It happens to the best of us. You start to answer a question and then find yourself going on too many tangents and aren’t sure how to recover — you’re rambling. The issue with rambling is that it’s hard for your audience to follow your train of thought and figure out what your core message is. It takes effort for listeners to stay alert to the twists and turns in your story.
Therefore, if you are rambling in an interview or in a meeting, when you find yourself thinking, Where am I going with this? it’s important to know how to wrap up your thoughts and come to a clear conclusion. It’s that core message, or the phrase that you want people to recall, that you need to be direct about. Thankfully, that’s all you have to practice — ending with that take-home sentence that you want people to remember.
Unfortunately, instead of ending with a direct message, most people get embarrassed and end their answer with a trail-off phrase such as, “So ya…”. Or, they just end with a small detail about a story that has nothing to do with the question. Instead, practice ending with the sentence you want people to recall.
Let’s pretend you’re asked in an interview, “What is your greatest strength?” If you find yourself giving a long-winded answer, instead of trailing off, I’d bring it back to the original question and say something along the lines of, “And that’s why I think collaboration is one of my greatest strengths.” That way, if your answer was slightly disjointed, you still ended with the message that you want the interviewer to remember — that you are a great collaborator.
It takes some practice, but this technique can be used in all types of settings. If you’re in a meeting, talking about a project update, and you find yourself describing insignificant details, instead of ending with, “I know that was a lot of information,” I’d end with, “That’s why I believe we are on track with the latest design.” That way, even if the team got confused by some of the information you provided, there won’t be any questions on the current state of the project.
If you find yourself rambling, just take a breath, think about your core message and end your answer with that sentence. It’s a simple yet effective tool to help you and your audience communicate.
As the leader of your group or organization, people look up to you. You set an example with everything you do. Not only with the large projects you are in charge of, but in smaller, more subtle ways as well. It may not be obvious, but if you are leading a team, it’s important to be aware of situations where your actions set up patterns that others will follow.
When a new team is meeting, it can be hard for people to feel comfortable enough to open up. Often a leader will start a meeting by asking someone to introduce themself to the group. Whatever information that first person gives (name, title, etc) is normally the same information everyone else will share. If you’d prefer people to share a story or more interesting background information, instead of relying on the first person you call on to rise to the occasion, just do it yourself. Start by sharing the information you’d like to know about your team. Then hand it over to someone else. That way, the team has an example to follow on what you’d like to hear.
2. Checking In
During a meeting, especially when people aren’t very comfortable with each other, the first person who talks usually sets the pattern for the rest of the group. For example, if you ask everyone how their weekend went, and the first person responds with, “It was ok,” chances are that everyone else will also give a one sentence response. However, if you begin a meeting by describing a short story about how your weekend went and then open it up to the group, there is a higher probability that everyone else will also share a short story.
Every relationship requires a different level of professionalism. When you are communicating via email, it’s important to realize that your team is looking to you to set the tone. If you expect formal emails with long explanations on how people arrived at certain decisions, you should be writing formal detailed emails as well. If you prefer quick, short and concise emails, those are the ones you should be sending. People will look to you to model the preferred communication style, so you want to be proactive on how it's established.
We like patterns, and the first person to speak usually sets the tone. When you are leading, it’s important to realize where those key opportunities are.
More and more people are having to pre-record their presentations for events. But it can be overwhelming to speak to a camera, alone in your room, and make it feel like you’re delivering the speech at an event with over 500 attendees. In pre-recorded talks, presenters often tense up, sound monotone, or rush through their content.
Here are 3 techniques to help you feel more relaxed and natural when you are recording a talk:
1. Talk to someone
It’s difficult to give a talk to people if there aren’t any people around. That’s why so many presenters feel awkward giving a speech to a camera. Thankfully, there is one situation where we do feel comfortable talking to someone even when they aren’t in the same room — when we’re on the phone. During a phone conversation with a friend, you aren’t able to see their face, but since you know them, you can imagine their reactions to the content you’re describing. Therefore if you’re going to record a talk, simply decide who is listening to you at that moment. Add energy and emphasis to certain points. Another option is to put a picture of a friend at the same level as your camera and talk to the picture. If you have a clear idea of who is listening to your information, you are far more likely to let your personality show and give an engaging talk.
2. Move so you don’t stiffen up
There’s a tendency for people to stiffen up when they are recording a talk. Their arms stay down, they don’t move their face as much, and they start holding their breath. The pressure of “being recorded” takes over and people tense up, causing them to lose a lot of their natural personality and energy. To help overcome this, before you record, wake up your body by jumping around, twisting your torso, or even having a quick dance session. If you stand up during the recording, it can also help you feel more supported and energized. Then, when you start your introduction, move your head and have access to your hands. Move your body like you would if you were having a live conversation. This will help you look more natural, which makes it easier for your audience to connect to you and your ideas.
3. Remember to have rest moments
In live conversations and presentations there are moments when, after a speaker makes a key point, they will pause and check in with their audience to make sure that information was received. This pause allows the audience a moment to reflect and absorb the information before the speaker moves on to the next point. However, in recorded talks speakers often speed through the content since they don’t have anyone to check in with. Therefore, to make your presentation feel more conversational, think about your key points and place pauses around them. It will make a pre-recorded talk feel more lively and personal.
If you decide who you are speaking to, stay relaxed by moving your body when you’re talking, and remember to pause so certain points stand out, you can help your pre-recorded talk feel like you’re giving a live presentation.
Questions are an integral part of any interview. But the way questions are commonly phrased can stop a lot of people. That’s why it’s important to think about not just what the interviewer is asking, but why they are asking. Rephrasing the interview question to yourself can be a useful tool to help you figure out what you should share. Below I’ve written out a few popular interview questions, and alternative ways to approach them.
Question One: Tell me about yourself.
Alternative: How are you putting your passion into action?
Question Two: Tell me about a mistake you’ve made.
Alternative: Can you own up to mistakes you’ve made in the past? What do you do differently because of what you’ve learned?
Question Three: What are your strengths?
Alternative: What areas do you excel in and how will that help us?
Question Four: What are your weaknesses?
Alternative: Are you aware of the areas you can improve in? What are you doing to work on those skills?
Question Five: Tell me a time where you had to think on your feet.
Alternative: Since surprises happen, give us an example of how you are able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
Sometimes rephrasing the questions you’re asked can help you think of answers. Figure out why they are asking this question and how knowing this information will help them hire you with more ease.
Click here for more interview questions to be prepared for.
When people find out they are giving a presentation, they often jump into putting the slides together for their talk. However, before you start working on the PowerPoint, it’s a good idea to take some time and answer these 3 questions:
1. Who is my audience?
Many people assume they know who their audience is, but it’s always better to double-check. I’ve worked with clients before who thought that the talk would only be for a technical audience. Then, two days before the event, they found out that it was also open to the public. Knowing who will be in the audience is the most important question to answer before putting together the content of a talk.
2. What do I want people to learn?
When I meet with clients, one of the first questions I ask is, “In one sentence, what do you want people to say they learned from this talk?” That question often stops them. They normally have a long list of things they want to discuss, but distilling it down into one sentence is hard. That’s also why it’s so important. It shouldn’t be the audience’s job to analyze and figure out the main goal of your talk. You should be very clear and direct with the purpose of your presentation and what you want your audience to recall.
3. What image do I want them to remember?
When you reflect on presentations that you enjoyed, the first thing you remember is not a long script — it’s an image. Maybe that image was a slide they used. Perhaps that image was from a story they told. Either way, you aren’t thinking about the script. The first thing you see in your memory is a picture. As a speaker, think about what you want that image to be. You can reuse the same image on multiple slides during a presentation. Or, you can tell a story at the beginning of your talk, and then come back to it at the end. Since people tend to remember visuals more than facts, it’s important to ask yourself what image you want associated with your presentation.
Before you put together a presentation, you should know who your audience is, what you want people to learn, and what image you want them to remember.
The words and phrases people use in presentations are incredibly important. As a presenter (whether it’s online or in-person) you want to create a strong connection with your audience. However, I’ve seen many presenters use certain phrases that, while common, can actually create a divide between the speaker and their audience. Here are three suggestions to keep in mind:
1. Change “As I’ve said before” to “Since”
“As I’ve said before” can sometimes come off as patronizing. It suggests that the listener should’ve been paying better attention. By switching this phrase with “Since”, it helps remind the listener of previous information, but in a supportive and conversational way.
2. Change “As you can see” to “We saw”
What if the audience can’t see what you’re saying? Perhaps their screen is too small. Or, maybe the image you’re pointing out is complex and the information you’re describing doesn’t immediately stand out. When presenters use this phrase, if the audience can’t easily “see” what you’re saying, then they will think, “No, I can’t”. This can disconnect the speaker from their audience. Instead, change the phrase to “We saw”. Then a listener can think, “Oh, I didn’t notice that, great to know.” Or, they may think, “Yes, I see that too.” By simply switching a few words, you can keep the audience on your side.
3. Change “For those of you who don’t know” to “It’s been shown”
This phrase highlights a knowledge gap between the presenter and their audience. By switching the phrase to “It’s been shown”, you keep everyone in the conversation. If they did know the information previously, they will think, “Yes, I knew that.” If they didn’t know it before they will think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” By switching up this phrase, you can bring people together no matter what knowledge they walk into the presentation with.
By changing a few simple phrases, you can be a more effective speaker and create a stronger connection with your audience.
The way you phrase a question has tremendous power over how it is answered. I’ve been working with a few supervisors lately who, as everyone continues to work in a remote environment, are having a harder time getting their team to open up and contribute at team meetings.
Many times supervisors come to a meeting, introduce a new idea, and then ask their team, “What do you think?”
They want to engage in a lively discussion, but the phrasing of “What do you think?”, isn’t getting their team into a productive discussion mode.
This is probably because the question, “What do you think?”, doesn’t elicit the type of response the supervisor is looking for. Quite often, we ask our friends questions but we don’t really want to hear their opinion — we just want to share our thoughts. At a meeting, teammates may wonder if their supervisor really wants to know their opinion or just wants someone to listen to their own personal ideas. If you want your team to open up and contribute, there are more productive ways of asking people about their thoughts.
I’m trying to figure out the best move forward. Can we brainstorm ideas?
I’d appreciate it if people could share their experiences with this product. I’d love to hear any ideas on how to improve it.
I’m feeling a bit stuck on the next steps. Does anyone have suggestions they can share to help me out?
Instead of starting the meeting by asking people’s thoughts, tell them why you want to hear them. Do you want to brainstorm? Do you want a lively discussion? Are you feeling overwhelmed and need assistance?
Being clear with your questions, and the type of interaction you are seeking, will help people open up and contribute.
Many people start their presentations by asking a question. They believe it is an effective way to engage their audience. While I understand the reason behind asking a question, I’ve also seen this tactic go very wrong. Here are three things to consider before asking a question in your presentation:
1. What if you get an answer you don’t want?
I once went to a talk where the speaker started by asking, “How many people have ever heard of “x” subject before?” Everyone in the room raised their hand. Then, she continued by saying, “Oh, well let’s pretend you haven’t” and then gave a 40 minute talk. This speaker had probably been told that opening a talk with a question is a great way to start. However, it is critical to realize that you may get a response that you don’t want. If a response to your question could unravel your talk, I wouldn’t ask it.
2. Is this rhetorical?
It’s very common for people to ask rhetorical questions in their talks. For example, I often hear people say, “Why did we do this?” and then immediately proceed to answer their own question. While there isn’t anything wrong with this, it’s important to note that your audience will start expecting you to answer your own questions. Then after your talk, if you ask them a question, you might not get anyone to speak up. That’s because you’ve set up an expectation that you will be asking rhetorical questions. Instead, rephrase your question into a statement like, “We did this because...” It’s a much more direct transition into the next part of your talk.
3. Do you need the answer?
I’ve been to many talks where the speaker asks a question, but doesn’t actually need the information. An audience can tell when you are just asking a question for the sake of asking it, versus asking a question and appreciating the response. This is why I recommend only asking a question if you need and value the information the answer can give you.
If you ask a question in a presentation, make sure the information you receive is critical and necessary. Otherwise, rephrase your questions as statements. It will help elevate the quality of your talk.
Using filler words can become a habit. That’s because the more your ear hears these filler sounds (um, uh, like, so), the more often you repeat them. After listening to hundreds of presentations, I’ve noticed a pattern of when filler words are used. If you can focus on these moments, you can cut down on the majority of the filler words in your presentation.
When people begin a presentation, they often don’t know exactly how to start. They know the first subject they will bring up, but they haven’t practiced how they will thank the person who introduced them or how they will quiet down the room. By not having a clear idea about how they want to begin, filler words start to appear. Fillers are used to give the presenter time to figure out what to say. To avoid this, practice a few introductions — and most importantly — practice them without filler words. That way, your ear won’t hear filler words in the beginning, and therefore, won’t rely on using them throughout the rest of the presentation.
2. Point of Focus
Filler words also emerge when a presenter isn’t sure where to look. In the virtual presentation world, this often happens when a presenter is trying to navigate from their presentation screen to answer a question in the chat box. They are trying to figure out a point of focus, and during that time, filler words pop out. When presenting in person, fillers slip out when the presenter is turning their head from the audience back to the screen with their PowerPoint, and vice versa. Presenters rely on filler words to fill the “time” that it takes to find a new place to look. To give yourself something else to do when refocusing, try exhaling. That way, you get a moment to breathe and your message won’t be distilled with filler sounds.
Filler words are also heard when people are transitioning from one idea to the next. People use sound to fill the pause of moving from one idea to another. It's a crutch presenters lean on to subconsciously tell the audience, “Don’t worry, I’m still in control.” Instead, try pausing between ideas. Pauses are incredibly useful. If there is a constant stream of noise, nothing will stand out. That’s why you want to practice pausing between ideas. This way, your ideas won’t blend into one another, you cut down on filler words, and your presentation becomes much more engaging.
It’s a good idea to practice key moments without fillers. This includes the introduction, pausing between points of focus, and between transitions. If you do this, your audience can focus on what’s really important — your content and ideas.
Data is important. Unfortunately, data presentations are often hard for audiences because after looking at a few graphs, details start to blur together and it is hard to recall specifics. However, there is a powerful technique you can rely on to make your data presentations more impactful — tell the backstory.
People love backstories. They love to find out what happened behind the scenes. It’s exciting to get to see the secret behind the final product. This can include the journey, what hurdles you had to overcome, the people involved, etc.
To be clear, a long backstory behind every graph is not a good idea. People don’t want to sit through a long presentation if they don’t have to. The trick is to adjust how to introduce your graph that adds in a few specifics to make the data real, to tell the story about why you are presenting it.
For example, instead of saying, “This graph shows…”
You could say:
“I remember reading an article that got me thinking about x and y so we decided to investigate those numbers. We discovered that...”
“We were in a meeting when Kyle originally had the idea to run an experiment comparing the specifics of x and y. After looking at that data, we noticed that…” or
“When I first saw this graph, what piqued my interest was how…”
By simply adding in a few sentences that introduce a location, person, or feeling, it makes the details more impactful and therefore, easier to remember.
Next time you present data, think about what happened that caused you to seek out that information in the first place.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.