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Archive for the ‘Presentation Skills’ Category

Perfect Speeches


We’ve all sat through long and boring speeches or presentations. We go on a mental vacation and think about what we want to eat for lunch. Maybe we start writing a grocery list in our heads? We’d rather be anywhere but here. Why? Not only is it not a perfect speech, but the speaker’s approach is far from perfect.

In many instances, we are bored because the speaker…

a. doesn’t know how to edit himself

b. didn’t take the time to organize her thoughts

c. doesn’t really have command of his subject matter

Perfect Speech Preps

Perfect speeches require lots of preparation and practice. They need to be carefully researched and thought out. Each point and counterpoint needs to be weighed. And most importantly, perfect speeches need to be edited! Everyone knows it is much harder to give a cogent five-minute speech than it is to ramble in front of an audience for an hour.

That’s why I was so impressed with a speaker that I stumbled upon last week.

Example of  Perfect Speech

It was an unusually warm day in Chicago in March. (It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit.) As such, the older church was more than a little warm. It was also the day after St. Patrick’s and many people looked a little worse for wear.

When it came time for the sermon, the priest, reading his audience very well, started with a joke. It was well told and got a big laugh from the congregation. He held his audience in the palm of his hand.

Next, he said that he was taking a little survey. “Would anyone object if, on this warm day, I cut to the chase with my homily?”

Seeing no hands, he said, “Great. We’re in agreement.”

“The Irish are great poets, so in honor of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I’d tell you a little poem.”

He went on to deliver about eight lines of poetry—written by him—that perfectly summed up his message.

When the priest was finished, people turned to each other and smiled. There were more than a few nods of understanding. Almost everyone seemed to beam at him with looks of admiration and gratitude.

In approximately four minutes the priest told a joke, got the audience on his side and delivered his message successfully and succinctly. In short, it was the perfect speech.


Poker Face Crowd


I was speaking to a large group of people.

About six rows back–dead center– were two of the most annoying types of people a speaker can face. The first was a man with a distractingly bald, shiny head, who looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here. The second was a young guy, frantically texting on his blackberry.

In my mind, for just a split second, I allowed myself to throttle them with my bare hands. After that brief mental lapse, I moved on. I focused on some nice people that I had met before my speech and I killed it! (Even if I do say so myself!)

BUT when I was done, I wasn’t sure that the crowd appreciated my efforts. Why? This was a long luncheon. I was up last and many people left the second I started taking questions.

I called up my friend after I was done and said, “I know I was great, but I just didn’t receive the response that I expected.”

She said, “You always say something like that and then you wind up getting a ton of business out of it. Isn’t that the greatest response you could hope for?”

“You’re right,” I said.

By the time I hung up the phone, half a dozen people had tweeted about how great my speech was on twitter. I also received an email from someone in the audience, thanking me for speaking to their group. He apologized for not being able to stay and meet me personally. He had a client meeting and he had to dash out quickly. And a couple of weeks after the speech, I received two calls from prospective clients who were in the audience.


Whether it’s a speech or a presentation before a stone-faced board at work, you can’t let people’s reactions throw you. It’s true that there are times when you need to be able to read your audience and change things up. But for the most part—you need to have confidence in your abilities and your content. You also need to realize that not everyone is going to like you. And that’s OK. You can throttle them after you’re done.



Connecting With
Your Audience


It was New Year’s Eve. The unknown band was opening for a well-known group at a great venue. Clearly, they were being given a chance to raise their profile and possibly sell a bunch of CDs. Sadly; the group squandered their opportunity.

The lead singer of the opening act contorted his face too many ways and times to count–all the while keeping his eyes firmly shut. He turned his back to the audience to watch the drummer’s solo. And he ignored the people right in front of the stage in favor of his band mates.

Never once during their 45 minute set did anyone in the band attempt to engage the audience. They sang and played… to and for… themselves. HUGE mistake!

The same goes for people when they’re presenting or selling from the stage. If you want to sell people on your idea, company or services, you’ve got to connect with your audience. Eye contact is a big part of this. So is talking to your audience. (“How is everyone doing?”) And a well-timed smile always helps build rapport. It’s really not that hard.

But if you’re not willing to make the effort –or even pretend to make the effort– no one will care about you or what you’re pitching.

(Attention band members: Plugging sales of your CD doesn’t count as conversation.)

No surprise then that the band received only a whisper of applause from the crowd when they were done. No one tried to meet them after they came off stage. And I certainly didn’t see anyone buying their CDs.

They were the worst thing a band could be: forgettable. And you will be too if you don’t engage your audience.


Soundbites vs. Conversations


“Did you think that panelist spent too much time promoting his book?”

That was the question an organizer asked me after her group’s panel discussion was over.

“No, that didn’t bother me,” I said. ” I expect a little of that from people, who have written books. I don’t think he went overboard.”


“Well, since you asked, I could tell that he was used to being interviewed for TV news segments. He spoke only in soundbites. He didn’t really engage the audience in a conversation, which is what I think you were hoping for–yes?”

“That’s it exactly! You nailed it!” she said. “How come I couldn’t put my finger on it?”

“Well, I do this for a living,” I laughed.

There is a time and place for soundbites. And there is a time and place for conversations. Really gifted people can switch between the two modes seamlessly.


When you’re part of an in-depth (hour-long) discussion on a panel, you want to engage people. You want to have a conversation. You don’t just spit out soundbites. You ask questions. You offer advice. You respond to follow-up questions. You elaborate about your experiences.


When you’re doing a TV news interview, especially if you’re live, you want to speak in soundbites. Ideally, you want to sound conversational while delivering soundbites. You want them to sound like they rolled off your tongue. BUT you want to deliver them quickly. I tell people: “Get in and get out.” This allows your interviewer to move on quickly to her next question. It also allows you additional opportunities to work in more of your messages.



It was the summer we went to Mackinac Island in Michigan for our family vacation.

I was 9. My sister was 11. My brother was 4.

Cars are not allowed on the island. Everyone either walks or rides bicycles to get around.

As soon as we were settled in, our parents took us to a bike rental shop, so we could explore the island. My dad put my brother in a kid seat on the back of his bike. My mom had her own bike. And my sister and I made a beeline for a bicycle built-for-two. Immediately, my mom saw that this could be a problem. She encouraged us to get our own individual bikes. But my sister and I insisted, “We want to do this!”

My wise mother said, “Why don’t we see how you do on a practice run before we make any decisions?”

My sister and I didn’t get 500 yards before we were fighting about who was pedaling faster. She said my legs were too short. I said hers were too long. She said I needed to slow down. I said she needed to go faster!

At that point, my mom stepped in and said, “Get your own bikes. Now.”


I was reminded of that summer recently when I was at an event, where people were doing what I call “tag-team presentations.”

The teams of two were totally out of sync. They had no more business doing a presentation together than my sister and I had riding a bicycle built-for-two when we were kids.

To work in tandem for presentations, you really need to be able to play off of each other. You almost need to be able to read the other person’s mind. Additionally, your transitions need to be smooth. Your timing needs to be flawless. And your energy levels need to be consistent. One of you can’t be really fired up while the other is low key.

It is rare that I see a team that can pull all of this off. As such, I usually recommend that one person take the lead for the team and present. Later, if there are questions that fall out of her area of expertise, allow someone else to step in and answer them.

BUT…Teams Look Better!

This is what I hear most often from people, who insist on presenting as a duo. They believe that it illustrates how well they work with others.

True. But can you pull it off? Have you actually tried presenting with your partner? Until you do—you’re just like my sister and I who were certain that a bicycle built-for-two was for us. It wasn’t until we tried it out that we discovered that both of us wanted to set the pace. My sister is easygoing, so she was in no hurry. I am insanely competitive and I was in race mode. Our approaches and personalities are so different that it was readily apparent that this bicycle built-for-two was not for us.

Likewise, if you try to present with someone, you’ll find out really quickly if you can make this partnership work. If you can’t, you should go solo–or find another partner– because it’s hard to watch two people at odds during a presentation. The only thing worse is seeing a team like my dad and brother, where one person carries the load and the other sits back and enjoys the ride.




Off-the-Cuff Remarks


What would you do if you were at an event and someone asked you to speak off-the-cuff about a somewhat controversial topic? Would you know what to do? What would you say?

This happened to a friend of mine at a function we attended. He’s well spoken, but I saw his eyes when he was asked to speak and I knew something was up. He looked decidedly uncomfortable.

I could see why the topic would be tricky to discuss, but that wouldn’t normally be a problem for him. I later found out that he’d been specifically asked NOT to speak about the topic. Further complicating matters, the person, who asked him not to say anything, was standing right next to him.

To his great credit, he addressed the question carefully. He “spun” his answer so that no one would be offended. But later he confided that his mind was racing, trying to think of an appropriate response

What Should You Do?

1. If you can, refrain from saying anything when you’re asked a controversial question that you don’t want to answer. (If you do want to take it on—have at it. But make sure you know exactly what you want to say and what the repercussions may be.)

2. If you have to say something, employ a technique known as bridging. (I prefer to call it the bump and run.) Example: That’s an interesting point. (Bump) Now run to your message: Let me tell you why I think what we’re doing is so important.

3. If someone persists in asking a controversial question, shut them down nicely. Example: With a calm you don’t feel– and a smile on your face—“I am here today to address this. If you’d like to discuss that, I’d be happy to speak with you later.” OR: “I am not the best person within my organization to address your question, but I’d be delighted to find out who is and put you in touch with them.” (THE END)

Yes, it’s tough to think quickly on your feet. But with a little practice–and some coaching– you’ll get better.

P.S. Thanks to my friend for saying as he saw my wheels spinning, “You aren’t going to write a blog post about this—are you?” YES! Thanks for the inspiration my anonymous friend!

Speaking with an Accent


My parents are from Ireland. I grew up in a melting pot neighborhood in Chicago. I travel internationally to work with clients whose first language is not English. As such, I am used to listening to people speak with various accents.

Working with Clients

With few exceptions, my clients’ English is quite good. Yet it is rare that I meet someone, who is confident in their ability to communicate in a language that is not their native tongue.

The biggest issue that I encounter: people trying to Americanize/Anglicize their accent to the point that their speech is stilted or painfully slow. When I point this out to them, I always tell actress/comedienne Fran Drescher’s story.

A-ha! Moment

Drescher is from Queens, New York. She is easily recognized by her “New Yawk” accent. Drescher felt that accent was costing her a lot of acting roles, so she went to a speech coach to get rid of it. Much to her surprise, she wasn’t pleased with the end result. Drescher felt like she had lost all spontaneity in her speech. She was thinking about it too much and that severely hampered her comedic timing. So what did she do? Drescher decided to speak in her own voice. It became her signature. It made her memorable! It landed her a successful television series.


My advice to clients: Embrace who you are and where you are from. Most people like accents. They make you who you are. Yes, you need to be understood. But if you’re appearing on-camera, you also need to be memorable and comfortable in your own skin. You never will be if you’re focused on sounding like someone else.


photo credit: Be the Change, Inc. via photopin cc

Presenting at
the Golden Globes


Everyone who has trouble presenting in front of a large audience can take comfort from the presenters at the Golden Globes. These are ACTORS and ACTRESSES–who make their living from performing–and yet many of them don’t present well.

They have the same problems most people do.

1. They don’t read well off of a teleprompter; their eyes shift from side to side as they read.

2. They don’t practice their lines. As a result, they stumble through the copy and/or slaughter the pronunciation of people’s names.

3. Their body language is tense; they are nervous and stiff. Some even cling to their co-presenter for moral support.

The presenters and winners who were most memorable were the ones who ad libbed. My guess is that they had thought about what they wanted to say. And perhaps they even practiced their speech. Regardless- they delivered it in such a natural, spontaneous way (they are actors) that I believed them.

I cheered for Mo’nique. I laughed with Robert Downey Junior. And  I applauded Sandra Bullock’s class. Others looked good and delivered their lines well. But for me– those three stood out. They were memorable for all of the right reasons.

Presenting Under Pressure


It was St. Patrick’s Day. I had just finished watching my Irish dancers perform for their friends and family. I was still beaming with pride when one of my youngest dancers flung herself into my arms after coming offstage.

“I forgot my step,” she sobbed into my neck.

“But you kept going. You did exactly what I told you to do. No one even noticed. Remember, no one else knows the steps except for you. Right?”

“Yes,” she said as she hiccupped.

“You did great! Even better than if you had done everything as planned. Now you know that no matter what happens, you’ll be just fine. It shows me that you’re great under pressure.”

“So I did good?” she asked.


Presentation Tip

Twenty years later, I am still giving that same advice. But now I give it to my presentation skills clients.

“Always remember: no one knows exactly what you were going to say except for you.”

Yes, some people may know the slides in your deck, but you can always say that, in the interest of time, you decided to skip a certain section or statistic. You can also say that you planned to address the points (that you skipped) during the Q & A.

What you can’t and shouldn’t say, “Oh, I forgot to mention this issue…I just remembered this statistic.”

When you backtrack, people think you’re disorganized or that you don’t have command of your subject matter. As a result, you lose credibility with your audience. But if you keep going, your audience will never be any the wiser.

And later, if they find out that you blanked on something and kept going, they may even admire you for your ability to tap dance and deliver under pressure.


photo credit: Irish Philadelphia Photo Essays via photopin cc

Playing to Win


Snowmen Peeps and candy canes.

That’s what I ended up with after the first round of the white elephant grab bag. Of course that’s not what I wanted to take home. I wanted The Christmas Story Leg Night Light. (So did many others.)

I patiently waited for my turn in the second round to steal someone else’s gift. I watched many look longingly at the night light, but they wouldn’t choose it. They were too afraid that it would be stolen by the next person. So they played it safe. They stuck with things like green tea and tapered candles.

When my turn came, there were several people left. I perused everyone’s items, but in the end, I stole The Christmas Story Leg Night Light. No guts– no glory!

It’s an attitude that’s hard to teach. But it’s critical if you want to be successful at presenting or doing media interviews. Too often I see people so afraid of making a mistake that they fade into the background. They’re stiff and forgettable. They’re playing not to lose when they should be playing to win. Like I did.

Did I Take Home the Night Light?

No. But that’s not the point. The point is that I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t afraid to go after it. AND I did it in a very entertaining and memorable way!



photo credit: cookiespi via photopin cc