Beefeaters: The Olympians of Public Speaking

One of the great by-products of the Olympics is learning  about the history and culture of the host country. This year’s Olympic games in London, England are no exception. While learning about the United Kingdom was mandatory in my high school history classes (given the early ties between England and U.S.), we spent most of our time memorizing dates, facts, and names rather than learning the interesting particulars about the country’s culture and tradition. Yet it’s the background stories, cultural lore, and little-known-details that I find intriguing about a country. Fortunately for me, many reporters are finding wonderful side stories to cover while in London, and this past weekend I watched a fascinating segment on NBC news about the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters as they’re commonly called. The Beefeaters’ origins stretch back as far as the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), and they have long been symbols of London and Britain. It is thought their nickname is derived from their position in the Royal Bodyguard, which permitted them to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king's table. Today, they act as entertaining tour guides at the Tower of London.

But these aren’t your ordinary docents. To be considered for the job of Beefeater, a candidate must have served in the armed forces with an honorable record for at least 22 years. Then, they go through upwards of one year of training. Working with a coach, they must memorize, word for word, a script that details the history of the Tower of London and England’s overall history. They practice on site after hours (when the tourists aren’t there to watch and listen), and must get every word correct. They are quizzed with crazy questions tourists might ask (such as, “Where is Sleeping Beauty buried?”), and they must handle even the most outrageous question with skill, tact, and respect. Just as athletes work long and hard to compete in  the Olympic games, so too do the men and women hoping to be Yeoman Warders, dedicating their lives to their country, even after retiring from military service.

As a speech coach, I have to say that the Beefeaters are wonderful role models for public speakers. I’ve often heard that a best practice of motivational speaking is to rehearse your speech 30 times before going live. By practicing their script nightly for up to a year, these Beefeaters put even the most well-rehearsed speaker to shame!

So the next time you’re in London, be sure to join one of the famous tours where Yeoman Warders will entertain you with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution, torture, and much more…and be sure to get a front row seat. You’ll be getting a history lesson from a world-class public speaking role model.

Add Context, Not Just Content, to Your Next Speech

While vacationing in Maine, my husband and I ventured to Lubec, Maine, the gateway to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada—the once popular summer colony for wealthy Americans and Canadians, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On our way we stopped at Quoddy Headlight, the easternmost point in the U.S. And once on Campobello, we went to the East Quoddy Lighthouse.

Perched on an island and only accessible in low tide, the East Quoddy Lighthouse called to our adventurous spirit. We were eager to make the trip across the sandbar and climb the steps to the lighthouse. Although it’s dangerous and rugged, for two hours when the tide is out visitors can climb the steep metal ladders, walk on the ocean floor, cross two intermediate islands connected by a short wooden bridge, take a second steep ladder and then walk across a rocky, slippery seaweed covered intertidal zone to get to the lighthouse. We were ready for the adventure when we were warned that the tide had turned. Then we saw the sign:

DANGER!--TAKE NO RISKS & DO NOT LINGER! If you become stranded on the islands by the tide, WAIT FOR RESCUE. Even former keepers of this lighthouse have lost their lives by misjudging the STRONG, FRIGID, FAST-RISING tidal currents and TIDE-PRESSURIZED UNSTABLE PEBBLE OCEAN FLOOR while attempting to make this crossing.

At that moment, Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous saying, “Time and tide wait for no man,” took on a whole new meaning for me.

The tides in this part of the Bay of Fundy are 25 feet or more. We learned that further up the bay in Nova Scotia, the tidal changes can be more than 50 feet and most extreme when the moon is full. These are the largest tidal changes in the world. That’s a lot of water moving in and out twice a day, and it was clear that the tides were the backdrop for the entire way of life in this part of Maine.

We saw firsthand the dramatic changes in the tides. In Lubec, there are poles on the wharf that go up nearly 20 feet, taking the dock with it as the water rises and falls. Like clockwork, an hour before high tide a dozen or more seals, cormorants, gulls, and bald eagles arrive to feed on the fish brought in by the tide. Travelling to these places and witnessing the significance of the tidal changes first hand brought Chaucer’s quote to life. The facts were important, but seeing the facts in action was exhilarating!

This experience made me realize the importance of “context” in describing any situation. Until I saw the physical power of these dramatic tides, the phrase “Time and tide wait for no man” had little meaning to me. But now I get it. You can’t beat the tides. The sea will never bow to your will. And no matter how strong a swimmer you are, at 50 degrees the water is too cold, the rips too unpredictable, and the force of the water flow too overpowering.

I often counsel my clients to use stories, metaphors, anecdotes, and quotes—the rhetorical devices that create compelling imagery and add power to your presentations. However, it is absolutely essential to also provide the context in which the images reside.

To create effective presentations we often use phrases from our own experience, thinking that our audience fully understands the meaning. But they may not understand where we’re coming from. So our challenge as communicators is not only to come up with and deliver the clever anecdote, quote, or quip, but also to be successful in communicating the broader world from which it evolves. Yes, the facts of tidal changes were compelling, but then there was the DANGER sign, the rising and falling poles on the dock in Lubec, and the sea life feeding at the exact same time every day. These images bore witness.

Therefore, I encourage you to find those fascinating rhetorical gems and take the time to fully render them in context. Tell us more; make it come alive.

And now, I’ve gotta run. The lighthouse beckons, and the tide is coming in!

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.

Blog Carnival Today! Sales Coaching: Top Tips for Increased Productivity

 As you know, every once in a while we enjoy hosting a Blog Carnival. The “carnival” gives our readers a unique opportunity to gain valuable knowledge from numerous authors all in one convenient spot. Today’s offering features top bloggers in their fields who offer timely and thought-provoking tips on every aspect of sales coaching. Whether you’re a sales manager or a salesperson, the information presented by the expert bloggers in our Blog Carnival will broaden your understanding of this important topic. As an added benefit, you may discover new blogs to follow and develop new professional relationships.

I highly recommend that you spend time learning more about each of our talented bloggers. They have a lot of valuable information to share.

Thank you to all our contributors!

The Secret to Sales Productivity: Customer Data Ginger Conlon - 1to1Media The most productive sales people are those with the most current, accurate customer data.

The One Tip that Could Significantly Impact Your Productivity Mark Hunter – The Sales Hunter Building a Sales Team That Manages Itself

Execution Based Coaching Tibor Shanto – The Pipeline Effective sales coaching process needs to be based on two pillars of sales success.

How to Add Value to Your Sales Offering Dave Kurlan – Understanding the Sales Force A look at how to sell and build value.

Improve Sales Performance with 3 “Art of Sales Management” Functions Dan McDade - PointClear Sales managers have six basic jobs and they generally fail at  three of them.

5 Ways to Sell More by Getting Organized Craig Klein – Sell, Sell, Sell! Time management techniques that you need to implement.

Three Tips to Boost Sales Productivity Michael W. McLaughlin – Consult This Sometimes the shortest path to improved productivity is to eliminate what no longer serves you well.

How To Turn Your Salespeople Into Order Takers Kristin Zhivago - Revenue Journal Learn how your closing rate can average 90%.

Does the Sales Model Do What We Need It To Do Sharon Drew Morgan – Sharon Drew Morgan’s Blog What exactly is “sales” and how must it shift to keep up with our global economy?

Sales Management Math: The Sales Coaching Formula Bill Eckstrom - EcSELL Institute Sales Leadership Blog Examining the Sales Performance Equation™.

Sales Coaching: Top Tips for Increased Productivity Drew Stevens PhD – Stevens Consulting Group Exploring the most important attributes of a sales coaching relationship.

Productivity Tips from the Field Tim Rohrer – Sales Loudmouth Some thoughts about how youth soccer skills can improve productivity in the sales department.

Sales Management, It’s About Inspecting The Process, Not Transactions Dave Brock – Partners in Excellence Sales managers must focus on managing the process! Learn why…

How the Whole Organization Can Help Sales Management Increase Productivity Heather Rubesch – Savvy B2B Marketing Here are a number of productive themes that make sales organizations more successful.

Building a Sales Team That Manages Itself Ken Thoreson – Your Sales Management Guru The good news: It is possible to turn that dream of a self-managed, high-performance sales team into reality.

The Art of Selling – In Person and Cyberspace Katherine Winkelman – Gioia Company, LLC Learn how selling is an art from someone who sells art.

How to Create “Enchanting” Relationships

The word “enchant” means to cast a spell on or bewitch; to delight or captivate utterly; to fascinate; charm. Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, has given us a new spin on a more traditional approach to persuasion, influence, marketing and customer care.

Kawasaki defines enchantment as “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long lasting support that is mutually beneficial.” He adds, “The greater your goals, the greater you’ll need to change people’s hearts, minds and actions.” And then he sets out to give us a step-by-step process for creating enchanting relationships.

This book is for anyone who has ever dreamed a dream and wanted to see it materialize. If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, if you work for a large enterprise, or if you’re a recent college graduate, you’ll find tips in Kawasaki’s book that will help you engage your prospects or customers so that you can compete in this changing marketplace.

With such chapters as “How to Achieve Likability,” How to Achieve Trustworthiness,” “How to Prepare,” and many others, Kawasaki gives tools for mounting a campaign that is geared to achieve your vision and goals by creating powerful relationships. The book is packed with interesting personal profiles, from everyday working people to celebrity icons such as Steve Jobs and Al Gore. And because the book took a year to write and a lifetime of experience to create, it is loaded with background research, which provides a nice balance to the short paragraph format. I especially enjoyed his “hat tips,” where he acknowledges anyone whose idea he shares. 

Yes, this is a great book for the everyday entrepreneur, but is the concept of “enchantment” too soft for the C Suite? In a recent Forbes interview, Steve Denning asked Kawasaki how he communicates enchantment as a business proposition to CEOs, CFOs, and other senior leaders. How does he persuade this serious group that they too need to be in the business of enchantment?

“The best way is to use examples,” says Kawasaki. “Wouldn’t you like to have the evangelistic base of Apple or the likeability of Virgin America? Wouldn’t you like customers to trust you the way they trust Zappo’s, so that they will buy shoes, sight unseen? Even the most hard-core pencil-pushing bean-counter will have to say, ‘Yeah, I wish we were Apple or Virgin America or Zappo’s! That’s not such a bad place to be.’”

If you want to get a taste of your company’s ability to cast a spell and enchant your audience, listeners, customers, or prospects, take this test Kawasaki created: Guy’s Realistic Enchantment Aptitude Test (GREAT). Then, no matter what your results are, read Enchantment. You’ll get practical, doable suggestions that could just make your company the next Apple. Now, wouldn’t that be great!

A Time to Shine: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When you’re looking for powerful material for your next speech—from examples and metaphors to stories and themes—look no further than your own life. In fact, the best content often comes from your personal challenges and tribulations, from your joys and successes, and from people you know who have survived adversity and risen above it. So when you’re struggling to develop your presentation message, my advice is this: Don’t stray too far from your own experience. Write what you know. After all, if one of the greatest speechmakers of the century used this approach, it is surely a valuable lesson for the rest of us. Celebrating Dr. King

This week we will witness many celebrations in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia. People worldwide remember the power of his most well known speech, entitled I Have a Dream, in which he shares his personal vision of an America free of racism and racial tension. This speech is considered the finest in American history. Like others in the speaking industry, I often use this speech as an example of powerful oratory. Dr. King’s speech has been studied, examined, dissected, interpreted, and analyzed. Its place in history is well established.

But equally as powerful is the speech he gave the night before his death in Memphis Tennessee on April 4, 1968. This speech is formally called I See the Promised Land, and is less formally known as If I Had Sneezed. The great theme of the speech focused on an incident that happened to him a few years before.

“If I Had Sneezed”

In this speech, he tells the shocking story of when he was stabbed in the chest at a book signing by a “demented woman.” The blade had gone through his chest, and the tip of the blade was on the edge of his aorta. The following morning the New York Times reported that if he had sneezed, he would have died.

During his recovery, he received many cards and letters from people all over the country—from the president and vice president and from various governors. But he remembered little of those letters. Only one letter stood out. It was from a young, ninth grade white girl. She wrote a simple note: “I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

A Powerful Personal Story

Dr. King used that story, his own personal story, to develop his last speech. He told the story of his stabbing incident and mentioned the letters from well wishers. He took the phrase from the young ninth grade girl and turned it from “I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze” into, “If I had sneezed.” He then used that phrase to review the major milestones of his civil rights journey by beginning each line with, “If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around …”

In 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters…

In 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia decided to straighten their backs up…

In 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill…

In August that year to tell America about a dream I had…

In Selma, Alabama to see the great movement there…

In Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sister who are suffering…

He used his “If I had sneezed” phrase to build the powerful rhythm and content of his speech, to tell the dramatic story of his journey of the decade before, and to lead to the prophetic vision of his destiny.

So as we all take time this week to honor Dr. King, also take some time to reflect on your own life. Chances are you too have a few memorable experiences that can inspire others and help you create a meaningful speech that moves people to action.

Click here to read the entire text of Dr. King’s I See the Promised Land speech.

Need a last minute gift for your favorite Public Speaker?

Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte Nancy Duarte gives us a reason to Resonate. Her new book, Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform aAudiences, is part how-to guide and part narrative that gives justification for an approach Duarte calls “story based messaging.” Using techniques from storytelling and the cinema, she explains her methodology, explores case study applications, and guides readers through a unique process for building presentation content.

Duarte bases her premise on a simple phenomenon in physics: If you know an object’s natural rate of vibration, you can make it vibrate without touching it. Resonance occurs when an object’s natural vibration frequency responds to an external stimulus of the same frequency. She then builds the case that this same ide is what moves audiences and that all presenters should strive to create resonance with their listeners.

According to Duarte, resonance in speaking is created when the presenter delivers a memorable story in a powerful way. To help readers accomplish this, Duarte builds a new language for story creation. Her content development process gives readers a model to create presentations, and it advocates using a well-developed, example rich storyline coupled with powerful, visual design. By incorporating Edward Tufte’s sparkline concept, Duarte provides a way for readers to build and analyze presentations visually.

What’s wonderful about this book is that at the same time Duarte is telling us what to do, she is also showing us the steps visually. In this way, she practices what she preaches: the beautifully designed pages come to life and resonate with the reader.

Resonate has many gems, but one that stood out was Duarte’s explanation of the STAR moment. As she explains, STAR is a presentation device that drives home the big idea of a presentation for the audience. STAR stands for Something They’ll Always Remember, which Duarte states “should be so profound or so dramatic that it becomes what the audience chats about at the watercolor or appears as the headline of a news article. Planting a star moment in a presentation keeps the conversation going even after it’s over and helps the message go viral.”

In this book, the visuals are Duarte’s STAR moment. She is a master of visual design. Where at times the text was tedious, the visual images were always exciting and memorable.

Particularly interesting are the case studies ranging from Ronald Reagan’s eulogy after the Challenger disaster to speeches from people like Richard Feynman, Michael Pollen, Pastor John Ortberf, Steve Jobs, Markus Covert, Leonard Bernstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.

While the case studies are powerful examples of her methodology, I was disappointed that there were so female speakers mentioned. With so many women in the arts, science, education, fashion, business, politics, and the law, readers can learn much from great female speakers like Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey,  Gloria Steinem, Wangari Maathai, Isabel Allende, Renee Fleming, Elizabeth Gilbert,  Carol Bartz, and Elana Kagan, just to name a few.

As unique and useful as Resonate is, be forewarned that this book is not for casual readers who are looking for a few tips to help them succeed in front of a group. Rather, it is a complex book that requires concentration and commitment to interpret and adopt the process, models, and graphs. As Dan Post, President of Duarte Design, says in the book’s Foreword, “Resonate is intended for people with ambition, purpose, and an uncommon work ethic.” In other words, this is a book for professionals who want to delve deeply into the study of what makes powerful presentations.

If you take your presentations seriously and want to build “presentation literacy” this book is an important resource and well worth the effort. Duarte’s work is thoughtful and inspiring. By synthesizing disparate points of view and using examples of speakers from many disciplines, she has created something unique in the industry. While it’s hard to improve on the speaking lessons from the ancient Greek Orators, Duarte has done it. Resonate will give you a fresh, new look at an age-old subject.

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?

"This is the White House calling..." A Last Minute Speech for Barack Obama

On Monday, September 21st, my business associate and friend Dawn Josephson received the call of a lifetime. “Hi Dawn…This is Karen from the White House. I’m calling to see if you and your son can attend an event with us this Wednesday the 22nd. President Obama will be in attendance, and he’d like you to be there as well.”

An invitation from the President! Naturally, she was excited and eager to go.

The following day she received another phone call: “Hi Dawn…about the event tomorrow… President Obama is going to start by saying a few words, and then he’d like to call on you to tell your story. Are you okay with this? Oh, and…can you send us your outline in an hour?”

If you thought doing a last minute speech in front of your board of directors, CEO, or company leaders was intimidating, imagine having less than 24 hours to prepare to speak before the President of the United States…and on national television! To top it all off, less than one hour before the event itself, the White House staff asked that she not use any notes as she spoke.

The event Dawn attended in Falls Church, Virginia was officially dubbed “A Backyard Discussion on Healthcare Reform and the Patient’s Bill of Rights,” and it featured President Obama addressing a group of Americans who have felt some benefit of the recent Affordable Care Act. Dawn was the first person the President called upon to tell her story about being able to obtain health coverage for her son, who has a pre-existing condition.

After the event was over, I asked Dawn how she managed to stay so calm and cool despite the circumstances. Here are some lessons she gleaned that will work in any high-stakes or last minute presentation setting.

  • Focus on only the most important details. Since she couldn’t use notes as she spoke, Dawn had to get clear on the most important points she wanted to make and focus her attention and limited practice time on those items only. She had to get those talking points right the first time—the other information had more leeway for impromptu dialog.
  • Follow instructions carefully. When you’re in a high stakes or last minute presentation circumstance, chances are the other party will have detailed instructions for you to follow. Be sure to follow them exactly, as it will actually relieve a lot of your stress. For example, the White House told Dawn that she had a maximum of two minutes to talk, to remain in her assigned seat as she spoke, and which parts of her story they wanted her to omit or use. By doing precisely what they said, she met expectations and didn’t have to stress over the details.
  • Remember that we’re all human. No matter how powerful or important the person or group you’re addressing appears to be, in the end, we’re all human. Dawn said that in the moments before the President arrived at the event, she told herself, “He’s just another person like me. He has to shower and brush his teeth in the morning, and he puts on his pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.” By assuring herself that people only intimidate us if we allow them to, she kept calm and told her story with ease.

While not everyone will have the opportunity to speak at a White House event with the President of the United States, we all have crucial last minute presentations that pop up. By following the suggestions Dawn gave, you can remain cool and confident in any speaking situation.


[Click here to see the video of the “backyard discussion” with President Obama. Dawn’s story begins at the end of video #1 and continues into video #2. At the beginning of video #2, watch as her son Wesley (age four) gives President Obama a high-five!]

Our Own American Idol

The DeFinis-Lydon first annual Easter Brunch and Talent Show was a huge success!  On Easter Sunday a family style version of American Idol (minus the crusty Simon Cowell) was served up by our guests who ranged in age from sixteen to eighty-five. Beat boxing, cowboy haiku poems, cowbells, a love letter from a 78 year old grandfather, guitar favorites, the ABC’s in sign language, show tunes, a Times Square story from a first time Fijian visitor, a contortionist, a golf lesson, a Sicilian author reading a travel article about a Sicilian passion play, and last but not least, my dear god-daughter stuffing her entire right fist into her large teenage mouth, a talent that none of us could match.

It was the Pecha Kucha of performance, alive and enthusiastic, greater than “show and tell” and only slightly less than Carnegie Hall. There was generosity, boldness, spontaneity and a willingness to be a part of a small community in action. Watching our talented performers deliver such individual and touching presentations gave everyone a chance to share in a glorious celebration of spring.  

What I loved most was that everyone took this celebration seriously and came prepared to contribute something unique. People practiced their songs and skits; they worked on their timing and audience participation. And while any one of these presentations would have been great entertainment for a Sunday afternoon, the cumulative “show” made it all the more dramatic. The group connection grew deeper as each performance built on the one before. Everyone was committed and eager, not only to support the performer, but to fully enjoy the experience. 

That’s how life is. If you have the desire to create and a simple talent to share you will bring richness and joy to those around you. Creativity and generosity go hand in hand. It’s not a difficult thing to do. Singers sing, guitarist strum, writers write, beat boxers beat—and each inspires others in a unique and powerful way. 

This magic of connection can be created just as easily in the world of business. And when it does, working teams are solidified, new partnerships are forged, and goals and values are realized. There is no stopping the positive outcome that can occur as a result of a generous performance and shared connection.

Speaking of Telling Stories in the Executive Suite

I have been working with a client in our Executive Immersion program and am once again reminded of the critical role that stories play in executive effectiveness.  My client is working hard to develop a communication approach that balances IQ and EQ—that is, using intellectual, analytical, problem solving tactics combined with an ability to manage and integrate a range of emotions in all forms of communication. This balance seems especially important when an executive is communicating a new, expanded or revised vision to a less than eager workforce.


The business of the executive suite is to develop, articulate and marshal resources toward a goal and strategy—i.e. to create the big picture. And the business of most employees is to do their job and develop one important piece of the picture to contribute to the overall goal. Sometimes these roles are in conflict and the employee can feel the burden of the vision without having the authority to act. All too often the executive message is not inclusive enough to sanction the employee to do their job. The executive speaks in “I, me, mine” when the employee wants to hear “You, we, us.”


So how can the executive bridge this gap?


In my view the key to aligning vision is to articulate a clear picture of success and then involve others in the achievement of the outcome. One highly effective and low risk way to create alignment without overwhelming, confusing or de-motivating employees is through storytelling.


Here’s a great example of a story that balances vision and clarity with a direct emotional appeal:


The CEO of a small Silicon Valley start-up told this story at the annual kickoff meeting. The company had quickly risen to unparalleled success with one product and was facing its next R&D challenge.


A long time ago, there was a master archer who wanted to become the best in the land. He set out to find an archer of even greater talent so that he might improve his craft. After months of walking through forests, meadows, and towns, he came upon a tree with an arrow in the exact middle of a painted target. As he walked on he saw a second tree with another exact bulls-eye. Soon, he saw more and more trees with straight arrows placed within the targets. Perfect bulls-eyes covered the forest. Suddenly, he entered a clearing and looked up. He saw the side of a large barn with row after row of perfect bulls-eyes. In that moment he knew he had found his mentor.


He began asking everyone he saw, “Whose barn is it that displays so many perfect arrows?” The people told him how to find the man who owned the barn. When he found this man he was surprised to meet a simple man, slow of speech, and awkward in his movements, certainly not the master athlete he expected to find. Unperturbed, he asked the man to share his secret. “How do you do it?” he asked. “How do you hit so many perfect bulls-eyes?” The man quietly explained. “Oh, anyone can do it. After I shoot the arrow, I take paint and draw a target around the arrow. I can create a perfect bulls-eye every time.”


After telling this story, the executive made two important points. First he said “There are many ways to hit the target, so innovate, create, and think out of the box;” and then he added, “Trust your instincts, your expertise, and your creative talent, and  beware of looking for a hero or mentor to teach you how to do this. After all, you already know how to do this, and what’s more, I trust that you can do it.”


This is the kind of story that my client wants to tell—one that articulates a vision in a creative and inclusive way and gets to the heart of the matter with sincerity and good will. This is a story where IQ and EQ are well integrated and showcase executive excellence.