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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Sex Before Speaking Calms Stage-Fright

Want to keep calm during a speech? Have sex beforehand.

A study by Scottish psychologist Stuart Brody examined the affect of sexual activity prior to stressful activities like giving a speech.  During the study, 50 men and women monitored their sexual activity during a two week period. 

Brody then analyzed the impact on stressful activities like giving a speech.  He found that the subjects that were having regular sexual intercourse felt less stress during and after the stressful event.

“The effects are not attributable simply to the short-term relief afforded by orgasm but rather endure for at least a week,” Brody told New Scientist magazine.

Brody said that the release of the “pair bonding” hormone oxytocin might be the cause the calming effect.

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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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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.

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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.”


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You Don’t Need To Change Your Personality to Be A Great Speaker

“That doesn’t feel like me.”

Those are the words of a CFO of a software company. I was coaching him recently in preparation for a presentation to an industry trade group.  I had just had him present on camera and I had been urging him to “ramp up the energy.” 

And it felt strange. He said he didn’t feel “normal.” He was worried that I was asking him to change his personality for the purpose of the speech.

So the question is this: Do you have to change your personality to be a great presenter?


But you do have to learn how to “be yourself” in a setting that is uncomfortable to most of us.

The question is what does it mean to “be yourself.”

I think “being yourself” means learning how to turn on your own “best style” at will. Your “best style” is that energetic style that you have when you’re speaking to a close friend, you’re relaxed, and you’re speaking with high energy about a topic you’re passionate about. For most people that is a very nice and attractive style.

The problem is that it is hard to turn on that style when you’re standing in front of a group of people. You don’t feel relaxed like you do when you’re speaking to a close friend.

So how do you turn on that style when you’re speaking with a large group?  You exaggerate. You crank up the energy intentionally, forcing yourself to smile and gesture in the same way that you would if you were relaxed.

I’ve seen this work over and over again.

Let’s go back to our CFO. I had asked him to exaggerate his energy as he delivered the presentation he was planning to the trade conference.  He said he felt awkward. “That doesn’t feel like me,” he said.

“Remember that you said that,”  I said.

Then I played for him the tape of him delivering the presentation.

“Wow,” he said. “That doesn’t look as awkward as it felt.”

In fact he looked great. He admitted that was how he spoke to his friends when he was relaxed.

You don’t need to change your personality to be a good speaker. Rather, you need to exaggerate your style so that your listeners can see your true personality.

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Don’t Memorize Your Entire Pitch!

I worked with a senior executive at a telecommunications company who wanted me to help him become a better presenter. He sent me the videotape of a presentation he had given recently. He walked to the front of the stage, looking rather stiff in a pinstripe suit.


Then he proceeded to deliver his presentation in a rather stiff monotone. It was clear he had memorized the entire thing and was reciting it verbatim.


The problem with memorizing your entire prevention is that you sound canned. That can be just as bad as being unprepared. Remember, you want to connect with the prospect and make them believe that you can add value to their business. If you’ve simply memorized your presentation, you come across as non-credible. Given enough time, anyone can memorize a presentation on any topic.


You want to come across as someone who can speak intelligently about your topic without excessive prompts.


Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to prepare for a speech without memorizing.

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A Perspective on Stage Fright from Elvis Presley

Most people hate stage fright. But Elvis had a different perspective. He embraced the anxiety as a way of maintaining the quality of his performance. Here’s what he said.

I’ve never gotten over what they call stage–fright. I go through it every show. I’m pretty concerned, I’m pretty much thinking about the show. I never get completely comfortable with it, and I don’t let the people around me get comfortable with it, in that I remind them that it’s a new crowd out there, it’s a new audience, and they haven’t seen us before. So it’s got to be like the first time we go on.

He’s right.  Nerves show that you still care.

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Yogurt and Nuts Help Beat Stage Fright



Yogurt and nuts can reduce anxiety during your next presentation, according to a new study. 

Scientists in Slovakia gave either amino-acid supplements or a placebo to a group of men and asked them to give a speech.

The men who had taken the supplements experienced half as much anxiety according measurements of stress hormones in their bloodstream.

Yogurt and nuts have very high levels of the type of amino-acids used in the study.  So a healthy snack might help reduce your anxiety.

Of course, at Speechworks we think that the best way to deal with anxiety during presentations is to rehearse like crazy.   That means rehearsing your presentation out loud over and over again until you know it so well that no amount of nervousness can keep you from delivering a great message.

So rehearse like crazy and, if you want, have a yogurt. You’ll knock ‘em dead.

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“No-Nos” to Avoid at the Start of Your Speech

You’re standing in front of a group of fifty people. Your heart is pounding. Your palms are sweating. You’re about to begin your big presentation.  What you say next can put you on the path to success or set you off on a downward spiral that will make you and your audience miserable.

How can you ensure that you don’t start off badly?

At Speechworks, we tell our clients a few don’ts:

  • Don’t apologize.
  • Don’t tell a joke.
  • Don’t beat around the bush.

Don’t apologize

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to start by telling you that I’m not really a very good speaker. And I’m really nervous. So I hope that you’ll bear with me.”

That’s the absolute worst way to begin.  You never want to start with an apology for your own anxiety or even worse, lack of preparation (“I’m sorry I’m a little disorganized this morning but I just got word that I was supposed to speak yesterday.”)  Apologies put the audience on the defensive.  Your audience thinks, “This is going to be another bad speech that I have to endure.”  You’ve now made it more difficult to connect with your audience.

To deal with anxiety, practice like crazy. And rehearse your first line over and over so that you can get through it well.  But don’t let that first line be “I’m so nervous.”

Don’t Tell a Joke

“I’d like to start this presentation with a line that Elizabeth Taylor would tell her husbands: ‘This won’t take long’.”

I actually heard someone begin a presentation with that horrible joke.  It’s not funny or relevant to the subject matter of the presentation. And some people might find it offensive (I apologize if anyone was offended by reading the joke here.)

But this joke is typical of most “ice breakers” that begin presentations. They aren’t funny. They are usually irrelevant. And they are often offensive.  As a result, jokes make you seem amateurish.

A far better way to begin a presentation is simply to lay out for the audience a key issue that they are facing in their lives. If you start by focusing on something that’s important to the audience, they’re more likely to want to hear more.

Don’t beat around the Bush

“Before I get started this afternoon, I have a lot of people I’d like to thank for inviting me.”

If you have to thank one or two people, then do so. But remember that no one is listening or cares. It’s a waste of time.  We recommend thanking your introducer briefly, pausing, and then starting right into the meat of your message.  People’s time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

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