How to Make Dry Content More Engaging

Let me guess: you’ve read all the blogs, all the books, and all the advice on how to be a better public speaker, but you still feel stuck because you think your content is boring and no amount of eye contact, gestures, or vocal variety will make your audience stop glazing over. Maybe you didn’t write it, but it’s your job to communicate it and you’re dreading the blank stares and the fake “note taking” (i.e. texting) from your audience.

I hear you! Some topics are naturally more exciting than others. Let me help you make dry content more engaging and interesting.

Have a Favorite Part

This sounds silly, but it’s so incredibly important. If YOU think the information is uninteresting it’s hard to convince your audience otherwise. Review the material and find a part you connect with. Maybe it’s something that’s personally helped you, something that aligns with your professional passions, or just something you think is cool or interesting.

Then, when you get to that part of the talk, say something like, “Alright everyone, pay attention to this step right here because it’s my favorite part” or “if you remember one thing from this meeting today, make it this.” Phrases like this are called “wake up phrases.” (By me. I call them that.) A “wake up phrase” is a verbal trigger to the audience to stop zoning and pay attention. It’s a way of keeping an audience engaged.

Wake up phrases also humanize your content. You’re not a robot reading PowerPoint slides, you’re a person. A person with likes, dislikes, experience, and failures. Audiences relate to PEOPLE not just content, so humanizing your dull content can make it sparkle a bit more.

Sell the Result

Presenters cringe at content when they think the audience doesn’t care and doesn’t want to hear it. Anyone who has ever sat through a meeting that could have been an email understands this. Instead, don’t focus on the content, focus on the RESULT the content will bring.

What is a shared struggle your audience has? A shared frustration? Focusing on how your content will solve a shared problem has two benefits: 1. It gives people a reason to care and 2. It creates a sense of rapport and understanding.

When I coach speakers, I tell them to literally put a piece of paper in front of them that says “Why Should They Care? So What?” If you speak for more than a few minutes without answering those questions, address them before moving on.

Replace Numbers with People

Speaking of humanizing content…we all know how important stories are when making content memorable and engaging. I’ve heard from more than a handful of presenters that “my content doesn’t lend itself to stories.” Sure it does.

Need help inserting a story? Find a number in your presentation, and replace it with a person. Like this:

 “36% of people have a better day after doubling the amount of creamer in their coffee” (completely made up statistic, but if feels true doesn’t it?)

becomes: “Let me tell you about how Emily’s day changed for the better after spilling a little extra caramel creamer in her coffee mug…”

Obviously this isn’t going to work in every situation, but if you find yourself listing a ton of steps, or explaining a lot of details, look for opportunities to insert stories. They give your audience a listening anchor to land on for a bit while processing and reinforcing the other details you’ve just relayed.

Need additional help? Contact EmilySchwartzSpeaks@gmail.com I’m happy to chat!

How to Speak Like a Leader

Why do some leaders seem to have the natural ability to inspire change through their communications?  Why do some leaders engage an audience the second they open their mouths, and some are so…forgettable and unremarkable? Speaking like a leader is both an art and a science. Before you speak to your team again, try these things:

Make it About Them

As a speaker, the focus is on the audience, not you. Your job is to inspire THEM, to help THEM elevate their actions and ideas, to address THEIR problems and fears. As you’re putting together your talk, pause after each new thought and ask yourself, “Why should this matter to them? Why should they care? How will this help?” If the answer to those questions is not abundantly and obviously clear – make it so.

When your biggest worry as a speaker is, “I’m afraid my message won’t reach the audience” and not “I’m afraid I’ll mess up, say the wrong words, look silly, fidget too much, say too many ums” etc, THAT is when you know you’ve reached leadership territory.

Say Less

If you say 100 things once, people will remember nothing. If you say one thing 100 times, your message will stick. What is the BIG idea you want people to remember? What is the BIG thing, the concrete action, the measurable step you want your group to take? Decide what that is and say it repeatedly. “Simplify” is not a dirty word. It’s actually the smartest and quickest way to elevate your communication.

Treat it Like a Performance

Think of a leader you admire. Does it feel like they come across as effortlessly impactful? It takes a lot of effort to appear “effortless.” Leadership isn’t about winging it. Before you speak to the group, plan out the message you want to convey. Practice it so you can deliver it confidently. Speak louder than you normally would and make a conscious effort to add vocal variety to your speech so you don’t come across as monotone.

I’ve never understood why coaches tell speakers to “act natural.” I don’t naturally stumble into a room of 40 people and communicate an important message. You want to be your genuine self, but the speaking version of that genuine self. That person appears confident, relaxed, inspired, and engaging.

Leaders report that their teams’ communication skills improve dramatically after a public speaking training. Reach out and schedule yours today. EmilySchwartzSpeaks@gmail.com

How to Host Better Webinars and Virtual Conferences That Aren’t Terrible

Look, can we just all acknowledge the elephant in the room before I go any further? Webinars have always been kind of dumb. ::checks over shoulder for webinar police:: Come on, how many webinars have you ever been to where you came away saying “Wow! That was just so inspiring, informative, and interesting on so many levels.” One? MAYBE two? That’s because webinars have long been the domain of the “thinly veiled sales pitch poorly masquerading as ‘free’ information.”

You want a conference? Go to a conference. You want a class? Go to a class. You want to disperse information to people in a fairly low cost way that’s a step above a blog?….IDK, a webinar I guess?

Key concept: they USED to be that way. Look, for now it’s what we’ve got ok? And they are going to be around a LOT more in the future. It’s been alright that webinars were just sorta FINE before, but now? They can’t just be fine. They’ve got to be good. We can MAKE them good. We can transform the genre, together, but we’ve got to do it right and we have to start NOW.

1. Turn your camera on I want to see your face

If you’re simply narrating a sparsely animated PowerPoint deck, you don’t have a webinar. What you have is a podcast. And that might not be a bad thing! Ask yourself: do I WANT my content to be a webinar? Is the experience enhanced in any way by being together at the same time? Is this primarily a visual or an auditory experience? Do I have anything to show or do I really only have something to tell?

I love podcasts. I listen to them when I run, when I drive, when I do the dishes. I download them to my device so I don’t have to even have a fabulous internet connection to listen to them. But if you asked me to sit down at my computer for 45 minutes and “watch” a podcast…..well, that’s ridiculous. If you only want me to listen to something, then please deliver it in a format meant for listening, not watching. And I’ll probably listen more!

If you want me to watch something, then show me something! Show me who you are, show me facts, pictures, movement, stuff, keep me watching.

2. Pick up your pace

Those in person meetings? Your only competition was me pulling my phone out of my purse and living under the delusion that everyone in the room assumed I was checking an important urgent email not scrolling through “23 Memes That You’ll Only Understand if You Grew Up in the 90s.”

Now? Your competition is literally every single thing in a person’s house or office. All of it. The entire internet, all the snacks, all the procrastination cleaning, and all the adorable pets.

If your pace lags, or you begin with a super lengthy introduction before getting to the point, you’re going to lose me, and you might not get me back. Your content needs to be relevant, clearly organized, and very obvious to me how it translates into something useful in my life.

3. Make people feel something

When you come home from a really great conference or seminar, what do you remember? Is it the specific knowledge you learned? Or is it the FEELING you left with? You know what I mean: that PUMPED feeling, that I CAN DO THIS feeling, that I’VE GOT SO MANY IDEAS NOW feeling. That’s what people remember. I hear you saying, “yeah, well you just can’t recreate that in a virtual space”…..but we can try!

We do that by showing genuine enthusiasm, concern, joy, sadness, whatever emotion it is that’s appropriate for your content. We do that by making people feel VALUED. By acknowledging their concerns and experience. By valuing their time and valuing their input.

Let’s Connect!

Planning an upcoming webinar or virtual conference? Let me help you. Reach out to me at EmilySchwartzSpeaks@gmail.com or follow @EmilySchwartzSpeaks on FB or Insta to see what I’m up to. There’s singing on there. It’s mediocre at best. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Selfish Reasons I’m Glad I Have Kids During the Pandemic

For the past 11 weeks, I’ve seen so many memes about how this is a great time to NOT have kids. And they are hilarious. I mean that sincerely. I’ve laughed out loud at most of them as I look around my disastrous kitchen and family room that looks like a war zone. But it got me thinking: what WOULD my days (weeks? months?) have looked like if this had all happened before I became a mom? Would they be “better?” Would I be “less stressed?”

I’ve done a lot of thinking on this, and I can’t answer for everyone, but for me, and my personality, and my set of circumstances, I think I can honestly say….no. My stress level could have been lower but I think on the whole, this experience would be worse for me without kids.

Hear me out.

Every blog I read right now talks about how stressed parents are, and yes, that’s true. This is quite possibly the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life. I’m stressed financially, I’m stressed physically, I’m stressed emotionally, and probably countless other adverbs I’m not thinking about. 

But as the 2019/2020 school year comes to a close, and I pause and contemplate the alternative, how would “pre-mom” Emily have handling all of this, I realize it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. For me personally, I’d be worse off without a 4 and 6 year old at home. Here is why:

1. I never felt pressured to “use” this time

I have a really bad case of “not working hard enough syndrome.” We’ve already been over this. I know myself. If I didn’t have two little people absorbing every spare moment of my time, I’d feel so much pressure to ride triumphantly into the fall of 2020 with 4 new book projects, multiple home accent walls, and maybe even a sliding barn door hung somewhere since I hear that’s a thing right now (is it still a thing? Dear God, please don’t ever let me turn my home into a stable if it isn’t still a thing.)

But here is what’s great: I haven’t felt that pressure. Any of it. I’ve focused on keeping my work moving along, keeping the kids doing SOMETHING that doesn’t burn the house down, and making sure we have food in the fridge to serve on the dishes in the dishwasher that have already been there three times today. That is enough to occupy all of my energy. I don’t have extra energy to feel guilty about “not doing enough.”

That’s not to say I feel no guilt. Oh goodness, there’s guilt. There is all the guilt. But it’s normal parent guilt. Let’s be honest- if I wasn’t feeling guilty over how many hours my kids watched their iPads yesterday, I’d be feeling guilty over some other dumb parenting thing. So I think that’s why I’m able to look past the parenting guilt so easily. It’s like there is this pre-reserved portion of my brain reserved for questioning my parenting choices and it’s currently full, but it was ALWAYS full, so while the thoughts are currently DIFFERENT, that receptacle was always present, so it doesn’t feel drastically unusual.

2. I have two tiny people to be strong for

It’s so easy to fall victim to the “spiral.” The spiral of anxiety and worry and uncertainty. I know the spiral well and I also know that I’d probably stay on the spiral a lot longer and a lot deeper if I didn’t have my two kids to “fake it” for. I’m so disappointed that they missed an entire portion of their schooling, but I can’t let them miss a whole portion of their CHILDHOOD. When I’m consumed with uncertainty, my kids are the motivation for me to find a way to cope, to deal, to sort through it, etc. Because they deserve optimism. They deserve the best display of normalcy I can muster.  I know myself, and I have a feeling that if this all happened pre-kids, I would have a LOT harder time finding the motivation to confront the bad feelings when they creep up.

3. I kind of love the holidays, both real and fake

To that end, if this had happened pre-kids, I’m not sure the past 11 weeks would have been peppered with so many celebrations, both big and small. Sure, we still would have had St. Patrick’s Day, and Passover, and Easter, and birthdays, but….would I have had Star Wars Day? Purple Day? Rainbow Day? Merunicorn day? (Do you even KNOW what a merunicorn is? It’s a half-mermaid half-unicorn. Duh. Keep up, will you?)

These celebrations are “for the kids” but really, they’ve given me some joy and some anchor points in all this mess. Selfishly, I loved having a thing to “plan for” even if it’s completely made up and silly. Had this happened pre-kids, I like to think that I still would have found joys to celebrate, “parties” to set up, but again, knowing myself, I’m not sure that I would have.

4. I’ve found different parts of work to love

Two of the non-family aspects of my life that I really enjoy are running and my job. My favorite part of running is the races and my favorite part of my job is speaking at large events and the pandemic took both of those away. At first, I was devastated that these two huge parts of my identity would be on hold indefinitely, but I was forced to find joy in other components of these things. In running, I can honestly say for the first time I actually enjoy running. Not the feeling I get when it’s done, not the feeling of accomplishment, but the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other, the sensation of being alone with my thoughts and the scenery.

In terms of work, I’ve realized how much I love putting good content together. Yes, speaking is my favorite part for sure, but I also really like the thrill of WRITING the content, of making it engaging, of researching and recombining it in a way that makes sense, of finding humor in things that aren’t funny, of finding the relatable parts of a tough situation and making people feel less alone. I can’t wait to get back to speaking to an audience face to face, but I hope that when I do, I’m also able to remember the joy in the creation, not just the performance.

The Toxic Optimism Weighing on Parents

Finally, I want to address the one phrase parents have heard a million times in the past 11 weeks:

“I’m so glad you’re enjoying the togetherness time!”

OK, look. I HAVE enjoyed the togetherness time but….I’ve also hated it.

There is a fine line between making the best of and finding the silver linings in a bad situation, and trying to pretend a bad situation is actually good. For all the good I’ve found this spring, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t stressful. For every party, there was a lot of yelling. For every engaging fun family activity, there was a lot of screen time. For every enlightened personal breakthrough, there was crushing doubt and worry.

I would have preferred my kids got to stay in school.

I would have preferred to travel to the conferences I was scheduled for.

I’m allowed to love my family but also wish I had time by myself.

I’m allowed to embrace the positive while also wishing this had never happened.

You can feel sad and happy, you can feel stressed and grateful. I’m allowed to feel more than one feeling at the same time. Daniel Tiger LITERALLY has a song about it. Look it up.

So thanks friends for listening. I hope you’ve been able to find the joy amidst the chaos. And if you haven’t yet today, that’s alright. There is always tomorrow.

Let’s connect! Follow me on social media to see how we’ve spent our spring (including the silly parenting/Disney/parody videos and songs I’ve bribed my children to participate in…)

I’m an Activity-aholic and Here is What I’m Doing About It

I have a problem. I’ve been accused of being a workaholic, and even though I fit a lot of the descriptors, the label has never really sat right with me. Because I DON’T feel the pressure to work all the time. I very much enjoy taking a vacation, or enjoying a hobby.

What I HATE doing is nothing. Especially if I feel I haven’t “earned” it. Don’t get me wrong, if I’ve had a day of back to back presentations and the kids have been crazy and dinner’s been made and put away I have no problem ignoring the dishes on the table and sinking down into the couch with a glass of the sweetest cheapest wine Fry’s sells and enjoying my night. 

My Problem

My problem arises when I have a light day. When I DON’T have anything particularly stressful or busy or hectic going on. I hate those days. I feel so much pressure to “use” the downtime to get ahead, start a project, research an idea, basically create the stress.

I do it with recreation too. No birthday parties scheduled for a Saturday morning? Let’s go to the Zoo, followed by lunch, followed by a play place, followed by remaining out of the house as long as humanly possible because gosh darn it it’s a beautiful day and we don’t get too many beautiful days and the kids are growing up and we need to make some magic.

Time Scarcity

I’m an activity-aholic. I have an overly dramatic time scarcity mindset. Much like people who lived through the depression still scrimp and save every penny, even though they no longer have to, I scrimp and save time, because I never know when I won’t have it again and it’s kind of stressful.

“Tomorrow, when I’m stressed, I’ll WISH I started that thing.”

“How can I say I don’t have time for XYZ when I had 20 whole minutes of downtime yesterday and I didn’t USE it.”

This is the constant loop of self-talk in my head. I’m super fun at parties.

(And I know what you’re thinking “what, so this lady is complaining that she’s TOO productive? oh boo hoo and your sad little life.” I know, we’re getting there.)

My Deep Running Thought

Then this past Sunday I was running a race and had a deep thought. Stick with me.

We were 75% of the way through a 9 mile race. I could see the route was about to take us down a hill. “Sh*t,” I thought. “If we’re going downhill, that means there must be an uphill afterwards and I HATE uphills.” I spent the next few minutes dreading how the uphill would feel on my legs and wondering why they couldn’t put it at the beginning of the race instead of the middle to end.

Then I heard a woman behind me say to her friend, “Man, this downhill sure does feel good!”

I wanted to just stop in my tracks.

Wise Words

Man, this downhill sure DOES feel good.

What does that say about me as a person, that I refuse to enjoy something enjoyable because I know something unenjoyable is around the corner. Why should I spend the downhill thinking of what’s to come rather than enjoying the feeling of my feet being propelled down the decline, tumbling into the pavement in front of me? Is that who I am? Cautious in my joy while I wait for the other shoe to drop?

I thought about this the whole rest of the race. (Mostly because I enjoy turning all fun things into metaphorical life reflections. )

I don’t want to be a person who prefers flat and steady in order to avoid possible highs and lows. I don’t want to settle for the constant hum of “busy,” squeezing every last moment of productivity out of down time in the fruitless hopes of possibly alleviating a tiny bit of stress in the hectic times.

My New Mantra

Don’t get me wrong, I’m NOT saying we shouldn’t plan ahead. There is certainly value in being prepared and using down time to get ready for stressful times, but I just  fear I’ve taken it to the extreme. I want to enjoy the downhills. Even though the uphills are coming. This year, that’s my new mantra:

NOT “what can I be doing right now?”

NOT “do I need to be getting ahead right now?”

NOT “am I being purposeful right now?”

But instead: “Man, this downhill feels great.”

Click below to follow me on Facebook for more! @EmilySchwartzSpeaks

My Un-Targeted Audience

A friend of mine posted this article a while ago that I have not been able to get out of my head. It talks about our need to monetize joy. Do you make something cool? Sell it. Have a talent? Get other people to pay you to teach them. First you’ll need a social media account. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and probably more platforms that I’m not cool enough to use yet. You’ll need a name, an LLC, a marketing plan, and a hash tag. You’ll need a target market that is super niche so you’ll get traction but also broad enough that you don’t limit future opportunities. You’ll need to build a personal brand that is unique but relatable, stands outs, but not too far, is curated but “natural” etc etc. Do you hate your talent yet? Good. You’re doing it right.

My Joy

I have a talent. I’m a good communicator. I am a good public speaker, but I’m also really good at taking things that sound complex and difficult and making them easy to understand. I’m good at teaching other people to do that to.  I’m good at finding the humor in stressful situations and putting people at ease that it’s not “just them.” I think good communication is the single most important skill for anyone to have to be successful at anything. It’s fun.  I’m passionate about it, AND I ENJOY IT. 

My Struggle

So I’ve been having this internal struggle for the past several years. It’s really more of a cycle.

Step 1. Think, “hey, I’m good at this, I should DO SOMETHING MORE with it.”

Step 2. Alright, well what is that “thing?” I already do a fair amount of local public speaking coaching and national speaking engagements, so do I need MORE? Maybe I just keep doing what I’m doing.

Step 3. No, you need A BRAND. Think bigger. Think more streamlined. When people say “what do you do?” be able to answer them in 1 sentence not 15.

Step 4. So who is my target audience.  I’m a mom, is it moms? I like making people laugh. Am I trying to be a comedian/humor blogger? I work with businesses, is my target business owners? Do I want to focus on content? Or services? I can’t be all things, pick one

Step 5. This is super stressful. Remember that article? Don’t monetize your joy? Right. This is why. Cause you’re taking something you love and stressing about it. So stop

Step 6. Be at peace with my decision for a little bit

Step 7. Hear someone, read something, see something that triggers Step 1. Process begins anew.

My Epiphany

Then, a few weeks ago, I had this epiphany. I either need to let this idea go completing or actually do something with it because it’s going to drive me insane. I always get stuck at the “who is my audience” part because all the blogs and fancy people who write books about growing an audience say you have to be super duper specific. Is your market moms? Then you better wear messy buns and yoga pants in every post and film yourself making “spontaneous” rants in the front seat of your car, and talk about potty training and wine and coffee. But then the “professionals” won’t hear you. Because, you know, you’re either a parent or a professional worker type, you’re never both. People who wear slacks to work don’t wanna hear how your kid melted down in Target the other day. People who want to hire you to teach them how to speak, don’t want to hear your stupid parody songs you write.

Who I Am

And then it hit me. The reason I’m having such a hard time finding out who my audience is, is that I don’t know who I am. There are all these pieces of me that coexist nicely until I try to put them in a nicely labeled box. Like I’m walking this long hallway of labeled doors and I just end up walking forever rather than pick which door to walk through.

F that.

This is who I am. I am an educator. I am a mom. I am a wife. I am a musician. I am a content creator. I am a public speaker. I am a runner. Sometimes I wear suits. Sometimes I wear yoga pants. Either way I never know which shoes to wear with them because I wear a size 11 and look like I’m either going fishing or headed to the circus. That’s me. Not the “carefully curated version of me so you’ll follow me on Instagram.” It’s just me.  It’s ok to be a parent who also works. It’s ok to be a professional who is also silly sometimes. It’s ok to try things, mess up, change your mind as you go, and throw something on the wall to see what sticks.

This blog, and my corresponding social media accounts are a way for me to connect with people, share my thoughts, help others learn to communicate, rant about things I feel are important. Build a community. Even if it is super small. Even if it is breaking the “rules” because I’m not trying to build a community around rules. I’m trying to build a community around joy. That’s what the original article points out. You only stifle your joy when you “do something with it” if you fall prey to all the rules and pressures of it.

Because I’m pretty sure there are others out there like me. Who are passionate about good communication. Who feel pressured to “exploit” their talents. Who feel pulled with competing identities. Other people who rather than picking a door in the hallway would rather just blow up the hallway and build a park instead.

So if you’ve made it to the bottom, and you’re not a blood relative who just felt obligated, that’s great. I heart you. Stay tuned for more.