IBM Ad Demonstrates How to Answer a Question

If you want a quick tutorial in how to answer a question well, check out the IBM ad where a skepitcal businessman grills a female colleague over the value of her “green proposal.”  Her answer is tight — two sentences.

Tight answers are far more persuasive than long ones. A two sentence answer says, “I know this and there’s no doubt.” There’s a sense of certainty that is disarming and inspires confidence.

Next time you know you’re going to be grilled. Prepare a list of questions you expect. Then come up with two sentence answers. You’ll inspire confidence.

McCain’s Lack of Eye Contact is Talk of Debate

John McCain seemed surprised by accusations that he was intentionally refusing to make eye contact with Barack Obama in Friday night’s Presidential Debate.   Surely there is some political spin at work here on both sides of this discussion.  I’ve included a YouTube clip below for you to judge.

But what is real about the issue is that eye contact is something that we all notice.  Eye contact is the most direct way of connecting with people when communicating.  So if you’re not making eye contact, people will make judgments about you.  I tell this to my teenagers all the time.  You need to make eye contact.

In the context of a presentation, you should hold random 3-5 second miniature conversations with as many people in the room as possible.  That will give people the sense that you’re connecting with them. And it will help you avoid the kind of criticism leveled at Senator McCain.


Happy Birthday to William Faulkner

Yesterday was the birthday of Willliam Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949.  He gave one of the most ever quoted Nobel Prize acceptance speeches. The context of the speech was the cold war and the threat of atomic annihilation.

Apparently, the speech wasn’t much hailed on the day it was given. That may have been because Faulkner didn’t deliver it particularly well, reading it quickly into the microphone without much expression.  You can listen to a portion of the original recording of it below in the YouTube clip.

It was only when the speech was reprinted and read widely, that it was considered one of the greatest ever Nobel speeches. 

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Asking For Small Committments Pays Off Big

Call it the small committment paradox. You’ll make more sales if you ask for less at the end of your sales pitches.

That’s right. Asking for less yields more, according to a study detailed in “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” a new book by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini.

In the study, solicitors went door-to-door seeking donations for the American Cancer Society. Half of the time the solicitors would say “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?” Half of the time they would also add the following to the end of their pitch: ” . . . even a penny will help.”

The prospects in the “even a penny will help” category were more than twice as likely to give something.

But here’s the kicker. The “even a penny will help” donors did not give smaller donations. The size of their donations were just as large as the other half of the donors.

So what does this all mean for your sales pitches?  When you’re asking for a committment from a prospect, try asking for a small committment.  It seems to make prospects more likely to buy by making the process seem less intimidating. And even though you’re asking for less, the size of the purchase will likely be the same.

Focus Your Pitch on the Hole, Not the Drill


Here’s a sales pitch fable.


There once was an associate in a hardware store named Johnny. The store had begun carrying what the associate considered the best power drill on the planet. It was the SuperDrill 5000. This drill was a super-duper hand-held model that came with dozens of drill bits. The SuperDrill 5000 was so light anyone could use it with ease. It was extremely powerful. It was fully portable and held a charge for twice as long as the other drills. And above all, it was absolutely beautiful. Johnny had been selling drills for years and yet he still got a slight thrill every time he looked at the SuperDrill 5000. 


One day, Janet walked into the store and went to the drills. 


“Interested in a drill?” said Johnny.


“Yes,” she said, “I need to drill a few holes for a doghouse I’m building for my dog Baloo.”


“Have you thought about the SuperDrill 5000?” As Johnny said the words, he felt a thrill of excitement. He thought, “How could anyone not fall in love with the SuperDrill 5000”


When Johnny described all the features of the drill, Janet could hear Johnny’s passion; she could see it in his eyes.


Then she pointed to another drill, the K-250—a lesser drill in every respect. “But this drill costs a third as much,” she said.


Johnny scoffed at the K-250, reminding her of all the features of the SuperDrill 5000. “This drill comes complete with twenty-four drill bits. And it’s so light.”


“But I only need to drill four holes to make my dog house,” she responded. In the end, Janet bought the lesser drill.


What the moral of this fable? 


People buy holes, not drills.


Put another way, people buy solutions, not products or services. Always. So you should never pitch anything else.


Don’t pitch your law firm. Pitch a solution to the law suit. Don’t pitch your architecture firm, pitch a solution to the owner’s building design needs. Don’t pitch a piece of software. Pitch a solution to a business problem. 


Pitch solutions. Always.

Leave Half Your Time for Q&A

If you have 30 minutes on an agenda, don’t plan to speak for more than 15 minutes. 

You read that correctly.  Leave half your time for Q&A.

Usually, the most exciting part of a presentation for the audience is the time they get to ask questions.  It’s your listeners’ chance to talk about what’s truly on their mind.

But I also think it should be the most exciting part of the presentation for the speaker.  It’s your chance to hear whether they’re buying into your argument.

Let’s say that you’re trying to persuade your audience to give you money for a project.  You’ve made your argument and then you stop and take questions. The first question is “Can you explain to me why you need so much money for this plan?”

If you’re the presenter, you should be delighted. Here’s your chance to answer an objection and get your listener over the hump to buy into your idea.

Guy Kawasaki, the venture capitalist and internet guru, urges speakers to follow the 10-20-30 rule. Limit your presentations to ten slides and 20 minutes. And limit your type size to 30 point or larger.

It’s important to note that Kawasaki wants you to limit your presentation to no more than 20 minutes even if you have a full hour to speak!  The point is that Kawasaki wants most of the presentation to be an interactive experience.

Want to have a great presentation?  Don’t talk for more than half of your alloted time.

Public Speaking Tip from James Brown

“Hair is the first thing. And teeth is the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things, he’s got it all.”

Those are the words of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.  

I don’t suppose he was speaking about public speaking. But he was talking about the importance of impression.  

One of the easiest ways to make a good impression is simply to smile.  

Too many people, when making speeches or presentations fail to do anything with their face other than look overly serious.

If you want to make a great impression, make like James Brown. Remember that people want to see some teeth.

Smile!  It’s like a handshake with the face.

Yogurt and Nuts Help Beat Stage Fright



Yogurt and nuts can reduce anxiety during your next presentation, according to a new study. 

Scientists in Slovakia gave either amino-acid supplements or a placebo to a group of men and asked them to give a speech.

The men who had taken the supplements experienced half as much anxiety according measurements of stress hormones in their bloodstream.

Yogurt and nuts have very high levels of the type of amino-acids used in the study.  So a healthy snack might help reduce your anxiety.

Of course, at Speechworks we think that the best way to deal with anxiety during presentations is to rehearse like crazy.   That means rehearsing your presentation out loud over and over again until you know it so well that no amount of nervousness can keep you from delivering a great message.

So rehearse like crazy and, if you want, have a yogurt. You’ll knock ‘em dead.

Use Fortune Cookie Proverbs in Your Speech

“If the wind comes from an empty cave, it’s not without a reason.”

“The old horse in the stable still yearns to run 500 miles.”

Such Chinese proverbs are becoming the rage of the corporate boardroom according to an article in the on-line magazine Slate.   

The article describes a business conference in Aspen, Co. that featured speeches on a variety of issues. According to the author, at times the conference became a contest in who could cite the best Chinese proverb.

China’s influence was especially apparent in the language used throughout the conference. At a panel on alternative energy, Lawrence Bender, a producer of “An Inconvenient Truth”, opened his spiel with a Chinese proverb: “When the wind rises, some people build walls. Others build windmills.” Panelist David Hawkins,  a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, countered with another Chinese proverb: “When is the best time to plant a tree? A hundred years ago. When is the second-best time to plant a tree? Yesterday.” (The exchange occasioned much sage nodding of heads.) At another panel, an executive explained the reluctance of Western firms to engage in aggressive public relations in the new market by noting, “In China, they say tall flowers are cut down.”

What we love about the use of Chinese proverbs is that they are often slightly mysterious and therefore require that the speaker tell the story behind the proverb.  And as anyone who has worked with Speechworks knows, we love stories. 

For example, the quote “If the wind comes from an empty cave, it’s not without a reason” is about trying to understand mysterious incidents. If your business sees something odd happening, chances are that there is a reason. The key, of course, is to try to figure out the reason.

So in your next speech, consider tossing in some sage wisdom from the Chinese.  It might work. Or as the sage said: “Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.”

Think You Speak Too Fast? Try Pausing

“Everyone tells me that I talk too fast.”

We hear that all the time from our clients.  But the solution isn’t to speak slower. Most “fast talkers” really just need to  throw in some pauses.

Many people are told that they speak too fast. But no one speaks so fast that they can’t be understood. The fastest speakers speak around 175 to 180 words per minute.  The human ear can perceive over 300 words a minute. 

When people speak too fast, usually that means that they speak in a continuous uninterrupted stream, never letting the audience digest the ideas. Pausing gives your listeners a chance to catch up with you. 

Pause for two to three seconds. In our workshops, we have clients read the following phrase:

“A pause shows poise  . . . control . . .  confidence  .  . . . use it  . . . master it.” 

And we urge participants to hold the pause longer than it feels comfortable.  Even a short pause can seem very long if you’re not used to pausing.

Whatever you do, however, don’t actually slow down your rate of speech. Slow speakers tend to sound dull and tentative.  Fast talkers have energy.

And energy is a good thing so long as there are some pauses to help the audience digest your ideas.