great speakers

Captivating an audience is not an easy feat, especially for those of us who are not “natural” public speakers, or who struggle with major stage fright. There is one skill guaranteed to keep your audience engaged and interested, and it doesn’t require making a sound. We’re talking about using silence in the form of well-timed pauses.
Stage fright is a real thing. It is rare that a person is a natural orator and can captivate an audience with little to no practice, and without anxiety. None of us are born with impeccable speaking skills, not even Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. Although some people are more comfortable on stage than others, they too have had to practice, practice, practice.

One Skill All Great Speakers Possess: Knowing How To Use Strategic Pauses

Do you possess effective oral presentation skills? All skilled speakers require lots of practice, and many have teams of coaches and communication experts behind them, à la Obama. For most of us, receiving feedback, learning tips and techniques along the way – strategic pauses, for example – and frequent practice will fill the bill.
Luckily, we don’t need an entourage of coaches to help us become the next Tony Robbins.
Whether it’s a presentation for colleagues, a keynote speech or simply story time with the kids, there is one sure-fire way to capture your audience’s attention: using silence in the form of strategically-placed pauses.

How to Do It

Great leaders and great speakers know their role is not simply to speak, but rather to make the audience think. An audience cannot possibly think, if it is busy trying to keep up with the rate of the speaker’s words and ideas!
Speakers often receive feedback that includes a suggestion to “slow down!!” It is not necessarily the rate of the words that is moving at hyper-speed, but rather, the rate of ideas.
When we tell our clients to “slow down,” we’re not talking about the rate of speech, but rather how quickly they are moving from one idea to another. This is where the well-timed, engaging pause comes in. Think about the flow of your ideas. Use pauses strategically when you switch from one idea to another. Watch audience members shift to the edge of their seat, as they anticipate what you’re going to say next.

Stage Fright: Why We Always Speak Too Quickly

Typically, we speak quickly when we’re under the spotlight because we are nervous (or terrified!) and want the experience to end as soon as possible. The thought of drawing out the presentation with pauses probably sounds like a nightmare. It’s critical to keep in mind that to you, the presentation probably feels like it is dragging on, never ending. For the audience, this isn’t the case. Inserting strategic pauses, thus slowing down the rate of ideas, will not bore your audience and will not lengthen your speech. All it will do is keep your audience interested and engaged. Slowing the rate of ideas will also increase your Executive Presence by sustaining your physical presence on-stage and helping you stay focused and calm. Remember: the audience is on your side and wants you to succeed.
Mark Twain was correct in saying, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

Many companies choose to rebrand from time to time in order to stay relevant and up-to-date, or to establish a new direction for their organization. This does not mean changing the core foundations of a company, but rather refreshing its look or brand imagery, repositioning its strengths, or changing its marketing tactics for a new target audience.

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Just as rebranding occurs on a corporate level, it is also a good idea to consider whether your personal brand needs a refresh. Here are three tips to re-positioning your brand so it best reflects you and your professional goals.

  • Before You Begin: Self-Reflection
    Before you even think about what kind of changes you will implement to your brand, first consider high-level questions about how you see yourself as a professional. Where do you want to be in five years? What are your key strengths that could help you reach your goal? Who are important contacts that you should connect with?

    Revising a personal brand is not a decision to be made on a whim – it should be viewed as a long-term strategy in helping you establish your name, accomplishments, skills, and ideas to get you where you want to be now and in the future. Once you consider big questions about your professional path, it will be easier to think of how to position your brand.

  • Refreshing Your Brand Image
    Even if you are not planning for major career changes in the near future, it is still advisable to keep your personal brand image current.

    Replace your headshot at least every ten years to ensure that you are recognizable to new and existing contacts on your website and LinkedIn profile. For personalized stationery, business cards, and digital platforms like your website, ensure that visual elements such as colour scheme and typeface still represent you properly and do not appear outdated.

    If you choose to change up colours, fonts, or your professional headshot, make sure that the visual elements align on all platforms associated with your brand. This includes your resume, stationery, business cards, email signature, blog, website, and social media accounts. A mixture of old and new branding can appear sloppy.

  • Rethinking Self-Marketing Strategies
    How you present yourself to new contacts, on both digital platforms and face-to-face contexts, is an essential part of your personal brand.

    For meeting new professionals, it is helpful to have a clear and concise “elevator pitch” about yourself, including your interests and experience. Developing a self-summary will enable you to introduce yourself consistently to different people and will assist you in considering your objectives.

    Ensure that your self-introduction on digital platforms serves the same purpose. Your LinkedIn summary and profile should highlight the same elements of your verbal self-introduction. Further, the content you create on digital platforms, such as LinkedIn updates, blog posts, and tweets, should at least indirectly align with your brand identity.

Do not take a personal rebrand lightly: it should set the tone for your personal brand in years to come. Yet when done properly, a personal rebrand can set you on the right path to reach your professional goals.

For more on this topic, see our previous blog post, “Building Your Personal Brand.”

No matter where you work, it is a certainty that you will have to work with a difficult co-worker at some point in your career. In fact, you may have met him or her already: a difficult colleague can be someone who complains constantly, does not contribute equally, is always ready to start an argument, or even engages in bullying.

In many circumstances, it can be hard to know the right thing to say or do in response to someone whose behaviour is uncooperative and irrational. However, there are a few responses you can rely on that will make the situation easier to handle in many contexts.

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  • Don’t fight fire with fire.
    If someone is getting into a heated argument or accusing others without thinking, you might begin to feel yourself getting worked up and ready to fight back.

    While it takes great restraint, try not to let someone’s passion or anger influence your own behaviour. “Fighting fire with fire,” as the saying goes, will only escalate the situation. Instead, take a deep breath, try to maintain a cool head, and counter his or her irrationality with logical and measured responses. While doing so, do match their emotions. If someone is on fire and you speak in a slow and calm voice, you will only aggravate them even more. You do not have to yell and tell, simply match the passion in your voice and the cadence of your speech with theirs.

  • Don’t take it personally.
    When a colleague is acting rudely and is difficult to work with, know that this behaviour is not directed at you personally. Instead, a colleague’s challenging behaviour in the workplace is often a result of his or her own stress, whether in the office or at home. He or she also may be coping with problems that you are not aware of.

    Although it is unprofessional and unkind to be rude to others as a result of one’s own stress, keeping this idea in mind will help you to cope when faced with difficult behaviour, as well as to be empathetic to your colleague.

  • Focus on your positive professional relationships.
    While you might have one demanding co-worker who overshadows your workday, try not to focus all your attention on this single relationship. Instead, remind yourself of all the supportive, friendly, and professional relationships that you have in your network.

    When you maintain your attention on building and maintaining strong relationships with the people who are truly a joy to work with, it will help you to feel more positive and productive rather than diminished by one individual’s difficult personality.

  • Hold your ground—and pick your battles.
    You do not always need to take someone’s challenging behaviour lying down – and you must know when to fight back and when to let it go. Constantly trying to resist and argue with a difficult colleague can become extremely exhausting and stressful. Additionally, always reacting to a co-worker’s behaviour can affect your own professional image by portraying you as someone who is combative and reactive to provocation.
  • If it becomes a serious issue, involve HR.
    A difficult colleague can simply be testy or uncooperative. However, when an individual engages in sustained workplace bullying or any form of abuse, this becomes a much more serious issue. If the problem escalates to this level, it is appropriate to contact the Human Resources department within your company and report abusive behaviour. Your HR department will help to take the necessary steps to solve this critical workplace issue.

Relying on your Executive Presence can help you to navigate many challenges in the workplace, including dealing with difficult colleagues. For more on this topic, see our previous blog post, “How Executive Presence and Other Skills Can Help You Solve Issues in the Workplace.” How do you cope with challenging personalities in your working environment?

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When my 11 year old daughter Sandrine died in a school bus accident, the lives of 6 people were either saved or enhanced. Since 1999, I have worked with several organizations to help raise awareness of organ and tissue donation. Recently I met the incredible Hélene Campbell and I am in awe of what she has been able to achieve to help raise awareness for organ and tissue donation. By getting the attention of Ellen DeGenerous and Justin Bieber, more people than ever are talking about organ donation and registering their wishes.
Hélene received the gift of life a few months ago and after her moving press conference, I was asked by Laura DiBatista  on Here and Now at CBC to share my experience.
Please click to Listen audio (runs 8:17)
Diane Craig sat on the board of directors for Trillium Gift of Life Network, where she played a major role in governance issues and developing communication strategies, from 2004 to 2016. She is the founder of Sandrine’s Gift of Life, a not-for-profit organization focused on organ and tissue donation awareness and often speaks about her passion for organ and tissue donation and how we can best serve those on waiting lists. Here’s another CBC piece with Diane Craig and Don Cherry:
In Ontario you can register your wish to donate at www.beadonor.ca.

Please talk to your family and share this post to spread the word. Someone’s life depends on it.