Common Mistakes Speakers Make

For over three years I have been a professional speech writer. I started off using the freelancing site Fiverr, but departed as their rules were simply not worth the bother. (The final straw was when, a month and a half after I had submitted a speech and their system marked the order closed, they informed me that the buyer had reported that I had delivered the speech late. That was incorrect and I proved it with screen shots. They refused to acknowledge that I had submitted the order on time and threatened to dock money from my account. As I had already withdrawn all the money from my Fiverr account, the only thing they could do would have been to remove money from my bank account. I informed them, in no uncertain terms, that if they did that, I would file criminal complaints against them with the authorities. Since the buyer’s claim was ridiculous, and he is a police officer, I demanded that they confirm that he had been notified that his account, which I believe to be the case, had been hacked, and inform me that they had done so. They refused and I closed my account.)

During my time with Fiverr I wrote over well over 200 speeches. Some people asked me to write their speech, providing little direction. Others wanted their speeches edited. Most of those had to be rewritten because of the following errors:

1) Don’t forget your audience. You may have things you would like to tell the world, but the world may not be interested. Too much information can be as bad as too little. I am reminded of two clients: The first, a rape victim, wanted to share details of the attack which no one wants to hear. She wanted, and probably needed, to vent. But that’s why there are mental health professionals. When giving a TED talk about overcoming personal tragedy, you say what the tragedy was, rape, and then how you overcame it.

At the other end of the spectrum was the speech I wrote for a product launch. The speech I was sent to edit merely said what the widget did, what it cost, and how to order it. Hardly what an audience wants to hear. So we added a couple of case studies about how the widget had already helped customers and how, like WD-40, customers discovered surprising ways to use the product that the manufacturer had not realized.

2) Don’t use PowerPoint unless your audience has to see something to understand what you are talking about. Most people don’t remember the slides. I know of presenters who literally spent weeks preparing graphs and flow charts which no human being could possibly follow. The only time I use PowerPoint is if I need to show my audience something, for example, the LinkedIn page where you eliminate the option of showing viewers of your profile similar profiles viewed by people who viewed your profile. After all, they are your competition, so why promote them?

PowerPoint is great if you want to remember what it is that you want to say. In that case, each slide should have no more than six to 10 words. Don’t read them! No one wants to hear your read. Talk about the significance of the words.

Remember, you want your audience to listen to you, not to be distracted by slides with long quotes, funny graphics, or complicated charts with writing so small they cannot be read.

3) If you are no good telling jokes, don’t tell jokes. And if you are speaking to an international audience, don’t use any humor. Humor can be dangerous. What you find funny someone else, even from your own country, may find offensive. So, don’t use humor.

4) Start with a meaningful story. Parables are great! Personal experiences are better. Just make sure to tie the story to the presentation. Thank the people who need to be thanked, then tell the audience what you are going to do and then do it! When you have finished the speech, connect it back to the story. You have to go full circle, so to speak.

5) Finally, end with a call to action. There has to be a point to the speech. You have to want your audience to do something. Tell them what to do. But don’t turn the speech into a commercial for your products or services. That’s it a huge turnoff. You will lose your audience. This is even true for a product launch. It’s a little harder in that case not to make it sound like a commercial but a professional speech writer knows how to do it. If you prove that you are the professional in your sector, the sale will take care of itself.

Follow these five rules and your speeches should be impactful and effective.

When Hiring, Job Searching and Communicating You Need a Soft Landing

The following is based on a presentation I made to the PRO-G Networking Group in Parsippany, New Jersey.

PILOTS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO NEED A SOFT LANDING!

Hiring, job search, and communications all share one thing in common: If you mess up it could cost you dearly. A bad hire can be destructive to a company. A bad interview can be devastating to a job candidate. And amateurish communications, whether verbal or in writing, can be damaging to the communicator. So how can you increase the odds of success – a soft landing – and decrease the odds of embarrassment – an ugly crash? Let’s consider each separately.

Hiring

If you are using a recruiter, in-house or external, and they tell you they have never made a mistake, they are either new to the business or lying through their teeth. We all make mistakes. It’s called being human. The key is to know how to minimize those errors and increase the odds that the candidate, if hired, will remain on the job for a long time.

The first thing is to conduct a reference check. You want to speak to the reference. They may say the right thing but their tone of voice may send a contradictory message, and that’s the message that’s important! Letters of reference are worthless. They could be forged. Or, they could have been handed to the person simply to get them to vacate the premises. And, for the record, LinkedIn references are meaningless. The candidate has complete control over their profile and can reject any reference they do not like. Moreover, and this has happened to me, many people offer to write positive references in exchange for receiving one. And if that does not convince you, one person told me that he had the most references of anyone on LinkedIn. So I printed out the first page of references, told him to send me the phone numbers of the first ten, that I would choose three, notify him in advance before I called them and…I never heard from him again!

You want to conduct a reference check because the most important thing for a successful hire is to make certain the person will be a good fit with your corporate culture. You can only find that out by talking with people who have worked with them in the past. More on culture in a moment.

The opposite side of the reference check coin is the background check. Some people believe that a background check should be conducted on all hires. I don’t argue the point. Just make sure (and I believe the law requires it) that you inform them of the results so they can dispute anything negative. (I had one candidate whose background check came back stating that there was an outstanding bench warrant against him for a crime he had committed when he was four-years-old! The court officer had made a mistake when recording the Social Security number…!) In any event, a background check should be conducted for any hire who will come into contact with money, financial data, or any confidential information.

The way that I provide my clients with a soft landing, the only way I know, is to offer a six-month guarantee that if for any reason a placement does not work out, I will find a replacement at no charge. If the recruiter does not offer a guarantee, or a short one, weeks not months, that tells you everything you need to know about them.

The reason my guarantee is so long is because I believe in my process. Which brings me back to culture. Culture is not free lunches, being able to take a vacation whenever you want, or showing up for work at your pleasure. Those are all fads. True, they speak to a certain mentality, but not culture. For me, and I am stealing from Tolstoy, culture is how you think. If you will, it is your decision making processes. And the most important part of that process is providing a safe environment where employees can disagree with their supervisors and the boss without fear of retaliation. If a person wants to hire someone who will agree with them all the time, I advise saving money and simply buying a mirror.

The way the employer reaches decisions informs their culture. The same is true for candidates which brings me to my next topic: Career Counseling or, for present purposes, the Hiring Process. (Job seekers should note that the following is from the employer’s perspective which is important as it never hurts to think like an employer when you are looking for employment!)

The Hiring Process

Ask for a cover letter. If all you receive is a form letter, move on to the next candidate. If they could not be bothered writing a unique letter for you, don’t waste your time with them. If they forget to send a cover letter, you know they can’t follow simple instructions. If they can’t follow simple instructions, they won’t be able to follow the complicated instructions involved in the job for which they applied, so, again, move on to the next candidate. And if they do send a cover letter, and they can’t write a proper business letter, you don’t want them.

Obviously, ask for a resume. But before you read the resume, look at it. It will tell you everything you need to know about how the applicant organizes their thoughts and how they prioritize. How they market themselves will be the best indication of how they will market you. Everyone is involved with marketing and selling. If they cannot market and sell themselves to your satisfaction, move on.

Also, check to see if they understand the latest technology, Applicant Tracking Systems. Many companies simply scan resumes into their data base without a human seeing them. The bad systems, and you always have to assume the worse, have difficulty “reading” anything in headers or footers, printing on a colored background (black background/white font), and get confused by hyperlinks (for example, for email addresses and LinkedIn profiles). It should not disqualify a candidate, just raise something to be pursued in the actual interview.

In the interview, although this should have been done by the recruiter, confirm that they are qualified for the job. Then ask what I call personality questions.

The first “question” is not a question but an opportunity: Tell us about yourself. If all they do is summarize their resume, then they do not recognize and do not know how to take advantage of a golden opportunity. So why would you want them?

Next, ask them what is the accomplishment of which they are most proud. Then, ask them why they did what they did. How did they reach the decision to do things one way and not another? What you are really doing is checking to see if they can handle criticism, are open to other options, are willing to learn, and if they can think on their feet. Now you will know if they are a cultural fit. Their decision making process must complement yours. Period.

Since you are hiring a complete person, and not just a salesperson, marketer, controller, CIO, or whatever, ask them about what they are curious. You may learn a lot from their answer. Also, ask them for examples of how they have dealt with adversity. The advantage will be to the older, more experienced, candidates, but it’s an important thing to know even for someone with limited experience.

During the interview, pay attention to their body language. Can they read the room? Do they know when they are doing well? Are they animated? Do they appear to be truly interested in the position? Sadly, because of all the Zoom conversations we have all been having, this is a lost art. But non-verbal communication is still important.

My two favorite questions are: How did you prepare for this interview? and What do you know about us (the interviewers) and the company? The answers will tell you everything you need to know about what they do to prepare for a meeting and how accurate are those preparations. If they can’t do it for a job interview, they can’t do it for a meeting with a client or a prospective client.

It’s all about presentation, which brings me to my third focus: professional communications.

Professional Writing Services

The first thing about communicating, whether in writing or verbally, is to know your audience. Your presentation must be relevant. With a written document, it is best to get right to the point. The fact is, people don’t like to read. And if the document is too long, that may indicate that the author can’t prioritize.

On the other hand, if you are making a speech, it is best to start with a story. Just make certain that at the end you connect your conclusions with the story. In any event, tell the audience what you are going to do and then do it. Don’t turn a speech into a commercial.

I can remember (being conned into) attending a presentation where the presenter said he was going to tell us how to double our sales within 30 days. He spoke in generalities and then, at the end, he told us that if we signed up for his services on the spot, he would only charge us $999.99 and he would provide us with the specifics to reach the goal! To the best of my recollection, everyone walked out disgruntled, to say the least.

That said, you do want to end your speech with a call to action. Tell the audience what they should do to justify the time they spent listening to you. Which reminds me, always keep in mind if you are writing to be read or writing to be heard. There is a huge difference.

If you follow this advice, I am confident that you will have a soft landing with your hiring, job search and communications processes.