You can get 150 public servants to play (seriously) at a conference

There are a number of clowning games I had only ever taught to groups of about ten – until I opened day 2 of the Local Government Professionals Women’s summit and had 130 women walking around the room, playing.

Play evokes learning

If you think clown is slapstick, my style of clown is more modern and less literal. If you think play is for children or cringeworthy ice-breakers, think about the concept of Lila, or divine play that makes (say) puppies learn the skills for life. For the style of clown I practice, play is fun and can even be silly, but it always evokes learning.

While games can be played to evoke learning in a specific category (say teamwork or communications) the specific takeaways are often unknown until you do it. This means the play-er is participatory, observational and reflective all at once.

You learn more when you play the same game over and over – and over

One ‘game’ we played relentlessly with my clowning teachers was the “walk around the room game”. (I tend to name games rather literally.) Everyone, literally, walks around the room.

This might not sound like much of a game, but it is amazing how much play you can find in something so simple. Even for adults, and especially if done repeatedly, past the point of boredom so you can notice the subtle and unobvious.

The same game can teach you about lots of things

I use the “walk around the room game” in training to warm people up, tune into themselves, notice others, notice their environment, notice how comfortable they are with eye contact, develop complicité in a group, observe patterns, learn how comfortable they are with rules, notice how other people follow rules (or don’t), notice what they notice. The more you play the more you notice.

All from one simple game, with a few carefully chosen variations.

One creative constraint changes everything

At the Local Government Women’s summit the “walk around the room game” was impeded by your typical conference tables and chairs and by a lot of people. Yet it worked, perhaps because of the “creative constraint” that meant people had to work harder to stay aware.

My favourite moment: when I introduced the rule “there must be one person walking around the room at any one time and only one person”. When people think they are following the rules (but aren’t) and when others have responses to that, that’s when things get really interesting.

This is an excerpt from Finding Your Voice, a workshop for women finding their voice in the workplace. Incorporates storytelling, play and reflection. Designed for 120 people. Get in touch to find out more.

Being heard is not about being loudest

When I was a young engineer, I was told to be more assertive. I was given tips like, “Be the first to speak up in meeting”, or “Apply for jobs even if you don’t meet all the criteria”. Apparently the lack of representation of women in the workplace could be solved by being louder.

But speaking up doesn’t mean you are heard. And being heard doesn’t mean anything changes. (Refer the last three decades on climate change.)

I was invited to open day 2 of the Local Government Professionals Women’s summit with a 90-minute storytelling, clown-inspired, historically referenced workshop, Finding Your Voice.

If engineering taught me that being more assertive was not enough, clown taught me that sometimes (in fact, mostly) not saying something is even better.

The silence of clown, or the yogi, or the person with a contribution to make, is not a passive silence. It is a silence of listening. Of observing. Rather than speaking to assert oneself, they speak at the right time for their audience, their students and those they intend to influence.

Finding Your Voice is a workshop for women finding their voice in the workplace. Incorporates storytelling, play and reflection. Designed for 120 people. Get in touch to find out more.

What to do if you stuff up during a talk

“What advice do you have if you stuff up in the middle of your talk?” This was posed to me in question time after my workshop at the Local Government Professionals Women’s Forum.

There’s a big difference between forgetting your words, and the crowd throwing tomatoes because you’ve said something uninformed, racist or otherwise insulting. So I asked if he had a specific situation in mind.

He didn’t. Rather, his question reflected a fear many of us have: the fear that something terribly bad (but as yet unknown) will happen in front of a lot of people.

While there is a risk your worst nightmares could play out live on stage, how many conference stuff-ups can you recall right now? If anything, we are more likely to negatively remember speakers who were boring and wasted our time, and forget or feel endeared to those who forgot their words, or cried, or broke a shoe.

My short answer to the question about what to do if you make a mistake: presuming you have prepared appropriately, your audience really doesn’t mind. In fact, mistakes can sometimes yield benefits.

People like to see humans
No one goes to a conference to listen to an automaton. If you say something silly, trip or lose your place, it reminds the audience that you are an ordinary person, just like them. Being relatable is useful if you want other people to think they can do what you’re advising them to.

The audience expects you to be ready for the talk
While you are allowed to make mistakes, kindliness towards errors only applies if you have put some effort into planning your talk. If you haven’t considered who your audience is, what they want to hear from you, and how to deliver that in a coherent, engaging style, your listeners will not be so patient with fumbling and forgetting.

Let the audience in on what’s happening, and move on
Did you research your topic, rehearse and do everything you could to ensure the audience would get value from giving up their time to listen to you? If you have, then all you need to do is say something like, “Hmm…sorry, i seem to have missed a whole chunk. It was really important so if you don’t mind I’m going to go back to it!” Breathe in, and resume when you are ready.

Mistakes can be opportunities
I myself lost my place in this very workshop. Since I am a speaker coach I thought I should follow my own advice: after a moment of internal panic I paused, said to the audience, “I have completely lost my place”, and looked down at my notes until I worked out what happened.  Rather than demonstrating my utter failure to maintain perfection for 90 minutes straight in front of 150 people, an audience member told me she appreciated it. “Seeing you confused about your slides and finding your place again was really good. It helped us see the human element”.

Bonus advice: Strategic mistakes
When I used to perform clown shows (modern kind, not slapstick) mistakes we made by accident were often so funny for the audience we would work them in the following night. Perhaps I should make losing my place in this workshop a built-in feature for next time.

If this post doesn’t apply because you’re so reliant on a script there’s no possibility of making a mistake, try How to deliver a presentation without notes

Or read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.

3 (more) tips for more confident, live presentations

Annabel Crabb, Leigh Sales and Jamila Rizvi were just some of the impressive professional speakers headlining this year’s Women in Mining WA Summit. With 800 men and women in the audience (three years ago the summit catered to about 300 predominantly women), the discourse about diversity and inclusion has stepped up a notch. A good speaker can help a good cause immensely, so here are three tips from these experts to help you give better, live presentations about the cause you care about:

1. Remember to connect with your audience
In How to use notes AND look at your audience when you give a presentation I explained how Annabel Crabb uses notes, and looks at her audience. The key to doing this effectively is good preparation. Preparation gives you confidence to take in your audience, rather than vaguely glancing at them before looking down to work out what to say next. If you want a technical word for this, use the clown term “complicité”. It’s the non-verbal connection you develop with your audience.

2. Acknowledge other speakers
Professor Bill Wood is invited annually to WIMWA for his rigorous presentation of data on myths like “merit-based” employment. One thing Bill does that I really admire: He continuously references other speakers. This shows Professor Wood recognises his talk is part of something bigger, that he has respect for the other speakers, and that he is prepared enough to be able to pay attention to everyone else.

3. Take off your high heels
This one comes direct from Jamila Rizvi. I’ve never heard it before but it’s wise counsel. “Nothing like high heels to make you feel unstable,” Jamila said in her conversation with Leigh Sales. If you don’t have the ankle strength to own stilettos like an Amazonian, leave them behind and let your strength and presence show through your great talk.

If you’re not yet prepared enough to think about which shoes you’ll be wearing start with Tips for giving great presentations: my experience as a TEDx speaker coach

Or read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.

How to deliver a presentation without notes

Most TED talks are delivered without notes. This only happens because speakers prepare, prepare and prepare some more. My own TEDx talk commanded almost full time preparation for a fortnight before, not to mention weeks prior of evenings and weekends.

It is possible to speak eloquently without notes. Here are 3 tips for preparing to present without notes.

1. Use key headings as rehearsal prompts
Once your talk is more or less on track, write down the key point of each paragraph. Transfer these to a single page and use them prompts to practice your talk. Look at the key point, take it in and “feel” what the paragraph is about. This should take at least one breath. Once you feel anchored, look up and speak from the heart.  Repeat for each paragraph.

2. Aim for a memorised talk, delivered naturally
A talk you have only just committed to memory can sound tentative, even rehearsed. Once you really know your words you will feel more comfortable being yourself. Rehearse individual paragraphs over and over until you deliver exactly what you want to say, naturally. Your precise words may vary, but you should feel that your tone of voice, body language and words combine to express something you believe in. If you can’t deliver a memorised talk naturally, it may be that your words do not accurately reflect what you believe deep down. Go back to the planning stage and re-assess your key messages.

3. Get comfortable with pausing to think
When you forget your words in front of a big audience, it’s tempting to rush on and hope no one has noticed. Unfortunately, this usually has the opposite effect: you talk faster and even less coherently. Better to breathe in, take in your audience and mentally re-find your place. These pauses feel like forever for you but are a mere blip for the audience. And actually the audience usually loves pauses because they have time to digest your important words! Resume your talk on a breath out.

Delivering a talk without notes and that actually makes a useful point takes time. This investment pays off though as a good talk can be delivered again and again to new audiences.

If you do need to use notes (which is completely allowed and not a sign you are a more fallible human being) read How to use notes AND look at your audience when you give a presentation.

Read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.

How to use notes AND look at your audience

When people read from notes during a conference presentation it doesn’t make for the most exciting address. You don’t feel a connection, their voice gets monotonous, and it’s hard to pay attention.

“I could have just read the paper”, you might think.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with notes – but almost everyone ends up reading them. Here are 4 tips for using notes more effectively for engaging presentations. These were inspired by watching Annabel Crabb live at the 2017 Women in Mining WA Summit.

1. Ask if a blog post or podcast would be better
If you’re going to read your notes, would a podcast or blog post be more effective? These can reach thousands of people and be archived for later use. If you decide you do really need to speak live, a blog post or recording can capture some of your points as ‘pre-reading’ or followup to compliment your talk.

2. Don’t use notes “just in case”
Plenty of high-profile speaker use notes (Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales are two great examples). If it will help you give a better talk, you are allowed to have notes too. But if you say you want your script “just in case I lose my spot”, I find this generally doesn’t work. As soon as a speaker with a script in her hand loses her place and looks down, she starts reading and becomes reliant on those notes. Instead: make a conscious decision to use notes or not to use them, and rehearse appropriately.

3. Train yourself out of vague glances to the audience
You learned in highschool that it was important to look up at your audience. It is. But you may have noticed how often speakers gaze around the room without really taking anything in.  This serves no purpose because you don’t connect with the audience. In fact, this kind of audience “vague-ing” can have the opposite effect: it takes you away from your notes, making you rely on them further and exacerbating “reading voice”.

4. Look at your audience intentionally to take them in – then read
Annabel Crabb was MC at this year’s Women in Mining WA Summit and relied heavily on notes, as she does in many of her interviews – for good reason. But Annabel did not use reading voice or vague glances at the audience. Instead, she looked intensely at her audience in the pauses. Her gaze was intentional, and long enough to feel she had seen us. She then began to read. We always felt she was there for us.

When you address a crowd, remember that what you are doing is first and foremost for your audience. Connect with them, and their energy will fuel you, igniting you to give even more.

Read more about speaker coaching for your next conference or professional presentation.