Nov 23, 2007

Why you should never end on a Q & A session

I have been advocating to my clients and workshop attendees never to end a speech with the traditional Q&A (Question and Answer) session. Rather, do the Q&A first, and then conclude. Here's why:

Imagine that this was the last question of Mr. McCain's Q&A session. What impression would it leave in the minds of the audience?

The fact that only this segment, without the conclusion, appears on YouTube makes me wonder...

Q&A sessions are an important part of your speech. However, they wrest control from your hands and puts it squarely into the hands of your audience. You don't want that.

Always make sure that you leave a bit of time to conclude after you have answered questions. By doing so, you maintain control of your speech and you can end it on your terms, not on your audience's terms.

Happy Holidays?

What's happened to us? Our society has slowly become one filled with fear, paranoia, and angst. To wit, this article from USA today which requires volunteer Santas to sign a clause protecting the US Postal Service from lawsuits and complaints:

Volunteer Santas have to sign a clause -

All in the name of prevention, since no complaints have been filed about this service.

Lest you think, "It's because they're Americans!" here is something else on the Australian front:

Santas warned 'ho ho ho' offensive to women - Yahoo! News

For Pete's sake! "Ha! Ha! Ha?"

It gets better:

Santa told to slim down for Christmas to 'set a good example' | the Daily Mail


My understanding is that Christmas, and the Holiday Season in general, is supposed to be about joy, fun, and happiness. Why legislate to make the fun disappear?

Volunteers who reply to little kids' letters to Santa are giving the most precious gift we have: time. It makes the kids feel good, it makes the volunteers feel good. Why instill fear now?

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" is a rounder, fuller, warmer sound than "Ha! Ha! Ha!" It's already cold outside in the winter (well, in Canada it is), why remove the warmth?

And if your kids are taking nutrition advice from Santa, there's a larger problem to address.

I remember in my youth, the promises of the mythical "Leisure Society" where we would have more fun and play than ever before. I wonder when and why we decided to take a direction that is the completely opposite.

Nov 22, 2007

Ethics, politics, and storytelling

Christmas is coming; my kids need new clothes; I'm flat broke but my friends and family expect me to display a certain lifestyle. I think I'll go rob a bank. The judge will understand.

Sounds preposterous, doesn't it? Yet, that's what it sounds like when a former politician says: "I accepted money because I was broke and I had a lifestyle to preserve." The act is then brushed off as a "colossal mistake." Never mind that he, Brian Mulroney, denied for years that he ever took the money. (For more background information on this, please see this Globe and mail article.) Although it is yet to be proven that Mr. Mulroney acted illegally, it does toe the lign of proper ethical conduct very closely.

Ethical conduct is closely tied to one's values. Being ethical means that you are being honest and you act with integrity. As I once heard, integrity is acting the same way whether people see you or not. So in the case of Mr. Mulroney, a simple way to know if it was ethical or not is to ask: "Would you have done it in front of a camera with people watching?"

Ethical conduct is something we constantly face in the world of professional speaking. In one of my study groups, a few weeks ago there was a heated debate about storytelling. Storytelling is a central part of public speaking. You can get your points across much faster and more easily when you tell stories to illustrate them.

Some stories have become so popular that most professional speakers cringe at the thought of hearing it one more time. Examples include The Starfish Story and The US Aircraft Story. The act of using those stories in and of itself is not unethical; it just shows that as a speaker, you lack originality.

However, many speakers will tell stories that they heard somewhere else and act as if it is their own stories. And sometimes, they even believe it is their own stories. Telling someone else's story and taking credit for it is considered highly unethical in the speaking business. Once people realize you've been lying, your credibility takes a big hit and your reputation is severely tarnished. It can take a long time to recover from something like that.

If you decide to use public speaking as part of, or as all of your professional endeavours, you can prevent such a situation from happening to you.
  • Make a decision to use very little of someone else's material. If all of your stories are original, it will be very unlikely that someone else tells the same story. It can happen, though. I know one speaker who told a story that was eerily similar to another speaker's story, which I had read in a book. When I confronted him with it, he maintained that the story was his, even after I cited the author, the book, and the page where I originally read the story. Is it possible that he had a similar experience, but in a different context and location. It should be noted, though, that I've never heard him tell the story again.
  • If you need to use someone else's material, get permission or at least give proper attribution. I've been bitten by this one, myself. I reported someone else's story, from my perspective. I gave proper attribution, saying it was not my story but my impressions about something that happened to someone else. I told the story's protagonist about it after the fact, and he was not too pleased about it. I made some factual mistakes and I did not get his permission beforehand, which was damaging to him. I made corrections afterwards and he was okay with it, but that's still a black mark on me.
  • Don't toe the line. If it feels awkward to do something or say something to an audience, don't. Now, that doesn't mean you cannot push the envelope. It means that you have to push it ethically, so if you are challenged on what you say or do, you have solid facts to explain your decisions and your actions.
Too often, ethics become situational. We will act ethically when others are present or looking, but act unethically when nobody is around to supervise.

In Mr. Mulroney's case, there will be an inquiry to determine whether he acted illegally or not. If he is at fault, he will probably be asked to repay the money in some form, or the matter may be taken to court. If not, he will be cleared but his reputation will still have been tarnished.

For the rest of us, life goes one. Yet every day, situations will come up which beg an answer to the following question: would I do this if there was a camera filming me?

Nov 9, 2007

The first words are the most important

Seth Godin's blog is an excellent illustration of why it is so important to have a good introduction to your speech:

Seth's Blog: Sorry to talk so long...

I especially like the way he likens a speech to a gift. You wouldn't apologize for offering a gift to someone. Why apologize for speaking, unless you really have nothing to say? And if you have nothing to say... why are you there?

About brevity: he mentions that he saw this behaviour at a gala. In galas, people usually have a drink or two. Once that happens, it is much tougher to hold the crowd's attention.

If you speak for more than a couple of minutes, gala attendees will tend to lean over to their neighbours and whisper: "This is kinda long, don't you think." A response will follow: "Yeah, really. I was at this gala honouring Such N. Such the other day and..."

"You were there? So was I, how come we never met? How did you find it?"

"Well, let me tell you..."

"Shhh..... I'm trying to listen!"

This tends to be repeated over and over again until eventually, speakers are drowned in the... hush of the crowd.

The best remedy? Get to the point immediately, conclude quickly, go back and have some fun!

Nov 4, 2007

The bliss of raking leaves

We have a big yard with many venerable trees.. At times it is a blessing and at times it is a curse. When fall season comes around, it is a curse! I don't like raking leaves and I dread the chore every year.

When we first moved to our house, I used to invite a whole bunch of friends to come over and help my wife and I pick up the leaves. We'd take about a day, six or eight of us. Well... some of us would work, others would socialize. So for the cost of a few pizzas, and lots of fun, we filled up 60 to 75 bags of leaves every year.

But then, things began to change. Everyone got married, bought houses, and had children. All of a sudden, my yard was no longer as important. So I stopped asking them to come over to take care of the yard. Yes, if you can read between the lines, it was also to make sure I didn't have to go to their place to rake their leaves...

So these past few years, I've been doing it by myself. The routine goes like this: I wait until all the leaves fall, then I pick a weekend and in two days, I pick up all those 60-75 bags. It takeas about 14 to 16 hours.

This year, I only had one day to do the work and it had to be completed this weekend. So instead of raking the leaves, I pulled out my lawn mower and used it instead. It took me between 6 and 7 hours to do the entire yard and I filled only 33 bags.

So by now, you're probably thinking: "Ok, that's nice but what does cleaning your yard have to do with anything?" Bear with me, there is a point!

I did the same work in 50% of the time, using about 50% of the resources. And I did this simply by taking the tools I already had, but using them differently.

So how can this be applied in life and at work? What tools do you have at your disposal which could help increase your productivity? Which tools do you have at your disposal that you are not using to their full potential? I've taught Excel to many people in the past couple of years and many of the shortcuts I teach come as a big surprise to the audience members. Many have mentioned that those simple shortcuts would considerably increase their productivity.

When you increase your productivity, there are a number of benefits: you have more time at your disposal, you can get paid more, and if you do it right, it can also reduce stress.

Increasing productivity doesn't mean you have to shoot for 50% at a time. Alan Weiss, consultant extraordinaire, says that simply increasing by 1% every day is sufficient. If you do this continually, after 70 days you will have doubled your productivity. It just requires focus, persistence and determination. In other words, discipline.

Although it is a simple concept, I find it can be tough to decide which task or which aspect of my life will yield the best 1% yield. I guess it's al part of the learning process.