Webinars and Teleconferences: Adapting to Wired Public Speaking

Webinars and teleconferences are similar to standard public speaking in many ways, but they also require some significant adaptation.  Due to technological limits and the nature of long-distance communication, the speaker is harder to understand and usually lacks a very important public speaking tool: body language.  To compensate, speakers have to focus more on clarity and audience engagement, and rely even more on some tried and true public speaking basics, such as vocal variety, organization, and of course practice.


The purpose of webinars and teleconferences is to get your message across.  Use these tips to overcome the technical and distance challenges:

Avoid this...

Housekeeping: Start with a solid introduction that explains your purpose and format, outlines your agenda, and introduces all the presenters.  Go over all relevant technical instructions, such as muting, volume controls, asking questions, raising hands and using other webinar features, several times.

Eliminate distractions: Speaking from your desk is often harder, not easier.  Have a colleague run teleconference tools or webinar software while you speak.  If possible, go to a different room where no one will disturb you.  To eliminate background noise, ask callers to mute themselves or do it for them right after your introduction.

Supporting materials: Well ahead of your teleconference, send participants all documents, visuals, and any other information they will need.  On webinars, make sure the same items are displayed clearly and slowly enough for everyone to follow.  When you are finished, send participants all supporting materials and items for follow-up, reiterating your main points and requests in the email body.

Frequent and specific referencing: When referring to documents, visuals, and other information, guide participants to the exact place you want them to look.  Mention specific page numbers, paragraphs, and even sentence beginnings.  Whenever speakers begin or answer questions, have them state who they are so participants can follow.  State clearly when you are moving on to the next part of the agenda.

Pace, volume and length: These basics of clarity hold true on webinars and teleconferences as well.  Speak slowly and clearly enough that people listening over a bad connection can follow.  Speak loudly for the same reasons.  Keep your points and answers to questions succinct.

Continue reading “Webinars and Teleconferences: Adapting to Wired Public Speaking”


Keeping it Professional: 5 Debating Tips for Team Discussions

Debate has always been far more than a structured discussion in a room that comes with two teams and a jury.  We see it each day in a multitude of forms.  Some are more hostile, others are just for fun.  Some are organized and some come as uncoordinated banter over wine late on a weekend night.

These five tips are for the kind of debate that we are most likely to see in nonprofit professional life: a cooperative team discussion where the goal is to identify merits and drawbacks rather than to “win.”

The Great Kitchen Debate

Concentrate on clarity.  Many terms can be interpreted differently by different people.  “Conservative” and “liberal,” for example, can both mean different things based on perspective.  Cliché terms and jargon can easily be interpreted incorrectly, especially by people who disagree with the speaker.

Use evidence.  To make an argument believable, cite concrete, objective evidence.  Your own opinions, theories and gut feelings are not evidence, nor are those given by experts or authorities.  To back up your argument well, use objective facts.  Similarly, make sure these facts come from a reputable resource and use more than one source where possible.  While you may support certain interest groups, religious groups or individuals, their publications are designed to promote their views and should not be used to support your arguments.

Continue reading “Keeping it Professional: 5 Debating Tips for Team Discussions”

Speaking with Gestures

The following post is by Maureen Gibbons, a member of Talk for Change.

Gestures are one element of body language, which also includes how we stand, our facial expressions and eye contact. Often, when we speak, we use the podium as a crutch, holding tightly onto the sides, or we just leave our arms down at our sides. This is really a shame, because gesturing – along with other elements of body language – is just as important a part of communication as speaking.

Gesturing can also give you more energy. This is especially true if you are nervous, because gesturing can relieve the tension that builds in your arms if you’re keeping them stiff. Then you can put all of that energy that would have been trapped in your arms into your speech.

Large audience, large gestures.

One tip that I found that I think is especially helpful is to gesture large enough to “embrace the audience.” Normally, when we speak, we are speaking one on one or in small groups, so our gestures are appropriately smaller. When we speak to a larger group, we need to make our gestures larger. A good way to make your gestures bigger is to focus on moving from the shoulder instead of the wrist or hand. I like to think of Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupsPg5H6aE). When singers sing to a stadium full of people, they don’t just move their hands from their wrists, they raise their whole arms up above their heads.

Gestures should appear natural to an audience and feel natural to you. Gesturing from the shoulder feels very awkward at first. Practicing your speech in front of a mirror, or having someone video tape you is a great way to get comfortable with larger gestures.

Continue reading “Speaking with Gestures”

Challenging Language Choices

The following post was adapted from a speech given by Anthony Cotton, a member of Talk for Change since January 2010.

Think of a time when you heard an offensive comment.  Perhaps a family member said something racist.  Maybe you overheard a stranger say, “That’s so gay.”  Did a co-worker or friend make a slur about women, a religious group, or people with mental retardation?  How did you react?  Did you let the moment pass uncomfortably?  Did you get angry and yell?  What was the outcome?  Chances are, afterward, you asked yourself if you could have handled the situation better.

I believe that each time we encounter offensive language, whether it is hateful, ignorant, or simply thoughtless, we have a social and moral obligation to challenge it.  But we all know that that is easier said than done – and that these issues are complicated.  If you mumble an incomplete response like, “well that’s real nice,” you won’t have any impact.  If you let your voice rise and start attacking one’s character saying, “you’re such a bigot,” you will have the wrong impact.

Here are some tips and examples to consider when you encounter offensive comments.  Keep in mind that every situation is different and, therefore, your response to each comment might be different based on circumstances.

  1. Be prepared and committed.  We all have an idea of when we may hear an offensive comment – for example, when we interact with extended family during the holidays.  Especially during these times, remind yourself of your commitment to interrupt prejudice.
  2. Ask an open ended question.  For example, upon hearing an offensive comment, ask, “Why do you say that?”  This tactic has two benefits – it is not accusatory, and also allows the person to think critically about what he or she has said and verbalize why.
  3. Explain the impact.  When people try to explain their offensive word choices, they often say, “I didn’t mean anything by it.”  At that time, it’s valuable to explain the difference between intent and impact.  The impact may be personal – in which case you can say, “when you use that word, it hits me like a ton of bricks,” or it may be more general, such as “that word has been used to oppress people in the past, so we have to proactively stop its use.” Continue reading “Challenging Language Choices”

Getting Rid of Filler Words: Introducing the TFC Challenge

According to Lisa B. Marshall, 20% of our daily conversations are filled with “Ums,” “Ah’s” and other filler words, called “disfluencies.”  Check out this executive she cites:

“I, like, work for a big bank, like, Citibank. I work, um, in technology, and head-up a group of like, 500 people, right. I do, like, technology risk assessment, right, and create, um, processes, to, like, reduce risk, right.”

Poor guy.  He uses disfluencies and has people citing him over the internet.

So why do we use filler words, and how do we get rid of them?

Break up those sentences!

Paul Rigney tells us that people finish one sentence, say um, and then go onto the next one.  Or, they will finish a clause or thought, say um, and go on to another.  The ums exist because people keep trying to cram two sentences or thoughts into one, instead of keeping them separate as they would be on paper.

Fortunately, you can kick the habit with a bit of practice and a bunch of pauses:

  • When speaking, finish your sentence (or thought), and then pause.
  • During the pause, close your mouth.
  • Then go on to the next sentence.

Pauses are more than just ok.  They give your audience time to think about what you just said, rather than having to listen to ums or ahs in between sentences.  Pauses also help you maintain an even pace and give you time to breathe, making your speech more effective and your voice smoother. Continue reading “Getting Rid of Filler Words: Introducing the TFC Challenge”

Competent Leadership: Navigating a Sea of Opportunities

I may be training for a real marathon but I feel like it’s been a figurative marathon to complete the Competent Leadership (CL) manual.  As I limp toward the finish line, I wanted to share some advice.

Leadership: Getting all Your Ducks in a Row

When I started out, I wish I’d known…

You Don’t Have to Do Everything
: For the Competent Communicator (CC) you have to complete every part of every project.  The CL is a bit different.  While it’s still split up into 10 “projects,” each one has several meeting roles and you usually only have to do a few.  Keep this in mind and be strategic as you schedule yourself for meeting roles.  Use the checklist I gave to Talk for Change’s officers to help you figure out what you actually need to do.  Believe me, filling out this checklist was a major turning point for me.

The CL Goes Beyond the Club Meetings:  As part of earning your CL, you’ll get the opportunity to take on leadership roles outside the club meeting.  This is something you should plan for now.  In addition to mentoring someone, you’ll need to do one of six things… Continue reading “Competent Leadership: Navigating a Sea of Opportunities”

Rhetoric in Speech & Presentation

Rahul Singh, one of the Members of the Talk for Change Toastmasters Club was invited to deliver a presentation at The Washington Center, to a group of interns who are about to travel abroad, to work for organizations in London and Sydney. Over the course of approximately two hours, Rahul walked the students through the three elements of Rhetoric outlined by Aristotle thousands of years … Continue reading Rhetoric in Speech & Presentation

Reducing Fear of Public Speaking

Fear of Public Speaking

For some reason, many people have a fear of public speaking. Some dread as death itself! Gottlieb writes a good article about the role of public speaking in the classroom. As a new teacher, she faced problems communicating with her audience, the students.

And I was so nervous I couldn’t talk – not a word. My voice shook and my hands shook and I was barely able to apologize. I was paralyzed. After about 5 minutes, they let me leave. Still to this day, I am embarrassed when I think about it. A group of 5 women sitting around a table, a topic I knew inside and out, and I was struck dumb. (Gottlieb, 2004)

Continue reading “Reducing Fear of Public Speaking”

Public Speaking for Kids and Beginners

In my opinion, confidence  increases when the speaker has a good grasp of what they are talking about, and if the message actually had a potential to impact the people who are willing to listen. However, I think that practice is the only way to alleviate any inkling of fear, regardless of how much one knows. There are many aspects of speech delivery which one … Continue reading Public Speaking for Kids and Beginners

Presentation Resource : Slideshare

Initially when I began writing this entry for this week, I was thinking about writing about the different ways to position oneself in the context of the audience. However, I realized that there was a burning idea to introduce the great resource for presentations online. I’ll cover positioning yourself in the audience next week. Slideshare is the YouTube for presentations. People upload their presentations and … Continue reading Presentation Resource : Slideshare