Public Speaking Lessons from My New iPhone

I know I’m not the first person to say this. But I’m in love with my new iPhone. I can’t stop looking at it.  And I can’t help but think about the lessons it has to teach about public speaking.

First, the iPhone is so easy to use. The Apple guys have worked hard at making everything on it easy. Want to check the weather? Easy.  Want to record a voice mail?  Easy. Want to hear your music?  Easy.  Want to make a phone call? Easy.  That’s not to say that making it all easy has been simple to accomplish.  There’s a lot of engineering blood, sweat, and tears behind all that “easiness”.

A good speaker should be the same way — easy. By that I mean listener friendly.  For the listener, the message should come across as clean and simple.  “Here are the three simple things that you need to come away with.”  That’s not to say that making a presentation listener-friendly is simple.  It’s not. Good speakers work extremely hard at simplifying their message, disciplining themselves to come up with the three core messages. It takes a lot of work to hone a good story. But it shouldn’t feel that way to the listener.

Second, the iPhone is interactive fun. The thing quickly becomes an integral part of your life.  Of course, there is the phone and the email. But it’s also a wonderful toy with apps galore. If you’re a sports nut, then there are dozens of ways to feed your addiction. If you’re a music nut, same thing. There is a Scrabble app that I’m dying to get.

Similarly, a great speaker is interactive and fun. Great speakers grab listeners and make them feel personally involved.  They find ways to interact with the audience, tell stories, take questions, ask questions and generally turn the presentation into an conversational, participatory event.

Third, the iPhone works. By that I mean that it’s very clear on it’s core mission and accomplishes it quite well.  I would have no use for a device that could get me the ball scores but couldn’t make a clear phone call. The iPhone wouldn’t be much use if the email and calendar were hard to use.  But those things work beautifully.  And the iPhone sets up with little problem (at least mine did).

A good speaker is the same way. She has a clear sense of her core mission — to connect with the audience and move them. Great speakers understand that all the clever stories and amazing visuals mean nothing if you don’t get the listeners to take away a few core ideas and move them to action.  Great speakers understand that a wonderful speaking style is of no value if the audience doesn’t get the message and know what to do next.

Finally, the iPhone is absolutely beautiful to look at. I can’t stop looking at mine.  I was at lunch yesterday with two architects that were praising the thing as a model of design.

Similarly, great speakers speak with the kind of style that makes listeners want to watch. Great speakers have energy in their voice and passion in their face and eyes. That excitement makes their audience pay attention.

I wonder if there’s an app to deal with stage-fright?

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Public Speaking Tip From Farrah Fawcett

“The reason that the all-American boy prefers beauty to brains is that he can see better than he can think.”

Those are the words of Farrah Fawcett, the model and actress who died recently.

Her point is clearly relevant to issues of public speaking. What we say in a presentation is obviously important. But many people make a huge mistake by underestimating the importance of how we look and sound.

If you were to simply read the words of the classic song “Teddy Bear”, it wouldn’t seem like much. But let Elvis deliver those same words and suddenly the song touches you deep down. 

Farrah Fawcett was right. Visual (and vocal) impressions matter a lot.

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Public Speaking Tip from Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s win at the French Open has made me happy in a way that I didn’t expect. And it is a lesson for anyone that wants to build a relationship with an audience.

The lesson is this: if you want to bond with an audience, show your humanity to them.

I still get a little sense of satisfaction just remembering Roger dropping to his knees in tears for his 14th Grand Slam victory and his first on the red clay of Roland Garros. I’m truly happy for him.  And I’ve never met him. I’m just a fan.

I think a lot of people feel the same way. The reason, I believe, is that Roger has has shown himself to us over the last year in a very personal, vulnerable way.  When he lost to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open earlier this year and then at Wimbledon last year, he cried both times. 

While almost no one can really identify with Roger’s extraordinary skills on the tennis court, we can all relate to his frustration.  By not hiding it, we have grown to love him for more than his skills. We’ve grown to care for him as a person.

The same is true with speaking. If you want to bond with your audiences, show your real self to them.

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Communication and Leadership Lessons from Capt. James T. Kirk

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”


Those are the wise words of James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the Starship Enterprise, and hero of “Star Trek,” the latest revival of the space exploration adventure franchise.  Captain Kirk had apparently endured many boring presentations by Federation colleagues.


In honor of his revived fame, here are more Kirk quotations relevant to communication skills, persuasion and leadership.  These quotations are from the 1960s television program.


“Conquest is Easy, control is not.”


Roaming the universe, the Starship Enterprise crew was always dealing with issues of conquest and control.  But this quote also goes to the heart of what great communication is about. It’s about the challenge of exerting influence over others.


Great presenters influence others by focusing on value to the listener. If you want a client to comply with a set of expensive regulations, you’ll have more success if you can show that compliance will increase revenues, reduce costs, or increase competitiveness.


“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”


This quote sounds like an exchange with Mr. Spock over a chessboard.  But it also touches on the idea that one of the true tests of a leader is the ability to make complex things simple.  This is particularly true in business today where the economic and regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex.  


Here’s a question you can ask yourself before your next speech that will allow you to simplify any topic: “Assuming that my listeners won’t remember everything, what are three things I really want them to remember?”


 “We humans are full of unpredictable emotions that logic alone cannot solve.”


Kirk was always teaching Spock, the ever-logical Vulcan, about human emotion. And one of the most important ways to influence an audience is with emotion and passion.  Great communicators don’t rely solely on logic. They show passion to build a personal connection with the listener.

Let’s say that you must pick one of two excellent firms to help your firm navigate a complicated financial transaction.  Both firms have excellent reputations.  How do you decide?  Part of the calculus will simply be who you connect with better on a personal level.


“Genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis. You can’t simply say, ‘Today I will be brilliant.'”


The same is true with speaking. Becoming a great speaker takes sustained effort over many years. Over time, you develop stories and a style that connects with audiences.


Three years ago, I started working with an executive at a huge Atlanta company. For the first speech we worked on together, he did a nice job.  Since then, he has worked at his speaking skills, seizing opportunities to give presentations.  Just this week, I saw him speak again.


“I’m amazed at your progress,” I told him.


“It’s funny how practice really works,” he said.


“We’ve got to risk implosion. We may explode into the biggest fireball this part of the galaxy has seen, but we’ve got to take that one-in-a-million chance.”


Many people, when they get up to speak, fear that the universe will explode. But if you want to be a leader, you must face that fear.  The key to managing the fear of public speaking is to rehearse your presentations extensively.


“No more blah, blah, blah!”


No explanation needed on that one.

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Lesson in Voice Energy from a Harmonica Dude

I’ve started dabbling in the harmonica.  And the interesting thing about learning something new these days is that you quickly learn that YouTube is a wonderful resource. 

In my websearching, I’ve run across an interesting fellow named Adam Gussow, who is a blues harmonica player as well as an English Professor at Ole Miss.  He is apparently the most prolific uploader of free YouTube instructional videos on the harmonica.

To my mind, he is also a poster-child for the power of vocal passion to get listeners excited about an idea.  The video below is an introductory video for raw beginners. 

For reasons that aren’t completely clear to me, many harmonica videos are delivered from the musicians’ cars.  In this video, Gussow is also seated in his car. 

His excitement about the harmonica is positively contagious.     It just goes to show you that to get people excited, you don’t need PowerPoint. All you need is your voice, some passion, and a harmonica.


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Use Testimonials To Persuade Your Prospect

To add persuasive power to your next pitch, consider using a testimonial. 


I received an odd lesson in the power of testimonials the other day on a drive down to Birmingham.  I had stopped to fill up my gas tank and buy a drink.


I was in front of the drink cooler in the gas station’s convenience store reading the ingredients on a bottle of Vitamin Water. There were lots of ingredients and I wanted to make sure that it contained no caffeine. The long list of ingredients on a bottle of “water” gave me pause.


At that moment, a man wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt,  and several tattoos approached the cooler and reached down to get a bottle of blackberry flavored Propel.


“Don’t drink that stuff,” he said, referring to my Vitamin Water. I looked up a little surprised. He was far better spoken than I expected. “That has too many ingredients. I read about this stuff in Men’s Health Magazine. Blackberries are great for your colon. You should consider this stuff.” And then he went to the front of the store to pay for his drink.


I thought about his unsolicited testimonial and went with the Propel. I mean, who doesn’t want a healthy colon?

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Repeat Catch Phrases to Make Your Message Stick

If you want to make sure that your message gets through to an audience, considering taking a lesson from the great marketers.  They settle on a catch-phrase and repeat it over and over, hoping to penetrate the public’s mind.

Many great speakers do the same thing.

One of the great recent advertising campaigns is from MasterCard.  Many of you can probably repeat their catch phrase from memory. “There are some things money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s Mastercard.”

We can remember that message because the MasterCard ads repeat it so often.  And notice that they repeat it the same way every time.

You never hear them say, “There are some things that cash won’t buy you.  For the rest of the stuff, there’s MasterCard.”  No.  It’s the same way every time.  Exact repetition helps the listener remember.

Great speakers do the same thing, focusing on a message and repeating a catch phrase.  One of the most famous is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.  He actually had two catch phrases in that speech, “I have a dream” which he said nine times and “Let freedom ring” which he said 10 times.

King wanted to get a message across. So he repeated his key phrases to ensure that they made it into the audience’s mind. And like MasterCard, he repeated the phrases exactly, not changing a single word.  King understood that great speaking is first and foremost about getting a message across to audiences that are often distracted.  Repeating a catch phrase without any changes helps. 

During your presentations, think about using catch phrases.  Maybe it’s as simple as “Our brand is about saving money” or “This program will increase your sales.”  Be sure that you repeat the key phrase the same way several times. That way, you’ll be sure that your message gets across.

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Tim Ferris Shows How to Sell and Idea

Here’s a fun, quirky speech from Tim Ferris, the productivity guru who wrote The Four-Hour Workweek.

I like the speech because it shows the power of stories and power of  a plan to sell an idea.  If you give someone  a clear plan for how to accomplish something, then your listeners will get motivated to do that thing.

In this speech, he details simple plans for learning to swim, learning to dance, and learning to speak a language.


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A Sales Pitch from My Son

“Do you have ten bucks?”

That was the sales pitch from my son Elliott the other day.  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.  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.  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.  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.

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The Slide to Leadership Ratio

I often tell my clients that there is an inverse relationship between the number of slides you have in your presentation and the amount of leadership you display.

The fewer slides you have, the more you look and sound like a leader. And vice versa.

The idea here is that speaking and presenting are about connecting with people, building relationships, and exerting influence. Presenting is not about relaying data and information. Too many slides, and all you’re really doing is transmitting data.  If you want to transmit data, just send a memo. I can read it faster than you can tell it to me. If I have questions, I’ll call you.

Yesterday, Seth Godin wrote an interesting piece about the The Heirarchy of Presentations.  He makes the point that presenting is about influence.

The purpose of a presentation is to change minds. That’s the only reason I can think of to spend the time and resources. If your goal isn’t to change minds, perhaps you should consider a different approach.

Slides don’t change minds. You change minds with the force of simple argument, stories and passion.

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