The enemy of connection is perfection.
I learn this over and over again with my clients, many of whom spend way too much time attempting to perfect their slides or their written speeches.
But this never ending attempt at perfection doesn’t really help them get better. That’s because the only thing that really makes you better at speaking is standing up and speaking. The words have to come out of your mouth.Â Â Â
Â I learned this once again last weekend when my wife Johanna Asher performed for the first time live at a coffee house in Oakhurst near Decatur.Â She took up guitar about 18 months ago. Now she’s taking singing lessons.
O.K. So she’s notÂ Joan Baez.Â But she’s on the way.Â As she says, “If you want to get good at this, you got to get out there.”
If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, check out the New York Times interview with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson. As of this writing, it is the most emailed story from the New York Times. Anderson makes a number of interesting points about leadership, many of which bear on issues of communication and public speaking.Â
One of my favorite lines is:
Iâ€™ve learned to be patient and not lose my temper. And the reason thatâ€™s important is everything you do is an example, and people look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do. And when you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run. And it was a good lesson.
I like this line because of the point that leaders must learn that people are watching them. When you’re speaking in front of a group, keep in mind that the audience isn’t just listening to your words. They’re watching everything about you to determine whether you’re worthy of being followed.
Of course, I also like Anderson’s point on communication. He was asked what he looks for in a new hire.
I think this communication point is getting more and more important. People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word. And when I say written word, I donâ€™t mean PowerPoints. I donâ€™t think PowerPoints help people think as clearly as they should because you donâ€™t have to put a complete thought in place. You can just put a phrase with a bullet in front of it. And it doesnâ€™t have a subject, a verb and an object, so you arenâ€™t expressing complete thoughts.
“Do you have ten bucks?”
That was the sales pitch from my son Elliott the other day.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.
The public speaking blogs have recently had a lot to say about the importance of being “natural” when you speak.Â
Indeed, one of the most common pieces of advice for speakers is “Speak to the audience like you’re having a beer with them.” Â 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.Â
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.” Â 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.
One of the keys to telling a good story is to hone it. And to do that you need to practice saying it out loud over and over again until you get it right.
Â I worked with a senior executive recently who told a story about going to visit his uncle and taking a ride in his airplane.Â We worked on the story in one session. When he came back a week later for another session, he told the story to me again and it was much tighter. â€œI had a lot of time the car this week,â€ he said. â€œI used that time to practice my story.â€
The stories are the best part of any presentation. Practice them.
I love speeches by Seth Godin.
ThreeÂ reasons. He’s incredibly original.Â I don’t always agree with him. But I know that I’m going to get some original thought from him that he feels strongly about. And I like that. It’s leadership.
Second, he tells stories. I love stories.Â He starts with a thesis and then weaves a bunch of stories around it.
Third. He speaks with passion. It’s irresistible.
I was working with a senior executive for a large company last week helping him prepare a speech to his employees.Â At one point,Â I suggested that he tell his audience about a particularly challenging part of his job.
“I don’t see why they need to know about that,” he said. “Telling them about that really isn’t relevant to their work.”
Of course, he was correct.Â But I wasn’t swayed.
“So what if it isn’t relevant to their job,” I argued. “They probably would like to know what it’s like being you.Â Remember that these are your employees. They don’t know what it’s like sitting in your chair. They want to feel kinship with their leader.Â Tell them about yourself in an honest way.”
So often good speaking just comes down to being generous with our audience. Tell them something honest about yourself and they will usually respond.
If you haven’t seen the video of Susan Boyle’s rousing success on Britain’s Got Talent, then you need to watch this clip. But what accounts for her success?
Certainly her wonderful voice is most important. But I also think that her goofy chatter with the judges before her performance helped as well. To be sure, no one thought she was capable of being the next Elaine Page. But she seemed so down to earth and authentic as she chatted away and gyrated her hips. Even as people were making fun of her, they Â were also bonding with her. Â They could tell that she was a real person. Everyone could relate to her.
The point is that your best style is your own authentic style. Be yourself and people will connect with you.