Saying More With Less

Saying More With Less

This is a Guest Article Written By Matt Goldberg!

During an interesting discussion with my “Grammar Geeks” online group (don’t ask, but I think it’s a term of endearment), the following quote from Thomas Jefferson was shared.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

Reacting to this quote from our immortal third President, a fellow Geek astutely noted, “He could have said, ‘The most valuable talent…’, thereby saving two words.” I daresay that he was correct.

My point is not to point out that even the greatest wordsmiths who ever lived are capable of minor errors (quite ironic in this case), but that there is great truth in Jefferson’s quote.

So, what does this have to do with us as speakers? Quite a lot, actually.

As I have learned from writing everything from articles to books to speeches, sometimes it’s much easier to write than to edit. There’s an old, borrowed quip that it takes a week or two to write a book, and a year or two to edit it. It’s hard to cut out words, especially if we feel some investment in them.  Yet, often it’s worth it to cut things close to the bone.

So, how do we know which is the meat, and which is the fat?

We don’t always, as this is more art than science, and the style of presentation and type of audience will help to dictate some guidelines. Still, I would offer these four quick rules of thumbs, so that we keep the meat – to connect with our audience – while leaving the fat behind.

  • Look to cut out words that don’t add any color, nuance or emotion to our stories.
  • Great communication is mostly about forging connections through resonant stories. Favor dialogue over narration; often, it’s more concise and more memorable.
  • Don’t try too hard to impress the audience. Also, avoid jargon, and any words that may actually create distance between you and your audience.
  • Don’t be afraid to use “fancy” words if they are descriptive. You don’t need to dumb your vocabulary down; just don’t rely upon a thesaurus to do your talking for you. In fact, I would argue that having a solid vocabulary may actually enable you to use fewer words.

Utilizing these four guidelines should help you craft presentations that really resonate with your audience. And, you may even feel a little more Jeffersonian in the process.

Learning From Lincoln

Learning From Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago.

One doesn’t need to be a history buff to recognize those opening six words, taken from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As an opening, it was a little more momentous than “It’s a pleasure to be here.” Of course, the occasion demanded something momentous and powerful. And Honest Abe stood and delivered.

November 19th will mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, arguably the most iconic speech in American history. One of the beauties of this address is its brevity. Our 16th president commemorated the fallen soldiers and reinforced the ideals of democracy in a mere 272 words.

Think about that. In 272 words – for most speakers, that is less than three minutes ­– Lincoln not only met the occasion, but created words that inspired our then-embattled nation and a world that was eagerly watching us. Yes, the Gettysburg Address was truly “of the people, by the people [and] for the people.”

In commemoration of Lincoln’s immortal words, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation is sponsoring a contest to see what any of us can express in just 272 words.

How can this help us as speakers?

Whether or not we choose to participate in this exercise, we should remember what Shakespeare’s Polonius said in Hamlet. “Brevity is the sole of wit.”

As a speaker, we always need to respect the audience’s time and intelligence. We can emulate Lincoln by being:

  • Precise in our choice of words, and
  • Concise in the amount of words we use

As speakers, it is up to us to make every moment impactful.

With this, I conclude my 272-word blog.

How To Break the Ice…Naturally

How To Break the Ice…Naturally

What is the best way to break the ice when presenting?

As one who enjoys coaching and mentoring others, I am very intrigued by the Icebreaker speech (a speech designed for your audience to get to know you. Usually the first speech you deliver to a group or club).

In an Icebreaker, one can sense the speaker’s confidence growing even as they are delivering their short address.

I have learned a lot about and from speakers during their Icebreakers, and also know that, in many cases, their journeys as presenters are just beginning at this point. It’s very cool…or should I say warm and toasty?

An Icebreaker can be organized chronologically or thematically—and there are so many creative ways to organize one thematically (around hobbies or interests, family dynamics, important milestones, etc.).

I look back at my own Icebreaker, and as I recall, it wasn’t as compelling as it might have been. It struck me as being kind of boring and dry. But hey, it was a start, and I did break the ice.

Of course, when breaking the ice, it shouldn’t be dry afterwards—if you forgive the pun and accept that image. The best Icebreakers I have heard have been creative, free of too much formality and genuine. When people make those connections with us, it tends to melt all of the ice away.

A second type of Icebreaker is an activity—perhaps at the beginning of a presentation or seminar—designed to break any tension and to help get everyone involved and “warmed up” in some way.

Recently, I visited a discussion thread on Linkedin about this type of Icebreaker. Strategies for how best to conduct these activities were shared and debated, while some participants were adamant that they never even use Icebreakers.

To the latter point, it brought to mind a seminar I attended earlier this year. It was conducted by two terrific speakers who are also top-of-the-notch trainers. It was well worth my time to attend, and I took many notes—viewing it as both a speaker who wanted a tip or two and as a facilitator/trainer who envisions myself leading more seminars on similar topics.

About 15 or so minutes (precious ones, if you will) were spent on an Icebreaker activity that—as I thought about it both then and now—just didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose. As opposed to the compelling nature of the rest of the presentation, the Icebreaker seemed flat and uninspired. More of a Timewaster than an Icebreaker.

This isn’t written to criticize the presenters who, on the whole, were wonderful. Indeed, they were wonderful because they were knowledgeable, generous with their time and advice, and warm. To my way of thinking, they didn’t need an Icebreaker activity for such a short program. Indeed, their credentials, and the topics discussed, were almost enough to (borrowing a phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire…thanks, Cameron Crowe) “have me at hello.” Rhetorically, not romantically, in this case.

So…what is the most common element of Icebreaker speeches and Icebreaker activities? They are both at their most effective when they are creative, genuine and resonant. There are many ways to connect with your audience, and it is easiest to do so when you are prepared, confident, open to others and…warm.

How to Successfully Break the Ice: There is no single way to deliver an Icebreaker speech or lead (if even needed) an Icebreaker activity.  What is the surest way to break the ice? With your warmth. Naturally!

Being Dynamic, Awesome and Yes, Humble

Being Dynamic, Awesome and Yes, Humble

What is the mindset of a successful, dynamic public speaker? For me, it all starts with the Four Hs.

Huh?  No, that’s not one of them…and luckily for me, neither is “hair.”  (See profile picture for evidence.)

To me, the Four Hs are Humility, Heart, Honesty and Humor. They are the pillars of what can, and I daresay should, guide you as you prepare your content, deliver your presentation and connect with your audience in a meaningful way.

Today, I’d like to focus on that first pillar—humility. It’s sometimes easy to say “be humble” or “show humility”, but what does that mean? Perhaps, this is one of those words that is easier to define by suggesting what it isn’t. Let me give that a try by having you picture the following scenario.

An actor or actress just wins the Academy Award and says they are humbled by receiving this great honor. Hmmm…did your Truth (commonly spelled B.S.) Detector just beep?

Now, I do not want to suggest that none of these recipients are truly humble, but the realist in me (I’m an irreverent humorist, but I’m not cynical) tells me they are just using a shopworn expression. Oh sure, some are overwhelmed by receiving an honor they have always dreamed of, and it can be (truly) humbling to also be in the company of people they have always looked up to and practically idolized. However, I tend to think that as many are mouthing those words, they are also thinking:

Humbled by this? Are you kidding me?! I’m about to party my butt off and milk this for all that it’s worth. For the rest of my life! Let’s see: What parties can I now get into and who can I, um, cavort with? Wow! This is awesome! How could they even think about giving this award to someone else? I know…

I will admit  I have never received an award of this importance, and I would love to see how truly humble I would be in this situation. And by all means, one should always celebrate his own accomplishments—as well as the successes of others. But saying that you are humble and truly showing humility can be two different things.

So, what does truly showing humility mean? I contend that humility is all about finding that balance between self-confidence (a great quality to have) and excessive pride or arrogance. Call the latter hubris—an “h” that is not one of those four pillars to build a presentation from.

Showing humility also does not mean you need to humiliate yourself, or be subject to humiliation from others. Not at all. And, you also should not have to eat humble pie. I prefer pumpkin pie, and also realize if I don’t come off as, well, a cocky jerk, that I’ll never have to ingest a serving of humble pie, anyway. This is good, because in truth, I also love sweet potato pie…

In what ways can we keep humility in mind as we prepare content, deliver our speech and try to connect with our audience in a dynamic way?

1.  Be Memorable, But Don’t Aim for Perfection

Since nobody in the audience should be demanding perfection from you, don’t try too hard to impress the audience with your credentials, achievements and, well, your perfect self. Replace some of your hubris and arrogance with some old-fashioned humility.

Let me be clear: Some of us are perfectionists, and that drive may serve us well. In baseball, one can pitch (though it’s exceedingly rare) a perfect game, and in bowling, one can roll the same.  One can quibble if these are really perfect performances, but the scoreboards tell us that they are.

I have heard a lot of great speeches, but I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect speech. When it comes to movies, books, songs and anything art-related, such as speeches, there is no scoreboard, per se; how perfect something is cannot be measured. Instead of trying to attain the immeasurable, prepare to deliver something that will resonate with and move your audience. It all starts with compelling content.

2. Be Proud of Your Credentials, But Not Boastful

Don’t be afraid to provide whoever introduces you with your credentials; it’s nice for the audience to be reassured that they are in good hands. But as with almost all things, there is a line between reassuring the crowd and being (overly) boastful. Find that balance, but if you err, do it on the side of humility.

3. Give Credit to Others

When telling stories or anecdotes, you should be humble enough to let others be the heroes. We know you’re awesome; you don’t have to scream your awesomeness from the mountaintops, or lectern. 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix advises speakers to check their (written) speeches for the I/You ratio. There should be more “You” than “I”. Think about it.

4. Be Secure Enough To Poke Fun at Yourself

One of my Four Hs is Humor, and we will explore that in a future article. Essentially, I encourage you to be gentle in your humor, and down-to-earth enough to be able to poke fun at yourself. Self-deprecation, in the right measure, can also help you connect with your audience.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit That You Don’t Have all the Answers

If somebody asks you a question, and you are stumped by it, that is okay. Don’t get angry at the person who asks you the question, and don’t give him or her a false answer to try to mollify them. (Or yourself, for that matter.)  Admit that you don’t have the answer at that moment; you can always, if practical, follow up with them at more depth after the event. Just be honest, and genuine. By that time, you shouldn’t be wearing your cloak of perfectionism, anyway.

And by that time, you should have already connected with those in your audience, in part by displaying true humility and appreciation.

How to be a (Dynamic) Speaker:  Remember the 4 Hs, with an emphasis on being humble—and doing so in the right measure. The right mindset will help you in all areas: preparing your content, delivering your speech and connecting with your audience.

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