Abbott and Costello at a Computer Store


One of the great and funny lessons on the importance of knowing your listener was Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s on first routine.” I came across a funny revision of that sketch.

The revision posed the question, “What would have happened if Costello called a computer store to buy a computer?” 

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: Thanks. I’m setting up an office in my den and I’m thinking about buying a computer.
COSTELLO: No, the name’s Lou.
ABBOTT: Your computer?
COSTELLO: I don’t own a computer. I want to buy one.
COSTELLO: I told you, my name’s Lou.
ABBOTT: What about Windows?
COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?
ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?
COSTELLO: I don’t know. What will I see when I look at the windows?
ABBOTT: Wallpaper.
COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.
ABBOTT: Software for Windows?
COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?
ABBOTT: Office.
COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?
ABBOTT: I just did.
COSTELLO: You just did what?
ABBOTT: Recommend something.
COSTELLO: You recommended something?
COSTELLO: For my office?
COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?
ABBOTT: Office.
COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!
ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.
COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows!  OK, let’s just say I’m sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?
COSTELLO: What word?
ABBOTT: Word in Office.
COSTELLO: The only word in office is “office”!
ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.
COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?
ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue “W”.
COSTELLO: I’m going to click your blue “w” if you don’t start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?
ABBOTT: Money.
COSTELLO: That’s right. What do you have?
ABBOTT: Money.
COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?
ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.
COSTELLO: What’s bundled with my computer?
ABBOTT: Money.
COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?
ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.
COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer?  How much?
ABBOTT: One copy.
COSTELLO: Isn’t it illegal to copy money?
ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.
COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?

(A few days later)
ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?
ABBOTT: Click on “START”…….

How Not to Be Blinded By PowerPoint

One thing people that worry about when using PowerPoint is what to do when the light from the projector cuts the room in half.


You’ve seen the problem. Your projector is on a table at the front of the room and the light from the projector is shining on the screen such that you can’t walk across the front of the room without blinding yourself and briefly blocking the screen.


If you never cross in front of the light, you feel cut off from one side of the room and hence, half the audience.


The solution: Try to stay to one side for about half the time and then cross over in front of the light, moving quickly to ensure that you can connect with the other half of the room.

CEOs Aren’t The Only Ones that Value Brevity.

“When you’re presenting to our CEO, be sure to keep it tight.  He has a very short attention span.”

We hear people say that about their CEOs all the time.

It’s like CEOs all somehow suffer from a horrible case of attention deficit disorder.

I don’t buy it. CEOs aren’t special. 

Everyone wants short presentations.

CEOs are the only ones who have the authority and the willingness to enforce the time limitations.

Next time you have to give a speech, try cutting the entire thing in half.

I’ll bet no one will complain.

If You Don’t Have “The Goods”, then Don’t Pitch

If you want to deliver a winning pitch, you have to have “the goods.” By that, I mean you have to have a strong sense of the client’s “hot buttons.” You need to know the big problems that the prospect is trying to solve in hiring you.


For example, if you’re pitching to win a chance to design a building, you need to know the business reason for the building. Are they trying to increase productivity? Are they trying to consolidate operations?  Are they trying to cut costs?


If you don’t know the “hot buttons”, it severely restricts your ability to deliver a pitch that will win the job.


So what do you do if you don’t have “the goods?”


One option is simply not to pitch.


Indeed, why even bother pitching if you’re not going to put yourself in the best possible position to win? It’s a waste of time and money. With architecture firms, pitching for new business or responding to an RFP includes preparing drawings and charts. That is a lot of man hours and expenses. The total cost of a pitch can reach in excess of $50,000.


Many construction firms refuse to pitch when they’re going in “cold,” with no chance to visit the site or interview the key players. I once invited ten senior officers from commercial construction firms to a dinner to discuss their marketing practices. At one point during the event, I asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have been invited to pitch for opportunities based solely on your reputation or brand name?” 


These were very well-respected firms, so all hands went up. 


Here was my next question. “How many of you have actually won business in these ‘cold pitch’ situations?” 


Not one of them had ever won in that situation. As a result, many stated that they had stopped responding to “cold RFPs.”


I think you send a strong message to your prospect when you refuse to pitch without some opportunity to do some discovery. It says, “Hey, we’re very serious about helping our clients. And we’re not going to be able to truly help you if we don’t get a chance to spend some time diagnosing your key challenges. We’re not interested in working with anyone that is not interested in a true partnership.”


That’s exactly how an accounting software salesman I know feels. He told me his firm is often invited to give competitive presentations. Whenever they are asked to pitch, he says, they ask the opportunity to meet with the key stakeholders and analyze their needs. Sometimes they are asked to just come and give a presentation about their software’s features, benefits, and price. “We say, ‘no thanks,’” he told me. “We want to build a relationship. We don’t sell software. We sell a solution.”

Public Speaking Tip from My English Professor

When I took a creative writing class in college, my professor had a single message that he hammered at away all semester long.

“Show. Don’t tell!”

It’s a piece of advice that you should follow if you want to learn how to tell great stories in your presentations.

“Show. Don’t Tell!” means that to make a story dramatic, you need to describe the action so that the readers can see it unfold in their minds like a movie.

Don’t say, “Bill went to a meeting and shot his enemy.”

Say, “Bill walked into the office building, stepped onto the elevator and got off on the fifth floor. He walked pass the receptionist. “Hi Doris,” he said. “Is Jack in?” She nodded. Bill found conference room 5B and opened the door. Seated at the end of the table was Jack, who was opening up his briefcase. Bill produced a revolover from his pocket and aimed it at Jack. “So you thought it would be fun to tease my wife?”

The idea is that vivid description is what holds attention.

If you want to tell good stories as part of your presentation, you should do the same.

Let’s say that you want to tell a prospect of a successful building project you completed ahead of schedule. Don’t just tell them “We completed the project ahead of schedule.” 

Tell them a story that shows them how you did it.  “The owner told us that they had to get the building open in 12 months because they need to be able to start collecting rent to help make their loan payments. So of course we started as soon as possible. The problem was that on day one, my telephone rang. It was my excavator. “We just hit rock,” he said. “It’s going to take us a month to blast it out.”  So let me tell you how we proceeded . . . .

If you want to learn how to tell great stories, remember that you need to narrate it like it’s a movie.

Show. Don’t tell!

Meeting Communication Lesson from Charlie Rose

Filmmaker Andrew Filippone Jr. produced an oddly humorous video of television interviewer Charlie Rose interviewing himself on the subject of technology.  The video, “Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett,” seems to be Filippone’s take on Charlie Rose as avant garde theater. 

I laughed out loud. But maybe that’s because I was an English major.

But I also love the video as an example of how every meeting is a performance.  The clip is a wonderful study in Charlie’s unique and often spoofed style.  He’s obviously honed this style over a long period of time.  And I’m not saying that people should imitate it.

But I think it should remind us all that meetings are performances. And, if you want to sell ideas, you’re going to have to learn how to perform in a way that best connects with people. Find your own best style and hone it.


You Don’t Need To Change Your Personality to Be A Great Speaker

“That doesn’t feel like me.”

Those are the words of a CFO of a software company. I was coaching him recently in preparation for a presentation to an industry trade group.  I had just had him present on camera and I had been urging him to “ramp up the energy.” 

And it felt strange. He said he didn’t feel “normal.” He was worried that I was asking him to change his personality for the purpose of the speech.

So the question is this: Do you have to change your personality to be a great presenter?


But you do have to learn how to “be yourself” in a setting that is uncomfortable to most of us.

The question is what does it mean to “be yourself.”

I think “being yourself” means learning how to turn on your own “best style” at will. Your “best style” is that energetic style that you have when you’re speaking to a close friend, you’re relaxed, and you’re speaking with high energy about a topic you’re passionate about. For most people that is a very nice and attractive style.

The problem is that it is hard to turn on that style when you’re standing in front of a group of people. You don’t feel relaxed like you do when you’re speaking to a close friend.

So how do you turn on that style when you’re speaking with a large group?  You exaggerate. You crank up the energy intentionally, forcing yourself to smile and gesture in the same way that you would if you were relaxed.

I’ve seen this work over and over again.

Let’s go back to our CFO. I had asked him to exaggerate his energy as he delivered the presentation he was planning to the trade conference.  He said he felt awkward. “That doesn’t feel like me,” he said.

“Remember that you said that,”  I said.

Then I played for him the tape of him delivering the presentation.

“Wow,” he said. “That doesn’t look as awkward as it felt.”

In fact he looked great. He admitted that was how he spoke to his friends when he was relaxed.

You don’t need to change your personality to be a good speaker. Rather, you need to exaggerate your style so that your listeners can see your true personality.

Public Speaking Tip from James Bond

“Bond . . .  James Bond.”

Today is the premier of the newest Bond film “Quantum of Solace.”

And it gives us an excuse to talk about something that the British superspy does as well as anyone: pause.

The power of the pause is that is conveys a sense of confidence. So often, people feel a need to fill every moment with words. But it shows supreme confidence to allow silence to settle in.  

And if there’s one thing that Bond has, it’s confidence.

How to Avoid Memorizing Your Pitch

People memorize a speech when they write out their script word for word and then commit it to memory. Don’t do that. Put together an outline and then simply begin to practice the presentation, figuring out the exact words as you go. 


Your outline might look something like this


I.      Safety is important to you.

II.     How we’ll promote safety on the job.

III.    How our program will save you money.


Once you have the outline in place, you should think of each of the key points as lead-ins for a short section. You might begin practicing like this:


When we met with you last week, you told us that safety was going to be an important issue for you on this job. Indeed, you told us that on your last job, you had a couple of minor injuries. We certainly want to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that everyone working on and around the job is as safe as possible. That’s why safety is JOB ONE on our worksites.


Let me talk about what we’re going to do to keep your job safe. Blah. Blah blah.


Next, I’d like to tell you about how our safety program actually will save you money. Blah blah blah.


Then you should practice delivering the presentation several times, working on honing exactly how you say everything. Every time you do it, you’ll probably say it a little differently. That’s okay. After several tries, you’ll settle into a way of speaking that sounds natural and works for you. It won’t sound memorized and you’ll be ready to deliver it in a way that connects with the audience.

Don’t Memorize Your Entire Pitch!

I worked with a senior executive at a telecommunications company who wanted me to help him become a better presenter. He sent me the videotape of a presentation he had given recently. He walked to the front of the stage, looking rather stiff in a pinstripe suit.


Then he proceeded to deliver his presentation in a rather stiff monotone. It was clear he had memorized the entire thing and was reciting it verbatim.


The problem with memorizing your entire prevention is that you sound canned. That can be just as bad as being unprepared. Remember, you want to connect with the prospect and make them believe that you can add value to their business. If you’ve simply memorized your presentation, you come across as non-credible. Given enough time, anyone can memorize a presentation on any topic.


You want to come across as someone who can speak intelligently about your topic without excessive prompts.


Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to prepare for a speech without memorizing.