Sunday, December 29, 2013

10 Tips to Connect Like Oprah

Last month I gave a presentation on techniques to “create a rapport” with your audience.  In recalling speakers I had heard or seen on You Tube, I was amazed that my mind was spinning with outstanding speeches and presentations—all delivered by women!

While researching my topic, I stumbled upon one of today’s best-known women – Oprah Winfrey –and her 2013 Harvard graduation speech. I’m sure many people can offer an opinion on Oprah’s success. But if you can’t, the “whys” are all wrapped up and showcased in this speech. It’s too long for sure, but the speech is brimming with examples of humor, pathos, connectivity and caring about humanity—and in this particular presentation, the Harvard graduates and the challenges life has in store for them. 

Oprah delivered and connected with a very personal message learned from her own painful experience: the initial failure of her television network, OWN. She began her speech with infectious, laugh-out-loud humor and then expertly set up her message and gave compelling reasons why the audience should listen.

In addition, the takeaway was memorable and offered universal advice for everyone: embrace your mistakes, mourn if you need to, learn from it, and then move on! Oprah is the complete package; funny, personal, caring, and lighthearted, she’s all the while skillfully using self-deprecating humor to create a rapport with her audience. 

Her speech connected because Oprah was not afraid to share her embarrassing business weaknesses and lessons learned from experiencing failure. After almost rejecting the invitation to be the commencement speaker, she reconsidered and realized she had a powerful life lesson to share with the graduates; that is, “You will fail, but it isn’t life-ending!”

If you’re wondering how you can learn from Oprah, here are some tips for your next speech. 

  1. First determine how you’re going to connect with the audience

  1. For a genuine connection, be candid and share your own experiences 

  1. Tell personal stories that will enhance your message

  1. Map out a beginning, middle and end to the presentation 

  1. Use internal summary to help the audience stay with your message 

6.   Use self-deprecating humor

7.  Give the audience actionable tips to write down and take away

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice, paying special attention to the beginning and end

  1. Read and watch speeches and presentations on YouTube 

      10.  Get feedback and coaching from other professionals

You may not be asked to give the graduation address at Harvard, but speaking is a great way to grow your business—so you should look for every opportunity to do so!

And if you have additional tips for connecting with an audience, I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proven Techniques to Engage an Audience

I was recently asked to join a panel of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s preeminent media trainers. There was no need to stress over a topic, as my speaking assignment came with the invitation. My job on the “Being a Master Messenger” panel was to expound upon proven techniques for “Creating a Rapport with Your Audience” – or as I quickly renamed the title, “Connecting with Your Audience.” Sorry, but “connecting” is just so much gutsier than “rapport.”

Rarely have I done so much work for so little air time yet been so satisfied with time spent. Having only five minutes (which were overseen by a no-nonsense moderator) got my attention and challenged me to start my research immediately.

I began by listing the techniques I would address and then identified 10 speakers who had used one or more of them successfully. Once that was settled, I could begin researching videos and work on editing clips with Woody Griffin, a young and highly talented video editor at Beyond Pix Studios – the hosting company.

So my search for speakers who “connect” exceptionally well began. I had watched and been impressed with Michelle Obama’s highly successful 2012 Democratic NationalConvention speech. From her dramatic entrance in a multi-colored designer gown to lights, music, smile and endearing swagger, she immediately connected with the delegates (and no doubt a greater audience beyond the convention floor). Her speech writer did a masterful job of giving her dialogue using self-deprecating humor, a tool which helped her successfully connect with the audience while telling personal stories to humanize her husband. She succeeded in getting the audience to laugh and delivered a better understanding of the guy she calls Baa-rack. 

Next I settled on Steve Jobs, as I had just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography. In 2005 Steve Jobs was asked to give a graduation speech at Stanford University. But the back story is that Steve struggled with what to say and how to put together the speech. He asked for help in writing it; when none came and the day grew closer, he had no choice but to write it himself.

Jobs decided to develop the themes he wanted the graduates to take away by telling stories from his life and in doing so chose a time honored way of “connecting” with an audience. As long as a speaker doesn’t preach, we – old and young alike – love hearing a good story. His extremely personal speech turned out to be one of Jobs’s best and also one of the shortest he ever delivered.

Connecting with a judge and jury requires extraordinary delivery skills. The brilliant litigator David Boies is probably the best there is in a courtroom today. In a CNN Money interview, he discusses the secrets to his success in engaging an audience. Boies believes it is his “naturalness”—that he is not artificial, which enables him to connect with an audience. But in the final analysis he attributes his communication skills to preparation: the huge amount of often tedious work and reading that goes into preparing for a trial.  Quite amazing considering that Boies is dyslexic! Since authenticity is a must for successful speaking, I realized that David Boies needed to be included. The “interview” video was a departure; but I thought it worked extremely well, so Boies became my third choice.

Oprah Winfrey’s 2013 speech to Harvard graduates was my final selection. She used the technique of giving advice from her own painful personal experience to connect with the graduates. The speech was brilliant and funny; but with my commentary and the three video clips already selected, I was over my allotted 5 minutes. Unfortunately her video clip ended up on the BeyondPix cutting room floor. For anyone interested in hearing a great speech that uses a variety of techniques to connect with an audience, I recommend you look up this one on YouTube. Oprah Winfrey is a master communicator!

Next time you agree to give a speech, decide what you want to say and then select the speaking techniques to help you inspire, motivate and connect with your audience. And if you have used a speaking technique that has worked particularly well in a speech, I would love to hear about it. 

And if you liked this blog, please retweet!


Friday, July 19, 2013

Use Visualization to Get It Right

Big meeting coming up – important date, job interview, dinner party or meeting a new client? Do you think about and visualize how you will greet them, what you’re wearing, where you’ll sit, and how you’ll follow up after an introduction? If you don’t, you should be. Preplanning and following up are important – or should I say essential – before a significant or important introduction, event or meeting.

I’m really talking about how to connect, reassure and make a good and hopefully lasting impression. You have what it takes to accomplish this as it is within you, but you have to know where to reach and retrieve it…and then how to use this energy.

I’ve talked before about the 7-second rule, which is the anticipated amount of time a person takes to decide if they like or will be rejecting you. If you don’t consider this on a fairly regular basis, you need to retool because you’re not doing yourself a service. Like it or not, those first seven seconds in an encounter are very important!

I think of myself as being pretty good at this, but that’s not to say that I don’t have to get myself primed before every significant event or introduction. In preparation I consciously remind myself to visualize the meeting, stand straighter, plan what I’ll be wearing (appearance), pull up my energy, and actively push it out. I also need to engage with a smile which will be probably broader than usual and extend my hand with energy that will be felt fully through my grasp. Perhaps most important in the U.S. culture is the need to make eye contact, which is engaging but not intimidating.

At the beginning of each personal coaching session, I ask my client to remember when he/she has done extremely well in a speech, presentation or important introduction. As they recall the event, they usually articulate everything on the teaching agenda. Doing a personal recall is a great visualization technique and definitely facilitates learning.  Recalling when you really did well is extremely effective because we can see ourselves and recall the personal experience again to remember why the interaction or event was successful. With that memory bank accessed, the coaching proceeds effortlessly.

And I would be remiss without mentioning the importance of planning what you want to accomplish. Often it’s important to start any meeting by listening to get a better sense of what the other person wants to accomplish. Absorb the atmosphere, look for resistance, and then (with a smile!) chart your course.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tips for Great Messaging, Design and Delivery

I’ve been consulting and coaching management teams and designing their important presentations for 20+ years. Early in the process of building my business, I identified a need for specific services and pioneered a turnkey one-stop shopping for companies engaged in private equity fundraising, M&A or the IPO process.

As a result I know a little bit about working with tight deadlines, speaker preparation, and motivating and training busy executives to focus, deliver and engage a skeptical investor who may be half-listening in the midst of a chattering hostile market.

After hundreds of assignments across diverse industries such as semiconductor, software, venture capital, legal, security, gaming, agriculture, retail, cleantech and medical device, I continue to work with my clients to improve their individual delivery skills to move, inform and motivate an audience.

Sometimes all that’s required is a review and clean up of an existing slide presentation or providing coaching and video feedback for an individual speaker to brush up and dust off rusty delivery skills. But more often the assignment is a start-from-scratch, complete package that includes slide concept and design as well as personal delivery skills coaching and Q&A training for the management team.   

Whatever the speaking engagement, I’m always focused on clarity and consistency in design and pitch. And if the presentation includes visuals, I take care to ensure that the visuals enhance the spoken word and never compete with it.

Visuals are powerful and will steal the spotlight if a speaker hasn’t been taught the power of an image and the importance of crafting a message to work with it. Presentation graphics should support the speaker’s unique story, engage the audience, and not override, dilute or blur the message.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Five Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

In 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his spellbinding poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” His opening line – “Listen my children and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere” – dramatically calls out to pay attention to the exciting story about to unfold.

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.'"

“In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear 
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere
 –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Check Your Nonverbal Communication, BEFORE You Speak!

It’s generally agreed that a significant amount of what is communicated between people is conveyed nonverbally. Research in the 1950s and 1960s established nonverbal communication as an acknowledged science, and today studies continue on the differences among cultures and between sexes in body language: gestures, eye contact, touch, facial expression, posture, space and clothing (what you wear).

Knowledge of how you communicate nonverbally is especially important if you’re a woman. First, let’s get out of the way the fact that a woman, regardless of her culture, is often viewed with sexual overtones by a man. If you accept that premise, you’re wise to consider carefully what you wear when you’re presenting. Equally important is how you stand, gesture, and use your body in talking with a group of men and women.

How you hold yourself and use your body has a lot to do with how commanding and charismatic your presence will be, as well as how powerfully your message will come across to an audience. If you’re uncomfortable with who you are, it will make others uncomfortable too!

Here are a few tips to raise your comfort factor.

  • Align yourself from head to toe. Stand with your feet 12 inches apart and distribute your weight evenly on each foot.
  • Dress should be determined by the image you wish to convey. Are you a woman lawyer in a courtroom? Wear a blue or black suit, Are you a motivational speaker? Wear a red blazer so you’ll become a visual point for your audience.
  • If you’re a speaker on a panel, don’t slouch or hunch over in your chair. Lean into the speaker’s table. Answer questions by looking straight at the questioner, and remember to speak up so you can be heard. 
  • Exude confidence. Remember a time when you gave an impressive presentation. Recall that moment and carry that feeling with you. Your innate body language will help convey conviction to your message.

If you practice articulating your confidence nonverbally, you’ll capture your audience before you say a word!

Have any insight or questions about nonverbal communication? Put it in the comments!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Top 10 Rules for an Equity Road Show

When coaching a management team that's raising equity for a private or public offering, I always first work individually and then pull them together for coaching as a team.

To illustrate, a company’s IPO roadshow is a chance for investors to meet the management team and watch them pitch the investment opportunity. Delivering the message is a rite of passage and an important exercise for management to perfect the art of selling, coordinate roles and answer questions effectively.

And, interested investors gain information about the company and valuable insight into a team from watching them deliver their story, interact with each other and field questions. How the management team persuades and performs can provide a window into how the company will execute going forward.  

Here are some tips to ensure successful team presentations.
  1. Work as a team. Share the spotlight. Investors don’t want to invest in a one-man/woman band.
  2. Practice as a team to develop a smooth cadence to present a seamless company story.
  3. Manage Q&A. Identify likely investor questions and prepare answers. Decide who will answer a particular question. Never try to wing it or bluster through, as investors know when you’re not telling the truth or your answer is tentative.
  4. Memorize the presentation and slide order.
  5. Know all the parts in case you have to fill in for a team member. (I still remember a CFO who got sick in Amsterdam and couldn’t make several meetings!)
  6. Practice Q&A etiquette. Remember that there are no dumb questions. Always answer a question with enthusiasm and as if it’s the first time you’ve ever been asked.
  7. Listen carefully to questions and think before you answer. If you prepared adequately, the answer is in your head waiting to be downloaded.
  8. Ears have lousy memories, so never refer back to the presentation to make a point (i.e., “As you may recall, I went over this information in the roadshow.”).
  9. Be prepared. Research the attendees before the meeting.
  10. Set a goal. Close every meeting and get the order!

Monday, April 8, 2013

11 Ideas to Make an Audience Listen

  1. Start with a strong opening.
  2. Connect to the listener’s self-interest. Ask yourself, “What does the audience need?”
  3. Project warmth, friendliness and knowledge.
  4. Have something interesting to say.
  5. Create a dialogue between you and your audience; remember, one is giving and the other is getting.
  6. Remember that listening and paying attention are hard work.
  7. Look good: communicate that your audience is important.
  8. Be entertaining.
  9. Use your eyes to connect with different people in your audience.
  10. Use recapitulation and repetition to keep an audience with you.
  11. Throw in a list or two, as people like to take notes.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tips for Developing a Speaking "Presence"

"Presence" is hard to define, much less teach! It usually comes from within as a natural ability to enter a room, take control of the dynamics, and actually embrace and appreciate  the opportunity to talk to a room full of people—an audience.

Presence means enjoying being center stage, whether speaking at a TED Conference or being interviewed for what you hope will be a favorable review of your book. Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and #10 on the Forbes list of the most powerful women in the world) and Thomas Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems and C3Energy (see previous post "Making a Connection") are people who relish being in front of a group and having many venues to speak and persuade.

People with presence generally dress well and like looking good. With those pesky details put away, they can concentrate on speaking directly to an audience—and they do so quite successfully! In fact, usually they over-prepare. To watch Sheryl Sandberg’s style of speaking, I suggest watching two of her commencement speeches: Barnard College in 2011 and Harvard Business School in June 2012.

To develop presence, you need to practice and speak at every opportunity. Speaking to entertain or persuade – if you're making a pitch for money – requires the same skills: excellent eye contact, an ability to "lean into" your audience, creative story telling, and sincerity.

Steve Jobs, who many regard as a terrific speaker, wasn’t always so. He had speech writers to take his thoughts and turn them into copy, coaches to show him how to deliver a speech with inflection and pauses, and then help blocking it out on stage and working on timing and transitions if using slides.

Learn to make eye contact with your audience. This requires practice and lots of it. Again, you need to practice because most people unconsciously favor one side of the room over another; it's work to connect with both sides of a room.

Use every opportunity to stand to deliver your message, answer or ask a question. Standing allows you to use your whole body, throw out energy and project your voice.

And finally, identify early on why you're speaking and what you want your audience to get. What should they take away from your speech or presentation? Limit your presentation to three concepts, as you won’t have time to develop more and an audience can’t remember more!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Six Tips for Creating and Using Slides in a Presentation

  1. Let’s start by stating the obvious: slides should support the spoken word, not compete with it. Whatever you’re speaking about should be reinforced by the text/visual. You are the director, so remember that a graphic (whether created in PowerPoint or Keynote) is more powerful than the speaker. Pay attention to the words on each slide. Your story should be synchronized and reinforced through the words or graphics.
  2. Speak no more than 20 minutes, or you risk losing your audience. You are the message; no matter how dynamic your presentation skills, an audience just can’t stay focused on your pitch because the mind is programmed to wander. Work to make a quick and impactful connection with your audience!
  3. A presentation with slides is not a speech.  Know the difference and don’t confuse the two mediums in delivering the message.
  4. Keep text on slides to a minimum. The fewer words on a slide, the better. Whenever possible, cut articles and modifiers and never let copy wrap to a second line.
  5. Use as many slides as you need to keep pace with your presentation.
  6. Text font size should be from 28 to 32 point, and use 40 point for slide titles.
Incorporate these tips into your next slide presentation to achieve a powerful pitch and connection with your audience.






Monday, March 11, 2013

Tips to Help You Make That Connection

Back in November 2011, Dorothy Rabinowitz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and commentator, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about Newt Gingrich and his rise in the polls due to his debate performances.

Rabinowitz closed her editorial by musing that “No candidate in the field comes close to his talent for connection. There’s no underestimating the importance of such a power in the presidential election ahead or any other one.”

Despite his considerable ability to connect with an audience, Newt didn’t get the nomination. When the debates were finished, front runner Mitt Romney proved again and again that he had little talent to move voters emotionally or get out the vote. President Obama, meanwhile, continued to perform before adoring crowds, effectively illustrating his ability to engage and connect with voters.

I recently attended the AGC Partners Information Securityand Emerging Growth Conference in San Francisco. At noon – 12:05, to be exact – I slipped into an aisle seat just in time to hear a keynote speech by Thomas Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems and CEO of his most recent software company, C3 Energy.

Siebel began his presentation by immediately coming down from the stage at the far end of the room and walking briskly up the center aisle, all the while talking and making eye contact with as many in the audience as possible. His enthusiasm for what C3 Energy was accomplishing was contagious. Siebel was having a good time and clearly wanted us to join him.
His slides could have benefited from clearer design and larger type, but Siebel nevertheless used them well because I found myself concentrating hard to decode the graphics and understand the message. His delivery was so persuasive that despite my misgivings, I found myself wanting to please him, connect with him, and engage with his story.
Within minutes we were all in the speech together as Siebel became a cheerleader, explaining the early success of C3 Energy. He made a connection with his audience on many levels, and the positive energy flowing between the audience and speaker was quite amazing.
For a connection to be successful, energy and enthusiasm must flow both ways. Imagine a line of arrows on a circulating conveyor belt and you’ll begin to understand the physics of an unbroken connection.
So how do you master the dynamics of connecting successfully with an audience? Speak often and be enthusiastic and passionate about what you have to say. I suspect Tom Siebel has given hundreds of speeches. But regardless of the number of speeches he’s delivered, his speech had a freshness and newness that could come only from a genuine desire to teach and share his vision.
Making a dynamic and memorable connection with an audience may sound easy, but it isn’t.  It takes practice and lots of it. It means ramping up your enthusiasm and working the crowd, whether in a small room or conference hall. It means caring about the quality of the experience gained by the people who have come to hear you speak. It means experimenting with humor or pathos, as both can work wonders in forging a connection.
Study master communicators. No time? Check a news feed. Today the new Pope Francis is in the news constantly and displaying an ability to connect with old and young through his humility and straightforward style.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York who was also in the running, has a different way of communicating. He isn’t afraid to use emotion and is a skilled humorist who delights in turning the negative into a positive.
When asked about the church teachings, Dolan described them as a gift and said, “Let’s perhaps work on a way to wrap it in a more attractive way.” Whether in Italy or New York, Cardinal Dolan has an infectious ability to connect with an audience by delivering enthusiasm and joy.
Making a connection usually means wanting to change hearts and minds, to share knowledge, to make sure that the audience leaves with more than they expected to get.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

VISUAL Memory is Powerful

Dec. 14, 2012 - 10:15 am.  With my carry-on bag tucked snugly into the overhead bin, I settled in, blessed to have secured an aisle seat, on Virgin America’s Flight 23. After four hectic days, I was returning to San Francisco.

I fastened my seat belt, secured my ear buds and turned on FOX news, fully expecting to hear chair-bound anchors delivering their usual business and social commentary. Instead I was watching reporters on the ground from Newtown, Conn., where law enforcement was sorting out a confusing incident of a gunman or gunmen at a school. As the facts were pieced together and the reporting became clearer, I watched with horror the unfolding in real time of the Sandy Hook School massacre.
Dec. 14 started out in a familiar manner as I juggled my bag, Blackberry and boarding pass while the town car driver deftly navigated a back route from Brooklyn to JFK Airport.
But the day was to be different. It would be memorable for me and many others, the result of images that would be indelibly etched into our visual memories. I’ve lectured on the impact of a visual image over the spoken word many times, but never have I really experienced the power of it so forcefully.
One image in particular was transformative and stands apart next to (and usually overriding) all the additional reporting and photos. It appeared fairly early in the reporting: a photo of an unidentified young woman with dark hair screaming in anguish into her cell phone. No sound or words were necessary—the visual was all-encompassing, with the human tragedy profound and her grief palpable. We heard her!
Three hours later when additional information about the Newtown shooting was released, I was still watching. When I finally got up to stretch my legs and maneuvered my way back to the galley, I took note of the images flashing on the seat-back screens: 90% of the passengers, like I, were tuned into the tragedy as it continued to unfold in horrific detail.