Friday, 26 September 2014

TEDxBrixton - the Power of Delivery

I'm  very excited to be doing some coaching with TEDxBrixton this Sunday.

I have delivered presentation training for over 15 years yet I still get excited about helping people deliver powerfully, reduce nerves and learn new techniques.

Here are 10 things to think about when delivering a talk:

1. Start and finish powerfully.  How you start and finish are remembered more than the middle section.  Grabbing the audiences' attention and knowing where you are heading is key to a powerful talk. I'll never forget the beginning of Aimee Mullin's Ted talk when she showed her designer legs, including a pair of legs by Alexander McQueen (the last pair on the right).
2. Be aware of your body language.  Coming across as open, engaging and authoritative is essential to get your audience on your side.  If you video yourself when you deliver your talk, you can get an idea of how you look and if you have any mannerisms that are distracting.  This is much better than watching yourself in the mirror which can be distracting and unrealistic.
3. Understand what to do with your hands.  There are more neurological pathways between the brain and the hand than any other part of our body so we often become over-conscious of them when we talk.  We explore the best ways to use your hands to back up your talk. Generally open is good and pointing is bad.
4. Get into the right mindset.  So much of confidence is sending out the right energy.  Getting your head in the right mindset is essential.  There are lots of ways of helping your head think positively: coming up with positive messages; reminding yourself of positive situations in the past; and using powerful posture to change your mindset. For example the power poses that Amy Cuddy talks about in her TED talk.
5. Use your focus.  Where you focus is key to how people listen to you.  If people think you won't look at them, their brain may start to wander. Keep your audience listening by looking at them regularly.
6. Enliven your tone. Often people think that if their tone is flat when they speak it's because they sound like that all the time.  Often it's not the case.  Often people are much more engaging when they talk naturally.  We find ways to encourage variety in your tone.  We  use your written messages to ensure your tone is emotive and interesting to listen to.
7. Breath as you speak.  Strange but people often forget to breath deeply when they are talking.  It's so useful if you can learn to do it because deep breath helps you relax more.  Meaning the more you talk the more relaxed you become. We explore how you breath and how to improve your relaxation through breath.
8.  Energise the room. Energy can be ephemeral, however in performance and presentations it is essential to engage a room.  Energising your talk is actually quite a technical exercise about how you use your hands and voice.
9.  Make sure they can hear you.  This is not just about volume.  As the Greek amphitheatres can show you, it's possible to whisper and be heard at the back of the room. Much of it is ensuring your articulation is athletic. If you are aware of your consonants and vowels and sound them out,  it's much clearer what you're saying.  Tongue twisters are great at helping with this.
10.  Be congruent.  Congruence is a rather horrid word but an essential technique.  It's a way of making all the things come together e.g. your body language backing up your message; your hands supporting the words and your tone demonstrating the feelings you want your audience to feel.

So if you think people are born good speakers, think again.  All the great speakers work on their delivery to make it look effortless.  Look out for TEDxBrixton's talks to see how the team do on the night.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

10 reasons how Scotland got power before the vote

From tomorrow morning Scotland will negotiate for more power.  Power that has been promised, even if they vote NO.  So how did Scotland’s referendum turn around from No Chance (22% in 2012) to Too Close to Call (48% or more today) ? I go through 10 reasons why.

1.      The Power of Yes – The Yes Campaign managed to negotiate the right word – people are more likely to vote for a positive than a negative

       2.    The initial Negotiation – at the Initial negotiation Alex Salmond – with the polls at 22% wanted Devo Max – increased powers to Scotland on the ballot paper.  David Cameron refused from his confident position.  I wonder how he feels about that now – with Devo Max being offered as the alternative to Yes!

       3.     Never saying Never.  Galvanizing the disenchanted.  Allegedly the No campaign concentrated on the usual voters.  The Yes campaign went out to find new voters – again at the negotiation this tactic was set – with the guarantee that 16 year olds would be able to vote for their country’s future. But the Yes campaign didn’t stop there – they went out to find the dis-enfranchised.  Those who had never voted before and got them engaged in the debate.  It is for this reason that on 18th September, as all the residents of Scotland go to vote, no pollster is confident of the outcome. Because there is nothing to compare it to. No-one can even guess how these voters think. 

       4.     Lethargy and complacency are not as powerful as humility and passion. Some people say they don’t’ like Alex Salmond because he’s arrogant.  However the passion of the Yes campaign cannot be denied.  I would argue because he was so far back in the polls to start with – most of the rest of the country thought “there’s no way they’ll win” That arrogance could lose the United Kingdom Scotland

       5.     Know your opponent.  As a Scot living in England this is where I believe the No campaign underestimated the other side.  I know a lot of Scots were part of the No campaign, but there seemed a misinterpretation of how Scots’ culture translates itself.  A lot of it, is in it’s humour.  If you are patronizing to a Scot – beware the wrath! You will be pulled up immediately.  We don’t like being told how to do things.

If you tell us you will give us something, we will tell you that we can take it ourselves.  So when NO politicians said “We will give you a voice” the YES campaigners said “No thanks, we’ve got one already.  It’s not for you to give”   The NO campaigners didn’t understand the stubborn, confident Scot they saw before them.  Numerous linguistic gaffe’s were made throughout the campaign.

      6.     Get your messages right. Consistency of messaging is key in any campaign.  The Yes has been consistent – the only thing that changed at the end was an extension of the message: “Yes, it’s in your hands”. The No campaign became Better Together, then No Thanks then Lets Stick together.  There were too many messages – hence the reduction of social media effectiveness I believe.

Getting your message right is also about making sure the message can’t be tarnished.  Another gaffe of the No campaign was the advert setting up a “wee wumman” who “didnae know any better”.  A huge backlash came and the Better Together ad then became a translation of the NO Campaigns subconscious – or at least the YES’s translation of that subconscious.  The YES campaign took control of their brand.

For a while in London I wasn’t sure who’s brand NO THANKS was.  I heard it used by both camps. “ Westminster – no thanks”.  The Saltire with NO thanks written on it. The message was muddied. It didn’t work.

The YES campaign however was slick.  The video using short sentences, said with the UK Flag in the back and then said backwards, turning the NO message into a YES was brilliant on so many levels.  First of all it turned their message round from NO to YES shockingly and cleverly, Secondly it went from a negative to a positive. Thirdly it connected to our Scottish heritage of Poetry, music and creativity – a place where Scots feel strong. 

       7.     Get your delivery right.  I like Alistair Darling. However despite his huge career success, his ability to present powerfully is not as technically crafted as Alex Salmonds’
a.    Darling points, Alex Salmond smiles
b.    Darling gets het up, Alex Salmond stays calm
c.     Darling stays attached to his notes and the podium, Salmond comes out from behind the podium confidently – he opens up to the audience
d.    Darling forgets the names of the questioners, Salmond uses them pointedly but sparingly
e.    Darling sticks to a few points, Salmond has constructed arguments for all. 
f.      In the first debate Darling’s reputation of being a bit too serious and boring stood to his favour when he  came out impassioned.  The reason the pundits gave him the win was their shock at his energetic delivery. 
g.     In the second debate, Salmond slightly increased his passion but still remained stately and in his calmness got Darling to make a gaff about the currency.  Darling admitted Scotland could use it. Alex Salmond in fact simply delivered the way he had done in the first debate but his time there was no shock value.

      8.     Don’t look desperate.  In the last week the main campaigner Darling has been replaced by Gordon Brown. It reeks of desperation. Or people believing they can do a better job. It’s not working together.  They are not living their brand. Where before the message changed, this time the messenger has changed.

 Also seeing the normally dour Gordon Brown with his new fervor, doesn’t seem authentic.  I do believe Gordon Brown is an empassionted man but we’re not used to seeing it.

Salmond and Sturgeon however seem closer and more together than ever. 

       9.     Never underestimate the power of the people.  No-one knows what the “never voted” will vote.  They are the secret weapon.  But of which side, we’ll only know tomorrow. What we do know is the YES camp won in the social media stakes

As reported in the London Metro (Thursday 18th Sept 14) 500,000 more #VoteYes and #YesScotland have been posted on Twitter than the #BetterTogether  No campaign tag. 

The independence campaign has 258,000 likes on facebook with the Unionists on 182,000

      10.  The tide of change, the tipping point, the law of social proof and the law of scarcity, the zeitgeist is a powerful tide, best caught early. The law of social proof is where people are more likely to go with the majority vote – if they see other people doing it they are more likely to do it.  Especially if it’s by people they like.  The law of scarcity is when people are likely to buy because they think the ‘deal’ may run out.  Because the vote is so tight, everyone knows their vote could be the one that tips the balance so the momentum to vote is high.

With momentum for political engagement this high, it is an exciting time for politician’s to re-engage with voters.

Tomorrow we may well see the political debates in Ireland, England and Wales heating up. They have been simmering the last couple of days. 

But this is only the first step for Scotland.  Now the really hard work begins.  Because now the negotiations start.  No matter what the vote.

How the two sides have positioned themselves will have to be seen through.  This political tide has just started to flow. Who has caught the wave early and positioned themselves well for those negotiations, time will tell.

What we do know,  as well as negotiations for Scotland’s future, we are also in a campaign for the next government, to be voted in a short 8 months. We are entering a political revival and as a Londoner I’m excited to see how we all re-engage in politics on all sides of the present United Kingdom’s borders.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Bias and the Scottish referendum

Bias is tricky to measure.  To measure it you have to get someone to take an IAT test.  You can do it here:  IAT stands for Implicit Association Test. 

It would be interesting if Harvard came up with an IAT test for Pro or Anti Scottish Independence!

What it does is test your responses to certain questions.  It would be interesting to get Nick Robinson  to do a test about Scottish Independence and his allegiance.  With the thousands of people protesting about his bias - that might clear up a few things. 

Bias is often subtle.  There are things called micro - inequities which are small subtleties in the way we behave and communicate. 

In Wikipedia it talks of Mary Rowe's original article where she defines micro-inequities 
as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator".

They can be small things like forgetting who said what after a meeting to support your bias.  Thinking a friend said something you support , when in fact it was someone else.   It can also be small things like who you look at. Or taking preference to your own belief being supported and using more of that language than the opposing view.  

in journalism it can be subtle things like where you position a picture in your report.  A picture that starts a reporters piece is very telling.  Most people remember the first or last thing they see for longer than other parts of a story.  So what you start or finish with will be remembered for longer.  

Slight word changes like using "when" rather than "if" or in the case of business leaders discussing prices; "increase" is used when "different" was said. 

The tones of voice can also have micro-inequities.  These subtleties are registered by our subconscious.  So although the words may be technically not biased, the tone in which it is delivered could be.  

So how is bias measured?  In order to be deemed impartial, what is the scientific measurement that it goes through?  Or is it simply someone else's opinion?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The power of words - messaging, the brain and the referendum

When you deliver a great speech, it's not enough to have passion and great delivery, you've also got to have a  great succinct message.  Martin Luther had "A Dream" Margaret Thatcher said "There is no Alternative"; Barak Obama had "Yes we Can".  I could go on and on.

Succinct messages are important in campaigning,  presentations, and media interviews. If a message is less than two seconds we're more likely to remember it.  So who has faired better in the Scottish campaign messaging?  Let's look at it. 

Today I heard on The World at One a number of the Pro Union campaigners still using "Better Together" slogan while they also have "No Thanks", which is apparently inspired by the Quebec referendum in 1995 "non merci" slogan that narrowly beat the Independents.  

The best succinct messages are aspirational - use big picture language that everyone buys in to and can be used to answer all the difficult questions.  "Better Together" has tried to do that.  " No thanks" doesn't manage this quite as well.  The other side have simply got the very memorable and positive YES. 

There is a psychological reason this is important too. Has anyone every said to you  "don't think of a pink elephant" and of course the first thing you do is think of one.  This is because of the way our brain works.  Our subconscious hears only the positive in the message. So positive messages have more power. 

Notice the YES vote  has had no alignment with nationalism, nor have The Irish or the Welsh joined in the debate.  The YES campaign has aligned with Scottish aspiration.  This is after Chris Hoy won six gold medals at the 2012 Olympics, Andy Murray won Wimbledon and more recently Glasgow has hosted a hugely successful Commonwealth Games. Whether these Scots have kept out of the political argument does not take away the Scottish pride that comes with those successes. 

So YES has also been anchored into our minds.  An anchor in the world of the brain means that we associate certain things together.  So you might associate a place with an emotion; a smell with a memory.  Or in Scotlands case Andy Murray's success with Alex Salmond's Saltire waving at his moment of triumph. 

The Chris Hoy stadium during the Commonwealth Games was a constant reminder of his Olympic successes as well as his presence during the Commonwealth Games.  Also seeing Glasgow and Scotland portrayed on the telly so magnificently will have inspired pride; reinforced confidence and encouraged belief.  Aligning all these to the word YES has been the campaign's brilliance.  I'm sure the timings were thought through, in great detail. 

The other reason why YES is so powerful and sales people have known it for years.  If you get people to say yes out loud to two questions they are more likely to say Yes to the third question.  There will be some savvy people who won't but the majority will. 

People gravitate towards positive words and actions.

Consistent messages shows confidence in your messages.  The Union messages have not been as consistent.  They started off negative and have tried to move towards the more positive "better together" and today they seem to be comparing the potential of losing Scotland like a divorce or the end of a relationship.  The strategy seems on the back foot rather on the front.  It's certainly not aspirational or visionary.

However the Union camp is working with a natural human trait - fear of change.  So it's the change argument that has to be stronger for the chances of a Yes vote to succeed. This is probably why the votes are so close together.  

The Yes campaigners however are using visionary language: words like: democratic empowerment;  the power to succeed; for Scots to be on the World Stage and more recently Team Scotland vs Team Westminster.

Visionary language is essential because it helps us "see" the idea.  Seeing the big picture in the language means more people are likely to agree.  We all want more jobs and a prosperous Scotland.  Journalists role is often to pull apart these visionary messages into the details but politicians and campaigners look for the common themes that bind us. 

Notice it's not Team England.  They are playing with the beliefs of Scots that Westminster does not hold their interests at heart but their own.  A belief held by many, although in my experience is not the case.  But perception is nine tenths of the law.  

Talking about words the two adverts that have come out of the different campaigns, show the power of words in action: 

The Union advert which got so much flack for implying women couldn't think politically for themselves

lended themselves to an advert with "Subtitles" or their translations of the messages in the advert This second version translates the advert into a patronising idea of women at home, children's disinterest and a lack of understanding of the politics. 

Compare this with the linguistically ingenious way this advert is done.  Setting a tone and then flipping it on it's head. As a Scot it anchors itself in our Scottish tradition of poetry and story telling. 

There's another thing: timing:  The Yes ad called "My Generation" is one minute 52 seconds long while the Better together one " A woman changes her mind" is two minutes forty long.  Shorter is always better. 

So the messaging has been clever.  It is more challenging for the Better Together team as there are 3 parties that normally work against each other pulling together but they are working with a strong human emotion: fear of change.  

I've just booked my ticket to go up to Scotland for 18th September.  I have no idea who will win.  Both sides have powerful arguments.  What I do know is the messaging from the YES camp is more aspirational, consistent and visionary but will it be enough? We'll find out, I hope in the early hours of 19th September.  I'll be there watching history happen - what ever the outcome. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Scotland Debate : Politics to the People.

As a Scot living in London it's rather bizarre as we approach the Referendum on Scottish Independence. I feel connected yet missing out. I get that I can't vote and think it's right.  Scots away can get romantic about their homeland as the number of Burns Nights around the world on 25th January every year can testify. However having been in Scotland over the summer and caught up with the fever, I now have let it slip slightly from my mind, despite the intermittent news coverage. But that just changed.

I spoke to my brother today, who lives in Glasgow and he was alight with excitement.  The referendum is taking a new momentum.  He was driving his car and shouting out all the stickers on the windows; YES YES YES NO YES NO NO YES NO NO.  Everyone was getting involved.  Most houses were sticking their views to their windows.  This is politics for the people.  And all the people are getting involved. He sent me this photo attached.

Cialdini's law of commitment also suggests if you write down or verbally confirm a commitment you're likely to stick to it all the way. So those stickers are likely to translate into votes.

Later my brother recounted a Radio Scotland piece about a journalist who was in Castlemilk, Glasgow.  The journalist walked into a cafe with a local woman and the person behind the counter asked the local "What will you be voting: Yes or Naw?".  When the woman replied she wasn't sure, the woman behind the counter said "You'd better educate yourself" and the rest of the cafe joined in saying this was too important and we all had to educate ourselves to have an opinion.  There was an eruption of discussion about how everyone needed to "educate themsels" to decide. Political apathy was not an option.  Voting was a necessity.  The people know they are making history and they want to get involved.

Allegedly school children are wearing their opinion in badges to school.  Noone is exempt. Everyone is challenged to have an opinion.

A recent piece on Radio 4 I heard talking to Jim Sillars a Labour MP who had travelled Scotland with two Iron Bru barrels and a mock stage with a mic.  He talked of old fashioned politics, coming to the people. And the people are listening and deciding.

I have no idea which way it will go but I do know it will be close.  There are few things I've noticed in the run up to it from a presentation and psychological point of view.

1. The Yes campaign have managed to get the positive word, people are more inclined to vote YES than NO
2. The No campaign is challenging on fear not aspiration and not selling the positives of the union.
3. The slogans have changed from Better Together to NO Thanks - an inconsistent message.
4. Alex Salmond, although allegedly losing the first debate with Darling was announced the stronger in the second debate. His clever use of coming out from the podium; using questioners first names; having open body language and using visionary language versus pointing, staying behind the podium and not using names, were all reasons for this success
5.  The Commonwealth Games have just finished.  I was up there a few weeks when it was on.  Seeing Glasgow and Scotland look so amazing on the TV, seeing the hoards of tourists lapping up the Scottishness and buying up the souvenirs was a sight to be seen.  The slogan of "The People make Glasgow" and "The Friendly Games" were not empty but every where the people of Glasgow were extra helpful and friendly.  My sister was waiting for me at a street corner and had 2 or 3 people come up to ask if she needed help.
6. People like consistency and the NO vote suggests consistency. However in the Darling/Salmond debates it was clear Scotland will get more devolved powers so both sides have future uncertainty and lack clarity.  This vote is a leap of faith either way.

So there is a frenzy happening in Scotland. And the Scots are certainly feeling confident.  We'll see what the outcome will be after the votes on 18th September only 14 days away.

What we do know is Glasgow and Scotland and potentially England, Ireland and Wales will never be the same after that date: whatever the outcome.  As my brother put it "this energy of the people could fuel 3 cities".  What will happen with that energy after 18th we can only guess at.