Content Development

Samoan Car Thieves, Fiji Water…and Public Speaking?

What do Samoan car thieves have to do with public speaking or speech writing? On April 1st I received a phone call from my son.  “You’ll never guess what happened,” he said.  “My car got stolen…again.”

Since it was April Fools’ Day, I figured it was a joke.  After all, his car was stolen six months earlier and recovered after twelve uncertain days. How many people do you know who have a car stolen once let alone twice in less than six months?  But as it  turned out, this was no joke.  His car was stolen while it was parked in front of his house in San Francisco.  He spent a few hassled days dealing with paperwork and insurance claims before the police called him to say they found the car.

And they found his car quite by accident. According to the officer, three large men driving an old green Acura ran a stop sign.  The police pulled them over and ran a check on the license plate—it was my son’s stolen car. They arrested the driver, who confessed to stealing the car, and let the other two men go. The officer then explained that the three men who stole the car were Samoans—big, big, big Samoans. So when my son got his car back it was filled with big things: three pairs of enormous Nike shoes, several shirts the size of small circus tents, a multitude of super size soda cups, one extra large belt, several half eaten pieces of red velvet cake, a large bottle of leather cleaner (I guess they were planning to clean the inside of the car), and most interesting of all, twelve large bottles of unopened Fiji water.

If you’ve read this story to this point, then it’s probably the details that have held your interest.  In writing as well as public speaking, “God is in the detail,” even if the story is about car stealing, which we all would agree is not very “God like.”  Details evoke images and “show” people the picture you’re trying to convey.  If you’re talking about business productivity, for example, your details will help your listeners or readers feel the hustle of productivity and the rush of a sales call.  Details do more than just tell people what’s going on.

In our programs we call the details “touch points”; they are the support evidence you must include to make your speech content interesting and evocative.  The more details—facts, description, metaphor, imagery, anecdote, picture, graphs, humor, charts, quotes,—the more you offer your listeners or readers to keep them engaged.  Details sell ideas, capture attention, and inspire others to take action.

Did the Samoan car thieves grab your attention?  Or was it the Fiji water or the red velvet cake?  Whatever it was I hope you are inspired to use a variety of “touch points” when you’re writing your speech.

As for the car—it has a few more dents and nicks, but it runs just fine.  Maybe this experience is a good reminder for all of us to focus on one other important detail—always remember to lock your car!

Alltop.com: A Great Resource for Public Speakers

One of the biggest frustrations my clients have when preparing a speech is finding those key stories and credible facts that make it come alive. They often reveal that they waste so much time searching for information online that they no longer have enough time for practice. If this sounds like you or someone you know, I highly recommend you try Alltop.com. Alltop has been described as an "online magazine rack" that displays the news from top publications and blogs. It’s an incredible resource for public speakers and it’s changing the way I—and my clients—find news and relevant stories for our presentations.

Rather than a search engine, Alltop is a content aggregator. That means they collect the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a particular topic. They then group these collections—or “aggregations”—into individual web pages, where they display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Think of Alltop as an information filter to help you quickly find great material for your speech.

Here’s what typically happens for most presenters: You’re crafting a presentation and you know (because you’ve listened to my past advice) that you need an example or a story to illustrate your key point. So you log onto your favorite search engine and type in a keyword phrase that you think will bring you some good results. As you scroll through your 10 million+ results, you realize that finding an example is going to be harder and more time consuming than you thought. That’s where Alltop comes in.

Do you need to know what’s happening in China right now so you can persuade the board that entering into the Asian market is a good idea? Alltop can help. Need to know what’s happening in the commercial real estate industry so you can make solid recommendations to the executive team about acquiring new facility space? Try Alltop. Need a cute story about the loyalty of dogs to make your point about customer loyalty at the company-wide meeting? Alltop has you covered.

One of my favorite features of Alltop is the “preview.” When you place your cursor over a headline, Alltop displays part of the story so you can decide if you’d like to read it. To read the story, click on its title. To go to the home page of the site, click on its domain name. No more wasting time opening web pages only to find that the site can’t give you the information you need. Now that’s genius!

The mastermind behind this approach and one of the co-founders of Alltop is leading innovator and marketer Guy Kawasaki. You may remember Kawasaki as the chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of ten books, including his newest Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions (which I will be reviewing in an upcoming blog), Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. This is what sets Alltop apart from other content sources—it is powered by creativity, innovation, and marketing expertise.

So the next time you need that perfect story, example, fact, quote, or other key piece of information for your presentation, think of Alltop.com. It will source and sort the information you need, and as Kawasaki says, provide "aggregation without the aggravation.”

Use the Pareto Principle for More Powerful Presentations

ParetoThe 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, helps explain the power of simplicity. The 80/20 Rule is pervasive in our world. For example:

  • 80% of traffic jams occur on the 20% of roads
  • 80% of beer is consumed by 20% of drinkers
  • 80% of profits come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of sales are generated by 20% of sales people
  • In other words, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, the Pareto Principle can be seen in all areas of life. From traffic to beer to business and everywhere in between, the 80/20 Rule dominates. And, believe it or not, the 80/20 Rule applies to your presentations too.

First, it’s important to note that the point of the 80/20 Rule is to help you realize that most things in life are not evenly distributed, including your time resources. But when you recognize which 20% of something gives you the most reward or return on investment, you can make a conscious decision to focus on those aspects.

So when it comes to your presentations, here’s how the 80/20 Rule comes into play:

  • Your content – Most presenters struggle with content creation because they don’t know how to focus their main points. As such, they try to put everything they know about the topic into a short presentation. But using the Pareto Principle, you can see that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your content; therefore, focus on the vital few pieces of information—the 20%—that will be most important for your listeners. Don’t rely on your instincts to identify the 20%. Instead, use data to determine the truth about what to put in your speech. Analyze your audience and look at who they are. What are their pains? What problems do they need to solve? What will help them be less overwhelmed, more organized, more successful? Then, focus just on those few items and give 80% of your content around those 20% of main points. Remember, keeping your message simple keeps both you and your audience focused.
  • Body Language – We all have dozens of gestures and body language tools available to us, but most people use only about 20% of what they have in their toolbox. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it does simplify the options. However, using the same old 20% of body language all the time could be boring for you and your audience. Think of it like wearing the same pair of shoes every day. They work, but the “wow” factor is gone. So rather than using the same 20% of gestures and body language 80% of the time, try out a few new hand movements, facial expressions, and even body stances. You may just find that they open you up to a whole new realm of possibilities.
  • Vocabulary – The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20% are no longer in current use. If all these were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million words. Even though we can choose to use any of these words in our presentations, the fact is that 80% of the time we use the same 20% of words in our presentations. If this works for you and delivers stellar results, then great. But if you’re looking for better results from your presentations, perhaps it’s time to stretch your mind, learn new words, and expand your vocabulary.

Finally, the Pareto Principle does not mean you can ignore key aspects of your presentation (or key aspects of anything for that matter). So while you may create 80% of your presentation in the first 20% of time, or you may focus on 20% of your key points for 80% of the time, you still need to add in the details that turn your ho-hum first draft into a high caliber presentation.

Will you take these steps? I already know what 80% of the people will. The real question is, what will YOU do?

Winning the Future: Reflections on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

I love the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union address. Anytime our leaders gather together to celebrate our history and our future, I am moved and inspired. I was especially so last night as I watched President Obama take control of the podium and deliver a well-structured speech that reiterated for all of us our unique and inspiring history. In his “story of ordinary people who dare to dream,” he was included, as was Joe Biden and John Boehner. From the moment he walked down the aisle and silenced the applauding crowd, I was (as I always am) struck by his easy charisma and presidential stature. He carries himself with confidence and certainty.  He is a leader who is so much in charge that he’s not afraid to set limits or to compromise. Either position is within his reach to use when required. He demonstrated this range last night as he moved nimbly from softness to seriousness.

Of course, the response to his speech from pundits and the American public was mixed. A CBS News poll of speech watchers, which was conducted online by Knowledge Networks immediately after the president’s address, showed that 91 percent of those who watched the speech approved of the proposals President Obama put forth during his remarks. Only nine percent disapproved. Despite that, some pundits claimed the speech missed the mark, even saying, “The speech is a mathematical riddle that can’t be solved.” (If anyone understands what that means, please let me know.)

I’m not a domestic or foreign policy expert, nor am I a political commentator. So I won’t comment on the proposals and ideas the president put forth. I am, however, a citizen, a speech coach, and a communication expert. And as far as I am concerned, President Obama captured my attention as he stepped into the rhythm of the Connection Loop and engaged us with his usual accessible style and well-structured message.

In fact, it was a beautifully sculpted speech. He told stories, used data, quoted others, asked rhetorical questions, asked for our involvement, used humor, used metaphors, and in general, used the rule of three to capture our attention, build his case, and inspire us to act. For example, after his opening remarks, he laid out his three point agenda: Innovation, education, and infrastructure by saying, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Likewise, while laying out his agenda for the year and the challenge to the leadership, he asked everyone “to step up, work together, and make it happen.”

He also gave us some highly quotable moments and phrases that are sure to become part of our public domain database. Some highlights that struck me were:

  • “What comes of this moment is not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.”
  • “The future is ours to win”
  • “We do big things.”
  • “Innovation doesn’t just change our lives; it is how we make our living.”
  • “It’s not just the winner of the super bowl that should be celebrated; it’s the winner of the science fair.”
  • “If you want to make a difference, become a teacher. Your nation needs you!”
  • “Connecting every part of America to the digital age.”

Throughout the speech was his underlying constant rhythm of optimism. Yes, this was an uplifting speech—a speech that said in a completely new way, “Yes We Can.”

No matter what side of the political spectrum you adhere to, no one can deny that President Obama is a masterful presenter—someone who not only comes alive before an audience, but also someone who engages the hearts and minds of his listeners. So even if you don’t want to be the leader of the free world, but simply the leader in your industry or topic, then observe and listen to the president’s speech. He is definitely someone all presenters should watch and emulate.

In Praise of Proverbs

I spent this weekend at the Inn on the Harbor in the charming seacoast village of Stonington, Maine, where I have stayed many times before. Every summer, the innkeeper revises the guest book and adds what she calls a “zany” page that returning guests like me look forward to reading. This year was one of the best for “zany” reading. And yes, believe it or not, even here I found timeless principles that pertain to the art of public speaking!

The Zany Page of Revised Proverbs In the guest book was the story of a first grade teacher who had 26 students in her class. She presented each child with the first half of a well-known proverb and asked the student to come up with the remainder of the proverb. Following is the list as it was posted in the innkeeper’s guest book. As you read this list, do keep in mind that the children who wrote these are only six years old.  

Don’t change horses…until they stop running. Strike while the…bug is close. It’s always darkest before…Daylight Savings Time. Never underestimate the power of…termites. You can lead a horse to water but…How? Don’t bite the hand that…looks dirty. No news is…impossible. A miss is as good as a…Mr. You can’t teach an old dog new…math. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll…stink in the morning. Love all; trust…me. The pen is mightier than the…pigs. An idle mind is…the best way to relax. Where there’s smoke there’s… pollution. Happy the bride who…gets all the presents. A penny saved is…not much. Two’s company; threes…the Musketeers. Don’t put off till tomorrow what…you put on to go to bed. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and…you have to blow your nose. There are none so blind as…Stevie Wonder. Children should be seen and not…spanked or grounded. If at first you don’t succeed…get new batteries. You get out of something only what you… see in the picture box. When the blind lead the blind…get out of the way. A bird in the hand…is going to poop on you. Better late than…pregnant.

Lessons for the Public Speaker So what can we, as public speakers, learn from these funny mixed-up proverbs? More than anything else, we can simply remember to use proverbs—edited or not—in our speeches.

Support evidence or “touch points” come in many forms: stories, analogies, facts, data, metaphors, quotations, definitions, questions, physical demonstrations, charts, graphs, humor…and yes, even proverbs.

When you want to add variety to your support evidence, and not just bore your audience with dry data and statistics, look for a proverb to help you convince and persuade. After all, there’s no time like the present…to try a proverb.

When it Comes to Public Speaking, Less is More

We’ve all heard it before: “Less is more.” It’s what the TV makeover professional tells the woman who’s stuck on busy, patterned clothes and too much jewelry. It’s what makes fine-dining portions feel so special. And in terms of presentations, the same concepts are true: Less has greater impact, and small portions make the audience feel special.

But here’s the kicker: Less is more work, too. As Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I would have written less.”

In public speaking, the “less is more” concept means that what you do present is carefully selected for the listener. Presenting less information to your audience requires honing your material, making discrete choices, and selecting only what is relevant and meaningful. And it means making these decisions ahead of time, not when you’re at the podium.

So while it does take more time to refine and distill your message than it does to tell the audience everything you know about your subject, your hard work is worth it. By developing a more spare and elegant speech, you’re creating a message with real substance. It sounds counter intuitive, but it’s true. Your ideas will hold their own weight, and the core elements will shine through without being hidden amidst jargon or superfluous information.

Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to narrow things down. You may struggle with deciding what to keep and what to cut. This is why knowing your audience is so crucial. Put yourself in your listeners’ shoes. What information is most important to them? What one main message do you want to get across? If you had one minute and one minute only to present your information, what key point would you stress? That’s the information to focus on.

The good news is that after you’ve taken the time to edit, not only will you have created a more elegant presentation, but you will have worked with the information for so long that you will be more confident in the message you deliver.

Of course, I could go on about this topic, but I’m taking my own advice with this one. Less is more…enough said!

A Public Speaking Lesson from NASCAR

Does your speech have a memorable close? Recently, I did a half-day presentation skills training program for a corporate group of one hundred people. I asked three volunteers to prepare short talks ahead of time so they and the group could have a “before” and “after” experience of our Line by Line Coaching™ process

One presenter gave a talk on NASCAR. An enthusiastic NASCAR fan, she prepared and delivered a lively speech. She told great stories, used good delivery skills and created a PowerPoint presentation filled with colorful images and videos of NASCAR celebrities and exciting races.

Like a pro, she had the audience in the palm of her hand and finished her presentation on a high note. Her last slide showed an exuberant photo of her family cheering in the grandstand…. or so she thought.

She had forgotten that she had another presentation at the end of this one. After she gave her final thought she clicked to the next slide expecting it to say, “Thank You.” But instead, everyone saw a picture of the famous Brussels statue, the Manneken Pis. (You know, the one of the little man urinating into a pond.) The title of her slide was, Urinating Athletes.

The audience immediately howled with laughter, and the embarrassed speaker sheepishly grinned and apologized. “Oh sorry,” she said. “This is for a different presentation.” Fortunately, they all knew her and she was quickly forgiven. But this certainly proves how important it is to carefully plan and rehearse your close.

What Makes a Memorable Close?

A strong and memorable close recaps the core purpose of your presentation. It also reclaims lost audience attention and captures any interest that may have lagged during your presentation. It is your last chance to win the support of your audience.

Surely, the Urinating Athlete slide was a memorable close, but it’s one I don’t think the speaker would ever want to repeat!

Practice Makes Permanent

While developing your close is crucial, practicing it is even more important. You want to be able to deliver your close with ease, even in the most stressful situations. Adequate practice ensures that your reflexes are finely tuned and will perform for you.

And here’s one other piece of advice: Never put two presentations back to back in one PowerPoint slide deck. Always add a neutral slide in between, or better yet, make two decks. Otherwise, you may just get caught with your pants down.