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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 18, 2010 9 years ago

No More Stage Fright

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An executive shouldn't be afraid of giving a big speech, says a prominent speaker-turned-author on the subject.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Kristin Arnold, a nationally known speaker who has built a business that helps high-powered executives run more efficient meetings, swears she isn't funny.
Witty, maybe. But funny — not so much.

Still, Arnold has been to enough corporate conferences and heard enough speeches and policy lectures over the last decade to know dead-on what isn't funny.

Like the time she worked with a client, a chief executive who excitedly told her about the speech he was about to give. It was going to be a funny, engaging and interactive presentation to a group of chief financial officers about the ins and outs of the job.

Arnold was there. And she recalls that the speech was neither engaging nor interactive. It also wasn't funny.

“There is a big difference between being engaging and interactive,” says Arnold. “Interactive is when you have a conversation with the audience.”

The lack of humor — a common failure in speeches, Arnold says — also sunk the presentation.

With that experience as a backdrop, Arnold, the incoming president of the National Speakers Association, has written a new book about giving great speeches. The book, “Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Your Audience to Action,” isn't a beginner's guide or a 'speeches for dummies.'

Instead, says Arnold, it's advanced learning, a book designed for a business executive who needs to reach a specific audience.

“This book isn't going to appeal to someone who just wants to do the bare minimum,” Arnold says in a recent interview with the Review. “But if you want people to sit and listen to you not because you're the CEO but because you are delivering compelling content, than it's for you.”

Arnold has been in the public speaking and meeting facilitation business since 1997. Before that she was one of the first female graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the first woman stationed on the USCGC Buttonwood, a cutter that helped boaters with navigation and other issues. Arnold spent 15 years with the Coast Guard.

She then took the teambuilding skills she learned there to private industry.

Her Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company, Quality Process Consultants, has since worked with a wide range of corporations and government agencies, from Marathon Oil Co. and Caterpillar Inc. to NASA and the IRS.

It was during her travels with the company when she realized business leaders nationwide could benefit from a new approach to public speaking. The days of didactic, one-way presentations, Arnold writes, should be history.

While the approach has changed, the first key to a good speech, says Arnold, remains stellar content. “You can have killer content and terrible stage presence, but we will still listen,” she says. “But a brilliant delivery with no content is just fluff.”

Arnold says today's audiences also demand a more engaging tone. They want a conversation, not a lecture.

That requires the speaker to connect with the audience in a casual way — a distinct challenge because the setup of a speech can many times be anything but casual. So to get casual, Arnold recommends lots of one-on-one eye contact.

Still, being casual also requires a balance. Too comfortable and too chatty can lead to “ums” and “you knows,” a big no-no in public speaking.

“Audiences will expect you to be as chatty and as eloquent as the personalities they see on television,” Arnold writes in Boring to Bravo. “Speak the way you normally do, but with a tad more intentionality about what you say and how you say it.”

Tips To Tell a Story

In her new book on public speaking, Kristin Arnold, the incoming president of the National Speakers Association, says a key factor in delivering an engaging and lively speech is the stories behind the message.

“Your audience may not remember exactly what you said during your presentation,” writes Arnold, “but they will remember your stories.”

In addition to simply telling personal anecdotes, the book, “Boring to Bravo,” suggests a deeper approach. That includes what Arnold calls the power of comparisons, analogies and allusions in storytelling:

• Comparisons: Arnold says distinct yet simple words that compare and contrast a situation will help listeners focus;

• Analogies: The use of analogies, a comparison of two things to highlight a point in common, is especially useful in technical presentations;

• Allusions: Arnold says a story can sometimes be aided by an allusion of an image or person without saying what or who the person is.

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