Monday, January 9, 2017

How to Speak Without "Um"s and "Ah"s

Most people use some sort of filler sound when they are speaking. Often it is "um", "ah" or "er" though sometimes it is "and", "right" or something else. When it happens too often it is very distracting; even occasional fillers can sound unprofessional. One of the most common questions I am asked when I coach speakers is how to avoid using these fillers.
One way is to be better prepared. Fillers tend to come out when you are still thinking what to say and the thought isn't ready yet. If you have prepared and practised well enough your brain should not need this thinking time. But there are also some simpler, more "mechanical" cures.
Close your mouth. This solution is very simple but surprisingly effective for many people. When you have said something just close your mouth and open it again when you have something else to say. That way the fillers just can't get out. Leaving your mouth open in the gaps between ideas just makes it more likely that unwanted noises will come out.
Speak more slowly. Fillers tend to come when your mouth is ahead of your brain so you have gaps to fill while you think. Speak a little more slowly and your brain is able to keep up with your mouth, always being ready with the next idea without needing any filler noises.
Look at people. While you are speaking try maintain eye contact with people in the audience. Fillers tend to come more when you are looking in the air for inspiration, or looking at your shoes in embarrassment; they are much less likely when you are talking directly to someone.
In addition to these three techniques just preparing better and practicing will greatly reduce the fillers. Most people use them to cover the moments when they are thinking. If you have prepared well for a speech the words come more easily and you are never lost for words. Design your speech so that it can be delivered smoothly from memory and practice it until you can deliver it without hesitation. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan can help with one-to-one speaker coaching and speaking workshops for groups of people in companies and universities. He can also help to write or rewrite speeches. You can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Speaking is Hard, But Anyone Can Do It.

One of the most common myths about public speaking is that you need to be born with some sort of natural talent for speaking. The good news is that this is not true. Anyone can learn to speak in front of an audience, competently and calmly enough to feel at home on stage. But there is a catch: to speak competently requires some effort. What appears at first sight to be natural talent is just the result of hard work; hard work learning the craft and hard work learning each talk or presentation.

Watching an experienced speaker at work this effort is concealed. Most are happy to let you believe that they can just stand up and talk without any preparation, but in reality there is always some preparation needed. Anyone who just walks up and starts talking is simply drawing on long experience and has a repertoire of content that they can deliver apparently without any preparation, simply because the preparation was done a long time ago.

Anyone can learn to speak if they make the effort. Given an intensive enough practice schedule this can also be done quite quickly, though never overnight. In some ways having little experience can be a benefit because there are no bad habits to unlearn. Coaching business people to make important talks and speeches I have noticed that many people used to business presentations are used to looking at the screen, which might work in a tiny meeting room but looks unprofessional on stage. Someone unused to speaking would simply learn to look at the audience from the start.

So how can a random person go from zero to hero in the shortest possible time? There are actually two separate problems. The first is to build hours of speaking experience. This is something that is hard to learn by reading books, so you need to speak as often as you can -- preferably with a real audience but at least in front of a coach, standing up in the closest possible approximation to a stage setup. When you have a specific event to prepare for it makes sense to work on that content during this phase, but if there is more time it is even more effective to prepare and deliver a number of different talks.

Once you have built some hours of speaking experience the second problem is to learn your content and practice delivering it until this becomes very smooth and professional. You might need to work on the content to make it easier to deliver and I strongly recommend designing the content for easy delivery from the start. Keep it short, keep it simple; keep it structured. Very often people make life difficult for themselves by writing a speech that is difficult to deliver.

In some ways public speaking is hard but it is also something that anyone can do if they make the effort to prepare. You would never dream of performing a concert using an instrument you have never tried and in the same way it takes much more work that you might expect. But this work will be rewarded in the end because you will feel better and boost your reputation. Being able to talk about what you do gives you a massive advantage over other equally-skilled practitioners who stay in the shadows.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

Andrew Hennigan does both workshops about public speaking and coaches speakers one to one. If you like to talk about these options you can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Scheduling Regular Posts is a Good Idea

At the beginning of 2016 I decided that I would post one new story every week on this blog. Every week. Without exception.  More than that would be too much both for me and my readers; fewer would have made the blog seem less active. That much is clear enough. But why is it so important to be regular?
Creating regular content is good discipline for a writer because it reinforces one of the foundations of professionalism: dependability. Writing occasional brilliants posts at erratic intervals is much less impressive than delivering a new post every Monday morning. Any editor looking for a freelancer is going to be much more interested in your ability to deliver copy on time and take quality for granted. Other people commissioning writing work are also likely to be impressed.
But unless you have no other work to do and no other distractions, creating a new post every week can be a challenge. Sometimes on a Monday I am in some conference room delivering a workshop, or I might be busy coaching a speaker somewhere. Luckily there are some methods that make it possible to work around these problems and deliver a new post every Monday morning.

This is how to do it:

Keep a Pipeline of Ideas. Maybe your plan is to post a new article every week but you are not going to get a great new idea every Monday morning. Ideas come when they come and they usually they come in clumps. One day you might get seven new ideas, then for two weeks you have none. That’s why you need to keep a pipeline of ideas. Write down all the ideas that come to you and then each week just pick the one that seems most relevant or easiest to finish. Today, for example, this topic seemed appropriate for post number 52 of 2016.
Work on the pipeline. You should at the very least have an ideas file where you keep all your ideas for future posts, but its also good practice to work on these ideas in your drafts folder so that for some you have just a title, for others you have a title and an outline and for some you have the post half written already. When you have some time you can go through the drafts, bringing them all forward a little. Then when it’s time to create your weekly post you just pick one that seems almost ready and finish it.
Actively Seek Ideas. Some ideas will just come to you without warning and in these cases you should be careful to write them down immediately, before you leave whichever room you are in. These ideas might not be enough so you need to have some active processes for generating new ideas. One very effective method is to look through the questions on Quora. Often in answering a question you generate also the backbone of a useful post. This answer, for example, was inspired by a question on Quora. 
Once you get your ideas pipeline organized you will probably find that you always have plenty of unused ideas just waiting to be finished. Many years ago I used to worry about running out of ideas when writing a weekly column. It doesn’t happen. For every idea you use there are three more waiting to replace it.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

You can contact Andrew Hennigan for lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about this and other topics at 0046 730 894 475 or

Thursday, December 15, 2016

One Simple Email Technique Could Have Averted Election Hacks

When the Democratic National Committee's email system was hacked it was not through some advanced technology but rather a very simple phishing mail. You might think that people dealing with sensitive information would be extra careful, and indeed they were. According to published reports like this one in the Guardian, campaign chair John Podesta received a phishing mail sent to a private account. An aide, Charles Delavan, spotted this and forwarded it to a computer technician intending to flag it as dangerous. But inadvertently he typed "This is a legitimate mail", rather than "illegitimate".

Thanks to this typo outsiders were later able to gain access to Podesta's emails, which were leaked in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. Quite possibly this single mistake cost the Democratic party a presidency and possibly much more. Emails often have consequences but this one will end up being a case example in email workshops.

Yet this confusion could have been avoided if more organizations would teach employees to use redundancy in their emails.  This simply means adding a few more words so that a single typo cannot reverse the meaning. So, for example, if someone asks if you will be attending a conference you could reply simply "yes", but if you type "no" by mistake because you forgot the exact question then there is no way that the recipient could detect that mistake. If instead you write "Yes, I will attend the conference and I look forward to meeting you there." then several possible typos would make it obvious nonsense and you would ask for clarification.

In the DNC email hack case if the message had been "This is a phishing message. Please remove it and change Mr Podesta's password." then there would be much less chance of the message being misinterpreted. One-word emails are very common, especially when people are writing one handed on a smartphone, but this is not good practice because misunderstandings are commonplace. There might be some cases where it doesn't matter very much, but when you know that a message is important and that a misunderstanding could have serious consequences then it is wise to make that extra effort.

This is not a new discovery and I have been teaching the redundancy method in email workshops since the 1990s. One real-life example I have often mentioned is the person who sent an email saying "I will come visit you on Wednesday 29th March", receiving in response "I could meet you on Tuesday 29 or Wednesday 30 but alas not Wednesday 29 because it doesn't exist."  If the original sender had said just the day or just the date the mistake would never have been caught and somebody would have traveled to another city on the wrong date.

Redundancy might seem like extra work, but sorting out the consequences of over-terse emails will make even more work.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or if you'd like to talk about a workshop to learn how to write emails that are effective, efficient and safe.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Using Video Effectively in a Presentation

Video clips can be a useful addition to a presentation. Done well they enrich the overall experience and make the speaker appear more compelling. But when they are used badly they have a negative effect, so how can you use video clips effectively in your presentations?
Video Should Support Not Replace. Probably the worst mistake is to use video to replace the speaker rather than support what they are saying. A video that was originally designed as a standalone video on YouTube usually makes a poor presentation video because it is designed to be self explanatory and not need a speaker. What will work much better is a short clip that shows the detail that you need to show to support your explanation and nothing more. So if you are speaking about a movie effect a clip from the show reel would be relevant, or if you are explaining a new process for encapsulating single cells then a microscope video showing the process would be helpful. A complete video explaining something without any help from the speaker only makes sense in cases where you are talking about videos and campaigns. In this case showing a complete sample can be useful.
Video Should be Friction Free. Your video should start, run and finish without the audience bring aware of how it was done. At conferences where there is a technical support team the video might be separate and started by someone else on your cue; in smaller events the video clip must be embedded in your presentation file so that it starts automatically when you click to the page. Make sure that you test before the event to make sure that it works. Never rely on streamed video unless you are sure that the connection will work -- a copy on your hard drive is much safer -- and always have a plan B in case the video doesn't work. This plan B must not include complaining about the video. Replace it with something else or just move on without drawing attention to the problem.
Video Should be Relevant. It is tempting to show a cool video just because you have it, but always ask yourself if it is really relevant and contributes to your message. Otherwise just drop it. Be especially careful of popular viral videos that the audience might be sick of seeing. You can sometimes sense the collective groan as an audience recognizes the start of a video they have seen a thousand times.
Normally i would also recommend that video not take up too much of your time. A presentation is essentially a talk illustrated by images, videos and props. To focus too much on the support undermines your attempt to connect with the audience. There are exceptions to this rule, and a presentation about movie CGI technology will contain more clips than usual because of the nature of the topic. Usually I would also advise against starting or ending with video, but don't be too strict about this rule because there are situations where it works. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or

Monday, December 5, 2016

Learning from a Near Miss in Interactive OOH

Like the monolith in the movie 2001, a digital out-of-home advertising display stands all alone in a large open space at Munich Airport in Germany. But this is no ordinary display. Players from the local Bayern Munich soccer team appear one after another on the life-size screen beckoning you to stand on a yellow spot marked on the floor a few meters in front of the display.

When someone accepts this invitation and stands on the spot a Kinetic sensor hidden underneath the screen detects this and switches the unit to an interactive exercise routine where the soccer player does some simple exercises and encourages you to do the same, through gestures and written messages in English and German. The game is part of Lufthansa’s "Fit to Fly" campaign.

If you perform the exercises well enough – that Kinetic sensor is watching you – the soccer player congratulates you and invites you to take a selfie with him. The soccer player moves to one side of the frame and a dotted outline appears next to him, showing where you should stand. A final message suggests that you should share your selfie with the campaign hashtag.

Production quality is good and the gamified exercise looks fun, but where the campaign stumbles is in engaging the public. Though the soccer players on the screen are continually beckoning people nearly everyone simply walks past it, like it didn’t exist.

In one hour of observation I saw just two people brave enough to try the interactivity. Both of them were clearly lukewarm about the exercises and neither appeared to understand how the selfie idea worked. They both stood on the yellow spot, smiling, evidently expecting the display unit to take the picture from a distance.

Most people just don’t notice the display at all. Every airport user I have asked about this answers “what display?”  They never saw it. And the people who did see it were probably too shy to try. Most people just don’t like to be the first person to try anything and they demand social proof that the activity is acceptable – especially when crowds of people are watching. If there is a lesson in this story it is that just building a neat interactive experience isn't enough. You also have to convince people to play.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you'd like a lecture, workshop, coaching or writing about this or other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 73 089 44 75.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Three Ways to Make Office Layout Networking Friendly

Networking benefits employers because a workplace where everyone has a networking mentality, helping each other routinely, is more productive and has less conflicts. But often the physical layout of buildings makes networking difficult because there are few spaces where people can interact.

Redesigning your entire building to make it network-friendly might be out of reach but there are still many smaller initiatives that can be done to make interactions more frequent and more fruitful. Here are just three:

Create social spaces. In some companies the only common areas are luxurious sofas in an elegant lobby area, but they are meant mainly for show and employees are afraid to sit there. Create comfortable spaces around the building where people can sit and talk. If you are not sure what welcoming looks like visit a coffee shop. And make sure there are varied seating options. Some people like sofas, others like high tables, others like benches. Variety is the key.

Encourage mixing between departments. You might have some meeting spaces inside a department but most if not all should be between departments in neutral spaces so that you encourage more interaction. Lack of cross connections in an organization leads to polarization of positions and conflicts. People who work in different areas should be encouraged to meet to break down these barriers. Ideally there should not be any barriers between different departments.

Design lunch area to encourage interaction. Arrange eating areas with different sized tables to accommodate groups of two, three or many people. Prefer tables that are round or oval rather than long straight ones that make conversation difficult beyond your immediate neighbors. Install sound absorbing panels so that people can talk without stress. Designate an area primarily for lunch “singles” who didn’t come with anyone else but don’t want to sit alone.

There is much more you can do but if you can make just one of these changes you have made a step in the right direction.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking and other topics contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 73 089 44 75 or