Interview – Training and Development Journal: September 1990

The best thing you can do for yourself as a trainer, teacher and presenter is to take the time to discover your passion about your subject or your job. What is it that gets you excited? What turns you on?

You may consider that the subject you’re presenting is technical and dry. But if you really think about it, I’m sure there’s something about it you can plug into and feel really good about. Using the energy and vitality of that feeling will allow you to be much more successful in holding the interest of your audience and having the group retain the information you’re presenting.

I have a friend who is the CEO for a company that sells tax-related benefit programs to corporations and incorporates insurance in the sale. For many people, that could be a dry, technically complex topic, but for him it’s heartfelt and vital. He takes the perspective that his program is really improving the lives of employees who subscribe to the benefits, and improving morale within a company by freeing corporate dollars for more employee benefits. His excitement is contagious and his company is successful. But some people might see his business as just another way to make a buck.

I have had occasion to attend classes geared at preparing students to pass tests for entering different occupations. One thing I have found is that most classes underline technical information by using “passion points” about the job for which students are seeking licensing. They also achieve high success rates by using information-packed anecdotes, and humor. People will remember what moves you and what moves them.

Don’t think you have to become a performer. Just find what’s great about your topic and enthusiastically communicate that element. Also think about what’s really special about you. Even if you have been drafted into a training position because no one else could do it, there’s that something about you that is great — probably a lot of things. Focus on those elements and feel great about them. Remember them often as you do your job. Maybe it’s your sense of humor or your thorough knowledge of the subject. It could be your personal warmth, natural authority, commitment, or willingness to do the job. There’s some quality — something you have to give as you do your job — something special, something you. Use it. Enjoy it.


1. Involve your audience. Use the first minute of your time to demonstrate who you are and make contact with your group. Don’t tell audience members why you’re special; show them with your behavior.

After you’ve established yourself, involve your listeners in as many ways as your topic and format will comfortably permit. Use easy eye contact and ask rhetorical and direct questions. Use workbooks that trainees can write in. Involve all of the learning capacities–visual, auditory, emotional, and physical. If you use visuals or charts, interact with them by alternating focus between them and yourself. This will keep the audience attuned to your message and to you as you illustrate your points.

2. Know your audience. This point may apply more to speakers than trainers. But even if your group is class, it’s effective to have prior knowledge of the students and their varied levels of knowledge and experience. When speaking to a group, try to be familiar with and to use their frame of reference. This can include current events, special language, and important people in the group.

3. Know your material. That may sound obvious, but if at all possible know it well enough to be creative and to interact with it. While teaching, I often discover important new methods and teaching points. Rehearse your program in your mind and stay open to new observations or ideas as you do. If your position allows any creativity, take advantage of the opportunity to think and rethink your approach. Accept problems as challenges and observe how your knowledge will provide solutions. Even if your program doesn’t allow much freedom in the way you approach the training, a creative attitude will add energy to your presentation.

4. Master your craft. Training and presenting is a wonderful profession. Working on your craft will only make it more interesting and allow you to be more professional.

Actively stretch your capabilities. Learn and use the tools of the craft. Your voice, your body and your frame of mind are your indispensable tools. Teaching and exercises are available for toning and improving them. Knowing how to warm up and focus each of these areas is vital to your success as a communicator.

Being prepared in this way eliminates most of the natural fears we face about being out in front with the responsibility to communicate. Find what works for you and create your own warm-up routine. Use it religiously. For instance:

  • Tone-focusing phrases can prepare your voice and sharpen your diction.
  • A quick body-check — tensing and releasing muscles while breathing deeply can energize and relax your body.
  • Assuming a confident posture while remembering a time of significant personal success, and visualizing the presentation room filled with your friends, can clear your mind of stage fright.
  • The confidence and energy you’ll gain is well worth the investment.

Whiteford’s Seven Samurai Speaker Tips

  1. Practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing. It not only relieves stress, but also allows you to support your voice for better protection and a more pleasant tone.
  2. Focus on feeling consonants in words. You can feel the vibration of resonance in them. This focus also improves diction.
  3. Increase projection by practicing calling out phrases to increasing distances. Support the call from the diaphragm. Visualize the vibration of the sound of your voice surrounding or penetrating your audience.
  4. Exercise your tongue by stretching it out (tongue yoga). This relieves vocal tension and creates flexibility. Stretch for articulation: place a cork lengthwise between your top and bottom teeth and read aloud, over-enunciating. Stretch the tongue to the consonant contact points (the places I your mouth where your tongue stretches when you form consonant sounds).
  5. Smile. A relaxed smile adds warmth to your voice. It’s infectious.
  6. To relieve butterflies before speaking, take a very deep breath. Then exhale very slowly, making a strong “F” sound. As you do this, visualize the successful results you desire from your coming presentation. Let nerves give way to excitement!
  7. If you tire or strain your voice, massage your vocal chords with an easy hum, making an “M” or “V” sound. Keep it light and concentrate on the easy vibration on your lips.

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