Friday, October 19, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action! Tips for Speaking and Facilitating on Big Stages

Last week I had the great honour to join Women's Forum for the Economy and Society as a main stage facilitator and moderator. My session, one of the opening plenaries, was set as a brainstorming session with 600+ participants on Women's Visions for 360 degree Growth. My role was to moderate and facilitate meaningful interactivity with the participants, and to moderate a panel of interesting women leaders working in this field. 

This blog post is not so much about the content of the session, which was fascinating (challenging GDP as the growth indicator, especially when growth is being more expansively defined in terms of well-being,  equity and more; looking at the opportunities (and challenges) to international cooperation towards developing a new paradigm for growth, and the role of social media like Facebook in new forms of governance and democracy - fascinating stuff!) If you have the patience to watch a 90 minute video, or part of it, you can watch the session and the panelists here: Video of 360 Degree Growth Session

What I wanted to write about here was a list of the best tips I received from a number of great speaking coaches while I was writing and preparing for this session. As I am devoted to reusable learning,  I wanted to document them so that I don't forget them, can use them next time, and who knows, they might be useful t others too! I have broken these tips down into three areas:

Tips for TV Interviews, Public Speaking and Panel Moderating

Giving Great TV Interviews
  • Don't take an impromptu interview - never! Ask for the question(s) or topic, and re-schedule even if it is only 15 or 30 minutes later. Then prepare your answers. According to a French coach, interviews are like a "seduction", they want you so they will wait.
  • Give short answers. The interviewer wants to ask you questions and move the conversation along in some direction. TV interviews are not speeches, they are a back and forth with the interviewer. This is also much more dynamic for the viewers.
  • Be concrete. Say something concrete in every answer ( include data, a number, a short case example.)
  • Be prepared to give an example for everything. A favourite question for interviewers is, "can you give an example of that?" This always makes the story more interesting and concrete.
  • Pause. For thinking and/or effect - silence is your friend.
  • Smile! It makes you appear more comfortable and connects with the interviewer and audience more easily.

Speaking in Public - Part I: Preparation
  • Practice for HOURS not minutes
  • Memorize your overall sequence, or arc of the session - where is it going, and what are the main parts. If you can, repeat this to the audience before you start.  
  • Prepare your notes in three parts (this is my own advice): 1) Create a detailed agenda (I have a template for this, which includes timing, transitions, and all the information on how to run interactive components);  2) Based on this write our a verbatim script; 3) Then write memory prompts on cards. For the cards I cut small rectangles out of black paper and write on them with a white pen. The cards need to be the right size to hold in palm of your hand. Number them, because at some point you will be shuffling them and will lose your place if you don't do that! In the end you might not use them, but you will have them just in case.
Speaking in Public - Part II: Delivery
  • Use short sentences at beginning. This makes it easier to remember those opening lines and helps to manage nerves and breathing.
  • Emphasize one word in every sentence. This may sound strange but try it (don't overdo this though). It can be any word. This helps to vary the cadence. You can also experiment with having sentences end high or low (as in pitch - I am probably butchering the musical references here, but I know what I mean!)
  • Speak more slowly than you think is normal. Pause in between sentences so people can follow. This is especially important with an international audience. People need to get used to your accent. As someone from the Midwest of US, I always think that I don't have an accent, but I am assured that this is not true!
  • Use the physical space on stage. Walk up down, side to side, back and front - I even walked up and down the steps into the audience several times. (But don't PACE obviously.)
  • Use your hands, use your face, use everything. This will be much more interesting. Of course, use them for emphasis so it is not weirdly distracting.
  • Don't wear anything too busy by your face (e.g .necklace or scarf) if there is simultaneous video (e.g. if there is a big screen behind you, and for web streaming) it looks overwhelming.
  • Boost your confidence. Get your hair styled and make up done professionally, wear something that makes you feel fabulous, talk to a good friend right before, or any other thing you can think of!

Moderating a Panel Discussion on Stage

Note: For moderation, the difference between good and bad is mostly about preparation - I had so many audience members note that most moderators did not seem to know their speakers, so could not really draw out the most relevant facts for the audience.
  • Make a notebook with a divider for each of the panelists. In each section, create a collection of their CV and narrative bio, a photo, their writing, articles on the web when they have been interviewed. Notice what they have been asked and how they answered. Ask them what they recommend you read that is iconic of their work. Read all of these inputs across the different speakers to spot patterns that can provide you with some red threads that can help knit together their inputs into a coherent discussion.
  • Google the speakers. See if they are on Twitter, watch their videos on YouTube, read their comments on other people's work.  Make notes of most interesting parts and some interesting facts or  good quotes you might want to use.
  • Memorise their names, titles, places of work so you can say them without hesitation (or notes )
  • Draft and memorise a leading question for each of them that reminds the audience who they are = even if they were introduced before (e.g. Marilyn, you are a Professor of Economics and...)
My session at the Women's Forum combined quite a few of these different methodologies as it was interactive and had several distinct parts that I needed to weave together into a coherent whole for the audience that gave them an interesting, interactive and meaningful experience. I tried to take my own advice! If you have the patience to watch a 90 minute video, or part of it, you can watch the session ( Video of 360 Degree Growth Session ) and judge for yourself - you might have some other great tips that I can add to the list. 


dormgrandpop said...

Wow! What a rich and useful set of tips. I will be sharing with friends and the LKY school and elsewhere.

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Hi John, Thanks for the nice comment and you are most welcome to share and to add to the list!