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!

Using Humor in Your Presentation? Here’s a Checklist for Success

For the last six months I’ve been working with an accountant in our Executive Immersion program. As his coach, I’ve helped him polish his presentation skills, strengthen his image, project personal presence and build self-confidence. Most recently I helped him prepare for an internal presentation he was giving to five hundred division managers. Today I received his email report card. “My presentation was a success,” he wrote. “I received countless compliments. I think the company still can’t believe that an accountant can deliver a good presentation.” I love working with this man. He is earnest, disciplined and, like most accountants, extremely detail oriented so he shows up to our coaching sessions prepared and ready to work. He’s one of those people who truly love numbers. But in spite of his admirable work ethic and commitment to his subject, he has a difficult time sharing his passion and enthusiasm. He has “mono-face” and a stiff posture, and he uses limited vocal accents in his delivery so he can come across bland and uninteresting.

But he has one thing going for him, which you can probably guess from his report card comment: Humor. And that has made all the difference. His humor has become somewhat of a trademark for him and he’s proud of this new development. He sprinkles enough humor in his presentations now that people enjoy listening to him, and they tell him so.

So I encourage you, as I encouraged him, to use humor in your presentations.

But beware! Whether you’re telling a story, anecdote, joke or one-liner, there are important steps you must take to ensure that your humor is effective. Here is a short checklist to test your humor in both content and delivery before you give your presentation:

Humor Content:

  • Is it in good taste? Will it offend anyone in your audience? Will it damage your credibility or reputation?
  • Is it cliché? Has it been overused?
  • Are you using humor just to include something funny in your presentation or is it relevant to the message?
  • Is the humor brief enough to be told in a short time? Or will it pull you off track and down a rabbit hole.

Humor Delivery:

  • Does using humor make you self-conscious and/or uncomfortable?
  • Can you communicate the humor well? Or do you need practice?
  • Is the punch line clear and easy to understand?
  • Have you rehearsed the humor for this particular audience?
  • Have you tested your humor on others?
  • What if your humor flops? How will you recover?

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a comedian to use humor effectively. Simply use this short checklist for each presentation and every message you deliver will be memorable…and for the right reasons.

San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers Offers Valuable Public Speaking Lessons

Yesterday was the centennial running of the Bay to Breakers foot race. For those of you who have never heard of it, allow me to paint the picture: Over fifty thousand people, a majority of which were dressed in outrageous costumes, took to the streets of San Francisco and marched from the San Francisco Bay all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It was a seven and a half mile trek that weaved through a number of the city’s greatest sights. An event like this truly brings out the vibrant colors of the city and provides fantastic opportunities for people watching. Under cloudy skies, the wild parade of costumed marathoners made their merry way through the enchanting City by the Bay. 

And yes, even in this surreal environment I found lessons that pertain to public speaking.

Preparation is King – Preparing for your Bay to Breakers experience is vital. If you don’t coordinate with your companions, you will wind up lost and alone in an endless tidal wave of Smurfs, trolls, dinosaurs, and cavemen. Instead of being a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it could be a truly disastrous and lonely experience. Likewise, if you are going to succeed onstage, you must prepare. You don’t want to give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes, so knowing your touch points and memorizing your opening and close and practicing out loud in front of a mirror will be sure to help you keep your cool when you are in front of an audience. 

Poise under Pressure – Without a healthy level of poise and self-confidence, you may not fully enjoy being out in public wearing a ridiculously funny costume. You may feel the desire to hide among the crowd or even bow out of the fun early. And while you likely won’t be presenting in an absurd costume, speaking in front of an audience can be an equally overwhelming experience. Without  maintaining some level of poise, you may make the mistake of fudging a line, forgetting a touch point, or freezing up on stage. 

Have Fun – The ultimate tool you can learn from Bay to Breakers, however, is to have fun. Can you imagine if you attempted to attend an event like Bay to Breakers and were self-conscious about how you were dressed or feared what others would say about you? You would stand out like a sore thumb! You can apply that same principle to being in front of an audience. If you are comfortable with yourself, your audience will be right with you throughout your entire performance. So relax and have fun! The more you enjoy yourself while you’re giving a presentation, the easier it is to connect with your audience and sound more credible. 

So what was my outrageous costume this weekend? For now, I’m keeping that a secret. However, the first person to guess correctly by posting your answers here will receive a signed copy of my book, Roadmap to Success. So keep those guesses coming!

Giving Thanks for Mark Twain

This year, 2010, marks the centennial year of the death of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a., Mark Twain). It is also his 175th birthday and the 125th anniversary of the American publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s a big year for Twain, and I’m sure he’s bummed that he’s not here. But there’s no need to worry. There are stand-ins in abundance. At the recent Mark Twain Motherlode Festival in Angel’s Camp, California, there were a number of actors who gave such believable performances that Mark Twain himself would have been grinning from sideburn to sideburn. Actors like McAvoy Lane, an internationally known Mark Twain impersonator, brought the dead man to life and delighted us with Twain’s signature wit and charm.

Twain would have been thrilled at the event. This festival brought together scholars and fans alike to celebrate the legacy of one of America’s most renowned writers, humorists and speakers.

Many of these scholars are the people behind the recently completed Autobiography of Mark Twain, which contains previously unpublished material, musings and stories written by the great author. This first volume, the first of three to be published, is 743 pages.

The festival was like a who’s who from the world of Mark Twain. Scholars from the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, sat on panels and chatted with us during breaks. Biographer Ron Powers regaled us with stories from his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. A video address by the main editor Bob Hirst gave us insight into the scope and depth of the project, and a performance by humorist Will Durst made us realize that if Mark Twain were alive today he would have more Twitter followers than Ashton Kutcher. They each spoke of Twain with the kind of reverence reserved for a beloved Uncle or grandfather. It was inspiring.

And what about the brouhaha surrounding his autobiography and the fact that it’s already on the New York Times bestseller list? How would Twain feel about that?

I think he’s rolling over in his grave and laughing. And I have a feeling he planned it this way. How many famous authors would have the prescience to dictate and save thousands of pages of work for an encore performance 100 years after his swan song? Twain once joked that the best business advice he ever got was from PT Barnum, who gave us the famous line, “A sucker is born every minute.” It just makes me wonder what Twain has in store for us for his bicentennial.

The speaking industry is particularly indebted to the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain. How many of us have ridden on the shoulders of this giant and have used his epigrams and maxims to support a point, add humor to our presentations or shine light on an unspoken truth? How many of us have tweeted his short quips—all surprisingly under 140 characters! Mark Twain quotes are essential ingredients for every speaker’s toolkit. You can’t live without them.

So here is my thanksgiving gift for you. A few Mark Twain “tweets” to spice up your holiday festivities.

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

"There are only two types of speakers in the world. The nervous and the liars."

“There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting.”

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

"A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation."

“If you have nothing to say, say nothing.”

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

What better time than Thanksgiving to celebrate the legacy of Mark Twain. Let’s give thanks…and look forward to 3010! I plan on being here. How about you?