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    A 4-Step Plan to Make Your Q&A More Audience-Friendly

    by Lauren Weinstein and Matt Abrahams The Q&A or fireside chat has become a popular format at events like conferences and employee town-halls, replacing more-formal presentations and panels. The one-on-one format can create a more conversational, interesting, and intimate experience, and has the added benefit that the CEO or luminary being interviewed theoretically doesn’t have to prepare as much. READ MORE

      How to Be a Successful Speaker

      Communication is both a science and a fine art. Here to help you better understand its mechanics is Matt Abrahams, a passionate and innovative coach. On today's podcast:
      • There is no right way to communicate
      • Public speaking as a potential threat to our future
      • How to prepare for a talk
      • How to tame anxiety
      • The trap of procrastination
      • Have a goal-driven, structured approach

      There is no right way to communicate

      Communication has to be at the foundation of our leadership toolbox if we aim really high. Matt teaches leaders how to be comfortable with themselves when it comes to their communication. Many people don't feel comfortable doing presentations or speaking up in meetings, but that can be changed. Many people also feel that when they are communicating they are performing, that they have to do it right. In fact, there is no right way to communicate. There are certainly better or worse ways, but if you put the pressure on yourself to do it right, you're actually undermining your ability to do it at all.

      We perceive speaking as a threat

      We tend to see speaking in front of others in high-stake situations as threatening. It's a threat to our potential future. For instance, entrepreneurs are afraid that they will not receive funding or support. A lot of our anxiety around speaking is the threat that we feel from the potential negative future outcome. Many people, because of their perceived inability to communicate effectively, feel that they are not as worthy or as valuable as other people, even when they have fantastic ideas.

      How to prepare for a talk

      What can you about it? You can start by saying:
      1. I have interesting and valuable information to share.
      2. It's not about what I want to share, it's about what others need to get. The audience-centric approach focuses on the needs of the people you're communicating with and it can really help you get out of your negative space.
      Preparation is key to feeling confident. When it comes to preparing a high-stake communication, you have to figure out what your goal is. A goal has three fundamental parts:
      1. Information – what do I want my audience to know?
      2. Emotions – how do I want them to feel?
      3. Action – what do I want them to do when I'm done?
      Take the time between now and when you're presenting and divide it in half. The first half is preparation time, the second half is practice time.

      How to tame anxiety

      You then have to learn how to manage the anxiety you feel. You have to take a two-pronged approach:
      1. Managing the symptoms of anxiety
      2. Managing the sources of anxiety
      Many of us when we present, we blush or we perspire because we're nervous. It's an automatic result of our blood pressure going up. We can reduce the sweating and blushing by simply holding something cold in the palms of our hands. There are lots of sources of anxiety. One is feeling evaluated. If we could do something to distract our audience's attention, then we can feel better. For example, if we start a meeting by taking a poll or showing a video, we can take the attention away from ourselves and we can put it on whatever that activity is. In doing so, we also get to engage our audience.

      The trap of procrastination

      Many of us procrastinate because we don't like feeling anxious. It's easier to just put things off. In reality, it just makes them worse. The insidious part about procrastination is that it builds in an excuse. If you have a major presentation coming up and you delay preparing it, and then you give it and it doesn't go well, you can always say to yourself "If only I put more time in." If you want to fight procrastination, first, create a plan and stick to it. Second, publicly commit to that plan. Also, give yourself a reward every once in a while if you're sticking to the plan.

      Have a goal-driven, structured approach

      So how do you know if your message was successful? Ask yourself "Did I accomplish my goal?" Having a goal-driven approach provides you with a way to assess success. After the communication, you also need to reflect on what worked and what didn't. Structure is very important. Any effective communication needs to be structured. Matt's personal favorite structure is the "What? – So what? – Now what?" structure. In this structure, you define what it is you're talking about, then you provide the reason why your communication is important, and finally you talk about the next step, the approach you want people to take.

        One Communication Tool You Should Add to Your Toolkit

        I really like how Keivyn Reyes’s image reminds us that beyond expectation setting and facilitating remembering, structure provides a natural flow for communicators. Specifically, structure gives you a place to start and a place to end while also providing easy transitions. Here is a reminder of how this powerful structure works.

          Recent Research to Help Reduce Speaking Anxiety and Improve Memory

          Recently while culling through new research findings, I came across five studies that have direct relevance to communicating in terms of either anxiety reduction or helping with memory – yours and your audience’s.

          Mindful walking. Research conducted at USC found that students who took time to focus on what was going on around them while walking were significantly less stressed than those who were not mindful in their moving from place to place. Simply noting the scenery around you, the smells in the air, or the feeling of your feet on the ground can help to reduce your anxiety. So, the next time you have a high stakes meeting or presentation, allow yourself time to walk around the building.

          Near misses help. When it comes to remembering something, research from Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute found that mistakes that are close to what was intended are better at helping you remember than not making errors at all. Too often when preparing a presentation or content to deliver during a meeting we don’t start practicing out loud until we feel that we have it down well. This is why many people try to memorize their content prior to speaking. This new research suggests practicing before you have everything all set will actually help you remember it better. So, take your outline and start practicing your talking points aloud, rather than trying to get it all right in your head first.

          Ask and ye shall help others remember. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found further support for “retrieval-enhanced learning,” which refers to how recalling something you recently heard reinforces it in memory. This research looked at how quizzing on newly learned information aids learners in recalling the information much later. Thus, if you wish to help your audience remember your pearls of wisdom, you may want to include some questions in your content that get them thinking about what you previously said.

          Have meaningful conversations. Researchers at the University of Zurich found that having meaningful conversations – those in which deep, important information is exchanged – leads the communicators to be happier and more fulfilled, regardless of if they are introverts or extroverts. Yet, many people retreat and ruminate before or after stressful situations. So the next time you find yourself feeling nervous or bad about a presentation, spend time talking to others about meaningful ideas.

          Wake up happy. Research out of Penn State found that if you wake up stressed about your day (“stress anticipation”), you are more likely to perform poorly due to a reduction in working memory – the part of memory associated with immediate perception and processing. So, if you wake up stressed, acknowledge it and actively work to reduce your anxiety. You can try exercise, deep breathing, writing out what makes you feel nervous. You can reset this morning predisposition through awareness and action.

            Speak & Present With Total Confidence Using These Tactics with Matt Abrahams

            with host Matt Bodnar featuring Matt Abrahams   In this episode we show you the science of communication. Have you ever been afraid to speak or present? Are you worried about not having the skills or tools to communicate your ideas to the world? We dig into the science and the strategies of mastering skills like speaking and presenting, crushing the anxiety that often accompanies thee high stakes moments, and share evidence based strategies for becoming a master communicator. Matt Abrahams is a Professor of Strategic Communication for Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. He is the co-founder of Bold Echo Communication Solutions and author of the book Speaking Up Without Freaking Out. Matt's videos and training techniques have been viewed tens of millions of times in TEDx, Inc. and much more!
            • What happens when you rip your pants in the middle of a big speech?
            • Anxiety can have a tremendously negative impact on our ability to to communicate
            • Confidence in speaking and what it means to be authentic and how to be an engaging communicator
            • Anxiety negatively impacts communication in two major ways
              • Audiences have trouble listening to a nervous speaker
              • You get caught up in your own head
            • A foundational tenant of all communication is to be audience centric - your job is to serve the needs of your audience
            • Research sees anxiety about speaking and communicating as ubiquitous across ages, cultures etc
            • Fear of communication is hard-wired intro your brain by evolution and it's social pressures
            • Risking our status causes is to feel very anxious
            • There are two fundamental approaches to dealing with anxiety
              • Dealing with the symptoms
              • Dealing with the actual sources of anxiety
            • Speaking in high stakes situations is internalized by your body as a threat
            • Hold something cold in the palm of your hand it can reduce your body temperature and counter-act sweating and blushing that results from anxiety. 
            • There are many sources that can exacerbate anxiety
            • Distracting your audience is a great strategy to take their focus off of you. Give the audience something to distract them and get them more engaged
            • Start with symptom management, then get into dealing with the sources
            • If you get shaky - do something to engage big muscle groups - broad muscle movements 
            • If you gesture more slowly you will actually slow down your speaking rate
            • People who perform get very nervous - performance anxiety is very real
            • Cognitive reframing of the speaking situation - not as a performance but as something else - see speaking as conversation 
            • Practice conversationally, use conversational language, and use questions - and you can speak much more effectively. 
            • Time Orientation - not being future focused, but instead being present focused
            • How can you get more present oriented? Do something physical, listen to music, count backwards from 100 by 17
            • Greet your anxiety - give yourself permission to be anxious. This is how you short circuit the loop of getting nervous about getting nervous. This works with any emotion, not just anxiety. 
            • 85% of people report being nervous in high stakes situations - but we don't share it, we don't talk about it.
            • The self-defeating beliefs and behaviors that perpetuate and exacerbate anxiety.
            • The powerful learnings from improv comedy that can make you be a more confidence speaker 
            • Dare to be dull - don't strive for perfection. Do what needs to be done, and by reducing the pressure you put on yourself you increase the likelihood that you will actually achieve a great outcome.
            • Make your presentation about your audience instead of yourself - this reframes the entire situation.
            • The "Shout the wrong name" exercise that can help you reduce your anxiety in real time
            • We are constantly judging and evaluating ourselves - this stifles presence and stifles creativity in the moment
            • We have to get out of our own way. 
            • See communication as an opportunity.
            • The most foundational principle in improv comedy is "yes, and" - seeing interaction as opportunity and not threat 
            • Constraints and structure invite more opportunities for creativity (in life) and in communication
            • Should you take improv classes?
            • The components of confidence
              • Managing anxiety
              • Creating presence & meta awareness - adapt your communication to what's happening the moment 
              • Convey emotion - confidence speakers convey emotion 
            • Confident speakers adjust and adapt - approach your communication as a series of questions that you want to answer
              • Being present
              • Using inclusive language
              • Connecting with your audience
            • Confidence is a balancing act between warmth and strength (you need both!)
            • How do we add warmth when we are speaking?
              • Inclusive language
              • Pausing
              • Paraphrasing
              • Asking questions
            • You have to tie the data and facts back into the emotions - the implications of the science and the data
            • The "What?," "So What?," "Now What?" Structure 
              • The answer
              • Why its important
              • What you do with the answer that's just given
            • These same principles can be applied to any communication medium - email, text, speaking etc - communication is the transmission of meaning from one person o another 
            • Homework - Take the opportunity too build your skills. Like any skill you're trying to build -  it's all about
              • Repetition - find avenues to speak and give presentations
              • Reflection - ask yourself what worked and what didn't work
              • Feedback - find a trusted other - a mentor, a colleague, a loved one who can give you honest feedback. We are bad at judging our own communication

              Video Communications Best Practice Guide

              by Priscilla Barolo So, you have Zoom. Good job! That means you’re about 80% of the way to having perfect video communications. What’s the other 20%, you ask? Well, that’s up to you. That remaining portion is your ability to create a professional appearance, background, and presentation. We’re here to help! Let’s discuss some top tips for effective video communications...

              Video and Audio

              First, let’s talk about your video and audio.
              • Unless your appearance or background is very inappropriate or distracting, turn ON your video. Video is crucial in building trust and engagement in virtual communications. Don’t skip this step just because you don’t love the way your hair looks today.
              • Test your video and audio before your meeting at
              • Look at the camera. This takes a bit of getting used to since you want to look at the other participants faces (and, let’s be honest, your own face), but try to look at the camera when you’re talking. This tactic will mimic the in-person feeling of eye contact. It’s important to gauge reactions by looking at the screen, but alternating that with looking at the camera makes the audience feel like you’re really talking to them.
              • When possible, try to use a good quality camera and headset instead of your computer’s built-in ones. Zoom works just fine with the built-ins, but the quality is even sharper with higher quality hardware.
              • Adjust your camera if it is too low or high. Only your barber wants to stare at the top of your head. Your camera should be at eye level.
              • If you can, hardwire your computer into the internet. Sure, Zoom works well on wireless all the way down to 3G, but the quality is best on a solid wired internet connection, so wire in when you can. Otherwise, just make sure you have serviceable Wi-Fi.

              Be Polite!

              Miss Manners here. We live in a society, so let’s behave as such. There are some general rules of courtesy for virtual (and in person) business meetings.
              • If you can, hold off on eating full meals during your meeting. Imagine how unappealing it would be to watch someone up close slurping a plate of spaghetti on a big screen. If you can, chow down when your meeting is over.
              • Even though it’s tempting, try not to multitask too much. And if you’re going to, at least mute yourself.
              • You don’t have to be overly prepared for a meeting you’re not hosting, but try to be on time, having glanced at the agenda.
              • Refrain from private behavior – i.e. scratching your armpits, picking your nose. We can see you!

              Your Environment

              Your surroundings say a lot about you. Let’s make sure that they say the right things.
              • Dirty clothes in a pile, an unmade bed, and so forth give the impression that you’re not a professional to be trusted with serious work. Clean up and have a simple background (a plain wall, a potted plant, or a bookshelf works perfectly). Zoom also provides virtual backgrounds to help you disguise even the most recklessly cluttered environments.
              • Lights, camera, action! Note, the first item here is LIGHTS. Sure, you’re not a starlet, but you still need to be lit. Position yourself so that most of the light is coming from in front of you (behind your monitor), instead of behind you. If you have a window behind you, shut the blinds. Otherwise, you will be backlit. You can even buy one of these nifty monitor lights that will bathe your gorgeous face in light.
              • Fun fact: barking dogs and slamming doors are not just annoying in person, they are also annoying via Zoom! Find a quiet space to meet, shut the door, and mute yourself as necessary.

              Hone Your Presentation Skills

              We spoke with co-founder and principal of BoldEcho and virtual presentation expert, Matt Abrahams, to learn some top tips for presenting over Zoom. Here’s what he had to say…
              • Use engagement tools! There is nothing worse than someone droning on for an hour, maybe sharing a dense slide or two. Make full use of everything Zoom has to offer. Screen share, annotate shared content, send out a quick poll, solicit feedback in chat, split your attendees up into video breakout rooms, send attendees to a website and have them fill out a Google Doc. Do whatever it takes to keep your audience actively engaged. By the way, you can tell your audience is engaged during screen sharing by using the Zoom attendee attention tracking feature.
              • If feasible, stand up! This keeps you dynamic and energetic. You can do this during your virtual meeting by using a standing desk. If you do stand, try a slide advancer instead of clicking next on your keyboard for a more natural experience.
              • Don’t get too close. Position yourself so the camera is seeing you from the chest or waist up, instead of just seeing your face. This is more natural for the viewer (after all, in an in-person meeting you’re usually seeing more of a person than just their face). This is especially beneficial if you tend to gesture a lot.
              • Your best teacher is yourself. Record yourself and watch the playback with a critical eye. Did you talk too quickly? Too many ums and ers? Even send the recording to a friend who you know will give you candid feedback.
              We hope these quick tips on virtual communications help you put your best foot forward. Now give yourself every advantage by learning more about Zoom. Sign up for a customized 1-1 demo with a Zoom product specialist today!

                Matt Abrahams of BoldEcho on Becoming Effective Communicators

                Podcast with Matt Abrahams by Shane Hastie on Jul 02, 2018 In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke with Matt Abrahams of BoldEcho and Stanford Graduate School of Business on becoming effective communicators, especially around speaking in public.

                Key Takeaways

                • Everyone has a story to tell
                • Make sure you understand who you are speaking to and what it is that you can do to help them
                • It’s important to structuring your message in such a way as to make it easy for your audience to understand
                • All communication should have a goal which has three parts - information, emotion and action (what, so what, now what)
                • Overcoming imposter syndrome – most audiences are there to learn, they want you to be successful
                • It takes bravery to admit that we’re not great communicators and start on a path of learning to improve


                About QCon

                QCon is a practitioner-driven conference designed for technical team leads, architects, and project managers who influence software innovation in their teams. QCon takes place 7 times per year in London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Beijing & Shanghai. QCon San Francisco is at its 12th Edition and will take place Nov 5-9, 2018. 140+ expert practitioner speakers, 1300+ attendees and 18 tracks will cover topics driving the evolution of software development today. Visit to get more details.

                  You know what you’re talking about. Here’s how to sound like it.

                  These seven tips for calm, confident communication have you covered. By Mike Vangel

                  You’ve been there: describing your big idea or delivering a spontaneous toast and you can’t find the right words. The ones you do manage to access seem to tumble out too fast and all wrong. If you’ve spent years working in a lab or with a small cohort, stepping into an industry job that requires communicating with colleagues, supervisors and supervisees can present its own challenges. How do you command respect and get your point across while keeping your cool? Matt Abrahams, ’91, knows firsthand that getting flustered only makes it worse. When Abrahams was a high school freshman, his English teacher suggested he participate in a speech and debate tournament. He prepared a talk about one of his hobbies, karate. “First thing, I decide to do a kick — ten seconds into a ten-minute speech, I rip my pants from zipper to belt buckle.” The next nine minutes and fifty seconds, he says, were a crash course in how anxiety affects communication. Abrahams, a GSB lecturer and the author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, has dedicated his career to helping people overcome their anxiety and sharpen their communication skills. He shares some of his favorite strategies for speaking with confidence and calm, whether you’re giving a presentation at work, asking your boss for a raise or trying keeping your head in a thorny family discussion — no karate moves required.

                  1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes

                  Abrahams concedes it’s not always possible to plan out what you’re going to say. But if you have time to prepare (or even just a few moments to collect your thoughts), use that time to think about what your audience expects, what they already know and what you’d like to add. “What a lot of people do is focus on what they want to say, not what the audience needs to hear.” This can lead to what Abrahams calls the “curse of knowledge,” where you fall into jargon-speak — and your audience falls asleep. Instead, he says, think about who they are and what they need. Abrahams calls this “reconnaissance and reflection.” If you’re giving a public talk on green energy, for example, how many people in your audience know about the most recent decisions of the public utility commission? How many know what the public utility commission is? If you’re asking for a raise, is your boss aware of the extra hours you’ve been putting in? In any communication, you want to meet people where they are.

                  2. Know your goal

                  Depending on the context, your goal could be anything from soliciting feedback to persuading someone to your point of view to simply sharing information. Your communication will be more effective, Abrahams says, if you have some sense of what you want the result to be. “At the end, what do you want people to know? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do?”

                  3. Radiate calm

                  Ever suffer through a presentation by a speaker who’s clearly rattled? Notice how it makes you tense, too? “[That’s] called secondhand anxiety,” Abrahams says, “when a nervous speaker makes their audience nervous.” So, if you feel your heart racing or hear yourself talking too fast, Abrahams says, address the symptoms. “Taking deep yoga-like breaths helps reduce many of the symptoms [of anxiety],” as does “holding something cold in the palm of your hand. It reduces your core body temperature, so you perspire less and blush less.” And the good news? People often conflate confidence with competence, so if you can fake the first, you can convince them you’ve got the second — no matter how you really feel.

                  4. Get your audience involved

                  For many people, especially those who are nervous about being in the spotlight, speaking up can make them feel like they’re being scrutinized. A great way to manage this anxiety, Abrahams says, is to get your audience to do something besides stare at you. That might be taking a poll, watching a video, or, in less formal situations, simply posing a thoughtful question and encouraging discussion. Not only does this turn attention away from you, but it can elevate you in your listeners’ eyes. “Then you’re a facilitator, not just a presenter,” Abrahams says. Added bonus: Being prepared with a distraction for your audience can ease the tension when your slide deck disappears.

                  5. Let your body do (some of) the talking

                  Body language matters, and it’s important to remember that when you’re speaking face-to-face, especially if you want to project an air of confidence and authority. Abrahams tells his students to focus on three things: being “big, balanced and still.” The size of your physical presence makes you seem more present and engaged. That means if you’re in a stand-up meeting, keep your posture straight and tall, and if you’re at a table, adjust the height of your chair. Stillness creates the impression of self-control and confidence, so when you speak, try not to fidget. When you do move, make your movements purposeful. “You want your gestures to be broad,” Abrahams says, especially if you’re in front of a crowd. “You want them to go beyond your shoulders. Your palms tend to face out [that way], which makes you look more open.” As an added plus, he says, broader gestures engage larger muscle groups, which can reduce any shakes if you’re nervous.

                  6. Listen up

                  Communication is a two-way process. Once you know your goal (Charm a dining companion? Inspire colleagues to tackle a new project that will mean extra work for everyone? Get your sister-in-law to reschedule the family BBQ?), your audience’s responses are clues about how effectively you’re communicating. So don’t just talk — listen. “And if you’re really trying to inspire people,” Abrahams says, a surefire way to show you’re listening is to paraphrase back what they’ve said, in a way that shows you heard and understood. Then, he says, you can incorporate their point of view into your own goals to show that your listeners’ contributions matter.

                  7. Practice makes . . . better

                  Contrary to popular belief, confident speakers are made, not born. Anyone can become a better speaker. “A lot of people feel that they’re an introvert, or they had a bad experience once and now they’re doomed,” Abrahams says. “But communication skills are like any other skills — you can get better at them. Like any skill you build, it’s about repetition, reflection and feedback.” Take every opportunity to practice, then think about how it went. What seemed to work? What definitely didn’t? Finally, as painful as it may be, solicit honest feedback about how you performed, or what your listener took away from your communication. “Sometimes it’s three steps forward, one step back — but you get better. I see it all the time.”