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How to be a brilliant lightning panellist

Lightning panels are a rapid-fire event format designed to introduce an audience to a topic that they may not know much about. As an expert speaker, you’re invited to sit on a panel to share your knowledge – in a short space of time.  A typical lightning panel of 3 or 4 speakers might only take 15 minutes.  Just like a regular panel event, a lightning panel has a moderator to keep the conversation flowing, and to find out more about your specialist area of expertise.  A lightning panel does not allow for the depth of opinion or discussion that a regular panel offers – instead you only have the opportunity to give your audience the key pieces of information they need to know about your subject area.

Lightning panels often take place as part of a larger event.  Event organisers love them because they’re a great way to help event attendees make the most of an event.  A lightning panel is a brilliant way to explain your subject in a short punchy format to get people’s interest. If public speaking isn’t your first love, the added bonus of a lightning panel is that it’s an easier way to explain your topic than delivering a prepared talk.  Since you’re sharing the stage with 2 or 3 other people, you’ll be speaking for less than 5 minutes in total.  Plus you have a moderator on hand to help you out if your mind goes blank or you forget what you meant to say!  Lightning panels have become popular at careers events, where students need to hear from a variety of experts to learn about how a particular industry works.

So if you’re asked to sit on a lightning panel, what should you do? Firstly, we think that you should say yes! What better way to attract students to your industry for example, than by giving them key information that you wish you knew at their age?  To prepare, connect with the panel moderator before the event so that you understand how they plan to run the session.  Usually they’ll ask you to introduce yourself, so you’ll need a short personal introduction or ‘elevator pitch’ ready to explain who you are, what you do and why your audience should be interested. After that, the moderator will ask you one or two questions to allow you to explain your job to your audience.  When you prep for this, think about the questions you’d ask about an industry you know nothing about….. Are there common misconceptions about your industry that you’d like to dispel?  What should students study to get into your industry?  What’s the thing you like best about your job?  What’s your most memorable experience?  Think about one thing you’d like your audience to take away and find the best stories from your job to illustrate that point.

Your lightning panel appearance is a great way to encourage students to consider your industry or your organisation for their next move.  It’s a light-touch way for you to inspire the next generation.  Good luck!

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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.