Lessons in Connecting with Audiences from My Wife

The enemy of connection is perfection.

I learn this over and over again with my clients, many of whom spend way too much time attempting to perfect their slides or their written speeches.

But this never ending attempt at perfection doesn’t really help them get better. That’s because the only thing that really makes you better at speaking is standing up and speaking. The words have to come out of your mouth.   

 I learned this once again last weekend when my wife Johanna Asher performed for the first time live at a coffee house in Oakhurst near Decatur.  She took up guitar about 18 months ago. Now she’s taking singing lessons.

O.K. So she’s not Joan Baez.  But she’s on the way.  As she says, “If you want to get good at this, you got to get out there.”

True that.


Yogi Berra’s Speech to the Graduates — Not!

With Commencement speech season fast approaching, I thought you might enjoy Yogi Berra’s alleged speech to the graduates of St. Louis University. The speech was written by Dan O’Neill, a sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. O’Neill’s tongue-in-cheek version of the speech is filled with real and imagined Yogi-isms that have helped boost Berra’s legend.

O’Neill’s speech is reprinted below.


“Thank you all for being here tonight. I know this is a busy time of year, and if you weren’t here, you could probably be somewhere else. I especially want to thank the administration at St. Louis University for making this day necessary. It is an honor to receive this honorary degree.

  “It is wonderful to be here in St. Louis and to visit the old neighborhood. I haven’t been back since the last time I was here. Everything looks the same, only different. Of course, things in the past are never as they used to be.

  “Before I speak, I have something I’d like to say. As you may know, I never went to college, or high school for that matter. To be honest, I’m not much of a public speaker, so I will try to keep this short as long as I can.

  “As I look out upon all of the young people here tonight, there are a number of words of wisdom I might depart. But I think the most irrelevant piece of advice I can pass along is this:

  “The most important things in life are the things that are least important.

  “I could have gone a number of directions in my life. Growing up on the Hill, I could have opened a restaurant or a bakery. But the more time I spent in places like that, the less time I wanted to spend there. I knew that if I wanted to play baseball, I was going to have to play baseball. My childhood friend, Joe Garagiola, also became a big-league ballpayer, as did my son, Dale. I think you’ll find the similarities in our careers are quite different.

  “You’re probably wondering, how does a kid from the Hill become a New York Yankee and get in the Hall of Fame? Well, let me tell you something, if it was easy nobody would do it. Nothing is impossible until you make it possible.

  “Of course, times were different. To be honest, I was born at an early age. Things are much more confiscated now. It seems like a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore. But let me tell you, if the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. Even Napoleon had his Watergate.

  “You’ll make some wrong mistakes along the way, but only the wrong survive. Never put off until tomorrow what you can’t do today. Denial isn’t just a river in Europe.

  “Strive for success and remember you won’t get what you want unless you want what you get. Some will choose a different path. If they don’t want to come along, you can’t stop them. Remember, none are so kind as those who will not see.

  “Keep the faith and follow the Commandments: Do not covet thy neighbor’s wife, unless she has nothing else to wear. Treat others before you treat yourself. As Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘The only thing you have to fear is beer itself.’

  “Hold on to your integrity, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the one thing you really need to have; if you don’t have it, that’s why you need it.  Work hard to reach your goals, and if you can’t reach them, use a ladder. There may come a day when you get hurt and have to miss work. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt to miss work.

  “Over the years, I have realized that baseball is really just a menopause for life. We all have limitations, but we also know limitation is the greatest form of flattery. Beauty is in the eyes of Jim Holder.

  “Half the lies you hear won’t be true, and half the things you say, you won’t ever say.

  “As parents you’ll want to give your children all the things you didn’t have. But don’t buy them an encyclopedia, make them walk to school like you did. Teach them to have respect for others, especially the police. They are not here to create disorder, they are here to preserve it.

  “Throughout my career, I found good things always came in pairs of three. There will be times when you are an overwhelming underdog. Give 100 percent to everything you do, and when that’s not enough, give everything you have left. ‘Winning isn’t everything, but it’s better than rheumatism.’ I think Guy Lombardo said that.

  “Finally, dear graduates and friends, cherish this moment; it is a memory you will never forget. You have your entire future ahead of you.

“Good luck and Bob’s speed.”



How One Question Can Improve Your Sales Presentations

Too often, when a potential client calls and asks for a sales presentation, the potential vendor is so pumped for the opportunity that they get off the telephone as quickly as possible.

But before you hang up, there is one question that you can ask that can dramatically increase your ability to win the business.

Here’s the question.

“We’re excited about the chance to give you a presentation. And we want to make sure that it’s as helpful to you as possible. To make sure that we’re well prepared, we’d like to spend time talking to some of your key players for just a few minutes. Who would you recommend that we speak with?”

Too often, people go into sales presentations cold. They show up and do the usual “dog and pony” show. But the best sales presentations focus on solving business problems.

You can’t give a great sales presentation without an understanding of those problems.  You need to ask for the chance to discuss  the problems.

Leadership Lessons from Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, check out the New York Times interview with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson. As of this writing, it is the most emailed story from the New York Times. Anderson makes a number of interesting points about leadership, many of which bear on issues of communication and public speaking. 

One of my favorite lines is:

I’ve learned to be patient and not lose my temper. And the reason that’s important is everything you do is an example, and people look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do. And when you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run. And it was a good lesson.

I like this line because of the point that leaders must learn that people are watching them. When you’re speaking in front of a group, keep in mind that the audience isn’t just listening to your words. They’re watching everything about you to determine whether you’re worthy of being followed.

Of course, I also like Anderson’s point on communication. He was asked what he looks for in a new hire.

I think this communication point is getting more and more important. People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word. And when I say written word, I don’t mean PowerPoints. I don’t think PowerPoints help people think as clearly as they should because you don’t have to put a complete thought in place. You can just put a phrase with a bullet in front of it. And it doesn’t have a subject, a verb and an object, so you aren’t expressing complete thoughts.

True that.

A Sales Pitch from My Son

“Do you have ten bucks?”

That was the sales pitch from my son Elliott the other day.  Apparently, it was his day to bring donuts to one of his classes.

I was sitting in our little office/computer room when he walked in and delivered the pitch with all the enthusiasm that you would expect from a too cool 16-year-old.

Talk about the apple falling far from the tree. Good grief.

“If you ask like that?” I said. “Absolutely not.  Now if you’d like to come in and try again and really try and sell me, then I’d be happy to reconsider.”

Elliott walked out of the room and returned.  This time he smiled (actually he was suppressing a laugh) and said, “You know I’ve been asked to bring the donuts to class tomorrow. It’s something that all the kids do.  We were going to stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way to school. Could I have some money for that?”

He made such a light-hearted and fun appeal that I was genuinely happy to help out.

“Of course,” I said, reaching in my wallet for the money. “Here you go.”

Just another day in the life of a sales presentation coach and dad.

Enjoy your weekend.

It Takes Work to Present “Naturally”

The public speaking blogs have recently had a lot to say about the importance of being “natural” when you speak. 

Indeed, one of the most common pieces of advice for speakers is “Speak to the audience like you’re having a beer with them.”  It’s advice I give all the time.

But the idea of “naturalness” is a little deceptive. When you’re standing in front of a room of listeners, you don’t feel natural. In that circumstance, you don’t feel like you’re having a beer. 

So what do you do?

First you need to know your material cold. If you don’t know what you’re going to say extremely well, then you’re not going to be able to come across as “natural.”

Next, you need to exaggerate the energy, giving more facial and vocal energy that you’d otherwise use “naturally.”  For most people, that exaggerated style will come across as “natural.” That exaggerated style will overwhelm the anxiety and come as highly connected. It won’t necessarily feel “natural” to the speaker. But it will look natural to the audience.

And it’s better to look natural than to feel natural.

When You Get a Good Story, Practice It

One of the keys to telling a good story is to hone it. And to do that you need to practice saying it out loud over and over again until you get it right.


 I worked with a senior executive recently who told a story about going to visit his uncle and taking a ride in his airplane.  We worked on the story in one session. When he came back a week later for another session, he told the story to me again and it was much tighter. “I had a lot of time the car this week,” he said. “I used that time to practice my story.”


The stories are the best part of any presentation. Practice them.

What Makes Seth Godin a Great Speaker?

I love speeches by Seth Godin.

Three reasons. He’s incredibly original.  I don’t always agree with him. But I know that I’m going to get some original thought from him that he feels strongly about. And I like that. It’s leadership.

Second, he tells stories. I love stories.  He starts with a thesis and then weaves a bunch of stories around it.

Third. He speaks with passion. It’s irresistible.


Great Speakers Are Generous

I was working with a senior executive for a large company last week helping him prepare a speech to his employees.  At one point, I suggested that he tell his audience about a particularly challenging part of his job.

“I don’t see why they need to know about that,” he said. “Telling them about that really isn’t relevant to their work.”

Of course, he was correct.  But I wasn’t swayed.

“So what if it isn’t relevant to their job,” I argued. “They probably would like to know what it’s like being you.  Remember that these are your employees. They don’t know what it’s like sitting in your chair. They want to feel kinship with their leader.  Tell them about yourself in an honest way.”

So often good speaking just comes down to being generous with our audience. Tell them something honest about yourself and they will usually respond.

What Accounts For Susan’s Boyle’s Success?

If you haven’t seen the video of Susan Boyle’s rousing success on Britain’s Got Talent, then you need to watch this clip. But what accounts for her success?

Certainly her wonderful voice is most important. But I also think that her goofy chatter with the judges before her performance helped as well. To be sure, no one thought she was capable of being the next Elaine Page. But she seemed so down to earth and authentic as she chatted away and gyrated her hips. Even as people were making fun of her, they  were also bonding with her.  They could tell that she was a real person. Everyone could relate to her.

The point is that your best style is your own authentic style. Be yourself and people will connect with you.