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.

Donald Trump: Storytelling in 140 Characters

By | January 31st, 2017|Blog, Featured, Perception, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Storytelling|

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!”

So says President Trump. Whatever you think about the personality or the policy, one thing is for certain: Donald Trump knows the art of storytelling.

Villain, Victim, Hero

One of the classic storytelling techniques we cover in our workshops is the Villain, Victim, Hero formula. It is so familiar to us that our brains expect it and respond to it. From bedtime stories as a child to Star Wars, the formula’s power is used again and again.

To summarise how it works:

Villain: this could be person, think Lex Luthor, or a “thing” such as the shark in Jaws or a volcano about to erupt.

Victim: the poor, innocent victim.

Hero: Superhero or ordinary person doing extraordinary things  (or both in the case of Superman/Clark Kent).

To make the story more dramatic, make the Villain more dastardly, the victim more worthy of our pity or the hero more compelling.

Donald Trump uses this formal in a relentlessly consistent and simple way:

Villain: the establishment, “crooked Hilary”, “the swamp” in Washington.

Victim: You! The honest, decent hard-working ordinary soul.

Hero: An outstandingly successful businessman with stellar talents and dealmaking prowess…….

Instead of varying the message, Donald Trump is a master at giving more impact to his storytelling by repeating and strengthening the formula. He makes his villains ever more villainous. The victims and their suffering, “the horrible mess” from the tweet above, is presented in colourful and dramatic ways. And of course, the more dangerous the villain and the more wronged the victim, the more impressive the hero is!

Using storytelling in your presentations

We may not want to emulate Donald Trump but we can certainly learn from how he tells stories. If you have to present data and facts in a way that will have your audience paying attention, try to think about:

  • Who is the Villain?
  • How bad is that Villain?
  • Who is suffering because of the Villain?
  • What is the impact on the Victim?
  • How can this be solved?
  • What are the qualities of your hero?

Next time you hear a speech from Donald Trump listen out for Villains and Victims. You will hear what an impact storytelling can have.

Martyn Barmby

Speaking Outside – 5 top tips for communicating in the open air

By | August 3rd, 2016|Blog, Building Confidence, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

Last week we enjoyed running a day’s team-building activity in the open air with the team at Bianca Sainty Personal Training. As well as looking at body language and posture we spent a large percentage of the programme exploring the speaking outside. In particular we worked on making yourself heard above the noises in a busy open air space.

On the day the conditions were perfectly challenging. In the park there was a tree surgeon felling branches with a chainsaw and someone mowing the football pitch. Along came a basketball game accompanied by amplified music. This is fairly typical London park noise and so most days a personal trainer will need to work hard when speaking outside.

Why is it important to be heard? First and most obviously so that the client can hear what you need them to do. Personal training can be quite intense and it would be a shame to break the momentum by stopping to ask for instructions to be repeated. Secondly it is all about trust. If you give directions in a clear, confident and audible way the client is more likely to trust that you are knowledgeable. Clients of personal trainers look for support from someone who can help them build their confidence so it is useful if the personal trainer exudes confidence.

The workshop covered many areas but here are 5 top tips for open air communication:

1. Face the clients

This may seem obvious but when explaining actions it is tempting for example to turn towards where you may want a client to run rather than stay facing them. In the workplace this often happens when a presenter turns their back on an audience to read their own powerpoint slide. First of all most people do not engage well with somebody’s back. Secondly people lip-read more than is realised and make up for gaps in what they have heard with what they can see. So always face your clients especially when speaking outside.

2. Hydration

Like the body needs to stay hydrated for muscles to perform the vocal cords are highly sensitive to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your voice strong and authoritative.

3. Voice from stomach rather than throat

Engaging the core isn’t just useful when performing physical exercises. It can really help increase the sound your body can produce. Standing in a strong neutral position, engaging the core and sounding from the diaphragm rather than the throat is key.

4. Keep the sun in your eyes, not your clients’!

It is natural to keep the sun behind us so that we can see clearly when speaking outside. This can mean clients are looking straight into the sun. As well as being uncomfortable this interferes with the lip-reading we mentioned in point.

5. Don’t stick your chin out towards your client.

We often feel the need to move closer to our clients to make ourselves heard by sticking our chin out. This puts a lot of pressure on the vocal cords which can lead to us losing our voice. Use you voice to reach out, not your chin!

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.

Why doesn’t Shakespeare get tired even after 450 years?

By | April 22nd, 2014|Authenticity, Featured, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

The text remains the same, with a few spelling adjustments. People the world over have been performing and reciting Shakespeare’s words year in year out. Year upon year drama students select and perfect the famous monologues for male and female characters as set pieces for auditions.

But the words are the same, so why aren’t we bored of hearing them? The answer lies of course in the fact that it is the delivery of the words that makes them come to life. And every actor brings to the stage their own personal interpretation of the script making each performance a unique and fascinating entity.

Compare for example the St Crispin’s day speech from Henry V. The following links show Mark Rylance, Kenneth Brannagh and Richard Burton delivering this most familiar of speeches in three entirely different ways. The tonality, the rhythm and emphasis chosen by each makes the audience hear different parts of the text and consider the story in significantly different lights.

And so on Shakespeare’s birthday take a little bit of inspiration from this and remember that whatever words you are delivering  – be they a sonnet or a summary of the yearly turnover for your company you bring to it your own interpretation. There is no one “right” way to deliver any message, but you must make it your own.

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 Part 2- Eva Eisenschimmel

By | October 24th, 2013|Building Confidence, Interview Skills, Marketing, Networking Skills, Portfolio, Public speaking|

Inspirational Public Speaker Eva Eisenschimmel of Lloyds Banking Group

Inspirational Public Speaker Eva Eisenschimmel of Lloyds Banking Group

Part 2: Good communication skills are vital for leadership

 Do you feel public speaking has helped your career, or is it part and parcel of it?

I really see it as integral to career success. I bundle it in with all communications skills as a vital along with great stakeholder engagement and of course commercial performance. These three are the most important attributes to senior progression. If you do great things and you can’t articulate what you’ve done and your stakeholders aren’t aware you’ve done you won’t get recognition and get on. Good communication skills are absolutely core attributes they are essential. And you have to face your demons. Unless you are a trained actor (which few are) then you have to teach yourself how to appear to be confident– whether that is in a 1-2-1 with your line manager or in front of 5,000 people in the NEC!

Who are your public speaking heroes?

I have many but I am on the Go On board chaired by Martha Lane Fox and she speaks both informally and passionately with a natural style and is very humble about how good she is. The next is Dido Harding – the most amazing woman with a sparkling background of achievements. She, like Martha, is very humble and natural but she speaks from the heart in a candid style which makes her also a great speaker. She talks about fear and how when harnessed how it can help you do special things. At Lloyds we have some amazing women on our board like Carolyn Fairburn, Sarah Weller and Anita Frew.

Here at Lloyds I’m the co-chair of the women’s network which is another one of my passions. It’s called Breakthrough. The team behind the group developed a regular series of talks we call “Footprints in the Snow” where we invite a woman to speak to the group about what has formed them: their successes and failures, challenges and values as well as offer her top tips and advice for women who want to further their career. All three board members spoke brilliantly and honestly and encouraged openness and questions from the audience.

So I think some of the best speakers out there at the moment are women. They are humble, they are often prepared to be candid and speak straight from the heart. Without generalizing female speakers can often be very empathetic and be very aware of what the audience needs.

 Any advice to women on public speaking?

Put yourself out there! Especially while you are young and not as confident, seize those opportunities and speak to small groups whenever you can. You never know there could be an invitation to speak to 5,000 people around the corner! It’s all about confidence.  Ask yourself ‘do you know more about this topic than everyone else in this room?’ because quite often you do and so don’t forget that you know this. Remind yourself of this, practice, and remember that the worst that can happen is that you might be asked a question. Go in quietly confident (not cocky or arrogant) and chances are you will do yourself and your subject justice. And of course the more practiced you are, the more confident you will become. I really like this story told by Gary Player, which sums it up nicely:

“I was practicing in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, “You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.” I holed the next one. Then he says, “You got $100 if you hole the next one.” In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, “Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.” And I shot back, “Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” (from Golf Digest)

My thanks to Eva for such an open and honest interview

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.

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