Time for a Public Speaking Pause

Public Speaking Pause Delivers Impact
The well-timed and well-placed pause can make your business presentation corruscate

Coca-Cola’s 1929 slogan was “The Pause that Refreshes.”

Pauses can, indeed, be refreshing, and a judicious pause can refresh your business presentation.

I’m taking a cue from Coke.  I’m pausing here in this space, right now.

It should last for a few days.  Not to refresh, but to move my abode within the confines of the great city of Philadelphia.

Moves are great.  They offer a time for purging the unwanted from one’s life, discarding what we thought was essential so long ago, only to realize now that . . . we can let it go.

Public Speaking Pause Power

In fact, the prudent pause for reflection, for the audience to digest your message, for dramatic effect to emphasize what comes next . . . all add depth and richness to your show and communicate to audience members that they have gathered to hear something special.

So, make friends with silence so that you feel comfortable in its presence.

The correct pauses imbue your talk with incredible power.  With proper timing and coupled with other techniques, the pause can evoke strong emotions in your audience.

A pause can project and communicate as much or more than mere words.

The public speaking pause is part of your nonverbal repertoire and a superbly useful tool.

The comfortable pause communicates your competence and confidence.  It telegraphs deep and serious thought. Pause Power is underutilized today, but has served as arrow-in-quiver of the finest presenters over centuries.  Presentation Master Grenville Kleiser put it this way in 1912:  “Paradoxical tho it may seem, there is an eloquence and a power in silence which every speaker should seek to cultivate.”

When you use the pause judiciously, you emphasize the point that comes immediately after the pause.  You give the audience time to digest what you just said.  And you generate anticipation for what you are about to say.

So save the pause for the moments just prior to each of your main points.

How do you pause?  When do you pause?

Silence is Your Friend

A truly effective pause can be coupled with a motionless stance, particularly if you have been pacing or moving about or gesturing vigorously.  Couple the pause with a sudden stop, going motionless.  Look at your audience intently.

Seize their complete attention.

Pause.

You can see that you should not waste your pause on a minor point of your talk.  You should time your pauses to emphasize the single MIP and its handful of supporting points.

Voice coach Patsy Rodenburg says:  “A pause is effective and very powerful if it is active and in the moment with your intentions and head and heart. . . . a pause filled with breath and attention to what you are saying to your audience will give you and your audience a bridge of transitional energy from one idea to another.”

Finally, the pause can rescue you when you begin to spiral out of control or lose your train of thought.  Remember that silence is your friend.

Need a life-preserver?  Need time to regain your composure?  Try this . . .

Pause.  Look slightly down.  Scratch your chin thoughtfully.  Furrow your brow.  Take four steps to the right or left, angling a bit toward the audience.

Voila!  You just bought 7-8 precious seconds to collect your thoughts.

Remember the especially powerful effects you can achieve in your business presentation with the public speaking pause.  It’s a sure way to build your professional presence on the podium.

For more on superb business techniques like the public speaking pause, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

How to Develop a Powerful Presentation Voice

An especially powerful presentation voice
You can enhance your Business Presentations by developing your voice into an especially powerful instrument, the source of personal competitive advantage

A powerful presentation voice that is resonant, clear, and captivating can lift your business presentation into the province of “professional.”

That voice is yours for the asking and development.

So what constitutes a great speaking voice, a voice ready for prime-time presenting?  Just this . . .

A voice that is stable, sourced from the chest and not the voice box alone.

A voice that carries sentences to their conclusion and doesn’t grind and whine at the end of sentences as is the bad habit of today.

A voice that concludes each sentence decisively and doesn’t transform every declarative sentence into a question.  A voice deeper than yours is right now.  A depth that you can acquire with a bit of work.

A presentation voice that that achieves personal competitive advantage through its resonance and distinctiveness.

Acquire a Powerful Presentation Voice

You can do many things to improve your voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.  If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940.  The advice contained therein is about as universal and timeless as it gets.

The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago.  It responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries to develop your voice into an especially powerful tool for business presentation advantage.

Below, I suggest several sources for further improvement.  And, of course, you can always click here for the whole self-training package.

• Renee Grant-Williams, Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention (2002)

• Jeffrey Jacobi, How to Say it with Your Voice (1996)

• Patsy Rodenburg, Power Presentation: Formal Speech in an Informal World (2009)

• Clare Tree Major, Your Personality and Your Speaking Voice (1920)

“You don’t catch hell because . . .”

Earlier, I related how Malcolm X did not do much throat-clearing at the beginning of his talks.

Instead, he thrust a metaphorical sword into his audience.

He drove deeply to the heart of the issue in just a few short sentences, tapping into listener sensitivities.

His initial “grabber” was not meant simply for shock or surprise like a cheap circus feat.  It was shock and surprise linked to the needs of his audience, directly relevant and intertwined closely – even spiritually – with his listeners.

Malcolm did not engage in academic circumlocutions, oblique arguments, or vague generalizations. He said things directly, with punch and verve, with color and power.

He shunned latinate words and phraseology and drove home his point with Anglo-Saxon directness – short, powerful, repetitive sentences, constructed of the sturdiest syllables.

And once he had audience attention, he kept it.

Holding the Audience in your Grasp

One technique he used to hold his audiences rapt was the offering a single point and then colorfully making that point by means of a repetitive technique called the anaphora. It’s a technique that you can use as well.  Here’s how it works.

A powerful and carefully selected phrase is utilized at the beginning of a succession of sentences.  With each repetition, the presentation builds to a climax to produce a powerful emotional effect.  In Malcolm’s example we’re about to see, he uses the anaphora skillfully to identify a point of commonality among those in his audience that he holds with them.

I previously offered an example of one of Malcolm’s speeches delivered in 1963.  Let’s revisit that talk, review the first couple of sentences, and then see how Malcolm uses the anaphora to powerful emotional effect.  The speech was called  Message to the Grass Roots, and he delivered it in Detroit.  Note how Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us.  We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem.  Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

What comes next?

Now that Malcolm X has the full attention of his listeners, it’s time to make point # 1 – unity and commonality of purpose. He chooses the anaphora as his technique, and he does so masterfully. His phrase of choice is “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences.  When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell becasue you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk, and you sure don’t catch hell because you’re an American; because if you were an American, you wouldn’t catch hell.  You catch hell because you’re a black man.  You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.

 Malcolm has established beyond all doubt that he shares a commonality with his listeners that is directly tied to the central thesis of his talk. He drives his point home with the anaphora:  “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

He utilized the same theme, or trope, in the video below in this speech before another audience in 1964.  This time his anaphora was slightly different:  “We’re not brutalized because–”  And it is just as powerful with its mesmerizing effect. The entire video shows a master presenter in tune with his audience and in control of his message.

 

Malcolm’s delivery is masterful . . . his voice, his tone, his inflection, his humor, his posture, and his gestures combine with his rhetorical techniques to establish an incredible bond with his listeners.  You sense his control of the event.

So what does this have to do with you and with business presenting?

Just this.

A powerful and graceful speaker, Malcolm X utilized an entire battery of oratorical weapons.  He intuitively understood the oratorical methods developed over more than 2500 years, and he wielded them with grace and with power.  These techniques can be yours.  You need only understand them, their function, their effects, and practice them.

For instance, the anaphora of repetition.  You can use anaphora as a powerful technique to hammer home your most important points and to hold your audience in the midst of your presentation.

But you may Hesitate

You may protest that Malcolm X lived and struggled in a different place and time over issues far more important that you or I will ever face.  Yes, he did.  The stakes were incredibly high and, for him, became quite literally a matter of his death.  But regardless of the message, the techniques of powerful presenting remain the same.  They are verities handed to us over centuries.

And if you refuse to learn from our great legacy of master speakers, if you do not emulate them, who then will you learn from?  The CEO of Coca-Cola?  Hardly.

A cornucopia of especially powerful techniques is available to you.  You may not struggle for justice on an international platform, but this does not absolve you from crafting the most powerful presentation you possibly can using the techniques of the masters.

Surely while the emphasis and tone of your message changes with circumstance, but not the methods themselves.  The anaphora is one such technique you should incorporate into your repertoire.

Malcolm X used a multiplicity of techniques to engage his friends and to disarm his enemies.  You can use them, too, and we’ll look at them in future posts.

Surviving the Group Presentation

Personal Competitive Advantage in group presentations
Group Presentations can test our collaboration skills

“How come I never get a good group?”

Who hasn’t uttered this pitiful refrain during business school when laboring over a group presentation?

Leaving aside the conceit of faux martyrdom for a moment, let’s recognize that group work is a necessity in the 21st century business world.  Your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

The Group Presentation Ethos

Hold in your heart, the group presentation ethos, which is to drive forward to your common goal regardless of personal differences.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentation.  How you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.

You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.  The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.

Remember that the relationship is paramount.  The group presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule.  Some group members will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with your group objectives.  You hear phrases such as “I can’t make the meeting.”  You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a person’s choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits.  Everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less.

Different people make different choices about the use of their time.

Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.

How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group.  One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group.  The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold.

Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”  Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.

The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

Group Presentations Aren’t Fair?

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution.  Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.

You must sort it out, because your professor is not your parent.

Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.

Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.

Such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in its own way.

Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal – an especially powerful group presentation.

And consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on Group Presentations.

Group Presentation Tips for Power and Impact

Group Presentation Tips Help You Survive
Group Presentation Tip #1: Business School Presentations help you hone your collaboration skills

You find all sorts of problems in group work, so I offer here group presentation tips to help you survive this business school rite of passage.

Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows that group presentations can challenge you in all sorts of ways.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems, right?  Because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation.  One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability.  The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.

And you have the messiness of all those other people to worry about.

We all prefer to control our own destinies.  Most all of us want to be judged on our own work.  We like to work alone.  Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.

This is very much the craftsman’s view.

But with group work, the waters muddy.  It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.

We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

Group Presentation Tips Can Help You Survive and Thrive
Group Presentations need not be the torturous ordeals they are made out to be

We worry that our contribution will be overlooked.  We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.

We see ourselves submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.

How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?  How will they know our contribution?

With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply.  Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and scheduling.  Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.

Moreover, you may be several classes that require group projects.  And you are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”

So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation?  It’s a Complex World

The group presentation is not an easy task.  It can be downright painful.  Infuriating.

It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them?  Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons.  One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.

The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.

This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students.  There are three big problems with this, and consider them supplementary group presentation tips.

Group Presentation Tips to Survive and Thrive

First, by definition, individual work is not group work.  If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses.  The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.

Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.

While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes watches 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluates them.

This can be an unpleasant experience.

Embrace Group Work in a Complex World

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this:  You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world.  In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.

So as your #1 group presentation tip, why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

From a practical standpoint, we cannot produce major products by ourselves, because the days of the business generalist are all dead in corporate America.  Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant.

You will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.

You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm.  This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm.  Major tasks are divided and divided again.  Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others.  The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In later posts, I share group presentation tips on how to thrive and turn the group business presentation into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

For more extensive group presentation tips, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Malcolm X Presentation Skill

The Malcolm X presentation
Malcolm X was a powerful presenter, a passionate man of strong belief and charismatic bearing, and the Malcolm X presentation is a textbook on how to sway an audience

Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way, and no better way to do it than a Malcolm X presentation.

Make it sit up straight, snap their heads in your direction.

You can do this several ways, and it’s up to you what you choose, but it should fit your audience and the topic of your presentation.

One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line.

This is a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.

Not just another canned talk.

One of the greatest public speakers of modern times was the late Malcolm X.  His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation.  He then mobilized his audience with an especially powerful call to action.

His techniques are so powerful that he deserves a category all his own.

And so I coin what I call the Malcolm X Presentation.

The Malcolm X Presentation

Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.  His charisma was unquestioned and it grew organically from the wellspring of passion that he invested in his cause and in every speech.

Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye.  They are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases, and to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.

When you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.

You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.

The Malcolm X Presentation
The Malcolm X Presentation used word pictures and various other rhetorical techniques to stir his audiences to action

Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.  With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.

They sputter with stale phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or giving jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.

Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.

Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.  Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience.

Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.

This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963.  Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course will leaven our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us.  We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem.  Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has drawn in his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.

He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport.  He then states boldly – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”

Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?

No Chit-Chat  in a Malcolm X Presentation

Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.  No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”  Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases:  “Very serious problem.”

Straight to the point, and a bold point it is.  See what comes next . . .

America’s problem is us.  We’re her problem.  The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.

And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted.  Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

Has Malcolm studied his audience?  Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?

Most important of all, has he grabbed your attention?

He surely has.

Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them.  He focused on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes.

He framed the issue in colorful language, and created listener expectations that he would offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.

For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience.  Mull this excellent example from the Malcolm X presentation and ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.

In subsequent posts, we’ll look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation, building to his call for action at the end.

If you want to learn more about the techniques that energize a Malcolm X presentation, as well as the secrets that other powerful speakers use in their presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.