Answering questions when you have forgotten the answer: Corbyn, childcare and the missing figures

By | May 31st, 2017|Authenticity, Difficult conversations, Nerves, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Q&As|

The first question I asked when listening to Jeremy Corbyn’s uncomfortable stumbling on Woman’s Hour when he had forgotten the answer on the cost of Labour’s childcare policy was, “Does it matter?” If the policy is a good one then perhaps it does not matter whether Jeremy Corbyn can produce the exact figures on demand. On the other hand, surely he knew that the media are trying to find any lapses from Labour on figures. This is especially true after the even more cringeworthy Diane Abbott interview.

Confirmation Bias

I suspect on this question it depends on your view of Jeremy Corbyn. His supporters will say Labour are getting unfair scrutiny, his opponents will question his competence.

How not to handle it when you have forgotten the answer

The more important point for me is how he handled the question. This provides an interesting insight into how to handle questions when we have forgotten the answer. Corbyn’s approach is to start to answer, fruitlessly check his notes and then pause. “I presume you have the figures?” asks Emma Barnett. “Yes I do,” he quickly fires back.

And so starts the bigger problem. Jeremy Corbyn now has to give a precise answer. This is where the incident becomes more relevant for an undecided voter. If Jeremy Corbyn says he can do something and then immediately fails to deliver then that starts to undermine his credibility.

How you can handle it when you have forgotten the answer

So what should he have done? And what can we do when we are asked something and have forgotten the answer? Being honest before returning to your key point is often a good tactic. Something like, “I do not have the exact figure but we have costed every policy in detail in our manifesto. This is something that the tories have not done…..etc.”. If he is feeling particularly feisty he could explain that the Labour manifesto has exact figure for [insert long list of policies] and that he is more concerned that everything is properly costed than trying to memorise every single figure. Not as good as confidently rattling off the figures but at least it is going to avoid being lead story on the BBC news website.

“The cover up is worse than the crime”

As is so often the case, the cover up (in this case of the fact he has forgotten the answer) is worse than not having the figures in the first place. It would take a hard heart not to have some sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn. We have all been put on the spot about something we have forgotten. How we deal with the situation makes all the difference about how your audience will remember it.

David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s Questions: rhetoric and nerves

By | July 13th, 2016|Blog, Leadership, Nerves, Public speaking|

One of our most popular workshops at MSB Executive is “Communicating Brilliantly Under Pressure”. We often like to look at famous public speakers and see what we can learn from the times when they have had to speak under great pressure. David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s questions is a great example of how despite great pressure his rhetoric helped him to overcome his nerves.

How much pressure was David Cameron under? Well, PMQs is an intimidating environment at any time. We can then add the issue of Cameron’s legacy. By all accounts this is something that is extremely important to our former prime minister. As it was possibly the last occasion when UK and much international media would be focusing solely on him, the pressure to give the right message about legacy must have been immense. Add to that a packed house and his family watching from the gallery and it really was a major test.

How did he start? Well at first he look tense and a little hesitant. The ice was broken when he described his appointments for the afternoon: “Other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light.”

He swiftly moved on to give a particularly assured performance. The balance was very much towards humour and mockery of the opposition. He still managed to balance this with a seriousness of tone on points such as the importance of the work of MPs: “People come here with huge passion for the issues they care about. They come here with great love for the constituencies they represent. Yes, we can be pretty tough, and test and challenge our leaders, perhaps more than some other countries. But that is something we should be proud of, and we should keep at it.”

By the end, no one remembers the tense, hesitant start. As an audience we are used to people warming into their speeches and presentations. If you feel like you are taking some time to warm up to your theme do not worry. People will give you that time just as long as you have something interesting to say and say it with conviction.

It is also worth noting David Cameron’s artful use of rhetoric throughout his answers. The rule of three works neatly with phrases like: “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition. But I will be willing you on.”

Perhaps most notable was how he followed the recommendations of the father of rhetoric Aristotle by balancing logos with pathos and ethos. Logos, the logic, may have been thin on the ground for some who would have thought he was dodging the questions he was asked. Pathos, the emotion, was there throughout and brought to a crescendo when echoing his phrase to Tony Blair, saying “I was the future once.” Ethos, his principles, were repeated through his praise for fellow MPs and parliament itself.

When we are speaking we do need to have strong logic, but the emotion and principles are often what stays with the audience afterwards. Whether David Cameron’s performance will help establish the legacy he wants, only time will tell.

Tips from an Olympian to tackle the Fight/Flight/Freeze effect

By | May 19th, 2015|Building Confidence, Difficult conversations, Interview Skills, Nerves, Perception|

We talk to every client about the effect the nervous adrenaline produced by our amygdala can have on our bodies. Our brain senses fear and our system rapidly produces a defence – flight/fight or freeze, in short a way to get ourselves out of imminent danger. This short extract from the BBC shows former Olympian Matthew Syed, author of Bounce , explain how in a difficult situation getting into a conversation can help you to work through the nerves and focus on the subject in hand. Great advice and one we are happy to share.

Inspirational Public Speaking: Caroline Taylor

By | January 29th, 2014|Authenticity, Blog, Building Confidence, Leadership, Nerves, Perception, Personal Profile, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

b>Part 2: If you enjoy Public Speaking it can provide a great boost to your profile, plus some top tips for building confidence and overcoming nerves.

Q: What do you look at when you speak?

A: I always look at the audience. In the past at a big conference the lighting often made it look as if you were talking to a vast empty dark space. Luckily these days lighting is better and it allows me to look around at different people in the crowd. As I like to use a bit of humour in my talks I look to see if it has got a response or reaction. One of the hardest gigs I have encountered is hosting our annual “Bring Your daughters to work Day” which is a scheme we introduced at IBM to show young women that technology is a career option open for them. 12-15 year old girls are quite a hard crowd, and an adult trying to make them laugh is probably the last thing they want to hear!. So I made sure I shared eye contact around to encourage them to engage with me and see that I want to communicate with them. So your audience reaction can help you to adapt your style to be as effective as you can with them.  When you are doing a talk it is a great idea to go along to the pre-event dinner, lunch or coffee and mingle with the audience. Share what your topic is and sometimes they will give you a great opinion or example that you can share during your talk. This really makes your topic come to life as you are talking about something that one of their colleagues has shared. You can look for the people you spoke to beforehand during your talk and that gives you a friendly reaction which boosts confidence levels as well.

Q: What do you hear when speaking?

A: I hear myself saying “Slow Down Caroline” ! I’ve always been a fast talker, something which people have commented on for years. In my new European based role slowing down is especially important as many of my new colleagues have English as a second language. I also try and keep an eye on the time. Although I’m therefore conscious of being slower I still speak relatively quickly because that is who I am. At IBM we talk a lot about personal eminence and about being consistently authentic in every method of communication. For example if each of your digital personalities are in conflict with each other or at odds with your public personality you will not gain the trust of your audience. So of course it is important to adapt your style of speaking so that is clear and easy to understand but no-one wants to listen to a public-speaking clone so always remember to stay true to yourself.

Q: Does public speaking help you?

A: Definitely. Thanks to my public speaking appearances I’ve been invited to do extraordinary things. One of these was being invited to be a adjunct professor at a Business school after being spotted by the Dean at a conference where I was a guest speaker. Public speaking boosts your profile and offers another angle on you, which of course must be true to who you are and what your values are. It increases your network and introduces you to others who you can learn things from. It is extremely valuable.

Q: Do you think public speaking is important for women?

A: It is just as important for women as it is for men, perhaps more important as women often struggle to build their profiles to help them achieve success in business. But don’t try and ape the guys. Trying to be something you are not will back-fire as it isn’t authentic. If you are someone who has a quiet squeaky voice then seek out some voice training but only if you really want to improve your voice. If not you can make a name for yourself in other mediums like print or on digital platforms where you can still share your knowledge and expertise. Audiences welcome someone who is knowledgeable and enjoys sharing that knowledge. Find the subject you are passionate about and public speaking can be a really enjoyable and valuable skill.

My thanks to Caroline for explaining her public speaking experiences so openly and for sharing some great tips to help people take to the stage.

About Caroline Taylor : Caroline Taylor is Vice President Marketing, Communications & Citizenship, and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for IBM Europe. Based in London, Caroline leads the teams responsible for all aspects of marketing, communications and citizenship for IBM throughout Europe.With 28 years of professional marketing experience, Caroline is an Adjunct Professor at Imperial College Business School in London and is also a Business to Business Ambassador for the UK’s Marketing Society, to which she was appointed Fellow in September 2012.

Caroline is a passionate advocate for equality and diversity, particularly in the workplace. She is executive sponsor for Gender Diversity for IBM in the UK. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Opportunity Now Champion Award, recognising her contribution to advancing, promoting and embedding a diversity culture within the workplace.

 

Inspirational Public Speaking – Eva Eisenschimmel

By | October 2nd, 2013|Building Confidence, Nerves, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

Eva Eisenschimmel of Lloyds Banking Group

Eva Eisenschimmel, Group Culture Director of Lloyds Banking Group

Part 1: Putting the audience’s needs at the heart of public speaking.

I saw Eva Eisenschimmel, Group Culture Director of Lloyds Banking Group talk on September 3rd 2013 at Bloomberg as part of CIM’s 2013 Growth Summit. She gave a powerful keynote presentation that made the whole room sit up and listen and then went on to be one of the most memorable participants in a panel discussion. I knew I had to ask if she would interview for our blog as here was a great public speaker that would also be superb inspiration for clients, especially our female clients. I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed, so two weeks later, I asked Eva to share her thoughts about public speaking.

When do you get asked to do public speaking – what are the circumstances?

The first and most frequent occasion is internally – Lloyd’s is a large organization, over 90,000 colleagues and is one of the largest employers in the country as we are a UK centered bank. So we do a lot of internal “public” speaking.

The second occasion is something that I am asked to do a lot, but which I do relatively little of – external public speaking at events or exhibitions.

Thirdly there are interviews with journalists, mainly one on one, which is a form of public speaking of course because it carries a lot of risk. Even the most straightforward of interviewers are looking for an angle or an edge and often I will be trying not to give too much away (such as details of a new campaign before launch).

So I would say that I do the most of the first internal type of speaking, a little of the third and least of the second. I do less of this for two reasons. One is personal and one is contextual. The personal one is that I’ve been here for three years and apart from a little early experience, I am new to the sector so I am therefore slightly careful and slightly reluctant to put myself out there as a sector expert as there are others with far more experience than me. At the same time, I’m still finding my feet and establishing my credibility and of course I’m working on delivering stuff and it feels like that is more important than just talking about what you’d like to deliver! So I’m therefore quite reticent to accept too many of those invitations.

So would you say that you prefer internal public speaking the most?

I would say I enjoy all types of public speaking, but perhaps the third type least, as in this age of social media what you say can be whizzed around the world in a split second and you can do untold damage to a company’s reputation or share price! I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the internal and external occasions.

How do you prepare?

There is always a lot of preparation required and I especially focus on my opening and my close. It’s a tried and tested tip but it is a good one – if you know how you are going to start and how you are ending you can usually get on well. Another thing to remember is are you a subject expert ? or more crudely do you know more about this topic than your audience ? You usually do and with that comes confidence. So I would say there is so much in common with both internal and external speaking and I therefore enjoy them both.

So as you mention good preparation is vital, do you ask questions of your organizer when you accept an invitation to speak?

Oh certainly yes! Experience has shown the more questions the better really. You want quite a detailed insight into the audience such as:

  • Who is going to be there?
  • What are they going to be interested in hearing?
  • What are they hearing before and after you – the context of the day
  • What is the theme of the day?

Making sure you aren’t going off on a complete tangent and seem disconnected from the rest of the day. You need to establish what the tone is of the day, which sometimes comes from the venue. A very grand, tiered seating venue with a stage and a lectern will demand a different approach to an audience sitting on the floor cross-legged (I exaggerate to make the point but you get the idea!).

All of these questions give you clues to the structure and tone needed for your approach. And don’t let’s forget the all important questions (which we’ve all come a cropper on at one point) about AV set-up:

  • Will you be mic’d up or not?
  • Who will press the button for the video that you are showing, you or someone else?

And then finally your entrance and exit – I always wear high heels so find out if will you be clambering up and looking inelegant and or will you be all on a level so the shoes and skirt will work? All these small elements contribute to being fully prepared – will there be water? The list is endless. You can’t have too much information to prepare properly.

I read on the blog another respondent talking about visualization. I’m not sure I do it consciously but I do visualize the space and the audience that you will be looking at and how it will feel. So as an illustration about a year after joining our new CEO António Horta-Osório had arrived and I was invited to speak at an event he holds annually called the One Group Convention. It’s an idea he bought from Santander and it is lovely, it wasn’t something Lloyds did before. He gathers 5,000 people in a room and I was asked to speak. I’ve never spoken in front of thousands of people so this was a new escalation in anxiety I can tell you! So to visualize that was a feat – what does 5,000 people look like? Will you even see their faces? Someone said to me ‘imagine them naked’ which wasn’t helpful at all, pretty ghastly! But the point is quite serious, will the faces be a blur or will you be able to pick them out?  I soon decided that I wasn’t leaving anything to chance, it was absolutely scripted, and I knew every word. No ad-libbing at all, not least because timing was really important.

So it was more like a TED talk?

Absolutely, but still on stage, although there was no multi-media involved, everyone was in the room with me. So that was a real milestone.

And did it go well?

Really well, and I did it again the following year, which was a lot easier because once you’ve done something new once you have done it. So the point is visualization is helpful because when you do something on a big scale like that, or something is blasted around the world in tech form you need to really prepare to a different level. Unless you are brilliantly quick witted or you have a brain the size of a planet. Which I don’t. I think you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. For example I don’t do comedy well, I admire people that do and I know it is one of the techniques for opening a presentation  – I can’t do that! I think I have an odd sense of humour so I would never dare to do that, I know that’s not my strength. Whereas speaking passionately from the heart about what I feel and what I think really matters is something I can do well. So whatever it is that you do well, know it and design to it. Certainly don’t put yourself in a new situation (whether a new audience, new venue or new size of audience) and try something new. This is certainly not the time to experiment!

This may be a question more relevant to earlier in your career. Any physical sensations (good or bad) before you start speaking?

A healthy dose of nerves, butterflies in the stomach. Adrenaline in moderation always enhances a talk. I’d like to think that I’m excited more nervous, but it is a close run thing!

I was lucky in that I was taught to speak early on at Mars Confectionery as part of my graduate training scheme. We were expected to present a lot and had to even prepare our slides handwritten on an OHP. I learned to see invitations to present as opportunities to practice. If people invite you try and take them up on it because it gives you an opportunity to get less nervous and more excited about doing it.

What do you hear when speaking?

Nothing, nor do I remember what I have said afterwards which is very curious! I go into autopilot. You’re on the stage, someone says go, and then everything else disappears very much like an out of body experience.  I am very much there in the moment.  You’re performing really, I’m not an actress but it would be helpful. The few times I have been filmed it has been very interesting to watch back and see how I did. Not for cosmetic reasons but just to increase my awareness of how I come across so I can improve. There is always something to learn and improve upon to bring to the next occasion.

Inspirational Public Speakers- Frank Dick OBE

By | June 24th, 2013|Blog, Nerves, Voice|

Last Saturday I went to an open morning  hosted by my excellent career coach Simon Scantlebury. The keynote public speaker was Frank Dick OBE and as a sports fan and communications coach I was definitely interested to hear his message.

I wasn’t disappointed. Simon introduced Frank as ‘probably the greatest coach in the world’ and after he finished his talk I could also see why he is one of the UK’s most sought after public speakers. As we like to collect examples of inspirational public speakers on our blog I thought I would share my notes on his excellent technique:

Voice: Frank projected well throughout but going softer to make us lean in and even using a comic ‘role-play’ voice in one great anecdote about an aspiring young runner. The way he managed it made it easy to visualize the little girl talking to him. You could see Frank conjuring up the scene and it made it easy for us as an audience to conjure it too.

Making use of space:  At times the AV was a little shaky but it didn’t fluster Frank, he just paced to the other side of the room and posed a question to us from there. In fact if all of the video equipment had broken down it wouldn’t have mattered as the delivery more than compensated.  I could tell that Frank was passionate about his subject matter and this is what carried the talk. The videos he selected illustrated his points really well but the videos weren’t the main event.

Great facial and hand gestures: As a keen gesticulator I love to see a speaker who isn’t afraid to use the hands and face to back up their words. When describing pain or failure Frank’s face looked in agony, in total contrast to a few seconds later when he perfectly conjured up the elation of winning. As an audience it challenged us to empathise with the point he was making and feel it alongside him.

The content was excellent, and from a man who has coached the UK athletics team and super-stars like Daley Thompson, Boris Becker and Justin Rose that was almost a given. But what I loved most was his energy. He talked about ‘essential fear’ and reminded us ‘that without fear there is no such thing as courage’. He shared with the audience that despite frequently speaking to big audiences he still felt a flutter of adrenaline before speaking to us. I really admired this as a message we can all embrace – nerves are healthy and make us perform at our best.

My thanks to Simon for arranging such an inspirational event.

 

Why doing something you fear helps to build your confidence

By | June 3rd, 2013|Blog, Building Confidence, Nerves|

I’m an amateur triathlete and chose the sport because of the variety. But I also chose it because initially both the swim and the cycle sections filled me with fear. We spend a lot of our time at MSB Executive helping people to overcome their fears of communicating in public and I felt it would be good to face some of mine so I could experience nerves and the physical effects they have on the body.

Stop avoiding what you fear

Initially I spent a lot more time focusing on running as this was something I had done for a long time. So too with some people we work with – they feel more comfortable working on their slides yet avoid practising their talk in front of others. Luckily I have a good friend who after one swim which involved more swallowing water than swimming suggested I try out her swimming coach. After a year’s training with Mike at streamline swims my 400m time had reduced from 11minutes to 7.43! But better still I had learnt some ways to calm myself when the nerves appear.

Recognising  nervous adrenalin and what it can do

My first olympic length triathlon was a Dorney lake last year. It was a chilly September day and despite the wetsuit I was feeling very cold and shaky. I had done the training for the 1.5k swim but as I started I could feel myself gasping for air and floundering around. Panic had set in and the build up of nervous adrenalin caused by the wait to start was making my body move in some very erratic ways. But I had two things to help me overcome the fear. The first was thinking of coach Mike’s voice reminding me to start slowly, to enjoy it and to remember that I had done all the preparation and training I could do. And the other was a technique that is advocated by famous confidence coach Dr Rob Yeung in his yellow book Confidence that we use with many of our clients to help them face their fears and go the extra step. It is really easy to remember and it goes like this:

A – Acknowledge that you are nervous and name the feeling “this is my feeling of panic!”

B – Breathe. Super helpful when you are swimming but also key before public speaking as nervous adrenalin can cause us to take shallow breaths. Taking deep breaths helps send oxygen into the blood stream to feed the heart and muscles that are working really hard.

C  – Chuckle! or smile. This was key for me as I remembered that triathlon for me is a hobby and that I can only do as well as I can do. Likewise in a business situation – the consequences of not even trying are often worse long term than having a go and maybe making a mistake or two.

D – Do. Confidence as defined by Dr Yeung is doing something you are scared of.

Once I had walked myself through this in my mind I gained a surge of energy and went on to have a really decent swim. The combination of acknowledging I was scared of the swim, getting some help with it, practising as much as I can, smiling and then just doing it is a great way to overcome a fear and also to build up confidence.

Public Speaking:Flying Without Notes

By | February 9th, 2013|Featured, Nerves, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

Public Speaking dilemmas

I met someone at the RSA AGM this week and they mentioned that they had been critiqued for referring to their notes too much during a recent piece of public speaking. They asked for my thoughts on using notes. My reply was that it depends on your  public speaking objective and how confident you are in what you are delivering because leaving notes out can be both a blessing and a curse.

Luckily there are some great recent examples of speakers not using notes for public speaking so let’s take a look at how successful they were.

Should you use notes for Public Speaking?

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, made his keynote leadership speech at the Labour Party conference this weekhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqYGbEY-EC8. The speech lasts for just over an hour and received praise from almost every quarter. One of the most consistent pieces of praise was the fact that he made the speech without notes. As Lord Sugar tweeted “Ed Miliband deliverers(sic) a brilliant performance for over an hour (without notes) a very powerful speech”.

Ed Miliband and all of his team knew that the outcome of this speech was going to be pivotal in whether the party and possibly the country could take this former self-confessed geek as an actual contender. And they employed some fail-safe oratorical techniques to help him do so.

Mr Miliband used the whole stage, confidently walking around and looking at different parts of the audience. He had no notes in his hand, but there does appear to be something on a lectern just in case. He takes pauses (for applause and for impact) and isn’t afraid to use his hands. He speaks clearly from ‘the now’ so that the stories, like the ones about his son and his parents are believable and genuine.  It is clear that Miliband had practiced his speech. This was no mere “ramblings of a future leader”. You do not come up with some of the phrases he employed on the spur of the moment.

But you can practice your stories and themes until they run together naturally. And this is what he did. No doubt the sheet on the stand said something like Dinosaur/Family/One Nation  – and Miliband had practiced with family friends and colleagues until every story was mastered.

Contrast this with Clint Eastwood’s speech at the US Republican Convention. For a full breakdown of what worked and what didn’t we recommend Hans Zimmer’s excellent blog on the subject http://mannerofspeaking.org/2012/09/11/clint-eastwood-and-the-empty-chair/.

Clint’s lack of preparation and thought meant that his no notes talk would’ve been an all out disaster had he not had his Hollywood reputation to fall back on. The chair idea was a last minute thought that didn’t work out and had he planned it someone may have told him to abandon the idea.  In fact there was no real objective for his talk aside proving he supported the Republican party.

So going without notes can be hugely positive and win you a ratings leap like the one Miliband is enjoying. But it is something you should only consider if you have rehearsed to make sure that your performance is watertight. Even then having a crib sheet with your broad themes on a table nearby is an important safety net in case nerves make your mind go blank. And if you aren’t making a pitch for leadership and don’t have the time to rehearse then having notes to refer to is a very good idea.

Does arriving at the last minute help calm nerves?

By | October 2nd, 2012|Interview Skills, Nerves|

When working with nervous interviewees we often get questioned on our advice to arrive early to an interview. “If I arrive early”, one client insisted, “my nerves always get the better of me”.  And watching the “Miracle at Medinah” unfold last night at the Ryder Cup it looked like such an opinion was going to get extra weight after Mcllroy’s dramatic late arrival.

McIlroy won his match, and seemed quite unruffled by the near miss of the game and the jibes from the USA supporters. It is testimony to his golfing prowess that he was able to perform in such a situation. He said, “I was lucky there was a State Trooper outside when I realized I was on the wrong time. He gave me a ride and maybe I was lucky that I didn’t have too much time to think about what was in front of me”.

Yet it wasn’t really lucky that a state trooper was outside his door. Probably something to do with the fact that he is an international golfing legend. The majority of us would struggle to get a police escort to a meeting or an interview, however much we pleaded!

As for the lack of time to think about what was ahead, well the European team had been talking strategy only the night before. Whatever he said on the day, McIlroy had put plenty of thought into what was ahead and a lot of training to boot.  For the rest of us out there, this means that leaving it to the last second and ‘winging it’ isn’t really a viable option either. McIlroy didn’t ‘wing’ his golf, he works at it professionally everyday. What he really aced was dealing with the nerves such a precarious situation would’ve given him and knuckling down and playing the game as best he could. And that isn’t luck, but skill.

Don't leave it to the last second!

Don’t leave it to the last second!

That really is the lesson we can learn from McIlroy. If you put the effort in and work hard at what you are aiming for then, should something untoward happen, you are less likely to fail. This work could be preparing your examples for interview questions, working on your posture and voice exercises or going through your presentation with a colleague or coach. Your nerves will have less power to topple your performance. But leave everything to chance in a bid to avoid feeling nervous and guaranteed you will get the nerves and do yourself an injustice. If McIlroy had planned to get there at the last minute, the chances are that it would’ve backfired.

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