Based on Height, Obama Should Beat McCain

If you want to rely on the “Height Index” then Barack Obama is the favorite to become our next President. Approximately 60 percent of the time, the taller candidate wins. according to a Wikipedia analysis.

Senator Obama is 6-foot-1.  Senator John McCain is 5-foot-6.

Of course height isn’t just a benefit when running for President of the United States.  There have been several studies indicating the benefit of height in the marketplace.   For every additional inch in height, you can expect to earn almost $800 a year in pay.   CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are approximately three inches taller than the general population.

There is something about height that conveys a sense of “leadership.”

Of course, we can’t make you taller. But you can learn to present yourself with “bigger” presence. Stand up straight as you walk onto the stage or into a room.  Also, make big gestures and hold them as you speak.  Be big!

It’s a sad reality that the world seems to have a prejudice in favor of height.  Here’s a tongue in cheek reminder of bias against the “vertically impaired”.  



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First Step to Winning a Sales Pitch? Listening


One of the most important keys to winning a sales pitch has nothing to do with how dynamic you are as a speaker, or your slides, or how to craft your message.  The first thing that the best sales presenters do is listen.

That’s because the best sales presenters know that the best pitches focus like a laser on only one thing: the client’s biggest worries.  To identify those worries, you need to talk to the prospect prior to the presentation and listen. I mean really listen.

Consider this tale of two architecture pitches.

Architecture Pitch 1

An international architecture firm invited me in to help them win a pitch. They had been short-listed for the chance to build a new corporate headquarters for a “big box” retailer.  When I arrived at the first meeting, two architects on the project were seated at a conference table thumbing through copies of the “Request for Proposals.”

Once the meeting started I asked the following question, “Why are they building the new headquarters?”

The architects started leafing through the RFP searching for answers.  The RFP listed the proposed square footage. It listed a proposed timetable. It even discussed the budget. But it did not say why they wanted to build a new headquarters.

“Isn’t that an important question when you’re designing a building?” I asked. Of course it was. You might design a Wall Street showpiece much differently than you would a structure that merely needs to be functional and fun for employees.

Of course there was a reason for building the new headquarters. It just wasn’t detailed in the RFP. The architects didn’t know the reason because they hadn’t spoken to the decision-makers and listened to their needs. Those needs aren’t usually listed in the RFP.  Yet if you don’t know those needs, then you have no way of knowing what to focus on during the presentation.

I did what I could to help them. But they didn’t have a chance. 

Architecture Pitch 2

Now consider a respected Atlanta architecture firm. They had been invited to pitch for a corporate headquarters as well. They had received an RFP also. But the key architect in this case had secured a conference call with one of the key decision-makers. On that call, the architect listened carefully and learned that the company’s biggest concern involved the lag time it would take to actually build the project.

The project would take three years from design to completion. The prospect was worried that their business conditions would change by the time the project was done and that the final building would no longer meet their needs. This architect gathered this information by asking questions and listening. 

With those issues in mind, the firm was able to structure the presentation around the prospect’s key hot button: flexibility.  The presentation focused on how they would design a building with lots of flexible workspaces, thereby ensuring that the building would meet their business needs even as the business evolved.

The pitch focused like a laser on what the prospect really cared about.  As a result, they won.  But they couldn’t have put together such a great pitch had the architect not taken the time to listen to the prospect’s concerns.

Remember that the best sales pitches are the culmination of a sales process. If you want to deliver a great sales pitch, listen for the prospect’s needs early in the process. Then make sure that the pitch addresses those needs like a laser.


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Can Your Talk Pass the $300,000 Challenge?

Let’s say that you’re about to give a presentation to 20 people. And I approach you prior to the talk with a briefcase.  I open the briefcase to reveal $300,000 cash. I explain to you that the money is yours under one condition.

When your presentation is done, I explain, I’m going approach five people who heard you speak and ask them the following question.  “What were the speaker’s three core messages?”

If all five can repeat back to me your three key messages without prompting, then you get the money.

If that’s the condition for getting $300,000 cash, what would you do? 

I can tell you exactly what you’d do. You’d carefully limit your message to three simple points. Then you’d find a way to pound away at the those points. You’d hit those points at the beginning. You’d hit them at the end. And you’d hit them all throughout the presentation.  You’d tell stories illustrating the three messages. You’d give handouts focusing on the three messages.  Your slides would hammer away at those messages. You’d give everyone a quiz, making sure that the listeners’ all took away your core messages.

The point is this. I think getting your listeners to reliably remember a few core ideas is a fundamental test of a presentation. If your presentation can’t get three messages to stick, then your presentation is a failure.  What can possibly be more fundamental for a presentation than to simply get some ideas to stick in your listeners’ heads?

Here’s what I think is interesting. As the $300,000 challenge illustrates, passing this test isn’t that hard. If we are really motivated to do it, we all know how to get ideas to stick.  We limit the ideas and then we pound away. Most of us, however, don’t have the discipline to do it.

The vast majority of presentations don’t pass this test. Why?  Because most presenters don’t take the time to ask themselves the simple question “What are the few key messages that I want my listeners to really remember?”

Next time you put together your presentation, ask yourself this question: “Will this presentation pass the $300,000 challenge?”

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A Flip Chart Idea to Nail Your Next Presentation

Here’s an easy way to give a speech that your audience will love. 

Start with a blank flip chart. Walk before your audience and say the following. “In preparing for my speech today, I thought about what are the three questions that you would want me to answer.” State the three questions and write them down on the flip chart.

Then say, “Let me answer the first question.”  Then answer the question, making sure that you use a story to illustrate your answer. And make sure you speak with the kind of energy you would have during an animated dinner conversation with a friend. Be excited and let the passion show.

Once you’ve answered all three questions, recap the main ideas in less than 15 seconds. Stop.

I came up with this simple approach for the President of a local manufacturing firm who asked for help on a presentation to his sales force. “But I don’t want to use PowerPoint,” he told me. “I’m more of a flip chart kind of guy. And I want to just keep it simple.”

He had just been appointed as the new president and needed to introduce himself to his team.  In preparing for the presentation, he sent out an email asking the sellers to submit questions they’d like for him to answer during his presentation.  He used those questions as the basis for coming up with the three questions he would focus on during the speech.

Like any good speaker, he spent a lot of time practicing the presentation.

He nailed it and the speech was a big hit.

Great speeches don’t need to be fancy. But they do need to be simple, focused on listener issues, and contain a few stories.  Do those things, rehearse, and your audience will love you.

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Another Speaking Tip from George Carlin: Practice

One more thing about George Carlin. He rehearsed a lot.  It was one of the things that made him great.  And it’s a lesson we could all learn.

I once took a comedy class from Jeff Justice, who has been teaching stand-up in Atlanta for years (check out Jeff Justice’s Comedy Workshoppe).  He taught us how to write and deliver jokes and it was a great class. But one of the things that most impressed me was his emphasis on the importance of rehearsal. The class graduation was at The Punch Line in Sandy Springs, Ga.  Before letting us go live in front of an audience, he made us rehearse our five-minute bit over and over until we had the timing down perfectly.

The reason, he explained, was that comedy depends on saying the words of the joke just right. “One word out of place and it might not be funny,” he told us. “So you have to practice saying it just right.”  He was right. All of us in the class learned that much of stand-up depends on perfect word order. So we practiced a lot. 

Watching George Carlin, you could see that he did the same thing.  His humor was extremely verbal. He was a true word lover and it was obvious that he practiced saying things a certain way to ensure that they were as funny as possible. You could watch his routine five times and it would be almost exactly the same each time.

Now, I’m not saying that you should memorize your presentations word for word. Unlike stand-up comedy, a presentation does not depend on saying every word just right.  But rehearsal is extremely important. The best presenters practice a lot. They may not say things exactly the same way every time. But they do have a strong sense of the words they want to use and where. I’ve practiced my presentations so often that I say almost the same thing every time.  The result is that I appear to be speaking extemporaneously.

It’s a lesson I learned from comedy. And it’s a lesson we could all learn from the late George Carlin.

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Public Speaking Lessons from George Carlin

George CarlinSince George Carlin’s death on Sunday, the internet is flowing with links to the comic’s provocative, profane, and usually hilarious stand-up routines.  As you watch the clips, don’t just focus on his controversial subjects like “The seven dirty words”.  Notice what a true master he was as a speaker.

To my mind, he did three things that we can all learn from: he took positions, spoke with great focus, and connected with the audience with infectious passion.

Carlin Always Took a Position

Whether you loved Carlin or hated him, you have to say this about him: you always knew where he stood. And his clear positions on subjects was part of what made him so compelling.  Whether it was religion, government, or “white people”, Carlin was willing to take a stand. Too often, I see speakers who, unlike Carlin, won’t take clean positions on subjects. They’re afraid.  As a result, their presentations are dull and usually don’t serve their listeners well.

I was helping a speaker who felt that a particular business initiative should be killed. He was going to be speaking to the company’s board of directors. In his speech, he planned to simply lay out all the facts around the initiative, hoping that the board would see the light and agree. After hearing the presentation, I asked, “Why don’t you just say, ‘This project needs to end. It’s a waste of corporate resources. And here’s why?'” The speaker was afraid to be so frank. But his waffling made for a poor presentation and didn’t reflect well on him.  His lack of clarity made his presentation confusing and wasn’t going to help the board.

Carlin reminded us that good speaking isn’t just about organizing thoughts and speaking with energy. It’s also about saying something pointed and taking a position. It’s about leadership.

His Messages Were Simple and Easy to Follow

Carlin also found clever ways of organizing his messages for his listeners. He usually found a neat way of putting a tight focus on each comic bit.  One of his most common approaches was to use a single word or phrase as the glue for the piece.  Perhaps his most famous use of this approach was his “seven dirty words” bit.  He laid out the words and then proceeded to analyze every one.  He did the same thing with his classic piece about “stuff” (“That’s the whole meaning of life, trying to find a place for your stuff.”). He uses the word “stuff” over and over as he goes through his ideas around how we are all so focused on our possessions. 

We can use a similar approach with our own presentations. I helped a corporate presenter recently as he developed a rather complicated presentation on his company’s approach to logistics and supply chain management.  The presentation gave a detailed look at how his company was moving goods around the globe. It needed focus. So we came up with the phrase “optimized flow of goods” as the key phrase.  We introduced the phrase early in the presentation and came back to it throughout the presentation as a way of making it hold together.

My client probably didn’t realize that his logistics presentation had something in common with a George Carlin stand-up bit. But it did.

He Spoke with Passion

Finally, notice Carlin’s wonderful delivery.  He always spoke with total commitment and passion in his voice. He used wonderful facial expressions.  His entire body seemed to get a workout as he worked through his routines.

Most people in business speak with too little passion.  Working yesterday with a construction company project manager, I watched silently as he spoke about his work like he was reading a telephone book. “I need you to triple your energy level,” I told him. “You seem bored. I want you to stick your finger in that light socket over there.”

Carlin’s legacy will be as a groundbreaking and controversial comedian. But let’s also remember that he got there by being a great communicator.

Finding a Clean George Carlin Clip to Post Here Was Impossible

Searching for a Carlin YouTube clip to post here, I’ve struggled to find anything that wasn’t profane.  With Carlin, it’s extremely difficult, maybe impossible.  The man could lay an “f-bomb” on you. I considered including no clip at all.

But I loved Carlin. He was one of my heroes.  I listened to his records and memorized his routines when I was a kid.  

And as a speaker, he is an example we could all follow, minus the foul language.

So here goes.

The following clip is relatively clean and is about “stuff”.  WARNING!: IT DOES HAVE SOME FOUL LANGUAGE. If you don’t want to hear foul language, then don’t watch it. But you’ll be missing a wonderful bit.

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Great Sellers Put a Dumpster in the Driveway

About three years ago, my wife and I decided to renovate our house.  We were going to add a new master suite, renovate our kitchen, replace the deck, replace the driveway, and re-landscape our front yard. It was going to be expensive.

We obtained three bids from contractors. The first two bids were almost the same. The third bid came in about five percent higher. The high bid was from Mark.

Arriving home from work one day, I was astonished to find a big blue construction waste dumpster right in the middle of my driveway. From my car, I called my wife.

“Are you aware that there is a dumpster in our driveway?”

“I know nothing about it,” she said. “Call Mark.”

I have no idea why she wanted me to call Mark. But I did.

“Mark,”  I said. “Are you aware that there is a big blue dumpster in our driveway?”

“I put it there,” he said without blinking.

“Don’t you think that’s a bit presumptuous?” I said. “We haven’t picked you yet.”

“Perhaps,” he said. “But I know that you want to finish the major parts of the job before the end of the summer. So we’re going to need to get a quick start. If you pick me, then I’m starting tomorrow. If you don’t pick me, then I’ll get rid of it and it won’t cost you a thing.”

I was stunned. I guess I could have looked at this as a high pressure sales tactic. But I saw it differently. Mark had decided to take a risk. He was going to expend his own resources to start solving our construction problems before we had even hired him.

And that’s what great sellers do.  They begin to solve the prospect’s business problems prior to being hired. The sales pitch presents the proposed solution to the prospect for free. The prospect should think, “Wow. I would have paid them for that analysis.  But I got it for free as part of the sales pitch. That’s impressive.”

If you’re a lawyer, the pitch should raise the key legal issues and begin to propose legal solutions.  If you’re a contractor, you should identify key construction challenges and propose how to solve them. If you’re a software salesman, you should lay out  a plan for reducing the prospect’s costs.

That’s putting a dumpster in the client’s driveway.


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Tim Russert Taught Us Much about Communication

The shocking death today of NBC newsman Tim Russert is a great loss for many reasons. But from my perspective it marked the loss of a wonderful communicator. 

Of course, he had a positive conversational style that made you want to watch him.  But I thought one of his greatest contributions was his ability to explain relatively complex stuff. This is particularly hard to do on television when time is very short. 

One of the things he was best known for was using a hand-held whiteboard to explain election numbers.  In the following clip, he did a great job of breaking down why Barack Obama had eliminated Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidential nomination.  He started with the simple point that no Democrats thought Hillary had a chance. Then he used his trademark whiteboards to go through the numbers.  Then he ended by restating the point that Hillary can’t win.

He could have used more sophisticated television graphics. But the handwritten whiteboards made things seem so simple.


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Write Your Next Speech on a 4X4 Inch Post-it Note

Here’s a radical idea. The next time you have a create a presentation. Try creating the entire thing on a single Post-it note.   It takes some discipline. But you can do it. And it might turn out to be the best presentation of your life.

Step one: Get a Post-it note. The 4X4 inch note will do fine. But go bigger if you like.

Step two: Come up with a “hook” that will go at the beginning that illustrates the business problem your presentation addresses. If sales are down and you’re trying to help your sellers do better, you might tell a story about making dozens of calls but closing only a few deals. Just jot down a few key words that illustrate the idea for the story. You might write “Closing rates are down. Brief personal story.”

Step three: Write down three key “bumper stickers” that you really want your listeners to remember. These should be the three simple ideas that absolutely must stick in your listeners’ heads. If you’re giving a presentation on how to increase sales, your bumper stickers might be “We’re chasing too many prospects.” “Let’s narrow our prospect lists” and “Fewer total calls but more quality calls.”

Step four: Come up with some stories to support your three points. So if your first point is “We’re chasing too many prospects”, give a story illustrating the idea.  A real story from your own experience is best. Just jot down a couple of words to identify what the story is about. Let’s say that the story is about how one of the sellers last month made 50 prospect calls but only three of them were well qualified to buy. Your notes would say “50 prospect calls but only three good ones.”

Step five: Come up with a call to action.  What is the next step?  Do you want everyone to submit a sales plan in the next week?  Ask for something from the audience.

Step six: Start practicing. As you practice, you start by detailing your “Hook.”  “Today we’re going to talk about the problem we’re facing with dropping sales. In the last six months we’ve dropped to 50 percent of our plan. I’m going to talk about how we’re going to get sales back up.”  Then preview your three points by stating your three bumper stickers. Don’t go into detail yet. Just give a table of contents. Then go into detail for each of your points, telling stories you’ve noted.  As you practice, fill out the stories. Practice telling your stories over and over so that you can get them just right.  Then recap your three points and give the call to action.   Practice it five times.

This Post-it approach requires that you narrow your message to what is really essential and then bring it to life with stories. The practice will ensure that your delivery is strong. 

A clear three-point message. Stories. Strong delivery. How can you go wrong?

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