Escape gravity and make your writing soar

Eager for adventure? If so, you can always satisfy the urge by taking flight in a hot air balloon. It worked for me. Writing was the last thing on my mind as I soared above the New Mexico desert during the 2013 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. But, later, I began to see parallels between the job of piloting a balloon, and the more earthly task of writing a speech or presentation. Here are five challenges that aeronauts and scribes share. Read More...

Scribbles: Circle magic; Understanding leads to influence

The magic of the circle -

Is the work we do affected by the way we do it? The answer appears to be yes. Research into the effect of seating arrangements has revealed that people sitting in a circle are more apt to cooperate, while people sitting in rows tend to act more independently. The study, conducted by business researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta and reported in Fast Company’s Leadership Now Blog, concluded that taking a round-table approach can foster collaboration.

Take it from a hostage negotiator -

In negotiations, people are often too concerned with their own agenda and not focused enough on understanding how the other side is thinking and feeling says Richard Mullender, a former hostage negotiator with Scotland Yard. “Only if you understand them do you get the pathway to exerting influence – and without that pathway, you’re nowhere.” (A good justification for getting to know your audience before you try to sway them to your point of view in a speech or presentation, perhaps?) Read the entire interview with Richard Mullender on the blog The Art of Connection published by public speaking expert Simon Bucknall. Read More...

Accessibility: Get ahead of the trend

This news might come as a surprise, but a good number of the people gathered to hear your carefully crafted speech or presentation are missing the point -- and a lot of other information besides. That’s because roughly 40 percent of Canadians are dealing with at least one disability at any time, some of which make it difficult for them to see, hear, follow or process your words and ideas.

So, how is that your problem? Well, once again, the answer might surprise you. The way you design and deliver a talk can determine whether you reach all of your audience or leave some of them out of the conversation. Read More...

Scribbles: Capturing attitude; touching clients daily; new word needed

Set up/punchline -

What do good sentences and cartoon captions share in common? They both capture an attitude says Cody Walker, a teacher of writing at the University of Michigan. To get his students to write tight, he assigns them to enter the New Yorker magazine Cartoon Caption Contest. Read his guest essay in The Cartoon Bureau: Memorandum on humour, from the desk of Bob Mankoff.

Relationships trump all -

Communicators need to make a shift from delivering information to providing insight says Evan Solomon, host of CBC TV's Power and Politics and CBC Radio's The House. In a keynote presentation to the Canadian Public Relations Society conference, he also urged his audience to develop deep relationships with clients and stakeholders by touching them daily in some way.

A new twist on name that tune -

"We need a word for songs that weren't big hits at the time, but grew in popularity over the years e.g. Sweet Caroline & Don't Stop Believing." Tweeted by Andrew Coyne @acoyne Any ideas? Read More...

If creating a linear list leaves you cold, use mind mapping tools to sketch out your ideas

When a deadline for a speech or presentation is hurtling towards you at mach speed, it can be a heart pounding experience to discover a problem with either your content or approach. Fortunately, there's a way to avoid nasty surprises: work from an outline.

While that's good advice, few people follow it. My proof? I've surveyed a lot of writers and many of them admit they don't bother with an outline. Those who do, however, swear by the practice, and agree that it saves time, effort and stress. Read More...

Is it hard to get face time with the speaker you support? If so, don't give up.

If you write speeches for a senior executive, you probably know what a challenge it can be to grab even a few minutes of his or her time to discuss upcoming assignments. The single biggest frustration voiced during my speechwriting workshops is: "I can never get enough time with the speaker to find out what he/she wants to say." Sadly, scribes often find themselves subject to a harsh truth. Many speakers simply don't view speech meetings as a high value use of their time.

So, what's the answer? Give up and accept the status quo? Or, work at changing the speaker's perceptions? If you choose the second option, here are three steps you can take to show that speech meetings are worthwhile. Read More...

Thank you for arguing: your audience will love it

Speech and presentation writers who want to persuade often turn to stories, quotes, analogies, cleverly worded key messages and other devices. With so much choice it can be easy to overlook the value of the most basic persuasive tactic: constructing solid arguments.  

Argument is the language of logic. (When people argue in this sense, they are not quarreling. Rather, they are stating reasons and conclusions that support their point of view.) Educated audiences are good at analyzing arguments and identifying their strengths and weaknesses. It follows then that well-stated arguments can add to a speaker's credibility and persuasiveness, while poorly constructed arguments can detract. Here are three tips for building arguments that will stand up to scrutiny. Read More...

Dealing with a long laundry list of topics

Check out any book on speech and presentation writing and the advice is consistently the same: focus your talk on one strong message and back it up with three to five supporting points. But real life speeches and presentations don't always fit the classic model, and, occasionally, you may find yourself trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear long list of topics.

U.S. President Barack Obama faced that dilemma when he delivered the State of the Union Speech February 12 (2013). He spoke for roughly an hour, which is a long time considering modern-day attention spans. By my count, he covered 26 different topics ranging from debt repayment to tax reform, extreme poverty, early education, infrastructure redevelopment, gun control and the right to vote. Yet, despite all that heavy duty material, his words held my attention as he spoke them, and again later when I read the transcript.

Here are five reasons why his speech worked even though it was built around a long laundry list of items. Read More...

Start the new year strong

The holiday celebrations are over and the summer slowdown is a long way off. So, what better time to fine tune your approach to speeches and presentations than right now. Start 2013 strong by resolving to:

• Put real elbow grease into planning. Structure matters. Outline your ideas and test the logical flow before you start writing drafts or creating slides.

• Take advantage of the theatre of the mind. Stimulate the imagination of your listeners with concrete examples and analogies. They can't imagine abstractions.

• Write the way people talk. Language that looks great on the page may come across as stilted when spoken. Write your speeches to sound conversational.

• Expand your repertoire. Use rhetorical devices. They add variety to your writing and encourage listeners to think.

• Stop using slides as handouts. Minimize text on your slides and distribute separate summary handouts. Better yet, put your handouts online. If people value them, they'll download them. If not, you might save a tree or two. Read More...

Context counts for a lot in communication

In Canada, we associate the Christmas season with long, cold nights and lots of snow. But if you're lucky enough to escape to warmer climes, the atmosphere can be quite different. That certainly was the case when I visited Australia late this fall. To my eyes, the Christmas decorations in stores and along city streets seemed out of context in the blaze of the summer sun.

Establishing context is also an important part of putting together a solid speech or presentation. Without a broader framework to refer to, the audience may have difficulty recognizing your key points or realizing their importance. 

Here are three ways to put your message in context. Read More...