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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

August 2006

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)

Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!

In this issue:

Dr. Standup Answers Your Most
Pressing Presentation Questions
(New feature!)

We're changing the newsletter's format this month to focus on those puzzling or perturbing aspects of speaking in public that make many people quake and shake with stagefright.

You are all invited to submit any presentation-skills-related question to Dr. Standup. (You are invited to submit any unrelated questions as well, but no promises on how useful the answers will be!)

You are also invited to respond to any question with answers of your own. (The Doctor is magnanimous and will publish alternative responses.)

And now, this month's question . . .

Dear Dr. Standup:

For me, the most difficult part of making a presentation is the first 5 minutes or so. After that, I start to relax and eventually even enjoy the rest of the presentation.

What advice can you give me for getting through those awful first few minutes?


Scared Speechless in Seattle

Dear "Boy, Are You Not Alone":

Well, I can certainly tell you what NOT to do. Don't open with a joke!

Two reasons why: One, it's hard to find a joke that won't offend someone on some level. Two, it's hard to tell a joke well. You've got to be a master of timing to pull it off. If you blow the punch line, you'll be staring back at the assembled zombies from The Night of the Living Dead. It's just not worth the risk.

A quick story: Some years back, a few weeks before Christmas, I was part of a team facilitating a manager's strategic planning session for a large manufacturing company. All the head honchos of the company were there, smiling beatifically in their power suits.

One brash young middle manager had been appointed to kick off the proceedings with a few opening remarks. This is what he said:

"I'm very happy to be here with all of you today. I'd like to start by asking you all a question: Why isn't there going to be any Christmas celebration at the White House this year?"

All of us were stunned. Could it be? Was he really going to begin with a JOKE?!?!?! A religious joke?!?! AND a political joke?!?! Yes, he was. Here's the punch line:

"Well, there aren't any wise men there and they can't find a virgin."

(Note: Please do not tell me if you think that joke is even remotely funny.)

OK, so if you can't tell jokes (I'M BEGGING YOU NOT TO), what can you do to settle the butterflies quickly?

I think the best technique is to involve the audience immediately in your presentation by giving them something to do so they'll stop just sitting there and staring at you. It doesn't have to be anything very complicated (such as a game of some sort). It can simply be a survey question or two.

For example, suppose you are conducing a training session on the subject of "What to do with a Dead Elephant"? Instead of the usual "Good afternoon, what a pleasure it is to be here, blah, blah, blah, good lord they're all just staring at me, is my makeup ok, do I sound weird?" opening, try starting with this: "OK, quick show of hands - How many of you have had this elephant problem before?" (Be sure to hold your own hand up as well.) "Ahhh, quite a few of you, I see."

As you look around the room at the people with hands up or down, you will also notice that everyone else in the room is also looking around the room, which means that THEY'RE NOT STARING AT YOU ANYMORE. You can relax now.

If you have time, you can give the audience an activity to do right at the start, which will also take the attention of the front of the room. For example, in a recent workshop I conducted on facilitation skills, I thought I would begin the session with a facilitated activity. (Made sense, yes?) So I asked each person to write on the back of their tent cards what they'd like to see written on their tombstone. Then I had them all share their responses with each other. (Then I moved right into a discussion of what it means to facilitate; perfect segue!)

Most of the responses were thoughtful and serious ("He was a good husband and father"; "She was a friend to many," etc.), but some were rather amusing: "He owed no one any money," and my favorite, "I should have brought a magazine."

Everyone was jazzed from the activity and I didn't have to worry about whether they were staring at me because I had spinach on my teeth.

An alternative answer:

In her book, Secrets of Successful Speakers (McGraw-Hill, 1993), Lilly Walters offers many tips for overcoming stagefright, but stresses that the best tip of all is simply to focus on the audience, instead of yourself.

"Focus your mind on your audience and you won't have time to worry about yourself," she says. "When you visualize yourself rehearsing and performing, do you see yourself standing, poised, smiling, a glimmer and twinkle in your eyes, a laugh on your lips? Are you seeing you, or do you see the audience? What's the picture?"

"Rarely do we see the audience's faces," Lilly continues, "usually we see ourselves - a dramatic gesture here, a brilliant quip there. Adjust the picture in your mind when you are practicing, picture the faces of the people in the audience. See them saying, with their expressions, their eyes, their body language, 'Oh, yes, that's good! That's what I needed!'"

Of course, you can also just make sure your mother is sitting in the front row and deliver the first five minutes of your presentation just to her.

Announcing a New Workshop:

The Presenter as Facilitator: How to Achieve Consensus and Promote Productivity with Groups

In this highly interactive and energetic four-hour workshop, participants will practice seven different ways to facilitate productive brainstorming sessions. They will also role-play (on videotape with playback and critique) strategies for dealing with "difficult" brainstormers: dominators, clams, naysayers, snipers, and super-agreeables.

Who should attend: Anyone who has been asked to facilitate a group problem-solving session.

Comments from recent participants at a Sandia National Laboratories Black Belt Summit Conference, in response to the question, "What was the best part of the course?"

Interactive role-playing, especially after lunch!
Engagement of everyone.
Very involved-keeps you going!
The activities were great!
Wanted more!
Great workshop, time flew by, I wanted more.

For more information about how this workshop can be tailored for your organization, contact Ellen at 505-307-1700 (edowling@standuptrainer.com).

That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.
Ellen Dowling, President
(505) 307-1700