Public Speaking Tip from Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s win at the French Open has made me happy in a way that I didn’t expect. And it is a lesson for anyone that wants to build a relationship with an audience.

The lesson is this: if you want to bond with an audience, show your humanity to them.

I still get a little sense of satisfaction just remembering Roger dropping to his knees in tears for his 14th Grand Slam victory and his first on the red clay of Roland Garros. I’m truly happy for him.  And I’ve never met him. I’m just a fan.

I think a lot of people feel the same way. The reason, I believe, is that Roger has has shown himself to us over the last year in a very personal, vulnerable way.  When he lost to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open earlier this year and then at Wimbledon last year, he cried both times. 

While almost no one can really identify with Roger’s extraordinary skills on the tennis court, we can all relate to his frustration.  By not hiding it, we have grown to love him for more than his skills. We’ve grown to care for him as a person.

The same is true with speaking. If you want to bond with your audiences, show your real self to them.

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Can Grooming Make You a Grand Slam Champion?

It was a big French Open weekend for tennis fans like me. I was glued to the men’s final yesterday morning and the women’s final Saturday morning. Of course, Roger Federer won the men’s tournament.

But the lesson for today comes from the women’s winner, Svetlana Kuznetsova.   It seems that how you look can make you a champion. At least one very important tennis journalist, Peter Bodo of and attributes her resurgence in part to her grooming.

Here’s how Bodo described Kuznetsova’s press conference after her victory over Dinara Safina.

“But it was about her own downside that the new Roland Garros champion was most articulate when she sat before the world press, wearing a white sports jacket with some sort of sparkles embedded in the fabric, her streaked blonde hair still pulled back in that pony tail that may be the perfect symbol of her makeover. And that’s a transformation that may be deep-reaching.”

“We don’t like to put too much stock in appearances, but sometimes they tell us a great deal. And for long periods in the interim since Sveta won that first major in New York, she seemed oblivious to how she looked, to the point that she sometimes seemed disheveled, unprepared, unprofessional. This mattered because the carelessness and the lack of self-respect that it implied showed in her patchy, undisciplined game – and her results. And while the implications of all this may be discomfiting, it’s undeniable that tennis players, especially top players, are generally very fastidious about their appearance and, if anything, overly conscious of style, grooming, and fashion. Their workplace, after all, is in the public eye.”

How we look impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we perform.

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Lesson in Voice Energy from a Harmonica Dude

I’ve started dabbling in the harmonica.  And the interesting thing about learning something new these days is that you quickly learn that YouTube is a wonderful resource. 

In my websearching, I’ve run across an interesting fellow named Adam Gussow, who is a blues harmonica player as well as an English Professor at Ole Miss.  He is apparently the most prolific uploader of free YouTube instructional videos on the harmonica.

To my mind, he is also a poster-child for the power of vocal passion to get listeners excited about an idea.  The video below is an introductory video for raw beginners. 

For reasons that aren’t completely clear to me, many harmonica videos are delivered from the musicians’ cars.  In this video, Gussow is also seated in his car. 

His excitement about the harmonica is positively contagious.     It just goes to show you that to get people excited, you don’t need PowerPoint. All you need is your voice, some passion, and a harmonica.


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Lessons in Connection from Reading in a Sound Studio

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been making an audio version of my new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.”  It’s been an interesting experience going to a professional sound studio (It’s apparently where the Allman Brothers do much of their recording).  And I feel like I’ve learned something about how to connect with listeners with the voice.

At each session, I would settle myself in the sound studio wearing headphones. In front of me would be a big microphone and a music stand to hold my script. I would be sitting on a stool. The sound engineer would look at me through the glass and give me the signal to begin. Inevitably I’d begin to read too fast and begin stumbling over words.

To get through it, I had to slow down. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be able to properly pronounced every word. But as I slowed down, I was also very aware that I didn’t want to lose any inflection or passion in my voice. So I imagined that I was reading a story to my daughter Annie.  I thought to myself, how would I read this if it were “The Cat in the Hat?”

That is when I was able to really start to feel like I was connecting.

I think we need to bring the same approach when we’re on conference calls. You probably do need to slow down the rate of your speech a little. Without visual cues of in person communication, your voice needs to be more precise because it’s carrying the entire communication burden.  But don’t let the precision erode vocal energy.  Speak with the same energy and vocal variety that you would have if reading a book to a child.

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The Problem With Sports Analogies and Jargon

I’m going to have to start reconsidering my reliance on sports terms and analogies after my coaching session yesterday with a Banking technologist from Great Britain.

For example, he explained to me that you have to be careful if you use the phrase “We had better just punt on this one.”

For me,  “to punt” is a reference to American football. When a team punts, it’s giving up, turning over the ball to the other team.  You might say,  “Things aren’t going well on this project. I think we need to punt.”

But my British client explained to me that as a Rugby player, he would take the phrase “to punt” to be the complete opposite. In Rugby, he points out,  when you punt, the kicking team has the chance to run down the field and get the ball, unlike in American football.  So even though it’s a risky play, it can result in a long gain.  If Rugby is your frame of reference, then you might use the phrase “to punt” like this: “This project is having trouble but I have an idea that might really help us. I think we should punt and see what happens.”

Take care when you select analogies and jargon. Make sure that your “punt” is the same as your audience’s “punt.”

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Public Speaking Lesson from My Cheapo Shaver

Sometimes, the best public speaking lessons come from the must unexpected places. Like last week, when I found myself at a Marriott Courtyard in Brentwood, Tn. having forgotten to bring a shaver.

One of the reasons I love Marriott is that they always have extra shavers for you. And they’re free. But when I went to the front desk to get my free shaver, I was disappointed to see that they were giving out one of those one-blade Bic razors. Who shaves with those anymore?  I use those five blade jobs made by Gillette. Sure you have to take out a mortgage to buy them. But what a shave!

I took my one-blade Bic back to my room and proceeded to take it out of the plastic wrapping. I lathered up my face and began to shave.

And I was stunned.

It worked fine. In fact, it did a very nice job.  All the whiskers were gone and I had a very nice smooth shave.

So what does this have to do with public speaking?

So much of public speaking today has evolved around fancy conventions.  We have PowerPoint with all its bells and whistles. We have templates that our corporate employers and convention hosts expect us to use. We have interactive systems that allow our audiences to talk back to us.

But all of that stuff is like the fancy razor. We have evolved toward it. But it really doesn’t help us much.  Ultimately, we don’t really need any of that crap.  All we need is a few ideas, some stories, some passion in our voice, and the understanding that our goal is to connect with our listener’s needs.

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Auctioneers Makes Big Sales By Connecting With Bidders

Ever wondered what it takes to auction off a priceless Picasso or a rare Egyptian artifact?  The key to success is one word: connection.

Great auctioneers “connect more spontaneously with bidders,” says Jamie Krass, director of auctions at Christie’s in New York.

“You want to make everyone comfortable,”  he says in.  “Build a relationship with me. Don’t make me feel like a number.” 

That just one bit of sage communication skills advice from an article about how to become an auctioneer posted on

Of course, the same is true whever you’re trying to make a pitch.  Just like a great auctioneer, you want to speak in a personal, animated way, like you’re having an intense conversation with a friend. 

That connection is what separates the great auctioneers from the rest, says Krass. “It’s not just about eye contact. To make the bidder go one more, you have to convey that you know his bid matters to him, and that it matters to you too.”

If you want to connect well during your business presentations, one key is to think of your presentation as a series of “mini-conversations” with your listeners. 

Look at a single audience member and chat with her for about eight seconds.  Then randomly move to another audience member until you’ve made eye contact with everyone in the room.  Then make the rounds again.

That way, everyone will feel that you’ve connected with them personally.

Do that well enough and you’ll be the kind of communicator that, like a great auctioneer, always makes the sale.

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Public Speaking Tip from a Karaoke Bar

Last Friday night, I enjoyed the music scene in Nashville and went to both a Karaoke Bar and a blues bar.   While the Karaoke bar was an interesting novelty, I left after about 30 minutes.

By contrast, I didn’t want to leave the blues bar and only did so when I remembered that I had to get up early the next morning. Of course, a major part of the reason why was the quality of the performers. Performing at the blues bar was Josh Garrett and the Bottom Line, a magnificent blues band. The joint was rockin’.

But comparing them to the Karaoke singers, you really got a strong sense of the importance of connection with the audience. Even the best Karaoke singers had no connection with the audience. They were up there reading the words from the Karaoke machine. More importantly,  the experience was for the singers.  It like they were on an “American Idol” ride at a theme park. The goal was for the singers to have a great time.

Contrast that with the professional blues performers. For them, it was all about the audience. They were connecting with the audience from the start, doing everything they could do ensure that everyone in the audience had a good time. Of course there was eye contact. But more than that, there was an audience-centered attitude that everyone in the joint appreciated.

And we were all happy to pay for that connection.

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If Your Child is Speaking This Graduation Season

I’ve been asked by my son’s high school to help the speakers at the various graduation ceremonies.  And I’m happy to do it.

Here’s what I’m going to tell them. 

Your audience goes to graduation ceremonies  because they are excited for their kids. They are filled with hope for the future. They want to connect with that sense of hope.

So here’s what you can do to connect.

1. Tell stories.  Think of all the best speeches you’ve ever heard. They all have stories. Don’t give me of platitudes.  Tell me one key thing that you’ve learned. Then tell me a story that illustrates the point.

2.  Don’t read your speech.  Too many students get in front of their classmates with a text and read it.  But when you read your speech, you utterly fail to connect with the audience. If that’s what you’re going to do, then just print it out and send the speech to everyone via email.

3. Speak with passion.  You’re a new graduate!  Sound like one!

4. Practice. If you practice a lot, then you will be able to deliver the presentation despite your anxiety.

5. Have fun.

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Repeat Catch Phrases to Make Your Message Stick

If you want to make sure that your message gets through to an audience, considering taking a lesson from the great marketers.  They settle on a catch-phrase and repeat it over and over, hoping to penetrate the public’s mind.

Many great speakers do the same thing.

One of the great recent advertising campaigns is from MasterCard.  Many of you can probably repeat their catch phrase from memory. “There are some things money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s Mastercard.”

We can remember that message because the MasterCard ads repeat it so often.  And notice that they repeat it the same way every time.

You never hear them say, “There are some things that cash won’t buy you.  For the rest of the stuff, there’s MasterCard.”  No.  It’s the same way every time.  Exact repetition helps the listener remember.

Great speakers do the same thing, focusing on a message and repeating a catch phrase.  One of the most famous is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.  He actually had two catch phrases in that speech, “I have a dream” which he said nine times and “Let freedom ring” which he said 10 times.

King wanted to get a message across. So he repeated his key phrases to ensure that they made it into the audience’s mind. And like MasterCard, he repeated the phrases exactly, not changing a single word.  King understood that great speaking is first and foremost about getting a message across to audiences that are often distracted.  Repeating a catch phrase without any changes helps. 

During your presentations, think about using catch phrases.  Maybe it’s as simple as “Our brand is about saving money” or “This program will increase your sales.”  Be sure that you repeat the key phrase the same way several times. That way, you’ll be sure that your message gets across.

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