Up Front Communication

Helping people and businesses through the art of communication

Want to write great stuff? Here’s something to help you get started.

I’ve always loved storytelling.  As a kid, I liked to record improvised “radio plays” on cassette tapes and would take long walks during which I rambled adventures to myself out loud, looking for all the world like the neighbourhood madgirl.  Later, once the glories of the internet opened up to me, I spent hours in online writing communities crafting group-written stories with other enthusiasts.  Even some of my geekier pursuits, like creating a long-lasting Dungeons & Dragons game group, were born out of the desire to have fun felling stories.  A big reason why I love speaking and presenting so much is because it scratches that same itch – I get to tell a good yarn while giving people information that can improve different aspects of their lives.

Freeflowing, creative storytelling play hugely improved my ability to create compelling presentations.  Great presentations always involve storytelling, and having consequence free fun with stories is one of the best ways to stretch and expand your presentation and speaking muscles.

I completely understand that it can be hard to simply dive into creative writing.  That’s the beauty of group-written stories. You get the boost and creative input of other enthusiasts, and when it is overlaid with a game-based structure, you get the additional benefit of a scaffold to help direct your story.  It takes some of the hard work out of writing and lets you play in the mud with the other kids.

Today, a colleague of mine introduced me to the perfect platform for creative, group-based, storytelling play.  I had a look, gave it a go, and was so excited that I couldn’t wait to share it with you.  It’s an online game platform called Storium.  This is a collaborative story game that combines the best of group creativity with light game structure.  I’ve joined it’s Kickstarter campaign and am very, very excited to play in a way that I haven’t done in years.

Once you start telling stories on a regular basis, you will find it easier and easier to tell them on the fly.  Stories are the backbone of great presentations, and the more you tell them the better you’ll be.  Give Storium a go, and let me know what you think!

Do you do play with any other type of storytelling?  Planning on trying Storium? Let me know in the comments below!

Editing Heavily

It is hard to chop content out of your presentation.  You worked on it, you had a vision of where you wanted to go and how you would go about getting there.  You filled that presentation chock full of ideas.  It was loaded with stuff that you wanted to share with your audience.  You crafted your presentation slides to go with the speech portion, and thoughtfully provided all your information on the slides, too, so that people could download the slides and print up your notes, thereby having a great handout.

But we’re going to chop that presentation.  We’re going to go in there with a chainsaw and mercilessly hack out everything that is not absolutely necessary so that you – the star of the show – can actually shine.  Time to prune down the material you are covering and get rid of 80% of the stuff on those slides.

Top presenters have the ability to make their presentations sound like free-flowing conversations.  In order to do this, you need to give yourself space to speak freely, off script, and have your presentation slides be open to digression as opposed to locking in your path with a series of bullet points.  This means editing out what isn’t necessary to your point. Sometimes that means editing with a very heavy hand.

If you are finding it necessary to pare down a presentation – maybe even deleting entire sections or topics – and are baulking because of all the work you put in, ask yourself:  can I spin this into a new presentation?  (Hint: the answer is almost always yes!)  I love this question.  It does two things right out of the gate:

1) it gives you to permission to edit away to your heart’s desire because you won’t be “losing work,” and

2) it lets you get even more done because you’ve taken what you thought would be a single presentation and then expanded it to create two or more new presentations.

Give your brain space to converse naturally during your presentations; for that you need time, and to ensure you have that time you’ll probably need to edit quite a bit out of your presentation.  Don’t be afraid of throwing away good content and good work, though; if there’s gold in them hills, mine it to create more great presentations!


Conversations with ourselves

People like you and I spend a lot of time planning words that we are to deliver to other people.  It’s impossible to get away from it, really.  Every speech is a conversation, every conversation contains mini-speeches, and this is true whether the speeches or conversations are pre-conceived, rehearsed, or utterly spontaneous.

We focus so much on the words we craft to say to others that we forget to spend time to have conversations with ourselves.

Today in the mail I received a lovely parcel of books whose purpose is to inspire, guide, ignite, and focus my work and passions.  They contain lots of blank pages, lots of open fields where I can scribble down my thoughts.  I opened the parcel quite late in the evening,* too late for me to be able to do any productive reading.  While waiting for the books I didn’t so much experience anticipation as benign curiosity; sure, they might be interesting, but really – how much could I expect.

Apparently, my expectations did not match my actual need, nor the purpose that these books are meant to fulfil.

I flipped through them, looked at pages with airy white space and modest text rather than pages densely packed with words.  I read a few of the reflective prompts at the top of the pages, and then picked up the whole stack of books and walked around the house a little, hugging them to my chest.  That was not the reaction I thought I would have.

What these books are prompting me to do is to have actual conversations with myself.  You see, I’m a professional talker – a loudmouth who spends her days broadcasting spoken and written information and her evenings working with people who want to become better loudmouths themselves.  With all the talk, noise, and words, I’ve forgotten how to have conversations with myself.  When I do spend a few moments in my own head, it is usually whirling with thoughts related to the external world.  There is a lot to think about, the things I have to do, the things I want to achieve, dissecting interactions that happened earlier that day or month or year.  This internal chatter is all about the external world.

The books, on the other hand, are here to guide me into having proper conversations with myself.

I’ve always maintained that plenty of introspection makes people better speakers.  But mental chatter about all the things going on outside of your head isn’t the same thing as introspection.  It can be easy for us professional loudmouths to forget that, and it can be hard to remember how to be introspective all on our own.

The package today contained books that will guide me to doing just that.  I’m looking forward to having conversations with myself again.


Shared experience is a powerful thing, so share a little in the comments section: have you had a good, thoughtful conversation with yourself lately? If so, how do you get yourself into the right headspace?  If not, what could help you have those conversations?


*It is later still while I write this, but I needed to get it out of my head and into text before the thoughts left me for the night.

So you are not outspoken…

There are people who come to me for help because they love speaking and want to get better at it.

There are people who come to me for help because they are terrified of speaking, because they are desperately uncomfortable being heard and raising their voice, or because their shyness has started to get in the way of their work.

Invariably at some point, the fearful or reluctant to-be speakers express the same reservation:  “But I’m just not an outspoken person!”  (Or, as often as not, “but I’m not outspoken like you!”*)

Here’s the flaw in that statement:  they’ve equated being outspoken with speaking out.

Take a moment and bring to mind someone you consider outspoken.  The most likely image is someone bubbly, boisterous, and probably a bit larger-than-life.  You may love them or hate them, but they are impossible to ignore.  They usually have bags of energy and say what’s on their mind, damn the consequences – and for some bizarre reason they can get away with it.

Now think of someone you’ve seen speak out.  They are absolutely impassioned about their message and what they have to say,** but that’s where the similarities end.  Some people think of a person with a soft voice and demeanour.  Others conjure up an image of someone with fire blazing in their eyes who simply couldn’t keep quiet any longer.  Others still think of a person who stood up with a carefully prepared message, notes in hand; maybe the paper trembled.  Sometimes the speaker has a raised voice, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes their words are strong and powerful, sometimes they are hesitant and tremulous.  In all cases, though, their message is heard.  Their message is important.

Speaking out is about delivering an important message.

It requires you to open your heart.  It requires you to open your mouth.

But it does not require you to be outspoken.


*I find the “I’m not outspoken like you” comment hilarious, probably because I have to muster up a pretty considerable amount of courage to don an ‘outspoken’ mantle.  It is exhausting work.

**That’s what makes speaking out so courageous; the message is so important that it becomes bigger than the speaker’s fear.  But this is a topic for another day.

Proximity and expertise: according to Seth.

You may be aware that I am a bit of a Seth Godin fangirl.  It takes a great deal of restraint for me to not share nearly every one of his daily blog updates here on my own blog (Twitter is a better vehicle for sharing that sort of thing).  Every now and then, though, there is one that is so good that I need to put it up here so that those not yet converted to Godinism read his words of widsom.  Like this:


Never eat sushi at the airport

or sleep near a train station.

Don’t ask a cab driver for theater tips.

Never buy bread from the supermarket bakery…

and don’t ask your spouse for honest feedback about how you look.

Don’t do business with a stranger who calls you at home during dinner.

Think twice before you ask your ad agency how many ads you should run.

And never eat the macadamia nuts in the mini bar.

Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.

Think on that last sentence.  Equating proximity with expertise is a common stumbling block in many industries.  It is rife* in professions where members believe themselves to inherently be Jacks-of-all-trades.  Librarians, for example, are extremely prone to this, so are doctors.  In these cases, the “proximity” is their professional qualification, and it causes them to look inside their own professional body for people to occupy just about any kind of role necessary.

Going for proximity, regardless what form that proximity takes, is rarely a good strategy.


*Rife, not ubiquitous.  There’s a difference.