Archive for the ‘Improving Your Style’ Category

Remembering the Power of the Pause

This week, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the audio version of my book “How to Win a Pitch.”  It’s been a lot of time at the recording studio. And during that time, I’ve regained appreciation for the power and importance of the pause.

In listening to the initial recording of the book, the biggest mistake I made was not pausing long enough at certain points.

For example, I would be reading a chapter and would come to a section where there is a new thought and a headline to introduce that thought. It might be  “Make Your Points Sound Like Substantive Bumper Stickers.” But I wouldn’t pause to emphasize the headline. Instead, I would just read through without hesitating.

Of course, the problem is that the listener isn’t reading the book and can’t see the headline. Since when you’re listening to a book — as opposed to reading it – there are no visual cues that it’s a new section. The listener can’t know it’s a new section. It can lead to confusion.   So we had to go back and add in the pauses as a way of creating a clear sense of sections and order.

It was just a reminder to me that sometimes the most important communication tool you have is closing your mouth and saying nothing.

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Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Busting the Mehrabian Myth

Here’s a fun video from a British communication skills coaching firm. The video addresses a study conducted many years ago by Albert Mehrabian, a social scientist who studied the way that we communicate.  Many presentation skills coaching firms have over-emphasized Mehrabian’s study, citing it for the idea that style is far more important than substance.

At Speechworks, we have cited the study for years. But we don’t see it as a religion. Rather, we merely cite it for the idea that how you look and sound matters.  We feel strongly that you have to have great content to give a great speech.

Enjoy.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dboA8cag1M

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Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Public Speaking Tip From Farrah Fawcett

“The reason that the all-American boy prefers beauty to brains is that he can see better than he can think.”

Those are the words of Farrah Fawcett, the model and actress who died recently.

Her point is clearly relevant to issues of public speaking. What we say in a presentation is obviously important. But many people make a huge mistake by underestimating the importance of how we look and sound.

If you were to simply read the words of the classic song “Teddy Bear”, it wouldn’t seem like much. But let Elvis deliver those same words and suddenly the song touches you deep down. 

Farrah Fawcett was right. Visual (and vocal) impressions matter a lot.

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Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

How to Dress for Success: Don’t Be Like Michael Jackson

In watching the continuing converage of Michael Jackson’s death, I was struck by his attire when he went to meet with President Reagan.  True to his image, the King of Pop wore a sparkling captain’s outfit that made him look like a star from a jazzy revival of “The Pirates of Penzance”.

But if you want to dress for success, you probably shouldn’t take your cue from Michael Jackson.  Unlike MJ, you want to dress in a way that doesn’t draw attention. 

If you’re proposing a new distribution system, you don’t want the audience thinking “those are the most colorful pants I’ve ever seen.”

With that in mind, to ensure that your message stands out, make sure that your attire blends in. We tell our clients to dress one step above the audience. If everyone is wearing golf-course casual, then you should throw on a blazer.

Of course, what you wear depends a lot on your body type, your personal taste, and your industry.

Here are a few keys to keep in mind.

  • Select apparel, fragrances, jewelry, hairstyle, etc. that do not detract from your professional image.
  • Make sure your hair is clean, neat and professionally styled. Avoid styles that cover over more than your forehead or one that you have to brush back.
  • Remove facial and body piercings other than single ear jewelry.
  • Visible tattoos should be covered to avoid distraction.
  • Apparel should be clean and neatly pressed.
  • Apparel should fit well and remain in place while sitting and/or walking.
  • Choose professional apparel that you like for which you receive positive feedback from people who are knowledgeable about the industry standard or specific company policy.
  • Keep your look simple and successful.
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Monday, July 6th, 2009

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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Monday, June 29th, 2009

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 Tennis.com and ESPN.com 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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Monday, June 8th, 2009

Communication and Leadership Lessons from Capt. James T. Kirk

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”

 

Those are the wise words of James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the Starship Enterprise, and hero of “Star Trek,” the latest revival of the space exploration adventure franchise.  Captain Kirk had apparently endured many boring presentations by Federation colleagues.

 

In honor of his revived fame, here are more Kirk quotations relevant to communication skills, persuasion and leadership.  These quotations are from the 1960s television program.

 

“Conquest is Easy, control is not.”

 

Roaming the universe, the Starship Enterprise crew was always dealing with issues of conquest and control.  But this quote also goes to the heart of what great communication is about. It’s about the challenge of exerting influence over others.

 

Great presenters influence others by focusing on value to the listener. If you want a client to comply with a set of expensive regulations, you’ll have more success if you can show that compliance will increase revenues, reduce costs, or increase competitiveness.

 

“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

 

This quote sounds like an exchange with Mr. Spock over a chessboard.  But it also touches on the idea that one of the true tests of a leader is the ability to make complex things simple.  This is particularly true in business today where the economic and regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex.  

 

Here’s a question you can ask yourself before your next speech that will allow you to simplify any topic: “Assuming that my listeners won’t remember everything, what are three things I really want them to remember?”

 

 “We humans are full of unpredictable emotions that logic alone cannot solve.”

 

Kirk was always teaching Spock, the ever-logical Vulcan, about human emotion. And one of the most important ways to influence an audience is with emotion and passion.  Great communicators don’t rely solely on logic. They show passion to build a personal connection with the listener.

Let’s say that you must pick one of two excellent firms to help your firm navigate a complicated financial transaction.  Both firms have excellent reputations.  How do you decide?  Part of the calculus will simply be who you connect with better on a personal level.

 

“Genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. You can’t simply say, ‘Today I will be brilliant.'”

 

The same is true with speaking. Becoming a great speaker takes sustained effort over many years. Over time, you develop stories and a style that connects with audiences.

 

Three years ago, I started working with an executive at a huge Atlanta company. For the first speech we worked on together, he did a nice job.  Since then, he has worked at his speaking skills, seizing opportunities to give presentations.  Just this week, I saw him speak again.

 

“I’m amazed at your progress,” I told him.

 

“It’s funny how practice really works,” he said.

 

“We’ve got to risk implosion. We may explode into the biggest fireball this part of the galaxy has seen, but we’ve got to take that one-in-a-million chance.”

 

Many people, when they get up to speak, fear that the universe will explode. But if you want to be a leader, you must face that fear.  The key to managing the fear of public speaking is to rehearse your presentations extensively.

 

“No more blah, blah, blah!”

 

No explanation needed on that one.

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Thursday, June 4th, 2009

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.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gEuED05biI&feature=related

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Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

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.

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Friday, April 24th, 2009

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.

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Thursday, April 23rd, 2009