Presentation Skills

How to Torpedo Your Talk: Memorize It

How to Torpedo Your Talk: Memorize It

There are few things that scare me as a public speaking coach, but this phrase does it every time:

“Yeah, once I memorize my presentation script, I’ll be good to go.”

This is the point when my circuits get jammed, and I want to reach across the table and shake my client and warn them with language as strong as I can muster…


This Blog Post, is like, um, Important: Dealing with Vocalized Pauses

This Blog Post, is like, um, Important: Dealing with Vocalized Pauses

This Blog Post, is like, um, Important: Dealing with Vocalized Pauses

Ah, the vocalized pause…

The “ums” the “uhs” the “like”s that can riddle our spoken sentences like bullet holes. If you are someone who struggles with the tyranny of the vocalized pause, there are two things I want you to know:

You Tawkin' Ta Me?

You Tawkin' Ta Me?

You know that moment. You’re in a meeting (or worse, on stage) and someone says something that hits you right in the solar plexus. Your face heats up, your heart races, you feel rage, or fear, or embarrassment, or sadness—pick your poison—and before you know it, you’ve missed the last 3 minutes of the meeting, lost in your own reaction. If you’re someone whose default reaction is to fight back, you consider your counter-attack. Or your default reaction may be to get out of the meeting as quickly as possible, and stay as quiet as possible in the meantime.

Either way, from my perspective as a communication coach, you are in a death spiral. Once you go into default-reaction mode, it is unlikely that anything good will come out of your mouth.

The Thrill of the Keynote. The Agony of the Freeze.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 4.01.50 PM

At CES this year, Michael Bay (the famed director/producer who brought us blockbusters like Transformers, Armageddon and the like) lived through what most people dread even more than death – a highly visible brain freeze on stage, causing him to abandon ship and walk off stage.  It became such a “moment” that even Tina Fey weaved it into the Golden Globes joke lineup.

Before we start hurling insults and judgments, let’s be very clear: under similar circumstances, anyone could find themselves in this position.  I’ve seen more than one of these melt downs, and it happens to some very unlikely people.  The question is, what can we learn from it so we avoid the same fate?

1) Teleprompters Are For News People.  In the post-game analysis, Bay basically said that he and the teleprompter went their separate ways at some point during the first few minutes of the talk, and the rest is well… cringe-worthy.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Teleprompters are for people who read the news.  There is a real art to being able to deliver a message via teleprompter and unless you are one of those exceptionally gifted people who can look natural and connect with an audience while reading a scrolling screen of text, you have no business using a teleprompter.  Nor should you be memorizing lines like an actor preparing to act.

If we are to present a message to an audience with any degree of feeling, creativity, and joy, we have to make that message brain-friendly.  Think about it: is there anything more stressful to the human mind than standing in front of a massive CES audience, cameras turned on, and the world live-tweeting your every word? For most people, answer is a resounding No!

Half the battle of a successful presentation is preparing content and flow that is so dead simple, you brain can retain it even under duress. Flows that are brain-friendly include things like:

1)   Rules of 3

2)   Problem/Solution

3)   Story with a beginning, middle, end

4)   Good news/bad news

5)   David/Goliath

These formats sound basic, but when they are done right, they can be riveting—and just as important—easy to remember when you’re sweating under the heat of the stage lights.

2)  Remember the Motivation. When we get overly invested in saying exactly the right words, we forget the whole point of the presentation.  Audiences don’t care about a perfectly structured sentence. They want to feel something.  Michael Bay most likely beat himself up for not getting a line right, or skipping a line, and got so consumed in self-recrimination (or blaming the teleprompter for not working) that he completely lost sight of the most important thing – meet the audience’s need to understand how he, as a director, tells great stories.  In fact, he was so lost in this mental exercise that he wasn’t able to answer softball questions like “How do you come up with these unbelievable ideas?”  If he had reconnected with the real driving motivation of his speech – to delight the audience with stories of how he does what he does – he would have easily recovered, laughed off the flub with the audience, and moved on to the next thing.  In fact, it makes me think that the prepared answers were probably over-engineered to the point where they lost all meaning to him.

3)  Work With Your Triggers.  In that moment caught on film, something triggered his brain to freeze, apparently the teleprompter issue. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something else as well.  Maybe seeing the sea of faces.  Maybe someone in row 2 gave him the stink eye, and it threw him off.  Maybe he read a nasty email a few moments before taking the stage. Note: NEVER check email, the news, or Facebook before presenting.  Being fantastic on stage means operating at peak energy levels, and nothing takes you down faster than bad news.

But make no mistake, we all have triggers, and it is our responsibility to get to know them, and to work with them until they lose their power over us.  My worst trigger used to be “the heckler,” until I worked with it and figured out how to declaw even the worst offender.  (In fact, it warrants a blog post.  Stay tuned.)  I worked with that trigger to the point where now I love it when there is a heckler/skeptic in the audience. I love the energy and edginess it brings to the presentation.  But had I not had an experience similar to Michael Bay’s, I never would have had the opportunity to really face the demon head on and deal with it.

So, to Michael Bay, I say this is the beginning of some really important work, not hardly the end of your big-stage tech event career.  And to the rest of us, judge not, mock not.  Act as if this were your embarrassing moment and learn all you can from it.  Your future audience will thank you.

Steve Jobs – 5 Lessons He Taught Us From the Stage

Steve Jobs – 5 Lessons He Taught Us From the Stage The Web is alive with Steve Job tributes this week after his announcement to step down from his role as CEO.  This tribute is dedicated to remembering the lessons Mr. Jobs taught us from the stage.  The ultimate showman, Steve Jobs reminded us that technology should be fun, lovable, and filled with thrills and suspense.  Even now in 2011, few CEOs are brave enough to infuse his level of creativity and playfulness into their public appearances.

For those of us who are brave enough to learn them, here are the 5 Lessons Steve Jobs taught us from the bright lights of center stage.

1) The Art of Simplicity - In a world where speed talking has become a badge of intelligence, Steve Jobs chose a cadence and rhythm that was slow and thoughtful.  He was not afraid to pause, and give important words the space they needed to take root in our imaginations.  He showed us his genius not by dropping SAT words, or heavy technical jargon.  He used the ordinary to express the extraordinary.  One of my favorite clips that exemplifies this comes from his introduction of the new iPod Nano in 2009. When it comes time to talk about the Nano’s video camera, he resists the temptation to talk megapixels, and simply says, “How good is it? Turns out, it’s great.  Let me just show you…” and he proceeds to SHOW us a beautiful video.  Simple. Powerful. We all nod our heads and agree that this is the right way to present. We know the golden rule of “show me, don’t tell me,” but rarely – and I mean rarely – do we really hold ourselves to this standard.

2) Connect the Dots – In his now legendary Stanford Commencement Speech, Jobs talked about his fascination with topography and the art of font creation during college, which lead him to spend a semester in a calligraphy class.  He loved learning about the different type faces, and as he put it, he loved learning about “what makes great typography great.” Everyone thought he was crazy for wasting time on something so obtuse.  Later in life, he would infuse this delight into the Mac.  Without that curiosity and “cross training,” we might never have had different type faces in our personal computing lives.  It sounds small, but for those of us who live in the written word, it’s a pretty big deal (I love me some Garamond).

When things delight us in our personal lives and find their way into our work lives, invariably it makes our work better, and reveals a side of ourselves to people that they might not have otherwise seen.  Following our curiosity and infusing that delight into our work is part and parcel of being truly authentic and “present” to our profession of choice.

3) Keep it Beautiful – One of the defining characteristics of Steve as a presenter over the past several years has been the beauty and elegance of not only his blockbuster product line, but his presentations.  Sitting in the cool darkness of the Moscone Center during MacWorld, audiences were wooed by their elegant design. He painstakingly rehearsed each and every slide to commit his key thoughts to memory, freeing up the slides to do what they were meant to do: set the mood, paint a picture, or drive home a simple, repeatable piece of information.  How often do we take the easy way out, burdening our audiences with slides that look like Word documents? All bullets and words, and nothing for the eye to rest on.  Creating beautiful things takes time, care, precision… it is a labor of love.  Which brings me to….

4) Launches As Love Letters – You need only listen to the audio of a Jobs presentation to understand that Mac World Keynotes were love letters to Apple fans.  Thunderous applause and unabashed nerd worship were to Jobs Keynotes what drum circles and patchouli oil were to Dead shows.  This was not by accident.  The products Apple has so painstakingly designed over the years were never for Wall Street. They weren’t to show up competitors.  They were for one thing: thrilling and delighting us.  When Jobs was interviewed by Walt Mosserberg and Kara Swisher at the All Things D show, they asked him how he felt knowing that Apple’s market cap had surpassed that of Microsoft.  Jobs replied, “It’s surreal.  But it really doesn’t matter much.” This devotion to Apple fans influenced every staged appearance Jobs did (perhaps with the exception of one press conference).  The next time you take the stage, how might you make it an expression of respect, admiration and ultimately love for your audience?

5) Frame the Argument – As my lawyer friend always says to me, “She who frames the argument, wins the argument.”  When Steve Jobs was asked a pointed question about a controversial aspect of Apple’s business, he was incredibly adept at reframing the argument on his own terms in a way that was seamless, authentic, and frankly, hard to argue with.  My favorite example comes, once again, from his interview with Mossberg and Swisher.  Mossberg broaches the subject of his letter, “Thoughts on Flash” that was written in response to the hue and cry surrounding Apple’s decision to not support Flash.  Mossberg was framing the issue as “Isn’t it bad for consumers who want the entire web? Aren’t you limiting their choices?”  Effectively, Jobs reframes the issue away from “consumer choice” to “creating the best possible experience for consumers,” two very different approaches.  In Jobs’s argument, technology products are “packets of emphasis,” and that as a company, they choose their emphases carefully, all in the name of creating the best possible consumer experience.  Flash didn’t live up to Apple’s standards, so they nixed it.  And guess what, “If people don’t like it, they won’t buy it! And if they do, they will!”  And what does the audience do? Erupts in applause.  So much for worrying about “consumer choice.”  Steve Jobs re-framed the argument, and won the argument.

To me, Steve Jobs will always be the ultimate Willy Wonka CEO.  Sure, behind the scenes he was prone to occasional outbursts of anger or confrontation, but at the end of the day, it was all about making the most exciting, surprising, delicious candy possible to the delight of children around the world.  Thank you, Steve Jobs, for ruthlessly focusing on that which would make our eyes sparkle, and our pulses quicken.

5 TED Talks to Turbo Charge Your Next Presentation

A friend of mine contacted me recently to help him gear up for a keynote he was giving at a big industry conference.  He was in search of “inspiration” or to use his words, “somethin’ to believe in.” (This friend is quite fond of quoting Poison, which is why we are friends).  Because he is naturally a VERY talented presenter, he didn’t immediately open an old deck and “save as.”  He knew how precious the audience’s time was, and wanted to use it well.  I sent him a few of my favorite TED talks, a collection of “Greatest Hits” if you will, to help get him into the right space. Just in case it’s useful to you, I thought I’d share. Now for those of you saying, “But I’m not 'changing the world!' I’m presenting on our market strategy. How can watching TED clips possibly help me?”  Excellent question.  Here’s what you can glean from each of these fantastic speakers.

1)      The Power of Self Deprecation : Dan Pink – For anyone who has to give presentations, one of the hardest things is to decide “where do I begin?”  I love studying how people "launch" their talks, and I love how self deprecating and funny Mr. Pink is in his intro.  We are more than willing to go with him on this journey because he has shown his own humanity, vulnerability – and that is the key to “connection.”  No one likes a presenter who seems to know all the answers all the time.  What we may think of as “having it together” may come across to the audience as “thinks he/she knows it all.” And really, who wants to spend time listening to some blowhard that knows everything?  I also LOVE how wound up he gets as he makes his case.  Dan Pink knows how to use his physical space as well… check out how he moves to punctuate each point. For him this is pure instinct, but for those of us who need to work on movement as we present, he is a damn good example to follow. (Another great example along these lines is Jamie Oliver delivering his TED Prize Wish.)

2)      Data Doesn’t Have to Be Painful : Hans Rosling – If you are a TED junkie as I am, you’ve probably seen this talk more than once.  Dr. Rosling takes a topic (infant mortality in developing nations) and makes it bearable, and incredibly interesting.  His presentation of statistics shows that not only can stats be interesting, even the grimmest of topics can harness the power of humor.  If Hans Rosling can bring this kind of energy to the double whammy of statistics (boring) and infant death (tragic), then what can you do with your stats? 3)  Relevance is Everything : Jill Tarter – One of golden rules of presenting is this: Make the content relevant.  Sounds obvious, but you would be shocked at how infrequently this happens.  In this TED prize winning speech, Dr. Tarter makes the search for extraterrestrial life relevant to us, here and now.  Ask yourself, “What do I need to say to make this content hit home for every single person in this room?”  Dr. Tarter does this in spades, and in such a poetic, lyrical way. Combine that with a pitch perfect pace of delivery, and you have magic on stage.

4) Push Your Audience : Sam Richards - You will either love this “Radical Empathy” experiment, or you will HATE it.  Either way you slice it, this is storytelling at its best, and is a marvelous example of pushing an audience.  Watch how he draws in the crowd.  You could hear a pin drop.  Ask yourself, “What might I say or do to push the audience into new territory? To make them lean forward?  How can I create suspense and drama with this material?” And don’t tell me your material isn’t dramatic.  Everything has tension, conflict, challenge. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be working on it.

5)  Humor as a Teaching Device : Sir Ken Robinson – What I love most about this talk is Robinson’s sense of humor.  If you pay close attention, you will see that the rhythm of his content is this: Tell a funny story, then lay some BIG truth on the audience.  Humor + Meaty Content. Repeat.  The reason this is so powerful is that our brains love novelty. Humor is a form of novelty. (For those who aren’t funny, there are other options. Call me and we can discuss;).  By starting each “big message” with a funny story, our brains snap back to attention if they’ve wandered.  We are now ready to absorb a new piece of information.  For those of you thinking, “I don’t have time for funny stories… I have too much content to deliver.” Well, here are your options: Deliver ALL of your content, and lose the audience OR deliver FEWER points, but make sure the audience GETS it.  You decide which is waste of your time. *Important safety tip: “Novelty” or “Humor” has to be done in good taste. We are all adults here, so I’m sure you can decide what is ok and not ok.

The next time you get called to talk to a group, remember how precious that opportunity is and plan accordingly.  Cross train.  Don’t just think about the content from the narrow confines of your company, your department, your experiences.  Get a taste of what is possible at a grand scale like TED, and then use that burst of creativity to do something in your own world.  Godspeed, and let me know how it goes.

Top 5 Public Speaking Mistakes We Continue to Make

(Post originally ran on Business Insider)

Maybe it’s the holiday rush or maybe I just didn’t get my usual coffee doses today, but I’m annoyed by some minor league antics I’m seeing on the conference circuit this Fall/Winter.

I have seen many presentations at various events since September (some streaming, some in person), and continue to be shocked by the idiotic public speaking mistakes we continue to make – even at the highest levels of leadership. Even by the people who should know better.

So, like the Ghost of Christmas Future, I am pointing my cold, bony finger at the Graveyard of Crappy Presentations, and showing your name etched in stone, unless you heed my advice and fix these five silly mistakes. You are better than this.

1) We open an existing deck, and “Save As… New Preso.”

When we get that call to speak to a group, it is incredibly tempting to pop open an existing deck. After all, we have day jobs, or at least other duties that occupy the majority of our time. Who has time to start from scratch?? Here’s the thing: I’m not saying you can’t go back and tap previous resources once you’ve determined the right course, but for God’s sake, at least TRY to start with a fresh concept.

If we have the audience’s needs as the TOP priority, we will take a moment to think, “What do these people need to know? How can I help them do their jobs better? Teach them something new in a way that is unexpected?” You don’t get good answers to those questions by staring at an existing deck. Plus, the audience can tell when you’re recycling, even if it’s just subconsciously. It’s a little insulting.

2) We take our first ideas and figure they’re good enough.

Many times, we have a good think for 15 minutes, scribble down our ideas and think “great, I’ve got the basics nailed.” Often I find that when I’m working with clients, the best ideas come after I’ve pushed a bit and said, “But how many times have we heard that and from how many other people? Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Or give me a new twist.” A good rule of thumb is to come up with a first set of ideas/points, and then push yourself further. Assume it’s been done before, and go deeper. What else can you come up with?  These ideas are usually far better than the first batch.

3) We "tell ‘em what we’re gonna tell ‘em, we tell ‘em and then we tell ‘em what we told ‘em."

At some point, we have all heard this advice about public speaking  I’m here to tell you, this advice is, as my wise mother once said, “as useless as tits on a boar hog.”  (Why tits are actually useless to this species of hog, I cannot say, but you know what I mean). Audiences want desperately for you to get to the point. Cut to the chase. Give ‘em something they can dance to. You have about 10 seconds to grab ‘em before they decide whether or not to check e-mail. During those 10 seconds, you can yammer on about what your goals are, or you can ask them a provocative question. Create some level of theater. Create tension. Tell an interesting story that shocks or surprises them. But for the Lova God, don’t tell them that you’ll cover “three key points: A, B, and C” unless you do so in a way that is cool, unexpected and interesting.

4) We make assumptions about how much time we have.

Too often, we assume that we’ll get 45 minutes to talk. Or 20 minutes.  And then we fail to find out for sure what we’re dealing with. Then, even if we do find out, we don’t actually time ourselves and practice.  Then we have a situation where we are literally presenting the wrong deck for the format. People get squirmy. The conference managers get embarrassed and more stressed out than they already are, and are forced with the horrible decision to either pull the plug on you, or let you run roughshod over their schedule that they’ve lovingly crafted over several weeks.  Take the drama out of the equation, find out what you've got to work with, and make it work.

5) We end with a fizzle.

I recently saw a speaker that had a phenomenal presentation.  It was shocking, theatrical, exciting, and deeply informative.  And it ended with “So that’s all I have for you today. Thank you!”  Wait, WHAT?!  Get back here.  Climax always should lead to Resolution. And a powerful Resolution at that.  We have to put as much thought into the ending as we do the beginning and middle.  It’s our last chance to impress the audience, and it says a lot about the speaker.

Doing these things does take extra time, I admit.  But any chance we get to talk to a captive audience should be treated as sacred space.  When people take time out of their day to listen to us, we have the responsibility to make it worth their while.

The bonus is that if we do a good job, and blow their overstretched, multitasking minds, it will be the first of many more opportunities we get to present, influence and inform. And that’s good for everyone’s career right?

Jobs Playing Defense

Antennae Song From watching Gizmodo's live blogging coverage from today’s event at Apple’s HQs, it seems that things went a little sideways.  No, there were no technical glitches, or streakers across the stage, but somehow, the usually invincible presenter Steve Jobs struck a sour note with many of the folks in the room.

From the get-go, things weren’t exactly as they could have been.  From what I undertand, Apple rolled the YouTube video The Antennae song as a warm up, just before the press conference began.

If you haven’t seen it, it is yet another video of an average looking white guy bustin’ some hip hop skills, and basically delivering the message that this antennae issue is really no big deal, and if you don’t like the iPhone 4, don’t buy it. If you bought and you don’t like it, return it.

Playing Defense

As anyone who is worked with me can tell you, my broken record message is this: “First, serve the needs of the audience.”  Typically, when we see Steve take the stage, Apple’s needs and the audience’s needs are one and the same – everyone wants to get excited about the newest jewel in the Apple crown.  And when those two needs are in alignment, Jobs soars as a communicator.

This morning, the needs of the audience  - the press and consumers like me tuning into the live blog coverage – and the needs of the Apple executives were decidedly at odds.  The Audience/Press needed to know a) what was causing the problem and b) what Apple was doing to fix it.

Apple’s needs were to a) defend themselves and b) show how few people were actually experiencing this service issue.

Which way did Steve take it?  Unfortunately, he put the needs of Apple first.  The result?  He came off as defensive, and victim-like – why pick on us??  By the time he finally got around to proclaiming his love and concern for Apple customers, people were already pretty turned off.

The sad thing is that you would be hard pressed to find a CEO who cares more about his customers than Steve Jobs.

If Jobs had flipped the order of his comments, it would have made a big difference. Would it have been perfect? No.  But it would have established that the consumer comes first, and that ONE devoted Apple customer affected by crappy service is one too many.  By owning that, we the audience would have been far more open to hearing the logic behind the cause of the problems, and the relatively small impact it has had on the majority of users.

What can the rest of us learn?

For anyone in the media relations game, there is a very important lesson to be learned here.  Never make someone else “wrong.”  Steve Jobs made the press “wrong” for blowing the service issues out of proportion and for picking on Apple.

Whenever we make someone “wrong” we close down the lines of communication.  Does it mean we can’t feel hurt or upset or angry? No. In fact, we have to give ourselves room to feel all of those things. But we need to avoid acting from those places, especially when we go on record in front of an audience.

What he could have done was consider this: While it is true that it must feel like Apple is under siege at times, it is also true that most press believe that their job is to look at/uncover controversy and expose the truth.

If Jobs had been able to see this as less a personal attack, and more a professional obligation on the part of the press, he might have been less defensive. It might have freed him up to first address the fact that Apple cares DEEPLY about any problems their customers experience.  Then he could have gone into detail about the whys and the fixes.

Instead, it felt like, “It’s really not a big deal, but we’ll give you a free cover if that will make you happy.”

The beauty of learning this skill is that it extends into every human interaction we have.  Try it and you’ll see. The next time your spouse blows up at you for something you don’t agree with, try putting aside your needs for a moment, and focus completely on understanding his/her perspective, and meeting that need. Chances are, your spouse will be more willing to hear your side of the story.

You may even get lucky.

How To Prepare For Your IPO Roadshow

My partner in crime/charisma coach Olivia Fox Cabane and I penned this article for Silicon Alley Insider (Business Insider). Having seen the roadshow “decks” that people continue to trot out to investors, it’s shocking anyone gets any money at all. ;)

Take a gander and enjoy!


How To Prepare For Your IPO Roadshow

Dear Meetings: Please Suck Less

Right now, I’m seeing an awful lot of interest in coaching as it applies to the simple task of meetings – clearly communicating your points, and leveraging them as an opportunity to convey executive presence.

People are beginning to sense that He/She who holds our attention, respects our time, and our needs for information and interaction is he/she who gets promoted.

So in the unlikely event that we can only blame ourselves for crappy meetings, let's "be the change we want to see in the world," as Ghandi said, and take this challenge together.

Try these 5 tips to making meetings less hideous (Ghandi would do it):

1.  Be Present: There is no such thing as multitasking.** This is a heartbreaker for those of us who live on conference calls, but it is true: As John Medina the brilliant author of Brain Rules teaches us, “the attentional part of the brain is simply not capable of multi-tasking.” In other words, the part of the brain we use to pay attention to something is only able to focus on one thing, sequentially, at a time.

Given that I have ADD myself, this is probably the hardest tip for me.  If it’s helpful, here’s what I do to channel boredom:

  • Turn off the computer (or at least put it to sleep).
  • Take notes, and when someone is rambling, try and find a thread of logic that explains what path they’re rambling down and why they may be rambling that way.  Note the emotion or lack thereof.  Tune in as carefully as possible to both the content of the ramble and the emotion behind it. It’s truly fascinating, and gives you great insights for later if you need to clarify something he or she said.
  • Doodle.  According to a study highlighted in this recent article in Time Magazine, it turns out that “doodlers actually remember more than nondoodlers when asked to retain tediously delivered information, like, say, during a boring meeting or a lecture.” Amen brother.  So feel free.  Just make sure it’s G-rated.   Just sayin’.

** There is an exception to this rule. Some companies have a meeting culture that requires that its employees be in meetings from 8am to 6pm, daily.  In these special circumstances, you have my blessing to multitask, as you really have no other choice if you want to have a life.  But just realize that the quality of your work will suffer. Small price to pay for getting home in time to tuck your kids into bed, right?

2.  WTF Are We Doing Here?

Recently, I interviewed Aliza Hutchison, Director, Strategic Communications at Cisco, because I hear wonderful things about Cisco’s approach to management, meetings and all things collaboration.

Aliza explained that at Cisco, they coach their executives and leaders to establish the kind of meeting they’re having from the outset.  “When you work and lead in a collaborative environment, you have to be very specific about how you want to engage with team members, otherwise a whole lot of time can be wasted in meetings.”

According to Aliza, at Cisco, there are three types – Inform, Engage and Exchange.

Inform meetings are all about the leader conveying information with limited interaction.  Sometimes, that’s just the kind of meeting you gotta have. Tell your audience what’s up, answer questions, and move on.

Engage meetings are those that require some level of inform + interaction with attendees.

Exchange meetings are for brainstorming.

By knowing exactly what kind of meeting you’re hosting or attending, you immediately establish just how much yappin’ is appropriate. This may seem simple, but it has powerful implications for how people’s precious time is utilized.

3. What’s My Role?

Too often we either overstep our roles in meetings by weighing in on things that aren’t appropriate, or we don’t step up enough to offer guidance, opinions or suggestions out of fear and uncertainty.

If you don’t know what your role is, or what is expected of you in a meeting, find out.  No one will fault you for clarifying your role. As a bonus, the person calling the meeting may realize that you don’t need to join after all. Score!

As Aliza said so very wisely during our conversation, “Know yourself. If your role is X and you start commenting about Y, stop yourself.  If you feel you have something really helpful to say, exchange once. And then let it be.”

Once you have established your goal, I strongly recommend asking yourself, “What does success look like for me in this conversation?” Then ask “What does this group need from me? What do they need to remember?”  Write down the few items you need to convey (keep it brief), and make sure you hit those points.

Sound basic? How many times have you left a conference call only to realize you forgot to ask something critical?

4. Conflict Happens.

All of us have been there. The nightmare meeting that becomes a shouting match, or a quietly contentious discussion that leaves everyone’s heart rate elevated.  Noisy or quiet, these kinds of exchanges can poison our work efforts for days and weeks.  After all, it’s no secret that stress impacts our ability to think creatively and perform well.  Regardless, conflict is a given in this lifetime, and we can only worry about what we can control – our own reactions.

So the next time you find yourself at odds with someone else, here’s a crazy tip:

Put your agenda/position aside for just a few moments, and try to understand the other person’s perspective completely.

By listening with empathy (not sympathy, empathy), and fully understanding someone else’s position and motivation, you are far more able to meet them, and offer solutions or compromises that meet their needs as well as yours.

As Stephen Covey says in his legendary book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, “Sympathy is a form of agreement, a judgment. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully understand him, emotionally and intellectually.”

Mysteriously, when we fully listen and empathize using paraphrasing and clarifying techniques, it takes the sting out of criticisms, and softens us to creative ideas for compromise.

5. Enjoy  the Process.

As Aliza said during our conversation, “Ultimately, we have to enjoy the process of getting better at communicating – in meetings and beyond.  If someone doesn’t understand where I’m coming from, I ask myself, ‘how can I make this interesting or fun for them?’  By making our journey more about the process and not about simply getting what we want out of people, it becomes a lot more interesting.”

Sounds like great advice for life in general, doesn’t it?  But that’s another posting for another day.

Are you up to the dare?  Let me know how it goes!

Jon Stewart & PowerPoint. Heaven on Earth.

In what may be the best anti-PowerPoint rant I’ve seen yet (THANK YOU @nchsmith for sending it my way), Jon Stewart takes a moment to examine the US Military’s strategy in Afghanistan via the PowerPoint slide presented to General McChrystal when he took over 10 months ago.

My favorite part of Stewart's rant is when he runs through several iconic “inspirational speeches” (scenes from Patton, Star Wars, Braveheart) showing PowerPoint’s VITAL role in each.  It is hilarious and true, and gets to the heart of why I am so busy these days.  PowerPoint doesn’t move people to take action.  People do.  And while yes, some people are more convincing, compelling and magnetic than others, EVERYONE has the ability to hold an audience’s attention with the right tools and techniques.

For too long, PowerPoint has been the ultimate CYA device.  We figure, if we pour every piece of information we know into a slide, everyone is satisfied. The boss. The customer. The partner. The colleage. Right?  Maybe. But we’ve now also bored the audience to the point of catatonic stupor.

Thankfully, blessedly, there is a not-so-quiet movement toward understanding the real art of storytelling, and how our brains receive, process and recall information.  PowerPoint is extremely helpful if used properly (see article in iMedia), but ultimately, YOU are the main attraction. You and your ability to package information in a way that is memorable, repeatable, and dare I say… enjoyable.

In certain situations, PowerPoint is a wonderful tool to help create a mood, or make a visual impression. In other situations, you are far better served by conversation and interaction.  Unfortunately, people feel incredibly exposed when they go rogue, and fly without a deck.  As one person told me recently, “I may be boring, but I won’t get fired over a PowerPoint with text on it.  I might do some serious damage if I try and go too far afield with presenting.”

Well, fair enough.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  But surely there are low risk situations where you can prep your superiors ahead of time that you’d like to try something more “brain friendly” for the audience.  Give it a shot.  Solicit people’s feedback.  I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy the process, and worst case, you can always go back to your original Slide-ument style (Garr Reynold’s word, not mine).

But I predict that once you start down this path, you will begin to make a name for yourself as someone who “gets it” and has increasing “presence” within your organization.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Empowering Women in Public Speaking

Social Media guru JD Lasica interviewed me a few months back at Girls In Tech's Santa Cruz retreat about the topic of women and public speaking.  This is a subject near to my heart, and I'm on a mission to make sure women become more prominent players in the conference speaking circuit.  So please enjoy, and if you think it's helpful, pass it along!

JD's blog is always filled with interesting interviews (I'm obviously the exception. ;)), definitely worth bookmarking.



In Search Of: The Real Mark Zuckerberg

In the wake of this week’s F8 Conference, where Facebook gathered an ungodly number of frothing developers to talk about the fate of the social web, we got to see another example of Mark Zuckerberg on stage.

As Kara Swisher has so infamously joked, Mark is not exactly known for his on stage antics, so much as the news he delivers when he takes the stage.  And having watched him for a few years, I have come to some conclusions about him as a presenter.

It seems very clear that Mark is a very guarded person (understatement), and doesn’t actually enjoy cutting lose on camera, on stage, or really anywhere in the public eye.  And by “cutting lose” I don’t mean getting busted smoking a joint via someone’s cell phone camera, but showing us the real guy behind the stiff guardedness that characterizes his public interactions.

We seem to have a hard time reconciling what he looks like - jeans, hooded sweatshirt, his very winning smile, etc – and the very formal, clipped language he uses to speak to reporters, audiences, and even his own webcam (thank GOD for the outtakes at the end).

But what we saw at this year’s F8 was a far less awkward “Zuck,” as his friends call him.  He’s coming into his own, and is much more confident and even stately on stage.  But still, he gets heat for not being dazzling.  Why?

Well, I think at the core of all of this, we all have a Geek/Wunderkind Founder archetype in our minds that we love to imagine – self deprecating, nerdy, nice, funny, hyper in his own way.  This is not Mark Zuckerberg.  He may be young, but he is intense and deadly serious about the business he’s building.

(One of my favorite moments of him on camera ... not in a good way ... is when he was interviewing with 60 minutes, and the interviewer compared him to the legendary founders of Google.  His silence prompted to interviewer to say, “do you have a reaction to that?” And he deadpans, expressionless: “Well is that a question or a statement?”)

But here’s the thing: Mark Zuckerberg is not the Geek/Wunderkind Founder archetype we wish he were. Sorry.  The good news is that he’s getting more confident and competent as a speaker.  The bad news is, we’ll have to get our Lovable, Scruffy Nerd needs met elsewhere.

It really is the ultimate irony… Zuckerberg has become a gazillionaire by building a website where people go to express themselves in full.  Yet he may be one of the least expressive 25 year olds I’ve ever seen.

But no matter.  Judging by this video, there is an army of personalities inside Facebook that are compelling as hell on camera, and bring their glorious levity, excitement, and frankly unapologetic geek-thusaism to the business.

Greed is Good : Why Gordon Gekko Doesn’t Need My Help

I was in Safeway tonight, and nearly wept with joy at the sight of Gordon Gekko’s smug face staring back at me from the cover of Vanity Fair.

Michael Douglas as Gekko is one of my favorite villains of all time, having delivered one of my favorite speeches of all time. Given that Wall Street 2 is due out this Fall, and the pre-promotion is already well under way, I think it’s high time we spend at least a few minutes giving the Devil his due (love that they chose Sympathy for the Devil as the theme for the trailer… it’s just deliciously wicked).

In the wake of Lehman Bros, Bernie Madoff, and a holy host of other “sure things” that have hit the decks over the past 18 months, the speech is even more satisfying in 2010 than it was in 1987.

(The image below will take you to a 45 second clip, but unfortunately, all traces of the speech in its full glory have been ripped from the bosom of YouTube by Fox).

Here are 4 reasons Gordon Gekko doesn’t need any coaching from me:

  1. Tapping Emotion As I recall, the point of the Greed is Good speech was to stir up the shareholders of Teldar Paper to let Gekko’s company come in and do their thing… which usually entailed dismantling, pillaging and otherwise smacking a company around until every last cent was extracted (as Oliver Stone so unsubtly wanted us to understand).  So rather than approach these shareholder stiffs with facts, figures and hyper logical arguments, Gordon Gekko begins his speech by tapping an emotion we all love to feel : Outrage.  (See link to transcript below)
  2. The Power of the Pause Gordon Gecko is not in the business of filling silences.  He knows the power… of a pregnant… pause.  Thanks to a bombastic, fantastic monologue written for him, he trusts the power of his words, and gives each word the space it needs to sail into the room and land gently onto the hearts and into minds of those in the audience. Not least of whom is the rapt Bud Fox (seems hilarious to think of Charlie Sheen cast as the wide eyed ingénue in retrospect, doesn’t it?).
  3. Eye Contact Notice how he selects a single face for each phrase, each thought to land on.  It’s one of the secrets of great presenters… never make eye contact with “the audience,” make it with individuals. And don’t be in a hurry to switch to someone new.  Land long enough to feel them feelin’ you.
  4. The Strong Finish Nothing wins over an audience like bold statements.  By the time Gekko gets to his infamous line, he’s got these people so deep in his pockets, they’ll follow him right off of the edge of sanity, but he doesn’t end on a whisper. He wraps it up with one of the most outrageous statements of all time – Greed is Good.

I think I love this speech even more since the unraveling of our financial system because it reminds us of the power of a great narrative, of charisma, and of passion.  It reminds us that while we should absolutely appreciate speeches for their art, delivery and the way they make us feel, we must remember to keep our brains turned on.  Lest we end up like Charlie Sheen with a wiretap taped to our hairy backs.

For those craving more, the transcript of the monologue can be found here.

Shine On - Thoughts on International Women's Day

Tomorrow I’ll be giving a “Power & Presence” workshop for the San Francisco Chapter of Girls In Tech.  I’ve been looking forward to this workshop for months, because the women I meet through Girls In Tech always dazzle me with their purpose and energy.  So of course, when I saw that today is International Women’s Day, I was reminded of what a privilege it is to work with these women, teaching them to be more powerful speakers!

But as I was putting together my presentation, something interesting happened.  I was searching out images to represent the word “Power,” and within a few seconds, I realized that I was seeing a visual representation of just how confused we are as a culture – a world culture – about the definition of “power.”

As you can imagine, my search pulled up mostly images of men, and when they featured women, it was in “masculine” settings:  A woman flexing her muscles.  A woman with a gun in her hand.  Or, worse yet, a woman pushing her stiletto into the back of a man who was laying face down, looking terrified.

Annoyed, but not surprised, I decided to search for some alternate key words.  This time I tried “joy,” then “collaboration” and then “enthusiasm.”  Bingo.  These images were of people (men and women) shining in their various ways.

This will be our work at tomorrow night’s event:  There is a fierce power inside each of us, and it looks a whole lot like collaboration, enthusiasm and joy.  When we tap that source each time we stand in front of an audience, magic happens.  Authenticity happens.  Generosity happens.

I truly believe that there is a new kind of power rising.  It doesn’t bully.  It doesn’t intimidate, and it doesn’t coerce.  This new power can transform a situation, and take us further than we ever dreamed possible.   And it doesn’t just belong to women.

On this, International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate those who have taught us what is possible when enthusiasm, joy and love replace doubt, pessimism, and fear.

Let us each be a light in this world today.  Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Doin' It and Doin' It Well

Like all presentation coaches the world over, I am once again ruminating on Steve Jobs’ performance today as he unveiled the much anticipated iPad.  In fact, that sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the ground as I watched the iPad’s eReader demonstrated in Steve’s capable hands.  Full disclosure: I’m in a state of unbridled teenage lust over this product.  In other words, it may interfere with my ability to actually evaluate his delivery.  But here goes.

  • What I loved:
    • Doing his thing. The casual, friendly, buzzword-free, yet-suitably-nerdy delivery combined with show-stopping visuals delivered once again.  Many a CEO aches to have an audience burst into applause for something they’re showing.  Steve Jobs doesn’t have to ask for it.  Putting aside the earthshattering-ness of his products for a moment, Jobs tees up his great “unveiling” moments with such precision, and with the perfect supporting visuals delivered at JUST the right moment, the audience can’t help but burst into gregarious applause.
    • Take a load off. I loved that he sat down in his chair for the demo.  This was probably necessary just given the nature of the device, but in that moment I finally understood why I would use the iPad.  Sitting on the couch, I would grab it to check something online.  Same goes for when he said, “If I want to buy movie tickets, I grab the iPad in the kitchen, and go to Fandango.”  He painted a picture  that looked eerily like my own kitchen, tapping into my own frustration of needing to just “hop online”... knowing how hideously slow my Blackberry’s browser performance is, and that my computer takes forever to fire up again (because I am STILL on a PC. Long story).
    • Killing them softly. Loved the reference to Amazon’s eReader with the statement (paraphrasing here), “Amazon has done a great job with the Kindle... we are standing on their shoulders and going further.” It left me with a pleasant “isn’t that nice!” feeling, even as Jobs was driving Excalibur right into the fleshy heart of the Kindle.
    • Pricing. When I first heard the $499 pricing, it seemed too expensive. I know, I know, I’m cheap like that. But when he couched it in the statement, “the pundits are saying it will cost $999” (again, paraphrasing), and then delivered the $499 pricing (complete with glass shattering sound and visuals), I immediately changed my tune, and thought, “It wouldn't be that bad to camp out in front of the Apple store, would it?”
    • Getting stronger. He was also decidedly more cheerful this go around.  There was a much different energy on stage.  You can tell that Steve Job simply feels better, stronger since the Nano unveiling in September.
  • What I would have liked to see more/less of:
    • It’s hard to criticize Jobs’ delivery.  Many people tease him for the “amazing”s, the “phenomenal”s, but I still like them.  It’s how we talk, and I appreciate that he speaks like a human being.  But if pushed to choose something, I would say this: I could have done with one less website demo, and instead, I would have liked to have seen a demo of what it's like to present in Keynote, or how a Word or Excel document feels on an iPad. I know this device isn’t meant to replace a laptop, but man… if I could take an iPad with me through the security line at an airport, and leave my laptop at home… that would make my heart feel SUPER HAPPY! (for those of you with young children, you will note the Kai Lan reference;).

At the end of the day, when you have products as visually arresting, and as fantastic as Apple’s, the script practically writes itself. But once again, Steve Jobs shows us his mastery of simplicity, restraint, and his keen understanding of what we all want to know, see and feel.

To My New Friends at Nvidia

NvidiaThank you for a wonderful afternoon and a packed house!  It was such fun to interact with you, and to hear your stories, your perspectives, and to see such active participation!!  As promised, below are some key points from the presentation, in case they are helpful to you. Also, I wanted to address a very good question that came up during a one-on-one interaction I had during the breakout sessions.  Someone asked, “how do we make a simple progress update interesting, when it’s a bunch of engineers sitting at the table? They don’t want pretty pictures.”  (I may be paraphrasing here, but that was the gist of the question).

My answer is this:  Good for you, for knowing what your audience doesn’t want!  Remember, the single most important piece of advice I have for presenters is this:  If you do nothing else, be of service to your audience. Meet their needs, whatever you do.  If your audience needs a brief, concise, easy-to-remember description of what your team is up to, then give them exactly that.  Sometimes the biggest gift we can give to an audience is the gift of their time. Just because an hour has been scheduled for a meeting, doesn’t mean we need to use it.

Ultimately, the trick is to meet the audience’s needs, and help them to remember what you’ve said. Sometimes that requires dazzling images that strike an emotional chord; sometimes it requires cutting to the chase as soon as humanly possible.  If you don’t know what they want, ask.  If they don’t tell you, go with your instincts, and clarify as you go… “is this what you were interested in hearing?”  I hope that helps clarify a bit!

Without further ado, below are the key points, and also below are links to some great resources for those who want to go deeper into their presentation skill development.

Thank you again, for giving me so much of your time and attention. And PLEASE share your stories with me… are the tips helpful? Did they make a difference?  My email is

Have fun and as my old boss, Chris Locchead, used to say, “Knock ‘em alive!”



Most presentations are… forgettable.  Why?

  • Because we turn them into “Word Documents” with pretty shapes and colors.
  • They become “CYA” documents.
  • We don’t have time to think creatively.
  • We are only thinking about “what I want to say” and not “what does the audience need.”

5 rules for changing the game.

1.  Honor how the mind works.

  • Relevance – we need to know as an audience, almost instantly, how the information is relevant to us.  How does it make our jobs easier? How does it make us smarter?  If the person talking doesn’t establish this quickly and effectively, we tune out.  Sound familiar? Most meetings drive us batty because within a few seconds, we sense very little relevance.
  • Visuals – remember, VISION trumps all of the other senses.  Think about how that impacts the way you present. And remember, visuals can be created by painting pictures with language.
  • Novelty – resist the temptation to use tired, cliché images and metaphors.  We tune into things that are unexpected.  Make your presentations a “hand shake”-free zone when it comes to images implying “partnership.”  Kill the “light bulb” image for “new idea!” J
  • Emotion – to quote John Medina in his book, Brian Rules, “the brain remembers the emotional components of an experience better than any other aspect.”  Don’t be afraid to use emotion as a means to imprint a message – are you trying to inspire? Excite? Terrify? (Nancy, that one’s for you;)
  • Repetition – don’t forget to hit on your key points, and repeat them. This has a powerful impact on our ability to retain new information.

2. Ask the right questions:

  • Remember… first, walk away from that computer!  Turn off that cell phone!  Create a “beginner’s mind” for yourself, if even for only a few minutes.  It will help you approach the information from a place of empathy for your audience who may not be as intimately acquainted with your topic.
  • What do I want them to feel?  Do? Remember?
  • What kind of experience do they need to have, given the goals above?

3.  Practice restraint – not every experience is a PPT presentation.  Remember, honor the needs of your audience FIRST. Practice using fewer words – embrace the power of the pause!

4.  Be yourself – people don’t connect to speakers who come across as cold, untouchable, and intimidating.  (If you’re saying to yourself, “what if I AM cold and intimidating?” To you I say: the real YOU is neither of those things. Your coping mechanism may be to put up that kind of front, but that’s not the real you.  Take a risk. Show us who you really are.)

5.  Listen – watch your audience closely, and notice where you lose them, or notice where they’re engaged. Connect and check in frequently to suggest interaction and discussion.  Encourage interaction.  There is no greater compliment than audience participation (within reason of course.  Don’t let people take you into off on tangents that leave the realm of “relevance.”  Gently say, “That’s an important point, and we can discuss that offline.  For today’s purposes, I’d like to focus on X.”)


  • Brain Rules, John Medina – I’m obsessed with what the brain can do, and how it learns. As the USA Today reported, “the words literally jump off the page.”
  • Creative Commons, Flickr – Free photos, attribution required for most
  • iStockphoto – very reasonably priced images, and gorgeous quality.
  • A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age – a fascinating book written by Daniel Pink, who is a FANTASTIC speaker. In fact, here’s a clip from him presenting at TED.  This is one of my new favorite TED talks, and a great one to watch while you’re scarfing down lunch someday.
  • Slide:ology, Duarte Design’s Blog – the BIBLE of slide design.
  • Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds – one of the best books on presentation that exist, and his blog is just as good.
  • Ted Conference Website and Blog – anytime you’re presenting, this is a treasure trove of inspiration.  HERE are Ted’s “Commandments,” which lays out their basic rules for every presenter.
  • Logic+Emotion, David Armano – just a great blog on design, digital, social web, all kinds of fun topics.
  • Inside the Actors Studio – sometimes this is a great thing to tap into… reminds us of how people outside of our industry think.
  • This American Life – by far, hands down, the all time greatest “story telling” show that exists today. It’s on NPR, I get it via podcast, and it blows me away each and ever episode. You will come to adore Ira Glass. Whenever I get stuck with dry content, I always ask myself, “what would Ira Glass do with it?”  This invariably leads me in the right direction.
  • WorldPulse, Global Issues through the Eyes of Women – a gorgeous collection of stories gathered from the furthest reaches of the world, through the eyes of women.