Tag Archives: Presentation skills

How was the speech that won the World Championship in Public Speaking last night?

The winning speech at yesterday’s World Championship of Public Speaking.

Here’s the great speech that won the World Championship of Public Speaking last night. Watch it for your benefit!

This is my take on what was interesting in the winning speech and what anyone can learn from.

Courage is the key word

The main thing I saw was… courage:

  1. Courage to talk about a topic that comes from a non-Western cultural context.

  2. Courage to avoid exaggerations in body language, use of voice, and props.

    Why do I say this? Because in this contest the judges often reward you for such exaggeration, which looks slightly odd even for many Toastmasters members, let alone non-members.

  3. Courage to take a risk by choosing a speech title that is easily misheard and impossible to understand without hearing the speech itself.

    This sort of a choice about the speech title usually creates confusion in the audience.

    During the speech the audience actually found out that the difficulty to understand the name of the speech matched with the content and the message of the speech.

Other building blocks of a good speech

For me the main thing in any speech is that the content of the speech is clear and there’s a message that is relevant and easy to relate to.

Even better if the speaker is able to make the audience laugh.

The winning speech totally achieved each of the above goals.

I also saw great interaction with the audience. In this case, with a very large audience!

The speaker also did a great job of gradually building expectation during the speech. In this case, he did it by making the audience eager to hear another key word, and having them wait all the way until the end of the speech to hear it. This is a technique used both in suspense movies and in stand-up comedy.

This sort of performance looks easy when you watch it, but it takes not only great talent, but a huge amount of hard work. Like in Olympic sports.

Good to know about the context of this speech situation

Don’t expect to see a speech that takes a strong stance on an important current issue. In Toastmasters contests, you tend to be punished by the judges if you talk about something that can be interpreted as political. This is a challenge for the speakers as they still need to try to say something meaningful.

All in all, great job, incredible achievement, Cyril Junior Dim, well deserved!!

P.S. The topic of the speech was about the difficulty of being proud about what makes you different from everyone else. Because being different from those around you can put you into trouble.

As to myself, life has taught me that where people are different from others, or do something different from what most others do, is usually where they achieve their greatest heights of accomplishment and achievement.

Where we are different from others is what enables us to shine, and also succeed in life, whatever that means to each one of us.

But being different also takes… courage.

Do you find it hard to convince your audience when presenting a technology product?

If your answer to the question in the headline is yes, then this webinar is for you! (NB The webinar will be in SPANISH)

At the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have thought I would end up as a panelist in South America this week. Not even virtually, from the comfort of my home in Finland. But here we are 😀 Time and again, I’ve seen that the best things tend to be those that are a bit out of the ordinary.

The event is organized by Centrum PUCP, one of the best business schools in all of Latin America. They created the below banner about the webinar and us speakers.

In the webinar, we will discuss:

  • What challenges public speakers in the tech industry tend to face?
  • How are those challenges best tackled?
  • Presentation techniques that separate the best from the rest 

We will of course use a lot of examples and personal stories from Nokia and other companies.

In addition to yours truly, the panelists will include Oscar Santolalla, who has written two books about presentation skills in the tech industry, as well as Katherina Kuschel, who teaches MBA students and coaches startup entrepreneurs in business skills. 

The event is open to everyone. You just need to sign up beforehand here https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_7bsgtK29SMiwykZObvr2Cg 

Time and date: Thursday, February 24, 2022 at 6pm Finnish time (5pm Central European time, 11am Peru). The duration of the event is one hour.

The organizers told me that more than 200 people have already signed up. You’re warmly welcome to join us!

What can you learn about public speaking by coaching public speakers?

What can you learn about public speaking by coaching public speakers?

Here’s three things I’m seeing lately:

Puhuja

  1. Back to the basics

    Whether the person is a beginner or an experienced speaker, their key areas to improve tend to be in the basics.

    For example, it’s surprising how many speakers forget to ask themselves what the goal of their talk is, or who their audience is, and how that should influence what they say. Hint: ”Informing the audience about x” is not a good goal for a presentation.

  2. Improving, fast and slow

    Some aspects of a person’s speech can be improved quickly, sometimes all that is needed is feedback in the form of a single sentence.

    For example, if someone talks too fast and monotonously, I often ask them to identify the single most important word or phrase in their presentation, and focus on saying that one slowly and clearly. The audience immediately gets the message better.

    Other stuff may take years to fix, but the pay-off could be huge. For instance, I needed a speech therapist and endless drills to learn how to pronounce the letter ”r” in my native Finnish.

  3. Observing a symptom is just the first step towards the cure

    When you see an issue with someone’s presentation, you often only see a symptom. To help the speaker overcome that symptom, it helps if you understand a bit more deeply the person you’re coaching and where they come from.

    For example, I met two speakers who both talked too fast.

    It turned out the first one had a background in college debate and simply had to unlearn the habit of always speaking fast when on stage.

    The second one had spoken too fast because she wanted to deliver the maximum amount of information in the allotted time. Here the fix was different: to ditch all material that was not mandatory to achieve the goal of the presentation.

…which brings us to an additional conclusion: trust is essential when coaching public speakers.

What do you think?

An analysis of Trump’s inaugural address – a successful speech or not?

Can playing high status go over the top? Trump’s eagerly awaited speech had a number of technically good elements, but as a whole it was no stellar performance.

trump-inaugural-speech-january-20-2017-president-inauguration

During the last few years at Toastmasters, a global organization devoted to developing public speaking and leadership skills, I have evaluated dozens if not hundreds of speeches and given structured feedback to speakers. Hence, analyzing Trump’s inaugural address felt like the most natural thing to do.

The intriguing question was: Trump is an excellent speaker but also an exceptionally contradictory person – how would he do in his first speech as president?

While the speech had a number of technically good elements, as a whole it was a disappointment. Here’s why.

The goal of the speech

In the first place, the success or failure of a speech is related to its goal.

According to Trump’s advisers, the goal of the speech was to reach out and unite the country.

Everyone who Trump attacked during his campaign – that is, most Americans – listened to his speech very carefully. This was a unique opportunity for him to mend burned bridges.

Still he didn’t utter a single positive word about Hillary Clinton or her supporters, about women, latinos, muslims, immigrants, sexual minorities, the disabled, Democrats, Republicans, the media, the US intelligence community or the foreign allies of the US. Nor did he provide any positive message for those concerned about climate change or national security. The same applies to those angered by his habit of constant lying.

All these people were disappointed in Friday’s speech. Down the line, they’ll be ever harder to convince by anything Trump says.

Talking to a hostile audience is one of the most difficult situations a speaker might face.

Although most of the live audience were Trump supporters, the main audience of the speech consisted of all 320 million Americans, and secondarily, the rest of the world. Trump is supported by a minority of Americans and by an even smaller minority of non-Americans. In fact, slightly short of 20 percent (63 million people) of all Americans walked into a voting booth and voted for Trump.

A speaker facing a hostile audience often doesn’t even try to win it over because it’s a tough job. However, the newly elected leader of a nation needs to try to unite his country and to get at least some sympathy from his adversaries. It would help him tremendously in his work.

Yet it seems like the real goal of Trump’s speech was not reaching out and uniting the nation, but rather pleasing his established supporters and perhaps trying to rationalize his upcoming policies as president.

In humoring his supporters, Trump’s speech was probably successful. He repeated his tried and tested, simple campaign messages. The speech also fit well with his stated strategy of bypassing the political parties and the media and talking directly to his supporters instead.

In trying to rationalize his upcoming policies, the speech was a failure, however. The message didn’t hit home with a critical listener. It was simply too illogical and too far removed from reality. One needs to be pretty deep in Trump’s world in order to imagine having heard anything even close to watertight argumentation.

For hard-core Trump supporters, the argumentation may have worked. So, it’s really all about what the goal of the speech was. Unfortunately, that we don’t know.

Using high status

High and low status are terms used in the world of theater. High status refers to a person adopting a dominant position relative to those around him. High status can communicate for example self-confidence or arrogance. Trump’s performance on Friday – as his performances during the campaign trail – was pure high status.

Some expressions of high status we saw in the speech were a low tone of voice, slow and clearly articulated speech, a head barely moving, a severe and relatively expressionless face, mouth and lips pointing outwards as well as half-closed eyes and frowning.

In addition, we saw a relatively motionless body with only the arms making controlled gestures. Trump kept his hands far from his head. The palms of his hands would often be open, fingers apart from each other, with one finger occasionally pointing at the audience.

These status techniques are straight from the book and they are studied at theater schools.

Public speakers tend to use high status most of the time and this is normally recommended. However, when exaggerated, the audience’s experience may tilt towards the negative connotations of high status, rather than the positive ones.

All of this, accentuated by the frequently aggressive tone of voice and message, gives an impression of the speaker overly emphasizing himself and placing himself above other people. The style appears authoritarian, especially when the speech includes passages such as ”There should be no fear. We are protected, and we will always be protected.”

Here the speech starts to sound like the talk of an omnipotent father figure, who expects the audience to see themselves as his subjects. Oddly enough, the ”I will protect you” message is contradictory to the all-American ideals of individualism, individual initiative and freedom as well as the cherished right for individuals to bear arms.

The manner Trump dressed for his address matched his speaking style: a black suit and overcoat together with a red tie communicate power.

Structure and content of the speech

Structure

Trump told the audience that the country is in a terrible state, called out the culprits and told that the future is bright.

The structure of the speech was clear. Trump used simple words, lots of powerful slogans and almost every word he pronounced was easy to hear. The good old rule of three, i.e. reciting lists of three things, was also frequently used.

Trump made effective use of pauses and some parts of the speech included powerful verbal imagery. The speech ended with a strong “Let’s make America great again” sequence, which probably worked well with his supporters.

On the other hand, Trump’s use of voice and his body language, while not monotonous, were quite repetitive, like a train going at a steady speed. This occasionally reduced the effectiveness of the words he spoke.

For example: reading the transcript of Trump’s speech, there are actually plenty of mentions that seem to aim at uniting the nation. Trump talked about ”healing our divisions”, about solidarity, ”we must debate our disagreements honestly”, ”there is no room for prejudice”, and ”whether we are black or brown or white”.

Still, when watching the speech on video, those words somehow don’t stand out as unifiers of the divided nation. It didn’t sound like the words were emphasized in the sense of rebuilding burnt bridges.

Part of this impression is also because the presumably unifying words were mostly presented in a somewhat odd context of ”[opening one’s] heart to patriotism”, ”total allegiance”, loyalty and ”a new national pride [that] will … heal our divisions”.

Many listeners would ask whether gay Americans are invited to that new pride? How about the latinos, muslims etc.?

Content

This brings us to the content of the speech, which caused the speech to fail except for Trump’s existing supporters.

Trump’s description of the horrendous state of the country was largely false and understood as such by most listeners. The US economy, industry, employment, crime rates and the military are not in such a catastrophic shape as he claimed. Those statements alone would be enough to strip most public speakers from much of their credibility.

Trump also told who are to blame, i.e. who the enemies are: politicians and foreign countries. This includes foreign businesses and people, whether they are immigrants, employees of foreign companies abroad or terrorists.

This means Trump wanted the audience to believe that even as president, he himself is not a politician. That’s not credible.

It’s also interesting to note who was missing from the list of enemies: the rich.

An old quote comes to mind here: ”What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”.

The isolationist tone of the speech was detached from reality. No country can isolate itself from the world, not even North Korea. In addition, many of the toughest issues facing individual nations can only be attacked through international cooperation.

The speech made no mention of climate change, even though it’s a far bigger issue for the US than radical Islamic terrorism – the only issue Trump mentioned as meriting the kind of international cooperation that he otherwise spoke so strongly against. Since 2001, the US hasn’t seen any significant radical Islamic terrorism and there have been no signs of it increasing within the the country’s borders.

For other countries, Trump’s message was menacing.

The ”America First” slogan is strange, as it’s always been clear that the US primarily seeks its own interest – just like any country. Again, the message seemed to be targeted only at Trump supporters, not to the nation.

The lack of logic in the speech continues.

“January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” While Trump’s speech correctly used plenty of ”we” and ”you” instead of ”I”, one easily gets the impression that people might equal just one person. And if you look at the administration composed of millionaires, billionaires and family members, the notion of them representing the common man or woman becomes quite surreal in the listener’s mind.

Trump’s message of ”people” and ”a movement” can be understood from the fact that many of his supporters still feel that he honestly represents their interests.

So again, the message was apparently directed not at the nation but at Trump’s supporters.

Therefore, the big questions about this speech are: why did Trump not talk to his opposition? Was it only because he, as many public speakers, knows that it’s hard to convert those that disagree with you?

End note: a speech evaluator’s difficult task

It was no easy task to evaluate Trump’s inaugural speech, because I, like everybody else, already had an opinion about him. Yet, one should try to evaluate a speech from an objective viewpoint.

I have learned, both as a public speaker and as a speech evaluator, that each piece of feedback is only the point of view of a single person and therefore shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I have seen how even experienced evaluators give very different feedback on the same speech.

However, when honest and constructive feedback repeatedly generates similar comments to a speaker, then he or she can be quite confident that the feedback might be valid, whether it’s about one’s strengths as a speaker or about something one could try to improve.