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An Optimistic Start?

28 Dec

Speeches have been on my mind. I have a few lined up this week, and they do get my blood going. The build-up, the thrill of the unexpected (hopefully not something embarrassing) and the fun of sharing information with a group that is actually interested in learning something. For all of these reasons, I have come to seek out opportunities to present. This was not always the case.

imagesMy first experience with public speaking was with the Reynoldsburg, Ohio Optimists’ Club. I was in fourth grade (I think?). My memory is not so good here, probably because this was not a positive experience. Sorry, Optimists!

There were lots of other kids lined up to speak. Probably 25 or so, several from each grade level in the school district. We were somewhat on home turf for me as the event was held at the church I grew up in. Methodist. (This was before my brother and I transferred over to St. Pius X, which led to my later becoming Catholic.) All of us waited in a hallway outside a very small, hot and stuffy library where each orator had his or her brief shining moment. The judges chose the best orator from each grade level and presented awards to each at the end.

I was more than a little intimidated while waiting in the hallway for my moment. I was nerdy, like everyone else there, so I had no reason to feel self-conscious. but I was probably more obsessive-compulsive than the rest and had an amazing ability to worry about every possible worst-case scenario. Here’s what was going through my head:

  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out?
  • What if I pee my pants?
  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I sweat so much that a puddle starts forming underneath me?
  • What if I pee my pants and sweat so much…..and so forth?

I had a good hour of running through these questions in my mind, visualizing each one of them happening, over and over. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was on adrenalin overload. I could have accomplished a major athletic feat, but instead I walked into a very hot little room with lots of serious-looking grown-ups who’d likely had their fill of kids giving speeches. I felt like I was free-falling.

Here’s what happened:

  • I did not get the notecards out of order, clam up or pee my pants.
  • I DID sweat a lot, have a very shaky voice, almost drop the notecards because my hands were shaking so much and talk so fast thatIgotthroughmyspeechinabout30seconds.
  • I did not win an award, nor did I deserve one.
  • My poor dad. He was there in the audience and probably wondered what the hell happened to me out in that hallway with the other kids. (He once defended my honor when I dropped a ball I should’ve caught while playing left-field with my third-grade softball team. Another parent made a critical comment in the stands and he nearly created a scene. Will write more about this another time. Go, Blue Blazers!) Mom was not there as she was stuck at home with severe agoraphobia. Afterward, Dad congratulated me and told me I did a really great job, and he was proud of me.

I am really grateful to my dad for his hopeful attitude about my future. I don’t think I gave him a very good glimpse of it that night, but he believed in me anyway. And I am happy that I don’t get nerves before speaking anymore.

To date, the Optimists remain my most difficult audience.

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Public Speaking: How I Got Schooled by Angela Pace

4 Aug

In my years working at PR agencies, I had no better training than the time I got personal coaching by local news anchor Angela Pace. She’s a legend in the Columbus, Ohio area. Even my dad knows who she is.

(Side note: She went to South HS, as did my parents, and my dad insisted that I say, “Go Bulldogs!” when I met her. Which I did. But that’s another story.)

My boss decided that a colleague and I needed help with our new business presenting skills. She was right. To be fair, presenting for new business is one of the toughest things that you can do. Those who’ve done it will understand. Those who have not probably won’t.

They say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Evidently, I am not yet an old dog, because I did learn some new tricks from Ms. Pace. I’m a decent public speaker, but under her tutelage, I kicked it up a notch. And laughed a lot, including at myself, in the process.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Probably the biggest thing that I learned was not to take myself too seriously.
  2. Smile more.
  3. Don’t assume that people want to dwell on all of those details.
  4. Smile again.
  5. Don’t forget to bring your water.
  6. Warm up beforehand.
  7. And don’t forget to breathe.
  8. Then smile (yes, again). It’s true: The smiling is really not easy for a serious person like me. I have got to learn to be less serious!

I feel very lucky to have experienced this individualized training. Most public speaking trainers apply a formulaic approach, but not so with Ms. Pace. She paid attention to every non-verbal, every nuance of what I said and how I said it. She was not shy to stop me mid-stream and make me start again. There was no escaping her. She noticed every detail. This was a good and bad thing!

If you are in a career where public speaking, in small or large groups, is important, I’d highly recommend working with a coach who cares, knows the ropes and forces you to get outside the podium. It forced me to think differently about how I interface with people in my presentations–and it made a big difference in the end results.

We landed two new deals right after our coaching, by the way!

BlogPaws

10 Apr

Scrap riots sound like fun...c'mon!

Had an awesome time at the Blogpaws pet bloggers’ conference yesterday and today! Thanks to all who attended the Building Your Blog Strategy panel, moderated by Sue Resnicoff of Del Monte Foods | Pet Products. (My pet’s favorite: Pup-Peroni.).

I enjoyed sitting with fellow panelists Karen Nichols of Catster blog and Michele Hollow of Pet News and Views.

My portion of the panel involved:

  • Ideas and tools for creating and sharing compelling content.
  • Tips and techniques for staying disciplined, engaged and most of all, motivated!

Here are the content tips I shared:

Creating and Sharing Compelling Content

1. Do Your Homework

  • Research the topics that are of interest to you AND your target audience. Conduct a thorough search effort when you get started…and at logical check-points.
  • Ask around and look for content “holes.” Is there a topic that’s not being blogged about? Is there value you can add to the discussion from an unexplored perspective on a topic already in the blogosphere?

2. Explore the Shallows and Dive Deep

  • I will often share content on Facebook and Twitter that is of interest to me, then blog more deeply about the content. This is a good way to test initial responses to the topic and determine whether it would draw readers to your blog.
  • Setting up a series of posts about a topic also gives you the chance to touch on the high points and dive deep over time.

3. Don’t Wax Poetic

  • Posts should be no longer than 400 words. Preferably, make them closer to 250.
  • Add images, audio and video. Keep in mind the needs of visual and experiential learners. Not everyone will be drawn in by the written word.

Staying Disciplined, Engaged and Motivated

1. Discipline: Create an editorial calendar.

  • This will help you to plan your posts across the year and have a roadmap for success. Remember to set realistic goals for frequency. Start off modestly and build out to one or more posts per day, as it makes sense for your blog.
  • Don’t be constrained by the calendar. You can and should be posting more frequently on topics of current interest.

2. Engagement: Build relationships and activate your voice…enhancing your reputation.

  • Building relationships is the goal.
  • Get excited about your content. If you are passionate, your readers will be.
  • Be smart about your content and your replies to readers. Comments and replies should be dynamic extensions of your posts. Learn how-to’s from industry leaders, including their mistakes and successes.
  • Assess your reader demographics. Are they your intended target audience?
  • Attract and retain your target readers.
  • Recalibrate your calendar on a regular basis (monthly or quarterly).

3. Motivation: Don’t go it alone.

  • Bond with fellow bloggers. A support group will keep you activated.
  • Get honest reactions from your friends, family and significant other.
  • Take a break when you need to. No one will smack your hand for skipping a week when you need to take a breather. A blog vacation can rejuvenate your energy and help to grow new ideas.

Soooo sleepy.

I thought it would be appropriate to post this shot of Wylie post-conference. He got loads of new toys (more info in future posts) and was EXHAUSTED by the conference. He took networking to new levels in the pet play room while I presented. But everyone has to sleep it off when they overdo, right?

Five Reasons I Like Public Speaking

18 Jun

Some people hate public speaking, some love it and some do it because they have to. I’ve just finished two public speaking events this week and am refueling to get ready for the next. In my process of some internal debriefing, I’ve been thinking about these questions:

What makes presenting an enjoyable experience for me? Why do I want to do more of it?

Here are my top five reasons:

  1. I enjoy the advance process of preparing content, going over every detail and rehearsing. This is what makes the controlling part of me happy. Being compulsive has its benefits. I would not be a very good speaker if I had to give the same speech over and over again. I am too curious for that. I want to always be serving up new content.
  2. I like practicing in front of people who tell me how to improve my delivery. It may sound crazy, but I prefer practicing in front of people who will be hard on me. I need good constructive criticism, not someone who just says, “Yeah, it’s good.”
  3. For me, public speaking is exhilarating in the same way that people like riding roller coasters or doing adventure sports. There’s an element of the unknown once you start presenting. What will people think? How will the information shared affect each audience member’s ongoing perspective?
  4. I feel like I have a connection with the audience when I am speaking. I am lucky enough to present to people who want to hear me, usually for professional growth reasons. In sharing something that I know with the audience, I feel like I am passing on something that will make their lives better. I feel like a better person when I am presenting, because I feel like I am sharing something of myself that will (however indirectly) make an improvement on someone else’ experience. Most presentations are actually fairly humble sorts of affairs, but even in these cases the presenter is shaping the audience’s future in some small way. This is inspiring to me. I am not talking entertainment value. I mean the value of the content for the audience, and how it will change their world. The delivery of the information is all a device to get people to pay attention to what is being shared.
  5. Part of successful presenting for me is ALWAYS making it better. I want feedback from people afterwards, including people I know and those I don’t know, to help me know what went well and what didn’t.

Different people would answer this question in any number of ways. What about you? Why do you love it, hate it or feel so-so about it?