Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thoughts on "Last Comic Standing" - Part I

Last night I was watching NBC's "Last Comic Standing" and was struck by some of the good and not-so-good things the comedians were doing. For those of you living under a rock (which is not a bad place to live if you have sensitivity to the sun) "Last Comic Standing" is a worldwide "funniest person contest" hosted by Bill Bellamy.

After auditioning thousands of comeidans, we're down to the final 32. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from last night's show.

  • A very funny woman from New York did a whole set about living in New York. Hello? She was performing in LA. Lesson: Know your audience and do material they might relate to. (Yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Sue me.)

  • Another comedian, a 9-year veteran, got up on stage and did a series of unrelated one-liner jokes. He would have been right at home in the Poconos circa 1959. But in 2007 he couldn't get in a rhythm nor could he build any momentum with his audience. Lesson: Lose the old school approach. Stay current.

  • A comedian from Minneapolis took nearly 25 seconds of her 2-minute set to get to her first laugh. Nothing against Minnesotans, but that is way too long. Lesson: Life is short. Get to your point fast.

  • The comedians who seemed like they were having fun as they walked onto the stage and up to the mic seemed to perform the best. Lesson: Get them to like you before you start talking. Lesson #2: Have as much fun as the audience.

  • And the comics who performed the most universal material (i.e. stuff that everyone can relate to) did the best. Those who just talked about themselves didn't fare as well. Lesson: It's not about you. It's all about the audience.

  • Best line of the night was from Doug Benson after he earned a spot in the finals. "I feel like a weight has been lifted and it has been replaced by another weight."

My favorites from last night's episode were Ralph Harris and Doug Benson.

Time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1 and #2: See the "Lessons" above.

Happy Speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - Critic

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

2007 National Speakers Association Convention: Day Two

Whoa! So many good speakers, so little time. Today there were two mega sessions (2,300 attendance) and close to 20 breakout sessions at NSA so we can't cover it all. Let's just talk about the speaker that made the biggest impact.

John Molidor, PhD - "Shocking Revelations About What's Going On Inside Your Brain"

John is the dean of the college of Human Medicine at Michigan State--he's one of those smart scientist-types you see on "NOVA" and yet he was able to speak to us in language we could understand. (Keep in mind, the old line about NSA is that it's the only organization around whose members have written more books than they've read.) This is some of the stuff John laid down for us:

  • There are 3 parts of the brain: reptilian (survival), limbic (emotion) and neocortex (thinking).

  • You need to engage all three if you want to be a successful speaker.

  • By the way, when push comes to shove the reptilian always wins. Case in point, if you have to go to the bathroom, learning has left the building.

  • He showed the parts of the brain that "light up" on an fMRI scan when listening to the famous "Starfish Story" for the first time. However, it was interesting to note that a person's brain shuts down (i.e. doesn't light up) when the Starfish Story is told again in the first person. Lesson? When we detect dishonesty our brains don't want any part of it.

  • The brain hates rote. (Hmmm, maybe that's why we didn't enjoy memorizing dates and facts in school.)

  • Smell is the most acute and least used of our senses.

  • You can partially recreate what goes on in the minds of your audience if you describe in a smell or sound in detail. For instance, how do you feel when you walk into a Krispy Kreme when the "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign is lit up?

  • How audiences remember: 1) use color, 2) break your presentation up into 25-minute segments, and 3) provide rest time - let them soak it in.

  • Want to be remembered? 1) Know how the brain works, 2) speak to the senses, and 3) create an emotional content

  • PowerPoint slides? Put images on the left and text on the right - your brain will thank you for it.

  • You use WAY more than 10% of your brain.

  • Men and women speak about the same number of words per day.

  • Finally, he deconstructed the oft misapplied Dr. Albert Mehrabian communication study that said communication is 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% visual. Really? To test this theory he played a two minute clip of a person speaking Russian and asked if we could gleen 93% of the meaning. We couldn't. Conclusion? Content matters.

Time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1: What parts of the brain are you not addressing in your presentations? Could your facts and figures be dressed up with a little emotion?

Your Turn #2: How can you invoke all five senses and build emotional connections with your audience?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - PhD Wannabe

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

National Speakers Association Convention Day One: Simon T. Bailey and Brilliance

The 2007 National Speakers Association is taking place in San Diego this week. It's a weeklong festival of powerful platform presentations and big time business-building breakouts. Here are the highlights from Day One.

Simon T. Bailey kicked off the event with an amazing speech about recognizing and embracing your brilliance. He suggested that brilliance is the present embodiment of potential. Whereas potential is something that might be realized in the future, brilliance is something we have right now.

He had some great quotes, too:

    • "You’re a vitamin, not an aspirin."

    • "Be an original voice, not an annoying echo."

    • "I want to be judged by actions taken, not evaluations given."

    • "You can tell that I’m from Orlando by my Godiva tan." (He's African-American, in case you didn't know.)

    • "I'll let that marinate for a while." He added this line after he said something very profound. The audience loved it.

    • "Delete your ‘qoute file’." Which means, try to create your own quotes instead of resting on the laurels of others. Plus, if the quote is famous enough, there's a chance most of your audience has heard it before. Be an original voice.

He also through out some great statistics about the meetings and convention business. Every year $1.7 billion is spent on meetings and conferences, 1.2 million conferences are held every working day and there are approximately 3,500 members of NSA. His point? There's more than enough work to go around.

Lastly, he closed with a powerful analogy while seated in a chair on stage. When he said is final words he just sat in the chair and looked at the audience. You got the idea that he was finished, but you weren't exactly sure. Then he stood up and walked off the stage. He didn't get more than 3-4 steps away from the chair before the place erupted into a standing ovation.

Nicely done.

Now it's time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1: I think it's great to use quotes in presentations, but ask yourself if it's time to freshen up your pool of quotations. The author of the quote isn't as important as the quote itself.

Your Turn #2: How will you conclude your next speech? Consider a powerful, show-stopping statement followed by a three second pause. A strong impression is guaranteed.

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - Candlestick Maker

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Stick The Landing! End Your Speech With A Call-To-Action

Last week we talked about how you should never, never, never, never end a presentation with a Q&A. The next logical question is “how should a presentation end?” With a Call To Action (CTA).

CTA is a term borrowed from the advertising world. Believe it or not, every single commercial, magazine ad, coupon, web page design, etc. has some sort of CTA.

A Call-To-Action is what the audience should do or think about a product or service.

“Just do it.”

“Drivers Wanted.”

“The 7-Layer Burrito is now only $1.29.”

You get the idea.

Advertisers and good presenters know that the CTA is the last thing the audience will hear and it’s the one thing they’ll most likely remember. Remember your Psych 101 class in college? The recency effect? When given multiple pieces of information, people tend to recall the last thing they hear. So why not make the last thing they hear, the most important thought, request or direction of your speech?

It’s fairly easy to come up with a good CTA if the goal of your speech is for the audience to literally take some course of action. Do you want them to approve a budget? Adopt a new strategic direction? Bless the Q4 advertising plan?

Or, do you want the audience to stop doing something? Reduce mistakes? Less waste?

Crafting an effective CTA requires a little more effort and when you’re just conveying information or providing an update. Just boil the essence of your speech down to a single sentence that encapsulates the purpose of your speech.

Do you want your audience to simply be aware of some new regulations? What are the regulations and what impact will it have on them? The shorter the better.

Are you providing a monthly update? What is the one thought or idea you want your listeners to walk away with? What should they keep top-of-mind when they’re back at their desks?
Does your audience simply need an attitude adjustment? Without being heavy handed, what inspirational thought, quote or number could you leave them with? What will make them pause and think about where their heads are?

For example, I conclude nearly every one of my “Presenting with Excellence” seminars by reminding my audience what they just learned. I tell them, “Anyone can become a great speaker because great speakers are made, not born. You’re off to a great start. Keep it up.”

Does the audience start applauding? Sometimes. Is there a group hug? No. Do they throw roses on the stage? No. (But I wish they would.)

A good Call-To-Action is a great way to end. And a great ending is the best way for your audience to begin the rest of their day.

Time to Hit Your Stride…

Your Turn #1:
Take the goal or purpose of your next presentation and repurpose it to function as a CTA.

Your Turn #2:
Set up your CTA by planting the seed in your audience’s mind prior to Q&A. Try saying this, “Before I make my final point [CTA], what questions do you have about my presentation?” Now your listeners are prepared for a few final remarks after your Q&A.

Rhetorically yours,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - An Autobot In Disguise