Thursday, November 1, 2012

WARNING: The Brain Like to Practice!

Once in a while lots of information on the same subject comes together at the same time. Those of you familiar with my writing at know that I have approached the importance of “practice” from different perspectives in several blogs.
Now Doug Lemov (Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday, Oct. 27-28, 2012) has co-authored the book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, which advances the theory that “rehearsing tasks, from teaching, to medicine, to consumer service, frees the brain for complex work.”
While no one disputes the importance of practice for winning at tennis or playing a piano concerto in front of a live audience, Lemov goes on to say that practice is just as important in mastering tasks that take place in the workplace, such as developing customer service skills, training doctors in more effective patient communication, or helping teachers by having them practice, rehearse and get feedback on their skills.
I immediately thought back to my days in the first semester of my senior year in college. I, as a student teacher, was faced with the daunting task of becoming a competent classroom teacher. With most of my course work almost completed, it was time to put educational theory into action.
My semester living off campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, was spent partying, writing lesson plans, and classroom observing while waiting for my time to try out my lesson plans in front of a classroom of high-energy, mischievous junior high students.
The master teacher more often then not used my teaching time to escape to the teacher’s lounge to grade papers, smoke or catch a quick nap. How helpful it would have been to have her in the room on a regular basis observing and then to have follow-up discussion with her so she could counsel or offer suggestions on how to improve explaining a concept, praising a student’s response to a question, or role-playing handling the antics of a disruptive seventh grader.
It is practice in real time that Lemov postulates allows us to “execute a task while using less and less active brain processing. It makes things automatic. When performers master one aspect of their work, they free their minds to think about another aspect. This may be why many of us have our most creative thoughts while driving.”
That comment by Lemov was a “Eureka moment” for me. Ideas for often appear, the concept gels and starts developing, and the initial text takes form while I’m driving to or from meetings in San Francisco—a 140-mile roundtrip. My conscious brain is always vigilant, for I am traveling at high speeds and surrounded by multiple lanes of cars.
Yet at the same time a creative area of my brain – perhaps stimulated by an article I’ve read or training I’m developing for a client – is wandering, and to my constant surprise it usually alights on a compelling idea to develop in a future blog.
I use videotape to show my clients what they’re doing right, could use improvement on, or what’s just plain wrong.  Replaying small bites of a presentation or a question-and-answer session is far more beneficial than taping a final performance. The instant feedback helps me direct my clients to make both significant and subtle corrections in how they tell their company story or answer an investor’s question about their company’s technology. Video tape allows us to see how we look and hear what we’re saying, and then with corrections in mind we do it all over again.
Practice is one of the first things a child learns with his toys. An old and popular wood toy is the shape sorting cube. To watch a child work with the pieces (cubes, triangles, circles) is an amazing lesson in practice as he tries to get a circle to go into a square opening and a square into a circular opening. It usually takes a bit of practice; but once the child gets it, he moves on to the next learning experience – and if we agree with Doug Lemov – probably more complex work.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Is Compelling Communication Learned?

I recall a few years ago when football players first took up dance classes to develop balance and strength in their legs. The coaches quickly learned their players could also increase their reflexes and flexibility by taking yoga and karate classes. I was reminded of what was then considered revolutionary training while watching President Obama and Governor Romney navigate their debate space during the Tuesday town hall meeting at Hofstra University. 

Never before has the American electorate had the opportunity to see two candidates so closely matched physically as they present themselves non-verbally. There are slight and significant differences. Whether genetic, trained athletic ability, or just time spent shooting baskets, Obama’s slightly bow-legged slender frame is graceful and nimble. In contrast, Romney’s physique is solid and when he moves it is deliberate.

I suspect practice also divides them as Obama, whether from his days as a Chicago community organizer or his past four years as president, is used to being center stage and physically pushing himself out to meet an audience. He’s quite adept at moving effortlessly into a well-balanced stance with his weight evenly divided over both feet.
Obama also knows how to draw energy from an audience and uses his skill to make a visceral connection. It generally works well except for the times his words and movement say different things–and when that happens, there is a disconnect with his audience. 

Romney covers the same space with a forceful but less elegant stride. And once he gets in front of his audience or his questioner (as he did on Tuesday), his gaze is direct, his eye contact intense and his delivery and physical side match.

He is also disarmingly capable of becoming personal, as he did when he asked the student questioner when he would graduate from college and then, with a carefully crafted on-the-fly answer, firmly assured the student that he WOULD have a job when he graduated. 

When Mitt Romney connects with an audience, it’s because his body language isn’t edited. In that case Romney’s words and delivery matched, and his concern for the student was genuine.

An audience is always watching non-verbal communication and listening to a speaker’s words; the two must match for an effective oral presentation.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tips for Handling Body Language and Space

It’s Saturday, four days after the first of three important presidential debates. Since Wednesday I’ve been mulling over whether to comment on the first debate—and if so, where to begin and end.

Is another opinion needed since so much has already been written: advice for both candidates on everything from personal style to congratulations on the lack of the expected gaffes? That is, of course, with the exception of Romney’s threats to de-fund PBS and take down Big Bird!

As soon as Mitt Romney made those statements, I shuddered. It’s not smart to threaten Big Bird’s existence. He’s a character beloved and so deeply entrenched in children’s television as to be a permanent part of Americana! Even Peggy Noonan warned in her WSJ editorial “Romney Deflates the President” to beware, as Big Birds will be showing up to heckle and distract at Romney political events.

Romney’s Big Bird comment provided comic relief as my debate viewing got off to a rocky start, which I should have expected. Even before the clock started, I was put off by President Obama’s body language. (And it wasn’t the first time.) How people handle and manipulate space is an important aspect of nonverbal communication and as such deserves some commentary, for it was a significant factor throughout the debate.

Territorial jockeying for space began immediately when the two candidates took the stage. With a wide smile and strong stride, President Obama entered from the right. He strode confidently past his podium – into the personal space* of Romney’s podium – to shake his opponent’s hand.

The President never, if he can help it, simply offers a traditional one-handed greeting. He usually leans in and extends his right hand to shake while simultaneously using his other hand to grasp his opponent’s upper arm.

This technique is often used to gain physical and visual dominance. By employing this technique, the President effectively entered Romney’s two-foot private bubble of personal space. Obama’s two-handed shake should be viewed as an aggressive act, as it is a wrap-around intended to grab the dominant physical position and perhaps intimidate before the debate begins.

I’ve watched President Obama use this same two-handed greeting with political figures and world leaders. Each time I witness it, I cringe because it’s a flagrant violation of another’s personal space and generally not well received by the person experiencing this locked-in greeting. Besides, who wants a sweaty hand on the sleeve of a perfectly pressed suit jacket?

Although Governor Romney and President Obama are close in height and weight, The President’s initial two-handed greeting was effective in visually diminishing Romney.  The gesture was calculated to establish control and from a visual perspective was very effective!

President Obama’s use of body language gave him a head start, but he quickly lost his advantage. Once the debate was underway, he seemed to shrink into his assigned spot and rarely (through eye contact or otherwise) left the safe space of his lectern. In fact, he seemed to hunker down into his own zone as he was clearly unprepared for the rhetorical and intellectual demands of debating Mitt Romney.

*personal distance is between two and four feet in most of the Western world

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clinton Global Initiative

Not running for president or in training to be a world leader? That’s okay, but you probably still need to know how to create a speech and deliver it. 

Early in my career I was hired by a company to train its employees on making effective presentations. When that assignment was completed, I was enlisted to help the company’s CEO flush out ideas for a major speech he was giving to senior staff in the international offices and to coach him on his delivery skills. 

I worked to help him accomplish what I refer to as a “brain dump,” which is the first step in creating a speech. He didn’t want to use a speech writer, as he preferred writing it himself but needed help getting started isolating and expanding his ideas. He knew the presentation message had to be relevant to his audience and he had to deliver it with impact.

I guarantee you will sometime in your career face a similar challenge: to influence and inspire people. Given that strong possibility, I suggest you listen up because now are some of the best opportunities, until 2016, to see the Democrats and Republicans delivering speeches non-stop. 

The best speeches happen when the deliverer gets involved, so I was not surprised when I read that Bill Clinton was making changes to his nominating speech right up until a day before delivery time.

Clinton clearly knew what he wanted to accomplish, and the text changes needed to complete the task were developing on a daily basis. His unstated goal was to change the way the undecided in the audience thought about Barack Obama and to act on it – cast a vote for Barack Obama for president. 

I have nicknamed Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention the “Now Listen to Me”speech. He was teacher, parent and philosopher as he implored the audience in the hall and those watching at home to hang on while he made his points.

Why was the speech successful and so well received? Clinton became a storyteller harkening back to the Greek slave Aesop, who would tell a story and then suggest what should be done. Clinton cleverly accomplished the same kind of storytelling through the use of dialogue: us vs. them themes; repetition/stickiness through “Listen to me, now”; and folksy rhetoric like “I’m fixing to tell you why” or personal appeals such as “You all got to listen carefully to this; this is really important” and “Folks, this is really serious.”

Clinton time and again implored us to personally engage with him: to hang on while he made his points. As I listened, fully aware of the techniques he was using, I found myself getting engaged with him and eager to hear more. His rhetoric, facial expressions and overall impish body language and real schtick like “I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside” seduced me. 

Clinton’s message was compelling and his delivery was masterful. And yes, he went on too long, as he is famous for doing. But he got my attention; he just worked it a little too long.

Founded by Bill Clinton in 2005, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting serves many purposes:  this year it coincides with the UN General Assembly meetings so many world leaders, business leaders and politicians will be attending. A few of an impressive list of speakers and panelists expected are Secretary of State Hilary Clinton; Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank; Mitt Romney, Republican Presidential Candidate; President Barack Obama; CEO of  IDEOTim Brown; and Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. 

The focus is definitely not political, so it will be interesting to read the speeches that will focus on major world issues like poverty, healthcare, philanthropy and female empowerment. The CGI theme this year is “Designing for Impact.”

Already Hillary Clinton has weighed in on this year’s theme by advancing an argument that the rich must pay more, and she has cleverly framed a worldview by expanding on an internal debate in the US: “There are rich people around the world, but they do not contribute to the growth of their own country.” Expect all the speeches and panels to contribute to or develop the “Making an Impact” theme at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Debates: Coaching, Rehearsing and Practice

As the presidential candidates prepare for their three October debates, I am returning to the subjects of coaching, rehearsing and practice. In the past few weeks the debate preparation has been front and center on Mitt Romney’s agenda, and the White House has reported that President Obama has been using his time on Air Force One for debate coaching in between campaign stops.

Although the vice presidential candidates debate only once, the preparation is equally intensive. Last week in Oregon, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stepped off the campaign trail for rehearsing with attorney Ted Olson (who is impersonating Joe Biden). 

Olson, a skilled litigator and former solicitor general for President George W. Bush, has formidable presentation skills—making him the perfect person to represent Joe Biden who, although prone to gaffes, is a practiced debater and skilled politician, having been in politics for over 40 years.

Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen will be coaching Joe Biden on debating Paul Ryan. Van Hollen’s narrow qualifications are interesting; he sits next to Paul Ryan on the House Budget Committee and as a result has a unique understanding of how Ryan likes to frame his arguments.

Perhaps the coach who has received the most news coverage is a former front-runner for Romney’s vice presidential slot: Ohio Senator Rob Portman. His coaching and acting skills were first described back in 2000 when Rick Lazio hired Portman to prepare him to debate Hillary Clinton. Lazio calls Portman "the quintessential debate prep expert."

Portman was supremely good at the job, Lazio says, primarily because he took it so seriously: "He will spend countless hours listening and watching tapes of the person he is supposed to be playing. He is an incredibly dedicated preparer.”

And if Portman is successful in duplicating Obama’s speaking style and policy positions, Romney will feel he is actually debating Obama rather than in a dress rehearsal and thus will not be surprised or thrown off guard during the actual debates.

Knowing your opponent’s delivery style and anticipating his response is one part of the preparation three-legged stool. Equally important in becoming an effective debater is listening and interpreting in order to think and articulate quickly on your feet.

A good part of achieving that confidence is anticipating the questions, crafting short and concise answers, and lots of practice. Content delivery is all important! A quick, forceful, respectful response that may smack down an opponent is always music to the ears of an audience.

Without this type of debate training, answers tend to be overly long, uninspiring, and sometimes embarrassing!

Those who have worked with me know my mantra: You can’t make an effective presentation if you don’t know what you’re going to say. Constructing on the fly usually doesn’t work well, no matter how experienced a speaker may be. And, should the candidates run out of topics to rehearse, there is always the Huffington Post piece that came out Sept. 15 with a personalized checklist of areas the presidential and vice presidential candidates should work on!

Tune into at least one of the debates and watch with a critical eye. Topics will cover foreign and domestic policy; and given the current state of the Middle East and the US economy, the discussion should be lively!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Speech “Aha” Moment

I predicted some really good speeches, and last week’s Republican National Convention didn’t disappoint; in fact, it delivered in content and style something for everyone – and yes, inexplicably, for fans of Clint Eastwood! 

Almost every speech contained memorable lines, and a home run on the American dream was delivered by Marco Rubio:

“A few years ago during a speech I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar in the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not what he wanted for his children.

“You see, he stood behind the bar all those years so that one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.” 

Marco Rubio’s recollection made me think of my father’s parents, who were immigrants from Sweden. They were young and ambitious. Leaving Sweden on separate ships, they met and married in Chicago, starting their married life working in the kitchen of the Swedish Club of Chicago.

From there they went on to own saloons that they ran together: bartending, cooking and serving. They reared three sons, built other businesses, and were fortunate to have achieved significant success within their lifetime.

My college educated father grew up helping his parents manage saloons and apartment buildings. The work was hard and left a lasting impression, as I discovered as a teenager in high school looking for part-time work. The one position he refused to allow me to do was waitressing. He never explained and I couldn’t ask, but now I understand. Memorable speeches achieve these poignant recalls or answer questions; and if the writing and delivery are very good, they produce an “aha” moment of clarity.

The speech by Condoleezza Rice spoke to me intellectually and emotionally. There is a serenity about her that comes through whether she’s walking beside a world leader, sitting quietly while being interviewed, or striding purposefully to a podium or a piano. The origin of her calmness is a mystery to me, but I suspect it’s rooted in her deep religious faith.

While writing about Rice, I returned to my viewing notes and found my hastily scribbled question: “Is she using a teleprompter?” Later fact checking revealed she was not, and I suspect the same answer will be given to whether or not she had the assistance of a speech writer. I’m betting her speech was all her own: purposeful and addressing forcefully what her audience needed, which that night was a broader worldview.

Rice’s delivery was riveting. She took her time to occasionally check her notes but would then return with a laser focus on her audience. The speech was tightly constructed to layout the present, what lies ahead, and why the Romney-Ryan team is the right one to lead the United States.  Her “aha” moment came when she paused and got personal:

“And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham—the most segregated big city in America. Her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they made her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be President of the United States. And she becomes the Secretary of State”

In those minutes Rice connected personally with everyone in the convention hall and most likely with millions watching around the world.

An unexpected and excellent speaker was a newcomer to the stage: Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs, Utah. Love wasn’t given much time, but she managed it well and delivered a short and impactful presentation.

If the Republican Party has been chasticized for not including people of color, Love was there to boldly refute that message. The daughter of Haitian Americans, she was born in New York and reared in Connecticut.

Love is strikingly attractive and a forceful speaker who clearly enjoys the media spotlight. She spoke of the American dream and presented her thoughts with a brevity and clarity of purpose that few of the seasoned speakers achieved:

“President Obama's version of America is a divided one — pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status. His policies have failed! We are not better off than we were 4 years ago, and no rhetoric, bumper sticker, or campaign ad can change that.

“Mr. President, I am here to tell you we are not buying what you are selling in 2012.”

I was truly surprised at the candor of her “aha” moment and the rhetorical might with which she delivered her message!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Speech Watch

As an adjunct professor at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, Calif., I assigned and encouraged my students to watch, listen to and dissect speeches. This was all directed toward their ending the semester by writing and delivering their own speeches.

A well-written speech will have a clear beginning and end and expert use of what I call “internal summary.” A speech carefully crafted is a work of art.

Regardless of your party affiliation, this week’s Republican Convention provides an excellent opportunity to see and hear some outstanding speakers. In a presidential convention the speeches and speaker messages should support the party platform.

The line up of 34+ speakers for the Republican convention is impressive with the appearances across four nights, although due to limited network TV coverage the public will only be able to view them Tuesday through Thursday and then only one hour each night. FOX News coverage seems like it will be more extensive and programming can be verified through

Already commentators are reflecting on what the superb lineup of speakers will reveal. Today, Peggy Noonan in her Wall Street Journal column speculated on what we can expect from some of the speakers. She hopes “That Gov. Chris Christie brings his Garden State brio, that he is bodacious, funny and pointed, and that people say the next day, “Man, Obama-Christie really opened up a can of  Jersey on him.”

Noonan also muses that Paul Ryan is young and since the voters have already “had a bad experience with young” that his writers anticipating that will craft his speech to brand the positives of being only 42!

So with such an impressive line up, here are my picks of who to watch or at least listen to.  Monday: John Sununu and Mike Huckabee; Tuesday: Chris Christie, Susana Martinez, Ann Romney and Bobby Jindal; Wednesday: Pam Bondi, Jeb Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Paul Ryan; Thursday: Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney. (This line up may shift depending on Hurricane Isaac which, as I write, is barreling toward Puerto Rico.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Enthusiasm + Joy = Great Communication

Support her husband or not, you can’t dispute that Ann Romney’s style is infectious. Watch any of her interviews, and whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, you’ll probably be impressed with her enthusiasm, intelligence and fearless engagement of the interviewing process.

Dealing effectively with the media in an often hostile and confrontational environment takes some skill, and she is darn good at conveying her message and ably navigating around tricky situations. There’s just no hesitancy about Ann Romney!

On Aug. 12 the 2012 summer Olympic Games came to a close, and the word “enthusiastic” describes so many of the gold medal winners. 17-year-old swimming prodigy and multi- Olympic Gold Medal winner Missy Franklin consistently conveyed pure joy and an infectious smile with each win. She was enthusiastic about every event, her energy abundant from beginning to end.

Women’s beach volleyball, a relatively new Olympic sport, has gained a devoted and wildly supportive fan base. I doubt there’s a more enthusiastic player than Kerri Walsh-Jennings who, with her partner Misty May-Treanor, took home a third Olympic gold medal. All six feet, two inches of Kerri is a powerhouse: relentlessly optimistic, positive, joyful and uplifting!

Silicon Valley guru Guy Kawasaki, in his book Reality Check, finishes the last chapter with a list of ten things to remember. Number two is “pursue joy, not happiness.” He concludes that it’s probably the hardest lesson of all to learn because “happiness is temporary and fleeting……Joy, by contrast is unpredictable and intense. It comes from pursuing interests and passions that do not obviously result in happiness.”

Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel, teaches that “A good communicator’s energy is perceived as ‘life force,’ vitality: an aliveness and vigor exemplified at its best by very good communicators like John F. Kennedy.” And I would add Bill Clinton.  Project enthusiasm and most so-called speech problems clear up automatically.

On Aug. 11 Mitt Romney introduced Paul Ryan as his choice for the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Ryan is a package of enthusiasm, energy and a real joyfulness.

If you watched closely after Ryan was introduced, you would have seen him descending the stairs and striding purposefully to the podium. On instant replay you can watch his body pulling up into a tighter stance, giving the impression of a man growing taller and expanding to fill his space. In those minutes he became physically and mentally engaged while soaking up the energy of the crowd of well-wishers and obviously loving every minute. Sorry, I can’t remember what he said; but his enthusiasm for the task ahead of him was a strong and lasting visual!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Finding Your Right Voice

A fellow blogger’s (Vincent Wright’s) comments about my last blog, “Communication Branding: A Speech”, sparked the idea for this one. That blog reminded him of a Walt Whitman poem, and he sent this excerpt from “Voices” in Leaves of Grass:

“O what is it in me that makes me tremble so at voices?  Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I shall follow, as the water follows the moon, silently, with fluid steps, anywhere around the globe.”

Whitman’s words got me thinking that I really needed to comment on delivery since the content of a speech is only half of a branding story. Each spring we’re reminded that a major draw for any university commencement address is the speaker. The strength of the speaker’s delivery skills will make or break the impact of the message. Let me elaborate on that point with a few examples.

Audio books, once dismissed as an aid for the blind and disabled, are now leading a very hot and lucrative literary market. Financial success for these books is extremely dependent on the voice and skills of the reader.

Whenever possible the reader should be the author, but not if the voice is wrong. I don’t know if Paula Dean has any audio cookbooks, but the mere thought of hearing her read the ingredients in a recipe makes me cringe. The sound of her voice isn’t so bad as hearing nails on a chalk board, but it’s not far from it. I know from whence I speak, as my earbuds have transmitted the sound of many authors during my daily workout or run.

I find it hard to listen to President Barack Obama. My discomfort may have something to do with the fact that he regularly slips in and out of speech patterns/dialects depending on his audience. He generally uses a “Kansas” sound, sometimes referred to as a South Midland accent. When speaking to a primarily Black audience, he adopts either a Chicago style or African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

Like other politicians, Obama selects a dialect to suit the particular audience he’s addressing; and since we’re not in the audience, we have to adapt our ears to TV or audio clips. Subtle as they may be, his shifting speech patterns and distracting dependence on a teleprompter contribute all too often to a weak delivery. In my opinion he’s at his best when he’s being a humorist, for the words are few and his comedic timing is near perfect.

President George W. Bush has a distinct Texas twang that got more pronounced the deeper in the South he was speaking. Haley Barbour was an outstanding 63rd governor of Mississippi, but I suspect his heavy Southern accent has precluded him from moving beyond the national stage he achieved as the former chairman of the NRC.

One of the best examples of harmonious delivery and message can be found in Kevin Costner’s eulogy for his friend, Whitney Houston. His recollection of their friendship and Whitney’s strengths and insecurities was a standout in the string of tributes in a far too-long memorial service. Kostner found the right voice to speak to the congregation and did so with remembrances beautifully crafted and a flawless, extremely moving delivery.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Communication Branding: A Speech

I’m fascinated by speeches as an art form and (today, more than ever) a significant communication vehicle.
Some speeches are merely good, while some are so unique they capture the life of the deliverer. Consider Steve Jobs’s defining speech, delivered in 2005 to the graduating class of Stanford University. He talked about the good and bad lessons learned in his rather remarkable young life. Was it all accurate? Probably not. But it was as true as he believed it to be at that point in time.

Speeches, whether keynote to introduce a new product or graduation advice, are in the news lately. Several weeks ago we watched Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, on stage owning his new title at the annual conference for digital developers.

Virginia Heffernan, a correspondent for Yahoo News, said of his debut, “Cook was credible. He was a little mist. And, to the guilty delight of everyone, he was not Steve Jobs. The truth is, he was better.”

This is branding at its best, delivering the message that Apple remains strong and innovative under a new and different leader.

This spring commencement speeches across the U.S. insulted, inspired, and handed out real world advice and wisdom to graduating seniors. And in most cases, they advanced the star quality of the message bearers. 

On June 1, David McCullough – a little-known high school English teacher in Wellesley, Mass. – shocked graduating seniors by telling them that “they were not special or exceptional,” a commencement message so unusual that it immediately went viral. He is now part of the YouTube “forever” medium and an instant personality to be seen and played repeatedly worldwide.

Larry Winget, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, was equally blunt when he advised graduates that “real world employers don’t care much about your degree, your happiness, your income or really much of anything that has to do with you.  They care about what you can do for them.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her address at Southern Methodist University, cautioned students: “At those times when you’re absolutely sure that you’re right, talk with someone who disagrees. And if you constantly find yourself in the company of those who say ’amen’ to everything that you say, find other company.”

A kinder, gentler and very brief speech was delivered in record time (10 minutes!) to the graduates of Santa Clara University by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. His words were contradictory to many graduation messages in that he accented the positive in declaring:  “Happiness equals smiles minus frowns.” In dealing with life, the “Woz” urged “persistence, sprinkled with good people skills.” Not bad advice for getting along and getting ahead in work and play.

Whatever the message, few speeches live on as has the Jobs speech. But as commentary on the tenor of the times, graduation speeches deserve closer scrutiny.

Each spring some of the top minds in politics and business agree to address graduating seniors (in blistering heat or a day of rain and high humidity) and impart their thoughts on building a better tomorrow for themselves and humanity.

Last week Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, became the first woman appointed to its Board of Directors. This was highly predictable, as she spelled out how to get there in her speech to Barnard College graduating seniors in May 2011! I urge you to check it out on YouTube, as her message is powerful, inspiring and funny. And it works.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sex Appeal

Several weeks ago, quite by chance, I stumbled upon a 1994 video of a Massachusetts Senate debate between Mitt Romney and Ted Kennedy.

Although since 2011 I’ve written a blog about most of the serious Republican presidential candidates, I never wrote about Mitt Romney. His qualifications and experience were exceptional; but probably because of his uninspiring speaking style, nothing ever captured my attention enough to give me a reason to write.

To Romney’s credit, almost without exception, he turned in the most consistent debating style and his rhetoric (although bland) was sensible and predictable. In content and delivery, whether in his stump speeches or debates, I fought boredom—and I wasn’t alone.

The video, filmed almost 18 years ago in October 1994, changed dramatically my perception of Romney. As I watched the debate, I realized with amazement that his full head of jet black hair and his Clark Gable chiseled good looks rendered him downright sexy.

And even more remarkably, his often combative and uninhibited delivery was dynamic, powerful, and exciting! The juxtaposition between Romney’s sleek, powerful presence and Kennedy’s bloated appearance and sluggish jousting was an eye opener. 

What happened? Clearly the fiery younger Mitt Romney was never duplicated in all the Republican presidential debates. Intrigued, I decided it was time to take a deeper look at the communication style of a guy who just might become the next president of the United States.

Mitt Romney’s speaking style has been described as stiff, measured and contained. He’s not a natural campaigner; yet given his long years of experience, he should be.

It’s not for lack of practice, as at age 23 he spent a summer campaigning for his mother, Lenore Romney, who was running as a Republican for the state Senate seat in Michigan. Add to that his years as Governor of Massachusetts when he regularly gave speeches to his constituents. One or both of those experiences should have further honed his speaking skills.

Colleagues and friends say Mitt Romney is often “the smartest guy in the room” and a man who always had a lot of self-confidence. In an April 2012 New York Times article, Benjamin Netanyahu – a colleague of Romney’s at The Boston Consulting Group in 1976 – described how Romney was clearly considered “the star” of the group by the founder, Bruce Henderson. In turn, Romney envied Netanyahu for his easy ability to dominate discussions in the highly competitive atmosphere at BCG.

Perhaps the best way to observe Romney’s communication style is to examine his Victory Speech after he won the Wisconsin primary. There he delivered a humble speech that was heartfelt, sincere, and laid out his vision for America. He started slowly with a somewhat wooden delivery but moved quickly into broader gestures and owning the podium to convey his very positive message. He manages to convey a likeability factor on a very honest and humble level.  

What will we see going forward when the presidential debates begin? I’m not sure, but I’m secretly hoping for some of the bite and sex appeal of 1994!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting the First Impression Right

Frank Luntz in his New York Times bestseller WIN reminds us in his LUNTZ LESSONS that your first words are more important than your last: a repositioning of the old adage, “You only get one chance at making a first impression!”

I am sure everyone now reading this blog knows that line, but when was the last time you took a few minutes to seriously think about it before the start of an interview or perhaps a long-sought-after meeting to sell your design services to the company’s marketing VP?

And if that gentle prodding doesn’t get you to pause and think about how you present yourself, then consider the fact that first impressions – which are generally lasting – take place usually within three to seven seconds. It may be your posture, your handshake, your smile, your clothing or what you say, which often means it’s your attitude that creates a relationship that can make or break the future for you to sell into the company or win future business. 

I always over-prepare for an interview. I research the company, management team, their product and the interviewer’s background via LinkedIn.  But I probably don’t spend enough time thinking about how and what I’m going to say in pitching my services.
And like any good lawyer’s opening statement, I should be able to request the outcome or call to action I want. Besides that, if I don’t project the confidence and energy necessary to solve their problems, then I probably don’t stand a chance of being hired.

So start by considering not just what you say but also what nonverbal signals you send to others in the all important opening seconds of a meeting. Do you quickly establish a rapport that lasts until the end of the meeting? Have you mastered the ability to tune out distractions and focus on the composite of the person, and thereby enhancing your ability to read that person’s nonverbal signals?

And finally, learn to verbally edit on the fly. If midway through a story you lose eye contact (as I experienced last week), then you know you’re speaking too long. Getting and holding attention is becoming increasingly difficult today amid the ever-present distractions of texting and tweeting.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Enjoying the Agony of Starting AND Finishing a Weekly Blog

Writing a blog has never been my idea of a good time; rather, it’s a necessary undertaking I viewed from the start with horror and trepidation.

Luckily, my VA was understanding, patient and surprisingly encouraging of my early attempts. (I might also add that her editing skills are awesome and were tested with every topic.) But to my amazement, whatever I gave to her she managed to make better and more readable.

My fragile ego was encouraged, and I began disciplining myself to write on Thursday and to be completed on Friday – a weekly schedule I kept initially with some regularity. I was extremely dependable for several months. But then, as my client training schedule got busier and my travel time increased, I found it much harder to be disciplined about sitting down and coming up with some coherent thoughts in order to get the writing process started.

Why the hesitation? I asked myself if I could really write well enough, or did I have anything to say that anyone would want to read? I doubted my skill, as I had never had anyone encourage me. Oh, okay. I got a few pats on the back for papers done in graduate school, but the sparse comments were definitely nothing really noteworthy.
And, then how much about communication is really new? Last summer I wrote often about the contenders for the Republican nomination who were extremely entertaining in the beginning of the race, but after the tenth debate they were generally boring.

As of today, Ron Paul has stopped fundraising but has not officially dropped out of the race, Rick Santorum has given the weakest endorsement for Romney on record and is effectively moping his way to oblivion. A noticeably heavier Newt is busy with Callista, paying off a chunk of campaign debt. So, not much interesting to write about in that arena.

Convinced I was obviously the only one with writing issues, I was amazed to see in the Saturday/Sunday, April 21-22 issue of The Wall Street Journal a column by author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen titled “The Agony of Writing.” Her opening line – “I HATE to write.  I have to force myself every day to sit down and begin” – got my attention.

With such intense feelings about writing, I wondered how she ever finished her new memoir, Lots ofCandles, Plenty of Cake. The answer? A disciplined quirkiness! Regardless, I was hooked and began reading the rest of her article.

I was amazed, as so much of what she had to say about writing echoed my thoughts and even my writing patterns. Quindlen starts her writing day by taking a walk, which she says is composition: scenes, character, even dialogue.

I have found that some of my best writing ideas appear and develop while I’m driving 101 to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, a drive that often takes two-plus hours. I jot ideas down with my right hand while my left is firmly planted on the steering wheel. Usually the body/plot and some great sentences take shape for a future blog. 

Quindlen feels strongly about keeping a writing schedule – daily from 9-3 – which she deems her “elementary school productive hours.” I generally write best if I can start in the morning and then get back to it the next day.

She cautions not to take a job where you do lots of writing. She firmly believes there are only so many words per day in the human body. So if you write, email and tweet during the day, you probably don’t have much left for writing. I tend to agree with her, as I can’t even begin to write at the end of lots of driving and a very busy day.

And finally, she says she always stops writing in mid-sentence or before the end of a chapter. She feels it’s harder to start a new chapter or a new paragraph in the morning, but she can always finish a sentence. I have found the same thing and actually look forward to getting back into editing first and then writing my final content.

Unlike Quindlen, I can’t write with music in the background and always have my office door firmly closed. And then with all systems in place, I’m amazed at how, as she says, “one sentence has a way of following another.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Six Tips for Connecting Effectively

Help People Remember – We quickly forget information given to us in words and numbers. We remember information best when it’s humanized through a face or human form. Even a traffic WALK sign has a stick-like figure walking. Remember to use picture visuals to stimulate your audience and hold their attention.

Images of the Mind – Albert Einstein said his most original ideas came to him in mental pictures, not in words or numbers. We all use mental pictures, but only a small percentage of us are superb at it. The most common use for imaging is to help us understand a verbal description. We listen to words and picture what the words represent. Professional speakers call upon the audience’s imagination to help deliver a memorable speech.

Who’s Laughing Now? – Women and men react differently to humor. Women respond to soft humor involving puns, wordplay and relationships, while men are drawn to aggressive humor such as slapstick. To use humor and be effective, know the makeup of your audience.

Sit or Stand? – To make a point, do it standing. We use gestures more naturally and speak louder and more clearly.  Standing makes you feel more powerful, and your message will become the center of attention.

Take Off and Landing – The take off and landing are the most risky parts of any flight. The same goes for a presentation. The beginning and end of a presentation are rarely given the attention they deserve. Here are some proven ways to successfully start a presentation:  a joke, a question, a quote, a recent event, an exercise – or just start, because people don’t expect it.

Find Your Natural Style – Most people spend 95% of their speech preparation on the content, so too little time is spent practicing the actual presentation. Remember that the presenter is selling himself, not the information. Set aside time to practice the presentation and develop a style that works for you. The more at ease you are with the material and yourself, the more relaxed your audience will be – and the better they will be able to hear your message.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Finding Your Maximum Delivery Zone

I recently attended two days at the AGC Partners (formerly America’s Growth Capital) 8th annual Emerging Growth and Digital Media Conference in San Francisco. Over 300 private and public companies made presentations to 1200 attendees. Running concurrently, industry leaders appeared on panels discussing everything from current trends in technology financing to “Unlocking the Women’s Demographic.”

I have known the two dynamic and highly likeable founding partners for over 20 years, having trained some of their clients on how to be more effective in telling their company story and speaking persuasively to investors.

Although I have coached hundreds of presenters, I never tire of hearing an interesting company story or being intrigued by a creative use of graphics to illustrate it. But this time, at some point during Day Two of the conference, I had an epiphany; it was actually something I already knew, but this time it was more definitive.

What separated the “okay” presentations from the outstanding ones were not their stories or slides; rather, it was their passion for telling it. With only 15 minutes to connect with an audience, you need courage to get into what I call a “maximum delivery zone.” Those who did were extremely persuasive. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yes and no: it’s definitely not a slam dunk, or I wouldn’t have a business.

For many the secret sauce is within them but hidden: in fact, literally buried under business deadlines and meetings, family duties, household chores and whatever else comes and grabs a place on your mental and emotional desks. So how do you unlock the talent that could be the determining factor in telling a compelling story and generating real interest in your company?

First, dig down and grab some courage. Then decide to really use your talents to build a bridge to the interests of your audience. Make the decision to be expressive. That means speaking fully and using your superb voice well so it’s modulated by changes in pitch, rate and volume. And don’t forget the importance of pauses to signal what’s important: what I call “non-verbal punctuation.”

Next focus on how you move and use your body, for a good speaker delivers through his posture, gestures, facial expressions and emotions. Use your whole being to engage the eyes and ears of your listeners. Roger Ailes identified the importance of this personal “composite message” as essential for success in his classic book on communicating, You Are the Message. 

However you get into your “maximum delivery zone” realize that it takes courage and lots of practice to deliver a compelling message in public. But once you have unleashed your secret sauce, I doubt you’ll be able to get it back in the bottle again.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Part Two: The Art of Selling Yourself


Read the first part here.

4. The Sound of Your Voice

How do you sound? Were you born with a deep, full voice that commands attention? Often we fail to use our natural talents, and what the listener hears is monotonous, uninteresting and totally lacking in enthusiasm. You can learn to vary your voice, speak more slowly or be more enthusiastic.

To begin analyzing your voice quality, listen to yourself on an audiotape. Listen for whether or not you use pauses to emphasize important points, raise or lower your voice for emphasis and pitch. When you work to utilize the full range of your voice, a listener will be more interested in what you have to say. You have heard me say it before, and I am saying it again: Practice is the key!

5. Tailor Your Look

From your Web presence to your office, are you telling the story you want a client to see and hear? Take a look around you and assess if all encounters are inviting. Every aspect of your business sends a not-so-subtle first message to clients and potential clients. Once communicated, this impression will be lasting and difficult to change. Humans are visual learners, and what they see is a reflection of you.

6. Using the Tools

Now that you have some tools for selling yourself, begin to use them. If you are hesitant, you are not alone. But remember that you can’t sell yourself if you adopt the attitude of sitting and waiting. I can guarantee you won’t have much success attracting new clients or building a business in isolation. So get out into the business community and be seen. Seek and grab every opportunity to speak to a few or a group. Don’t wait for someone to find your blog or learn about you from your website.

Right now, if you have been following the twists and turns of the Republican candidates for the presidency, you are an eye witness to the struggles and challenges of developing and honing the skills necessary to get their stories to the public. And, generally in spite of themselves, they have gotten better at articulating their brands and messages. You can too, and in doing so you'll become more effective at the art of selling yourself!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

3 Super Tips on the Art of Selling Yourself

People buy from people. How well you sell yourself can determine whether or not you will successfully bring in new clients. To sell a product, company or service, you must first sell yourself.

Are effective selling skills the result of good genes or a talent that some possess and others do not? Certainly some people have a natural ability to speak and persuade. If you lack a flair for selling, take heart; the skills can be learned! Even if you have a natural ability to promote yourself, you can polish your selling techniques and gain new ones. All it takes is the desire to know yourself better, an understanding of communication techniques, and practice.

#1. Know Yourself: A Simple Exercise
To sell yourself you must first have an understanding of who you are, what you do well, and how you're perceived by others. Self-awareness can begin with this simple exercise. List 10 adjectives you feel best describe you. Ask two friends, a loved one, or associates to do the same.

Compare the three lists. Frequently others identify characteristics of which you may not have been aware previously. On the other hand, it may surprise you that others agree with your self-perceptions. Getting this kind of feedback can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, more often the process is enlightening and even flattering. The better you know your strengths and weaknesses, the more comfortable you will be with yourself. Awareness of your natural strengths is essential to developing a personal style that's more effective in attracting clients.

#2. Get Visual Feedback
Once you have an idea of your best qualities (as well as the less flattering ones), you need to see yourself as others do. When you speak, how do you look and how do you sound? Being videotaped can show you. If it's combined with a professional critique, it will provide you with invaluable knowledge. Many of the clients I coach are truly amazed at how dull they look and sound after watching themselves. We tend to think we're much more animated and dynamic than we actually are. Video doesn't lie.

#3. Make Your Total Image Count
How important is your image? Most experts agree that content accounts for only 8% of a successful speech or presentation. Fifty percent depends on how you say it, and 42% depends on how you look.

Those statistics suggest you should pay attention to the non-verbal message you project. Let me give you an example: A smile is probably the most underused mannerism we have. A smile sends a positive message of warmth and enthusiasm to a listener. We all know how much warmer we feel toward a person whose handshake is accompanied with a smile rather than a grim, expressionless "pleased to meet you."

Some people even suggest that a smile can come through your mobile; try it.

This is Part One in a two-part series on the Art of Selling Yourself. Part Two is here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Media Skills Must Adapt to the Medium

Over the past few months we've seen Republican presidential candidates, with mind-numbing frequency, in debates and TV interviews. And, we've witnessed their popularity rise and fall in ratings depending on a good or bad debate night.

Some, such as Rick Santorum, are getting better at crafting their message, debating and endless TV interviews. Others, including Newt Gingrich, appear to be suffering from perhaps overexposure and what I call the "pure visual effect."

From my vantage point, the rigors of campaigning are showing, as Newt is looking older, puffier and heavier. Youth and fitness he doesn’t have, and unfortunately every campaign appearance can’t be a sparkling debate where he can demonstrate his formidable oratorical skills.

So that brings me to my first point: the importance of the visual, or how you look and communicate your message on camera. It's generally accepted that we get our first impression of someone within the first 10 to 20 seconds. And it's well documented that our visual memory is stronger and longer lasting than our auditory recall.

Rick Santorum, whether in or out of his not-so-cool sweater vest (I know Scarlett Johansson thinks they're old-fashioned.), conveys a crispness and energy that is invigorating and downright likeable. Whether or not you agree with his positions on the issues, the likeability factor is huge in winning votes.

In contrast, Newt—now sometimes referred to in the press as an "old war horse"—appears for TV interviews and is photographed in rumpled and ill-fitting, too-tight suits.

Unlike the typical debate forum, which Newt enjoys and where he's very successful when talking to a large audience, he hasn’t mastered the TV interview: an intimate and personal conversation to generally two to three persons watching from their living room. In this setting he falls short on connecting.
Too often he comes across as hostile and defensive, with a good dose of self-pity.

Unless you live in a caucus state, you'll probably never see or meet any of the candidates in person; you'll get your visual exposure to them over the Internet or TV.

Visual effect changes depending on the medium and should be studied, practiced and mastered for each audience.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

5 Reasons to Learn to Listen

Lis Wiehl, in her book Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life, writes that managing your advocacy with a child takes practice, discipline, a willingness to listen, and an open heart. In fact, everyone from Shakespeare to Wadsworth has written about the need to listen carefully to gain facts or even wisdom.

Why is it we have so much difficulty listening when we certainly know the benefits of it?  My personal opinion is that it’s very hard to do and takes a lot of practice! If you’re eager to improve your listening skills, these five tips may help you succeed.

1. First, stop talking! You can't listen if you are talking.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius (Laertes's) father cautions him about his behavior in court to "give every man thine ear, but few thy voice."

2. Look like you want to listen!

Focus, make eye contact with the speaker, and act interested. Turn off and put away your BlackBerry. Don't read your emails. Practice listening to learn and understand rather than to oppose. Really listen to the speaker without interrupting!

"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said." ~ Peter F. Drucker

3. Clear and secure the space.
Put away your Blackberry or iPhone. Don't check your email, doodle, tap, or shuffle papers. Clear the environment; shut the door!

4. Empathize with the speaker—which is much easier to do if you're not talking.

"Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk." ~ Doug Larson

5. Be patient.

Allow plenty of time for the speaker to talk. Don't interrupt.

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen." ~ Ernest Hemingway.


Roger Ailes, in his book You Are the Message, offers another way to learn how to listen:

"Try going to a week of meetings and saying absolutely nothing unless you're directly asked to speak or you're required to talk. For a week, discipline yourself to go with a notepad to any meeting or interactive situation and listen. Sit quietly for a while, listen, and see what other people are saying. According to the ancient text, Sirach, 'If you love to listen, you will gain knowledge and if you incline your ear, you will become wise.'"