Current Affairs

Did Obama’s Speech Keep Dr. King’s Dream Alive?

I was an elementary student at Calvert School in Washington DC in 1963. Our school was connected to St. Matthews Cathedral, a prominent Catholic Church in the city noted for the fact it held the Catholic Funeral Mass for John F. Kennedy after he was killed. If you go to St. Matthew’s today you will see a large circular marble mosaic in the floor near the sanctuary with the words, “Here rested the remains of President Kennedy at the requiem mass, November 25, 1963 before their removal to Arlington where they lie in expectation of a heavenly resurrection.” Of the thousands of people in attendance at his funeral, Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of them.

During those years of the civil rights struggle, St. Matthew’s was a voice for social justice. One of the younger priests in residence at the church took it upon himself to expose the Calvert School elementary students to the social issues of the day, particularly the Civil Rights movement. It was with him and a few of my classmates that I attended the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We heard numerous speakers throughout the day and to my young ears they were all loud and exciting. But Dr. King’s speech was thunderous and drove the already elated crowd to a state of rapture. Even though I could not comprehend the scope of the issues that drew people to the mall that day, I too was caught up in the magic of the moment.

As I watched the “Let Freedom Ring” speeches today I was stuck by how little and how much has changed since August 28, 1963. As Jimmy Carter, Forrest Whittaker, Oprah Winfrey, Congressman John Lewis, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama summarized, today, as in 1963, we as a nation are still struggling with issues of discrimination and injustice such as entrenched poverty, homelessness, voting rights violations, racial profiling and the high rates of incarceration of young black men, just to name a few. Of course, there has been progress over the decades as well. According to Census reports, the percentage of blacks who graduated from high school jumped to 85 percent in 2012, from 25.7 percent in 1964, while the number of black Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 5.1 million from 365,000. Additionally, the percentage of blacks working in executive, administrative or managerial positions rose to more than 8 percent in 2011, from a little over 1 percent in 1960.

In the last fifty years leading up to today, there have been gains and there have been losses, all of which have been met with considerable debate if not troublesome disagreement. But throughout our 50 year legacy of the civil rights movement, there is one thing we all agree on: Dr. King’s “Dream” speech, which I heard again in its 17 minute entirety today, remains the greatest speech of the 21st century. As most scholars, historians and politicians agree, it holds this honor because of Dr. King’s immeasurable capacity to inspire hope.

So how did Obama, the new chronicler of hope, measure up to Dr. King? It seems unfair to compare the two men yet we can’t resist. King was a preacher who turned the steps of the Lincoln memorial into a pulpit and delivered a sermon to many. He used parables from the Bible, metaphors that everyone could understand. He began slowly, carefully, keeping the pace controlled, showing little physical or vocal emotion. It was like watching a jockey hold back a race horse until the turn into the home stretch. Because I’ve seen this speech many times I knew what was coming and when it did, when he released the phrase “Let Freedom Ring” with the thunder of his voice, the power of his cadence and the surety of his eloquence, I was just as moved as I was when listening as a young child 50 years ago.

Obama gave a great speech today, there is no question. He too began slowly, carefully, building his case step by step with an even tempo, controlled body language and earnest facial expression. He began to build energy with his phrase, “Because they marched,” which subtlety referenced—at least in technique—to the “I have a dream” phrase.

But then he receded and pulled back again. When I wanted him to drop into “storyteller tone,” he became cerebral. When I wanted metaphor, he delivered fact. He seemed to be speaking one level above his audience, more conceptually, using longer sentences and denser themes. I found myself working too hard to follow along.

I wanted him to make it easy for me so I could be swept up emotionally in the historical greatness of the day. After all, this wasn’t a speech to the government or congress. This was to us, the American people. I wanted him to bring it home. Yes, he crossed the finish line with force and power, ending on a high note, but still I wanted more. I wanted him to step into the skin of Dr. King and breathe in the vigor of his vision, expelling it back to us on fire.

Too much to ask? Impossible expectations? Yes, certainly. But I’m a speech coach. And when the greatest speech of your lifetime happens to you when you’re a child, your fantasies forever exceed reality.

How will the New Pope Fare as a Public Speaker?

Public speaking is an important success trait for anyone, including the person filling the Pontiff seat. After all, when you’re charged with leading 1.18 billion people around the world, you must be able to communicate effectively to keep the flock aligned. How will the new Pope fare? According to some in the media, newly elected Pope Francis doesn’t get high marks for charisma, but his relaxed and chatty style will put people at ease. His power comes from his authenticity. He is sincere and genuine, with no bells and whistles, and that will win the hearts and minds of his listeners.

The good news is that if we look at recent history, we can see many examples of various speaking styles of former Popes. So in other words, there’s no one right presentation style that makes for Papal success. Rather, it’s about using your inherent strengths and talents to create a unique Papal brand. Here are some noteworthy examples of past Popes who give us interesting insight into how speaking and leadership go hand-in-hand.

Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) was a prolific writer and lecturer. Amazingly, during his 19 year reign, he explained the Catholic faith in 41 encyclicals and almost 1,000 messages and speeches. That’s an average of 52 speeches a year, or 4 per month. He was one Pope who used the power of the spoken word to engage his followers. Had his papacy not been during World War II, he may be a more well-known Pope.

Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) was a charismatic church leader. Andreas Widmer, a former Swiss Guard who protected Pope John Paul II and author of the book The Pope & The CEO, wrote: “John Paul II had the ability as a communicator to at once address a huge crowd but do it in a way that every person present felt that he was talking in a direct way to them personally. That was one of his greatest gifts as a communicator. His ability to express the human experience was helped by his study of the great Catholic mystics such as Saint John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, as well as his love of poetry and theater. As a young man, John Paul II participated in a clandestine theater group that kept Polish poetry and theater alive by hosting readings and plays at private homes during the Nazi occupation.” It’s remarkable that a man with a theater background would later go on to use those speaking skills in the role of Pope.

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013), was a quiet, reserved, and contemplative kind of speaker—quite different from his predecessor. However, as religion reporter John Allen said, “People came to see Pope John Paul II; they come to hear Pope Benedict.” Interestingly, the name Benedictus (which is where Benedict is derived from), literally means “good speaker” or “good speech,” referring to either one’s diction or intent. Since there were 15 other Popes who chose this name, it makes me wonder if these holy people realized how important communication skills are to their leadership success.

I wish Pope Francis well. He is leading the Catholic Church during a trying time, and his ability to powerfully present his messages and ideas will be vital to the success of his Papacy. In some respects, he’s not just the Pope; he’s also the Communicator in Chief for the entire Catholic faith. And that’s a big role for anyone to fill.

Add Alltop.com to Your Speaker’s Toolbox

Alltop
Alltop

Whether you’re looking for an intriguing story, an interesting example, or a new data point to build out the content of your presentation, Alltop.com is an excellent resource to use and one I recommend to my clients. Rather than a search engine, Alltop is a content aggregator. That means they collect the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a particular topic. In our case that topic is public speaking. They group these collections—or “aggregations”—into individual web pages, where they display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Think of Alltop as an information filter to help you quickly find great material for your speech. Recently I was on the site reading Nancy Duarte’s featured blog, PowerPoint 2013: New and (Mostly) Improved. In it she talks about the anticipated release of Office 2013 (scheduled for January) and the latest and greatest version of PowerPoint that will be included. She and her team have picked apart the software from end to end. They’ve looked at how PowerPoint 2013 has improved, and how it hasn’t. Consider it required reading for anyone who gives business presentations.

Speaking of PowerPoint, another Alltop blog that caught my attention was from Ethos 3 entitled Before & After: Five Presentation Tips You Need to Know. In this post they show “before” and “after” PowerPoint slides and point out key lessons to learn from each one. Hopefully more of your slides look like the “after” rather than the “before” versions. If not, this blog and site offers a host of good tips to ensure your slides are memorable…for the right reasons.

And since the holidays are just around the corner, I particularly enjoyed the blog by Six Minutes, Stocking Stuffers and Gifts for Every Speaker. People always ask me what to get for the speakers in their life, and now I have a great post to refer them to. Of course, this blog begs the questions, “What great speaker-oriented gift have you received in the past?” and “What speaker-oriented gift do you wish you’d receive this year?” Leave your answers in the comments section.

These three blogs are just a small sample of what’s available every day on Alltop. You can keep up with your favorite bloggers, stay abreast of the latest trends in public speaking, and use the site as a resource for building and delivering your presentations.

Have you tried Alltop yet? What’s your favorite aspect of it? Please share the creative ways you use it to increase your public speaking knowledge and skill.

How to Thrive in a Challenging Public Speaking Situation

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with Carolyne Stayton, the Executive Director of Transition US. Transition US is a resource and catalyst for building resilient communities across the United States that are able to withstand severe energy, climate, or economic shocks while creating a better quality of life in the process. Carolyne was scheduled to give a speech at the Bioneers conference in Marin County, CA, and she needed help with her preparation. Bioneers is a non-profit educational organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Since 1990, Bioneers has acted as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with nature-inspired approaches for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. 

Carolyn’s topic was “Resilient Communities: Mobilizing and Equipping Local Citizen Action.”

Here’s how she began her speech:

I’d like to begin by using the analogy of “the story.”

In our climate story, we are entering the chapter where the dragon has arrived. He’s breathing fire and scorching our crops. He’s melting the ice and causing tornadoes where they’ve never been seen before. He’s flooding our rivers, our cities, and our towns. And he’s madly extracting oil from our fragile landscapes. So where did this dragon come from?

He came from our decades of wonton consumerism. He came from our explosive carbon lifestyle. And he came from our blatant disregard for the laws of nature.

This sounds like a pretty bleak chapter in the story, doesn’t it? It sounds like a story you want to put down and not finish. But I’ve got good news for you. We are also at the point in the story where the hero arrives to save the day. And the best news of all is this: the hero is YOU!

My purpose here today is to give you the information, tools, and resources you need to confront the dragon head on, to slay him. To sauté him. And to serve him up at a pot luck supper!

The night before Carolyn was scheduled to give her speech, she sent me an email. She said she had the jitters and needed a last minute pep talk. I sent her a list of some things to do to further prepare her body and mind. Among them was to limit caffeine, drink plenty of water, sit quietly and breathe deeply, and visualize success before her talk.

Two days later I received another email from Carolyn. Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you so much for the last minute tips and for all of the wisdom you imparted. They really helped me. Among other things, I was very conscious of my breath all through Saturday. I stayed away from caffeine and I did drink lots of water.

But I do have a story for you. Fifteen minutes before my presentation, I was sitting on a bench in the sun, feeling my heart and connecting right through my legs and feet to the earth. Unbeknownst to me, my water bottle had tipped and had poured all over my notes AND the back of my skirt. Basically I was sitting in a puddle! I had to wring my skirt out, walk onto the stage, and stand before the audience with a skirt clinging to the back of my legs and wet underwear! My practice and work on the presentation saved me. But instead of being nicely grounded in my heart, I was definitely more in my head.

Apparently no one else noticed!

So to add to your book of what not to do (fig leaf, etc.) feel free to add “don't pour water on your butt”!

Geez.

Without your help, having the water incident happen would have absolutely immobilized me. Fortunately, I delivered adequately and from some comments, very well.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

There is a lesson here. Even when you are prepared, confident, centered, and in control, things happen out of the blue. Good speakers take these unwelcome incidents in stride and roll with them, keeping perspective, going back to the long hours of preparation and planning, and moving on as if nothing had happened. So the next time you’re ready to present and suddenly realize that you’ve just sat in a puddle of water, or that you forgot your slides at your office across town, or that your room set up is not what you expected, or anything else that could possibly happen, relax and rely on your practice, wisdom, and expertise to pull you through. When you’re prepared and confident, you can thrive in even the most challenging speaking situations.

Clinton’s 48 Minutes of Magic Add to the Oratorical Feast at the Democratic National Convention

It has been an oratorical feast at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week. Any aspiring or seasoned public speaker has a ringside seat to observe some of the best main stage political speakers in the world. As a speech coach, it has been delightful to witness such passionate oratory delivered via powerful performance techniques and heartfelt storytelling. Yesterday I wrote about Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, and Deval Patrick. If you missed it, you can read it here.

Last night, as I anxiously waited to hear former President Bill Clinton speak, I marveled at his “warm up act,” Elizabeth Warren.

Another great storyteller like those the night before, Elizabeth Warren began her speech by saying, “I grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class.” Within the first few minutes of her talk we learned a lot about her—she married at 19, went to college, had children, taught school and was “grateful down to my toes for every opportunity America gave me.”

Warren has a wonderful quirky style, soft and quiet at times, but more often quick paced and urgent. She asks a lot of pointed rhetorical questions, “Does anyone have a problem with that?” She uses repetition effectively, “No-one, no-one can stop us.” And she understands the importance of the applause pause. A highly convincing speaker, Warren tells us with everything she’s got not only what she believes is important, but what she wants us to believe. It was a joy to watch her work the crowd.

And then there was Bill…

After all these years of hearing Bill Clinton speak, I shouldn’t be amazed, but I was. Actually, I was blown away. How did he manage to give a long policy speech packed with complicated ideas and details that was also light, entertaining and fully digestible? Leave it to his folksy style to make sure we were clearly following every step of the way.

With his alluring invitations, “Now listen to this” or “Consider this” or “Now wait” he kept us on track.  He had an agenda, and I felt like we were on a long train moving from car to car, staying in each one just long enough to hear the facts, comparisons and contrasts before moving on as he methodically and forcefully built his case.

Clinton is undeniably the best public speaker we have today, and I wrote about him when he spoke at the 2008 DNC. Just as last time on this stage, he did everything right—from his conversational and engaging delivery, his irresistible smile and inviting eyes, and his graceful gestures and relaxed torso to his musical vocal cadence, pitch, inflection and pauses. He gave us the medicine—a meaty, informative and convincing message—with a spoonful of sugar.

I don’t know how Barack Obama will top this…but I’m sure he will. And I can’t wait!

Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, & Deval Patrick: A Slew of Great Speakers Kick Off the DNC

What fun to watch the speeches last night at the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte NC. I was delighted to see such passionate oratory delivered via powerful technique and heartfelt storytelling. The “story” has always been a strategic ally of political speech-making, and last night gave us many good examples of how it helps speakers reach right into every heart and mind to create connection. Michelle Obama’s speech was striking because of her ease and accessibility, as if this was just another of the tasks she did that day as wife, mother and first lady. She is a unique communicator—comfortable and personal—who elegantly used stories to connect to each of us. We heard the story of her early life, the story of her early life with her husband, the story of her early feelings about being the First Lady, and the story of her current life with her family.

In addition to talking about her life, she made simple statements about her husband’s accomplishments—nothing grand or grandiose. It felt like she was talking to us in the intimacy of our living room. And the section on why she loves her husband was to me the most touching and effective I’ve heard. She was truly connecting with people, not reading lines from the teleprompter. The speech was beautifully written and beautifully delivered by someone who, as people say, is “the real deal.”

Julian Castro told a great story as well. His was one of those “only in America” stories, complete with lingering images of his grandmother making the sign of the cross and blessing the young twin brothers as they left for school in the morning. In this story, every detail added to the impact. We saw his grandmother, the two young boys, and the daily morning ritual that happened many years ago.

I was also impressed with Castro’s ability to try a range of delivery techniques. You could clearly see the techniques at work. And although they didn’t always work for him, he gave it his all. I was impressed watching this budding political speech-maker. As he gains experience on the main stage he will certainly be successful. Even though he hasn’t perfected every stage technique, he has mastered one—the story.

Governor Deval Patrick was equally profound. If you didn’t have a chance to see his speech, I recommend you watch it now. Don’t wait! I had never seen Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, although I have heard that he is an excellent speaker. Along with the rest of America, I was riveted. Charismatic in the style of the traditional Southern Baptist Preacher, he brought it on—it was the WOW factor in abundance.

His resounding voice and intonation, coupled with his use of the dramatic pause, made for a forceful and motivating speech. He used the repeated phrase “we believe” as he laid out the democratic platform. But like any great political speech, it wasn’t just his delivery. His message combined substance and structure with bursts of gut-felt sticky phrases, such as “Turn to each other, not on each other” and “It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe in.” And he gave direction, as in, “Don’t allow Obama to be bullied out of office.”

He, too, told a difficult to hear story about the Orchard Gardens School and their struggle to survive in the midst of extreme poverty and limited resources.

There were many more speeches yesterday from key players and unknown citizens, but these three powerful speakers were in the prime time spotlight. Tonight we will hear from the master speech-maker: Former President Bill Clinton. I can’t imagine how he will top last night’s oratorical feast—but I’m sure he will.

Obama “On Fire” in Iowa

If you’re looking for an example of someone who knows how to create a fire in the belly of an audience, look no further than President Obama’s speech last Friday in Urbandale, Iowa. There, Obama launched The Road to Charlotte Tour with a rousing rebuttal to the GOP convention platform last week.

There are numerous best practices to note in this speech, but the one I want to emphasize is the use of his overall energy. Obama is the epitome of a public speaker who knows how to “create performance combustion.” This is a term I use often to describe how a speaker can bring an audience to life.

When I talk about creating performance combustion, I use the metaphor of creating fire. As any good scout knows, to create fire, you need the three elements of heat, fuel, and oxygen. I like to think that these three elements correspond to the use of our body, our voice, and words. And just as fire requires that each of these elements be present to keep the fire glowing, the same can be said about the speaker’s use of physical energy, vocal energy, and verbal energy. The combination of our physical, vocal, and verbal skills creates something bigger than any one element can provide.

To be able to create a fire in the belly of our audience, we have to have that fire already burning hot in our own belly. That’s what Obama showed us on Friday. Let’s take a look at how he used each “element” of fire to intensify our experience—to rouse and excite the crowd.

  • Physical Presence: When speaking, Obama was erect, leaned slightly forward, and made direct eye contact. He used facial expressions that varied from serious and intense to warm, smiling and uplifting. He used his gestures, hands and arms modestly.
  • Vocal Resonance: Obama used volume that came in waves, sometimes soft and conversational and other times driving and forceful. . He used clear enunciation, a range of pitch from high to low, and plenty of well-placed strategic pauses. But the most commanding vocal skill was his use of inflection. He powered out those last few sentences loud and strong, holding nothing back, in full force and fury. His voice quickened our pulse and pulled us in.
  • Distinctive language: He used concise sentences. For example, when commenting about the GOP convention, he said, “They talked a lot about me. They talked a lot about them. But they didn’t say a lot about you.” He made use of the world “you” (the most powerful word in the English language) often. He gave clear and simple directions, as in, “Don’t boo. Vote.” Go to www.gottaregister.com or www.gottavote.com.

People always ask me what it takes to be a good public speaker. The answer is simple: You have to be willing and able to create performance combustion—especially with your voice.

So, in addition to recommending TED talks and C-Span when looking for examples of good and bad public speaking, today I recommend Obama’s speech in Urbandale. Politics aside, you will see speech skills and techniques in abundance and clearly available for analysis. I watch a lot of speeches. Some make me think, some make me sleep, but few make me feel. This one was invigorating. Obama, the candidate, has returned, creating fire once again.

I’ll be blogging about many of the speeches at the DNC this week and hope you will add your candid thoughts and comments to my posts. Stay tuned.

If I Were Clint Eastwood’s Speech Coach…

Along with many people, I’m still scratching my head about Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention last night. I can only think that this is another example of what can happen when good intentions go awry. From my understanding, Clint’s appearance was unplanned, and within a few sentences into his speech, I could sense that his words were unplanned too. His unprepared and unrehearsed presentation quickly turned to rambling.

As a speech coach, I thought I’d give Clint some advice so that next time he is asked to give a speech on behalf of a candidate for president of the United States he knows what to do. But after last night, I doubt there will ever be a next time.

  • Honor the person you are there to honor: His near drunken style, the chair, the implied F-bomb and his off-the-cuff comments about “all political parties are the same” and “none of it matters” must have sent chills down the spines of Romney and his team. I would coach Clint to more carefully analyze the needs of his sponsors and the person he has been asked to honor. Ask them, “What can I do for you? How can I help you construct a message that is powerful and uplifting?” While Clint’s approach was funny, it was funny for the wrong reasons. He was there to support the team, not go rogue and run roughshod—like so many of his movie personas.
  • Honor the audience you are speaking to: Yes, he got a few good laughs. The implied F-word joke got him two, and my guess is he used the joke the second time after it got such a good laugh the first time. Jokes are fine, but using the F-bomb—even implied—is completely inappropriate in any setting, but even more so in a setting such as this where millions of viewers from around the world are watching a key event of our governing process. This was flat out disrespectful and, given the sincerely pious nature of the GOP running mates, I doubt they saw this as funny. This is a classic case of not knowing your audience.
  • Honor your opponent: Having a theater background, I’m a big fan of using props. So I was intrigued when I saw the chair on stage; however, I never suspected it would be used as a weapon. I should have remembered Dirty Harry and how natural it is for Clint to hurl gunshots at imaginary people! First, I would coach Clint to address the president—no matter who is in office—as Mr. President instead of his more casual use of Mr. Obama. Also, implying that any president would say such things as “Shut up” and “Go *#%& yourself” was both discourteous and highly offensive. While it got laughs, I suspect it was more “nervous funny” than true humor. A convention for a United States presidential candidate is no place for this kind of crude, inappropriate humor.
Old Man Yells at Chair

Today, I have heard various people defend Clint Eastwood. One person told me, “I thought for being 83 years old and talking off-the-cuff that he did pretty good.” To that I say what I tell anyone I coach: For high stakes speeches such as this, “off–the-cuff” will never get you where you want to be. You have to know your sponsors, know your audience, and know your opponents…and then you must prepare as if YOU were running for office. Your goal should be to have your listeners take action on your message, which in this case was to support and vote for Mitt Romney. After Clint’s speech, the only action people took was creating an explosion in cyberspace making fun of Clint and his (failed) delivery. No one today is talking about Mitt Romney.

But despite all this, Clint’s reputation will live on. He did, after all, manage to do what he is famous for: He made my day!

Whether on the 2012 Campaign Trail or in the Boardroom, Use Stories to Build Trust

Recently, President Obama admitted that his job as President is about more than just getting the policy right. As he put it, “The nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." Well said, Mr. President! For years I’ve been telling business presenters that stories are essential to getting your message across. Whether speaking to a large group, as the President often does, or speaking to a small gathering of staff, telling a good story stimulates a strong emotional connection between you and the audience. Tell a story and you entertain. Tell a story and you connect. Tell a story and you build trust.

Stories play an important role in our everyday communication. They can bridge the gap that’s inherent in many types of presentations, from the lively motivational speech to the serious executive all-hands meeting to the dense technical demo presentation. In fact, we’ve all seen what can happen with the introduction of a story—a boring presentation will come alive!

If you want to persuade your listeners to your point of view, connect on a deeper level, and most of all build trust, telling stories is key. Here are a few simple tips to help enhance your storytelling.

  • Be yourself: You likely tell stories every day, and these are the stories that have the power to create a bond with your listeners. When you share a personal story, the distance between you and the audience dissolves. Stories show your vulnerability, which creates an opportunity for trust. As you tell a personal story, both you and the listener share a heightened emotional experience.
  • Build believable characters: Who are the heroes in your story? Take the time to develop characters who are appealing to you and your listener. Create characters by using the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste), and explore emotional, practical or other aspects of the characters as well. Let your characters grow every time you tell the story so that they take on a life of their own.
  • Create a plot that sticks: What are the stories that you remember? You no doubt have your favorites; we all do. No matter how charming and well developed your characters, the plot is often the most memorable. Create a plot that has action and movement. Let your character face and overcome obstacles, teach lessons and inspire. When you develop a detailed plot line, your audience will never forget it.
  • Listen to the stories of others: You hear plenty of stories regularly—in your everyday business presentations; in community meetings; in political, cultural, and religious speeches; in entertainment and comedy; at social events; in the media. Write down every great story you hear so you have fresh material to draw from and learn more about content style and delivery.
  • The Power of Practice: Most people are not natural “stage” storytellers but are comfortable telling a story at the dinner table. That’s why it’s important to practice your platform stories before you go live. Write out and organize the flow of your story, and then practice your language, sentence structure, pacing and rhythm. Remember that timing is still everything when it comes to storytelling, so use silence to create dramatic, strategic and forceful pauses. Practice is the key to delivering a story that builds trust.

No matter what kind of presentations you give, take some advice from me and the President: use stories! Let them help you grab the attention and tug at the heartstrings of your audience. Let your stories ring out and you’ll connect with your listeners in a whole new way—a way that builds trust and respect that goes way beyond the podium.

Show Off Your PowerPoint Design Skills (and win some cool prizes too!)

Visual aids like PowerPoint are an important part of any business presentation. When done correctly, they strengthen your presentation by boosting audience understanding. In fact, research shows that listeners remember key messages conveyed with the help of visual aids more than six times better after a period of three days than they do messages that were simply presented verbally. The following visual helps put the numbers in perspective.

Retention After 3 Hours Retention After 3 Days

Tell only

70%

10%

Show only

72%

35%

Show and Tell

85%

65%

Do you want to show off your skills at creating effective PowerPoint slides? My friends at www.Presentation-Process.com are hosting a Creative Diagram Contest 2012. To win, all you have to do is create a visual presentation slide and tell them how you did it.

First, create Before & After Slides: Take a screenshot of a 'usual' slide. Makeover the slide with your most creative diagram idea in PowerPoint. Take a screenshot again. Write a few lines on how the diagram solves the issues with the 'usual' slide. Tell if your diagram can be used to represent any other business situation as well.

Next, create a short Tutorial (optional): Write a simple step-by-step tutorial for your diagram idea.

Finally, enter the contest: Fill in the contest entry form and upload your screenshot images. That's it!

Of course, your idea needs to be original. Their panel of judges (Ellen Finkelstein, Geetesh Bajaj, Wendy Russell, Dave Paradi, Elizabeth P. Markie, and Doug Serrano) will decide the final grand prize winners. You can also get your friends to vote on your submission and win the prize for the most popular entry.

The contest started Wednesday, May 23rd and runs until Wednesday, June 20th. You could win one of over a dozen prizes, including 750+ PowerPoint Charts & Diagrams (CEO Pack) or iSpringPro Professional PowerPoint to Flash Conversion. So get your creative ideas flowing and start designing. You could be the lucky grand prize winner! Get your entry form and full contest details here.

Politics and Debate Performance: What to do in a crowded field

What do you do when you are one of twelve panel members given just one minute to answer questions in an hour and a half political debate? Which sound bites do you perfect? How do you deliver with just the right amount of information so when you do get the spotlight you perform well? These were the challenges twelve candidates running for the recently redrawn 2nd Congressional District of California faced at a debate held at Dominican University in San Rafael, CA last week.

With such a large group, the debate organizers decided to forego classic debate structure in favor of a format where panelists were given one minute to answer each of four questions. There were no opening statements, but there were closing statements—also delivered in one minute. Unfortunately, the need for such rigid structure can kill not only the energy and effectiveness of a debate, but also the expectations of the audience. And I hate to say it, but that’s exactly what happened here.

So what can you do if you find yourself in this situation? As I watched each candidate use the allotted time, I jotted down a few notes. Here are some do’s and don’ts that stood out and are especially important to consider in such a tightly controlled debate.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t take too much time for chit chat. If you only have one minute you can’t afford the time to thank everyone in attendance, even though it’s a nice thing to do. Instead, get right to the point.
  • Don’t use fillers such as um, uh, etc. They take up too much time and make you look inexperienced, less organized, and less in control.
  • Don’t yell at the audience. Strong volume and heightened inflection are great skills to employ when you want to show your passion and commitment, but if you go over the top you will alienate your audience.
  • Don’t end your sentences on a high pitch as if you were asking a question. It makes you sound lightweight and unconvincing.
  • Don’t read your answers. This is a very boring strategy for the audience to endure, especially in an already boring format.
  • Don’t use too many “I” examples. Keep in mind the power of the word “you,” especially since you are trying to win the hearts and minds of voters.

Do’s:

  • Do identify your top priorities, and then plan and organize your message points.
  • Do practice the answers to the questions you are most likely to receive—and use a stopwatch.
  • Do start with a shocking statistic. It’s effective and you will stand out.
  • Do be smooth, articulate, and sophisticated. Tick off your three key points with precision. Add a personal example for a nice warm touch.
  • Do be original rather than just repeat what everyone else has said. Differentiate your message by your experience, philosophy, values, and record.
  • Do plan “spontaneous moments” like a comedian plans a monologue. If you have a few quips planned you can deliver them when the moment arises.

Just for fun, here are a few answers candidates gave to the question, “What sets you apart from others on the panel?” Keep in mind this is Northern California!

  • “What sets me aside is …”
  • I’m a marriage and family therapist. Our government is corrupt. The 1% is addicted and the 99% are enablers. I’m the only one who will go to congress and call this out.”
  • “Where I come from cannabis is a billion dollar economy. Let’s legalize cannabis and build the Emerald City.”
  • “I represent the hopeless because I’m hopeless and my campaign is hopeless.”

Even though I was entertained by such comments, in the end it was a boring night. I left feeling that the speakers were not eloquent or exciting enough to overcome the tight structure. The audience expected passion, action and even controversy. Unfortunately, there was no way around the monotony of this strict “debate” structure.

After each question, the moderator said, “You know the drill.” And we did. We were counting sheep, moving our attention hypnotically from one speaker to the next until it lulled us to sleep. What would have made a difference in this debate? Coffee, vodka, cannabis? If this is the Emerald City, then please lead me back to the Yellow Brick Road so I can get back to Kansas!

Wednesday for Women: Public Speaking Lessons from Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep just won an Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the movie The Iron Lady, and in my view she deserves an equally prestigious award for her introduction of Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Women in the World Summit 2012 at Lincoln Center in New York City. I’m a big fan of Meryl Streep and an even bigger supporter of our Secretary of State. The combination of these two women on stage gave us a powerful example of how different styles and backgrounds can yield equally successful presentations.

Doing a formal introductory speech, like what Meryl did, can be challenging. So let’s look at three areas of Meryl’s speech and have a seasoned actor show us how it’s done:

  • Image: With her bright red jacket and those fabulous black reading glasses, Meryl’s image had impact. Best of all, she didn’t just look great; she used her outfit as a prop, referring to the “put downs” of Hillary’s pantsuits over the years. She twirled around and showed us her jacket, poking fun of those who poked fun at Hillary.
  • Content: Meryl’s captivating message is rich with what we call “touch points” or “rhetorical devices.” These are the stories, examples, metaphors, facts, and humor that make up the core content of a speech, and that make it interesting and inspiring. Meryl’s speech was funny and moving because it was packed with plenty of twists and surprises, contained humorous, colorful stories, and teemed with respect and sentiment all while making playful jokes about Hillary.

For example, Meryl began by comparing herself and her early life to Hillary, which she says that every living American woman her age has done. She goes on to compare the two women’s experiences at Yale, where their similar paths diverged. “While I was a cheerleader, she was the president of the student government,” says Meryl. “Where I was the lead in all three musicals, people who know her tell me she should never be encouraged to sing.” But then she got serious and said, “Regardless, she has turned out to be the voice of our generation. I’m an actress, and she is the real deal.”

Meryl went on to describe Hillary’s constant fight for women worldwide to stop criminal behavior, seek justice, and provide support. She revealed things not everyone may know about Hillary, such as how when travelling on diplomatic missions she meets not just the country’s leaders, but also the leaders of the local grassroots women’s movements. It’s something that’s automatically on her schedule.

And let’s not forget that brilliant ending that took everyone by surprise when Meryl reached below the podium, pulled out her Oscar, and said, “This is what you get when you play a world leader.” The audience went wild. “But if you want a real world leader and you’re really, really lucky, this is what you get,” Meryl continued, as she directed everyone’s attention to Hillary’s entrance on stage. This was a model introductory speech.

  • Delivery: Good delivery does not call attention to itself. It gets the job done by clearly expressing the message without distraction. Meryl’s delivery combined a certain degree of formality with the most charming attributes of good conversation. She was a bit dramatic—even showing off at times—but she was also direct, spontaneous, and animated. Most of all, she looked like she was thoroughly enjoying every minute with her erect posture,  big smile, confident eye contact, and that charming way she “sighed” so enjoyably at her own jokes.

She controlled the timing, rhythm, and momentum of the speech as skillfully as only an experienced public speaker—or actor—can. And while she had her written speech in front of her, she didn’t read it verbatim. She ad-libbed and took time to react to her message as well as to the responses of her audience. And even when she lost her place and briefly stumbled, she recovered with grace and slipped back into the lighthearted flow—and the limelight.

Public Speaking at its Best

Maybe it takes an actress playing a public speaker to be able to give a powerful introduction to one of the world’s great leaders. Actor or not, Meryl wrote a wining speech, delivered it with heart and soul, and accomplished what she set out to do: She made us realize anew why all American citizens, not just women, are fortunate to have Hillary Clinton traveling the world, leading critical diplomatic initiatives on our behalf. Hillary stands out as a leader, a role model and one of the greatest advocates for women in recent history.

Meryl was right. You get an Oscar for playing a world leader, but you get an adoring and appreciative public who deeply understands the importance of your mission when you are one.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive valuable tips, techniques and updates on the latest news and events from DeFinis Communications.

Three Women, One Mission: Peace

In 1903, two years after the Nobel Foundation was established, a Nobel Prize was awarded to a woman, Marie Curie, for the first time. Women have been winning Nobel Prizes ever since, but in very small numbers compared to their male colleagues. But is the trend possibly turning? It could be, because this year, not one, but three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman. While they were awarded the prize jointly, each stands out on her own as a true inspiration for women everywhere. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Liberian president

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first and only female elected head of state. Over the years, she established a reputation as a firm financial politician, which earned her the nickname “Iron Lady.” When she was sworn in as Liberia’s first female head of state in 2006, the country was emerging from a 14-year civil war. Millions had lost their lives and the country’s infrastructure was in shambles.

Despite the obstacles, Sirleaf found a way to unite a country that had only known destruction. She secured debt relief for Liberia in excess of $4 billion. She also managed to convince investors that it was worth investing in a country that was small yet rich in natural resources. Additionally, under Sirleaf’s leadership, the export ban on diamonds and precious wood was lifted. In short, she gave people a new vision of the future.

Leymah Roberta Gbowee: Liberian peace activist

Leymah Gbowee was 17 when war broke out in Liberia in 1989. She had just finished high school and was about to begin studying medicine when her community fell apart and her dreams got put on hold. When the warlord Charles Taylor became president in 1997 and the brutal conflict in Liberia escalated, Gbowee decided she would fight for peace with the women of her country. She quickly found supporters for her cause, with both Christians and Muslims joining her at rallies and peaceful demonstrations.

In 2002 Gbowee founded the movement Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. In 2004 she was appointed to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed to foster dialogue and stability. Two years later she became an advisor to the Women Peace and Security Network. Today she leads the organization from its headquarters in Ghana’s capital, Accra, where she lives with her family.

Tawakkul Karman: Yemeni human rights and democracy activist

Tawakkul Karman is one of the most energetic and courageous democracy and human rights activists in Yemen. Men and women alike are counted among her followers, some of whom call her the “Mother of the Revolution.”  Since 2007 Karman has organized weekly protests outside government buildings in the capital Sanaa. As a result, she has been arrested by security forces and jailed numerous times.

As a blogger and co-founder of the organization Journalists Without Chains, Karman supports the interests of fellow women. For years she has called for women to fill at least one-third of all public jobs in Yemen. That’s a huge goal for the country, considering that Yemen is extremely conservative and women are often treated as second-class citizens.

Upon hearing that she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she described it as a victory for the Arab democracy movement as a whole. She called it a signal that the era of authoritarian rulers was coming to an end in the region.

*****

I applaud these women and am humbled by their sacrifices and actions. They are true heroes, and their work and words are an inspiration for women everywhere.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive valuable tips, techniques and updates on the latest news and events from DeFinis Communications.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011): It’s Time to Pay Tribute to a Great Visionary

Along with the rest of the world, I am mourning the loss of Steve Jobs today. This morning at breakfast I was thinking about the services that will be held to honor his life and wondered who would be giving the eulogy. Imagine being selected to give the eulogy at the funeral services of someone who has been compared to Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney—imagine being asked to give the final tribute to an icon whose technological vision ushered in a new era of innovation.    While giving the eulogy will be a great honor, I’m sure the speaker, whoever it is, will quickly realize that he/she is not only eulogizing a great man, but will be doing so using the communication medium that Jobs perfected. Never before will Marshall McLuhan’s dictate “the medium is the message” be more in evidence.

Whoever gives the eulogy has big shoes to fill in both what they say to honor Jobs’ gifts and talents throughout the course of his life, and in how they say it. I hope they model the techniques that Jobs so effortlessly used, such as choosing those powerful signature words and phrases he loved, like “magical,” “boom,” and “one more thing.” I hope they organize the eulogy content around one key theme. Most of all, I hope they use elegant delivery skills that even Jobs would be proud of. These are the skills I highlighted in my August 25th blog about Jobs when he resigned. Of course, it would also be fitting if the speaker sparks a wide and generous smile, has a delightful twinkle in his/her eye, and uses comfortable and natural gestures—just like Jobs always did.

It’s no secret that Jobs was known as a challenging and difficult personality, and often not a respectful or skillful communicator. There are countless examples of his brash and impatient communication style, and stories are pouring out today in a loving and forgiving way from people who had first-hand experience with his berating and belittling barrages. What I find so interesting, though, is that he was such a masterful public speaker and never showed this side of himself on stage. Given his proclivity to explode the way he did, it is a tribute to his self-control that he had such discipline in front of large groups. Granted, he practiced a lot, but perhaps he knew more was at stake for Apple in these highly public performances.

So if the eulogy were up to me, I’d talk about the Steve Jobs whose brilliant mind led him to create wildly innovative products but who also let his heart guide Apple, like when he agreed to put a tribute to George Harrison on the company’s home page after Harrison’s death. I’d talk about the Steve Jobs who inspired and led young and old alike—the charismatic technology evangelist who spoke like a prophet and gave us products we didn’t even know we needed. But most of all, I’d talk about the Steve Jobs who gave us the greatest gift of all—the gift of knowing that anyone can change the world.

Steve Jobs, One of Today’s Great Presenters, Steps Down from the Main Stage

Anyone in the public speaking business has likely paused at the news that Steve Jobs has resigned from the iconic Apple Computer. We all knew it was coming, given the serious health issues he has battled since being diagnosed with treatable pancreatic cancer in 2004. But it is a surprise nonetheless. His career has been nothing short of inspiring. Jobs had been named the most important person in personal technology at the start of his career in 1978, and then again at the end in 2011. Over the years, he has brought a wealth of innovative products to the world that have touched and changed nearly everyone’s life. And though his primary goal wasn’t to inspire presenters, that’s exactly what he did, giving us all a solid roadmap to follow. As sad as having him step down from his role at Apple is, the thought that he will no longer be giving his exciting keynote presentations is even sadder.

I have analyzed Jobs’ speeches many times over the years, and while I have never had the privilege of working with him, I admire that he is such a thoughtful and skillful practitioner of the best public speaking principles. He embodies the core success principles top notch speakers are known for, and he seemingly follows the DeFinis Communications methodology to a T, such as:

Delivery Skills: Jobs has excellent physical presence skills (eye contact, facial expression, posture, gestures, and movement), highly developed vocal resonance (uses his voice carefully, clear pronunciation and enunciation, and effective use of pitch, inflection, rate of speech, and strategic pauses), and a masterful use of distinctive language (uses short sentences never more than eight to thirteen words, chooses exhilarating words that are both powerful and emotional, and keeps his language clean of fillers and unintentional slang). He has the talent for drama, clearly conveying his passion.

Content Development: Jobs clearly understands his audience, and as such, he respects the importance of structuring his presentation’s content for each group he addresses. He defines his purpose and states it clearly and succinctly. He develops a clear beginning, middle, and end. He begins with a strong hook, states his purpose, and then lays out the agenda of his three to five main points. He develops the body of his presentation with a series of touch points, including analogies, metaphors, stories, data, statistics, and humor. And he uses thoughtful, sequential transitions, and ends with a summary, thank you, and final thought—“one last thing.” It’s textbook perfect in every way.

Visual Aids: Jobs’ visual aids are the opposite of the dense eye charts we so often see in typical technical presentations. His slides are image based with large colorful images, one big statistic, or one powerful graphic. He uses these images to augment his key point, not to overshadow it or mute his performance. His slides are exciting and dynamic visual entertainment, with a powerful point.

The Bar Has Been Raised

Jobs has consistently been one of the most powerful and best role models for business speakers in high tech. And he makes public speaking look easy, seamless, and enjoyable. But this is not due to a natural talent. I’ve heard that he works hard to prepare and even harder to rehearse so that every moment is well coordinated. He spends days, not mere hours, in preparation for one of his large main stage product announcements. Indeed, he has set the bar high.

In the only commencement speech he ever gave at Stanford University six years ago, Jobs told the newly minted graduates, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” That statement is so true for public speakers. While it’s great to use Steve Jobs as a role model for excellent presentation technique, what made him really great was that his technique allowed him and his message to shine through. And he would be the first person to tell you to model his skill, but to develop you own personal spirit and style.

In his resignation letter, Jobs wrote, “Apple’s best days are ahead of it.” While that may seem hard for us to believe today, we know that by stating this, he is preserving his legacy—a legacy of poise, power, and passion.