Saturday, July 31, 2010

Improv Helps You Stay in the Moment & Listen

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

I've often said that improv can teach us many things, including how to be truly in the moment and focus on listening to someone.

Professional speaker and sales consultant Marty Mercer has written a great blog post that explains how these improv skills helped him teach a more effective fitness class -- and how it can help you be a more successful saleperson.

I met Marty last week at the National Speakers Association (NSA) Convention in Orlando.  He attended my session, Improv Comedy Rules! Applying the 5 Rules of Improv Comedy to Make Your Presentations More Powerful and Engaging.

Check out his post and his compelling story at

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Face Your Public Speaking Fears

by Gilda Bonanno

If you're like most people on the planet, you have fears. And like many people, you may be afraid of speaking in public. Whether it's a mind-numbing, knee-knocking, stomach-churning fear, or a milder, less invasive, I'd-rather-not-be-doing-this fear, it can get in the way of your professional success and your personal growth.

In my presentation skills classes, I ask participants to identify their fears. Responses include what you might expect - for example, "I'm afraid my mind will go blank" and "I'm afraid I'll lose my place." Next, I ask the crucial question, "And then what will happen?"

The responses always amaze me. When we dig deeply into that fear, what began as "I'm afraid my mind will go blank" or "I'm afraid I'll lose my place" ends up as "and then I'll look stupid in front of my boss, and then I'll get fired, and then I'll lose my house, and then my spouse will leave me, and then the dog will run away."

No wonder you don't want to give that presentation - you fear that your entire life is riding on it! How likely is it that all those terrible things will happen, as a result of this one presentation? Very unlikely!

Yet the fact that someone is worrying about them shows how powerful fear can be and how debilitating. Once you identify it, however, you can subject it to logic (does this fear really make sense?) and probability (what are the odds these awful things will happen?) and start to weaken its power over you.

Franklin Roosevelt said it best in his first Inaugural Address in 1933, when the United States was in the grip of the Great Depression: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." When I worked as an archivist at the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library, I had the opportunity to hold the actual copy of that speech in my hand and those words have stayed with me.

And everything that we've discussed here about the power of fear is applicable to all aspects of our lives, even beyond public speaking - we all have things that we avoid doing out of fear. These are things that we should and could do, like looking for a better job, taking an exercise class or getting a handle on our finances.

Think about it - what would you do if you weren't afraid? How is fear paralyzing your efforts to convert retreat into advance?

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Sunday, July 25, 2010

PowerPoint for The Gettysburg Address?

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

What if Abraham Lincoln had used PowerPoint to deliver his Gettysburg address?  Computer scientist Peter Norvig has created slides that Lincoln could have used to deliver his famous speech, which probably would not have been famous had he used slides!

Yes, Norvig's slides make us laugh... but they also demonstrate the point that slides are not always necessary - and sometimes, they can detract from your message.

Check out the slides at

And the next time you have to give a presentation, think about whether slides are really necessary - will they make your presentation better or worse?

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Monday, July 19, 2010

10 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Here are 10 tips to improve your public speaking skills, whether you are presenting at work, giving a toast at a wedding or receiving an award.

1. Have a Message
What is the one thing that you want the audience to remember from your presentation? Put it into one sentence and you have your message – the whole point. Say it clearly and repeat it so the audience remembers it. And make sure that every example, story and statistic relates to it.

2. Focus on Your Audience
Why should the audience care about what you are saying? Think about your message from the audience's point of view and then target your presentation to their needs. Remember, it's not all about you – it's about them.

3. Organize Your Material
One of the easiest ways to improve your presentation skills is to organize your material clearly. Your presentation should have an introduction, body and conclusion. The body, or main part of your presentation, should consist of related material arranged according to some organizational principle, such as a number of points, chronology, pros and cons, etc. Be sure to have a clear transition from one section of the body to the next.

4. Slides May Not Be Necessary
Too many presentations are full of crowded, hard-to-read slides with too much disorganized information thrown onto them. Before you create slides, think about whether they're really necessary. How will slides make your presentation better? You are the presentation and the slides are just the visual aid.

5. Watch Your Time
One of my clients was scheduled to speak at a retirement dinner for a colleague. The first speaker went over his allotted time limit by twenty minutes, which bored the audience and left my client with very little time to present. Never go over your time limit. No one will complain if you finish a few minutes early but things go downhill very fast once you go one minute beyond your time limit.

6. Make Eye Contact
When you're speaking, make eye contact with everyone in the audience – or if it’s a very large group, with all sections of the audience. It helps you connect to the audience, engage them and gauge their reaction. Hold eye contact for three to give seconds and then move onto another person.

7. Use Non-Verbals
Non-verbal communication includes elements such as facial expression, voice, eye contact, gestures, posture and movement. The key is for your non-verbals to match the message you are conveying or it will confuse the audience and distract from your message. So if you want to convey a message with confidence, stand up straight with your shoulders back and your weight evenly distribute on both feet, smile, make eye contact with the audience and speak in a loud, clear voice.

8. Smile
Facial expressions fall under non-verbals but a smile deserves its own tip. Smiling can relax you, which in turn, can relax the audience and help you be more engaging. In most public speaking situations, a smile is appropriate, but nerves or a misplaced sense of seriousness prevent speakers from smiling; instead, they look gloomy or bored. (Exceptions to the smile-is-appropriate rule would include, for example, announcing layoffs.)

9. Be Confident
If you are nervous about public speaking, join the club – Toastmasters, that is. Toastmasters International is an organization which helps thousands of people in clubs around the world improve their public speaking skills through regular meetings of prepared and extemporaneous speeches. The practice and the feedback that you'll receive will help you overcome your fear.

10. Practice
There is no substitute for practice. If you're not used to public speaking, it's going to be almost impossible to be as good as you could be without practice. How should you practice? Say the words out loud, in as close to the real environment as possible, with particular focus on your opening, closing and key points. It's also helpful to record yourself or get feedback from trusted colleagues.

Public speaking is a skill that you can practice and improve. Following these 10 tips will help you learn to be a more effective speaker.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Self-Confidence is a Crucial Element in Public Speaking Success

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Self-confidence is a crucial element in public speaking success. You are not speaking just to hear yourself talk – you are speaking because you have something to say. Before you can command the attention of your audience, you have to believe that you have a message that is worth listening to and that you have the ability to communicate it effectively. If you don't believe it, your audience will not believe it.

Self-confidence will be helpful, especially in those moments when you forget what you were going to say, someone asks an unanticipated question or something unexpected happens, like the projector lamp blows out or your laptop battery dies. You have to decide quickly what to say next and being self-confident allows you to access all of your problem-solving brainpower. A lack of self-confidence will clog your brain with negative thoughts ("why didn't I think of that? I'm an idiot!"), block your problem-solving abilities and lead you to self-destruct under the pressure.

As you build your public speaking self-confidence, there are three questions to consider:

1. What is the negative voice in your head telling you right before speak in front of a group?
I call this voice the "Joy-Sucker" because for most coaching clients I work with, it's a nasty and negative voice that sucks the joy out of work and life. It says things like "who do you think you are?" and "no one wants to listen to you." Instead of allowing the Joy-Sucker to be the only channel playing on your internal radio station, you have to change the channel and replace the Joy-Sucker with a mantra, a positive phrase that you can repeat to boost your confidence. A mantra could be something like "you can do it" or "you have something worth saying." With time and practice, you will begin to believe it and it becomes loud enough to automatically drown out your negative Joy-Sucker.

2. What advice would you give a child or friend in a similar situation?
Would you say, "you're an idiot, no one will listen to you" or "wow, you're going to fail"? No, of course not! You would be supportive and encouraging – and help them build their self-confidence through practice, feedback and positive speaking experiences. If you would never dare say these negative words to a child or friend, then why are you saying them to yourself? Why not treat yourself with the same care and gentleness that you use with others?

3. What are you really afraid of?
For many people who fear public speaking, what they're really afraid of is totally out of proportion to the actual situation. For example, you think, "First I'll give a bad five-minute presentation, then everyone will laugh at me and then I'll get fired – and be publically humiliated." Stop and think about how likely that is to happen. And even if the very unlikely worst case scenario did happen, could you deal with it and survive? Probably. Knowing that you could deal with it and survive should help you reduce the power of your fear.

Building public speaking self-confidence takes time and practice, but you can do it. You have to work on your public speaking skills, believe you can be successful even before you experience success and as you experience success, continue to build your skills in a reinforcing positive loop.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What Should I Do With My Hands When Presenting?

by Gilda Bonanno

"What should I do with my hands when I'm presenting?" is a common question that I hear when I'm teaching public speaking. Your hands form an important part of your non-verbal communication, or body language, and can help you convey confidence and communicate more effectively to your audience.

Here are 5 tips for what to do with your hands:

1. Be Aware of What Your Hands Are Doing
The first step in preventing your hands from distracting your audience is to become conscious of what your hands are doing. Are you cracking your knuckles, playing with your pen or twisting your note cards? I've seen speakers do each of these actions and they usually don't realize they're doing it. Focus on your hands while practicing, watch yourself on video or ask for feedback from a trusted colleague.

2. Use the "Neutral Position"
When not gesturing, your hands should be in the neutral position – hanging loosely at your sides. They should not be jammed in your pockets, folded across your chest or clasped behind your back.

3. Keep Your Hands Empty
There is no need to hold a pen, rubber band or paper clip while speaking. It's easier and less distracting to gesture with empty hands. If you must hold your notes, the PowerPoint remote or a microphone, refer to point #1 and be aware of what your hands are doing with that item.

4. Relax Your Hands
I've seen speakers clench their hands into fists or grip the sides of the podium, neither of which conveys a relaxed confidence. Make sure that any nervousness or anxiety you may be feeling is not expressed by your hands.

5. Gesture to Support Your Words
Simple, natural gestures will support and visually illustrate your words. For example, use your hands to show distance traveled or open both arms wide to show that you are welcoming the audience.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cut Out Your Sloppy Language When Presenting

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Language is a tool that helps you communicate your message to your audience. Sloppy and imprecise language, however, can interfere with your communication. Here are six tips for cutting out sloppy language when giving a presentation:

1. Mind your grammar
You don't have to be a grammarian to follow basic grammar rules. I'm not talking about split infinitives or dangling participles, but basic grammar like verb tenses and pronoun usage. Avoid grammar mistakes such as, "we was going" or "him and me went." Check out for grammar rules for writing that are also applicable for speaking.

2. "We" vs. "They"
If you are a part of a group or business and you are referring to the members of that group or business, demonstrate that you're part of the team by using "we" rather than "they." I've heard employees say, "they have to achieve these goals" when referring to their own company. Using "they" makes it sound like you're not a team player and that you don't believe you can contribute to the success. If it doesn't come naturally to think of yourself as "we" and part of the group, then practice saying (and believing) it.

3. Get rid of the weak, minimizing words
Words like "sorta," "just," or "kinda" minimize the impact of your message. And stringing a few of them together, as in, "I'm just gonna discuss" or "it's just kinda like" makes it worse. Instead, use definitive, strong, precise phrases like, "I will discuss" or "it is."

4. Cut out the fillers
Words like "um," "ah," and "you know" become verbal crutches and overusing them can make you sound like you're unsure of what to say next. Instead of using filler words, pause and take a breath – and then move on to your next words.

5. Beware the throwaways
"Throwaways" are the words or phrases that come out of your mouth when your brain has already moved onto the next sentence. Examples include phrases like "and that kind of stuff" and "and all the rest of it." Either list out specifically what you mean, or have a deliberate end to the sentence rather than using a throwaway and trailing off…

6. Do you really mean that?
Think about the words you're saying – their meaning and how can they be interpreted. I once heard a healthcare company manager present to senior leadership at his company and say, "as people become more health conscious, it could be detrimental to us." Several executives cringed. I don't think he really meant to indicate that business and life would be better if people were less health conscious and thus, became sicker, but that's how it sounded. He could have rephrased the sentence so it didn't sound like the company was eager for people to get sick. What if he had said that to the shareholders or to the public?

To become conscious of the words that you're saying, practice, record yourself and get feedback from someone. You can learn to avoid the sloppy language that interferes with your ability to communicate your message and prevents your audience from understanding what you want to say.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

I think we should read the historical documents upon which our nation was founded... lest we forget the principles we aspire to as a nation. In honor of Independence Day on July 4, here is the Declaration of Independence...

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — [emphasis mine] That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Read the rest of the Declaration of Independence at

Gilda Bonanno's blog