passion

Wisdom for Speakers to Jumpstart Your New Year

“Improve my presentation skills” is a common New Year’s resolution. Finding the perfect example to follow on how to do that is a bit rare … that is, until you meet Jack Kornfield.

Jack Kornfield is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America. I saw him speak a few days ago during the Monday Night Class at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Wood Acre, California, just a short drive from where I live.

The Monday Night Class, now in its 27th year, serves as an introduction to Spirit Rock and the Buddhist practices of awareness and compassion, which are the heart of the Spirit Rock community. This weekly gathering also offers support and ongoing teachings to committed students many who have studied at the Center since its founding.

The room was packed Monday night with hundreds in the audience. When Jack asked how many first-timers were in the crowd, dozens of hands went up. Then someone called out, “Thanks, Oprah!” I learned that Oprah had interviewed Jack last fall and the interview aired December 15. The interview brought out people who had never been to Spirit Rock and were curious about Buddhist teachings. 

The Monday Night Class attracts serious students of Buddhism and appreciative newcomers alike and they have never have trouble filling the room. But if you want to exceed capacity with a standing room only crowd, you just need a little fairy dust from Oprah. It was a spirited group.

For Jack Kornfield, it didn’t matter if he was speaking to 2 or 200. He was his usual entertaining and enlightening self, delivering his teachings with Buddhist-style charisma and practicing what he preaches by sharing his stories with patience, compassion and kindness. He is a good speaker, a gifted storyteller and a teacher who knows how to stand on the shoulders of the giants before him, reading their poetry and quoting their wisdom. Watching him, you get the feeling that he takes it all very seriously yet has an infinite capacity for lightheartedness. That combination is his greatest appeal.

And that’s the lesson I want to pass on this New Year as you make your resolutions about public speaking. If you are going to speak with greater poise, power and passion, do so with intense seriousness and commitment, but remember to keep a light heart. Happy 2014!

Oakland A’s Announcers Exemplify Passionate Speaking Skills

Those of you who know me know that I’m a huge Oakland A’s fan. Well, last night’s baseball game between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers left even me—a speech coach—speechless. Picture this: It’s game 4 of the American League Division Series. The Oakland A’s aren’t the favored team to win. In fact, they’re performing terribly. It’s the bottom of the ninth. The score is tied. The A’s are up to bat. It’s the final moments of the game, and then suddenly…against the odds…the A’s win on Coco Crisp's walk-off single. The crowd went wild! And so did the announcers. You can hear the announcers during the exhilarating final moments here. After the excitement died down and I replayed the footage in my head, I realized how the announcers Ken Korach, who does the play-by-play, and Ray Fosse, who does the color commentary, displayed their passion about the outcome yet maintained their professionalism throughout it all. It’s a classic lesson for public speakers everywhere.

I often tell my clients to let their passion guide their speaking. But really…what are the elements of passion? What does passion sound like from that vocal context?

As the clip of Korach and Fosse exemplifies, passion has two key parts. First, it’s the formal, technical, and mannered play-by-play of information. When you listen to Korach explain what’s going on, you hear every detail to the point where you can see it in your mind. It’s factual. It’s complete.

But the second part of passion is the free and unbridled response to what’s going on in the moment. That part of passion is incredibly clear in Fosse’s animated assessment of what’s happening in those key moments.

So as a speaker, you need to manage the characteristics of these two announcers during every presentation. You need to be the formal person with the details and the facts. But you also need to show your excitement, your enthusiasm, your zeal, and your passion for your topic.

It’s the combination of these two qualities in one person that ignites the spark of passion. That’s what ultimately captures the hearts and minds of your listeners and makes your message come alive.

The final game in this series is tonight. If the A’s win, we keep going on the road to the World Series. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my passion alive. Go A’s!

The Most Unusual (and Amazing) Speech Preparation Story I’ve Ever Heard

I just completed a week’s training with the faculty at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. This is my third year working with them, so we’re practically like family now. During one of the breaks we were chatting about speech preparation when one of the women present, Bernadette Alvear Fa, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences and Director of Local Anesthesia Curriculum, mentioned that the most challenging preparation she ever did was when she was in labor with her son. In labor with her son? What?  Prepping for a speech while in labor was something I certainly never expected to hear from anyone. I just had to get the details, and since we were all comfortable with each other, she didn’t mind sharing (or me sharing this story either).

I first met Bernadette in June 2011 when she was in my training class. I worked with her on her physical, vocal, and verbal delivery skills as well as her message development, and I gave her various options for preparation strategies to implement. At the time, she was 12 weeks pregnant.

Bernadette explained that in the months that followed the training, she gave numerous lectures with her ever growing belly, each time using the skills she had learned in my class. She was becoming a powerful and confident speaker. Interestingly, as her son started to kick, move, and punch from within, he always remained silent when she was lecturing or speaking in front of large crowds.

On December 3, 2011, Bernadette was officially 36 weeks and 1 day pregnant. She completed a lecture with a colleague and had one more official lecture to provide to the faculty 10 days later. She had the slideshow presentation ready to go and had reviewed it with her co-presenter. Then, on December 10, 2011, something unexpected happened. Bernadette’s water broke at 6:45 a.m. When she and her husband arrived at the hospital, she breathed her way through a few moderate contractions and then sent  out a flood of emails to notify people at work that she would not be coming in on the following Monday and would not be giving her presentation (at least not “live”). Three hours later she had an epidural and decided it was time to work on her “voice over” for the presentation she was going to be missing on Monday. Since she couldn’t be at the presentation in person, she wanted her co-presenter to have her sections of the presentation complete. Talk about dedication!

According to the readings on the monitors, Bernadette saw that she was intensely contracting, and her son appeared happy as a clam and bouncing around joyfully. She asked all visitors in the delivery room to remain quiet, as the only microphone she had for the voice over was the one included in her laptop, which was low grade at best. Knowing she had to make do without her usual professional presentation tools, she drew upon the DeFinis Communications vocal delivery skills she had learned and did the entire voice over from her hospital bed while in labor.

Once complete, she emailed the presentation to her co-presenter. She then patted her belly and said, “Okay, son. Mommy’s done lecturing. It’s time to come out. We’re ready for you.” Forty minutes later, the world welcomed Christian Michael Fa. He waited patiently while his mom finished her work, enabling her to completely focus on the most important task at hand now—being his Mom.

I sat mesmerized listening to her story. She could have easily turned the lecture over to someone else to prepare the voice over, and I doubt anyone would have noticed. But powerful women never give up! Bernadette was determined to follow through with the commitment she made and had the presence of mind to use the skills she learned in our class to prepare a voice-over presentation in this most challenging environment. In a room filled with stress, anticipation, adrenaline, and the frenzied activity of nurses and beeping computer monitors, Bernadette stayed cool, calm, and focused. As a result, she did an amazing job on her voice over…even while in labor.

Ever since women entered the workforce, they’ve had to creatively overcome the challenges of balancing work and home. In this case, Bernadette went the extra mile. She used her determination, perseverance, and optimism to balance these two forces in a way I’ve never seen before. If a woman can do what Bernadette did—be in labor and prepare a complex, technical dental lecture—then surely women are capable of anything, whether it’s leading a company, saving lives, or delivering a powerful  presentation under usual circumstances.

Bernadette is a true leader in her company and in her life. Christian has a lot to look forward to growing up with a role model of loving mother and confident professional.

Do you have an unusual or amazing speech preparation story? Share it here. We’d all love to read it!

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 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.

The Secret to a Woman’s Success – Take Care of Yourself First

I was traveling via air from San Francisco to Maine recently. As the plane was nearing take off, the flight attendants started their usual safety demonstrations. I politely sat through the “how to buckle your seatbelt” and “how to use your seat cushion as a floatation device” spiels. Then, after the demonstration of placing the oxygen mask over your own mouth before assisting someone else, I began to think how useful this advice would be for women in their everyday life. No, this has nothing to do with wearing oxygen masks around town. It’s about helping yourself before helping others—something too few professional women do these days.

I see these over-burdened women every day. They’re typically in their thirties or early forties. They’re trying to excel in their corporate job, trying to raise a family, and trying to participate in their communities. They’re juggling so much and being pulled in so many different directions that they ultimately reach a point where they are completely burnt out. They simply can’t compete at the professional level they need to AND take care of their family AND be active in their communities AND have a life of their own. Something has to give…but what? Too often, it’s their professional pursuits that get put on hold.

Some of these women drop out of the business world completely, some leave their corporations in favor of an independent work pursuit, and some stay where they are in the company but don’t compete for more senior level positions or responsibilities. This is a terrible situation for the business community, as we’re losing countless women—countless resources—who can advance a company, change the organization, and help businesses move from being linear driven to more strategic around communication and relationships.

So what’s the solution? How can we reach women and head them off at the pass before they make the decision to drop out of or diminish their role in the corporate world?

The key is to have women take care of themselves…first.

No one will deny that being pulled in many directions is tough. When you’re in that situation and feeling stressed, it helps to take a time out—go out in nature, go off for a weekend with the girls, go to a spa, or do anything that helps you replenish who you are. Of course, the tugging in all directions will still be there when the “me-time” is over, but when you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically refreshed, you have a better chance of being able to successfully manage it all.

So my request to all women is this: when you feel overwhelmed and that something in your life has to go, that’s your cue to focus on yourself. In today’s world, “me time” is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

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.

Oprah’s Farewell: The Final Ovation for One of the World’s Most Influential Public Speakers

Wednesday for Women Celebrates Oprah! Oprah’s legend is…well…legendary. For 25 years, she has been the foundation of daytime TV for millions of people all over the world. And throughout it all, her presence and messages have been uplifting, inspiring and revitalizing.

I recently heard the story of a woman who purchased a pair of Oprah’s shoes at an auction. She said that whenever she feels sad or overwhelmed, she goes to her closet and steps into Oprah’s shoes. Talk about having a powerful influence on people! We all want a piece of those people who we believe have something we don’t possess—greater strength, clearer vision, goodness, talent, confidence. We seek out those people who can fill in our gaps, and for the last quarter century, Oprah has been that person for millions of people.

I have not been able to watch Oprah on a regular basis, but when I have caught her show, I am just as enthralled as everyone else. She has a natural way of communicating that draws us in. Her warm, deep voice, her broad inviting smile, and her easy tone and cadence are engaging. She is the consummate “connector.”

So when you’re looking for a communications role model, look no further than Oprah. Here is my tribute to this great woman and what she means to the world of public speaking:

O – Optimistic. Even when Oprah was covering a negative topic (failed relationships, child abuse story, unusual homicide case, etc.), she always looked for the good that could come in the future. That’s something we should all strive to do every day. So the next time you need to communicate bad news, state it, but don’t dwell on it. Instead, keep your focus on the good that will eventually come from the situation.

P – Prepared. I’ve heard that Oprah is a stickler for details and doesn’t like to be surprised. She and her producers are prepared for everything and anything that can happen during a show. Not only does she have a Plan B, but she also has a Plan C, D, E, and F. Oprah exemplifies that preparedness equals success.

R – Relevant. Oprah knows her main audience and makes every episode relevant to them. Being on her show could make anyone famous (and it has), but her guest list never strayed from the types of people and stories her viewers wanted to see. By making the information presented relevant, she earned millions of eager viewers every day.

A – Authentic. Oprah started her career as a TV news anchor, but she didn’t last long in that role because she had a hard time hiding her true self on camera. Yet, it’s her uninhibited authenticity that made her talk show a success. People tune in to watch her just as much as they tune in to watch the day’s topic. Oprah refuses to hide who she is. She cries on camera with people, shows all her emotions freely, and isn’t afraid to be her authentic self.

H – Humorous. While not a comedian, Oprah makes people laugh in her own way. She doesn’t tell jokes in the traditional manner; rather, she lets her natural humor shine through to diffuse a tense situation, make a point, and put others at ease. She shows that humor doesn’t always have to be about knee-slapping laughter.

Thank you, Oprah, for 25 amazing years…and for so many priceless pieces of presentation skills wisdom.

In my Wednesday for Women blog series, I feature stories, resources and valuable information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it!

Speaking With Conviction…Over the Phone

I have been working with a recent college graduate who is seeking an entry level job in sales and he is finding that many of the positions available are cold calling, telemarketing positions. While I am not certain that sitting behind a desk, on the phone for 80-100 calls a day, is the best fit for this young man, his job search got me thinking… What does it take to properly convey your message and deliver a captivating presentation over the phone?

Even if you’re not a telemarketer, you’re likely giving phone presentations every day. Think about it…we live in a world saturated with technology. Tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, and Telepresence are common in business, and you probably use them often. Yet, how much thought have you given to using these presentation options effectively?

When you’re using any one of these tools, you are essentially giving a presentation over the phone. You have to deliver your ideas without the benefits of a face-to-face meeting, or you have to speak to an image on a computer screen. When you’re faced with these situations, how can you use your public speaking skills and prevent your message from going down in flames?

Here are a few things to remember when trying to be persuasive over the phone or when videoconferencing:

Vary your vocal emphasis and inflection.

You’re on a conference call and your presentation is on the computer screen via GoToMeeting. You are talking about profit and loss margins, ROI, and, synergy. You’re using as much business jargon as you can to impress your clients. However, you forgot one thing: your shining personality!

Too many speakers deliver bland presentations in live settings, let alone over a conference call. To be compelling and interesting when you’re not physically there, you need to vary your vocal delivery. Using emphasis and inflection on key words helps your audience stay engaged.

Don’t let yourself drone on in order to get through your meeting. Rather, give your audience the opportunity to glean extra meaning from your words with some variety in your intonation and some diversity in the range of your voice.

Pay attention to your clarity and speed.

When speaking to a group in a live public speaking situation you always want to articulate clearly and talk slowly. When speaking to a group over the phone or via your computer, you need to pay extra attention to these points.

I cannot stress this enough. Producing a clear voice and a clean sound from a computer microphone or a speakerphone is difficult. Words will inevitably be lost due to static and choppy internet connections. So open your mouth, raise your volume, enunciate clearly and slow down.

When you speak slowly and articulate clearly, you enable your audience to catch every word, even if there is static or connection choppiness, so they don’t lose the entire meaning of your content. Give your listeners the chance to keep up and they will give you their full attention.

Smile and enjoy yourself!

While your audience may not be able to see you, they certainly know when you are smiling. Whenever you deliver an exciting and emotional presentation, whether in person or over the phone, feel it! Show your emotions through your facial and physical gestures; your audience on the other end of the line will absolutely be able to follow along.   

When you are excited and smiling, your voice naturally changes pitch. It is just as easy to recognize those speakers who enjoy themselves over the phone as it is to recognize those who simply run through the motions. Therefore, enjoy yourself and let your colors shine through. Your virtual audience will thank you for it with their rapt attention.

When you follow these three tips, you’ll be able to give virtual and phone presentations that engage both the hearts and minds of your listeners….and that inspire them to action.

The Perfect Retreat

This is another installment in my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. If you’re a man reading this, please enjoy it and then forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it! I’m a big proponent of vacations. Like you, I work long hours and am deeply committed to the success of my business, so managing personal time is a top priority. Taking time off from the rigors of work, technology, and the daily grind is critical for keeping creativity and motivation high. And I’ve discovered that it’s often during breaks and vacation times that I solve nagging issues and come up with some of my best business ideas. So rather than completely “checking out” during a vacation, I’ve become more conscious about using the time to “dial in” and gain a renewed sense of purpose and professionalism.

When I’m feeling overloaded and not working efficiently, I take short breaks. These “mini vacations” provide the space for my intuition to break through the noise and provide counsel. When I take weekend and longer vacations I use that time to plan and problem solve as well. So whether you’re taking a short break or a long vacation, here are a few tips that can help you use your time off in a way that not only calms your mind and body but also energizes your drive and motivation.

  • Keep a journal handy. I have small notebooks in every possible location: in my car, in every handbag, by my bed, and in my pocket. I take them with me on hikes, weekend getaways, long vacations, or even when  shopping or going out to dinner with friends. Great ideas often come when you’re the most relaxed…and they can disappear just as easily. So be prepared to jot them down for a later time.
  • Spend time with like-minded people. Every now and then it’s important to plan your time off so you’re spending it with people who can support you in your personal and professional growth. Sometimes that means taking time for you and leaving the family at home. A weekend with the “girls” can do wonders for your outlook and self-esteem.
  • Empty your mind…and then refuel it. Thinking about nothing on your time off is extremely helpful to reset your body and mind, and it helps you feel good in the moment. But the things you’re leaving behind (including those irritating challenges) will still be at work waiting for you. So rather than simply empty your mind, find a new activity that can help you refuel your brain. This could mean reading that business strategy book you’ve been putting off, learning about a topic that is outside of your area of expertise, or even focusing on improving a skill. Exercise your brain in new ways so you can gain a broader perspective to work and life.
  • Create a plan. The last day of vacation, of a long weekend, or even of a “mini vacation” is sad for many people. So why not find a way to keep that refreshed focus and feeling of calm you experience while on vacation with you all the time? You have choices on how you live your life every day. You can choose to let the stress engulf you, or you can choose to take control of the stressors in your life. Use your journal and jot down two or three concrete ideas that you can take back with you.

There’s no reason why getting some R&R can’t also include helping you be more and do more. For more ideas on how the two concepts can be combined, check out my new program, Speaking Spas. And before you plan that next vacation or long weekend—or even that short break—take a few minutes to think about what you really need. When you take care of yourself first, you’ll have much more of yourself to share with others.

Steven Tyler’s Rooster Feathers are a High Performance Prop

In entertainment, performance, and even public speaking, props play an important role when creating an image or making a key point. Whether your prop is something you hold or something you wear, your audience will connect it to your message, thus making your points more memorable. For example, I know a professional speaker whose signature prop is a hat. She wears one every time she gives a speech, and her audiences have come to expect it. She is so well known for her hats that her audience once arrived to her event all wearing hats—in tribute to her. That’s the kind of contagious prop that is worth cultivating.

But the prop to end all props right now is Steven Tyler’s hair feathers. Yes…hair feathers. And according to a story I recently heard on NPR, the popularity of his feathers is placing big demands on Whiting Farms, the feathers’ producers.

Located in western Colorado, Whiting Farms sells feather products for fly-fishing to over 50 countries. They specialize in raising specific chickens and roosters, and are well known for providing top flies to fly fisherman. They have a loyal customer base who create their own flies and who swear by the feathers Whiting Farms provides. Apparently, fly-fishing is a creative process and the fishermen say that the rooster feathers they buy from Whiting Farms are an integral part of the success in catching fish.

Now here’s the dilemma: Ever since Steven Tyler has been wearing these feathers in his hair, thousands of young girls want feathers in their hair too. And just any old feather won’t do—they want the exact same feathers Tyler wears. Whiting Farms is having a tough time keeping up with the demand from this new market.

This just goes to show how much impact a seemingly simple prop can have. If you follow American Idol (or if you’re a fan of Steven Tyler), you probably know that Tyler is always in costume. Even though he appears rather disheveled, everything he wears has been meticulously selected, coordinated, assembled, and crafted to create the image of what we see each week. Nothing is left to chance. As Tyler once said, paraphrasing Dolly Parton, “You have no idea how much it costs to look this cheap.”

Even his hair feathers from Whiting Farms are strategically placed. Now the feathers have become all the rage in boutiques throughout America as customers ask their stylists to integrate feathers into their every day hair styles.

As a result, Whiting Farms can’t keep up with the demand from the salons. At least 50 percent of their inventory is going to the salons now, and even when they raise their prices, the salons still order the feathers. The farm is actually concerned that they may lose some of their loyal fly fishermen because they can’t meet the demand.

So what’s your prop? What key item or piece of clothing can become your signature—something that increases your recognition and makes you memorable? From hats to feathers, the possibilities are endless. Just please choose wisely—you don’t want your prop to ruffle any feathers!

Rebecca Black: Public Speaking & Life Lessons from a 13-Year-Old Pop Sensation

Have you heard of Rebecca Black yet? If not, you probably will soon. She is a thirteen-year-old girl whose parents hired Ark Music Factory to produce a music video for her. If you haven’t seen it, here it is. But I warn you…while Rebecca is a sweet young teenager who may indeed be the next Miley Cyrus, I doubt you’ll be amazed at this video.

 

After her music video Friday was produced and released on March 14, 2011, it went viral on YouTube. As of this writing, it has had over 84 million viewers. She has been awarded just over 210,000 “likes” and over 1.6 million “dislikes”. So yes…she is famous for being among the most disliked people on You Tube, and her song has been dubbed “the worst song ever made”! But fame or infamy…all press is good press, and reports show that she has made well over $1 million for her efforts.

I don’t agree that Rebecca Black has little musical talent and poor performance skills, or that the video is insipid and of poor quality, or even that the song is imbecilic. All those things may be true, but overall, Rebecca comes across well. She looks comfortable and confident in front of the camera, has a sweet smile, relates well to the crowd she is singing to, and has a certain freshness and innocent appeal.

But obviously what I think matters little. (Aside from the fact that she’s getting some positive free press from me!) The point is that this young girl made a video that went viral, most people dislike it, and yet she has still fallen into the arms of success. Celebrity in the internet age is nothing short of phenomenal. But rather than sit around scratching our heads and wondering how this happened or rush to her video and click “like” or “dislike,” we’d be better off thinking about the lessons we can learn that can help us succeed. Here are a few:

  • Embrace risk. Of course, not every young girl has the parental support and resources to fund a project like this, but aside from the steep investment (approximately $4,000) what sticks out for me is Rebecca’s willingness to take a risk and put herself out there with absolutely no guarantee of success. If she had talked herself out of doing this video for any reason she would never be experiencing the fame and success she is enjoying today. How many of us lose faith in our projects and ourselves before we’ve even had a chance to test the concept? So even if you don’t have your parent’s funding, find a way to take a risk.
  • Go public with the best you have. While perfectionism is an important skill for success, sometimes it can get in the way. Nothing in Rebecca’s video is perfect. Yet its ability to work or not work, depending on your perspective, has given it a life of its own. How many of us are paralyzed by our desire for perfection before releasing our work to the world? Realize that perfection in anything is simply not possible. Do your best, and let it go.
  • Increase your expectations. Fantasy is usually not a recommended strategy for building a realistic project plan, but vision is a necessity. A strong, clear vision provides a better chance for success than just about anything. Even if the forces are against you, when you have a clear vision there is always the possibility that success is within reach. So why not think big?
  • Welcome the unexpected. In any project plan it’s important to have a Plan B or a “what if.” In Rebecca’s case, her stardom was generated from a completely unexpected source—her success sprung from a well of “dislikes.” The most unpopular girl on YouTube is also the most famous. She and her family could have run from this unusual development—but they didn’t. Sometimes the journey to our goal can take an unexpected turn and we get what we want in ways we can never imagine.
  • Be grateful. What do you do when you take a risk, give it your best, think big, accept the unexpected, and are successful? There’s only one thing left to do…think about all those who helped you along the way, including the unpredictable hand of fate. Then ask yourself, “For what and to whom am I grateful?”

Even though I doubt I’ll download Rebecca’s song into my iTunes any time soon, I do admire her willingness to take a risk and put her work out there. She’s proof that when you think big and go for your dreams, you can be a success…regardless of what other people think.

Melinda Gates’ Presentation Skills Speak Volumes about Her Passion

How does someone who is seemingly so private and averse to publicity come across effectively on a prominent television news program like 60 Minutes? I watched Melinda Gates in awe on Sunday night as she passionately described the work she and her husband Bill are doing at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While I’ve seen her in photographs, I’ve never heard her speak in public. I was impressed by her skills and inspired by her message.

As a passionate spokesperson for the poorest of the poor in India, the undereducated in the struggling US educational system, and those deeply ill with malaria and polio, her message is clear: We can solve these problems if we have good research and data on past successes and if we spend money and take concerted action.

What makes Melinda Gates such a compelling figure? Is it her concrete approach? Her decision making based on facts? Her fierce compassion for the deeply disenfranchised of the world? It’s all those things and more.

In a society where political language has labeled many of our most challenging social problems “unsolvable,” or too expensive, or too complicated, here we have Melinda

Gates telling us that these challenges are doable and that it’s our responsibility to find solutions that work. The Gates foundation is committed to demonstrating results, and you can see in her eyes that Melinda Gates accepts nothing less.

In a world filled with apathy, disinterest and insurmountable problems that are too big to solve by some standards, here we have someone solving them with great skill, determination and clarity of vision.

Her strength and compassion are fierce. She presents herself as practical, certain and confident. She shows us with her language and body, with her face and voice, that she believes in her mission and will succeed. That kind of personal power is compelling; it makes us believe in a better world.

I was impressed with her style, her unyielding certainty, her vision for what can change, her recounting of what has changed, the scorecard she keeps, and her critical, fact-based decision making. These are the “touch points” that make her argument believable and persuasive. It is not the billions of dollars that are being used for this campaign that will make her goals reality—it is the drive and focus of this woman and her vision of what can be better that will make it happen.

There are certainly many strong and compelling role models in our world today—men and women doing courageous, altruistic and uplifting acts. And then there is Melinda Gates, who is setting a new standard for what is right and just in the world.

10 Minutes of Poise, Power and Passion

One of my passions in life is helping my clients and those in my online community improve and strengthen their speaking and presentation skills so that their message will have a powerful impact on all those who hear it. As such, my company, DeFinis Communications, gives people the training, tools and resources to choose the right words and say them with skill and confidence.

 

Because of this commitment to performance mastery, our clients develop greater poise, power and passion whenever they speak—whether in the boardroom or the dinner table. By helping our clients build a high level of skill and change unproductive behaviors we help them compete and succeed, professionally and personally. It’s what our clients like best.

 

As part of our teaching approach we show video clips of different speakers to demonstrate various levels of speaking skill. These speakers act as role models by either setting the gold standard for quality performance or showing us what “not” to do. Video is a powerful teaching tool because it addresses the question our clients always ask: “Can you show me what you mean?” Consequently, we are always on the lookout for examples of performance mastery in any performance discipline.

 

We look for examples of high performance in sports, with such masters as Tiger Woods and Shannon Miller, and in theater, music or dance. Great performances happen everywhere and in many different disciplines. If we are observant and take the time out of our busy schedules to watch such performances, we can learn much about public speaking. Composure, confidence, pride, discipline, timing, rhythm and focus are among the many skills and qualities that are a part of any great performance—including public speaking.

 

Today I received an email from a friend of mine containing a link to one of my favorite pieces of music and a reminder to “smell the roses.” With the holiday season upon us, my friend’s message was clear: don’t let a busy life displace the joys and wonders of the world. I heard her message loud and clear. 

 

If you can spare 10 minutes and 20 seconds to watch this video you will see a superb example of performance mastery and hopefully be as inspired and delighted as I was.

 

I am pleased to share this beautiful performance by concert pianist Freddy Kempf, who truly embodies the notion of poise, power and passion. I hope you will enjoy and learn from this master.

Michael Jackson: The Consummate Performer

For the last twenty four hours, I have been, like most Americans, immersed in the story of Michael Jackson. It has been an emotional time for me and my family, filled with conversations that have sparked many memories of the career highs and lows of this petite giant of an entertainer.

 

 

But for some of this time I have held onto my professional hat and have looked for the lessons that Michael Jackson has left for those of us who speak and perform in front of groups. These lessons are not hard to find, as there are certain immutable laws of public speaking and stage performance that overlap. And if we look closely enough we will be able to observe and perhaps emulate some of the dramatic elements and stage techniques that will forever be the signature of Michael Jackson.

 

Personal intensity and passion: Michael Jackson was nothing if not self-possessed and intensely passionate about his work and life. If each of us can take just a pinch of his passion and pour it into a topic that we love we will take our speaking to the next level.

 

Mechanics: From the time he was a little boy Michael Jackson possessed an uncanny and natural sense of rhythm, coordination and timing that fully matured in the moonwalk performance you’ve undoubtedly seen. There is certainly unusual and unique talent at play here with his intense physical coordination, conditioning and agility. The lesson for the public speaker is this: When you stand up on stage in front of an audience you are performing, so you’d better be in top physical condition in mind and body to deliver your message with impact. Planning, practice and a degree of talent are essential ingredients.

 

Mental discipline: Some would argue that Jackson lacked a certain mental discipline in his personal life, but as a performer it was a powerfully demonstrated skill. However much he may not have wanted to practice, rehearse and refine his act, he did it anyway. We will all face days when we do not want to practice or prepare for our next presentation. When we do, we only need to look at Michael Jackson’s performances to be reminded of the discipline it takes to perform well at any level.

 

Precision: What impresses me the most is watching the precision of his body movements coupled with his wonderful voice and clever lyrics. The coordination of his body, voice and words were the vehicle for his powerful, passionate and entertaining message. There are parallels here because the same precision is required for the public speaker. Taking the time to practice and learning to be precise will pay off in spades.

 

There are, of course, many more elements and lessons to learn from Michael Jackson – the ultimate performer. His creativity, natural talent, extreme energy and generous physical output coupled with his stage mechanics, passion and drive all came together on stage. Watching him perform was pure inspiration.