Five ways to capture your corporate audience with your speech.

The video of Ricky Gervais (brilliant by the way) is an example of what not to do when presenting a speech in the workplace.

As someone who has written and directed plays and scenes (which I’m getting back into again) I find no greater joy than in seeing and hearing my written words performed by actors. It’s so much more rewarding than receiving written feedback and reviews on a short story or book because the impact you have on the audience is immediate. You get to read the audience’s facial expressions, see their emotional response, hear their laughter or gasps–it’s all so positively wonderful–intoxicating even.

The same goes for a speech–corporate or not–you’re up in front of an audience.

At the heart of a successful speech, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a few words at a corporate team building event, the CEO’s message to investors or leading a Monday Morning Meeting, is your immediate and profound impact on your audience.

It can go one of two ways:

  • You will have bored people to death with an ill-prepared speech, chalk-full of run-on sentences, hard-to-understand business lingo, ill thought out-concepts and overall badness or,
  • You grabbed your entire audience with a concise, well-researched, written and rehearsed presentation; one where your engagement as a speaker was oozing out of every pore of your body.

You have to treat the speech like a theatrical production. Speeches, like theater, are meant to capture, spark, inform, motivate, entertain, assuage and usually unite your group. Based on my fill of bad corporate speeches (it was a few years), directing my husband’s very excellent corporate speeches and my work in live theater, here are some tips for your next speech:

1. Rehearse. An actor doesn’t just show up with her/his lines written on some cards or iPad or laptop and hope it all goes well. No. The actor plans, practices and practices some more until the words flow. The speech (whether you like it or not) is part of your job, you wouldn’t slack off on a progress report to your superiors, so put some energy into rehearsing.

2. Actors will sometimes practice on their friends–okay, they practice on their friends a lot, at least the ones I know. It’s a fast and painless (at least for you) way to judge your delivery, so try your speech out on your friends and/or family. Yes, this is part of rehearsing but it’s in front of people who won’t judge you. Don’t ask what they think, look to see how they are reacting. Their faces will tell you everything.

3. Most actors aren’t writers and there’s a reason for that–they’re focused on one craft. If you can’t write, don’t write the speech yourself. Even if you think you are a bit of a writer, it’s usually best to allow someone with experience to forge the first draft for you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they have to know the material the way you do, it’s not about that, it’s about the way it’s being presented. You can add yourself into the speech later, but it makes for a far more dynamic speech if you allow another voice (writer) to disseminate the information for you.

4. The actor knows s/he gets one shot at captivating the audience so they make them pay attention with body language. Same with your speech–you need to demand the attention you deserve. Stand up straight at the podium, be a presence. Channel Darth Vadar if you have too, look commanding. Wait for people to stop chattering, if they don’t, ask them to please do so with a smile (works better than a frown), look your audience squarely in their eyes and speak in a clear voice. It’s your one shot so run with it.

5. Shake off the nerves. Be comfortable with what you are doing. Speaking in front of people can be intimidating, but remember, they’re human like you. Someone visibly at ease will be able to convey their message more readily than someone thinking how fast they can run away from the podium. Some actors do body movement exercises before they go on stage. You don’t have to go in that specific direction, but concentrating on your breathing or a few simple stretches will help with nerves a whole lot.

Before your next speaking engagement, just ask yourself who would you want to see give the speech you have in your hands?

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Does everyone have a bestselling novel in them?

Bestseller

Do we all have that bestseller lurking inside us just waiting to get out? Have you been playing with the plot in your mind for years now–itching to get it down on paper? Yes, well, we all may have an idea, a great idea at that, but not everyone can translate that idea into a full length piece of highly readable fiction. And that’s what makes a bestseller. Although, I must qualify highly readable because what’s highly readable to you may not be highly readable to me. James Patterson, I just can’t get through anything he’s written, yet he’s a bestselling author. But still, highly readable to a majority of the book buying public.

Okay, so what does it take to get that idea out of you and onto paper?

1. Discipline. You have to sit down and actually write. Doesn’t matter how bad it is at first, you just have to make yourself put words to paper. And you have to make yourself write so many words per day. Otherwise, that idea in your head will just stay there.

2. Admitting your idea may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. This comes after you’ve put things down onto paper (or computer) and you start to see the flaw(s) in your work. That’s okay. In fact, if you don’t see any flaws and you are a first-timer, then you are deluding yourself. You are going to make mistakes. Love them, embrace them and then change them.

3. Read. I cannot emphasize this enough. Read every single day. Read what you aspire to write to or what you love–it doesn’t matter if it’s Proust or Marvel comics, just read.

4. Stick to conventions. Good grammar, form and spelling go a long way into getting your work recognized on that road to bestseller. Unless you are James Joyce don’t try experimental your first time out and expect everyone to fall over themselves because of your self-perceived brilliance. It takes years to perfect a writing voice.

5. Write what people like to read. You want a bestseller? Then write what sells. Think of it like opening a restaurant. Do you open an eatery in a very middle class, suburban area that sells an ethnic cuisine no one is familiar with or do you open Happy’s Burgers knowing everyone will know what that is and give it a try?

6. Make your characters familiar. Why does Stephen King sell so many books? Because he takes bizarre, other-worldly situations (what catches your eye) then creates very relatable characters who you form sympathetic, intimate relationships with as you read. We like to relate to and see ourselves in what we read and when that happens, more people will enjoy and recommend your book.

Get writing.

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How to make a reader?

Give them books. Great article over at The Atlantic about how publishers gave away over 100,000,000 books during WWII. Did they go bankrupt in the process? No. They created a nation of readers. A nation of men and women who took us to the moon, invented video games and created the Space Lab.

“Some of the publishers think that their business is going to be ruined,” the prominent broadcaster H. V. Kaltenborn told his audience in 1944. “But I make this prediction. America’s publishers have cooperated in an experiment that will for the first time make us a nation of book readers.” He was absolutely right. From small Pacific islands to sprawling European depots, soldiers discovered the addictive delights of good books. By giving away the best it had to offer, the publishing industry created a vastly larger market for its wares. More importantly, it also democratized the pleasures of reading, making literature, poetry, and history available to all.

And you writers out there–want to be a better writer? Read.

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Fluency in English…

both verbally and non-verbally!

From a job posting I found today, thankfully not in a Writing/Editing capacity. It’s for a front desk agent at the Terranea resort.

Under required qualifications we see, “Fluency in English both verbally and non-verbally.” What if the desk agent can only send out psychic messages in Esperanto? Who will know of this non-verbal, non-fluency?

Or did the copywriter really mean to say fluent in English, spoken and written.

This is why you hire a writer, people. This is why.

Lowe DHR - Job details 2014-09-10 09-30-24

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Writers: I have a good quote for you.

"Jo Nesbo" by Elena Torre - Flickr: Jo Nesbo. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jo_Nesbo.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Jo_Nesbo.jpg

“Jo Nesbo” by Elena Torre – Flickr: Jo Nesbo. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Before we get to the quote (or you can just scroll down, it’s up to you) let me state I am a big Jo Nesbo fan. I have been binge reading him all this year since I found his books at my local Barnes & Noble. See what a good visual display can do? The table at B&N was marked, “Nordic Noir” and the cover of The Redbreast (the all red one) caught my eye and the rest is history.

Nesbo writes crime fiction, the not for the faint of heart kind. He’s really good at what he does which is why I can’t put the books down. And credit where credit is due, the translator, Don Bartlett, is excellent at what he does as well.

My favorite book so far in the series, The Snowman, is being made into a movie. Mr. Nesbo’s public persona via the book jackets and the web is intriguing; you kind of just naturally like him. You suspect, rightfully or not, he has based his main character, Harry Hole, a little bit on himself–a little. Please know the Norwegian pronunciation for Hole, is not like the English so yeah, you’ve got to let go of that one. Thanks to the books, Oslo now tops my list for cities I most want to visit. Sorry Tokyo, you are now down to number two.

What I’m saying is you should pay attention to the upcoming quote because his works have hooked an international audience–the guy knows what he’s doing–he has a body of work to prove it.

I found the quote when I did a web search while reading his latest Harry Hole book, The Police, because I saw something in the plot that had me worried–was he killing off his main character? I won’t answer that. However, I came across an interview with Mr. Nesbo and therein was the quote that I think all writers need to read. Let it soak in.

Mr. Nesbo has been commissioned by a UK publisher to write a prose retelling of Macbeth. The interviewer for the WSJ blog, Speakeasy, caught up with Mr. Nesbo while on a beach in Thailand. Of course he did (think book jacket persona).

The question that prompted the quote I want to share was this:

How about the language? A lot of reinterpretations of Macbeth make sure that Shakespeare’s language remains intact. 

Mr. Nesbo’s answer and emphasis is mine:

…But Shakespeare writes language that’s supposed to be spoken from the stage— it builds on the spoken word and on dialogue. And that’s not how the novel works. Milan Kundera’s motto was that the novel only has its raison d’être insofar as the novel does what only the novel can do. So I have to write this book on the novel’s terms, which means I’ll probably have to let go of Shakespeare’s language and dialogue, but retain the structure.

He has to write on the novel’s terms. He knows how a novel works!

And that is the difference between a seasoned writer and one who is just starting out or one who is frustrated: knowledge of the limitations or freedoms of his/her chosen medium.

All too often novice writers think they have to write a book for a strange variety of reasons and ignore their inner writing voice which may really be a play, screenplay or graphic novel. In certain cases, it’s none of those, it’s just an idea.

Some real quotes of why they’re attempting to, or have written a book, from some fellow writers I’ve met along the way:

It’s a good way to get my thoughts in order.

Novelists receive far more admiration than screenwriters.

I won’t get tenure unless I produce a novel.

It will attract an agent if I can show a finished or several finished books and not plays.

Money.

I want to be the next John Grisham and then I’ll get the movie deal.

Yes, I put it out on Amazon but I’m really only writing for me.

I just wanted to create characters people can identify with.

Everyone I know has a blog and a book, so should I.

Fans don’t care if it’s that well written.

I don’t think those writers have ever stopped to think about ‘how the novel works.’ They may have produced something akin to a book in that it has pages and a cover, but that’s where it ends. Writing a full length piece of fiction is complex, nuanced and full of traps for the unsuspecting or unseasoned writer.

And the only way to consider how the novel works is to read them. Read a lot of them; read Nesbo, Kundera, Stephen King, read Fitzgerald, Joyce, Margaret Atwood, Shute, Lawrence and Orwell. Read graphic novels too–they’re great pieces of storytelling.

Begin by reading. It’s only then can you master your craft–whether it’s a novel, essay, short story or play. Reading, I promise, will make you a better story teller and then possibly, a better novelist.

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This is what happens when the 17-year old fills the cart.

le bag du shame

As someone who doesn’t eat meat anymore, I wanted to like this, I really did. You know, guilt free bacon and cheese all rolled into one crispy fried potato? What’s not to like? Look at the temptation on the package. A bubbling dutch oven filled with the promise of the taste of bacon, mac, cheese (or cheez) and Lay’s! Plus, no cholesterol.

le dutch oven avec macncheez

Then we got them out of the bag. Did I tell you my son put these in the cart with a smile of confidence? I let him do this because I, too, wanted to believe.

les chips

They looked okay but the taste? My oldest son had one and said it tasted like bad Burger King. My youngest, the culprit behind the purchase, put one in his mouth and spit it out. He asked me to get him water.

I wish I could have been as decisive as my sons.

I found them compellingly bad, like the loaded Doritos at 7-11–my oldest was to blame for those. Not only did I hate myself for eating the several I had, I loathed the fact that I couldn’t stop myself from eating the next one. The power of Lays compels you. I picked up another and then another–willing the next one to taste better. It didn’t happen. With all the mighty I could muster (okay it was like 7 chips) I closed the bag. If self-loathing is your thing, I got a bag of Lays for you.

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Well, at least she’s honest.

Sometimes writing, and in this case writing one’s memoirs, is a pain in the arse. From the Irish Independent:

Courney Love reveals writing memoir is a ‘nightmare’ but says ‘Hole’ reunion possible

It seems the writing of Courtney Love‘s memoir isn’t quite going to plan.The ‘Hole‘ singer has described the writing process as a “disaster” and a “nightmare” and says it’s “just not happening”.In an interview with Paper, the 50-year-old star said, “It’s a disaster. A nightmare…

 

We have to agree, Ms. Love, sometimes writing can be a nightmare. It’s why we blog :)

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Words totally fail me in today’s Oh, Jobs! So here’s the screenshot.

The link is here.

Don’t apply if you’re 21 or even like 28 years old. You’re not ideal. Here’s the EEOC page on prohibited practices in job advertisements. Psst, you broke some laws here. See what happens when the adults aren’t consulted?

Good luck, Thrive Market, whoever you are.

All Star Associate Editor For Growing Health Startup

 

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Saudade, thanks to Duran Duran.

...there’s a word in Portuguese, saudade, that explains those kinds of memories with a passion and intensity not found in our own language. It’s a great word--a fantastic word...

"DuranDuran Rio 12inch". Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DuranDuran_Rio_12inch.jpg#mediaviewer/File:DuranDuran_Rio_12inch.jpg

I find the human brain a wondrous and strange organ. All those folds (named the gyri and sulci — there’s your Jeopardy question for the day) gray matter, white matter, neurons, dopamine, serotonin; all that makes us who we are, encased in a skull that isn’t, but should be, made of titanium. Makes you wonder how we’ve survived as a species.

A very strange thing about our brains, tucked away somewhere in all those gyri and sulci, (see? real world application of your Jeopardy knowledge) is how certain elements of our lives like sounds and smells can evoke a string of memories or emotions. You may be taken back to your childhood by the distinctive scent of Coppertone as it reminds you of summers spent with your family; the sound of traffic and honking horns will always put you in your first apartment in the city, or the taste of coriander and lemongrass will forever transport you to that trip to Thailand you took as a newlywed. For me it’s cooking spaghetti, specifically the smell of the salty water mingling with the noodles and the act of stirring the pot. I will always remember my 7th grade home economics teacher getting so mad at me as I pulled a spaghetti noodle from the boiling pot and ate it, as a test for doneness. Let’s just say she thought my methods were too hands-on.

But there’s a word in Portuguese, saudade, that explains those kinds of memories with a passion and intensity not found in our own language. It’s a great word–a fantastic word–with many subtle meanings; a longing, nostalgia or yearning and “a longing for something or some event that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in a distant future.”

I experienced saudade, thanks to Duran Duran.

Earlier this week, I got a startling jolt to my memory that I haven’t been able to put out of my mind. A song came on the radio as I drove with my youngest son, the two of us cruising down the coast here on yet another glorious summer day. It was Hungry Like The Wolf, and it is popular, again, with both my sons’ age groups. I know, I too am amazed because 32 years later, they’re singing along with Duran Duran — we’re singing Duran Duran together.

I think the reason my mind made the past come to the forefront so vividly at that moment was due to a combination of me being deliriously happy as I was together with my son, singing the words out loud through the open windows, the feel of the summer sun, the look of the sky all while being in a car watching the coast unfold before us. It took that specific merging of all those elements to make my neurons fire and conjure up the past the way it did.

I was immediately taken back to the Maryland of my past, sitting in the back of my friend’s car as we drove along, the four of us probably headed to Washington, D.C. on a hot, sticky summer day in 1982. Maybe it was even close to my 20th birthday. I don’t remember, but I remember the song and the sense that I was almost touching complete happiness or at least, the promise of happiness was there, laid out before me. It was not a particularly joyous time in my life so I have no idea, now, why I was feeling that way. It could have been I was just thrilled to be away from the oppression of my home and my insane mother, who should have been medicated but wasn’t. Maybe I had just gotten rid of an idiot boyfriend who had been causing me pain. It may have been I saw a glimpse of the future that day and the future was still playing Duran Duran–one with me, my husband and our two gorgeous sons singing Rio all together.

Whatever was going through my almost 20 year old mind is lost now, but not that sensation of realizing happiness that I’ve come to associate with that song.

I did look over to my son as the song ended, beaming, and told him it’s amazing to me that here I am singing a 32 year old song with him as we drive along the California coast. He got it, he understood my sense of complete contentment at that moment because he had fun too. We had made happy fools of ourselves singing with the windows down and two cute girls in the next car smiled at him. In the good way.

And had you come to me then and said to my almost 20 year old self, “Margaret, you’ll be very content one day, driving along with one of your two beautiful sons and guess what? Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf will come on the radio and the two of you will sing it together — word-for-word, and all will be right with the world,” I would have said you are insane for many reasons, but mostly because I never thought I could be so perfectly happy.

Saudade.

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