Public Speaking Tip from Rudyard Kipling

Today is the birthday of the British writer Rudyard Kipling who said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

It’s a wonderful thought to keep in mind as the year winds to a close. The best presentations have lots of stories. Not only are they memorable. But they are entertaining.

Dorothy Sarnoff, Public Speaking Pioneer, Dies

Dorothy Sarnoff, who started as an opera singer and Broadway star and ended up as a public speaking pioneer died earlier this month.  Read her obituary in the New York Times here.  The Times states:

A relentless optimist, Miss Sarnoff believed that a spellbinder dwelled within even the most terrified client. Flop sweat was not an option, and she had a mantra to dissolve it.

“I’m glad I’m here,” clients were instructed to say to themselves. “I’m glad you’re here. I care about you. I know that I know.”

If that did not do the trick, she advised a quick abdominal exercise, sometimes called the Sarnoff Squeeze, that engaged an area around the midriff that she called “the vital triangle.”

These and other tricks worked a charm with clients like Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, Bob Dole and Danielle Steel.

Happy Holidays and See You Next Year!

We’ve had a lot of fun with the Talking Point blog this year.  I’m going to be on a holiday break for the next week or so. I’ll see you in 2009.

In the meantime, remember, great speaking is about connection, not perfection.

Happy Holidays.

What Do You Do When You Lose a Pitch?

You can deliver the best sales presentation of your life and still lose. The question is this: what do you do then?

Seth Godin had a great answer to that question in a post over the weekend.

Writes Godin:

You could be more gracious than if you’d won the work. You could send a thank you note for the time invested, you could sing the praises of the vendor chosen in your stead and you could congratulate the buyer, “based on the criteria you set out, it’s clear that you made exactly the right choice for your organization right now.” That doesn’t mean the criteria were right, it just means that you’re not attacking the person for being an impulsive lunatic. You could even outline what you learned from the process and what you’ll be changing in the future. And you can make it clear that you’re in it for more than just a sale, and you’ll be around if they ever need you.

Remember, just because you’ve lost the pitch, doesn’t mean that you won’t ever get another chance with the prospect.  Being a good sport might allow you to win the next job.

What if a Prior Speaker Eats into Your Time?

When sharing the stage with another speaker, always be ready to shorten your presentation if the other guy goes too long.  Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble.


Make your presentations flexible by focusing on three key points.  For a 20 minute presentation, you can plan to give two stories per point.  If you suddenly have to give a 10 minute speech, tell one story per point.

What Do You Do If Your Projector Breaks?

One of my favorite saying is, “It’s OK to put all your eggs in one basket so long as you watch the basket.”


With those words in mind, if you’re giving a presentation that depends on a  projector and slides, then make sure that you don’t show up with a broken projector.  Check out the projector before you leave. And if necessary, bring a backup.


But there is another approach to the “broken projector” problem.  Simply don’t ever deliver a presentation where a projector is essential. The best presentations make three points and tell a handful of personal stories.  No projectors are needed.


I flew to Dallas once for a program with a client and the projector was broken. My client panicked because she was supposed to supply the projector. But I stayed calm.


“Do you have a flip chart?” I asked.


The presentation went off without a problem. The presentation came off well because the projector was nice but not essential. I was able to deliver the presentation without slides.

What To Do About a Grandstanding Questioner

You’ve just finished your remarks and are taking questions.  A guy in the third row raises his hand and asks a question. You answer it and then he asks another.  Before you know it, this guy is starting to take over the presentation. He’s grandstanding.

What do you do?  

Start with patience. You never want to show that you’re irritated with anyone in the audience. Say something nasty and the audience might turn on you. Stay calm and the audience will admire your control.

On the other hand you can’t let the guy go on forever. It’s not fair to the rest of the audience.  This is where you use a little psychology.  When you’re ready to cut the guy off, say “I think you’re raising some good questions. Why don’t we discuss them further when we’re done.”  Then look at another part of the audience and say, “Does anyone else have a question?”

By looking at another part of the audience, you’re sending a strong signal that his time is done. But you’re not humiliating him.

Public Speaking Tip from Clint Eastwood

“My old drama coach used to say, ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ Gary Cooper wasn’t afraid to do nothing.”

Those are the words of Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite actors, and whose new movie “Gran Torino” opens today.  I don’t need to see the reviews. I’m going. That’s all there is to it.

One of the reasons for Clint’s on-screen presence is, as the quote suggests, his ability to stand and say nothing.

If you want to have presence in front of an audience, you should also be willing to stand and say nothing. Sometimes, a pause is best way to get the audience’s attention.