communication skills

The first purpose of language and presentation

By on April 13, 2011

It is widely held that man is the only creature with language.  But that may not be true. African vervet monkeys are always looking around for danger, and when they perceive a threat, they give an alarm that is specific to the threat. If it’s an eagle, they give an eagle alarm, and all the […]

Overcoming stage fright is a presentation skill

By on March 18, 2011

A study in the Journal of Sports Sciences established that pro-basketball players who had a rigid pre-shot routine were 17% more accurate foul shooters than those who did not. The rigid pre-shot routine is believed to help transfer control of the activity away from the cerebral cortex (good for learning new things) to the cerebellum […]

Energetic Lips

By on February 15, 2011

Once again, I am the speech coach who has run into a very accomplished person who mumbles.  He’s on the fast track at a major American corporation, and his boss has gotten word that senior people can’t understand him when he presents. Receptive to help and concerned about the consequences of this life-long habit, he […]

Public Speaking Course in New Jersey

By on January 25, 2011

There are multiple layers of challenges for the business presenter. For instance, there’s the psychological—the fact that we are all anxious about public speaking, even the best of us.  And when we are anxious, some of us tend to become shy and tentative, and others begin to put on a persona that isn’t natural to […]

Kick Butt Presenting

By on January 18, 2011

I just read some Mind Mints at  The guy can write. Who is Gary Forman?  He’s a speech writer, a good one.  I know he’s good because last year I partnered with him on a speech for Endo Pharmaceuticals, and he kicked butt. What are Mind Mints?  They are nuggets of observed experience that Gary bakes […]

Cam Newton’s body language

By on January 13, 2011

In case you missed the BCS Championship Game on Monday night, or you don’t follow college football, or any sports for that matter, but you do take an interest in performance under pressure, please watch Mr. Cam Newton in action. I had never seen him play before last night, when I watched the National Championship […]

The rich, the poor, the highly-educated and the tongue-tied

By on January 4, 2011

I heard an Indian novelist interviewed recently.  Asked what struck her when she first came to America, she said, “I noticed that in America, the rich are thin and the poor are fat—the opposite of my country.” Of course, she meant that, compared to the poor, a higher percentage of wealthy, educated people are thin […]

Why you need presentation skills training

By on November 30, 2010

Most of us need training because: We are unaware. We don’t do what we want, or know how, to do. We don’t practice. We are not aware of how we come across.  We have blind spots.  Blind areas.  Our education is incomplete.  We have not read the great books on the subject of effective speech.  […]

How to clarify complexity – Part Two

By on November 10, 2010

As I said in another recent blog on complexity, most knowledge workers have to find the signal within the noise.  In other words, we have to gather information, sift through it, and decide what is important and what is not, draw some conclusions, make recommendations, and defend them. We often have to do this quickly, […]

How to Clarify Complexity

By on November 4, 2010

To clarify this complexity, I have to step back, calm down, and ask myself a question, such as, “What seems to be the problem?” Then I have to look at the rat’s nest of black wires, and begin the delicate surgery of extricating one wire from the clutches of the other...

What’s the point you’re trying to prove?

By on November 4, 2010

Right now I’m sitting in the back of a hotel meeting room near Washington, DC, where two dozen physicians are rehearsing for a presentation to the regulatory authorities. They are debating what point they are trying to prove. The question has to do with the use of a certain methodology to measure, in clinical trials, […]

Presence is knowing what to say

By on August 20, 2010

Robert Selander, the former CEO of MasterCard, had a thing for “presence.” When asked what he looked for in those he hired, he said, “Leadership, results, and presence.” About presence he said, “At varying levels of the company you deal with different stakeholders.  Having somebody spend time with a member of Congress is very different […]

The New is hard

By on August 19, 2010

On the first day of a workshop, an accomplished client delivered an effective presentation with verve and style.  On the second day, I asked him to reorganize his talk to make it more customer-centric, a challenge he embraced with enthusiasm.  However, when he delivered it, he was tentative and less effective.  Why? The simple answer […]

Empathy in Action

By on August 18, 2010

Years ago I splurged on a course at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where, among other things, I learned that leadership is a constant tug between assertiveness and empathy. Assertiveness without empathy, I learned, leads to conflict with followers and damaged relationships, while empathy without assertiveness is weak and undermines a leader’s status. I was […]

Stage Fright Vanquished

By on August 5, 2010

This from Body Odd: Before now, those with performance jitters have had to contend with the nausea and the nerves on their own, or take beta blockers to battle the symptoms.  New research has come up with another way to fight stage fright:  biofeedback. “Our research looks at both the psychological and physiological effect of […]

Fierce Conversations

By on August 4, 2010

I read the following in The Alternative Board’s newsletter today and want to pass this on to presenters and persuasive speakers. What conversations are you avoiding?  Maybe it’s with a good friend you don’t want to hurt.  Maybe it’s with a difficult person and you are concerned about their response.  Or maybe it’s with a […]

Two kinds of selling

By on August 4, 2010

I spent a day working on sales messages and presentation of those messages with a sales force, except the sales force was divided in two—half were an outside field force, and half were inside sales. We discovered that it was very difficult for the inside sales force to deliver a complete presentation because they were […]

The autobiography of a speech coach

By on July 22, 2010

It is Sunday afternoon.  My wife is away for a week at a poetry summit in California.  No food in the fridge, dishes in the sink, bed unmade.   Too much TV. My daughter is engrossed in the music scene of Brooklyn, hard at work on her new CD.  My parents are unhappy in their new […]

The Youie Youness of You

By on July 21, 2010

Gary Forman is a speech writer I work with.  He was developing a stump speech for himself, and he came over to read it to me and get my feedback. It was fabulous, and so was he, although I did have a few nits to pick here and there.  (It was a little long and […]

The fourth wall or not

By on July 20, 2010

Over cigars and Chivas on Sunday night with Dikki Ellis, Michael Christensen and Zach Grenier, we came across an interesting distinction between clowning and acting, and one that is helpful to business speakers. Michael is a Co-Founder of the Big Apple Circus and the Founder of the circus’s Clown Care Unit.  Dikki is a senior […]

Training the Speaking Voice

By on July 7, 2010

Some of us are born with, or acquire through experience, a voice that is tentative and evokes in others the tendency to ignore what we say. Habits such as talking too quietly, or too quickly, or going up at the ends of sentences, or sounding too breathy, or too stereotypically “blue collar”—all these, and other […]

Using speaker’s notes

By on June 29, 2010

When we watch TED talks, such as Rory Sutherland’s on the power of advertising, or Hans Rosling’s on the power of data, we are watching two men who know their way around the presentation platform. Both speak without notes, use pictures and graphics as visuals (without a bulletpoint in sight), demonstrate that they have internalized […]

Reading a speech vs. giving a presentation

By on June 23, 2010

I just witnessed several clients reading scripts.  There was something very unsatisfying about the experience for me.   They lacked life and expression.  They didn’t appear to mean what they were saying. Yet scripts are often useful and necessary.  So what are the pros and cons of written speeches?  And how do PowerPoint presentations stack up? […]

Your speechwriter: How to get the most out of him

By on June 22, 2010

A good speech has a voice.  It sounds like an individual—specifically, the individual who is delivering the speech. It should not sound like the speechwriter. And yet us speechwriters are often given only a brief time with the speaker to determine what she wants to say.  From that brief meeting, we are expected to extract […]

Voice and Speech Training

By on June 14, 2010

Angela Lansbury and Cate Blanchett spoke briefly at last night’s TONY AWARDS ceremony.  They both have magnificent speaking voices. They were not alone.  Most Broadway actors have strong speaking voices.  The question is:  did they become successful because they were gifted with such speaking voices, or did they work to develop their instruments? The answer?  […]

In search of creative public speaking

By on June 8, 2010

You may be familiar with Matt Latimer’s book Speech*Less about his career as a speechwriter in Washington during the Bush administration. Apparently, President Bush had learned at Yale that all speeches should have an introduction, three points, a peroration, and a conclusion. (What’s a peroration?  It’s the wrap-up, in which you remind the audience, in […]

The Perfect Pitch

By on June 7, 2010

Under the shadow of Armando Galarraga’s stolen perfect game, and umpire Jim Joyce’s human imperfection, I am moved to ponder the word pitch. In baseball, when a pitch comes at you, it is meant to either intimidate, bamboozle, or go by too fast to hit.  All pitches come with spin, except for knuckleballs, which float […]

Facts Make the Speech Writer

By on June 4, 2010

The famed defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey, was once asked what the key was to a successful case.  People expected him to say a spellbinding closing statement or a good jury selection process or an impressive cross-examination of a crucial witness. Instead his answer was “investigation”—knowing the facts of your case up and down, forward […]

The Bush Doctrine on Speech Writing

By on June 4, 2010

The Bush Doctrine on Speech Writing In his entertaining memoir Speech*Less, speech writer Matt Latimer reveals something about the speeches developed for President G.W. Bush.  By the way, he was one of the speech writers. ‘I quickly discovered the answer to a question I’d been asked by people since I’d arrived at the White House:  […]

Let us now praise specifics

By on June 2, 2010

We are entitled to our own opinions, but none of us is entitled to our own facts. In fact, most of us hold our opinions with little respect for facts.  For instance, when you ask a passionate partisan why she voted for her candidate, you are likely to hear slogans about small government or social injustice. Lots […]

Forever young and distrusted: The five languages young professionals need to know

By on April 28, 2010

You may be familiar with the prayer-like song that Bob Dylan wrote in which he wishes that someone, or all of us, can “stay forever young.” May you always be courageous Stand upright and be strong And may you stay… Forever young. It turns out that, while a youthful spirit can enrich our lives, young […]

Scientific and Technical Presentations

By on April 14, 2010

Ironically enough, the biggest challenge faced by people making scientific and technical presentations is their reluctance to follow the scientifically established principles of communication. What are those rules?  One of them is that the human mind is drawn to problems, puzzles, and mysteries. Rather than seeking to capture the attention of the audience by making […]

An Emerging Problem at Limited Partner Meetings

By on April 14, 2010

At the annual LP meetings I’ve been working on, I have noticed that the senior guy wants to give his views on the macro economic picture. He wants to do this for good reasons:  To put the results his team will report into context, and to demonstrate his broad knowledge of economic cycles in order […]

Presentation Pointer: Second-guess everything

By on February 22, 2010

When preparing a talk, ask yourself if your audience wants to solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity.  Maybe they want to do both.  Whatever the case, they’ll want to calculate the risks. Solving the wrong problem wastes time and money and leaves the real problem unsolved.  And whenever we pursue an opportunity, there […]

Public Speaking: On the use of TelePrompters

By on February 15, 2010

Many people acknowledge that President Obama is a good public speaker.  At the same time, many note a significant difference in the quality of President Obama’s speech between those occasions when he uses a Teleprompter and those when he speaks extemporaneously. They assert that his oratorical gifts are actually not as great as they seem […]

Effective Communication: The unexpected gets attention

By on February 10, 2010

Look at this ad from Microsoft.  It appeared in a newspaper exactly as it looks, I have not done anything to it. At first glance, it looks like a mistake.  It doesn’t belong in a newspaper or a magazine.  It’s imperfect and unfinished.  It even says, “Draft,” in red at the top. I read it […]

Presentation Skills: Best practices for meeting kick-off

By on February 10, 2010

We are often asked to kick-off meetings.  What’s the best way to get everyone focused on the task at hand, and demonstrate our own capacity for effective leadership? Start on time.  Or, if you must delay, acknowledge those who are present and inform them you would like to wait for a few minutes. Begin your […]

Presentation Pointer: Speak their thoughts before they do

By on February 9, 2010

“Every word uttered evokes the idea of its opposite. “  –Goethe In other words, when you assert your opinion, your listeners will reflexively search their own minds for a thought that could prove your idea flawed. To take the wind out of their sails, and to demonstrate that you have considered other perspectives, speak their […]

Sales Presentations: Selling by Doing

By on February 3, 2010

Meghan called.  She was a high school senior, my daughter’s friend and highschool classmate.  She had a summer job selling for the CutCo Knife Company, and wanted to make a presentation to us in our home. I said, “Yes,” although my wife was uncomfortable that she might have to say, “No,” to Meghan.  So she […]

Persuasive communication and the Geico gecko

By on January 28, 2010

The Geico gecko, the AFLAC duck, and Jared the Subway sandwich guy all have the same job.  They are likeable characters who appear in very short stories (ads) on TV. The gecko is low-key and sensible while his boss, the CEO of Geico, is driven by his irrational exuberance to come up with dumb ideas.  […]

Presentation Skills: Presenting to Senior Executives

By on January 27, 2010

A report to a senior executive group is not a conversation, although it should sound conversational.  It is a communication designed to facilitate a prediction or a decision. In order to sound conversational you need to be relaxed.  Ironically, relaxation comes from the tension of hard rehearsal. Get to your recommendations as soon as possible. […]

Public Speaking Training: Don’t get too slick

By on January 16, 2010

When does a polished speaker become slick? I ask this question because I occasionally see so-called “professional speakers” behaving in peculiar ways.  They have developed a presentation “style” that doesn’t seem natural, that smacks of late night infomercials and snake oil charlatans. What they do would get them fired in most corporations, not because of […]

Meditations on the perils of presenting at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference

By on January 11, 2010

The perils are listed in no particular order. Needle in a haystack The audience will be drinking data from a firehose.  The savvy presenter recognizes this peril as an opportunity. To capture attention—do something that stands out from the environment.  The opposite of getting attention is camouflage. Being attention-getting is not a quality; it is […]

Presentation Skills: Use emotional arguments

By on December 18, 2009

Reason makes us think, but emotion makes us act.  So how can we build emotional arguments into our presentations? When we consult Maslow’s Theory, we learn that people have a hierarchy of needs.  At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs—the need for air, water, food and excretion.  Most business arguments cannot invoke these […]

Presentation Preparation: Where to Start

By on December 2, 2009

How should you start preparing a presentation to senior executives? Don’t start by digging through your slide library and pulling the old standbys out. Rather, answer these questions. What is the topic or subject you are reporting on? Be clear with yourself so you can be clear with your audience. Why is your topic important […]

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