Why I Now Want to Attend Cal Berkeley

I want to be a Golden Bear. And my 17-year-old son Benjamin may want to also.

Yesterday, we toured the University of California at Berkeley. Benjamin is a rising senior at North Springs High School in Atlanta and he’s looking at colleges. Berkeley is on his list.

It was a beautiful day. A gorgeous campus. Perfect day to take a tour. But the real reason we were sold was Jenn, our tour guide, a third year student and terrific speaker. 

Now let’s be clear. She wasn’t particularly polished like someone who had been in business for years.  She was young, like an enthusiastic cheerleader. She had a few “likes” and “you knows” in her speech.

She wasn’t perfect. But she knew how to connect.  She was truly passionate about her school and it came through with her smile and her overall enthusiasm.   She grew on you. She was, as they say, irresistible. You couldn’t not like her.

In addition to her enthusiasm, she did another thing that great presenters do, she told stories.  As she took us around the campus, we learned about the plaque on the ground that you couldn’t step on because it’s bad luck.  We learned she is going to be studying in Chile next spring because “I’ve loved Spanish since I was in eighth grade. I want to be fluent so I’m going abroad. Now let me tell you about our study abroad program.  . . .”

We learned about which library is the best place to nap between classes. We learned about “Berkely Beach” where everyone works on their tans. We learned about the food and how “when my friends visit from other schools, they all tell me that our food is the best.” 

She also told about her favorite professors and how they have opened up her way of thinking.  We learned about the special parking spots reserved for the Nobel Prize winners. 

She didn’t mention the fountain where Benjamin Braddock sat while waiting for Elaine Robinson in “The Graduate.” But I guess that was before her time.  Benjamin Asher didn’t know about that either.

Of course we did learn about the special axe that is the trophy won by the annual Stanford-Cal football game.  “It’s a fun rivalry,” she said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t win this year. But football season is lots of fun.”

Jenn showed that you don’t have to be a particularly polished to be effective and persuasive.  Just tell stories and be enthusiastic. 

Jenn got me so fired up that I went on YouTube to find a clip of the famous last minute football play in the 1982 Cal-Stanford game. I’ve probably seen it 50 times. But it’s still fun to watch. Go Bears.

On Saturday, we’re going to visit Stanford.


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Steve Jobs’s Great Speeches Are Part of His Brand

Steve Jobs gave another speech today, introducing the upgrade of the iPhone in San Francisco. And sure enough, it’s a huge story in the the New York Times.  Jobs’s presentations have become a kind of “must see” corporate theater. 

Why?  Of course, part of it is that he announces cool stuff.  But there are plenty of corporate announcements of new products that don’t garner such publicity. 

Jobs gets so much attention because his presentations are reliably fantastic.  As I write this post, I haven’t been able to see today’s presentation.  It hasn’t been posted on YouTube yet. 

But when you sit down to hear Jobs give a presentation, you expect something exciting.  He’s passionate. He tells stories. He does cool demonstrations.  Part of the Steve Jobs “brand” — what you can reliably expect from him — is that he’s a great presenter.  Every time he stands up, everyone knows that he’s going to deliver something exciting.

What gets me excited is that anyone can learn to make “great presenter” part of their own brand. You don’t have to have an iPhone to unveil to develop the reputation as a great presenter.

In fact, most companies that I’ve worked for have people who are known throughout their organization as great speakers.  They get that way by working hard on their presentations and not settling for the usual boring stuff.

Like Steve Jobs, they usually do four things.

  • Keep the message simple and focused on issues that the audience cares about.  Jobs always keeps things simple and easy to follow. 
  • Tell stories.  Jobs is always telling stories and giving demonstrations, which are stories in their own way. 
  • Speak with passion. Jobs seems to truly be having fun.  
  • And rehearse. Jobs practices a lot.

 Do those four things consistently and your name will become synonymous with “great presenter.”

Here is the introduction of the iPhone from last year.  As soon as today’s speech is posted, I’ll put it up.  


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Does Being a Gentleman Have Business Value?

In the cut-throat business world, does it help to be a gentleman? And what does it mean to be a “gentleman” in the 21st century? Those are questions raised by a recent article in The Times of London.  The author writes: 

Trevor Pickett, the owner of the eponymous luxury leather goods brand Pickett, aims to do business “the right way”, but fears that he’s in a minority. “The idea of being a gentleman in business is definitely dying out,” he says. “But when your back’s against the wall in any industry you fall back on the relationships that you have built with people. You can’t do that if you’ve just screwed them on price, for example. That’s just not the way we do things.”

The article concludes with the following list of what it takes to be a modern day “gentleman.”

1. Some things don’t change: say please and thank you and ask questions about other people rather than talk about yourself.
2. Be punctual. Tardiness does not make you look important, it turns you into an arrogant incompetent who thinks that his time is more important than other people’s.
3. The modern gentleman cares about the planet. Be environmentally aware (but not obnoxious about it).
4. Open doors for people and stand up when they enter a room, but do this for men as well as women. The modern gentleman doesn’t treat women like porcelain.
5. Be modest. Bragging is distinctly ungentlemanly.
6. Be a good father. Nothing is less charming than a man who leaves childcare to women.
7. Be honest about wherever you have come from in life. Pretension is spineless.
8. Flirt – with everyone. Good flirting is a form of politeness. Pay compliments and put your companion at ease.
9. Do not phone/text/check your BlackBerry incessantly.
10. Dress tidily. Whatever style you are going for, scruffiness just isn’t in.

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What Should You Do About Your Accent?

“I sound like such a redneck.”

That is what one of my clients told me today upon seeing himself on videotape.  He was shocked by his prounced southern accent.

In fact, we get a lot of people who wonder what they should do about their accents. We tell them that accents are great. They make you unique. The only issue is whether your accent is so strong that it makes it difficult to understand you. If that’s the case, then you might consider accent reduction therapy. 

Otherwise, celebrate your accent.

Here is a video of an aspiring actress who has gotten a lot of publicity over her ability to imitate many accents.


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Why Is This Dog Smiling?

 Before we leave the topic of smiling . . . .

Have you ever wondered why we all love our dogs so much? Part of the reason is that they’ve learned to connect with us on a human level. 

Like humans, they look us in the eye and seem to know what we’re thinking.  Researchers in Hungary have discovered  that our dogs really do connect with us through eye contact.  For example, they can find hidden food by watching our eyes and gleaning clues to the hiding places. 

No one’s studied this yet as far as I know. But I’m convinced that dogs have also learned to charm us with a smile. How can you not love a dog that looks at you and smiles?

Stone-faced business people take note.  Would you approve this dog’s budget request?

smiling dog


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Can You Fake a Genuine Smile?

One of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” is the one where Jerry needs to know how to fake out a lie detector.  So he turns to George, who is presumably the best liar on the planet. George looks at his friend and, with an air of mysticism, says something like, “It’s not a lie if you believe it’s true.”

I tell you this because I am struggling with how to justify what we do with our clients in light of my previous post.  When I woke up this morning, I was a little disturbed at what I had written.

Surely it is not a good idea for a public speaking coach to tell the world that smiling can be bad for your health.  We spend a huge amount of time urging our clients to smile. 

In a workshop with some lawyers this week, I confess to using the following words. “As you do this exercise, I want you to force a big, fake, phony smile. I know it’s going to feel odd. But I want you to do it anyway.”  And of course, when they watch themselves on video, they see that they look great.

How can I reconcile that statement with the idea that phony smiles can make you sick?  Because (and you have to imagine me doing my best George Constanza impression) a forced a smile isn’t phony if you really mean it.

I’m not suggesting that you smile when taking abuse. I’m not suggesting that you suppress emotions of rage. Rather I’m simply trying to get you to realize that smiling is a great way to connect with your listeners.   And with training and practice you can learn how to turn on that smile naturally when you get in front of people.

To be sure, it will feel forced when you’re not used to it. But a golf swing also feels forced when you’re just learning. If you practice smiling, you’re going to learn how “turn on the charm” when you need to. And that charm won’t feel phony at all.

And besides. How can we not urge you to smile? As Louis Armstrong knew, smiling is the best and most natural form of connection we have available to us. 



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Smiling Can Hurt Your Health

One of the easiest ways to boost your charisma is to couple eye contact with a smile.  But make sure that the smile is genuine. Otherwise, you could get sick.

Phony smiles — especially those that you force when you’re having to endure an on-the-job insult – can damage your health, according to a study out of Germany.

Dieter Zapf of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt studied 4,000 volunteers working in a fake call center. Half were allowed to respond in kind to abuse on the other end of the line while the other half had to suck it up, according to a story published by UPI.

Zapf found that those able to answer back had a brief increase in heart rate. Those who could not had stress symptoms that lasted much longer.

“Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings there are negative consequences,” Zapf said. “We are all able to rein in our emotions but it becomes difficult to do this over a protracted period.”

In other words, ignore the words of Judy Garland.


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“Connection” and the Proposed MLK Jr. Memorial


MLK Statue

We can learn about connecting with audiences from this month’s controversy over a proposed statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The commission overseeing the creation of a Washington D.C. memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recently called for revisions of a proposed statue of Dr. King. The panel said the statue looked “confrontational” and reflected a “genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries.”  

In other words, they think it makes our greatest Civil Rights leader resemble Saddam Hussein.

The proposed statue is particularly ironic in light of Dr. King’s famous ability to connect with audiences.  He was certainly one of our nation’s greatest and most moving speakers.  Yet in the proposed statue, he is standing in a classic closed position. If we saw one of our clients standing like that in a workshop, we would urge them to open up and connect.

In fact, we’d urge them to assume a position more like the stance portrayed in the memorial statue of Dr. King displayed at the University of Texas at Austin as seen below. There Dr. King is shown in a more open stance, reaching out and connecting with an audience.


King Statue at UT Austin

But that’s where the public speaking lesson ends. 

Compare the Saddam Hussein statue below with the above statues. 

Saddam Statue

I’m no art critic. And I’m certainly no political scientist.  But it does look like Saddam, when he commissioned his statue, was trying to make himself look like the kind of leader that reaches out and connects with audiences.



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