Paul Harvey Held Audiences by Telling Stories

Paul Harvey, who died this weekend, never used PowerPoint.  He never interacted with his audience using webinars or modern gizmos like “twitter.”

He just sat in front of a microphone, spoke with energy, and told stories. And people listened.

I used to love Paul Harvey.  Not because I agreed with his conservative politics.  I think the the obituaries have over stated that stuff.

I just loved hearing him tell stories.  When he came on the radio, I would sit in my car until his broadcast was done.  So would millions of others as they waited to hear “The rest of the story.”

And he always had something uplifting to say.

Paul Harvey said, “    I Like this quote I dislike this quote“In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”

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Foul Language In Presentations Distracts from Your Core Message

Most of us know that using foul language in a presentation is a bad idea. But now we have some research to help us understand why.   According to studies detailed in the New York Times, curse words certainly do a nice job of getting an audience’s attention. But they also distract the audience from your core message.

The article provided a fascinating overview of the history of vulgarity.  Who knew that “wretch”, “rascal”, “punk”, “gadzooks” and “meddle” were once considered no less vulgar than George Carlin’s famous “seven words you can’t say on television?”

But the article also detailed the scientific evidence for how foul language can impact listeners and ultimately undermine a presentation.

First, there is ample evidence that “bad words” do a great job of eliciting a response from listeners. The article detailed a study in which researchers measured the physiological response to curse words through the use of electrodes on the arms and fingertips. Upon hearing foul language, the article said, “Their skin conductance patterns spike, the hairs on their arms rise, their pulse quickens, and their breathing becomes shallow.”

So if you want to get a rise out of an audience, some juicy swear words will certainly do the trick.

The problem is what happens next.  Once they hear the words, the audience then becomes very distracted and has a hard time getting the rest of your message.  In another study, researchers showed subjects lists of words including a few obscenities.  The subjects did a great job at remembering the vulgarities.  But they had a very hard time remembering the other words. 

Once in a while we have discussions with our clients about the use of foul language and when, if ever, it’s appropriate.  The research on the issue is pretty clear.  Sure the bad words have impact.  But they also distract the audience from your message.

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Public Speaking Tip from John Updike

“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.”

Those are the words of John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who died Tuesday.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about public speaking.

But don’t you love it anyway?  And it certainly applies.

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How to succeed in a job interview

The New York Times today has a story about 75,000 layoffs announced yesterday worldwide.  And there doesn’t seem to be any way to spin that in a positive light. That’s just scary.

But for those folks who are now finding themselves without work, I hope that they will take the chance to do more than just polish off the resume and start the grind of interviewing for positions.  Interviews are a fine chance to work on honing communication and selling skills. And nothing will make you more successful in winning jobs and, just as important, succeeding at the job once you’re hired.

You need to improve both what you say during the interviews and how you say it.

In terms of what you say, it’s important to talk to prospective employers about your skills in terms of the value you provide.  You should enter an interview with a value statement followed by a plan to provide that value.

Here’s an example. I worked last week with a gentleman who had been laid off. He was a computer systems consultant. When I asked him what he did, he went into a long complex explanation of his expertise. I stopped him and asked him to tell me in simple terms the value he provided to a company.  After much discussion we settled on this, “I help design payroll systems that will save your organization money.”  

From there, he went on to lay out a simple plan for the value he provides.  He said there are three steps. First, he analyzes the existing system. Second, he prioritizes the challenges in light of business needs. And third, he executes a solution. He then had stories illustrating how he did each of the three steps. When prospective employers hear such clean explanations, they are able to say, “Wow, this person knows how to communicate.”  It’s impressive and unusual.

Another part of  preparing what to say in an interview is to prepare a list of questions you expect to get and rehearse the answers. We advise our clients to come up with no less than 20 possible questions.  Make sure that you’re ready with short answers, not long rambling explanations.  If someone asks you the time, don’t tell them how to build a clock. And make sure that you find a way to use the questions to tell the overall business value that you provide along with your plan for executing that value.

Next, you have to work on how you deliver your messages.  Most important is energy.  Most people speak in a rather flat monotone. But we urge people to interview with energy, smiling, gesturing and displaying excitement about the opportunity. Speak to your interviewer like you’re talking to a close friend about something you’re passionate about.  That style connects you with your friends. It will help you connect with prospective employers.

Layoffs stink and they’re frightening. But they also give you a chance to focus on how you present yourself and your value.  If you’re without a job, take this opportunity to hone how you present your ideas. You’ll enjoy the benefits long after this hard time has passed.

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Caroline Kennedy: Sen. You Know, D-NY?


I guess the apple fell a long way from the tree.

Caroline Kennedy, who is pursuing the US Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, is being rightly criticized for her horrendous speaking skills.  Her father, John F. Kennedy, who was a legendary speaker, might not be too impressed.

According to the New York Daily News, Ms. Kennedy used the words “you know” in her interviews more than 400 times since Friday with several media outlets.

Here are the “You know” counts:

  • New York Times: 130 times
  • NY1: 80 times
  • Daily News: 200 times

To reduce filler words, Kennedy needs to learn how to pause.  Close  your mouth instead of uttering the  filler word.

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Public Speaking Tip from Clint Eastwood

“My old drama coach used to say, ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ Gary Cooper wasn’t afraid to do nothing.”

Those are the words of Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite actors, and whose new movie “Gran Torino” opens today.  I don’t need to see the reviews. I’m going. That’s all there is to it.

One of the reasons for Clint’s on-screen presence is, as the quote suggests, his ability to stand and say nothing.

If you want to have presence in front of an audience, you should also be willing to stand and say nothing. Sometimes, a pause is best way to get the audience’s attention.

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Study Says Swearing at Work Helps Beat Stress

From the “language connects you with others” department, here’s a study that indicates that foul language can help you connect with others.

Researchers at England’s University of East Anglia Norwich looked into leadership styles and found that using swear words can reduce stress and boost camaraderie among coworkers. 

Professor Yehuda Baruch, professor of management, told the BBC that 

In most scenarios, in particular in the presence of customers or senior staff, profanity must be seriously discouraged or banned. However, our study suggested that, in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire.  Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing. . . . The challenge is to master the art of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet with their own standards.

As always, consider the audience.

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Public Speaking Tip from Odetta

“No one can dub you with dignity. That’s yours to claim.”

Those are the words of folk singer and civil rights legend Odetta, who died this week.   If you don’t know about her, check out her obituary in the New York Times.

She wasn’t a noted public speaker. But the above quote touches on what great speakers do. Great speakers claim dignity by trusting in their own voices and speaking with passion.

Yesterday, I was in a workshop where one of the participants made a large stride in improving his ability to connect with audiences. He really was getting it. He was speaking with a kind of passion that anyone could see was real and unique to him.  And when he saw himself on videotape, I could see him getting nervous.

“I’m not sure I can do that,” he said. “Everyone is going to wonder what happened to me. It’s not what they’re used to seeing.”

But great speakers embrace how good they can be without fear. They realize that their passion is their dignity. They embrace it rather than run from it.

That’s what Odetta did.

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