Saturday, May 27, 2017

5 FAQs About How to Use Eye Contact

1)    Why should I use eye contact?
It helps you connect to the audience, no matter how big or small.  Whether you're speaking to an audience of four or four thousand, it can help to create a one-on-one communication experience for each audience member.  It also demonstrates your confidence and proves that the information resides in your head, not in your notes or on the slides.  And it helps you get feedback on how people are reacting to your presentation. 

2)    How long should I look at each person?
Approximately 5 seconds, which is about the time it takes to complete a thought. Then move on to another person.  Avoid darting your eyes around the room, trying look at everyone at the same time.  

3)    What if I'm uncomfortable looking at people's eyes?
It is very intimate to look in someone's eye; remember the old adage, "the eyes are the window to the soul"? If you're uncomfortable looking directly into their eyes, you can start by looking right above their eyes, at their eyebrows. The difference won't be obvious to them and as you practice and get more comfortable, you can try looking them straight in the eye.

4)    What if someone in the audience is uncomfortable with my looking at them? 
He or she can choose to look away. If someone repeatedly looks away, don't take it personally.  Just glance over him or her on your way to focusing on someone else.

5)    Who should I look at in the audience?
Your goal is to look at everyone and not ignore any section or person.  You want to communicate that each person in the audience is important so don't focus only on the highest-ranking person in the room or the one friendly face.  And since no one should be able to predict where you will look next, avoid what I call "tennis eyes," where you move your eyes from one side of the room to the other in a repetitive pattern, as if you were watching a tennis match.  

With practice, you'll be able to use eye contact with ease and convey your message to your audience with confidence.  

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

3 Tips for Being an Effective Charity Spokesperson

Recently, I have attended several events where people from well-known charities have spoken to ask for money or volunteers.  One of the presenters asked me how she could improve her presentation.  So I developed three quick tips that could help her become a more effective charity spokesperson.  (And even if you're not in that role, these tips can help your presentations be more compelling and clear.) 

1.    Be selective with statistics.  One charity spokesperson used at least twenty statistics in a five- minute presentation.  The result was that the audience was overwhelmed and confused; there were too many statistics to remember and it was not clear how they related to each other or the presenter's overall message.  Instead, use only a handful of statistics that are the most impactful and most relevant to your audience.  For example, if you're asking for large donations, tell the audience the breakdown of how each dollar is spent. 

2.    Use stories. Another spokesperson shared a moving story of how he lost a family member to the disease for which the charity was working to find a cure.  Even if you don't have a personal story of your own to share, tell a story representative of a typical client that your charity helps.  The story should be true, short and relevant to your message. 

3.    Be clear about your message.  What is the call to action? Do you want the audience to donate money, volunteer time or do something else? Don't leave them guessing as to how they can help.  Mention your message at the beginning of your presentation, give examples or share stories that relate to it during your presentation and then remind the audience of it at the end of your presentation.  Make it easy for them to remember. 

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Stop the Negative Self-Talk When Presenting

When I work with people who are nervous about public speaking, I ask them to describe the voice they hear in their heads when they have to give a presentation.  Usually, they describe it as a negative voice saying things like:
  • "Don't mess up!"
  • "Who do you think you are?"
  • "You're gonna make a fool of yourself!"

Sound familiar? Does the voice in your head sound like this? I call this voice the "Joy-Sucker" because it sucks the joy out of your work and your life. 

Now imagine a child comes to you and says, "I'm scared about the dance recital [or the baseball game or the school play]."  Would you say: 
  • "Don't mess up!"
  • "Who do you think you are?"
  • "You're gonna make a fool of yourself!"
Never! Instead, you would be supportive, encouraging and positive – you would help him or her practice and prepare.

Now imagine a good friend says to you, "I'm so nervous about that big presentation I have to give next week." Would you say:
  • "Don't mess up!"
  • "Who do you think you are?"
  • "You're gonna make a fool of yourself!"
Never! You would be supportive, encouraging and positive.  You would say:
  • "It will be ok."
  • "They selected you to present because you know your stuff."
  • "I'll help you practice."
So why do you think it's ok to speak to yourself with negative, critical words that you would never say to a child or a friend?

The next time you start spewing negatives at yourself before you have to present, think of the helpful and supportive words you would say to a child or a friend – and then use them on yourself. 

Replacing your negative self-talk with positive self-talk will help you feel more confident and allow you to access your knowledge and experience so you can be a more effective presenter.

(For more on how to develop a positive mantra to replace the Joy-Sucker voice, see

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Cut Out Your Sloppy Language When Presenting

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 eliminating sloppy language:

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 Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s blog 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 say to senior leadership at his company, "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.

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Public Speaking Takes More Than You Think

Public speaking is a skill that can be improved with practice over time... and sometimes, it takes more than you think:

1. Speak louder than you think you need to

2. Speak slower than you think you have to

3. Edit your content more than you think is required

4. Organize your material more clearly than you think you should

5. Use more relevant, engaging stories than you think you need to

6. Make the font on your slides larger than you think is necessary

7. Practice more than you think is needed

8. Spend more time preparing than you think you have to

9. Be more confident than you think you are

10. Present better than you think you are capable of

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dear Mom, I Love You

In honor of Mother’s Day today, here is my annual reprint of the blog post I wrote about all the wonderful things I learned from my Mom:

Snacking is good.  Mom loves to snack and had a simple rule for my brother and I when we were growing up: as long as you brush your teeth, it's ok to eat potato chips, ice cream and chocolate.  When we played outside, Mom would call us in to give us ice cream.  And during our marathon Scrabble sessions, there was always a snack break or two.  No snacks were forbidden and no food was "evil," so we developed a healthy relationship with food.  And all that teeth-brushing must have worked because I have never had a cavity in my life! 

Talking to strangers is ok.  Mom talks to anyone, especially in the grocery store.  All it takes to start a conversation is an observation about the size of the iceberg lettuce or shared commiseration about the long checkout line—and then the conversation is off and running.  Today it would be called "networking."

Dollars are stretchable.  Growing up, we did not have a lot of money.  Mom managed to keep a family of four afloat on very, very little money.  She did this by working hard and spending only on necessities.  And even when we didn't have a lot, she enjoyed volunteering at church to make food baskets for people who had less than we did.  She made sacrifices for us; in fact, I don't recall her ever buying anything for herself.  We often joke that we should send her to Washington, D.C. to help the government balance the budget.  

Coupon clipping is an art.  Mom checks the sale papers and clips coupons religiously.  Then she calls and tells me how much money she saved in the store.  I expect to get a phone call from the police one of these days, informing me that they've arrested her because she saved so much on one item that the store had to pay HER for it.

Projects can be fun.  Organizing the file cabinet? Unpacking boxes?  Cleaning out the basement? Call Mom.  She loves doing work around the house especially if she gets to use the paper shredder or go to the dump (or "transfer station," as it's called in my town).  During her last visit, she helped me organize my office closet, which had been so crammed with stuff that I hated opening it.  It took hours.  And when I inevitably got tired of doing it, looked at all the junk that we had piled on the floor and the desk and said "I don't want to play this game anymore," Mom said "it's ok, we're almost done" and kept me going.  Now everything is in its place and properly labeled and I love opening the closet.  And some of the neighbors want to rent her out to help with their projects.

Humor helps.  Mom always has a positive attitude and loves a good laugh.   She loves the Pink Panther movie and recently laughed hysterically at the dance scene in Johnny English, a spoof on spy movies starring Rowan Atkinson (from the "Mr. Bean" series).  We played the scene over and over, just to make her laugh more.  She will be delighted to know they are releasing a sequel.  She also has the unfortunate habit of laughing whenever I am up on a chair, taking a box down from the closet – I don't know why.  She is supposed to be holding the chair for me and instead, she starts giggling just as I'm trying to lift a heavy box and then of course, I start laughing… luckily, no one has gotten hurt…

Simple things can make you happy.  Mom doesn't need a "spa day" or a meal at a fancy restaurant to be happy.  She is what we fondly call "low maintenance."  She enjoys the little things – like watching an old movie starring Robert Taylor or Joseph Cotton (extra points if it's set during World War II), going grocery-shopping at the Shop-Rite store near my house, eating ice cream outside on a warm day and of course, eating a Hershey's chocolate bar. 

Complaining is not helpful.  Not complaining is easy when life is easy, but Mom never complained even when life got hard.  When family members were sick or even when my father died, Mom didn't complain or ask, "why me?" She just kept going forward, with a strong spirit, a smile and a desire to help other people.  I'm still learning that lesson.

A few weeks ago, I received a big envelope from Mom in the mail.  Inside were packages of one of my favorite candies – the dots of colored sugar stuck to long strips of paper.  (Yes, you get some of the paper stuck in your teeth when you eat them, but that's half the fun.) She knows that I couldn't find them locally, so she looked for them on one of her grocery trips and sent them to me. 

I'll be seeing Mom today for Mother's Day.  What am I bringing her? Flowers? A gift certificate for a massage? Nope.  I'm bringing her all my love – and chocolate brownies.  Thanks, Mom, and I love you. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

9 Tips for How to Present While Seated

"You can't start a fire sitting down" is an old cliché that I used in graduate school to explain to the supervising professor why I taught my American history class standing up.  The professor preferred that I sit down and teach, to demonstrate more of a peer relationship with the students.  At 5' 2" and only a few years older than the students, I thought I looked enough like a "peer" and wanted more authority - teaching while standing up helped. 

I still believe that standing up while teaching and presenting is a good idea.  Standing conveys confidence and authority, makes it easier to monitor the room and gauge audience reaction, helps you keep up your energy and allows you to use the full range of non-verbal communications, including gestures, posture and movement. 

However, sometimes it's not practical to stand up while presenting due to factors such as room constraints, organizational culture and the short duration of the presentation.  So if you must give a presentation while seated, here are 9 tips to help you present successfully:

1.    Make Eye Contact
It's important to make eye contact with everyone at the table.  Depending on the seating configuration, it may be difficult and you may have to turn your body to make eye contact with those people seated on either side of you.

2.    Speak Loudly Enough
You have to speak loudly enough so that people can understand you.  And in addition to speaking over ambient noise, you also have to be mindful of making sure people on the opposite end of the table can hear you clearly, especially when you're facing away from them to the other end.

3.    Use Gestures
Yes, it is still important to use gestures when you are seated.  Keep your hands empty and use them for above-the-table gestures.  Try not to pick up and play with your pen, notes and water bottle.

4.    Sit Confidently
Sit up straight, with shoulders back and maintain good posture as you present.  Demonstrate your confidence by taking up your space at the table instead of slouching or shrinking.

5.    Control Your Nerves
If you are nervous or anxious about presenting, don't let your nerves show through your hands grasping the table or playing with a pencil.  Even if you're tapping your foot or shaking your leg under the table, the audience can see the nervousness show in the rest of your body.   

6.    Prepare for Distractions
A seated presentation may be considered less formal so people may think it's okay to check email or their phones while you're speaking.  Ideally, whoever is conducting the meeting will have set up ground rules with the participants at the start, banning electronic devices of any kind during the presentations.  However, if that didn't occur and the company culture unwisely allows email/phones during meetings, then be prepared for the behavior and don't let it shake your confidence.

7.    Do You Really Need Slides?
Before you use slides, consider whether you really need them.  Sometimes I think people use PowerPoint during their seated presentations only so they don't have to make eye contact with their colleagues! Perhaps handouts would be more effective – or perhaps your presentation doesn't need any visual aids at all.

8.    Manage Questions
If you get a question, repeat it so everyone can hear it and you have a chance to think of an answer.  Direct your answer to the questioner and to the whole audience, so you keep everyone's attention.

9.    Practice
Sitting at your desk and looking at your notes is not the same as sitting at a conference table and saying the words of your presentation out loud.  So practice your presentation in as close to the real environment as possible.

If you follow these 9 tips, your presentation will be effective, no matter where you're seated. 

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