Improve Gestures By Focusing On Your Facial Energy


The face bone is connected to the wrist bone.

That’s right. Very often, when our clients are having trouble improving their hand gestures, we’ll focus on their facial energy. That’s because if you improve facial energy, the gestures will often improve.

“What do I do with my hands?”  is a question we get from a lot of our clients and workshop participants.  And like most public speaking skills companies, our programs include a very effective module on hand and arm gestures and body movement.

But often we see gestures improve simply by energizing the face.

Be Like Jim Carrey on Steroids

“Here’s what I’d like you do during your presentation,” one of our coaches will tell a workshop participant.  “Deliver your next presentation with too much facial energy. It should feel like you’re face is over-active, like Jim Carrey on steroids.”

And the participant will speak on videotape with lots of eye brow action, exaggerating the smiles and grimaces.  We’ll then look at the tape and see that the gestures suddenly became quite natural!  It’s like the facial energy somehow fixed the gestures!

Of course, what’s happening is that the focus on the facial energy has made the participant “forget” about his hands and start gesturing in a natural, energized and confident manner.

Other Tips for Gestures

The fact is that while we teach gestures, movement, facial energy, and vocal energy as separate modules, they often all work together and are naturally connected.  If you improve your facial energy, there’s a good chance that you will improve your gestures.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way.  Much of the time, gestures can be improved with a few simple tips:

Make Big Gestures: the best gestures reach out and make you take up a lot of space.  The bigger you look, the more confident you will appear to your listeners. 

Hold the Gestures Through a Thought: No apple picking!  Don’t stab at the air with your hands.  That can be distracting. Rather reach out and hold the gesture confidently until you’ve completed your thought.

Gesture Boldly: Think about how an umpire calls a person “safe” when sliding into home.  He makes a strong decisive movement. That powerful movement makes him look confident.


Should You Pitch for Every Opportunity You Get?

Ran across an article yesterday about the high cost and low return of responding to requests for proposals by in-house counsels seeking attorneys.   

The article points out that the win rate is only 30 percent and the cost to get to the pitch can exceed $50,000. I once worked with an architecture firm that told me that they regularly spent more than $50,000 to respond to an RFP.

So question arises: is it worthwhile to get in line to pitch for a piece of business?

Of course, the answer depends.  It’s worthwhile if you know what you’re doing in approaching the RFP.

You increase your chances of winning if you do a few things:

  1. Never pitch blind. If you have no relationship with the prospective client prior to the RFP, be careful.  The way to win these proposals is to have a strong sense of the needs before you show up for the pitch. If you don’t know anyone at the company, you won’t have a strong sense of the business issues, won’t have any relationship with the key players, and probably won’t win.
  2. Present a solution. Make sure that you lay out your presentation as a solution to a problem that  your listeners have.  So many sellers deliver presentations that are nothing more than general presentations about the history and quality of their firm or business. No one cares! Deliver a pitch that is focused on how you’re going to save the company money, help them increase revenues or otherwise lower their risk. That’s what business people want to hear.
  3. Keep it simple. So many presentations are complicated and hard to follow. If yours is simple, you come across as easy to work with. 
  4. Deliver with passion.  People want to like the people they hire. If you seem fun to work with, you increase your chance of getting hired.
  5. Leave plenty of time for questions.  Clients want to kick the tires. They do that by asking questions.
  6. Rehearse. If you want to impress the client, practice your presentation out loud many times. Few presenters do it. So it’s an automatic separator.

To Beat Stage Fright, Schmooze with the Audience

It’s fifteen minutes before your presentation and you’re a little nervous.  You’ve checked the projector and it’s working just fine.  Your handouts are in order.  The microphone has been tested and your voice comes across strong and clear.  You even have a water glass ready in case you get a little parched during your presentation.

What do you do now?  We recommend going out into the audience and chatting with your listeners.  It’s a great way to deal with pre-speech jitters because it helps turn the audience from strangers into friends.

Pre-speech schmoozing also gives the speaker greater insight into the audience’s interests.  If an audience member asks about something related to your speech, you can be sure to address that issue during your remarks.  And if one person is interested in a particular topic, chances are that others are also interested.

Recently I was about to give a speech to a large group and I was a little jittery.  Once everything was set up, I walked out into the audience and began introducing myself. “Hi. I’m going to be your speaker today.”  I tried to meet as many people as possible, having little “cocktail party” conversations.  It helped calm the nerves.

Questions to ask include:

  • “Where are you from?”
  • “Where do you work?”
  • “What in particular interests you about today’s topic?”

Don’t spend more than a minute or two with any one audience member.  Just end the conversation by saying, “Nice meeting you.  I hope you enjoy the presentation.”  And then move on to the next person.  Ideally, you would speak to everyone in the audience before your speech.

Next time you have to give a speech, don’t stand at the lectern waiting to begin. Get out in the audience and schmooze.

“Should I Memorize My Presentation?”

I’m asked this question a lot. And the answer is no. But you should practice your presentation so much that you can say it almost the same way every time.  That’s not the same as memorization. 

Let me explain.

If you just memorize your presentation, then you’re going to deliver it like you’re just reading it. I once worked with an executive who memorized all of his speeches. Sure he didn’t use notes or a script. And that’s good. But he still sounded like a fifth grader reciting a poem from memory, speaking in a flat nervous voice as he struggled to remember every word. And if, heaven forbid, he forgot something, his speech would falter as he tried to remember his lines.   This is what happens when you memorize a speech.

That’s not to say, however, that you shouldn’t practice a lot. We tell people to memorize the few key phrases that lead into the messages that you want to make under those phrases. If you practice enough, that will be sufficient to allow you to deliver the presentation in a conversation style that connects with your audience. 

So let’s say that you’re going to deliver a section of your presentation where you discuss how you will help your listeners lower costs. Your point might be “We’re going to help you lower your costs.”  Then you will give  a three-point plan on how you will help lower costs. Then you will tell a story about lowering costs. The pattern is “Make the point, Give the Plan, Tell the story.”  Once you’re familiar with that pattern, you really only need to remember the point. The rest should flow easily, assuming that you’ve practiced.

And you won’t have to memorize the entire speech.

Website Helps You Write Your Oscar Speech

I couldn’t stay up to see all the Oscar speeches. But if you want to have some fun, here’s a link to a site that produces a “Mad Lib” style Academy Award speech.  

PROFANITY ALERT. The site does have some foul language.

Here’s the speech I came up with using the site.

Thank you! Oh! Thank you! I can hardly conjugate verbs! I feel so coked-up! And this statue – it’s so shiny! Oh, thank you again! I just want everyone to secretly suspect that even in my wildest fits of self-loathing, I never would have frantically prayed that this could ever validate my mediocrity. And to the other second-rate nominees, I want each of you to know how totally saddened your crushing defeat makes me feel right now!
You know when they first told me I was a God on Earth, I just had to take an epidural and brag about how unaesthetic my love scenes have been. I guess it all just makes me feel kinda wrinkly

You know, there are so many back-stabbing little people to thank! First off though, I want to blackball the esteemed idiots of the Academy, who looked deep within their wallets before giving me this fantastic award! Also, I want to thank Charleton Heston, for being such a powerful force in my kitchen. And to my brother, who taught me to take life by the fifth of bourbon. And finally, to all the personal assistants I fired – I couldn’t have done it without you! 

Thank you America, and good night!



Don’t Make Your Listeners Play “Where’s Waldo?”

Many speakers insist on making their listeners play “Where’s Waldo?”

If you don’t remember, “Where’s Waldo?” is the addictive series of drawings by British Illustrator Martin Hanford. The drawings include busy crowd scenes. Your job is to identify Waldo in the crowd. 

Many speakers make their listeners play a corporate version of “Where’s Waldo.”  They throw out a mass of confusing information and expect their listeners to find the point.

It’s easy to avoid a game of “Where’s Waldo” with your listeners.  All you have to do is say things like “My single point here is . . . . ”  Or “The three key things I want to you remember are  . . . .”

“Where’s Waldo” is great fun with a two-year-old.  It’s a lot less fun in a business meeting.

How to Close a Sales Presentation

howtowin-coverToday’s blog entry is adapted from my new book How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition. To purchase the book click here.


I once met with the managing partner of a large law firm about what I was going to say to his firm about winning new business presentations.


At one point, he looked at me and got very serious. “Please address one thing,” he said. “Address how to close a sale at the end of a pitch. We need closers.”


But the fact is that “closing” is overrated. Despite what many business developers think, no magic words can make someone hire you.  If they’re persuaded that you have the best solution to their challenges, then they will hire you regardless of how you “close.”


There Are no Magic Words that Will Make a Prospect Buy


Nevertheless, many sales people and business developers see magic in the “close.”


I met a real estate salesman who swore to me that he closed many sales with the following technique. He placed a contract in front of his prospect and then proceeded to roll a pen down the table toward the customer. The idea behind this technique is that the prospect picks up the rolling pen to keep it from falling into his lap. Somehow, this salesman swore to me, this compels the prospect to sign merely because he has the pen in his hand.


“That’s called the ‘rolling pen close,’” he said, appearing quite serious. I almost burst out laughing.


The best “close” is simply to ask for a decision


These closing tricks are ridiculous. If you’ve done your job right, you don’t need a clever close.


A good new business presentation is the final stage of the courtship.  In preparation for the pitch, good business developers conduct discovery and identify business challenges.  During the pitch, you present a solution to the challenges.  If you’re seeking the chance to represent a business in a bankruptcy, you should detail a plan for getting a good result for the client.


With that in mind, the best way to close a deal in a presentation is to politely ask the prospect for a decision. Here’s a good way to do it:


We’ve laid out a way for you to manage your challenges. We think it makes sense. Does it make sense to you?


Your prospect usually will respond in one of two ways. Both are good.


First, she could say, “Yeah. It makes a lot of sense to us as well.” Bingo! You’ve got a deal!


Or, she could say, “Well, I don’t really think it will work.”


This is good, too. If you haven’t made the sale, you may still have a chance. Try to tease out the objections. “Really? Can you tell me where we’ve gone wrong?” And then hope for a chance to respond.


The problem with non-committals


Of course, the prospect could say, “Well, it all looks very interesting. Let us mull things over and get back to you.”


The “we’d-like-to-think-about-it” responses are usually bad.  Non-committal indicates a weak relationship. If you’ve done your homework and built a solution based on an understanding of her business, then your prospect should know you well enough to be honest with what she thinks of your proposal.


If you’ve presented a clear solution well, you don’t need a clever close.

Sales Tip from Your Dog

My dog Balou
My dog Balou

“Why do you love your dog?”

That’s a question that I’ve been posing lately in my presentations about how to deliver a winning sales presentation.

Here’s what a bank president said when I asked it Thursday morning.  “I love him because every time I see him, he’s so glad to see me.”

What’s the point here?  Just as people love dogs because the dogs love them, people tend to like people who like them.

This is an incredibly important idea to understand if you want to deliver sales presentations in a way that wins business.

You need to make sure that when you’re delivering your presentations, that you make it clear that you like the people you’re presenting to.

How do you do that? Let’s count five ways.

1. Smile at them when you speak to them.  One of our firm’s oldest sayings is “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.”

2. Speak in an enthusiastic, friendly tone.  The next time that you’re having an animated dinner conversation with a close friend, remember how it sounds and feels. Then use that exact same tone when you’re speaking to a prospect during a sales presentation.

3. When your prospect asks a question, don’t put it off.  Realize that your prospect’s question is incredibly important.  Treat it that way. Drop everything! Answer the question.  Friends answer their friends’ questions.

4.  Listen to your prospect. This means that when he tells you before the presentation that he’s interested in knowing exactly how you are going to get the project done in 12 months, you address that specific issue.  Addressing that issue prominently shows respect.

5.  Propose a serious solution to your prospect’s business problem. If you come in to a presentation and clearly have worked extremely hard at finding a solution to your client’s real estate challenges, that shows that you not only want the business, but that you care about your prospect.

Presentation Tip from Birthday Boy John McEnroe

Now thats passion! 


Now that's passion!


“What is the single most important quality in a tennis champion? I would have to say desire, staying in there and winning matches when you are not playing that well.”

That’s a quote from John McEnroe, the tennis champion and former superbrat, who celebrates his 50th birthday today.

While of course the quote has nothing to do with public speaking, I think it’s good guidance anyway.

Desire is also the most important quality in a good speaker.  

Many people ask me whether I think it’s impossible to be a great speaker if you’re not gifted in the way McEnroe was at tennis. Talent helps. But you don’t need the talent of a John McEnroe.  But you do need desire and a willingness to practice.

It also helps if you have passion. Hopefully, you’ll do a little better job than “Johnny Mac” of controlling that passion.

To Overcome Stage Fright, Rehearse A Lot

“I don’t know why.  But all of a sudden, I’ve started getting nervous when I speak.  I’ve been speaking for 20 years and I’ve always done fine.  Suddenly, however, nerves have taken over and it is scaring me.”

Those are the words of a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company, who recently asked Speechworks for help in getting over stage fright. 

Our coach’s response?  “Do you ever rehearse your presentations?”

When this executive said “No” it was immediately clear what had to be done.  He needed to begin rehearsing his presentations like crazy.  By that we mean 10 to 15 times.  Nothing is more consistently effective in helping people deal with stage fright than rehearsing a presentation until you know it so well that you could do it if a bomb went off.

The rehearsal won’t necessarily eliminate all the butterflies. But it will build your confidence so that will come across as confident and poised.

To be sure, the coach could have dealt with this executive by analyzing what has changed recently in his business (and several things had changed) and how that might have impacted how he sees himself as a presenter.  But we’re not shrinks.  All we know is that if you practice your presentations like hell, you’ll reduce your anxiety.

The story has a happy ending.  This executive had a big presentation the next week before about 200 employees.  This is the exact type of situation that suddenly started making him nervous.  He rehearsed his 15-minute presentation about 10 times. 

Our coach sent him an e-mail asking him how the presentation went. 

His terse response?

“I nailed it.”