5 Tips to a Better Talk

What’s the secret to creating a great talk? Follow the grandma rule, remember to ‘stick and click’ and don’t hesitate to repeat your top messages.

I made a mistake last month, (ok, probably more than one), but one that I want to talk about here. I gave a talk at a local company about my new book that kinda bombed. Ouch.

Now that a few weeks have passed, I can look back with a little perspective and I know what I did wrong and sadly, it’s a mistake I’ve made before. I tried to give my audience the equivalent of a PhD on my topic. In an hour.

You can see why it didn’t work out so well. I should know better.

Why did it happen that way? Perhaps I got a little nervous because I knew that there were going to be several scientists in the room who already had a PhD. Perhaps I got wrapped up in the experts’ dilemma — knowing so much about a topic you can’t teach others what you know. Perhaps it was the fear that someone might question whether I’m even an expert in my topic at all — even though, of course, I am.

It was probably a combination of all of those. But what counts now is if I can step back and start over. If I can go back and revamp my talk completely so it doesn’t happen again. If I can focus on finding the core essence of my message so I can share that.

Just that.

Not every story and every slide and every nuance and every detail.

Having an audience is a gift and I never want to take that gift for granted. When I can remember that I am there in service to that audience and not in service to selling books or showing how much of an expert I am or sharing every single thing I know, then I will gain their ear…as well as their hearts and minds.

I am on a mission to create more thought leaders in the world – more people who are willing to step out and claim their expertise and join the broader conversation. More people who see themselves as change makers and are empowered to make that change happen. I can’t do that if no one is listening.

Next time you are preparing to be in front of an audience, here are a few things to think about:

5 Tips to a Better Talk

Less and Less is So Much More: What are the core elements and core takeaways from this talk? Can you write them on an index card? If not, perhaps it’s time to rethink, distill, hone, reframe and refocus to give people the key elements that will inspire.
Stick and Click: Are there one or two easy-to-remember phrases or concepts in your talk that will help your ideas stick and click?
Tell Your Truth: I call this the Brene Brown rule – the value of vulnerability. It’s not about publicly hanging out all your dirty laundry but are you showing up as your authentic self?
Repetition is Not a Bad Word: You may think you’ve already said it before, but just because you’ve repeated it doesn’t mean others heard or remembered it. That takes repetition.
* Follow The Grandma Rule: Would someone (like your grandmother) who knows nothing about your topic be able to follow what you’re saying? If not, how can you ‘uncomplexify‘ what you’re talking about?

Want a really difficult challenge that may help you break through?

Prepare an Ignite version of your talk: 5 minutes, 20 slides and the slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. The discipline of that format will give you great practice for creating a top notch talk.

Write to Change the World

Is it time to claim your expertise, step into the spotlight and join the conversation?

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an excellent one-day training, “Write to Change the World” from the folks at the OpEd Project. Katie Orenstein and her team are on a mission to get more women’s voices onto the OpEd pages and sites like the Huffington Post and Wikipedia.

This training teaches how to:

  •  make a clear and well-reasoned argument;
  •  gracefully overcome other’s objections to your point of view;
  •  get placement in the major media outlets (most outlets have their criteria right on their web pages).

But perhaps more important than the skills training, they also help you answer the questions:

  1. Am I ready to ‘claim’ my expertise – even in the face of naysayers?
  2. Am I willing to step into the spotlight – NOW?

What we know is that some people hold themselves back from the spotlight because they believe they are too young, or too old, too new in their field of expertise or too unsure that they have a unique point of view. Others believe it will require another degree for them to achieve ‘expert’ status.

The OpEd training is all about helping participants let go of these fears and uncertainties and understand that they are ‘enough’ right now. This often requires a major mindset shift.

Make a Mindset Shift

Carol Dweck of Stanford University is the author of the 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has done a lot of research on why many have so much trouble believing that they are ready.

“People generally hold one of two beliefs about their abilities. People with a “fixed” mind-set – “I am smart” or “I am athletic” – believe their intelligence or abilities are innate, unalterable traits. A fixed mind-set can … make challenging situations threatening to self-image. Conversely, people with a “growth” mind-set – “I can get better with practice” – believe that they can cultivate needed skills …  through focused effort. They are more equipped to handle setbacks and know that goals are attainable through hard work.”* 

Fortunately, Dweck assures us that a fixed mindset can be changed – often just by teaching people about the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset.

Orenstein and her team are teaching just that – through experiential exercises that include ‘claiming’ your expertise and defending your argument to others. A great way to reset your own mindset!

Just because you’re not ready to write an OpEd doesn’t mean that you have a fixed mindset. That is not what I’m suggesting.

There are many different reasons that you might not step into the spotlight or claim your expertise.

  • Some hold themselves back because they are concerned they will be seen as bragging or ‘too big for their britches’. But, as author, speaker and investor Guy Kawasaki said in a recent online conversation with Rafe Needleman, “If you are adding value, is that bragging? No.”
  • Others fear they will not find support from their boss or their organization. Yet, done well, thought leadership can bring a huge win-win for organizations. Avinash Kaushik began his blog about digital analytics, Occam’s Razor, when he was an individual contributor at Intuit. (He’s now the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google.) Over time, as he grew his following and his team, the Intuit HR group let him know that his online fame made their job easier as everyone wanted to come and work for him. Intuit also became more widely respected because of Kaushik’s thought leadership.
  • Still others worry that what they know, they learned from others – they shouldn’t claim a unique set of expertise. Yet, often it’s how you applied what you learned that is what others want to know. Margarita Baggett, MSN, RN, Chief Nursing Officer at UC San Diego Medical Center is one of the rare nurse leaders who has been a part of successfully implementing the Magnet Recognition Program® Framework at two hospitals. (The Magnet Recognition Program Framework is designed to improve the quality of nursing in a hospital and implementation is usually a multi-year effort.) As a result, she has developed a unique set of best practices that others are eager to learn as they make their own journey to Magnet recognition. She is a regular speaker at industry conferences to share her lessons learned.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

As you look forward to the year ahead — and move forward on your own journey from leader to thought leader – what can you do to: – cultivate a growth mindset:

  • Create more value for your industry or your organization by sharing what you know;
  • Share your best practices and lessons learned?

In the meantime, the OpEd Project is hosting many more trainings (find the dates here) across the country and at at least 6 different universities. Sign up today.

Learn more about Carol Dweck here and here*.

How Do I Find My Presumptive Bravado?

When is it okay to declare yourself an expert? How do you gain the needed confidence to own your role as a key influencer in your niche?


“Good to hear from you, Roberta, how’s the job hunt coming along?” I asked my childhood friend when she called me recently from Ohio.

“Well, it’s pretty certain that we’re going to need to leave Ohio if I want to find my next position,” she replied.

“Why is that?” I inquired.

“Well, the jobs I see listed here in Ohio are jobs I can do, but every job I see listed in New York, Boston or DC are jobs I would be excited to do, so those are what I’m pursuing,” Roberta admitted.

“What if instead of looking for a job, you pursued a thought leadership strategy that brought folks to you?” I asked.

“What would that look like?” she asked.

“What if you started a blog, or guest blogged, tweeted or wrote a few columns or whitepapers about what you’re an expert in?” I suggested.

“I’ve thought of that, but I’m not sure that I would have enough to say that I could write something every day,” she replied. “Besides, I have to admit, I’m not always comfortable putting myself in the ‘expert’ category – I either think there are lots of other folks who know what I know, or I think that what I know is pretty obvious.”

“Are there people interested in hiring you for your expertise?” I asked.

“Yes,” she agreed.

“And don’t you have a masters degree in your field of specialty?”

“Well, yes.”

“And you’ve worked in your field for a long time?”

“About 25 years,” she admitted.

“It’s probably okay to declare yourself an expert at this point,” I said with a laugh.

Our conversation went on to other topics, but when I got off the phone, I was wondering to myself why we do that – why are we not ready to declare ourselves experts when, to the outside world, we have already arrived?

Don’t Be a No Show

Courtney Stanton, a project manager at a video game company in Boston identified this phenomenon as all but ubiquitous among the women in her industry when she put together the No Show Conference, a brand new game developer conference, and reached out to others in her industry to participate.

“When I’d talk to men about the conference” she wrote in her blog post following the event, “And ask[ed] if they felt like they had an idea to submit for a talk, they’d *always* start brainstorming on the spot. I’m not generalizing — every guy I talked to about speaking was able to come up with an idea, or multiple ideas, right away…and yet, overwhelmingly the women I talked to with the same pitch deferred with a, “well, but I’m not an expert on anything,” or “I wouldn’t know what to submit,” or “yes but I’m not a *lead* [title], so you should talk to my boss and see if he’d want to present.”

When my friends at the National Women’s Business Council and I started the first venture conference for women,Springboard, we saw some of that same behavior – we would speak to great women entrepreneurs and recommend they present at the conference, but some would demur and we found ourselves having to convince obviously qualified CEOs and founders to pitch.

Find Your Presumptive Bravado

Patti Smith, the 70’s rock legend who opened the door for Madonna and Lady Gaga, was asked for her secret to success, and she replied, “There was something in me, some kind of presumptive bravado that told me that, ‘I could do that.’” (emphasis mine)

So what does it take to have, (or encourage others to have), presumptive bravado? External validation, nomination and support, including champions and fairy godmothers.

External Validation 

Credentials, awards, a book contract, an invitation to speak or present – often it is the external designation that can overcome the inner critic. It was certainly true that when Wiley accepted my book proposal, I could no longer doubt that I could write a book. It became an imperative.

Nomination

In politics, and in venture forums, it helps to have others nominating or designating candidates. When we ran the first Springboard conference, we asked bankers, lawyers, accountants and early stage investors to nominate women to present at the event. This helped us to uncover a number of folks who wouldn’t have heard about or otherwise chose to present.

Support 

What Courtney found when organizing the No Show Conference and what we found when organizing Springboard, was that you need to offer potential presenters mentoring, practice sessions, and one-on-one slide deck reviews with people who have presented before at these sorts of events. Support looks different in every situation but is critical to overcome the common ‘I can’t do this’ thinking.

Champions & Fairy Godmothers 

Unfortunately, the world is not always set up with the support we are looking for. You may not have any idea who can nominate you or you may not have any relevant credentials for what you’re attempting to do. If so, finding your presumptive bravado might involve designating a friend or colleague who you can rely on to say ‘yes, go for it’ every time you get an opportunity.

For me, it is my friend and mentor Sam Horn, who always stands as my champion, who says ‘You can do this, I believe in you,’ when I get mired in doubts about the value of what I have to say or  hesitate in writing the book now under contract.

Who can be your champion? Who can stand by your side with the cheerleader pom poms and keep you going?

One small caveat here – Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx, (who turned $5000 into a billion dollar company) would advise that we don’t look for that external validation from a family member or really close friend, because they are often too protective, and may discourage us from taking a risk in case it might not work out.

This happened recently with a woman entrepreneur I am advising. She went to one of her closest friends to share her plans to leave her corporate job and start a new business and the friend spent an hour over lunch telling her not to take the risk. It took me several hours over the next month to undo that advice. If you must share your idea close to home, start the conversation by saying something like… ‘I know you’re going to be worried about what I’m about to tell you, but what I need from you right now is support, not doubts.’ Ask them to think of themselves as your fairy godmother and think about what they can do to produce the pumpkin, mice or glass slippers to make your idea possible.



Go for it!

As my friend Eunice Azzani always said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!”

The time is now – to find your own presumptive bravado and begin your own thought leadership. You do have something to say – I know you do. Let me be the first to tell you ‘I believe in you – you can do this.’ Start today!

Sometimes It’s Just Right

Keep looking, you’ll eventually find your tribe. And when you do, you’ll know it.

Do you ever feel like you’ve spent your whole life looking for that place you feel at home almost immediately? That place where you are surrounded by other people who are just as odd, just as different or just as uniquely wonderful as you are? I have.

And the gift is that I have finally found them – I have found my ‘peeps’, my tribe, the ones who are just as outgoing, just as talkative, just as interested in the world as I am. And they are all gathered in July 2012 at the National Speakers Association (NSA) Conference in Indianapolis. Wow.

Throughout my career, I have often felt like Goldilocks…first I tried technology, and that bed was just too soft, then I tried non-profit, and that bed was just too hard, but now I’ve found professional speaking and for once the bed and the career choice feels JUST RIGHT…

Have you ever felt that way, like you’re looking for your tribe? My advice? Keep looking. I was many years into my career before I found my tribe at NSA. And at first, I wasn’t even sure they were my tribe…

Keep Looking

I’d only been a member of NSA for a few years when I attended my first conference in 2010. At the time, I knew only two or three other speakers and I have to admit the first national conference was a bit overwhelming. There they were, all these amazing presenters up on the main stage sharing their astonishing stories – of heartbreak and hardship, of celebration and competition, of breakthroughs and breakdowns – and I thought — I can never be like them. Will I ever be able to craft a story that’s anywhere near as good as what I was hearing hour after hour, day after day?

Since then, I’ve realized that the lesson I needed to take away from that weekend was not CAN I ever be that good, but did I WANT to be that good, and I realized the answer was a resounding YES.

When I worked in technology and I went to the annual MacWorld or CES or Comdexand I saw the presenters up on the main stage, I never wanted to be like them. I just didn’t care enough about shipping another cool technology product out the door.

Other people loved it, but I didn’t.

When I founded and ran a non-profit, the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, (nowWatermark) it was, indeed, the very best job I’d ever had, until it wasn’t. Running a non-profit is the hardest thing I hope I ever have to do, particularly when all the money dries up and you are left having to lay people off and shut down offices and you watch all the many businesses you helped get funding also shut down one by one.

Again, other people loved that world, but I didn’t.

And then, I met my mentor Sam Horn, who said to me, “You know Denise, they pay speakers.” That was the day that changed my life. I had been speaking for years by that time, but I’d never been paid a dime.

Today, only a few years later, I am a professional speaker, coach and consultant and I get paid to do something I really, truly love, which is tell stories and have an impact on other people that goes far beyond providing them another software product, or creating another networking event or all the other things I’ve been doing all these years.

I get a chance to change lives. And, for once, that feels JUST RIGHT.

Have you been feeling like you don’t really fit? Have you been trying to re-size your wonderfully circular self into an awfully square hole? Is it time to branch out and find out where you really belong?

I invite you to keep looking until you find the place that’s JUST RIGHT for you — even if it means trying lots of different avenues before you find just the right path for you. You’ll be glad you did.

And if we can help, as always, please give us a call.

Meanwhile, check out a few of the videos of some of the speakers who presented –Vernice Armour – Flygirl – is always one of my favorites. (She’s also got an amazing website.) Here’s another session that was interesting – Toni Newman.

Here I am in Indianapolis!

And I can’t wait for my next NSA Conference!

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