Every good public speaking coach will tell you that stories strengthen any presentation, speech or pitch. Stories put information into context. However, not every story is a good story or even the right story. So here are three rules to follow to help you identify the right stories.

Connection
Relatable:
This is one people often overlook. Your story may be perfect for your speech, but not for your audience. Each audience is different. Telling a story the majority of your audience can’t connect to, is worse than no story at all. So realize you may have to change stories each time you give that presentation. If not, it may feel like an inside joke that alienates you from the audience.

Clarity
Relevant:
I have often seen speakers who include anecdotes or stories because they read in a book that they should. They never bothered to figure out how or why that story makes sense in their speech. If you don’t see the connection, why should they. Think of the story as a picture you are painting for your audience so they can remember your points and put them in context. Make sure your stories are a good fit.

Credibility
Real:
First and foremost stories need to be true. An audience can usually sniff out a ‘planted’ story that was crafted for the occasion. They always fall flat and leave you looking like a twit. By the same token, I have seen people use other people’s stories as their own. While it is always more powerful to use personal stories, there are times when an experience that a client or colleague has had can be useful. However, if they are not your own you need to qualify that at the beginning. Give credit where credit is due. Keep it real.

So think about your audience, your information and your experiences. The stories that intersect all three are always the ‘right’ stories.

Your research is done. Your deck is ready.  Your business is poised.  Now all you need to do stand in front of the investors and make the pitch.
So, make sure you…

6. BREATHE 

Nerves are normal, even healthy.  Nerves can create energy and help you get your message and passion across.  But uncontrolled nerves are deadly.  So breathe.  It sound so simple, but it the first thing we stop doing when we are nervous.  Besides being generally good for you, breathing is the key to controlling nerves.  Standing in front of important and influential investors is not the time to limit the oxygen to your brain.  Take long, slow, deep breaths.  This will help you control your heart rate and by extension, your nerves

7. FOCUS ON THEM 

Another tip for controlling nerves is to focus on the investors.  Often when we are making a presentation or trying to persuade someone, we stay in our own heads.  We think ‘I hope they decide to fund’ instead of ‘I can’t wait for them to hear about my company’.  Get out of your head and into theirs.  Now instead of nerves, you will show passion, focus and connection.

8. PACE YOURSELF

The single biggest presentation mistake entrepreneurs make in a pitch, is spending too much time on the product and not enough time on the company.  When you are practicing, practice your pacing.  Make sure you are spending more time on your team, financials and growth strategy and leave time for Q & A.  Nerves on the day will eat into your time, so practice your pace and plan to finish early.

9. SPEAK UP  

You may be lucky enough to pitch to a couple of folks in a conference room, but you will probably stand in a lecture hall or auditorium in front of an entire angel network .  Prepare to present anywhere, at any time by gauging how much you will need to speak up to be heard clearly.  If you lose your place, don’t mumble.  Just take a breath and move on.  Your voice helps you tell your story, but only if they hear it.

10. LET YOUR SLIDES DO THE TALKING

Hopefully you have spent the time and money to put together a smart, clean, brief deck.  If not, call the folks at InvestorPitches.com for some help.  But now that you have the slides, don’t read them.  This is not kindergarten.  It’s ok, they can read.  Don’t waste precious time repeating what they have read.  Instead, use your deck simply as a tool to tell your story.

Now go forth and get funded and let me know how it goes.

Your research is done. Your deck is ready.  Your business is poised.  Now all you need to do stand in front of the investors and make the pitch.   So, make sure you…
1. PRACTICE
You’ve spent countless hours developing your idea, putting together your team, validating your value proposition and creating your pitch – now practice.   Actors rehearse, athletes train.  Great actors and athletes rehearse and train relentlessly.  So practice as often as possible and out loud  (things always sound different, and usually better, in our head).

2. PRACTICE TOGETHER
If more than one person is presenting, don’t practice separately.  In theater, the actors playing Romeo and Juliet never rehearse separately hoping that opening night everything will work out.  Practice your timing and hand- offs or you risk looking unprofessional and disorganized.

3. LOOK THE PART  Remember you are asking someone to trust you with their money.  Make sure you look like the kind of person they can trust with it.  Think more debate team captain and less hipster geek.

4. SHOW YOUR PASSION  When pitching, entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in facts and figures that they forget to show their passion.  Show it!  Passion means you are serious about your company and will do what it takes to succeed.  Investors will be energized by your passion and get excited to be a part of your vision.

5. EYE TO EYE  Not looking the investors in the eye can cost you.  If you seem like you are avoiding them, which can happen if you are nervous or unprepared (refer to #1), you will seem insecure and uncertain.  Regular, direct eye contact helps create a compelling presence and a connection with the investors.

Come back next week for Part 2.

There is often a misconception that we need to keep a poker face when faced with difficult people or situations at work. The truth is that a poker player is encouraged to “maintain an emotionless, apathetic demeanor”. That is not how we want to be perceived at work, any more than anger or frustration. So, how can you keep from sending signals which might just anger someone or escalate a difficult situation?

Here are some tools:

Relax: Facial muscles are often the first indicator to others of what we are thinking. We break into a smile. We purse our lips or squint our eyes. So when you are facing a tense situation or you hear bad or frustrating news, start by relaxing your facial muscles.

Blink: Often when we hear surprising information or are angry, we fail to blink. It is almost as if we can’t believe what we are seeing/hearing. So remember to keep blinking.

Look Away: Our eyes give away a great deal. That is why poker players often wear sunglasses. Briefly look away from the source of conflict. Give yourself time to process your thoughts and ‘put on’ the right face. Look at a friend across the room or down at your papers. By the time you look back, your initial frustration will be subsiding.

Smile with your eyes: Now you are ready to use your eyes to counteract any signals that may have slipped out in the first few seconds. A soft smiling eye, give others the impression that you welcome their thoughts and input and are open their ideas.

Overcompensate: Sometimes we are don’t have time to fully process what we are thinking or how we are taking the news. In these cases you are always best to overcompensate in a positive direction. If your employee has just shown some attitude or your boss just gave you a less than positive review, be kinder and more receptive to what they say than you might feel. If you don’t create tension at this point, you can always come back to them in an hour or a day with a well thought out response.

Walk in with a positive outlook: If you have to go to a stressful meeting or are giving a review to a difficult employee, tell yourself before-hand that it is going to go very well. Your positive attitude and demeanor will show in your voice and your body language. You might be surprised to the effect it will have on others.

Know your tells: We all have a tell or two, a habit or tic which immediately tells others what we are thinking without us even opening our mouth. It is almost impossible to notice these in ourselves, so ask a coworker. Find someone at work that you trust enough to not only help you identify your tell, but to give you a head’s up when they see it. Maybe you can have a secret signal they can send you from across the room. Over time you will find that becoming aware of your secret signals will allow you to control them.

Another Sunday, another award’s show.  Every year there is as much anticipation for the hosts as for the award winners.  How will this year’s hosts do?  Will she be funny?  Will he be completely inappropriate?  Or will they completely flop?  Remember Anne Hathaway and James Franco at the Oscars or Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest at the Emmy’s?

But this past Sunday we were treated to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes.  Reviews for them have been raves across the board. So why did they succeed when so many others have not?  The reasons are the same for then as for anyone in front of any audience.
 

CONNECTION
Know your Audience
There have unsuccessful comedians as hosts before, so it takes more than being funny.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler understand their audience very well.  In some cases they know them personally. That gives them an understanding of where the line is and what is concerned ‘crossing it’.  They can add inside jokes, but know not to make too many or too inside or they will lose the viewing audience.  They put their audience at ease and set a tone with which everyone could be comfortable.
 

CLARITY
Go with the Flow
In interviews before the event they mentioned that they had their opening bit laid out and some ideas about would follow. They were prepared but things were not so structured that they were not ready to incorporate banter as the evening went on.  As long as you know your material well, you can allow yourself to deviate from it if the moment allows.
 

CREDIBILITY
Timing is everything
As the night went on the humor and tone changed with the room.  The Golden Globes are known for the free flow of wine and the lack of food.  So by the end of the first hour the audience is, say… more relaxed.  So was the ladies’ presentation.  They eventually presented with drinks in hand.  That may not work at your company retreat, but it’s very timely at The Golden Globes.  Presenting in a way that is authentic to you and accessible to your audience is always a winning formula.

So if you want to be remembered more like Bob Hope than Rob Lowe (1989 Oscars!), remember to keep the audience’s needs and mood in mind. Stay present while presenting, you never know when a brilliant idea may come along. Prepare, Practice and then let go. If you know your material you can relax and have fun. And who said work couldn’t be fun? Not Tina and Amy!
 

 
Everyone finds themselves in front of an audience at some point. But what happens if that point is key to your career, your sale, your success? Be ready for that moment by finding your own style, crafting a compelling message and creating the presence to succeed.

At Articulate Persuasion we help professionals communicate effectively so that they can articulate their message, get more business and speak fearlessly. Let us know if we can help YOU communicate more effectively.

When people find out that I am a Communications Coach, I often get the same question “What is the one thing you can tell me to help me with my next presentation?”                                                                                                                                         
The truth of the matter is that one thing differs which each person. However, there are three things that are fundamental practices to succeeding through communication.

1. Research
You need to know your audience. Why are they there? Do they want to be there, or did their boss require it? Did they just have a heavy lunch and are now sitting in a darkened ballroom? Are you the only thing standing between them and happy hour?

Once you know who they are, why they are there, and how you need to engage them, you can begin the process of putting together your presentation. Make sure everything you put in is about them – your audience.

2. Practice
Once you have your speech or presentation laid out, you need to practice. That does not mean memorizing it, or reading it over and over. You actually need to practice out loud, preferably in front of a person for reaction. You can also turn your iPad on yourself and video your speech, or stand in front of your dog (they make a very receptive audience).

Saying it out loud is key. As opposed to keeping a thought in your head, hearing it helps you edit and refine your message. It will also help you remember what you want to convey.

Then, do it over and over. You should prepare well in advance so that you can go over it numerous times and then: let it go. Give yourself at least 24 hours to play hooky from your presentation. If you practice enough in advance, you will remember it with no problem, but the time off will let it sink in and help you stay relaxed on the day you present.

3. Authenticity
Finally, don’t try to act or sound like anyone other than yourself. People want to hear from you, not you pretending to be Steve Jobs. If you don’t naturally use a lot of hand gestures, don’t worry. No one ever leaves a presentation thinking ‘Why didn’t she use her hands more?’ Before you speak, try to notice how you move and use your voice when you are at your most comfortable. That is all you need to do when you present.

Now you simply need to keep it conversational, focus on how your message helps your audience, and let your hours of practice take over. You will be relaxed, focused and able to communicate to maximum effect.

Often my clients what to work on the nerves and anxiety they feel when they have a pitch or a presentation.  They what to take a magic pill to make the feeling go away.  I have even had a few who have taken a pill to try and make them go away.  That always ends in disaster.  They are always surprised when I tell them we will work on not taking them away, but transforming them.

Nerves and anxiety almost by definition are energy.  When you are anxious you feel as if your ‘nerves’, both literal and figurative, are alive.  They are.  Energy is running through your body.  The problem is not the nerves; it is how your brain is reading those signals.  When you feel anxiety your brain gets the signal that there is something to be afraid of.  The fight or flight instinct kicks in.  But there are other occasions when this energy is used to create momentum and enthusiasm.  Think of a pep rally in high school or the pep talk the coach gives the team.  This ‘pep’ or energy is useful, even necessary.  The same is true for your presentation.

We have all sat through speeches or meetings where the speaker looked as if he was he could put himself to sleep.  Low energy in a presentation can be deadly. (That’s why the magic pill doesn’t work)  The key is to tell your brain that the nerves are enthusiasm and excitement for your speech, not fear.  If you focus on how useful, or entertaining or enlightening what you have to share will be to your audience, it becomes easier to refocus those nerves.  Anxiety is about what might happen to you.  Focus on them and your ‘energy’ will be infectious and get your audience on your side.

Whenever people ask me for just one tip, I always say the same thing – practice, practice, practice.  This seems so simple, and yet it is the one thing most people don’t want to do.  Sure they spend time playing with their PowerPoint slides.  But they don’t actually stand in front of a friend, a mirror or even their dog and go over their speech from beginning to end.   I never understand a client’s reluctance to practice.

An actor would never go on stage without weeks, sometimes months of rehearsal.  An athlete wouldn’t go to the Olympics without years of daily practice.  Even your average golfer goes out to the driving range to ‘hit a few balls’.  So why not spend a couple hours over several days practicing your speech?

So here are a few tips on how to practice.

1.  Practice out loud – It will help you hear any kinks in your speech.

2.  Practice in front of someone – It is good to get feedback from someone you trust.

3.  Practice daily – If you practice every day, your speech will begin to flow freeing and sound surprisingly unrehearsed.

4.  STOP practicing – 24 hours before you give your speech give yourself a rest.  Since you already have it down, the break will help you be relaxed and confident when you start your speech.

So be brave and practice!!

Not long ago set up my first ever Twitter account.  The process was very easy, but it took me that better part of an hour to finish.  Why you may ask.  Well, I had to try and think of a good username (I gave up on that – anything clever is already taken).  I spent time scrolling through Tweety Got Back for just the right background that was serious enough for business, but still reflective of my personality.  I wanted to write 160 pithy yet relevant character in my bio profile.

These things take time because we know they are tools to reflect who we are to the public.  Everyone does it.  People today spent a great deal of time and energy creating the right image online.  So my question is, do you spend the same amount of time and energy with your personal presence as you do with your online presence?

Whether it’s a new exercise regimen or crafting a speech, getting starting with any project is always the hardest part.  So here a few tricks to get you started.

1.   Identify your goal

What do you want/need to achieve in your speech.  Maybe you need to motive a sales team, maybe you need a judge to agree with your argument or maybe you want your interviewer to see you as the answer to his problem.  Whatever your goal, articulate it in one sentence.  Pretend it’s a mission statement.  It is the mission of your speech to do… fill in the blank.

2.   Find your key words.

I like to ask my clients to find one or two key words for every major topic or point they want to make in their speech.  They think this is easy and come up with words off the top of their heads.  Rarely, however are these words specific or provocative enough to carry any lasting weight with their audience.  So when you are identifying your words dig deep.  Don’t say influence when you can say inspire.  Don’t say partner when you can say collaborate.  Words have color and weight and can evoke images and emotions.  Use key words to tell your story.

 3.   Create a structure

Think back to junior high when you first learned how to create an outline.  I remember thinking it was a pointless lesson at the time and now I think fondly of my teacher Mr. Thames regularly.  Use your key words as bullet points for each point you need to cover and find key words as bullet points below that to keep you clear and on topic.

 4.   Write it out.

This is a very controversial tip in my business.  Some experts advise against it.  I think it is essential, not because you should memorize it (or worse read from it) when you are presenting, but because it helps familiarize you with what you want to say and how you get to your goal.  Often I find that the idea and logic that sounded great in my head was not as clear and persuasive on paper.  Writing it out can truly help.

 5.   Write your in pauses

This may sound odd, but pauses are words too.  They can help you tell your story, emphasize a point, reengage your audience.  However, to make a pause effective you need to plan it out.  Shakespeare used the rhythm of iambic pentameter to guide the actor to the pauses.  You need not be that elegant or complicated.  Just write them in – not too many, not too few.

 6.   Call to Action

Don’t forget your closing.  Any speech can be weakened by a lack luster closing.  If you read any blog about blogging they always tell you to ask a question.  This is the social media cue to engage the audience.  Find the right cue for your audience.  Give them something to do.  Send them away with homework or ask them to go home and think about one point you discussed.  Make it active, make it relevant, make it clear and make it brief.

 7.   Wordle It

Once your speech is written go to Wordle.net.  Go to ‘Create’ and paste the text of your speech.  This will create a word cloud.  You will find the largest and boldest words are the ones you used most.  Are they your key words?  Are they sending the right message?  If not, go back and rework your script until you are happy with the results.

Now, no excuses – it’s time to get started.  Let me know how it goes.