Recently we worked with an internal PR team at a Fortune 500 technology company. They are a progressive technology organization that heavily invests in media training for their executives.
Business Presence, LLC was hired to assist with certifying executives as company spokespeople, bringing our expertise in both content and presentation. We recorded video of each interview for playback and review.
One of us took on the role of ‘reporter’, interviewing each executive for about twenty minutes with a set of prepared questions. The content covered both the broad company narrative along with communications around their particular areas of expertise. We also scattered in some trick, pass/fail questions to keep them on their toes, simulating an interview with an intrepid reporter. For example, executives are trained by the PR team to pivot away anything related to company financials unless they are on the finance team. Thankfully nobody went to PR jail!
Overall, we were most engaged by the executives who used plain speak versus jargon and who were relatable, passionate, and easy to follow. When a reporter is able to break through the predictable, linear narrative and get sound bites that connect at a human level, their stories are more engaging to their readers.
After the twenty minute interview we moved into the playback and review process. This is always the most uncomfortable part of the certification process for an executive. It’s not easy for any of us to watch ourselves on camera, and it’s even harder in front of a group of experts poised to give feedback. Many spoke very quickly and needed to take more time to disseminate and explain the content, especially when it was technical. Some of the most common issues were being repetitive or buying time at the start of an answer with “great question!” Or they persistently used uh’s and um’s. Adding more color and details via customer stories to illustrate points was another area of improvement. These are problems we can help them overcome. There were a plethora of small notes from the PR team about content, such as how to say something differently, better use of metaphor and when to cut an answer shorter.
Ultimately the executives will pass or fail based on the scores given by the internal PR lead/certifier. About 30 percent didn’t seem ready to speak with reporters. There’s room for them to grow: taking charge of the interview, being less scripted, nailing key messages and giving good soundbites. They can also work on using more range in their vocal dynamics.
Those who pass are in command of messaging and storytelling, and, thanks to our coaching, now have the confidence and experience to communicate with journalists on behalf of their company.
Being an effective company spokesperson requires mastery of both content and presentation, they’re inseparable, one without the other and you’re only half-way there.
We enjoy this kind of work. The content is typically stimulating and we get to bring our expertise around both content and form, and tap into our journalistic backgrounds.
In April and May, we were on retainer to prepare a CEO for an important milestone — giving his first commencement speech. It’s an honor for anyone to be asked to speak on such an important occasion and it’s out of the ordinary for a technology executive who more typically speaks about company products and strategies.
As we reviewed the executive’s on-camera performances at the start of the project — we could see that he was a passable speaker but he had some habits that kept him from being truly entertaining or inspiring. We set out to achieve three goals: a) to identify with the audience of graduates; b) to feel ‘within himself’ as he communicated from the heart; c) to create a vision about the world in front of them and the opportunities and challenges they face.
Up first was to develop a script that would connect with his audience of several thousand graduates. As expected, this took several iterations over many weeks. It needed to be personal, which meant we needed to keep digging and prodding. Finally we landed on the themes of embracing change, taking risks and learning from failure. It’s not easy for a successful executive to speak about their failures, especially when they’ve gone from being a self-made millionaire to being broke, all within 5 years, but as journalists we knew this would connect with his audience, and give him credibility.
Once the script was in good shape we started rehearsals. We first mirrored back what we were hearing — his speech was slow and fairly monotonous. This is always profound work, getting our clients to hear themselves the way we hear them. Once they can hear it, they’re motivated to find a better version of themselves. We also used a technique where we marked up his script, providing direction for emphasizing words, pauses, breaths. He found this very useful and became skilled at hitting his marks.
Finally, as we reached the last week, with graduation day in sight and with the core messaging in place, we took the script to some lighter places. Marilyn is a stand up comedian and she’s worked in Silicon Valley for decades, so that was a useful combination. Not all the jokes made it into the final draft but it helped the executive find his own path to some lighter moments.
As the executive spent time with the script in the final days before delivering the speech, he made it his own. This really helped him gear up for the big day. He had the words, he had the techniques, and he now he’d found the heart of what he wanted to communicate: that success and failure go together, that failure shouldn’t stop you from trying, that taking risks will lead to both success and failure and that we all learn from both.
The audience loved him and he soared in his presentation. We were thrilled to have helped shape it.
Why is it that once we get started speaking or presenting, we don’t know when to stop or how to pause? Because we’re afraid we might forget what we’re saying or that the audience will think we’ve lost our place. But pausing actually helps us listen. Constant sound makes us tune out. So if you want to make someone listen to you? Stop talking!
Here are 3 good reasons to use the pause:
A short pause–a half second or second–jerks the rhythm and can help the speaker stay focused on content.
Pauses helps the listener or audience keep up with the content so we stay interested.
Just listen to any great music and you’ll notice that it stops and starts. It’s in the pauses that we listen most acutely. Speaking is the same. We need to pause to be effective. But when we’re nervous or even just excited, we can tend to do what I call ‘motoring,’ which is when we rattle off the content without finessing the pacing. Learning to finesse the pacing adds to your brand as a powerful presenter.
In working with a Business Presence client recently, I actually had to say “stop” and “start” to inhibit the ‘motoring.’ It forced the client to take a breath and think of the next beat, or idea. While it felt unnatural at the time, when the client listened back to herself she realized the actual pause wasn’t that long and how it would help keep her audience engaged.
So practice putting pauses in your presentations so we can pay attention and enjoy what you’re saying.
This post was created by Screen Presence voice and presentation coach Marilyn Pittman
The best presentations are the ones in which you feel relaxed yet energized. Yet, if the thought of giving a presentation to 3, 30, 300 or more people fills you with trepidation, you’re not alone. Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is what most people say is their greatest fear. When it comes to speaking in public, signs of nervousness and fear show up in our voices, and are difficult to disguise.
Here are some ways to shed the nerves and get your voice ready to present:
Stretch out your facial muscles. They’re the ones that shape the sound, that give you good diction. As an audience member, an expressive face makes us engage and want to know more.
Warm up the vocal cords by singing, humming, or speaking. Find a bathroom stall, an outside corridor, a sidewalk or a car, somewhere you can clear the mucus and open the throat. This way you’ll enter the presentation space with clarity, both vocally and mentally.
Shake off the nerves by taking a few deep breaths and letting go of the results. Acting confident can make you feel confident.
Try out these warm-up exercises and breathing techniques to determine which ones work best for you. This way the next time you’re faced with public speaking, you’ll be able to access your most comfortable and confident presentation voice.
Screen Presence voice coach Marilyn Pittman provided the content for this post.
Video has exploded online. There were 44 billion views of video content in June 2013 (comScore), and 85% of the US Internet audience consumed online video during the month. The video giant YouTube says that it currently processes 100 hours of video every minute, and attracts more than 1 billion unique users every month who collectively watch 6 billion hours of video during those 30 days. That’s 50% more than last year.
Websites have been feeling the pressure to include video to keep pace with user expectations, and 70% of them now feature video content. According to estimates, 1 in 3 shoppers watch product videos as part of the buying process all or most of the time, and conversion rates increase anywhere from the tens to hundreds of percentage points when they do. Video viewed on mobile devices jumped 300% in 2012, mostly driven by the explosion in tablets and smartphones, and it will explode further as more people around the world join the mobile revolution.
The rapid growth and demand for video, as well as the relative ease of shooting and uploading content online, will have one sure result: More people will end up in front of the camera. Consequently, those people will need techniques and skills that make them credible and presentable to viewers.
If you are an executive, entrepreneur or a spokesperson for your company, you can expect to have opportunities that put you in front of a camera. But are you ready? Do you actually have what it takes to make a good impression?
In most situations, you show up and the shoot begins — there isn’t much of a safety net in terms of direction, so you need to create your own. Knowing what you want to say is part of it, but arguably even more important is how you appear and project yourself with the camera and lights turned on. The audience will be forming opinions of you within seconds.
Whether it’s presenting at an industry conference, communicating live to key stakeholders or pitching a new product, it is all too easy to blow it when you’re inexperienced on-camera. Videos have a habit of living on indefinitely on the Internet. The fluffed line, monotone voice, bad hair, poorly chosen outfit, shiny nose, sweaty upper lip, or just under-prepared content may come to haunt you. As a result you may not be asked back and have to live with your unflattering performance for eternity. Producers who book guests prefer those who know what they’re doing and understand what’s expected of them. So, if you want to get booked, or you want to present yourself as someone who is ready to speak to a wider audience, know what’s required and learn how to be your best on-camera self.
So, where to begin?
The good news is that there are very talented people working as stylists, voice coaches and photographers in associated mediums, such as commercials, radio and film, who are ready to help you. In my experience, these professionals can genuinely help people look and sound their very best, and it doesn’t take that much time or investment to start building confidence. As with other smart moves you’ll make in your life, put yourself in the hands of professionals.
I’d suggest starting with your voice. Many of us don’t like the way we look or sound on camera but it’s hard when we first review ourselves to get beyond our face, hair or wardrobe choices. Watch a video of yourself and listen — how do you sound? Convincing? Authoritative?
Marilyn Pittman is a highly regarded voice coach who trains NPR reporters. She coached me several years ago and cracked me out of what she called my “BBC sing-song rhythm and tone.” She works with lots of executives and thinks that women in particular could be doing more with their voices: “Women business leaders need to sound authoritative, warm, and dynamic. Developing a good speaking voice involves breathing correctly, projecting your voice, varying the rhythm, tempo, pitch, and volume, and knowing how to convey the right tone and meaning of your message.”
Next up, find a wardrobe stylist to help you determine what will make you feel your most confident and empowered self on-camera. It’s not always easy to determine this for ourselves. The colors and shapes we might like in our “regular” lives don’t always translate well on camera. “You’re going to be seen within a square screen and you’ll be sitting against a colored background. Knowing the framing of the shot and what the background color is going to be will help you determine what to wear, so ask,” says stylist Chris Aysta. One editor-reporter I hired at CBS shops with a stylist each season to pick up a few pieces to add to her wardrobe that make her feel camera-ready. She’s often on the news at short notice, and doesn’t need the added stress of wardrobe selection.
Hair and makeup is an area where many people fall down. Men typically do very little, or nothing. Sarah Hyde, a talented professional I’ve worked with recently, has this to say: ”All men need a little color because the camera can wash them out, and a little anti-shine because lights really reflect on the skin.” She adds, “Given that the women tend to look polished, why shouldn’t men be too?”
For women, there may be a presumption that there will be a hair and makeup professional at their shoot. Be sure to ask. Typically, online video budgets are low and there isn’t anyone to help you. When left to themselves the tendency for women who are inexperienced on camera is to do too much. In truth HD cameras, which most studios now use, can be cruel because they show so much detail. They love gadgets and hate skin! The bottom line is that if you’re a regular on-camera you need an HD makeup kit, and to know what should go in it you need to consult with an expert.
Now you’re ready to step out in front of the camera. Your voice has been trained, your outfit complements the studio background and your hair and makeup is just enough and not too much and it still feels like you. But there is another slew of decisions to make: where to look, to smile or not to smile, to nod or not, how expansive to be with your gestures? Non-verbal cues are powerful. Author Carol Kinsey Goman who I’ve worked with many times offers this statistic: 93% of the message people receive from us has nothing to do with what we actually say. Learning about the power of non-verbal communication through on-camera training and practice is critical.
Finally there’s the content. Don’t wing it! Anticipating questions and knowing what you’re going to say is crucial to your performance and you should prepare your content in advance. If you’re not prepared, you risk slowing down the entire shoot, or under-delivering if it’s a live broadcast. Ideally you’ll have a video producer or communications specialist to work with. Good producers are typically talented writers and understand new concepts readily, and they want to put on a good show. They should be able to give you an idea of what’s expected, which can help you communicate your ideas more conversationally and succinctly. If you’re not lucky enough to have a producer, the simplest tip is to read what you’ve prepared out loud to yourself. You’ll soon know if your content is long-winded and needs to get to the point sooner since you’ll immediately be tired of listening to yourself! But again, having a producer to work with is preferable.
And that’s it! There’s a lot to master, but as video production people we want to see you do your best. Here’s what we want to see: You’ve worked your content and know how to present yourself on camera; You know what to wear, how you sound and how you look; And you’re comfortable with your non-verbal and well as verbal communication. Now you’re (finally) ready to make not only a good impression, but a lasting impact.
Marianne Wilman is President & Executive Producer of Screen Presence.