8 Counterintuitive Ways To Be The Best Presenter On Stage: No 8 / 3.16.17

8  WIN THE AUDIENCE Sage advice from Aristotle and other wise men…

Don’t recycle hackneyed ideas but do feel free to steal from the web before you start. See what’s been done. Evaluate what’s dull and what makes your pulse race and use that as a starting point for riffing.  The world is awash in content, so slice it, dice it and allow it to stimulate your thinking. If you do borrow, credit your sources. (Thanks to Rand Fishkin for inspiring this series of blogs. Your blog is awesome and I hope to meet you in person one day).A few other points:

  •  Don’t fear your quirks (unless they create so much static that the audience focuses only on them and not on you) Quirks are memorable and can often telescope your humanity to the audience. This often works to get them on your side.
  • Speak in plain English. Simple (not stupid) is always better than long winded and academic, but don’t talk down.
  • Be smart, but don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. Trying too hard is obnoxious and easily spotted. It will cause the audience to quickly disengage.
  • Limit your topic. Don’t overwhelm with too much information. You don’t have to present the entire history of your subject. A small section, thoroughly explored, is preferable.
  • Put the audience first. Always and without fail. It’s a subtle shift of thinking but once you fully take it on, I guarantee it will lessen your nervousness by putting the focus where it belongs: Off of yourself and on your audience. I rely on this thought when writing and rehearsing every presentation. As one of my mentors, Aristotle, told me: “The audience is the beginning and end of public speaking…It’s all for them, not for you.”

8 Counterintuitive Ways To Rock Your Presentations: No 7 / 3.15.17

7 END STRONG         

If possible, wrap up your presentation with some action the audience can take right then and there to improve their lives or solve a problem. If your presentation is powerful, people will be fired up to take immediate action. Give them something to do.

Other ideas:

The Rule of Three: a series of three elements is a well-known feature of public oratory and a proven way of being memorable. Here are a few ways that some historical greats have deployed this technique:

“Veni, Vidi, Vici.” (“I came, I saw, I conquered.”) Julius Ceasar

“There are three kinds of lie: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Benjamin Disraeli

“A Mars a day helps you to work, rest and play.” Ad slogan for the candy bar.

Close the loop: if you began with a story, conclude it here. If you open with a powerful image, flash it again as a signal to the audience that the talk is coming to a close. Or, if you open by stating a problem, come back to it at the close.

Another reason to finish powerfully: The audience should feel you are energized and ready to take their questions. And in the unlikely event no one pipes up, come prepared to ask them a question. You can then direct them to discuss the answer with the person seated next to them. Get some of them to share what their their neighbor said.

Oh, and when you are finally finished, do not run off the stage. Stand there for a few seconds and bask in the glory. You did it!

Next Up: Authenticity, Aristotle, and Taking Your Pulse

8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage: No. 6 / 3.14.17

6 Open with a Bang! 

Four alternatives to the same old same old

Starting strong is always useful, if for no other reason to get the audience away from those weapons of mass distraction: their smartphones. We live in an over-conferenced world so I want to encourage you to experiment with less predictable ways of launching in.

If you are a conference junkie you’ll know that posing a question has become cliché, unless of course it is a most provocative, timely question that perfectly encapsulates your topic. There are other, equally effective ways to launch. But first, a few things NOT to do:

  • Don’t reintroduce yourself and thank the hosts. Your name is on the program, or the slide behind you. No one is sitting in that seat by accident. Do the formalities after you’ve grabbed them.
  • Don’t have a video or audio that eight times out of ten doesn’t work on cue – this will turn them off. Begin this way at your own risk.
  • Don’t try to be funny. If you’re not naturally funny it will fail. It’s hard to be funny. Instead, find the traits that you do best and emphasize them.

What TO do:

Take a poll

  • Thumbs up, stand up, or show of hands. (Bonus: it gets them to put down their phones.
  • Example: “Raise your hand if you think it’s possible to control someone’s attention?”

Offer a surprising or counterintuitive fact

  • “I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar.”
  • “Today I want to discuss why you’re going to fail to have a great career.” 
  • “Did you know that more people in the world have access to a mobile phone than a toilet?”

Close your eyes and imagine (a fresh way of opening that is not used often)

  • “Close your eyes and imagine waking up in a 13th-century home built into the side of a mountain, stone floor, a roaring fireplace and a steaming mug of coffee laid out on the table before you’ve gotten out of bed…

Personal Revelation (Perhaps. See the opening of this series on assessing the audience)

  • “I need to make a confession. A little over 20 years ago I did something that I regret, something that I’m not particularly proud of. Something that, in many ways, I wish no one would ever know, but that I feel obliged to reveal.”

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to provoke from the get go. State an opinion or a point of view and then make sure your presentation backs it up. If it’s controversial, good, but be prepared for pushback. A little friendly fire is the mark of an engaged audience.

Next Up: Killer Endings

8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage: No. 5 / 3.13.17

5  Move Your Body!

You don’t need to do contortions, but moving mindfully and purposefully on stage accomplishes several things:

  • It changes the energy in a room, which is a good thing after an audience has been listening to you for over 10 minutes.
  • It signals that you are changing topic or tack, so pay attention!
  • And it demonstrates your confidence, whether you have confidence or not. Remember, speakers who are nervous or unprepared or just starting out are usually too busy worrying about perspiring or remembering their scripts to think about elevating their stage presence. Using the stage, no matter how minorly, typically stands you heads above the competition.

The best way to explore moving on stage is to start small and limit your range to what we call the Triangle of Power. (Note: when first trying this, write the stage directions into your script.) Basically there are three routes you can take on stage.

  • Across. Move from one fixed point to another across the stage. Think of this like a section break in a magazine article–to signal a change of topic. Keep the movement simple and calm. You don’t have to walk miles. And do not charge from one point to another.A few calm steps will do. When you land at your designated point, take a pause and settle before speaking again.
  • Forward. When delivering a key point, go forward, as close to the audience as possible. Breaking the imaginary Maginot line that separates speaker from audience is powerful and wakes up the audience. Think of this as the underscore.
  • Lean In. This works in a smaller setting like a conference or board room. When you’re about to make your point, leaning forward and planting your fingertips lightly on the table really drives the message home.

Next Up: Start Strong

8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage, No. 4 / 3.10.17

4 Your most undervalued resource: 

A simple fact: If your voice is flat your presentation will not sound energetic, you will not sound vital and people will tune you out.

You own this instrument so why not put it to use? A good way to explore the power of vocal variation is to play with word emphasis. What words can you accentuate to spark up the power of your content? How can you raise or lower your volume to draw people in? Those two areas require some exploratory work, but one thing you can do instantly is to raise your volume 20% when on stage. That slight shift of volume will hep you sound more energized.

To explore vocal modulation, try this simple exercise below when you’re next alone. Read the following sentences aloud emphasizing the words in bold face. Doing this purposefully requires practice but you will quickly see how placing the emphasis differently changes the meaning and impact of your words.


Mary had a little lamb Mary, not Tom, had the lamb
Mary had a little lamb She had it once, but she does not have it now
Mary had a little lamb She had one, not two, and not ‘the’ lamb
Mary had a little lamb The lamb was little, not big
Mary had a little lamb A lamb, not a sheep


Next Up: Move It!

8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage, No. 3 / 3.9.17

3 SLIDES: Don’t Show It Before You Say It!

When it comes to slides: Don’t allow the audience read it before you say it. Why? The eyes absorb so much faster than the ears. If you use a slide with 10 bullet points I guarantee you they’ll have scanned and absorbed all ten points by the time you’re still warbling through point one. Net net? They’ll be bored and they’ll tune you out or revert to their smartphone. Remember, taking the focus off yourself while on stage is a fatal error and almost everyone does it.

And by the way: slides with 10 bullet points?

No way. Ever! It’s too dense to read. If you must use bullet points use dynamic slides that scroll one point at a time.

The following basics, which come courtesy of graphic designer Garr Reynolds, (that’s another point in creating good presentations, give credit when credit is due!) are useful to creating Insta-Gets. Don’t focus on the aesthetics here. Just remember: Graphics that won’t strain the eyes of your audience make the point.

High Impact Charts

If making a pie chart, highlight the most important points with color or exploding slices. Limit the number of slices to 6.

Tables tend to lack impact. They’re dull and don’t draw focus.

Instead use bar charts to show changes over time. Limit the number of bars to 8.

Horizontal bars work well in comparisons.

If using line charts, illustrate the upward or downward trend with a big arrow. You can easily speak to nuance or detail without competing with a slide like this!

Next up: Your two most undervalued resources. They cost nothing!

8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage, No. 2 / 3.8.17


It beats more charts and graphs 

Rather than adding more slides with yet more data and charts, tell a story. Turn a dull list of information into a problem-struggle-solution narrative. It’s easy to do and applies to so many business presentations. Storytelling is so crucial to powerful presentations that we make it a priority in all our business workshops.

Let me give you an example. When we first met, the inventor of the medical device in the previous blog began his presentation with a long treatise on the nature of disease and followed that with another explanation of how various molecules in certain meds fight the symptoms. This college lecture went on for a LONG and decidedly unthrilling 2 minutes. When I encouraged him to start from a new place, such as how he discovered the problem he was trying to solve, he told me about his dog’s bout with this illness and how it inspired him to come up with a new approach to treatment. I asked him the dog’s name and he told me that Numi wasn’t only his dog, but his best friend, which is why he went to such lengths to save his life.

I insisted that a close up shot of Numi become his first slide.

“To a room of venture capitalists?”

“Exactly,” I said. “They’ve just spent two days in an airless room being subjected to slides and graphs — information. If you tell them your story, and make it real by presenting a character (with a name), you’ll stand out. They’ll remember the telling details you drop and if nothing else, they’ll remember you as the guy who had the guts to start his presentation with a pic of four-legged friend. You’ll be a sort of hero.

“Besides, any serious investor will ask for detailed financials and your business plan to review later. The point of this presentation is to get them slavering to know more.”

His invention was great and he had the room eating from his hand. Someone told him he was the ‘Steve Jobs of the day.’ He closed his round of funding the next morning.

Next up: Graphics That Grab


8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage / 3.7.17

8 Counterintuitive Ways to Be the Best Speaker on Stage

In our over-conferenced world these facts are undeniable: If your presentation doesn’t impress, you won’t be invited back, you won’t be asked to speak elsewhere, and you will have wasted a lot of time and money missing days of work, traveling and stressing about delivering a talk that failed to engage anyone’s attention.

This daily series of posts offers 8 ways to slay your audience of any size, be it 1 person or 1,000. If you can master some of these techniques you’ll lead the pack for the simple reason that your fellow speakers haven’t even thought of them. Yes, it requires extra effort but it’s worth it, especially if you want to be memorable (or leave the others in the dust).

1 The S-Word

The S word— “surprise” – is the most overlooked virtue of any presentation. Put it to work. Don’t tell them what they already know—that’s so dull and, in a way patronizing, as it underestimates what they already know. Oh, and how to assess the level of your audience’s knowledge? Ask the organizers who’ll be in attendance or take a few minutes to cruise some of their profiles right here in LinkedIn.

Surprise occurs in many ways. You can present counterintuitive or contradictory ideas. You can start one place but end up somewhere completely different. You can also use a prop. One client had invented a complex medical device that is the size of a Sonos speaker and fits neatly on a kitchen counter. To create that element of surprise, he entered the stage pushing a gigantic a box the size of a Subzero refrigerator on wheels. After recounting the amazing feat of engineering required to get this device from concept to fruition it came time for the reveal. He opened the massive box and pull out his compact device and held it in the palm of his hand. The room gasped. His presentation gave the audience what it needed but not what it expected and the funders responded, giving him the millions he needed in return.

Next up: Replace Your Charts with These Two Elements

Stephen Colbert’s secret to owning a stage? Exhaustion! / 1.10.17


It wasn’t seamless going from playing Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report to being Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. On a recent episode of Fresh Air the comedian-turned-talk-show-host shared some good insights with Terry Gross about how he finally relaxed into his new role.

The lessons he shared can also be applied to anyone who wants to be natural and compelling onstage. Here are a few things you can try if you seriously want to win an audience. And by the way, there’s no irony intended here.

  • Do less. Accept that you – not your stage tricks or techniques – are the focus of your audience’s attention.
  • Satisfy the audience: Give them something that warrants their attention.
  • Practice, then practice more, until self-consciousness dissipates. This will take longer than you anticipate. Remember, people rehearse TED Talks on average 100 hours until they completely own their material. Owning material is deeper than simply memorizing a script. Not until a neural pathway in the brain is created will your anxiety begin to slip away.
  • Stay busy. It keeps what you’re doing in perspective. Although standing on stage may feel like a life and death situation it isn’t. The virtue of other competing pressures is that they will allow you less time for overthinking and becoming overwrought.

Here are two bits of sage advice from Colbert (italics mine) that are worth keeping in mind.

On holding the spotlight:

“When The Late Show began…I thought, what level of energy do I need to fill this space?… My first choice was to err on the side of energy until I realized that kick dancing actually doesn’t translate, and so I started eliminating things.

What you learn eventually — and this is something I knew sort of intellectually but I’d forgotten instinctually — is that you actually don’t need high energy. You need your own sense of presence and focus. You can bend an entire room by bending a paperclip if you’ve got the focus of the room. If you accept that you are the focus of the audience, you don’t need to do high kicks. You just need to be there, present for them.”

On the hidden virtues of exhaustion:

“Exhaustion is a great gift that comes from doing a show like this over and over … you actually lose all those second thoughts and then you’re allowed to sort of be yourself ….

About six months into the show, I went, ‘OK, I don’t have any energy left to overthink this. I just have to do what instinctually feels good’…. And every aspect of the show got better and got easier. It became more like me because I didn’t have the time or the energy to think about it anymore.

I’ll tell you who actually gave me a hint about that is Steve Higgins, who’s Fallon’s announcer and sort of sidekick. I’ve known him for many years, and he’s a lovely guy. When we started doing two shows on Thursday he said,  ‘You’re going to love it.’

I said, ‘Why? It’s going to kill me.’

And he goes, ‘No, that second show is how you should do the show every week because you’ll be too tired to worry about whether you’re making the right choices. And he’s absolutely right.'”

So, there you have it. To win on stage aim your focus on the audience and away from yourself by any means necessary.

Here’s the full interview:




The Secret to Conquering Nervousness and Increasing Confidence When Presenting / 9.27.16

scary-audience“I get so nervous every time I speak in public. No matter how much I rehearse I forget my script, get swept up in self-consciousness. What can I do?”

I hear this question all the time, and and I feel your pain. We all have different anxiety responses and your symptoms are fairly common.

What I’m going to say may sound simplistic, but often the best wisdom is right in front of you. If you can allow this to sink in and wash over you it will be life changing, or at least it will change the way you view public speaking: Stop thinking about yourself and instead, focus on what you have to offer the audience. If you can make this subtle but profound shift of consciousness you will make huge strides toward easing your anxiety. After all, you’ve spent the time and put in the hours to make yourself an expert at the topic you’re discussing. The audience is there to hear you. It’s your job to deliver to them what they need.

The ever wise Nancy Duarte explains this in the Starwars dynamic.

“…Master Yoda has a thing or two to teach us about being a powerful presenter. No, it’s not sharing profound thoughts like: “Always in motion is the future….” (You don’t say!) Yoda’s secret is his role as a mentor.

As a mentor, he has vast knowledge – after all he has trained Jedi knights for 800 years – but he’s not constantly spouting off about his own achievements or skills. Despite being the expert, his focus is not on himself but on helping young Luke Skywalker to become a better hero.

…You, as the presenter…are not the most important guy/girl in the room. Just because you’re on a stage or in front of a crowd does not make you the savior everyone has been waiting for. (This applies whether you are addressing a conference of ten thousand or holding a team meeting with three people.) Recognize that you are Yoda, not Luke. The most important people in the room are your audience.”

So the next time you’ve got the jitters on stage, focus outward on the audience. Show them benefits of listening to you, acknowledge their conflicts and struggles and offer them solutions—this is especially productive with sales people. Summon your generosity and think about all that you have offer them, be it a story that explains something complex in simple terms, a useful interpretation of numbers or statistics, or an experience that will open their eyes and minds to a new way of seeing the world.

Yoda helped Luke discover his personal power. You do the same!

“I was on the edge of my seat throughout this workshop…” / 8.22.16


At the end of every presentation skills workshop, we ask for feedback from the participants and encourage them to be as honest with us as we’ve been with them. I have never posted any of the feedback previously, but this critique describes our “Presenting with Power” workshop–and the universal principles upon which it is based — so eloquently that I requested and received permission to use it publically. Philip Cowell is the head writer at Here. Design (, the award-winning) design and branding studios in London. I am humbled by his response and honored to have worked with him and the entire team.

 What segments of “Presenting with Power” delivered for you? In what ways?

The space and time to think and feel through my public persona and experience how I present myself (in every sense) was both challenging and nourishing. Joe creates a safe-ish space to do this – and I mean safe-ish in a good way! It has to be safe, but it also has to be unsafe enough for growth. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the workshop, again – on the edge in a really good way! – because Joe’s delivery helped me feel alert, excited and nervous, and excited about my nervousness, all at once. My favourite segments were on the body; I love any work that helps me come back to my embodiment, and the power that lies within it, and Joe’s workshop and approach is very attuned to the body. By the end of the workshop, I realised that “presenting with power” is about “presence-ing” – if you turn up to the moment as it is, you automatically gain the power that is inside you. I like the word “presence-ing” because it sounds like “presence” and “sing”, and there is something songful about someone enjoying their powerful presence.

What could have been better or different and how? Please be honest—as I was with you. 

I wanted the presentations in the PresFest to feel less rushed at the end, which might be my fault (partly) as one of the earlier presenters who went over the allocated 2 mins. I wonder if Joe could be more strict on the 2 min timings and stop people the second they go over? Keeping to time limitation is, after all, part of being a powerful presenter.

Another idea might be to spread the presentations throughout the second day, so they are spread out a bit (and each one leads to “learnable moments” for everyone.) Having said that, Joe is very time-conscious throughout and I felt very well-held the whole time, knowing where I was and what was expected of me at each stage. I might have loved one or two bits more of neuroscience but I’m a neuroscience junky so ignore that.

On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate this experience? Feel free to compare it to other workshops you’ve taken or simply how it met or failed to meet your expectations. 

I’ve done quite a few workshops in this area, not to do with presenting as such, but certainly to do with power and having presence. Joe is exceptional. He is an exciting speaker, a strong speaker, and a thoughtful speaker. Joe talks the talk and walks the walk – he himself presents with power (and in a way I think I learnt as much from his nonverbal teaching as his verbal). His approach is rooted in some top quality research and a multitude of practices which really appeal – the stuff on hostage negotiators was fascinating. Joe’s way with words is wonderful and I often wrote down things just because of the way he had said them – e.g. “Let us luxuriate in your thinking.” Joe is counter cultural. His work goes against the grain of what we’re taught and told as kids and young adults. Joe should rewrite the primary school curriculum or something! So I’m giving this a strong, heartfelt 9 out of 10. With gratitude, Joe!






Is Your Mission Statement Meaningful? (And the hidden dangers of it being meaningless) / 4.18.16

Is your mission: Clear, inspirational and realistic? Chances are it's not.

Is your mission: Clear, inspirational and realistic? Chances are it’s not.

Lately, several young companies have asked me to help them compose their mission statements before taking their presentations on the road. I quickly learned that most mission statements are terrible. They are vague and unclear. They rely on jargon which is abstract and non-specific, and they have unrealistic goals. A good mission statement should inspire and clarify. It’s no place for abstraction.

Often, by the time a company has called me, they’ve spent weeks futzing over this word or that word only to arrive at something fuzzy and ultimately meaningless. Here’s what most mission statements sound like: “We want to be a leader in the space industry through team-centered innovation and strategic aerospace initiatives.”

Recast to be jargon-free, inspirational and realistic that could be revised to: “We want to put a man on the moon.”

See the difference?

Here are three examples of mission statements that fail because they lack clarity of ideas and clarity of language to express those ideas.

  • “To achieve profitable growth through superior customer service, innovation, quality and commitment.”
  • “To lead every market we serve to the benefit of customers and shareholders.”
  • “To maximize long terms stockholder value while adhering to the law….to operate at all times by observing the highest ethical standards.”

Writing a strong mission statement is less about word smithing than idea crafting. Formulating ideas is far more challenging than parsing words — after all, there is no thesaurus of ideas—but it’s really worth spending the time to align your communication with your business goals. You have to dig deep to achieve clarity of purpose, but when you hit it, you’ll know.

To write a mission statement that is really useful and truly memorable:

  • Make it explicit
  • Eliminate vagueness and eliminate industry jargon
  • Aim high but strive to make your outcome concrete and inspirational.

Two excellent questions to ask before you begin are: “If you could excel at one thing, what would it be?” and “How will you know when your mission has been accomplished?”

One final thought: inspiration without a reality check equals grandiosity, and grandiosity is pointless. A recent study examining 100 mission statements concluded that the most grandiose were actually the least inspiring. One small company decided that its mission would be to “eliminate world hunger,” a noble enterprise until it was discovered that the organization was only five people strong, which made it unworkable, out of reach and destined to fail.

The best mission statement in that study came from the actor/social activist Brad Pitt, who launched an organization called “Make It Right” which was formed in response to the slow progress in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Make It Right’s mission was concrete, inspiring and very focused: It wanted to “build 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward.” It was achievable, motivating and it answered the question: “How will we know once we’ve succeeded.”

Mission accomplished!





How One Presentation Won This Company $5 million! / 11.24.15


Everyone faces challenges when making a presentation, whether to an audience of 1 or 1,000. Some are crippled by anxiety; others don’t know what to do with their bodies. One recent client, an entrepreneur/engineer I’ll call J, failed to correctly assess his audience. This was almost fatal.

J called me in a panic ten days before he was to address a large manufacturer about the intersection of technology and toys. The stakes were high: he was hoping that the company would acquire his start up or at least make a substantial investment. (No matter how unrealistic your goal may be, it helps to know what you’re gunning for. It focuses the mind and informs all content decisions.)

Before beginning I explained that one-on-one training is highly immersive and varies depending on each client’s concerns. It can include content creation, strengthening delivery, or selecting the most intriguing visuals. Overall, it equips clients with tools that enable them to share their ideas, personality, and stories with an audience of 1 or 1,000. These are tools — not rules – that you’ll employ given the audience, setting and desired outcome. I stressed that a great presenter allows his or her authenticity and passion to shine through. Connecting emotionally with an audience is the goal. Once that’s established everything flows.

J’s was facing 450 executives and his aim was to provoke them by showing them how out of touch they were with the buying patterns of millennial parents. He wanted to pique them further by telling them that by ignoring new technologies they were making themselves irrelevant. In short, he was going insult his audience. 

Never a good idea.

I suggested instead that he tell them a story, recounting his own journey to parenthood and how it affected his decision to launch a tech company aimed at new moms and dads. As a nervous father J was constantly checking on his baby daughter while she slept, fearful that she might stop breathing. The technology he ended up developing turns data – room temperature, outside noise, an infant’s rate of breathing — into immediate feedback that reassures parents that all’s well. It saved him sleep and saved his marriage. In other words: rather than telling the execs how out of touch their company was, he told them instead how out of touch he was.

J took it on and embellished the story with a few carefully selected statistics to bolster his argument. He was insightful about how growing up in a digitally connected world was changing the ways millennial parents viewed their lives, even something as simple as a toy, and he had a few specific stories to back this up.

Once the content was compelling we moved to delivery.

J speaks with machine-gun rapidity so we practiced dramatic pausing to slow him down. At 6’4” he is a big guy so he learned to use his body to control the energy in the room. We worked on replacing filler words (“you know,” “um,” “like,” “actually”) with powerful language. Finally, I urged him to leave his audience with One Big Thought to chew on – one Tweetable line — which he was able to do. This speech was compiled, practiced, and refined over 8 hours.

After his talk I asked J how it went: “I killed it, in their words,” he told me. “They are now offering up strategic investment of $5 million.”

He added that after his presentation he was swarmed with questions — that’s a great way to gauge a presentation’s success and the value of training. The $5 million investment didn’t hurt either.

One Key To Persuasion: Get Into Your Audience’s Head / 11.23.15


If you want to connect with an audience it really helps to get inside their heads. This is true in politics, as this article demonstrates, but it’s also true when trying to close a deal or nail a sale. Understanding the values of the people you’re speaking to helps you to make a better emotional or empathetic connection. It’s worth considering when making your next presentation.


In today’s business environment where one meeting can make the difference between success and failure it’s crucial to make your presentations as concise, compelling and, yes, entertaining as possible. While your audience may love your product or service, they’ll also be evaluating you on leadership, confidence and your ability to field tough questions on the fly. How you communicate is crucial to passing these tests.

This immersive workshop takes place in 2 four-hour sessions over 2 days. Participants master techniques enabling them to:

  • Connect with and involve their audience
  • Tell compelling stories and deliver a great elevator pitch
  • Use their voice and body to appear more authoritative
  • Replace verbal mush and filler words with powerful language
  • Compose and structure a presentation of any length
  • Overcome nervousness
  • Be memorable.

Sign up here.

New Rules of Public Speaking / 8.27.15




OK, the info contained below isn’t all that new, but it is useful. The 9th rule — and most important rule — is to find a great coach or trainer who can help you hone in on you issues, offer corrections and assist you in finding the tools that move you from Good to Great. But reading about improving presentation skills isn’t enough. You must put them into practice and keep exercising them. None of this comes naturally. But if you’ve read this far and your curiosity is piqued click here for more.


Why Obama’s Version of “Amazing” Grace Hit All The Right Notes / 7.4.15


Obama sings

As anyone who has taken one of our “Presenting With Power” workshop knows, two key elements to great presentations are surprise and the ability to hit listeners in their hearts. (The most important ingredient of course is WHAT you say, not HOW you say it.) Obama hit a triple home run in his historic Charleston eulogy and Michiko Kakutani hit it on the head in the enclosed New York Times piece today. Happy Independence Day!

Saving The World From Boring Presentations One Speaker At A Time / 5.28.15


Presentation Training Workshop, NYC

When: June 10 & 11, 9AM-1PM

Where: Space 530, 530 7th Ave @ 39 St., Mezzanine Level, NYC


Whether securing funding, closing a sale or spreading your ideas and getting them to stick, compelling presentations are key to everyone’s success. Yet few know the basic principles of becoming effective, comfortable and compelling speaker.

In this fun and challenging immersive workshop participants will master modern techniques of presenting that enable them to:

  • Connect with and involve their audience
  • Tell compelling stories
  • Use their voice and body language to make them more authoritative
  • Replace verbal mush with powerful language
  • Compose and structure a presentation of any length
  • Overcome nervousness
  • Be memorable.

What others have said:

“We worked with Joe Dolce Communications on training our team to give pitches to investors and other audiences, and we were very pleased with the process. They fit an amazing amount of practice, helpful tips and tricks, and useful feedback into two half days of work. As a result, we’re extending the training to other folks in the office.” –Josh Auerbach, Partner, CFO Betaworks

“Joe is amazing. I contacted him last minute for help and two weeks late I delivered my presentation in front of 450 people, changed a public company’s global strategy, and was offered a huge strategic investment. ‘You killed it’ was my favorite response.” — Chris Bruce, CEO | Sproutling

“I’ve had a great experience working with JDC. I was nervous at first but found our sessions to contain just the right combination of straight talk and encouragement. It became obvious to me that he really knows his business when he took my script and re-wrote it, but in my voice. What a relief!” — Fred Kiel, Co-Founder, KRW International; author, Return on Character



How To Get On Shark Tank / 4.23.15

shark-tank1by Cheryl Lambert

Last week Rutgers Business School called me to help dozens of their graduates get  on Shark Tank.

If you’ve never seen it, the show is a strangely compelling mix of an investor pitch and American Idol. It attempts to simulate what a meeting in front of potential investors feels like, only jazzed up a bit with some suspenseful music, a panel of colorful venture capitalists, (aka Sharks), and a studio audience. Before you can get on TV, you first have to get through the Shark Tank Scouts and prove that you’re camera ready. Running that gauntlet is even more nerve wracking: you have a mere 60 seconds to impress the scouts.  That’s it – – just one minute.

My work was cut out for me.

I had 30+ contestants to coach and their ideas were all over the map. There was Ted with his all-season shovel apparatus, Leslie and her artisanal jams, Jason armed with an antidote for stomach aches, Rose cradling pots of rejuvenating face cream, and dozens more. I’m going to focus on Marc, a pharmacist, and a product that will replace cocktail mixers : Color Fizzies.

Marc introduced himself and thanked the audience for their attention —an utter waste of 8 precious seconds in EVERY presentation. It’s rare an audience doesn’t know who you are. He then explained that he was tired of the huge number of tools one needed to be a party mixologist so he invented a tablet in an eye catching packet that could be added to water and replace the shaker, strainer, mixer, stirrer, and half dozen bar essentials. By this time, 30 seconds had passed. He needed to get to Color Fizzies in a dramatic manner, capture our imagination, and do it all sooner!

Luckily, Marc had brought with him two dozen bar tools and had lined them up on the table. This gave me an idea. What if Marc walked onto the stage and before saying a word, raised his hand and wiped the stainless steel paraphernalia to the floor? He could then hold up Color Fizzies, and tell us about his new invention that let hosts entertain without hassles. This dramatic intro took less than 5 seconds.  It did the trick.

Marc practiced several times, making sure he kept looking at the audience, and projected his voice over the person seated in the back row. We also worked on a brief anecdote about Color Fizzies making their debut at New York’s Spring Fashion Week—I wanted him to tell us that Fizzies had already been sampled by early adopters. Marc wrapped this 60-second lap with the dollar investment he was seeking.  Everyone applauded.

Marc opened the door for others to try things they had never dreamed of doing. At the end of our four hour session all of the pitches improved.  Each person had a  genuine and authentic script, energizing stories, and concise language. With tens of thousands of Shark Tank aspirants competing for the season’s 100 spots, it’s a long shot.  Nonetheless, these entrepreneurs learned about presenting well, and doing so within a memorable minute.

More on Feedback… / 12.17.14


From Cheryl Lambert, President of JDC, with a specialty in Executive Development

Providing critical feedback is tough for most of us.  Frankly, unless we like inflicting pain and causing discomfort, why would anyone choose to tell another person that her presentation was awful, that he should learn to answer the questions directly, that she ought to wait until others are finished speaking instead of interrupting, and the list goes on.

We should provide critical feedback because we care about developing others.  Our careers depend on it. Without individuals ready to step into our shoes, how can we move on to positions of more responsibility?

Furthermore, if someone gets this feedback delivered in the right way, it can make a huge and positive difference in their career. I found employing “the sandwich” a powerful and effective way to deliver feedback, especially critical feedback where performance improvement is sought.  I’ve even heard the sandwich referred to as the “Loving Sandwich.”  

Essentially, just like a sandwich, there are three parts – two slices of bread and the filling.

Here’s how it works.  The first part is something positive, so the recipient can take in this good news and feel confident about her work.  “Your presentation was incredible.  I could tell that you researched every detail that would be important to the client.”  (Be careful not to just say “good job!”  The more specific we can be with the feedback, the better for everyone.)

Then we have the filling, and this is the area where we are looking for someone to up their game,  improve their performance.   “Our client expected a presentation of no more than fifteen minutes, and I could see that when you spoke for more than 25, several in the room were looking at their wristwatches.”

And the third piece.  “I can help you out with next week’s presentation, timing everything, so that our client‘s expectations are met.   You put a great deal of effort into this and I’m confident that you can succeed in every way at the next meeting.”

Before trying the sandwich, jot down your thoughts and look them over.  Make sure that the first piece of feedback is welcoming and positive, a vote of confidence as it were.  The second piece, the filling, zeroes in on what needs   tweaking, what should be different the next time so there’s more success.  And the third and final piece can reiterate your confidence in the person, or outline a suggested path to getting to an improved performance.

More sandwich examples – –

“Robert, you were incredibly prepared, and had all of the data the boss demanded.  When he asked you about samples 3 – 5, you said “no” each time.   Take it from me: I’ve worked for this fellow for years, and he doesn’t like to hear the word “no.”  Next time, you can say- – well, when I examined the data for processes 3 – 5 I found that …. or that’s an interesting question.  The samples I took reveal that….  Just try not to say “no!”  And you are such a quick study, I’m confident you can pull this off.  We’ll have the next opportunity at Thursday’s meeting, and we can have a dry-run the previous day.”

“Lisa, your presentation was very good.  Your grasp of the information was detailed and precise, and your explanations when asked about our sales was right on target.  Next opportunity you have to deliver a speech to this group, try to make more eye contact and refer to your notes less often.  A good way to make this happen is to practice beforehand, and memorize as much as you can, just like an actor would a script.  Speak in front of a mirror in your home so that you can actually gauge how frequently you are looking up from your notes.  This is challenging.  I know first hand.  And I also know you can do this!”

This sandwich began with the positive feedback about how knowledgeable Lisa was about her topic.  Then she was given input on how to improve – the stuff inside the sandwich, and the ending is a huge vote of confidence.  

Sandwiches can be used practically any time – after a presentation, or even during a review.  What’s positive from the get go, is the person has been complimented and recognized for something that’s going well.  And the feedback ends with that important vote of confidence.

How to Give Feedback That Works / 12.4.14

From Cheryl Lambert, President of JDC, with a specialty in Executive Developmentimages

In 30 years of managing, I’ve developed a powerful tool for providing feedback to employees that is impossible to ignore.  The process has an acronym that sounds like a missile, and that’s an apt metaphor for how it helps target behavior that can be improved. It’s called SBI: an acronym for Situation, Behavior, Impression.

SBI is simple in theory, but like any skill, requires practice to employ effectively. It works because the first two observations are based on fact. This makes the subject more open to hearing the impression he might be creating.

Here’s an example of an SBI that I used recently:

“At this week’s staff meeting…” (Situation)

“I noticed you were looking at your laptop for most of the hour…” (Behavior)

“This might give your colleagues the impression that you’re not interested in what they have to report.” (Impression).

The beauty of using an SBI is that it’s based on fact (not emotion or conjecture), which is difficult to argue with. While the impression might be disputable, it’s powerful enough to get someone to explore his/her behavior and change it.

Here’s another of my favorites:

“At our weekly debriefing…” (Situation)

“I notice you sit with your arms crossed…” (Behavior)

“This might signal to the team that you are not open to their suggestions on how to improve our project.” (Impression).

In this instance the executive was floored and adamantly insisted that he always sits like this because he’s most comfortable having his arms crossed on his chest. This, he insisted, was his natural posture when sitting. I told him that I understood this may indeed be a comfortable stance, but it might unintentionally signal that he’s closed-minded. This really bothered him, so we talked more and I asked him to notice if he sat in this position during dinner with his three kids that evening. The next morning he informed me that he did not cross his arms at the dinner table, and he doesn’t quite know why.  He agreed to try, as an experiment, to change his seated posture at our office meetings.

SBIs are so painless to use and yield such powerful results that I’ve even used them at home with my own recalcitrant teenagers to great success. I can’t recommend them enough.  And SBIs should also be used when providing positive feedback.

Posture = Presence. It can also up your confidence when presenting / 10.1.14

Captain-America-Costume-Concept-Standing-Tall-2-6-10-kcYes, our non-verbal communication influences the way other people judge us—at times it can be a more powerful than our words. Poor posture, crossed arms, awkward hands can influence an audience’s perception of your strength as a leader. But more recent studies demonstrate that your stance can influence how you feel about yourself.

Presenters take note: Whether you’re pitching a room of dead eyed venture capitalists, or trying to woo a potential client, or facing stadium size-audience, expanding your presence can actually provide you with a burst of confidence. This is especially beneficial to less confident presenters who feel exposed under the spotlight’s glare.

If you want to feel more powerful and ultimately BE more powerful, one key presence enhancer is to use your body to take up more space.

-Extend your arms in front of your body when speaking. Find a position about 10 inches away from your body that feels natural and extend the arms there periodically in your next presentation. How do you feel when you consciously occupy more space? Get to love it.

-When standing, lean forward over a table and position your fingers on the table gingerly as if you’re Glenn Gould attacking the keys on his piano. This is especially useful at a conference table. If you want to see it in action, next time you watch the news turn off the sound and notice how their leaning posture indicates more keen interest in the subject at hand. Use this posture to emphasize a point or reinforce a message. Try it and watch your audience come to life.

-If you are shy or if you slouch, practice relaxing with your feet up on the table leaning back in a chair with your hands behind your head. Studies show that confident people enjoy this position and that you can teach yourself confidence through body awareness. The more open you can feel, the more assured you will become. Warning: Do not do this in meetings—so obnoxious.

-Another exercise to practice before presenting: Widen your stance and stretch upward with your arms forming a Y. Stretch high and wide. Inhale deeply and picture yourself expanding. Do this before any presentation or pitch to remind yourself that your body is an instrument that you can use.

Not surprisingly, women have more difficulty than men “presencing.” Social scientists have demonstrated that women who learn to sit coiled with ankles crossed or who touch their faces or necks at meetings come across as unconfident. Men, on the other hand, tend to sit back and distance themselves from a table. While this can be useful to create a sense of powerful remove, it does not invite collaboration. Men take note: You too can Lean In.

There’s one additional benefit to the increased confidence you can get from standing powerfully. It benefits for your overall well-being. Studies demonstrate that confidence can reduce cortisol levels, one of the main stress hormones. Increase your presence, decrease your stress.

For more on posture and presence by watching this 20-minute TED talk from Amy Cuddy

How One Man Beat Stage Fright / 1.27.14

Message Based Media Training Enables PR People To Add Value For Their Clients / 12.2.13


A good deal of my work comes from PR company referrals. Smart PR companies often look to outside consultants to help them prepare their own clients for important media appearances. They know that if their clients are prepared with quotes and stories and ways of discussing statistics in context, if they can anticipate tough questions and pivot off of them to their own messages, and if they’re trained to reduce any jitters or ticks, they’ll enjoy the process more and increase their chances of being asked back when the time comes. Plus, some PRs prefer to use outside consultants because it removes the onus of having to inform clients that they are long winded or obtuse or dancing around the main point when facing a journalist or camera.

Unless the client is extremely nervous and prefers to work in private I like to invite the PR exec in the session with me. Because I do “message based” training, the PR folks often get new material for pitches or learn details about their clients’ business that might never have come up for discussion. Done properly, media training is as much education for clients as it is for public relations pros.

So how does it work? Ideally the PR firm outlines a messaging document in advance of the session and shares it with me. PR and I parse through it, discussing the types of media outlets the client will be facing. It matters if they are speaking to the trade or mainstream publications or to print/web or TV outlets.

This serves three key purposes:

1. It gives me a head start on what we’ll be discussing. I can then do my own research to ensure that Client X’s messages are distinct and more exciting than those of his competitors. It also allows us to cook up some interesting and apt metaphors that explain the business better.
2. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the types of stories, statistics and sound bytes (the 3 S’s) I’ll need to equip Client X with. I don’t believe in sending clients to face the wolves unless they have these three S’s in their arsenals.
3. It’s efficient—I don’t have to spend time in the session discussing the company’s mission or the messages we need to convey in this round of interviews. When the session begins, we hit the ground running. It also confirms to Client X that the PR and I have done our homework and have come prepared.

“I appreciate working with someone who actually understands the value & the purpose of what we’re trying to build,” one CEO of a tech start company in the financial sector wrote to me after we trained. I was certain to assure him that I would have understood much less if the PR exec and I hadn’t spent 30 minutes together prior to our session.

5 Old-School Myths About Talking To The Camera (Part 2) / 9.5.13


1. Never Speak With Your Hands
2. Don’t Use Numbers

3. Beware Dead Air

Strategic pausing is a good thing. It gives you a few seconds to gather your thoughts, relax and avoid filling the air with annoying verbal fillers — all the ums, uhs, you knows, likes, that make you sound less credible (Remember Caroline Kennedy, who after saying “you know” 142 times in an interview with the New York Times, was shamed into dropping out of the US senate race?). Also, viewers are willing to cut you a little slack if you appear to be a thoughtful person who is answering honestly and intelligently.

Bottom Line: Take a breath–a silent pause is often better than an verbal filler. If you’re doing a taped interview it won’t matter anyway. The dead air will be edited out.

4. You Must Memorize A Script

Frankly, it’s a bad idea to even have a script. If a reporter asks an unexpected question that throws you, you’re more than likely to stumble if your sticking to script. The more effective solution is to hone your messages. Have ready several 30-second stories and any statistics you’ll need to back them up. Then make sure you can tell that story several different ways — it’s best to stick to one story and be armed with several variations of it.

Bottom Line: Scripts are boring and will likely come off as stale. But you must be prepared to tell pithy, engaging stories that convey your message.

5. It’s Your Job To Make The Reporter Happy

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s the audience you need to satisfy, not the reporter. Some media trainers even counsel clients not to address reporter by name — to speak over him or her — directly to the audience. I don’t think that’s necessary, but it is crucial to remember that this is your interview aimed at your perceived constituency. You need to communicate to them in the clearest, most succinct, vivid way.

Bottom Line: You don’t get that many opportunities to tell the world about your great service, product, or self, so make the most of it.

5 Old-School Myths About Talking To The Camera (Part 1) / 9.4.13


1. Don’t Speak With Your Hands

Old school media trainers will tell you not to speak with your hands. Nonsense! In the modern media age, anything that helps your character shine through, that makes you appear more authentic, is good – scratch that — great! If you gesticulate naturally, go for it within reason. Use your hands to add emphasis or to make a point but if you see them flailing out of the frame, know that you’re going too far and that you may want to exercise a little restraint. I also counsel many of my clients to hold a pen – it’s like an on-air security blanket for certain people. Just make sure it’s a pen without a clicker. Otherwise, the temptation to nervously click could be overwhelming.

Bottom Line: Be your most expressive self, but be sure you’re not faking or exaggerating the movements.

2. Never use numbers

There are two types of people in the world: Those who respond to stories and those who respond to statistics. If you really want to use stats to back up your point, don’t just spew out numbers. Cage them in a story. Give them context. For example: 580,000 Americans died of cancer last year. Yes, that’s a large number but it probably doesn’t spark an emotional reaction or tell you if that’s a big or small number of people. You might want to try it like this: “More people died of cancer last year that live in the city of Boston.” Another example: Instead of saying “350,000 people in Detroit are functionally illiterate,” try: “One in 2 people in Detroit are functionally illiterate. Next time you’re on a train or bus, look around and imagine that half of the car can’t read or write.”

Bottom Line: While numbers aren’t great (especially on radio), they work better if they are wrapped in a story that gives them context.


3 things you must know to communicate in a crisis / 7.24.13


“I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”

If you’re in the public eye or have a job with any public-facing role there will come a time when a problem arises. Guaranteed. It may not be your problem, you may have had little to do with it, but the perception that you are somehow at fault may be dogging you and inhibiting your ability to get things done. The key word here is perception. Once the media is involved, perception becomes the name of the game.

Experience has taught me that in order to help the story move along and go away, there are three things you need to express: Feelings, Facts, Fixes. Some people refer to these as The Three F’s. I call them essential knowledge for anyone in any position of power. It will behoove you to master this solution now so that you have it at hand when the need arises.

Feel: The very first thing you should express is regret when any misfortunate incident occurs. Even if you’re not directly responsible or don’t feel like you ought to apologize, it’s much easier, better and quicker to express feeling sorry than to offer any sort of denial. Denial keeps the flames of accusation burning and guarantees that the story will run again the next day. Regret enables people to move on.

And – this is crucial — if you are being accused of a wrongdoing, never, EVER, repeat the accusation. It will simply make the problem bigger. We all remember Bill Clinton famously denying that he had “sexual relations with the woman.” Not his finest moment. It’s better to use a bridge – “however,” “but,” “and moreover,” “as a matter of fact” – to your next topic than to repeat the accusation. It can, and will, be used against you.

Needless to say, never lie. Lies will undoubtedly come back to haunt you.

Facts: The second part of your statement should include reason and facts. Facts can help to defuse tempers and inflammatory situations. They are neutral. “The flooding has affected five streets in the downtown area.” “The report cited three service that need improvement.” “The plane’s landing gear malfunctioned due to an electrical short circuit.”

Fix: When facing the camera or an angry crowd, it’s always useful to let the audience know that you are doing everything possible to set the situation right. Appoint a commission to look into wrongdoing (and enable them to do their job). Set up a website or Twitter feed for people to log complaints (and make sure there are people on hand to man it). Send out a team of engineers to fix the problem immediately (and put in place a social media SWAT team to keep customers updated hourly). And then, once you’ve stated your intended remedy, offer to return to the program or to call the reporter with an update tomorrow.

Does everyone on your staff know your company’s mission? (Trust me, they don’t!) / 7.15.13

image-comm mission
Start-ups and small businesses are not the same beasts, but they do share several things in common, in particular a tiny number of overstretched staffs, who communicate with each other about their larger purpose far too infrequently. I know this from experience, especially when I train the personnel about communicating the organization’s value proposition.

But here’s what they do have in common: when companies are small, every staff member is an ambassador. Everyone who works for you should know what your company does, how you do it differently and better than your competition. Additionally, they had better be able to express it succinctly, vividly and with real enthusiasm to everyone they encounter.

If you’re not certain that your company is so aligned, here’s a test that will give you the answer. If nothing else, I guarantee it will spark a good and necessary conversation that will elicit everyone’s opinion.

Gather your team in a room one day with no advance preparation about this task. Ask each person to write down the purpose or mission of your company in one or two sentences — no more. This isn’t necessarily easy, especially if you’re a start-up where the mission has changed several time in the past months, weeks or days, as frequently happens.

Collect the statements and read them each aloud. Unless your organization is the exception, you’ll be surprised and maybe even disheartened to learn just how differently each member views the organization. Do Not Despair. This is usually the result of everyone having a different role and viewing the company mission through his or her own filter.

While this outcome is true for startups and small companies, it’s also true for large global organizations that have been in business for decades. But nowhere is it more apparent than with start-ups transitioning into small businesses. Their sales teams are often out in the field selling a start-up instead of a functioning company (Sales teams are often the last to know of any changes).

So ask yourself, is your company’s communication aligned and are you prepared to have a conversation about it? The side-benefit to this exercise? It invariably creates a noticeable uptick in morale.

Q: How is media in the digital age like diamonds? / 4.25.13

A: They both last forever.


No one questions the alacrity with which digital media can speed your message. But what fewer people think about is how a bloop will also stay around forever – until they’ve made the mistake. This is one reason people are increasingly doing media training – to avoid making the mistake in the first place.

Even a pro like Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster and speech writer, was fooled at a recent discussion he was holding at the University of Pennsylvania. When asked about Rush Limbaugh’s effect on the Republican party, Luntz asked the questioner to turn off his recording device before he answered. He then offered a very frank assessment, in which he called Limbaugh “problematic,” and said Marco Rubio was “getting his ass kicked.” The only problem: another student in the audience recorded the conversation on his Iphone and then released it to Mother Jones magazine. It was national news within hours. It’s hardly a Wikileaks scandal, but it’s probably not going to help him get hired by certain hardcore conservatives.

I sympathize with Luntz. He wanted to speak honestly and he chose his words carefully. Now they will live on forever, whether he wants them too or not.

Here’s the tape and a more in depth story.Luntz Secret Tape

Slow Down, You’reTalkingTooFast! / 4.10.13

fast talker image

How To Get People To Pay Attention — Say It Slower!

I recently trained a brilliant PR exec who was right on message, but noticed that clients he was pitching felt uneasy during his presentations. When someone told him that his delivery didn’t engender trust, he started to lose confidence and he called me in for some fine tuning. I quickly understood that his problem wasn’t what he was saying, but how he was saying it: He spoke so quickly that potential clients thought his answers were canned. Not only was he losing credibility, he was losing business.

Obviously, using our voices strategically is key to effective communication. But just telling someone to “slow down” doesn’t work. Most clients will start out at a modulated pace, but within a few seconds are speed talking again. The trick is to equip them with strategies to help them modulate their pace and enable them to deploy these techniques at will.

I’ve noticed that many people when giving a speech also rush through it. They don’t pause and accentuate key words; they fail to really draw their audience in. So I’ve developed an easy, effective three-point strategy to help people check their tempo and punctuate it for maximum impact. Give it a go.

1: Breathe. Breathing is one form of verbal punctuation that really helps you slow the flow of words. It also can deepen your voice, which has the extra benefit of making it sound more pleasant. I use the “belly breath,” which any practitioner of yoga will recognize. It’s easy to learn and integrate into your repertoire.

Stand and place your hand on your navel. Exhale, extending your stomach for five counts. Inhale. Now say a simple word, like ‘Ha’ or ‘Om’ as you exhale for five counts. Next, shrug your shoulders, roll your neck, say the word and exhale all together. Practice this for a few minutes each morning and soon you’ll be able to integrate it into your public speaking.

2: Pause. The next time you are in a meeting, try taking a breath before answering a question. It may seem strange at first, but watch people react. I guarantee more eyes will be on you as they await the wisdom about to spill from your lips. You’ll come across as less aggressive and it will make you a better listener if you actually use the few seconds to think about what you’re going to say.

Hint: Use a word like “Sure” to acknowledge a question. It will also let the questioner know that you’ve heard him or her and are pondering a thoughtful, unrehearsed  response (even if you’ve used it dozens of times before).

3: Emphasize. This is a great way to add inflection to sentences. Take a sentence, any sentence. Underscore a few key words in the sentence (descriptive words or adjectives tend to work best), and read the sentence out loud, being sure to raise the volume on or exaggerating those highlighted words. Notice how it changes the impact of your delivery. Now practice reading a paragraph with highlighted words in front of someone and watch his or her reaction.



The Key Secret to Being Great On TV / 3.28.13

Roger Ailes“It’s always more interesting watching people be who they are than it is watching people try to be who they are not.” —  Roger Ailes

I was recently in a training session with a powerful CEO who has been very successful in business but not quite so accomplished at communicating. He was long winded and actually insisted on speaking in paragraphs rather than concise punchy sentences. He made no attempt to de-jargonize his language or make it colorful, nor did he see any reason to modulate his voice. And because he ruled his company like a king, no one on the inside dared to contradict him. It was left to me to be the fall guy.

I moved gingerly and I was able to make some good progress on shortening his responses and putting some inflection in his voice. But it was clear that I wasn’t going to turn him into Bill Clinton in our two hours together. As we were training I fantasized about quoting some of Roger Ailes’ wisdom to him.

No matter what you think of Fox News or Ailes, the man the HuffPo once called “a J. Edgar Hoover look-alike with a face like a clenched fist,” the man knows his media. He not only predicted where media was heading, but he’s successfully designed a news network that manifests those predictions every day. I mean, he was the Svengali who, at age 27, figured out how to use television to get Richard Nixon elected president, and at 70 used it again to make Sarah Palin close-up ready.

Below are some Ailes-isms I wanted to impart to my stubborn CEO. Perhaps my fellow media trainers will find some of this wisdom useful the next time they find themselves facing a recalcitrant subject.

On the importance of speaking in headlines:

“Whether we think it’s a good thing or not, we live in a headline society now. You have to be punchy and graphic in your conversation to hold people’s interest.”

On turning a liability into an asset:

When he was coaching Ronald Reagan to debate Walter Mondale, he gave Reagan the following quip, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I an not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

On his biggest worry about media training Nixon:

I wasn’t worried about the message. I was worried about the backlighting.

On the importance of strong, punchy language

When Ailes saw MSNBC’s advertising campaign, “Lean Forward,” he said, ‘Lean? They paid Spike Lee $3 million for ‘Lean’’? What kind of word is that? Isn’t that their problem — that they’re leaning? Didn’t anybody say, ‘What about ‘move’?” And so Ailes took his your pad, wrote down “Move For-ward,” and in four hours had his own campaign on the air.

On the importance of staying authentic:

When I was in politics, I always got accused of image-making and trying to make [people into] something they weren’t. Truth was — and nobody ever discovered it— what I was trying to do was to get them to be themselves. If you see them at home they’re laughing and they’re physical and they could move. And as soon as you put them on television they turn in to stiffs and they’re boring, so I was trying to peel the layers back so they could be themselves. I tell people: Do not try to be somebody you’re not. Whatever you show me out there make sure it’s you. [The viewer] makes a judgment on you not who you think you ought to be.

On what makes a great host:

Megyn Kelly now she’s a host. For one thing, she’s fearless — she’d crawl down a smokestack for a story. But look at the way she moves. She’d move like that if she was arguing at the dinner table. Very natural. O’Reilly’s the same way. He’s an Irishman who likes to argue. He’d do it anywhere.

On what makes a great guest:

“It’s always more interesting watching people be who they are than watching people try to be who they are not.”

On the 3 secrets to creating powerful television:

1 Appeal to an audience’s emotions

2 Stay on offense

3 Embrace TV’s love of brevity, speed and colorful language.
Most of this material comes from Michiko Kakutani’s March 19, 2003 book review in the New York Times, and Esquire’s January, 2011 piece, “Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America?” by Tom Junod.

How To Turn A Heckle Into A Virtue / 3.21.13

O Handles A Heckle 

Imagine if Obama was a nervous public speaker and someone interrupted this “script.” He’d have been flummoxed and thrown off course. Needless to say, he’s had a lot of practice being hounded while on stage (remember 2009’s Health Care Heckle, “You lie”) and he handled this one with natural grace. He almost seems to have welcomed it. “I have to say we actually arranged for that because it made me feel at home,” Obama said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t have at least one heckler.”

The audience reaction tells you that it’s possible to turn a glitch to your advantage. And I’m telling you that this is the virtue of NOT being overly scripted and knowing your PIVOTS. It’s also the result of a lot of practice. Every presenter should take note.

Do The Words “Panel Discussion” Put You To Sleep? Here’s How To Make Yours Rock / 3.19.13


Panel discussions don’t have to be choring (a boring chore). They can actually be entertaining (!) discussions where the audience learns something. If you can learn to lead them well, you’ll be a star. Plus, in our overly-conferenced world these opportunities can enhance your reputation in a big way.

The first step: Lose the word “moderator” from your vocabulary. Banish it. There’s nothing moderate about what you are aiming to do. Instead, think of yourself as an energizer, a catalyst for fascinating conversation.

There are three things you need to know before you can lead a panel: Your subject, your panelists, and your questions.

But before I get to that, remember these basics:

Keep it short. The ideal panel is 45 minutes long, followed by a 15-minute Q&A. If it’s good you’ll leave the audience hungry for more. If it’s bad, at least it didn’t suck up the entire morning or afternoon.

The ideal number of participants is 4 or 5, plus you. I tend to book five guests thinking one will drop out. If the panel is any larger no one gets enough time.

No PowerPoint or slides! They take up time (has there ever been a panel where the slide projector actually worked?) and monopolize attention. If a panelist insists on props, remind him or her that Show + Tell is much more surprising. And fun.


Take the time to talk to the panelists individually before the event. If you introduce yourself by email include the date, time, location of and directions to event and remind them when to show up. Also, ask panelists to send you their current bios (don’t take an out-of-date one off the web).

Let them know about the other panelists and then get the measure of what they’ll offer. Send them pointed questions that they can prepare for. Tell them what you want (i.e., no prepared speeches, please), and spontaneity is crucial to keeping these events bubbling along. Oh, and one more thing: remind them to be provocative.

Once In The Room…

As Energizer, you must:

  • Ensure there is no dead air. Invite everyone to jump in when they have something to say. Also, if you can make the audience smile in your Introduction, you’ve already won them over. As Guy Kawaski says: “The funnier you are, the more people will think you’re smart because it takes great intelligence to be funny.”
  • Accentuate conflicts. Don’t pick fights, but never miss an opportunity to foment a battle. If you know there are two opposing panelists, invite them to duel it out (friendly fire is better than full on assault) on stage. The audience will love you for it. Also, never say, “I agree with ….” Your role is to disagree and provoke. I can’t stress this enough.
  • Watch the clock. If one panelist drones on, cut him or her off gently. Say something like: “I think that question’s been answered. In the interest of time, let’s move on.”
  • Keep everything on the table, or do away with the table entirely. As Energizer, you must tell the truth when possible and try to cut through any jargon or hot air. The audience will appreciate it. More prosaically, let the audience see the panelists. Sit them on stools—not behind a table—and sit with them. Also position the chairs as close to the audience as possible. This energizes the room. A slight semi-circle is cozier than a straight line.

Invite The Audience In

You don’t have to wait until the end for questions. One way of getting the audience involved from the get-go is with a show-of-hands poll.

If your panel has entrepreneurs, say, consider asking audience members to stand up and pitch their idea for 30 seconds and then ask the panelists to judge it. If the panel is about advertising, you could show slides of each panelist’s work and have the audience rate it by applause.

In the Q&A period be sure to give all of the panelists a shot at answering a question. Not everyone on the panel needs to weigh in. Your goal should be to get in as many audience Qs in as possible.


Hand written notes are a nicer way of saying ‘thank you’ than emails these days. And be sure to share feedback, if any, with each panelist. You never know when you’ll need to call on them again.

Are You A Prisoner Of Your Elevator Pitch? / 3.12.13

I recently trained a highly intelligent, successful CEO who has been running a start up that is just one or two brainstorms away from being a hit. This man is educated and passionate about his enterprise. He’s committed to it and to giving back if he strikes gold. He’s a mensch.

The only thing he can’t seem to do is talk about his baby in a way that doesn’t sound like a canned sales pitch.

Before our session he told me that he’s read books on presenting and has mastered the techniques He has learned to look people in the eye. When he gives a speech people in the room tell him that they feel as though he’s speaking directly to them.

So why, when he began to describe his project, did his energy drain and his delivery go flat? If he was such a master presenter, why did he sound canned and generic?

I mentioned this within five minutes of working together and he agreed with my assessment. A look of relief washed over his face as he confesses that his biz dev guys have been hammering the anodyne language of an elevator pitch into him. They rehearsed him and sucked everything personal, quirky, and remotely human out of his presentation. So much so, he said, that the company he was describing in his pitch didn’t feel like his company anymore.

I could relate. Back in the days when I was running magazines I had the same type of coaching. By the time it was over I felt like a mouthpiece for some weird corporate entity. I listened to the advice, took it to heart and was delivering the most boring presentations imaginable. I didn’t feel like my passion or intelligence, or authenticity were coming through.

Today, in an ever increasingly corporatized world, where language and passion are often as secondary to excel sheets and pitch decks, I think it’s crucial to convey to investors, your board–any audience–exactly why you’re putting in 16 hour days. As a listener I need to hear that passion. Yes, it’s helped by active, vivid language and gripping stories, but rather than asking my clients to memorize a script or “key talking points,” I help them to reveal their passion, not rehearse lines about it.

In fact, I try not to use a script at all. Sometimes scripts are necessary, but I have found other methods of coaching to more effective—methods that reveal your communication style to you, and give you tools that you can use in different situations. I aim to arm my clients with an arsenal of points and stories that they can deploy when the situation calls for them. I want them to know they have choices, not just a script that they have to follow. Sometimes that includes points on a card; other times, it’s a card with questions which prompt an answer. Like I said, each person has a different style of learning, listening and speaking.

The most successful coaches help you recognize your own communication style with all of it nuances, and help you to work with it, not against it, so that you are comfortable in the hot seat. They help you to overcome roadblocks or difficult questions in a natural way that complements your style without imposing a false set of rules.

Oh, and by the way, the presentation went extremely well. It moved him a notch higher on the venture capital ladder and he sent me a note  saying, “your coaching gave me the confidence I needed.”

I’ll write more on how to reveal and develop your own communication style in the next few weeks.

Why, oh why, Miss South Carolina, didn’t you reach out ahead of this? / 2.7.13

The gold standard of (hilarious) terrible public presentation. Need I say more?

Miss South Carolina Flubs It Big Time

Who Was Chuck Hagel’s Media Coach? / 2.3.13

No one, obviously.

Hagel is defensive, muddled, ham fisted, inarticulate and unprepared for a question that he obviously knew he’d be facing. Watch here if you can sit through four cringe making minutes.


Barack’s 2nd inaugural address / 1.22.13

This speech was beautifully written, expertly delivered (with passion) and made news because it broke new ground. I think we all heard it loud and clear. The remarks of President Obama