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*.

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