback that we see after a great many workshops and courses that we run.  The popular quote ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, holds true in a public speaking situation like no other.  Develop your structure, build out your content and try it out on different audeinces before your live event.  You’ll be glad you took the time, honest!

Mindfulness

Being present and thinking about the here and now can really help you to avoid catastrophising.  There are lots of free apps you can try to help you to meditate at home. We love Headspace, and founder Andy’s calming voice. He’s helped us through many a stressful situation!

Smile!

And here’s the small piece of advice that might just change everything – Smile! As Amy Cuddy advocates, fake it till you make it. Smile and you’re forced to think more positively about any experience.

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Develop public opinion through the media

public opinion

As we’ve all seen, public understanding of an issue develops over time, often slowly, and in several stages. Compelling messaging will help you to connect with key audiences to shape public opinion on the cause that you work for and believe in.

public

But what does your audience know about your cause in the first place? We’ve adapted the Seven Stages of Public Opinion model (1) to give you some ideas for your next public campaign.

Dawning awareness

Are you raising an issue that no-one has heard of? Something that has not yet reached the public consciousness? To make your issue resonate with journalists and their audiences, it’s key that your message at this stage is simple, core and compact(2). Avoid the curse of knowledge and take the time to disseminate information to build public awareness.

Sense of urgency

This is when people realise that there is an issue and they start to develop an opinion on it. Making your message concrete can really help. In the business world, consider the case of Irish company, Sugru, developers of mouldable glue that turns into rubber. Apart from a small community of designers or makers, who cares, or even understands why they would want mouldable glue? Realising they were destined to remain a niche product if they failed to take action, Sugru made this video. Here they position their product for everyone – it’s a helping hand to fix annoying everyday problems that we all experience.

Discovering choices

This is when public opinion has started to develop. People listen to other points of view and now start to evaluate the choices that they can make around your issue. Think about case studies and stories to help you connect with your audiences. By the time people reach this stage, they’re clarifying their thinking, talking to their friends and starting to understand more fully what supporting you means to them. If they give up time or resource, what do they get in return? In our workshops, we’ll give you structures to help you to develop a persuasive argument.

Accepting an idea

People are more ready to commit to an idea in their minds than in the actions they take. You could ask people to do something public, such as ‘Like a Facebook page’, ‘Share a post’ helps them to commit to a point of view. Once people have made a choice or adopted a position, they’ll want to behave consistently with that position (3). The Rainforest Alliance followed up the viral buzz from their Follow the Frog video with action-led social campaigns with partners to help consumers commit to buying Fairtrade.

Making a responsible judgment

This is where you move people to the stage where they will take an action – Vote! Buy! Do something differently! Public opinion has been developed. Believe in what you do, and make sure your message resonates with the audiences you need to reach.

1) Yankelovich, D. (1992) How public opinion really works. New York: Fortune. Available from: http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1992/10/05/76926/index.htm

2) Heath, D. & Heath, C. (2007) Made to stick New York: Random House

3) Fazio, R. H, Blascovich, J. & O’Driscoll, D.M. (1992) On the Functional Value of Attitudes: The Influence of Accessible Attitudes on the Ease and Quality of Decision Making. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 388-401

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Ethos, pathos and logos in a TED talk

acc stephen martin ethos pathos logos

As public speaking partners to TEDxStormont, we’ve been lucky enough to hear talks from a variety of innovative and creative speakers. .  We’ve heard about everything from innovation (David Meade), women in science (Jocelyn Bell Burnell), and the power of relationships (ACC Stephen Martin).  We think there are lessons for us all in the way TED speakers prepare their talks. Aristotle talked about the three artistic proofs of ethos, pathos and logos when composing a persuasive public speech. Hundreds of years later his advice still rings true. When faced with a blank page, our TED speakers can draw on the these three artistic proofs to build up their talk from scratch.

Ethos – Your own credibility and character

ethos Lord Alderdice TEDx Speaker

Lord Alderdice

What references can you use in your speech to reinforce your credibility as an authority on the topic that you’re discussing? Lord Alderdice references his medical training and uses medical analogies to build the case for a kinder, more tolerant society. Fergus Cumiskey references his work over a period of many years with young people in the care system before talking about suicide prevention. Or watch Therese Charles tell her self-deprecating story in the case she makes for the space between failure and success.

Logos – your arguments or reasoning

Cheylene Murphy, TEDx Speaker ethos pathos logos

Cheylene Murphy

Can you provide examples that back up your central claim? Watch Jarek Zasadzinski argue the case for a formula for success. Cheylene Murphy invokes the power of storytelling to build the case for collaboration and opening up. Or how about the top down logic of Deirdre Heenan’s appeal to the need for a focus arts and creativity in educational policy? John Sturrock uses language and metaphor to point us towards solutions for social polarisation.

Pathos – your audience

Rachel Smith TEDx Speaker ethos pathos logos

Rachel Smith

An audience is defined by their interest in your topic and their ability to mediate change. Can you appeal to your audience’s needs and values to make a persuasive case? WIIFM – What’s in it for me? If you can tap into emotions to make your case, then you’re well on the way to making a connection with your audience. Rachel Smith talks about her work with people at the end of their lives. She makes an eloquent case for valuing what’s important. And we love Joris Minne’s passionate appeal to his audience for valuing the arts in a time of straitened funding and competing priorities. When used well, pathos creates a connection that helps the audience to feel the same emotions as the speaker.

When you’re faced with a blank page the next time you’re asked to give a talk or a presentation, we hope that some of these great speakers can inspire you. Ethos, pathos and logos were first advocated by Aristotle over 2,000 years ago. As these speakers demonstrate, the three artistic proofs still hold true today.

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Pitching the media for research impact

research impact Sarah Travers TV interview

UK Universities spend a lot of time and energy making sure that their research has positive benefits on society and their communities. Research impact matters to university researchers, so public engagement is important. If you’re a researcher working at a UK university and want your research to help shape public opinion, what can you do?

In our work, we’ve developed media engagement strategies to connect organisations with external audiences in everything they do. Along the way, we’ve learnt a few lessons about what works and what falls flat when you’re pitching your stories to busy journalists. Media engagement can be a pathway to research impact, so it’s an important tool in your arsenal. Here are five simple considerations to underpin your media engagement strategy:

Audiences

1. Identify the key audiences for your story. Who does your research benefit and what media outlets are they likely to use for their news? Consider a blend of local, regional and national newspapers and radio stations, regional TV news or national TV news and of course social media channels. Research impact begins and ends with the beneficiaries.

Media channels

2. Research your selected media channels and identify the journalists and correspondents interested in your subject area. Don’t worry about getting in touch.  Journalists are always on the lookout for good stories, and will probably be glad to get to know you. Your Communications Office can help you here – they’ve worked hard to build up relationships that can help you build a profile for your research.

Social media

3. No media engagement strategy would be complete without a social media plan. Will your key audiences be on Facebook? If your research appeals to a business audience, LinkedIn is an important channel. Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram can be used to appeal to different audiences as well. Twitter might be appropriate to reach policymakers and business leaders. And don’t forget, Twitter is a super tool for reaching out to journalists!

Keep it simple!

4. When writing your media releases or conducting an interview, try to avoid jargon. Every discipline builds up its own vocabulary but specialised language only creates a barrier between you and your audience. Journalists will retell your story for their readers or viewers, so make that easier for them by creating a concise, easily understood narrative. Remember Einstein’s dictum “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Collaborate

5. And don’t forget about the power of collaboration. Research impact in a mutually productive relationship can only help everyone. Liaise with your research partners to identify contacts and relationship they might have to pick up on your story and increase its reach. Make sure that they know in advance if you’re planning a media campaign – that way everyone can play their part to make sure your hard work finds a ready audience! Any coverage you achieve will raise awareness of their work, so everyone’s a winner. #giversgain

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Storytelling plots for a business presentation

TED Speaker Aimee Mullins

We run workshops in presentation skills for all kinds of audiences – managers, front-line staff, sales teams, volunteers and more.  If you’d like to make a presentation to inspire your audience to make a change, there is nothing more motivating than your own story.  And when it comes to telling your story, it’s always good to have a narrative to pique your listener’s interest.   We’ve realised that there are seven basic story structures that you can use to map out your story.  According to a 2004 book by journalist Christopher Booker, ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’, all stories ever told boil down to seven basic storytelling plots.. Read on for some examples to inspire you to tell your story.

The two most frequently used storytelling plots that we see in business presentations and speeches are The Quest, Voyage and Return, Rebirth and Overcoming the Monster. Watch some of the presentations below for ideas on how you could build these plots into your own presentation.


The Quest

Adele Doherty TEDx Speaker storytelling

Adele Doherty, TEDx speaker

The Quest refers to the relentless pursuit of a goal, in spite of set-backs and deterrents along to way. Oprah Winfrey, in her own Harvard commencement address, surprisingly shares what drove her during a period of failure in an otherwise glittering career. Center Parcs appealed to the struggling parent’s quest to spend time with their children with their ad for family breaks that aired in the months after Christmas 2015. A Quest story is about changing the frame and using your values to take on tough situations and triumph.  We remember fondly a story about Grandma’s teeth that began a journey for the presenter, Adele Doherty as she pursued a lifetime of helping those with dementia.

Voyage and return

This story is very common in children’s literature with stories like the Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is a lesson plot where the central character overcomes darkness, which may even be internal to themselves, and returns having learnt a lesson. Aimee Mullins TED Talk uses this structure in her compelling story of overcoming the amputation of her lower limbs to build a career as an athlete and model. In a Voyage story, the central character pushes themselves out of their comfort zone and learns something as a result.

Rebirth

This is the story of eternal redemption in Les Miserables, Scrooge and Despicable Me. The character falls under a ‘dark spell’, mistakes are made, lessons are learned, and the central character experiences a new beginning. This story type is used to great effect by tech companies positioning technology as a force for good in people’s lives. Witness the Nintendo Wii ad overcoming implicit objections about screen time in families.

TED Speaker Bryan Stephenson storytelling stories

TED Speaker, Bryan Stephenson

Overcoming the Monster

This is a classic story plot that’s been used to great effect in Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Erin Brockovich and James Bond. In a presentation, it can motivate change. It can be used to talk about overcoming obstacles that affect society like addiction, illness or debt, like this Save the Children video with Paul O’Grady. Or read how a make-believe competitor of a leading digital marketing company inspired sales success.  Bryan Stevenson uses a story from his childhood to illustrate the power of identity in his popular TED Talk.

 

 

 


We see and hear the other story types all around us in creative movies, advertisements and novels that change how we view the world.

Coming of Age or Rags to Riches

This is a lesson plot or a story that’s used to show how someone found their calling. Pretty Woman and the Ugly Duckling are two classic Coming of Age stories. JK Rowling’s Harvard commencement address takes an unexpected turn to carry an inspirational message.

Tragedy and Comedy

And finally, tragedy and comedy are the great approaches used to create messages that stick with audiences. Find out how we can all help to build a sustainable planet with little personal effort in this hilarious video from the Rainforest Alliance.

We hope these great examples of speeches and communications have helped you to think about how to craft your next story.