In my recent podcast interview with Susannah Wellford, founder and director of Running Start, I learned some magic words. And weirdly, just by saying these words out loud or even silently in my head, I get an instant confidence boost.
But first, a word about the very neat work of Running Start. At Running Start, Susannah and her team inspire and prepare girls and young women to get involved in political life. And a big part of that work is helping women imagine themselves in a powerful political role, especially when they don’t see a lot of role models in political institutions. And of course, this lack of visibility is worse for women and girls of color, or who come from poor families, or who are LGBTQ. So confidence building is a critical task in all the programs they offer. And that’s where the “magic words” come in.
“My name is ….and I am running for….”
Running Start encourages the girls and young women in their many programs to get comfortable saying these words: “My name is … and I am running for….”. Susannah says the impact of that sentence is immediate. “You can see it right away. They stand up a little taller - they just feel more confident.” It’s the power of those words - even it they are not true (yet.) The the young women are asked to hold that statement in their heads and mentally rehearse it whenever possible.
So why don’t you try it - right now! “My name is … and I am running for…. “ Don’t stress about what you’re running for - pick anything (but it’s fun to use “Congress!”). And the best part is, you don’t have to actually run for anything to get the benefit! (although you can!)
My name is .... and I am running for ..."
Acting “as if”
Doing this kind of ”acting as if” (or fake it till you make it) exercise reminds me a lot of the power poses that Amy Cuddy popularized in 2012. In case you need a refresher, Cuddy set out to prove that people who adopted a power pose for two minutes (hands on hips, or arms raised and feet on desk, etc) would feel more powerful, and this feeling could give them confidence in a high-stress situation. Her research has clearly established that the poses, or what she now calls “postural feedback,” do make the “posers” feel more powerful, although they do not appear to experienced the hormonal effect she first suggested. I have been a dedicated power poser (often in a bathroom stall!) since hearing her Ted talk so many years ago, and always loved the feeling it gave me. I felt the same kind of confidence and power from saying Susannah’s magic words.
Take the Mic - no, really!
Running Start does something else to get women to experience their own power - it requires them to speak with a mic when doing public speaking in the program. Jessica Kelly, Programs and Leadership director, noticed that many young women they worked with say “Oh, I don’t need to use a mic.” While some of them, according to Jessica, may have voices that can carry well, she believes the refusal more often suggests a reticence to have their voice amplified. “Women are socialized not to take the mic, not to take up space or volume,” she says, “but political candidates and leaders have to willing to have their voice command the space they are in.” She says that its critical that girls and young women learn to let their voices have volume if they want to be powerful - and express that power.
Jessica admits that her own comfort with a mic stems from her experience at karaoke as a teenager. Although shy, she and her high school friends would do so much karaoke that she got used to hearing her voice amplified. Now she’s able to use a mic comfortably and she highly recommends karaoke as a way to break down that mic resistance!
Of course I love the focus on “taking the mic,” since my podcast is called “Take the Mic.” And I admit that I love speaking with a mic! (My training ground was not karaoke, but stand up comedy.) But I want to know about you - does a mic bother you? Does it feel weird hearing your voice at a higher volume? Or did you learn to love it like Jessica and me? I would love to hear your mic story in the comment section.
Let’s start acknowledging what we know, and then sharing it.
I was recently coaching a software engineer on an upcoming presentation. She wanted to respond gracefully if an audience member asked about a topic she didn’t feel qualified to address. “I just don’t know enough about the project to talk about it.”
Curious, I asked her how much she did know about the topic. “Only about 80%,” she said. As soon as she heard herself say it aloud, she smiled at me. Because what that statement really meant was, “I know a lot about that topic.” But like many women I work with, she didn’t feel “qualified” to discuss it unless she knew 110% of the topic, and also maybe had a Ph.D. in it too. Women need to feel like a walking Wikipedia to open their mouths. Men will be an expert after glancing at a pamphlet in the subject.
This hesitance to speak is a rational response to a world that does ignore or under value women’s opinions and criticize them more harshly than men’s. (The research is here and here. ) And of course, we now have a vocabulary to describe the ways women’s voices are silenced: you know “mansplaining,” but now there’s also “manterrupting,” and “bropropriating,” in which a man takes credit for a woman’s idea. The problem is real, and women aren’t crazy to zip their lips.
But until women rule the universe, or at least are half of all CEOs and Senators, we have to figure out a strategy. And we must stop internalizing social messages about our value and our expertise. So how do we do that? Two great books on this topic are Playing Big by Tara Mohr and Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young. And here’s some tips to get you started today.
Women need to feel like a walking Wikipedia to open their mouths. Men will be an expert after glancing at a pamphlet in the subject.
1. Start with noticing what you tell yourself when you decide not to share an opinion, a perspective. Become an observer (without judging) of your own thought patterns, especially when you are at meetings or in other situations where you are hesitant to speak. Normally these nasty little messages (“I better not talk about this issue - I don’t want to look foolish.”) get transmitted at lightening speed so you barely notice them. But if you’re watching for them, you’ll hear them. Try to keep track of them for a few days. You will learn a LOT!
2. Next, start noticing the kind of contributions other people make, especially men. At meetings, take out your invisible magnifying glass to find out if their contributions are always brilliant, or just opinions dressed up to sound authoritative. What you are going to notice are a lot of people saying exactly what you were thinking because, in all likelihood, your perspective and observations are just as valuable as theirs, and often more.
3.Okay, you’re done noticing; now try a small step. Decide that you are going to speak up once or twice this week in a meeting. One thing that may help you is to prepare some “framers,” introductory phrases that can give you a structure that feels comfortable. Some examples are: “I believe we should consider...” “Why don’t we…” “There are three reasons we need to…,” “From my perspective… .” What you want to avoid however, is the “apology intro: “This may be a dumb idea…” “You all may have thought of this already, but …” or even, “I’m sorry, but I think we should…”
Women always question if they are qualified,” she said, “but look at all these clowns around us.”
And finally, here’s something to remember when you get down about the challenges of speaking up. In a recent article in the New York Times about the way men with no experience are dominating the cryptocurrency field, early crypto investor Arianna Simpson “said the surge of interest in virtual currencies from male novices should remind women that it did not take expertise or a Ph.D. to thrive in the system. Women always question if they are qualified,” she said, “but look at all these clowns around us.” Remember those “clowns” the next time you think knowing 80% is not enough. It is.
Would you like to get more help as you become a more comfortable, confident, and compelling speaker? Sign up on my mailing list below and I’ll send you some every few weeks.
Use your belly to be a braver public speaker!
Public speaking is not really about hand gestures, posture, or eye contact. Sure, you’ve got to deal with those eventually, but what you MUST deal with first is the belly. Why? Because the belly is where we find our fear, our fire and our calm. First, the fear, the primary obstacle to speaking for many of us. The belly is a great hiding spot – or control room- for fear. It’s deep and dark and hidden from view. And unless you are a seasoned public speaker, you’re likely dealing with a lot of fear.
Fear is primal – prehistoric. It’s considered human’s first emotion, and It’s often beyond – or beneath – our conscious control. It’s also not rational much of the time. The Liz Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear says “Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.” And sometimes that cop keeps us from doing what we want – like stepping up to the podium, speaking at the rally, or even sharing our voice in a meeting.
So what can we do about fear of public speaking?
First we have to get used to feeling a little afraid every day, because we will. Next we have to listen to our fear to figure out what it’s really telling us. So get a pen and paper and think about your fear of public speaking. What EXACTLY are you afraid of? What would happen if your worst fears were to come true? Would people laugh at you? Leave your talk? Stand up and say, “that’s baloney!” (I’ve heard those fears – and many more.) No matter how wacky or even scary it seems, get it down in technicolor detail.
Now that you have named and described your fear, give yourself a pat on the back cause it’s not easy. Now ask yourself gently, “How realistic is my fear?” Many of things we fear are extremely unlikely, but still they help us identify feelings or memories holding us back. That’s why we have to flesh them out so carefully. But sometimes our fears are realistic, and they can tell us what we need to work on. I’m going to give you an example from my own experience.
Look to your belly to learn why you speak
There’s another reason to look to your belly - it’s where you find your fire - the fire that fuels your desire to speak. Maybe it’s an injustice that’s got you angry, a desire to change something, or a passion for the planet that makes you feel you must speak, even if you’re nervous about it.
For some of you, that fire may be a blazing bonfire that can be seen for miles; for others it may be tiny, sputtering little thing, more sparks than flame. It’s there, but it needs nurturing. That’s okay, you can nurture it. Be glad of your blaze whatever it is because many people don’t have a passion – or can’t find it.
Okay, one more thing about the belly
So the belly is your source of fear, and fire, but did you know it’s a built-in ever-ready relaxation machine? That’s because of its role in breathing. Your belly is an easy to see reminder that deep breaths help you get comfortable at any and every moment. And the power of breathing deeply is a secret weapon for great speakers – and nervous speakers. If you’ve ever taken yoga, meditation, or voice lessons, you know that deep “belly breaths” relax you, ground you, and focus you in the moment. Try it: place your hands on your belly and breathe so that your belly swells as the air fills your lungs. It’s not that the air actually goes into your belly, but deep breaths make your diaphragm push down on your belly.
“Belly breathing” is an instant way to relax yourself before and during speaking. And it works to help deepen your voice and slow your talking speed, two things which can help you sound more powerful and authoritative. The next time you have a challenging speaking situation, try breathing your way through it. Many speakers I work with say it makes a huge difference to their comfort level.
I’d love to hear how you use your belly to help you be a braver speaker! Leave your feedback in comments section.
I have a new mission. I want – no change that – I need to help women be more confident about speaking up, speaking out, and letting their voice be heard everywhere. I want women to step up to the stage at work, at church, in boardrooms, conferences hall, and rallies. Wherever there are ears in a room, I want women at the front, talking! I want this for women no matter their religion or political party or opinion. And it’s not just me that needs women to speak up, it’s our entire world.
"Wherever there are ears
in a room, I want women
at the front, talking!"
In my organization, Speak Up! I help women become more comfortable, confident and compelling public speakers. Most of them are jittery about public speaking. Some are stomach-churningly, sweat-drippingly terrified. In fact, some women have turned down job or advancement opportunities because public speaking was required. I would really like to stop hearing that. I don’t blame the women; I blame our sexist world. But I want to help the women step up to that podium gladly – or at least willingly.
The weird thing is, these women may not be reticent about leadership – they will take risks and responsibility, manage projects, keep teams in line. It’s not the leading that scares some women, it’s the speaking. So many women already walk the walk, but they don’t talk the talk!
Women have understandable reasons for being nervous. Our world judges women more harshly than men, devalues their offerings, and even actively silences them. And many women grew up at a time when they were not encouraged to speak up and lacked role models.
So there’s lots of rational reasons for “podium avoidance syndrome,” but my work is telling women why they should get over it. And I’d like to share three big reasons with you.
Three reasons why you should overcome “podium avoidance syndrome.”
1. You can have a larger say in your profession and your world. Those who can speak – and do speak – carry the persuasive power. In our world, anywhere you look, you see that women are vastly underrepresented where important decisions are made – in the legislatures, the boardrooms, the churches. There are many ways to make women more visible, but a crucial one is women speaking out publicly about issues that matter to them. If you want to see things change anywhere, you have got to be able to say something about it, often repeatedly, and often to large groups of people. That’s how stuff happens.
2. You will get to know yourself in a whole new way. Public speaking yields rich insight not just into your topic or you audience, but into yourself! As you see how much the audience responds to your talk or presentation, you develop more respect for your own ideas. And as you gain practice, get feedback, try new things, you will see rapid improvement. For women who are interested in self-development for personal, professional, or social reasons, there is no more effective accelerant. Not to mention the gigantic boost to your self-esteem. And the good news is, this is all within your reach. Once you get over the fear, getting the skills isn’t really that hard. (Don’t tell that to the people who pay me a lot of money!)
3. You will be a model for other women – and girls. If you care about seeing more women have influence and visibility at work, in politics, and everywhere, then lead by example. Each time a younger colleague, a daughter, or a niece, sees you getting up to speak, they inch closer to seeing themselves in that role. This is what’s been happening with men – for centuries. Now let’s get it started with women – with you speaking up or out, in a small way, making a presentation at work, addressing the congregation at church, talking about your business at a networking meeting, or standing up for a cause at a rally. You can do it. The world needs you to.
Humor is truth, only faster.
“Should I add humor to my presentation?” “How can I make my talk funnier?” These are questions that clients routinely ask me. And I am happy to tell them why they should “find the funny” and how to use it to boost the impact of their presentation. As a communication consultant slash stand-up comic, I know that humor is the “special sauce” that engages audiences and makes your message unforgettable. And I've been trying to spread the word - recently I shared my tips on being funny as a guest on Angela Lussier’s terrific “Claim the Stage” podcast. Listen here.
Why does humor work so well?
Here’s just a few reasons: Humor “keeps it real”; it reveals more of your personality, failures, challenges, etc. to the audience so they can form a relationship with you. And when you are able to get a laugh at your own expense, it shows your resilience and optimism. It also makes you relatable to the audience because it shows you to be human and fallible, just like them. Humor, like stories, create bonds between you and your listeners that go deep. And humor doesn’t just make people love you, it makes them remember you. Laughter activates our attention so that we easily remember what we heard right before and after we laugh.
But what if I’m not “naturally funny”?
Many people I work with tell me that they are not “naturally funny,” (even when they’ve made me laugh at something seconds before). The problem is that they are comparing themselves to famous professionals. It’s as if expert status - like Jerry Seinfeld or Amy Schumer level - is the only acceptable standard of funniness. “Well, I don’t have an HBO special or a job on Saturday Night Live, so I guess I shouldn’t even try.” The truth is that most of us get laughs occasionally, and if people laugh at what you say, even once in a while, then you are officially and “naturally” funny. And more importantly, you can learn to be even funnier.
Scared straight – fear mongering the funny
If you search the internet for tips on using humor, you’ll find some good ones, but you’ll also find plenty of warnings and "THINGS TO AVOID." I think all these “don’ts” scare the crap out of the average person – hey, it’s not as if you want to get on stage naked! So it’s my mission to encourage you to add more humor. If you’re in front of audiences regularly, then you can try stuff, tweak it, and try it again, just as you do with other talk: story, sequencing, gestures, visuals, etc. And then you’ll be like the professionals - honing your chops.
Here’s how to find your funny
Click link below for specific how-to-be-funny-tips. But remember, as you find your funny, don’t expect instant miracles. Be patient, allow yourself to experiment and refine repeatedly. Remember that this is supposed to be fun for you too. If you enjoy it, that’s great, keep going and maybe even take an improv class to boost your skills and creative thinking. And if you find that humor isn’t really for you, that’s okay too. These tips may help you just have a bit more fun with your audience.
To get my free tip sheet on exactly how to add humor to your talk click here.
Have you tried to add humor to your talk or presentation? How did it go? I’d love to know and so would everyone else. Please share your experiences and thought in the comments!
Ask young professionals about the challenges of the workplace, and I'll bet they say email. I've worked with hundreds of millennials as a communication trainer, and I know they find writing a headache. It’s not that millennials can’t write; they can write academic essays and research papers very well. But they struggle with the peculiar demands of the style I call “American Professional Email,” or APE.
Workplace communicating makes young professionals nervous
They’ve just spent 16 years seeing “adults” as teachers, bosses, coaches, and themselves as “kids.” The relationship was one of deference, and often close to parental. And then one summer day just after they graduate, when they should be sitting around playing “left4dead2” and drinking beer, they have to put on extremely expensive clothing, work all day, every day, and interact with older adults as colleagues for the first time in their lives.
Why "American Professional email" can be tricky to master
In person, communication can be awkward; but in writing, or A.P.E., its much worse. After all, most young professionals who work in finance, tax, or engineering didn’t go into those fields because they loved writing. They like spreadsheets and schematics, and they do not like using writing to handle the constant negotiations, requests, and reports that are part of the job. And sometimes emails have to be used to convey bad news, so getting the tone right can be a challenge. One engineer fairly new to the workplace told me that “The worst thing is having to tell someone older and more experienced than you that they are wrong – in an email!” And since most interactions with colleagues, managers, and clients take place through email, their writing skills are on display all day every day.
What happens if you fail to nail email? (Hint: they’re judging you.)
For many these millennials, mastering American Professional Email (APE) takes time and training, but as I assure them, it’s worth it. Communication skill is THE differentiator in professional life, especially when you and your peers have equal technical skills. Poorly written emails annoy readers. And it’s probably unfair, but ineffective emails can cause readers to make conclusions about a writer’s competence.
Here are the three writing problems common to young professionals and how to fix them.
1. Over-politeness. There is such a thing as being too polite, unless you’re talking to your grandma. Because millennials are raised to be courteous, many of them write emails with a painfully excessive politeness which can make the writer look guilty and needy rather than confident. Many struggle to even call colleagues by their first name. (In fact, at one employer I worked with, new hires had to be continually reminded not to add “Miss” to female colleagues' first names.) Many new hires are way too quick to apologize for any request, or show fawning gratitude for any small task done.
The FIX for over-politeness Okay, you’re often the lowest status person on the team. But you’re still a professional, and you don’t need to sound like a supplicant kneeling before the king. It’s great to be polite, but it’s important to tuck manners into the point, not keep the point waiting for all the bowing and sniveling. Learn to express your politeness in short phrases that get the job done fast. For example, “I would really appreciate it if you…” Or “If you have time, can you…?” can be fast ways of showing that you’re thoughtful and efficient.
2. Too many words! Like the over-politeness, wordiness can result from insecurity about how to communicate at work. Lots of words can be like comforting blankets which make us feel safe, but often end up smothering our point. And of course wordiness is also a direct result of having an education. School has made all of us masters at larding our point with extra words, and so much the better if they can be "SAT words." In school, the more words the better; at work messages are expected to be concise and to the point.
THE FIX to wordiness If your sentences tend to average 20 words or more, you are probably too wordy. Look hard at your emails before they go out: Could you cut words, say things more concisely? One tip to find the shortest way to express something? Ask yourself how you would say it in conversation. We tend to speak in a more direct and natural way than we write. Also, ask a friend to find “deadwood” in your sentences – others can see extra words faster than you. And of course, do the same for your friend.
3. Not getting to the point. This email problem is the one that’s most annoying to readers. Readers usually have just two or three questions when they read an email – what do you want me to know? What do you want me to do? And is there a deadline? But young professionals (they are not alone in this of course! ) often bury the lead beneath lots of background (“first this happened, then that happened.”). They make readers do the detective work to find the point. And busy distracted readers do not want to do extra work! We can place part of the blame on school again, because academic writing often builds up to a conclusion. But in American Professional Email (APE), we always put the most important info at the top.
The FIX for not getting to the point. First figure out what the main point of your email is BEFORE you start writing. I promise it takes about 60 seconds to do this. Then try to put that point right at the top – or close to the top - of your email. Make it extremely easy for the reader to see the message and the reader will adore you! (Professionally of course.) If you need to put in some background, see if you can put it in below the key point. You can even give it a headline like “Here’s why I ask,” or “Rationale for Request” if you like to be fancy. The military has a shorthand reminder to help people remember to get to the point pronto: BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). Make it yours too.
So millennials, (and anyone else whose emails need tweaking) you can do it. It’s not hard! And if you need coaching on any of these issues or other communication challenges, give me a holler.
One piece of advice turned “Serial” into a podcast powerhouse. It can help you become a better presenter.
Each episode of Season 1 of the podcast “Serial” was downloaded over a million times. Yet creator Sara Koenig says that the early drafts of the podcast were not good.
Early on in Season 1, “Serial” podcast creator and host Sara Koenig was having big problems with her plan for the show. Over the course of twelve episodes starting in the fall of 2014, Serial would tell the story of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore high school student. Her former boyfriend, Adnan Syed, a classmate, was convicted of the crime.
“The first episode came pretty easily” Koenig told David Remnick on the New Yorker Radio Hour. Then came trouble. “The second episode we did edit after edit; it was taking weeks. My colleagues were telling me, ‘It’s not working. It’s not good.’” Her true crime story was dramatic and exciting, but something was missing. Everything changed when Koenig’s producing partner Julie Snyder told her exactly what was wrong. “I need to know what you, Sara Koenig, make of all this. Otherwise I don’t care.” Snyder said. “I don’t know why you’re telling me about these high school kids. I need you to make me care.”
"I need to know what you, Sara Koenig, make of all this. Otherwise I don't care."
And the rest is podcast history. Serial went on to be the most popular podcast in the world, with each single episode of the 12-episode season being downloaded over a million times. And Koenig’s close relationship with the audience was a major reason for the show’s popularity. She would share her skepticism, her questioning, and her willingness to constantly change her mind about the case. She was smart, she was human, and there is no doubt that the millions of people who listened around the world did so because they liked and trusted Sara Koenig.
So, what does the Serial podcast have to do with your presentation?
A lot. Koenig had a great story with facts and evidence, but her audience was going to need more; they were going to need to form a relationship with the “teller.” Listeners needed to trust the person who was presenting this mountain of evidence, to know that the storyteller wasn’t biased. Or if she was biased, she would own up to it.
I know that presentation audiences feel the same way about the presenter. They want to know how you, the presenter, feel about the material you’re presenting, how you came to your conclusion, what your doubts were along the way. Sharing your personal thoughts and feelings about the content creates a relationship between you and the audience and builds trust and credibility. And that relationship is far more powerful than your data.
Four presentation tips to make your audience care about what you are saying
1. If your presentation shares data, tell us your response to that data. Were you surprised by the data you found? Glad? Disappointed? Tell us why.
2. If your presentation presents a solution to a problem, why not tell us how you experienced the problem. What were your personal frustrations dealing with the problem? Can you share an anecdote dealing with your experience?
3. Why are you personally happy about this solution? Even if it doesn’t directly impact you, can you be happy about how it will help colleagues at the company?
4. If your presentation gives bad news or makes difficult suggestions, can you share disappointment or empathy for those who might be affected?
It doesn’t have to be all about you, but adding your personal perspective builds your credibility and establishes trust and likability. Show us why you care, and maybe we’ll care too.
How do you make your audience care about your presentations? Please share your ideas in the comment section.
We’ve all had that awkward moment when we can’t find the word we need. But what if it happens in front of 200 people?
An engaging and confidant speaker came to me recently in a slight panic about an upcoming talk. Twice in the past year while speaking to large groups, she found herself searching for a word that just wasn’t showing up in her brain – or in her mouth. Even worse, one of these times was when she was introducing a well-known speaker, a woman she personally admired. She remembered each millisecond of the lapse because it made such an impact on her.
We call these desperate word searches “mind blanks,” and we all experience them. But what’s annoying in informal conversations can be harrowing when we’re at the center of attention. Like all speakers, my client imagined that the audience was focused on her mistake and judging her harshly for it. In truth, the audience probably didn’t notice it, of if they did, they certainly forgot it instantly – unlike her. Now as she prepared to emcee another big event, she was dreading a repeat of the problem. She wanted to ensure that it did not happen again.
I couldn’t guarantee that her words would line up tongue-side like little verbal Oompah Loompahs ready to deploy the second they were needed. But I could offer strategies to help her avoid mind blanks . And if she did find herself in the dreaded word search scramble, I made sure she had some tips to respond gracefully – and fast.
Just in case you worry about blank mind, here’s some tips.
We use the term “presentation” to describe all sorts of things. But “presentation” is a generic term, which, like “presidential candidate,” can mean a lot of different things. Usually what we mean is that slides are used, and someone is using those slides to talk to an audience. A presentation can be a routine update, a pitch deck to motivate investors, or a “how to” for a new process. It can be live, virtual, projected, or on paper. But no matter what type it is, every presentation must do three things well to hold an audience’s attention. But even more than that, if you do these three things with your presentation, people will want to listen to it, will be glad to get its message, and will remember it.
1.Your presentations need to make life better for the audience – in some way.
When you stand up in front of people, you make a promise to improve their lives in some way. Good presentations fulfill that promise. (As we know from the epidemic of boring presentations, this promise is the frequently broken.) A good presentation tells the audience something they need to hear, helps them understand something worth understanding, suggests a way of thinking or believing that will benefit them. Show the audience right away why and how your presentation solves a problem, answers a questions, or makes their lives better.
2. All presentations must have one big message. And everything in the presentation must support that message.
Audiences are tired, distracted, and a little bit lazy, and if your message doesn’t leap out, they will miss it. Or they will remember the wrong thing. (“Oh, Steven is from Germany!”) To ensure your message drives the presentation, you must answer one question before you even think of slides: “What do I want my audience to know, feel, and do?” Imagine the answer to this question is a bouncer at the door of your presentation. Only elements that help you reach your goal can enter, no matter how hot they look.
3. All presentations need to have an audience-grabbing flow.
Most presentations bore us simply because they are organized in the most boring way possible: the category system. This format feels orderly to the presenter because everything fits into a generic slot like “background,” “issues,” “implications,” “conclusion.” The category system is not only a buzz killer; it also guarantees that the key message of the presentation will be buried on bullet #3, slide 17.What audiences want in a presentation is tension and resolution. (In fact, when people say that your presentation should tell a “story,” that’s really what they mean.) Two great ways of incorporating tension and resolution are to organize your presentation into “problem-solution,” or “proposal-reasons.” These methods not only engage audiences and help them retain information, they help highlight our main message.
Of course there are LOTS of things you can do to have a great presentation, but these are the three musts. Would you add anything?
What would you do if you got an email from a stranger with this subject line: “SCT #4675711001574222”?
Well, if you’re like me and received this email in the early 2000s – when you were terrified that spam could vaporize your big desktop computer – you would probably press delete immediately.
So delete I did. And I kept on deleting that re-sent email daily for 2 weeks, even though I was getting curious.
Then I got the phone call
“Attempts to reach you have been unsuccessful,” the recorded message said. “Please contact Enterprise Rental Cars immediately to resolve your insurance claim.”
The case of the mysterious subject line solved
It was all beginning to make sense. A few weeks before I had been driving a rental car in New Jersey when a large metal ring the size of hula hoop fell off a truck, rolled across the median, and collided with my car. Nobody was hurt, but as I learned, a rental car accident is complicated. And there are a lot of numbers involved.
And that subject line contained one of those numbers. The rental car claims agent who sent the email (I later learned), always put the incident report number in the subject line to help her keep track of her emails. That number meant everything to the agent. It meant nothing to me. Annoyance happened.
Even if they don’t contain 16-digit numbers, most subject lines need help
We did work it out, finally. Obviously, most email subject lines aren’t quite as obscure as a 16-digit number string, but many subject lines are bad, and most need fixing. If fact, I’ve seen the problems of bad subject lines hundreds of times in my career as a writing coach and consultant.
Recently a friend told me about a subject line hassle she dealt with at work. She was frustrated because she had to schlep over to a colleague’s office in another wing and floor of a giant building to get information she had asked for by email a couple of days before. Her colleague hadn’t answered her email ,and she and her team were mighty annoyed.
“This guy basically kept my team waiting for two full days when he didn’t need to", she said. "He knew we needed an answer and he just sat on it. Why don’t they just respond to emails when they know you need the info?”
She got the info she needed but only after taking a long walk and collaring her colleague in the flesh. "This happens all the time," she said.
“What did you put in the subject line?” I asked.
“I put in ‘For your review!!”” she replied, in a tone of voice that said “you can’t get much clearer than that!”
I didn’t tell my friend quite so bluntly, but “For your review” is not a great subject line – unless you are happy to get NO RESPONSE EVER.
A subject line like “For your review,” is code for “It would be nice if you would read this in the next several days or weeks, but it’s no biggie, so chill.” It’s kind of a more formal cousin of “FYI.”
Subject lines are info-starved – and so are our readers
In much business writing, we often write subject lines so generic and vague that they offer no information for the recipient. They'd be just the thing if you’re a spy and need to give NO INFORMATION WHATSOEVER, but for the average non-CIA employee, without camera pens or shoe phones, the no-info subject line has got to go.
Here’s some other favorite bad subject lines:
You get the idea. I’m sure you have some like these in your inbox right at this second. And maybe there are one or two in your sent box too?
Subject lines matter
Your inbox is probably the most important screen you look at all day. It offers a kind of to-do list - a snapshot of all the stuff you need to do. And the subject line tells you why you need to read the email. So readers need specific action-focused subject lines.
We humans are busy. And a tiny bit lazy.
To be efficient, readers have to prioritize when they don’t have time to read every email. Most readers will take advantage of any excuse to ignore or delay reading an email when they are rushed. So if your subject line stinks, they can easily "forget" to read yours. Because right below your lackluster subject line is one from someone else that’s specific, clear, and easy to read and answer. Which one is the busy reader going to click?
To make sure you write subject lines that get your emails answered, here’s what to do
Bad subject lines Good subject lines
Client information Client X needs 1054 forms by Friday
Please read Please confirm you’ve read this email by 4-14-16
Update Accounts receivable moving to South Campus this summer
Assignment info Clinical assignments for your team
And what about my friend and her “for your review”? She said that she should have written “Please approve by 4-8-16 so we can print.”