Public Speaking Lessons from My New iPhone

I know I’m not the first person to say this. But I’m in love with my new iPhone. I can’t stop looking at it.  And I can’t help but think about the lessons it has to teach about public speaking.

First, the iPhone is so easy to use. The Apple guys have worked hard at making everything on it easy. Want to check the weather? Easy.  Want to record a voice mail?  Easy. Want to hear your music?  Easy.  Want to make a phone call? Easy.  That’s not to say that making it all easy has been simple to accomplish.  There’s a lot of engineering blood, sweat, and tears behind all that “easiness”.

A good speaker should be the same way — easy. By that I mean listener friendly.  For the listener, the message should come across as clean and simple.  “Here are the three simple things that you need to come away with.”  That’s not to say that making a presentation listener-friendly is simple.  It’s not. Good speakers work extremely hard at simplifying their message, disciplining themselves to come up with the three core messages. It takes a lot of work to hone a good story. But it shouldn’t feel that way to the listener.

Second, the iPhone is interactive fun. The thing quickly becomes an integral part of your life.  Of course, there is the phone and the email. But it’s also a wonderful toy with apps galore. If you’re a sports nut, then there are dozens of ways to feed your addiction. If you’re a music nut, same thing. There is a Scrabble app that I’m dying to get.

Similarly, a great speaker is interactive and fun. Great speakers grab listeners and make them feel personally involved.  They find ways to interact with the audience, tell stories, take questions, ask questions and generally turn the presentation into an conversational, participatory event.

Third, the iPhone works. By that I mean that it’s very clear on it’s core mission and accomplishes it quite well.  I would have no use for a device that could get me the ball scores but couldn’t make a clear phone call. The iPhone wouldn’t be much use if the email and calendar were hard to use.  But those things work beautifully.  And the iPhone sets up with little problem (at least mine did).

A good speaker is the same way. She has a clear sense of her core mission — to connect with the audience and move them. Great speakers understand that all the clever stories and amazing visuals mean nothing if you don’t get the listeners to take away a few core ideas and move them to action.  Great speakers understand that a wonderful speaking style is of no value if the audience doesn’t get the message and know what to do next.

Finally, the iPhone is absolutely beautiful to look at. I can’t stop looking at mine.  I was at lunch yesterday with two architects that were praising the thing as a model of design.

Similarly, great speakers speak with the kind of style that makes listeners want to watch. Great speakers have energy in their voice and passion in their face and eyes. That excitement makes their audience pay attention.

I wonder if there’s an app to deal with stage-fright?

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The Nine Critical Communication Skills

If you want to succeed in business, what are the critical communication skills?

I’ve come up with nine. You need the ability to:

  1. Give a persuasive 10-minute presentation.
  2. Deliver an elevator pitch for your business, division, project, etc.
  3. Make a cold call.
  4. Report out on a project with no preparation.
  5. Deliver bad news.
  6. Answer a question in a way that inspires confidence.
  7. Build a relationship through listening.
  8. Tell a story.
  9. Rebut an objection.

Did I miss any?

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Does Obama Give People the “Evil Eye”?

Your facial energy can have enormous impact, even at the highest levels.

In fact, White House staffers allegedly are joking about President Barack Obama’s tendency to give people the “evil eye.”

I’m not sure how much stock to put in this story because it was reported with no attribution on the conservative news/gossip blog “Drudge Report.” But we pass on the story simply to highlight the impact of facial expressions.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with giving someone the “evil eye”.

But make sure that you know you’re doing it.

A CEO once asked me to work with one of his in-house attorneys. “He’s pissing off our clients,” the CEO told me.

When I met with the attorney,  I immediately saw the problem.  When he spoke, he always gave you a nasty squint. He was unintentionally giving everyone the “evil eye.”

When I showed him what he was doing, he was surprised and immediately fixed the problem, reserving the nasty look for special occasions.

I’m glad Obama gives people the evil eye. It’s a valuable tool in the communication skills arsenal.

I just hope he’s using it with a purpose and not accidentally.  yw6jn287zh

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Sales Presentation Lessons from Billy Mays

Anyone that wants to learn how to create and deliver sales presentations should take a little time to study Billy Mays, the famed television pitchman who died over the weekend.

Of course, most people in business would never attempt to pitch with Mays’s revved up, over-the-top style.  And I would never suggest such a thing.

But there are a several of things we can learn from Billy Mays.

First, energy sells.

Mays is best known for his hyped up style of almost yelling into the camera as he sold everything from OxyClean, to Mighty Putty, to Flies Away. Of course, business people should not present like a television huckster.  But they do need to speak with more energy. Too many people in business speak with all the energy of a houseplant.

Second, always start your pitch by focusing on the customer’s problem.

In his pitch for the “tool bandit”, Mays starts by saying “Tired of fumbling with your tools or wasting time trying to find them?”  Use the same approach in your sales pitch.   Start by focusing your sales pitch on the business problem that your prospect sees. If you’re pitching for the chance to build an office building, start by focusing on what your client sees as the biggest problem with the project.  If the key issue is cost, then start by focusing on how you understand that your prospect is concerned about getting the project done within budget.

Third, build a relationship.

One of the reasons that Mays was successful was that he was on television constantly. People felt like they knew him. That familiarity led to trust. Sure he was goofy. But people liked him.  Good sellers understand that a good sales pitch doesn’t stand on its own. They understand that to you greatly increase your chances of winning a sales presentation by developing a relationship with the prospect prior to the pitch.  For that reason, good sellers are constantly seeking chances to meet with and listen to the prospect prior to the pitch. Those pre-pitch encounters help  build a relationship that often pays off with a sale.

Billy Mays was a great seller of consumer products. But we can all learn from his ability to connect with prospects and make the sale.

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Whatever You Do, Do Not Present Like Michael Jackson

When I learned of Michael Jackson’s death yesterday, I recalled the time that I saw him here in Atlanta at the old Fulton County Stadium. He was at the height of his popularity before he became embroiled in a series of bizarre scandals. We sat in the upper deck of the arena and watched him on a giant screen above the stage.

With binoculars, we could see Jackson moonwalking across the stage. The show was executed perfectly.  The lights flashed.  The dancers twirled. But we might just as well have been watching him on television at home. It was such a carefully choreographed show that I felt no connection to him.  It was disappointing.

In my judgment, the show was a failure.  Live audiences want to feel a connection.

Similarly, we’ll sometimes come across speakers who are technically excellent.  They speak with energy. They smile. They use PowerPoint perfectly. They have every hair in place. They have every word carefully scripted.

But like Michael Jackson in that concert, they fail to connect.

I call this the “rock star effect.”  You’re so perfect that you come off as a rock star and don’t ever really connect with the audience.

So what can you do?

The most important thing is to make sure that the audience has a chance to interact with you.  Leave plenty of time for Q&A. Ask the audience questions.  And be sure that you’re willing to adjust your presentation to what you hear from the audience.

In a program recently, one of the participants wanted to know how to organize his thoughts for a conference call.  I heard what he said and adjusted.  During the rest of the workshop, I made sure that I came back to the issue of conference calls.

The goal in a presentation isn’t perfection. The goal is to build a relationship. That requires connection.

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To Connect with Audiences, Follow the 10/20/30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki is a technology guru and venture capitalist who listens to a lot of presentations from entrepreneurs seeking money for start-up ventures.  The overwhelming majority of the presentations he hears are, as he says, “crap.” 


And so he demands that all presentations at his business Garage Technology Ventures follow what he calls the “10/20/30 rule”.  It’s a rule that should be embraced by anyone that wants to connect with audiences.


The rule states that all presentations should be limited to 10 slides, 20 minutes, and have no words on the slides smaller than 30-point type.  I love the rule because it keeps you out of the weeds by forcing you to keep your message focused on key issues.


Limit Your Presentation to 10 slides. Too many of us create presentations by opening up PowerPoint, picking a template, and typing. Before long, we have a “presentation” with 40 slides.


I was coaching an attorney once as he prepared to speak at a bar event.  He arrived at our practice session with 60 slides for a 45-minute presentation.  Flipping through, I noted that every slide was loaded with bullet points.


“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Would you want to listen to this presentation?”


“Well . . . , ” he muttered, seeming startled. “I guess not.”


His presentation was packed with too much information.  Limiting your message to 10 slides forces you to answer the question “What do I really want to say?”


PowerPoint has no template for that question.


Speak for no more than 20 minutes.  When Kawasaki listens to a pitch for start-up capital, he allocates an hour.  Limiting the pitch to 20 minutes allows for 40 minutes of Q&A. As Kawasaki knows, all presentations improve with lots of Q&A.


Last weekend, I went fishing in Tampa with a guide named Rick. He told me that one way he markets his business is by giving presentations on how to catch fish in the Gulf of Mexico.


“I usually speak for about fifteen minutes and then take questions,” he said. “I’ve found that people have a lot more fun at my presentations when they get to ask questions.”


That’s a nice lesson in hooking an audience from a professional fisherman.


No Slides with Words Smaller than 30-Point Type.  For many people, this seems impossible. You can’t get more than five or six words on a line with 30-point type.


But all businesses should mandate this rule. Smaller type  is so hard to read that it becomes distracting.


To me, corporate America tolerates tiny type on slides in the same way that mill town residents tolerate the stench that fills their community.  It’s so prevalent that everyone just gets used to it and no one even notices anymore.


But your slides will be far more effective if you minimize your bullets and keep your type size big.


And if you follow the 10/20/30 rule, your presentations will be a breath of a fresh air.

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What does your attire say about you?

How you dress can be an incredibly important part of your personal brand.

This morning Peter Bodo, for my money the best tennis writer around, has an interesting piece trashing Roger Federer for his dandified Wimbledon attire. I’ve always thought Federer’s attire a little odd. But I’ve loved his tennis so much that I just ignored it.  But I have to admit that this year Federer seems to have gone over the top.

Bodo writes: “It’s distressing that Federer, who (admirably enough) claims to love “tradition” should be party to what amounts to a grotesque parody of it. Who’s he trying to be, Big Bill Tilden – or some Don Ho cut loose on the greensward?”

It’s a lesson for all of us that are trying to connect with audiences.  People are not only judging just what we say. They’re also paying attention to how we look.

I write this with a tinge of regret.  You should be able to express yourself with your clothes. And I encourage you to do so.

But choose your clothes carefully. Because when you wear a bow tie, people will think “What’s up with the bow tie?”

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You Need to Be Better than the Blackberry

The New York Times today (about five years late on this one) writes about the problem of business people paying more attention to their Blackberries than the meeting.

I have a simple solution for this problem. Be better than the Blackberry.

People vote with their attention spans. If what you’re saying is interesting and relevant, meeting participants will put down their Blackberries. If what you’re saying starts out by telling them the value of paying attention, they will look up from their email. If you give them a clear agenda of points that matter to them, they won’t be texting their friends.

But if your meeting is a rambling data dump of irrelevant information, then your listeners will find better ways to spend their time.

The Times missed out on a major part of the story today. They failed to point out that the Blackberry isn’t what makes people not pay attention. People have been tuning out dull meetings for years. 

 But in the old days, people were just day-dreaming or doodling. 

The Blackberry is a technological breakthrough that allows people to do something productive during meaningless meetings.

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Great Essay on the Problem with Bores

Check out this great essay on the problem with bores by Mark Edmundson, a professor at the University of Virginia.  Here’s an excerpt.

What is it with bores? I mean the sort of people who always have to hold the floor. They talk constantly at you, hurling their words like spears, each one tiny enough but nearly deadly in their collective effect. Almost all bores seem to have been born with, or to have developed, an amazing capacity: they can talk and take in air at the same time, so there’s never a moment to drop in your own two cents. On they go. They take no interest in you or anything about you; at best, you’re a stage prop in the one-person drama that they compose, produce, and star in. These are the people who like to proclaim that they are about to make a long story short, when what they usually do is make no story at all interminable. They’re the people who clear their throats, look you in the eye, and, with great finality, say, “My point is . . . ,” then proceed to ramble on with no point whatever in sight. They’re the people whose idea of human interaction seems to be turning up the volume on the monologue that’s always going on in their heads.

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Webby Awards Feature Five Word Acceptance Speeches

“Wait, we didn’t charge anything?” Trent Reznor, Webby Artist of the Year.

“Thank God, Conan got promoted.” Jimmy Fallon, Webby Person of the Year.

“Free all attractive political prisoners, ” The Onion, Webby award for humor.

Those are just a few of the acceptance speeches given at the Webby Awards, held this week in New York City.

The group gives out awards for excellence on the internet and requires that all speeches be no longer than five words.  As a result, the speeches are fascinating.


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