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Monthly Archives: November 2011

How to Avoid the Top 5 Public Speaking Mistakes

On Wednesday, I posted an article on my Forbes blog


Image by Daehyun Park via Flickr

called: “Why So Many “Experts” Are Terrible Speakers: Top 5 Public Speaking Mistakes.”

I was as suprised as anyone when this piece went viral.  Over 110,000 folks viewed the article piece as of this morning (it was one of the top three most popular pieces on Forbes the day it was published!), and thousands shared it on their social networks.  Clearly this topic touched a nerve. 

My guess is that thousands of folks have attended live and online conferences and workshops this past year, and have been as astounded as I about the lack of ability of the speaker to connect, enliven, motivate and educate us, or to leave us with anything lasting or meaningful.  It’s a great disappointment when you plunk down your hard-earned money to learn something new from an “expert” and to be inspired, only to leave feeling deflated and let down.

As a frequent speaker at live and online conferences, I’m in the company of hundreds of folks each year who are top authors, experts and consultants.  In many cases, these are great thought leaders who perform public speaking as just one aspect of their professional endeavors.   In attending these programs, I’m continually shocked at how many content experts are, in fact, wholly ineffective speakers .

My colleague, Krista Carnes, Founder of Booking Authors — a consulting firm that helps experts and authors connect with new opportunities and audiences, and a member of the Maestro Market start up team – shared this:

One big mistake I find is the incorrect assumption that speaking at a “big name” event or two is the only way to get attention. There are no “small” events when you’re starting out.  Most people, no matter how much passion they have, are simply not ready to get in front of large audiences. In striving for those large opportunities only, many overlook exciting, creative ways to engage with their communities and tribes – ways that nurture the development of presentation skills and personal presence that are crucial in today’s digitally-driven age.”

Observing amazing speakers who move and motivate us (watch some TED Talks for inspiring examples), and comparing them to ineffective speakers, I’ve observed five core behaviors that keep speakers from achieving their key goals – to motivate, enliven, inform and educate.   Below are the top five mistakes content experts often make as speakers when trying to engage audiences, stimulate crowds, and connect deeply with others. 

I’ve made some of these mistakes myself, and have lived the experience of losing an audience.  None of us are born astounding speakers, and there’s always more to learn, but the first step is to acknowledge your own gaps.


1. Meet the Audience Where They Are

First and foremost, speakers must remember that their deep knowledge about a topic isn’t (usually)shared by the audience.  Listeners aren’t in the same place you are – they haven’t spent years studying this area, researching it, living it.  It’s new to them.  So you must meet your audience where they are, finding a way to hook them in.  Then take them on a stimulating journey of initial discovery through full-out engagement so that your key points can be understood and embraced.   Assuming that they know what you know, or care in the way you care, is a mistake.  You have to generate a significant level of interest from the beginning, and pique that interest continually throughout your presentation.

2. Make a Heartfelt Human Connection

In the past few weeks, I’ve been a part of a number of national events that highlight speakers who are at the top of their fields.  I’ve seen evidence that being a nationally-recognized guru doesn’t mean you have any degree of social or emotional intelligence.  I’m finding that numbers of these experts simply fail to engage us on an emotional, heartfelt level – they don’t connect in a personal way, or give the sense that they truly care a whit about the audience and its ability to productively use the vast information they know and share.  In the end, their lack of a human connection makes their presentations feel overwhelming and unsettling– they push us away with all data, facts and statistics, and no heart and soul. They’re simply not likable.

3.  Show Respect for the Listener

Again, I’ve seen scores of speakers alienate an audience by expressing disdain or criticism for some common behavior or thinking.  For example, if you’re speaking to social media novices about what they need to do to get up to speed in the social media arena, you must understand that many folks are afraid and insecure about taking the plunge, and you need to be gentle with them, not judgmental, critical or flip. 

In the end, if you hate or disrespect your listeners for their lack of savvy in your area of expertise, they’ll hate you back.  And if you leave your audience feeling that they are losers, failures or unworthy of your respect, then you’ll achieve the opposite of your desired effect – you’ll bruise their sense of self-worth and create a huge rift between you and your audience.You’ll lose them forever.

4.  Inspire Follow-Up Thinking/ Action

It’s not enough to present information without inspiring people to follow up with new action or thinking.  Your words and messages simply won’t last in the minds of the audience members if you don’t motivate your listeners to DO something different with what you’ve just shared and taught.  Think about how you can connect and engage with your audience after your talk, and help them on a path of thinking or behaving differently, making use of your information in ways that better their lives.  If you don’t, you’ve missed a key outcome of serving as a speaker/presenter – to inspire positive action.

5.  Leave a Lasting Message of Significance

Finally, with the millions of webcasts, seminars, workshops and talks available today to us –either in person or online — your talk will not stand out or be effective if you don’t leave the audience with a clear message of significance – something lasting, meaningful, and impactful.  If you’re simply sharing dry information, but don’t touch on the vital “essence” of your material (the living, breathing heart of what you care about and why we should care), you’ll fail as a speaker.

In the end, it’s not easy to be a compelling speaker or presenter, and deep knowledge of a topic doesn’t necessarily contribute to your ability to reach people.  But addressing these mistakes will help you communicate in ways that make you the speaker that people ask for most and remember best.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – What is your deepest public speaking challenge and how are you overcoming it?  Thanks for sharing.


How Remote Working Can Save Your Career (and Your Life)

A woman typing on a laptop

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I spent 18 years in corporate life building a career as a senior marketing, research, and product management professional. While a good portion of that time was exciting and fulfilling, in the end, my corporate life culminated in devastating personal, professional and health challenges (for more on my personal story, see my book Breakdown Breakthrough).

As a high-level professional and a mom of two young children, there were times that my working life almost broke me – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Work-life balance as I defined it – that ever-elusive juggle of contributing fully as a professional while serving as an involved and caring mother – was completely out of reach and utterly impossible.

As a result, when I hit 40 years old, I awakened to the realization that the life I’d created was unsustainable. For four years, I had been chronically ill (with a disease called tracheitis – a serious and recurring infection of the trachea). I was exhausted, depressed and overcome with the guilt and misery of letting down everyone and everything that truly mattered to me.

Now, 11 years later, my entire life and career have been transformed. I run my own career, leadership and executive consulting business – Ellia Communications – and I work on my own terms. My business is conducted from my home office, and my ability to balance my key priorities in both life and work has improved dramatically. As a result, I am physically well and professionally rejuvenated – I feel excited, passionate, and energized by the work I do and the people I serve.

I’ve directly experienced the benefits of working from home, and because of the transformation it allowed, I cannot recommend it highly enough to women and men equally. Working remotely or from a home office — either in your corporate role, or in your own small business, entrepreneurial endeavor or consultancy – is a true life-changer.

How did working from home save my career (and my life)?

Below are the 6 key ways:

1. Seamless integration of the personal and professional

As a career and executive coach, I’ve observed that working professionals thrive best when their personal and professional identities are not highly distinct or separate entities, but connected symbiotically, nourishing and enlivening each other. When I spent hours each day every day in a corporate office, I experienced my professional persona as something completely different from my personal one. Now, whether I’m working or spending time with my family, I’m the SAME person – integrated, whole and honoring all key aspects of my personality. Working from home has allowed a deeper connection to my true self, and to operating with authenticity, integrity and transparency.

2. Productivity boost

I’m immeasurably more productive working from home. I can craft my work schedule as it suits my needs, and tailor it to when I’m most energetic, productive, and focused. I’m there for my family when I need and want to be, and also available to address my work roles and responsibilities the minute I wish to for as long as I wish to.

3. Healthier, more active lifestyle

Since I began working from home in 2002, my chronic illness, exhaustion and depression evaporated. (Interestingly, my tracheitis disappeared the day I was laid off from my last corporate job after 9/11, and hasn’t returned). I sleep and nap when my body requires it, and I make time for healthy activities such as tennis and walking. I eat as my body requires, not based on a forced, unnatural schedule. I’m stronger and more energetic by shaping my day in healthier ways.

4. Family focus

Being deeply involved in my family’s life – in the fabric of my two children’s daily lives – was what I dreamed of when I planned for and gave birth to them. But I could never find a way to achieve that while holding down a job that required 3 hours of daily commuting, a 50+ hour work-week, and extensive travel. Being able to serve my family in ways that honor my unique values, needs and priorities has made all the difference in my life.

5. Well-defined boundaries

In my marriage and family therapy training, I learned about the power of personal boundaries to create a happy, healthy life, or impede it. Boundaries are the invisible barriers that separate you from your various outside systems (work, family, church/temple, school, friends, etc.). Your boundaries help you regulate the degree of input and output between you and the systems with which you interact. Boundaries can be measured on a scale from diffuse (overly-permeable) to rigid (impenetrable, preventing the necessary flow of input/output). Working from home, I have strengthened my boundaries – I know where I end and others begin, and I control the flow of input and information in ways that are most beneficial for me and my family.

6. Control

The quality of my life is directly proportionate to the degree of control I have over my time, the people with whom I interact, and my endeavors and activities. In my work, I’ve seen the damaging effects that loss of control brings about in life. Feeling out of control leaves people feeling victimized and powerless over their fate and their future. Victimization often brings with it illness, depression, rage, and disengagement from life and work. Working from home gives me a direct line to greater personal and professional control.

In the end, running a business from my home that I’m passionate has given me a new lease on life and allowed me to contribute at the level I long to, to both my family and my work.

National research confirms the innumerable benefits of remote working for both individuals and enterprises. There is no longer a question about its positive outcomes. The more we can create new pathways for successful remote working, the greater the opportunities for success, growth and innovation for individuals and businesses around the globe.

For more information and support for remote working, download free resources and join the conversation this month at and try Office 365 for free today

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