Archive for the ‘speaking techniques’ Category


I did something last weekend that I’d never done before. I played music in a bar as part of a fundraising event. I’ve played music around campfires, I’ve played music in houses, I’ve performed solo at Bytown Ukulele Group meetings, I’ve jammed with people, I’ve participated in songwriters’ circles, even on an open-mic on a boat as part of a conference. But never in front of a crowd of strangers.

Thankfully, my performance went pretty well, I think. I was pleased. But one thing that I wasn’t prepared for, even though I’ve seen it a million times from the other side of the stage, was not being listened to.

I’ve done a lot of teaching. I’ve done lots of presentations. And I’ve had these musical performance experiences. The commonality among all of those things? I as the “performer” have the expectation of being listened to. When I stand in front of a classroom, or conduct a webinar, I assume that people are gong to be listening to me, watching the slides, etc.

So to have a bar full of people happily chatting while a PA system blared my voice and instrument out into the room was disconcerting. It was a painful reminder of what professional musicians face all the time — they’re being paid to perform, but there’s no obligation for the spectators to attend to them.

My set wasn’t long enough, and my courage (confidence? arrogance?) not strong enough for me to DEMAND their attention. So I played through my songs, took the applause, and left the stage. The good news was that no matter whether a person listened to me or not, they paid to come to the show, which meant the cause benefited from them. Further good news (for me, at least) was that I wasn’t so beset by stage fright caused by their inattention that I froze up (something that’s happened before, to my chagrin — but at least it gave Chris Brogan something to write about!)

But since Saturday, I’ve been thinking about it. My conclusions?

  1. There are circumstances and ways you can bring people back to you. But there are also circumstances when you can’t. I once saw Josh Ritter silence a noisy bar by playing his first song unplugged and wandering through the audience. People were intrigued enough by this unusual behaviour that they fell silent, and by the end of that song, the room was silent. I wasn’t going to try that one.
  2. There are times when you ought to accept the circumstances as they are. Sometimes people just aren’t interested in hearing from you, and it doesn’t matter how loudly you’re singing, or even if you’re singing (or teaching) incredibly well. I once taught a class where one of the students fell asleep every time she came to class. There would have been a time in my life where I focused on that as a sign I was failing the student. But I now believe that the process of “performing” requires both the performer and the audience to be present. Whatever the reason, sometimes your “audience” can’t be there for you.
  3. You still have to bring your best. Even if your audience is not listening, you owe it to yourself to deliver just as passionately and as well as if you had people in the palm of your hand. Yes, it’s harder (just as doing webinars is often harder than presenting to live audiences because you lack any feedback); but you still have to.

The final thing that I’ve thought in the wake of my experience? I want to try it again. I want to figure out some of those musician’s techniques of getting an audience’s attention for myself. Who knows: maybe becoming a more accomplished musical performer will make me a better communicator.

And if you want to see the performance? A quick trip to my Tumblr will let you get a sense of what the show was like.

“Why You Are Stupid” – my Social Capital presentation

In a fit of perversity, I decided to submit a proposal to the 2013 Social Capital Conference with the title “Why you are Stupid.” I wanted to talk about some of the things that we social media people do that are… stupid. Generally speaking, I was thinking of:

  1. Stupid offensive
  2. Stupid boring
  3. Stupid and poor (budgetwise)

I decided that I thought I’d see if I could turn the crowd (assuming there WAS one) away and then try to pull them back in.

Here’s how I promoted the session:

I THINK I did okay at living up to the billing. But I’ll leave that for the audience to decide, and perhaps share. You can chime in based on the slides here:

More importantly than my own presentation is the success of the conference. Lara Wellman and Karen Wilson of the eponymous Wellman Wilson Communications led the organization with many other volunteers, and they pulled off a great conference. Why did I enjoy it so much? Here are a few reasons:

  • Keynotes. I got the opportunity to see friend Danny Brown do a keynote for the first time. And I got a totally different sense of why he’s so smart from seeing him in that context. Made me proud to be friends with him. The other keynote was delivered by Gini Dietrich, who for me existed in that odd world of having been friends for literally YEARS online without ever having met. I told someone yesterday that before Gini and her colleague Lindsay Bell-Wheeler arrived at a Friday night reception, I was literally a bundle of nerves inside, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t be too much of a dork in their presence. That jury may still be out, but there’s no doubt that Gini is a charming and polished and top-notch speaker, and that Lindsay just might prove the sayings about the relative depth of the Atlantic Canadian gene pool. She feels like a sister after just one meeting. Which is likely bad news for her, since that just means more insults.   
  • Collaboration. When Danny was confirmed as keynote, I really wanted to do something to celebrate the launch of Influence Marketing, the book he just published with Sam Fiorella. So I got in touch with Caitlin Kealey at MediaStyle, another Ottawa communications consultancy, and they jumped in with both feet, putting together (with some help from me) a super fun event called Gin and Talkin‘. MediaStyle President Ian Capstick interviewed Danny, there was great food and better drink, and several dozen people ended up with complementary copies of the book, courtesy of Translucid and of MediaStyle. It was a great kickoff to a hectic weekend. And I never could have put together an event that good on my own.
  • Connection. While it’s rewarding to go to events like #socapott and reconnect with the people you already know, it’s just as exciting to meet new people and learn from them and discover what makes them cool. While I was a bit limited in doing that due to a family wedding in the middle of all this, I got to know a number of people at the conference that I hope to know better in the future.

Oh, and one bonus:

  • Karaoke. A group of us decided on post-conference festivities at Ottawa’s legendary Shanghai Restaurant, home to Saturday night Karaoke with the one and only China Doll. We got there to discover two bachelorette parties already heating up the mics, and then China Doll made a late appearance to show off Ottawa’s best to some locals and out of towners.

If I can leave you with one takeaway from my presentation, it’s this:

Raise your own expectations is a double-edged sword. If you expect your own work to be better, to be smarter, you will spread that expectation to others. Your boss, your clients, your friends will expect you to be that good NORMALLY. That’s intimidating, but it’s also necessary. Push beyond the stupid and the easy. 

That’s one of the things that I’m going to try to do. Might not be a bad idea to take my own advice.

Live interview technique tip: keep talking (updated)

I was asked by the organizers of next week’s Social Capital Conference to join organizer Lara Wellman on the local CTV morning show to talk about the conference, keying in on a tart little infographic they published recently: 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media (I’ve put the infographic at the end of the post, if you want to check it out).

The interview, done with cohost Jeff Hopper, reminded me that live TV interviews are a unique experience for even experienced interviewees. Cameras (in this case, one robotic and one human-operated), lights, a computer monitor behind us — distraction is easy and time is short. In this case, I think (THINK – always hard to KNOW) the interview went well, in great part because Jeff Hopper was already knowledgeable about social media, and because he had an obvious personal interest in the topic.

So here’s my tip for today. When you’re doing a live interview, either on TV or radio, KEEP TALKING. The host will find his or her way into your chatter to ask questions, get clarification, or take the interview in a new direction. What lies behind the dictum KEEP TALKING means you should be conversant enough with your topic to theoretically deliver a monologue for the length of the interview.

The easy way to KEEP TALKING is to have a set of key messages in your head and ceaselessly repeat them. This is not ideal. People know “key messages” when they hear them, thanks to politicians who seem to think we won’t notice them robotically repeating them. Here’s probably the most egregious example ever, courtesy of ex-Member of Parliament Peter Penashue:

The key here is to balance out your ability to KEEP TALKING with your ability to be a gracious part of a conversation. It’s a skill that takes practice to develop.

I won’t be talking about media training at Social Capital, but I’m happy to talk to you about it, or to meet you at the Social Capital conference, where I’ll be doing a talk on “Why You Are Stupid.” (pssst: The “You” in my title also includes me.) It’s not too late to register and hear from some truly un-dumb people, including Gini Dietrich (Chicago-based owner of Arment Dietrich and co-author of Marketing in the Round), and Danny Brown (cofounder of ARCompany and author of the hot off the press book Influence Marketing) (affiliate links).

And if this is something you need heavy-duty help with, you might want to check out Brad Phillips, a New York-based media trainer, and his Mr. Media Training blog. He has tons of great tips, techniques and case studies that he updates pretty much daily on his site.

UPDATE: Here’s the interview, as uploaded by CTV Ottawa Morning Live.

And here’s the infographic:

Social Capital's 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media

Social Capital’s 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media

What do we bring to our “performances?”

We all perform in our daily lives. We “play the part” of manager, or leader, or creator, or educator. But what do we bring to the performance? Something that happened on Saturday night got me pondering the nature of performance.

One of my hobbies is putting on house concerts. The short version of what this is: a musician comes to my house, then people come to hear him, her or them and pay them for the pleasure of listening. It’s a well known way for folk and roots musicians to play. On Saturday night, we hosted David Newland, a friend and musician from Cobourg, Ontario. And as is fairly common, I played a couple of songs to open the evening.

Now, I am not a professional musician. I am an amateur. In as many senses of the word as you would like to apply. But be that as it may, I sing sometimes.

On Saturday, I was thinking about next weekend’s Remembrance Day. My father was a veteran, and for the last several years sold poppies in Cape Breton on behalf of the local Legion branch. And for about 12 years, I was a member of a marching band that played many Remembrance Day ceremonies. The music of the wars, from marches to Vera Lynn, is still in my head. And my dad died in August, so he is very much on my mind.

So I decided to play a song that I heard on many Remembrance Days on CBC Radio shows, hosted by the legendary Max Ferguson. “The band played Waltzing Matilda” is the story of a young rambler in Australia who goes to Gallipoli in the First World War and suffers a terrible injury. It’s a beautiful, but a sad song, written by a great Australian named Eric Bogle.

Something happened during the performance. I wasn’t quite aware of it, because for most of it, my eyes were closed. But when I finished, I saw that one person was crying, and afterward, someone told me that it had been the highlight of the evening.

So what did I learn from this? A few things:

  • Emotion and passion are good things, not bad. I think the reason that song affected people as it did was because of the emotion I was feeling when I sang it. If you can’t bring emotion to your performance — whether it’s a song on a stage, a speech, or a presentation at a meeting, you can’t affect people. Don’t be afraid to bring the personal out.
  • There was a time in my life when I kept a lot of important things submerged deep. But one thing I’ve learned through things like this, or through speaking at TedX Ottawa a few years ago, is that people want to learn what makes people tick. They don’t want glib. They don’t want superficial. If you give them more, they’ll take it.
  • “Performing” with these things in mind is hard, it’s draining, and it’s uncomfortable. I don’t yet know how to deliver at will a musical — or even a spoken — performance that is grounded in emotion. More often, the balance tips to the head and away from the heart.
  • And I learned, one more time, that I miss my dad.

The next time you have a public performance to do — musical, spoken, or otherwise — don’t just do it from your head. Do it from your heart. Don’t abandon logic, but find the emotional core of what you have to say and say it with passion. You’ll thank yourself. And your audience will too.

How to do media relations — Rob Ford style.

Rob Ford and the press

Rob Ford tells the media their questions. Then answers them. (Image from CBC)

Rob Ford is the mayor of Canada’s largest city. The dedicated Flacklife reader may note that I’ve covered Mayor Ford a couple of times here. The most notable post was the one in which I included audio of his interview (to use the term loosely) with CBC Radio’s national show “As It Happens” — an pre-booked interview which was 210 seconds of intense awkwardness.

That was October. This is August. And Rob Ford has worked hard on his media relations skills.

Today, he met with the Premier of Ontario, and afterward, met the Toronto media for a scrum. But this was a scrum with a difference. Listen and learn:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is taking the Donald Rumsfeld school of media relations to an entirely new plateau. News conferences are far more pleasant when in two minutes you can tell the gathered reporeters what they would be asking, answer those questions, and leave.

I don’t know whether to rejoice at the innovation or… jump off a bridge.

Audio from the National Post’s Youtube channel.


Is there a PR upside to alienating publics?

Cherry & Ford, in a Toronto Star photo

I’ve been dithering on whether to write about the investiture of Toronto’s new Mayor Rob Ford since I first heard that Don Cherry had been invited. You may recall that I covered Rob Ford earlier this year, when he didn’t quite do an interview with CBC Radio’s “As it Happens” on the day after his election.

For non-Canadian readers, Ford has styled himself as a plain-speaking council maverick who will stand up for the “little guy.” Don Cherry is a former NHL coach who is now a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada, a Saturday-night sporting institution. He’s also got a number of other gigs, from a radio commentator on sports radio networks to endorsements or ad appearances for things such as Cold-FX, the Quizno‘s restaurant chain, a series of hockey videos, and a chain of restaurants with the Don Cherry name over the door. He’s a passionate supporter of Canada’s military and a number of charities from organ donation to a hospice named after his late wife Rose, to whom he seemed to have been quite devoted.

Cherry is also a polarizing figure. He can seem belligerent, he doesn’t seem to suffer fools gladly, and he would likely place himself pretty far on the right of the political spectrum. In a recent byelection, he recorded a robocall in support of Conservative candidate Julian Fantino.

And then he was asked to attend Rob Ford’s investiture ceremony to place the chain of office around Ford’s neck (it should be noted that in most cases, the city clerk does this duty). Here’s what he said after he did the deed:

So. I was a little horrified at this speech. It seems to me that the investiture of a mayor and a council is a time for a little dignity and not for baiting of one’s ‘enemies’ and crude insults.

And I wasn’t alone. Spacing Toronto is holding a poll to design a “LEFT-WING PINKO” button, and others are busily printing t-shirts and other merchandise. Meanwhile, more right-wing media outlets are supporting Cherry as plain-spoken and just what was necessary. Joe O’Connor, for example, wrote in the National Post:

Be outraged over Cherry. Be embarrassed for Toronto. Or else be like this left wing, bike riding, print media wacko and lighten up. And remember this: we are talking about a 76-year-old Grampa.

But I think it’s too easy to simply dismiss Ford — or Cherry, for that matter — as ignorant or stupid. Ford is sending messages here, and I think they’re very specific. I think he’s specifically targeting the “pinko” contingent and smacking them verbally.

Now here are the public relations / communications questions, and I don’t know if I have answers or not:

  1. What does it gain Ford to do this?
  2. What are the circumstances – in politics or outside of them – when it’s appropriate to antagonize or alienate publics?

I would REALLY appreciate some insights on this. I rarely find myself unable to answer my own questions.

Igniting the fringe by combining art and business

The Ottawa Fringe Festival, one of the seemingly dozens of annual events that make life in Ottawa in the summer fun (and sometimes exhausting) has been holding a series of lunchtime events that have ranged from bloody debates on the future of theatre to… an Ignite event.

With the help of theatre and communications guy Ryan Anderson, the Fringe folk put together a roster of artists (not including me) and business types (yeah, that was me) to do Ignite presentations with the loose topic of the intersection of art and business.

For those of you not familiar with Ignite, it’s a movement where people put together 20-slide presentations that are the visuals for a five-minute talk. The slides advance mercilessly, every 15  seconds, so it’s like “The Pit and the Pendulum” for speakers.

The good news is that  all the presentations were great.

The presenters were, in order of appearance:

Tyler Cope, co-founder of Overlay.TV, a local tech startup and general good corporate citizen in Ottawa
Nancy Kenny, a peripatetic young actor, writer, and marketing guru
Sterling Lynch, another hyphenate (actor-writer-only-guy-wearing-a-tie).
Ram Kanda, creative director at Fuel Industries, a seriously big advertainment and online company here in Ottawa
and Barry Smith, a Colorado newspaper columnist here with a show called “Every Job I’ve Ever Had

Anyway, I thought that since I’m in the business of shameless self promotion, I should record my audio and match it up with the slides for you.

The presentation, which I called “If your art falls in a forest was it really art?” is only about five minutes long, so at the very worst you won’t have wasted much time.

I’ve put up the audio from the presentation, as well as a PDF of the slides. I tried to marry the slides with the audio, but sad to say, couldn’t get the timing to work the way I wanted it to.

UPDATE: Or… you could just wait a little bit for the enterprising folks at Ottawa Tonite to put up the video (which I thought was just being streamed). I’m really not that smart.

Liveblogging Podcamp — tips for panellists #44857

For the love of God, people. If you’re sitting on a panel with a mike in front of you … DON’T POUND THE DESK! This means you, Julien.

Despite all this, I have learned a lot from him this weekend.