122. What can Public Speakers learn from Nepali Politicians?

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Once upon a time, I used to be a miserable journalist with a shiny new DSLR. And I had to cover events where politicians bitched and dissed other politicians. Usually in such events, I would take a few lousy shots and then I would rest on a chair to secretly take mental vacations.

But in this one event, I almost had to chock myself to death. Seven times. This is what happened: our dear politician started yelling like a sheep right from his first note. Even though his lectern had a powerful mic, he went on his bleating rampage for over 45 minutes.

Finally, he said “ani, antya maa” – meaning “and, finally…”. I jumped up with excitement and sighed – thank dog, at last, this abuse comes to an end. Unfortunately, he was not done yet. Somehow he squeezed in another issue and went on to say “ani, antya maa” seven more times, literally – before he finally concluded his prolonged monotone verbal assault.

Of course, there are some soft-spoken and sensible ones, but many of our politicians (and general people) are well skilled in delivering rambling speeches that get nowhere – na yetaa, na utaa ko. Worst of all, the politicians seem not to care that they are yelling and shouting and forcing the audience into the dreaded coma.

I only wish they knew the difference between being persuasive and being repulsive.

Lessons:

So what’s the lesson for an aspiring public speaker or presenter?

First, you don’t have to shout or yell and create a moshpit in front you. Be passionate and be calm.

Second, if you say “Finally…” or “Aba antya maa”, even by a mistake, just conclude your speech within the next 60 seconds. Even if you had four more things to say, don’t spread the verbal diarrhea epidemic to the audience. Just stop. Your audience will like you more for that.

Thank you politicians. Though bad in public speaking, you’ve still managed to teach us something important. 🙂

If you agree with me or find this blog useful, just shoot me a comment! I would love to hear from you.

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110. Public Speaking Guideline #3

If you think about it, all the rules of communication are just a rule of thumb. Sometimes being confident works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Being vulnerable seems to work as well. There is no way of finding out which works – being confident or being vulnerable – unless we know about our audience and the context.

These two videos have a lot of validity under their belt and probe into the neglected part of the science of communication and human connection.

The power of powerless communication: Adam Grant at TEDxEast

The power of vulnerability: Brene Brown

109. Public Speaking Guideline # 2

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I really enjoy looking into the eyes of the audience when I’m giving a talk or doing a presentation. I love getting their non-verbal feedbacks. There’s a saying – eyes are the window to the soul. Therefore, while looking into their eyes, I feel more connected, intimate and real with them. This just boosts my self-confidence into a higher level and makes me feel right at home.

This is very important not only for the public speakers, but also for teachers or any leaders. Teachers are essentially public speakers inside the classroom among the students. By looking into the eyes of the students while teaching or doing a presentation, teachers can connect better, teach better and influence better.

Imagine that you are talking to your friend and she doesn’t even look you in your eyes. It gets awkward after a few seconds. You start feeling uncomfortable. You might also suspect that something is certainly wrong with your friend. May be she is lying. May be she is not feeling well. It could be any reasons.

But this is a very scary thing to do when we start out. During my initial days as a public speaker, looking into the eyes of the audience was a very daunting job for me. I vividly remember fleetingly looking into their faces, gazing toward the ceiling or scanning on the floor. I lacked confidence. I lacked conviction. As a result, I lacked any effect. 

So, desperate to improve my speaking and gain confidence, I started going through toastmasters’ videos and public speaking tutorials on youtube. I went through several hours of Tedtalk videos studying the art of public speaking and learning the psychology behind eye contact. I learnt how to look into their eyes so as to make them feel cared and respected. I also learnt that if our eyes are giving away anxiety or nervousness, our audiences will simply reflect anxiety and nervousness.

Now I don’t get scared to look into their eyes and communicate effectively. I just feel I’m on a different level when our eyes get connected.

So here’s my take on this. 

  1. Look them in their eyes, but not for more than two seconds.
    Connect with them but don’t stare at them. If you look into them longer, they might get uncomfortable, and as a result they might just tune you out.
  2. Also, look for “positive non-verbal feedback”. Head nods. Friendly facial expression. Open body language.
  3. Remember: non-verbal signals are contagious.
    If you have energy, the audience also shows interest in you. If you smile, the audience also becomes friendly with you. But if your body language is slumped and slouching, the audience starts snoring in a while.

And, please watch this TED video of Amy Cuddy. It’s not overtly about ‘eye contact’ but it’s about the power of mind and body language. If you’ve already watched it, give it a one more shot. 🙂

108. Public Speaking Guideline # 1

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We learn by making mistakes. It is also true that we learn by seeing others make mistakes.

Recently, I took part in a public speaking session organized a club of a college. Everything went well until the final guest speaker ruined it for me and for everybody. He would not just stop talking. He kept on rambling about his school, his career, his work, his projects for over 45 minutes. I felt like he deliberately victimized us by throwing his frustrations and anger towards us.

How could he not see the impatient eyes and slumped body language of the audience! He eventually realized that he had been talking for a long time and said, “I will end my speech soon” and went on to talk for 15 more minutes. Before closing his speech (thankfully), he also managed to give a few tips on public speaking. How weird is that!

I wanted to sneak out of the hall but I was right in front of him and didn’t want to act rude. So I sat on my chair and listened to his entire speech, just for courtesy and learnt a valuable lesson. I promised myself – “I will never put my audience through such verbal ordeal”.

Now this is not a criticism thrown towards him but just a reflection of a super bored member of the audience. As an aspiring public speaker, I am writing this guideline for me as well as for others who want to be a truly amazing speaker. 

Guideline # 1: Respect your audience’s time

As a public speaker, you must respect your audience’s time in order to gain their respect. You have to feel privileged that they are allowing you their time to listen to your talk. When you show that you care about their time, it will help build trust and warmth between you and the audience.

Even if the organizer or the concerned person did not tell you your allocated time, it’s a good idea to ask them how many minutes you have. Then, tell this to your audience too as you begin your talk.

Here’s one way of doing it:

Hello everyone. Today I’m going to share with you some tips on becoming an effective public speaker. This talk will last around for 15 minutes and hopefully at the end, you will learn how to structure your speech, how to start and how to end your speech. So let’s begin.

There are many effective ways to start your speech (by asking a question, by presenting a startling fact, by jumping right into your story, and so on) but make sure you also give them some sort of hints about how long your talk is going to be. This way, your audience knows how long you will be talking and accordingly they will prepare themselves mentally and physically. Because, common knowledge says – sitting on a chair and listening to someone attentively takes a lot of hard work.

I think rambling and not caring about audience’s need is a verbal disease people contracted from Nepali politicians who talk in circles and never end their speech on time. Once, I was listening to a speech by UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in a hall. I still remember how he said “aba antya ma”, meaning “in conclusion” at least seven times before ending his speech for real. Listening to him for that long was like a harsh punishment. 

Many politicians think that the longer and louder they speak (even when there’s a microphone in front of their mouth), the better their communicating. However contrary to their misguided belief, no audience enjoys an incoherent long winding speech (unless the hall is full of party cadres). But sadly, this twisted concept has crept into so many public speakers also.

This disease can be cured though.

So, give your speech and make a point. And end it in time. Just end it. Don’t give in to your urge to say more, share more and talk more. Don’t feed your audience with too many information because, chances are, they will not remember anything. Even worse, chances are your audience may not remember you.

102. Speaking at the Speakers’ Club

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I always thought that I was a ‘good’ speaker when it comes to speaking in front of an audience. I am teacher and I am speaking all the time… in the class, with the students, everywhere. So I had to be good at speaking, right?

NO!!!

I remember how horrible my first speech was in our Speakers’ Club – KU. It was humiliatingly all over the places. No content. No focus. No interaction. Since then, I have promised myself that I will work on my public speaking and be a confident and interactive speaker and presenter (and yeah an effective teacher).

So yesterday was the fifth time I spoke in the club as a featured speaker and as usual, I was a little nervous about it. A couple of days ago, I wrote and finalized my four minutes speech on the title “The Book that Changed My Life”. I rehearsed it, on timer, for about six times in front of the mirror (Yes, mirror – I don’t know why). I was pretty sure that I would nail it the way I had written it.

I wrote my speech on the structure of Identity, Struggle, Discovery and Result framework (I learnt about this from Kevin Rodger’s video on youtube), and rewrote the speech a couple of times. I added my personal story, which made a point – following the advice of the amazing Craig Valentine (tell a story – make a point).

I have also been self-teaching myself the art of public speaking by watching a lot of TED Talk videos, by listening to whatthespeak podcast and by reading Dale Carnegie’s books on speaking – just to name of few. I have been focusing on improving my movement and non-verbal signals – purposeful movement, confident eye contact and complementary hand gestures.

Despite all these preparations and practice, I still felt nervousness boiling in my blood. During the delivery, I mispronounced a few words a couple of time and I forgot some of the key sentences that I had planned on speaking with emphasis. But what I have improved are pace and pause in my delivery, movement, eye contacts and other non-verbal signals. I have also understood the importance of ‘you’ focused questions, and improved this technique ‘look to one-speak to all’ as prescribed by Craig Valentine.

Lesson: practice, practice and practice. I need more ‘stage time’ (as coined by Darren Lacroix) and I need more practice. I guess being nervous is a positive thing because it keeps me on the guard and stops me from being over confident.

I am working hard on it. Everyday, every minute.

Oh, by the way, the book I talked about was John Wood’s Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. It’s a wonderful book.