Tag Archives: boring

Top 7 ways to be a boring public speaker (compiled from personal experience)

Photo: Yesterday, my first sermon in Germany...
August 10, 2013 – My first public speaking gig in Berlin

Bad public speaking is physical torture to listeners.  I’ve done my fair share of it and received a lot of feedback over the years!  In the process I’ve gone from being pretty horrible at speaking in public, to feeling really comfortable and winning Speaker of the Year Awards at my local Toastmasters (public speaking) club.  I’ve still got a long way to go but here are a few things I have learned to avoid.

Sure-fire ways to bore your crowd:

1)  Start with something boring like a long introduction.  DO NOT thank everyone that invited you and share your thoughts about what what you “thought when first asked to speak today”.  Nobody cares.  People put way too much fluff in their intros.  Hop to something more interesting like a dramatic statement.  Which brings me to the next point:

2)  Lose their attention in the first 30 seconds.  30 seconds is all you have got.  After that, people start playing with their phones or otherwise switch off.

3)  Too many ums and ahs.  I was (and when especially nervous, still can be) a major culprit in this area.  If I hadn’t prepped enough, I would use “fillers” like ums and ahs in between my thoughts.   Don’t do it.  It is super annoying and will totally bore your crowd.  Obama does it way too much when he talks off the cuff —- listen to any of his press conferences.

4)  Use Powerpoint.  Trust me on this one:  you can generally do your public speaking with fewer slides.  You can often completely eliminate slides.  Nothing puts an audience to sleep more easily than stupid charts and bar graphs on a crooked screen in a dim room.  STOP IT!

5)  Too many tangents.  One of the worst things you can do is forget to stick to a very clear structure with your speech.  Make three points or less and then sit down.  DO NOT meander through your speech, recalling random stories and factoids. People will hate you for it.

6)  Neglect to chop your material in half.  Less is better guys!!  I sometimes get way over-earnest and try to fit in every little point I could possibly make on a topic. This is obnoxious.  People will never remember your huge list.  As with #5, stick to the bare essentials and be brutal about cutting the fat.

7)  Thank people at the end.  One of the WORST things you can do in a public speech is say “thank you” at the end.  It may seem like the polite thing to do but it does not add anything helpful to your speech.  It is a boring, standard, crappy way to finish.  Be dramatic instead.  End on a challenge or a rousing quote.  Surprise people.

Last thing: If you want to change the world around you, public speaking is a great way to do it.  Nobody is born a great public speaker so get all the practice you can.  And don’t be boring.

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How to Tell Anyone, Anywhere That They Are Not Funny

2477I’ll admit it: I am terrible at telling jokes.  I’ve got two or three reliable ones but even they fall flat with alarming frequency.  I always mess something up.  I forget the punch line; I omit a key detail; I forget where I am and tell a joke that only works in Sweden – you get the picture.  I could live in denial and make believe that peoples’ laughter comes from them laughing “with” me as opposed to them laughing “at” me, but my friends have disabused me of any such thinking.  They’ll try to assure me that I can be humorous in a very general sense but then they get a serious look on their faces and say, with all the love they can muster, “But I really don’t get your jokes.”  Now let me be clear:  I have not only been told this in one country: worldwide friends have told me one way or another to steer clear of the jokes.  As I have picked myself up and dusted myself off each time, I have taken note of how people around the world tell you that you are not funny.  Here’s my guide – region by region – to telling anyone, anywhere, just that:

Scandinavia

Hit them straight.  Scandinavians are fairly direct in their communication style.  “I don’t understand” is fine if you really don’t get it.  If you are friends with a Scandinavian you can be even more direct: “That wasn’t funny at all”.  Scandinavians are used to this as their brand of humor is, to say the very least, different.  And it goes both ways, they will tell you that your jokes suck without blinking an eye.

United Kingdom

A little more tact may be in order.  I personally think Brits are some of the funniest people on Earth and love the likes of Ricky Gervais (British version of “The Office”) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat). Some people really do not like British humor though, and it’s OK to say so.  Brits love apologies (sit in any British train station and listen to announcements about train delays or cancellations: The announcer will apologize for EVERYTHING) so try, “Sorry, I think this British humor is a little over my head, give me a few weeks and maybe I’ll pick it up…”  Of course, if the intent is to avoid hearing any more from the amateur comic in question, don’t invite them to keep trying out their material on you.

United States

Laugh.  Americans are a tough bunch to speak for in any general sense because of the sheer diversity in represented cultures.  But warmth goes a long way, so show some appreciation for the fact that your American friend was trying to be funny.  If you are from a more reserved culture, realize that while people in some cultures communicate through understatement (the Brits are a perfect example), Americans often communicate through over-statement.  They may say something is “the funniest thing ever” or “the most hilarious show I have seen in my entire life”.  They probably don’t mean it. Smile enthusiastically, laugh a little and then switch the channel to FOX News – it won’t be funny at all.

South America

When I lived in South America I met some people that I found really funny and some people that made me want to take a fork to my eye.  Naturally, the cultures I came across – Peruvian, Argentine, Uruguayan, Brazilian, whatever – all came with their own brand of humor.  Most of the humor I came across was delivered with high volume, enthusiasm and a lot of passion.  Trust me: You looked like an idiot if, after the punch line, you just sat their and scratched your head.  So here’s what I did: I laughed at everything and then, if I didn’t get it, turned to local friends and whispered, “Why was that funny?”  South American communication stresses diplomacy and warm interpersonal relations so if I did admit to not finding something funny, I first made sure my relationship with the joker was established and safe.

Asia

Bluntness is a bad idea in Asia.  Throughout my childhood in Hong Kong and the Philippines,  I heard stories of rude, clumsy foreigners and their embarrassing antics. Communication had to be indirect, polite and always had to allow for the other party to “save face” (maintain dignity/honor).  So you did NOT tell people they were not funny.  I felt that some of the best communication in Asia happened through careful situational maneuvering.  So, if someone is not funny, smile at their overtures and then tell some of lamest jokes you know in a long, agonizing sequence (explain them as being really funny where you come from so as to avoid looking facetious).  The original offender, so completely bored by your bad jokes, will likely never try to tickle your funny bone again.

One last word – humor, if culturally appropriate, is extremely effective in communicating and problem-solving across cultural barriers.  So if you are traveling or if you are meeting with people from different parts of the world, pay special attention to what they find funny.  A shared laugh covers a multitude of cultural missteps and blunders.  Often, the first sign that you are accepted by people is that they start joking with you.  So let loose and laugh with the people you meet.  And when you come across the obligatory bore with his tired jokes, smile, remember where you are, and tell him what he needs to hear, how he needs to hear it.

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Bjorn Karlman

Punctual, Lifeless Bores: The problem with time-centered cultures

punctual Jack is a dull boy
punctual Jack is a dull boy

I grew up entirely confused about the concept of time and punctuality.  I was raised by Swedish parents in the Cavite province of the Philippines.  On the one hand, I had an exceedingly punctual Northern-European father who was not a fan of bathroom breaks on trips and always wanted to arrive early to anything scheduled.  On the other, Filipino custom dictated that it was almost rude and certainly awkward if you arrived to social engagements when they were officially scheduled to begin.  It was explained to me that if an event starts a certain hour, you are still on time if you come at any point during the course of the hour.  Arrive at 6:48 PM for an event that started at 6:00 PM?  Well done. The Germans arrived at 6:00 PM and got to sit in uncomfortable silence while their local hosts finished food prep and scratched their heads in bewilderment at the newbies that obviously had not been issued the memo.

As I grew older, I became more and more interested in the difference between time-centered cultures (cultures that value punctuality above all else) and event-centered cultures where the timing of an event is less important than the quality of the experience.  Obviously no culture fits either mold perfectly but there are certainly noticeable trends.

A May 5, 2008 article in Thailand’s The Nation starts higher level when comparing cultures: “There is an explicit difference between the task-oriented business culture and the people-oriented one, which affects the way business is conducted. The former prioritises clarity in communication and equates directness with sincerity. The latter regards harmony within the group and interpersonal relations as the top priority.

Time and scheduling are also viewed differently. In the rigid-time culture, punctuality is critical. That is, business schedules and meeting agendas are always fixed as people are time-conscious and schedule-obsessed. In the flexible-time culture, strict punctuality and rigid scheduling get less emphasis.”

As much as I like my trains to leave on time and as much as I appreciate punctual, North American ends to business meetings, I’ve got to say that when it comes to what I ultimately value most in life, I am more drawn to event-centered or, as, The Nation puts it, “people-oriented” culture.  Punctuality is poor consolation if you live in a society where you are not encouraged to savor time spent with others.

Obviously, it is possible to take time out to “have a life” in time-centered cultures and one should not automatically expect meetings to start late in cultures that are more typically people-centered.  In fact, business strategist Godfrey Parkin claims that, “In a business meeting context, the sensitivity to punctuality is always less cultural than contextual. And within that context you cannot make sweeping statements about national cultural attitudes to time because corporate culture plays a major role in guiding those attitudes.”  He gives examples of being the last person to turn up for meetings he himself was running at companies in Brazil and Mexico while giving up on the punctuality of half the group at events in the US and UK.

Despite the exceptions and the nuances though, I AM going to commit the unpardonable cross-cultural sin and generalize:  Time-centered cultures slowly sap the life out of you.  On a person-to-person level, there will always be examples of people that are punctual and yet are fun to have at a party.  But when time keeping and punctuality become the guiding forces of a culture, I say you cease to really enjoy life. The siesta-taking, party-going, San-Miguel-beer-loving Filipinos in the fishing village I spent a few months working in several years ago, were far more engaging and happy than a lot of the time-obsessed bores I have come across in the world’s affluent urban centers.  I would say that as far as happiness is concerned, cultures cannot be seen as equal.  For your own, personal well-being, it pays to be aware of what your culture prioritizes and then compensate appropriately so you achieve some balance.  With that, I’ll wrap this post so I can make it to my book circle on time…

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Bjorn Karlman