How to Deliver a Great Holiday Toast

With families gathering for the holidays, you just might have to give a toast.  And if you want to do it well, think FSP: Focus, Story, Passion.

Those are the three steps to a great toast.

Focus : No one likes long rambling toasts. Make one point about the person that you’re toasting.  “I want to make a toast to our host, Jeffrey.  Jeffrey is one of the most generous people I know.”  In this case the one point is that the person is generous.  That’s better than saying  “Jeffrey is generous, funny, and friendly.” Uh, that would be three points.

Story: Great toasts give a feel for the person being toasted with a simple story.  “About a year ago, I went with Jeffrey to a Braves game and he had two extra tickets.  He saw two teenagers who didn’t look like they had any money.  So Jeffrey just gave them the tickets.  Not only that, he bought them hotdogs, sodas and popcorn.  That’s the kind of generous person he is.”  From there you simply raise your glass and say “So here’s a toast to Jeffrey and his generosity.”

Passion: The key to speaking well in any situation is speaking with intensity and passion.  So many people get up in front of people and speak in a dull monotone.  They sound like they’re reading the telephone book. Set yourself apart by practicing your toast several times and speaking with the same animation that you use when you’re relaxed and speaking excitedly with a close friend.

So when the holiday spirit strikes and it’s your turn to give a toast, think Focus, Stories, and Passion.  You’ll knock ‘em dead.

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Public Speaking Tip From Woody Allen

Yesterday was Woody Allen’s birthday and it reminded me of how you don’t have to be a wonderful “orator” to be a highly effective communicator. What you do need, however, is to learn how to be a highly animated version of yourself.

The idea is to speak to your listeners like you’re speaking to a good friend during a highly animated dinner conversation.

The opening sequence of Allen’s Academy Award winning classic “Annie Hall” is a perfect example. Allen is vocally and facially animated.  Yet he’s not trying to be anything but himself.

Allen is no orator. But he’s no less effective in his own way than Barack Obama.



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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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Public Speaking Tip from James Bond

“Bond . . .  James Bond.”

Today is the premier of the newest Bond film “Quantum of Solace.”

And it gives us an excuse to talk about something that the British superspy does as well as anyone: pause.

The power of the pause is that is conveys a sense of confidence. So often, people feel a need to fill every moment with words. But it shows supreme confidence to allow silence to settle in.  

And if there’s one thing that Bond has, it’s confidence.

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Five Keys to Making Your Pitch Like a Test Drive

Buying a car is easy. You go to the Honda dealership. You say, “I’d like to test drive the new Civic.”

The salesman says, “Sure. Let me get you the keys.”

You give it a spin and you get a feel for it. You know pretty quickly whether the car is right for you.

Hiring a service provider for your business is much more difficult. You can’t take an architect for a test drive. You can’t ride around in a lawyer.  You can’t hop inside your accountant and give him a spin.

That’s why your sales pitch should do everything possible to give your prospect the closest thing possible to a test drive. Everything in your pitch should be aimed at giving your prospect a sense of what the experience of working with you will be like. 

There are five keys.

Key 1. Focus your message on a solution to the prospect’s key business problem. The prospect is not hiring a law firm. It’s buying a solution to a troublesome legal problem.  Your main job in a pitch is not to show your credentials. Your main job is to give the prospect a sense of your proposed solution to their business problem.

Key 2. Keep your message simple. From the prospect’s perspective, one of the main experiences of working with you will be meetings, conference calls and other forms of spoken interaction.  Your prospect wants to know if you are able to speak to her in a way that is simple and easy to understand. If your presentation is simple and user-friendly, that says a lot about what it will be like to work with you. It says that you’ll be user-friendly. And that’s good.

Key 3. Be passionate.  If you’re hired, the prospect is going to have to spend a lot of time with you.  If they see that you’re passionate, then they’re going to sense that spending time with you will be a pleasure. What if you’re not passionate about your work? Consider a new line of work.

Key 4. Be interactive. Make sure that the prospect has plenty of time to ask questions and discuss your ideas. Q&A is a test drive of the intellect.  The more interactive the presentation, the more the prospect gets a feel for what a meeting with you would be like. That’s a good thing.

Key 5. Rehearse. Good preparation is obvious to the prospect. If you show up well prepared, it gives your prospect a feel for how well you’ll be prepared for them on a daily basis.

Follow these five keys and you’ll give your prospect a sense of what it will be like to work with you. It’s the closest you can come to giving your prospect a test drive.

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CEO Must Remember that “It’s Connection”

“I’m worried about accidentally saying something that the analysts will pounce on. As a result, I speak slowly and have lots of “uhs”. I know I sound tentative. But I don’t know what to do about it.”

Those are the the words of the CEO of a $1 billion-a-year publicly traded company. I was working with him last week in preparation for a major presentation to analysts. 

Speaking in meetings, he is charming and engaging.  He smiles and is highly animated.

But when he stands to speak about his company to Wall Street, his voice is flat and tentative. He sticks to a script all costs. As a result, he doesn’t sound confident. Of course, that’s not what you want when you’re the CEO of a $1 billion-a-year company.

I understand his dilemma. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to make a mistake and allow the analysts to pounce. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to sound dull and uncertain.

What’s a poor CEO to do? 

My advice was to loosen up and rehearse like crazy. 

He clearly needed to speak with more animation, something he could do with no problem. In fact, when we worked together, I told him to get more excited and put away his notes. He sounded highly engaging. It was an incredible transformation.

Of course, he didn’t deliver his presentation perfectly. He made a few mistakes. But his mistakes weren’t catastrophic.  And with more rehearsal, he will make even fewer mistakes.

Too many people over-rely on notes in an attempt to get the words perfect. The problem is that the search for perfection makes you come across as tentative.

Better to loosen up. Remember the goal of speaking isn’t perfection. It’s connection.

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Non-TelePrompter Obama is More Engaging

Sure, Sen. Barack Obama can read a TelePrompter better than anyone else in history — better even than Ronald Reagan.  Heck, Obama has such a wonderful voice that he could read the ingredients off of a bottle of Nyquil and it would sound interesting.

But Obama is like everyone else as a speaker in one particular way. Like everyone else, he’s best when he’s talking without notes and telling stories. 

Here he is demonstrating what makes everyone come across well when giving a speech. Obama is telling a pie story without notes. He sounds like he’s having an animated conversation with friends over dinner. You can’t do that when you’re reading, even if you’re reading a TelePrompter and you’re Barack Obama.


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Use a Camera to Improve Your Presentation Skills

A UCLA Psychology Professor named Albert Mehrabian did a study in 1971 of the way we communicate. He found that 55 percent of the impression that we make is based on physical things like facial energy, posture, gestures, and eye contact. He found that 38 percent of the impression we make is based on how we sound.


 That leaves 7 percent for content.

This is one of the most famous studies in the public speaking business. It is often cited for the idea that content doesn’t matter.

That’s absurd.  Content matters a lot.

But don’t disregard Dr. Mehrabian’s study.  People judge us based on how we look and how we sound. Here are four steps to improving your communication style without the help of a coach.


Step 1. The next time you give a presentation, record it with a video camera.  If you’ve never done this, it can be shocking and revealing.  Working with an attorney recently, I showed her a brief clip of her presentation before I gave her any feedback.  “Oh dear,” she said, somewhat shocked. “I look like a slug.”  The camera showed vividly how bored she looked. I often tell my clients that the camera is a far better coach than I am.  Nothing beats seeing how you appear to others.


Step 2. Look first for eye contact. If your eye contact is down at the floor or directed solely at your notes, then you have a problem that must be corrected immediately. Failure to make eye contact makes connection with your listeners impossible.  You should be having random, miniature conversations with individual members of your audience.  To practice eye contact, set up chairs around the room and make eye contact with imaginary audience members. At our offices, we have Halloween masks mounted on sticks that we place in chairs to pose as listeners.


Step 3. Listen for vocal energy. This is where most people can make the biggest improvement. You have to sound excited about your ideas. One of the most common things that clients will say when I show them their videotapes is simply, “I don’t sound enthusiastic.” To improve passion, try speaking about something you’re passionate about, forcing yourself to get overly excited. You want to sound like you’re having an animated dinner conversation with a close friend.


Step 4. Look for facial energy. While watching the videotape of yourself, turn off the volume. Do you look excited? When I first saw myself on camera, I was appalled at my flat facial energy.  I forced myself to smile for a month. My “smiler” muscles ached.  To fix facial energy, exaggerate. Do more with your eyebrows and your eyes. It may feel weird, but it will look good. As Billy Crystal said, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”


As business people, we tend to think that the only thing that matters when we talk is content. But if you want to connect with others, pay attention to how you look and sound.

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Think You Speak Too Fast? Try Pausing

“Everyone tells me that I talk too fast.”

We hear that all the time from our clients.  But the solution isn’t to speak slower. Most “fast talkers” really just need to  throw in some pauses.

Many people are told that they speak too fast. But no one speaks so fast that they can’t be understood. The fastest speakers speak around 175 to 180 words per minute.  The human ear can perceive over 300 words a minute. 

When people speak too fast, usually that means that they speak in a continuous uninterrupted stream, never letting the audience digest the ideas. Pausing gives your listeners a chance to catch up with you. 

Pause for two to three seconds. In our workshops, we have clients read the following phrase:

“A pause shows poise  . . . control . . .  confidence  .  . . . use it  . . . master it.” 

And we urge participants to hold the pause longer than it feels comfortable.  Even a short pause can seem very long if you’re not used to pausing.

Whatever you do, however, don’t actually slow down your rate of speech. Slow speakers tend to sound dull and tentative.  Fast talkers have energy.

And energy is a good thing so long as there are some pauses to help the audience digest your ideas.

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Dare to Be Great for the “Management Council”

In a workshop yesterday, one of the participants started to deliver a presentation on a key business topic.  After about 30 seconds, I stopped him.

“You need to ramp it up,” I told him. “You sound flat. Dull.”

“But this is a presentation would be delivered to the management council,” he told me.

I stared at him dumfounded. He seemed to think that he needed to be dull because his audience was the senior leadership of the company. 

I understand his thinking. He felt like he needed to put on his most conservative “big boy” persona when speaking to senior leaders.

But I disagree with that thinking.  The “Management Council” hears presentations all day. And that means they spend much of their lives listening to disorganized data dumps delivered in flat monotones. Of all people, these folks yearn for energetic and exciting presentations.

If you want to impress the “Management Council”, give them something that will make them sit up and take notice.

Ramp up the energy and deliver a focused message that will get them excited.

I know that this takes courage. More is at stake when you’re presenting to the “Management Council.”  It’s tempting to play it safe and be dull. But more is to be gained as well.

Dare to be great.

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