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Take the stage! Sharpen your
speaking skills and power-up
your presentations

A Q&A with Sam Harrison

Sam Harrison, author, speaker and coach on creativity-related topics and presentation skills, will be presenting at the 2013 IABC World Conference on effective public speaking techniques. Harrison recently spoke with Executive Editor Natasha Nicholson about his upcoming session and shared why it’s important to constantly develop as a public speaker and techniques for successful presentations.

Natasha Nicholson: Many of us in the IABC world know a lot about you, but for the benefit of others, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sam Harrison: I’m an author, speaker and coach on creativity-related topics and presentation skills—and, I’m honored to say, an All-Star, recommended speaker for IABC.

I know the challenges faced by business communicators because I’ve been in their shoes. Before shifting into full-time speaking and writing, I worked in a variety of roles as a communicator in corporate, agency and consulting arenas.

NN: When it comes to public speaking, what scares people most?
SH: People participating in my workshops give different reasons for their speaking jitters. Some are self-conscious about having all eyes in the room focused on them. Others are worried they’ll say the wrong thing. And others fret about freezing at the microphone or forgetting what they planned to say.

In general, I think most fears are the result of people having never been trained on how to effectively develop, prepare and deliver a speech or presentation.

NN: Your session will be about how people can become better speakers. Why is this important?
Polished speaking is more important than ever because our presentations have to somehow break through the ever-growing mountains of messages and distractions vying for the attention of our audiences.

Also, today’s audiences have higher expectations of presenters because they have greater accessibility to good talks. They watch TED videos and see other professionals speak online or on TV, so the delivery bar has really been raised in the last several years.

There’s a story about when one of Mark Twain’s friends confessed to Twain that he was really nervous over a speech he was to deliver. “Don’t worry about it,” Twain told his friend. “People don’t really expect much out of you.”

I doubt that comforted the friend—and it’s certainly not the situation today. Audiences have a high basis of comparison and expect professional delivery.

NN: In your session you will share what you call “Rise-Shine-Align.” Can you give us a bit of a preview on that?
“Rise-Shine-Align” is a technique I suggest to help presenters remember core speaking techniques that fall under each of those three words.

NN: Starting with the first word, “Rise”—what does this suggest?
When people are coached on speaking, they’re usually told to be themselves. That’s good advice—and certainly you shouldn’t fake it by trying to imitate someone you’ve seen at a conference or on TV. That’s a quick trip to failure.

But I take the “be yourself” advice a step further. I say be yourself, but be the best version of yourself. Don’t be the laid-back, verbally rambling yourself that we all are when at the breakfast table or in a coffee shop. Rise up a level or two when you speak—your audience expects and deserves your best self.

NN: Your second word is “Shine”—can you please describe that?
I urge presenters to shine with commitment and enthusiasm. Project yourself and illuminate the room with appropriate energy. In my session I’ll offer suggestions on how to overcome tension, replacing it with a confident mindset and contagious energy.

NN: And finally, you ask people to “Align”—what does that mean?
Know your audience—and align your content with the wants and needs, challenges and dreams of those audience members.

And physically align yourself with the audience during the talk by paying attention to audience members—as well as to your delivery and body language.

NN: Is this session only for public speaking beginners?
Not at all. I’m constantly around professional speakers, and I’ve never met one who isn’t continually trying to improve his or her skills—myself included.

Seasoned speakers, as well as people who have never stood behind a microphone—and everybody in between—can benefit from reviewing tips and tools of public speaking. After all, most speaking techniques are grounded in common sense—the challenge is to make them common practice.