History’s Greatest Communicators

A Little Taste of Abraham on the Stump: Substance and style from a master communicator

By on February 21, 2017

William Henry Herndon was a law partner and biographer of President Abraham Lincoln.  They were a study in contrasts, opposites in temperament. Despite a poetic streak, Lincoln’s mind was logical, and he longed for the day when “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason,” would rule the world. Herndon was intuitive; he fancied that he could ‘see […]

Quote-a-Week on Goals, Success, and Power for 2017

By on December 27, 2016

The end of December is a good time to review what you’ve accomplished and set goals for the coming year. Sometimes, it’s invigorating to think about the 365 days that stretch out before us, and sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about doing it all again. Here are some quotes to inspire you this upcoming new […]

20 Quotes that Make You Realize the World Doesn’t Make Sense

By on November 1, 2016

Want to get your rose-colored glasses blown off your nose? Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli-American psychologist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as behavioral economics. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He is the author of Thinking Fast and Slow. Listen to his […]

Fall Down Seven Times; Get Up Eight

By on April 21, 2015

The hardest part of getting better at speaking and presenting is to persist in the face of discouragement. A talent is a latent ability, something that is dormant inside you. When you work at it, it becomes a skill. Public speaking is a talent before it becomes a skill. If you do have a potential […]

More ways to be a rock star speaker

By on August 26, 2014

We’re looking at ways you can pump up the “AWESOME” of your presentations.  Surprisingly, we’re not scrutinizing the communication techniques of Steve Jobs–we’re looking at a guy from the 1850s named Henry Ward Beecher. It isn’t crazy.  Beecher was a rock star of a preacher whose church in Brooklyn seated 2,800. In the 1850s, he […]

How to be a rock star speaker

By on August 12, 2014

When Steve Jobs got into high gear as a speaker, many people reported that he seemed to have a reality-distortion field around him. No matter how unrealistic his claims at any given moment, people said they couldn’t help being mesmerized: his enthusiasm could suspend their disbelief. In the 1850s, there was another spellbinder not unlike […]

Presentation Skills: The Magic of Ralph Waldo Emerson

By on October 2, 2013

In a piece originally written in the late 1860’s, but published in The Atlantic many years later, Henry James Sr., the father of Henry James the novelist and William James the philosopher-psychologist, sought to explain just what it was about Emerson’s unassuming personality that carried such magnetism. It is now a full thirty years ago […]

Words Pack a Punch

By on January 23, 2013

Over forty years ago, drifting through my undergraduate years in my ratty easy chair, I came across three words that lifted the veil from my eyes.  Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the Three Musketeers of rhetoric, seemed to me to be so comprehensive, so simple yet so profound, that I literally had a physical sensation as […]

Voice and speech training: The whole voice

By on January 17, 2013

There are millions of people from all over the world and from every corner of this country working in our North American companies, and in companies all over the world–companies that use English as the global language of business. Many of the people are highly educated, highly motivated, and highly valuable human assets–to their colleagues, […]

Make it look simple and easy

By on October 10, 2012

I subscribe to Lapham’s Quarterly, a magazine you should get if you have an appetite for a perspective beyond the micro-moments of our digital age. As you know, I’m in the business of helping knowledgeable people sell themselves and their ideas.  As we count down to the next presidential election, this is a timely topic […]

The Greeks gave the gift of public speaking

By on June 29, 2011

I am on a boat going from Athens to the island of Serifos, but I’m still thinking about all those ancient Athenians who dug up the guiding principles that create the foundation of public speaking, persuasion, and the entire modern communications industry. Demosthenes was one of them, “supreme in vehemence and power,” or so we […]

The Origin of Presentation Skills

By on June 23, 2011

I’ve just arrived in Greece to meet my wife, who has already been here for three weeks.  She’s at a writer’s conference.  While I’m here, I plan to visit the Parthenon and other temples of democracy (which technically the Parthenon is not). The Athenians came up with the idea of presentation skills because they realized […]

Public Speaking: Talent or Skill?

By on June 13, 2008

Public speaking is a talent before it becomes a skill. A talent is a latent ability, something that is dormant inside you. When you work at it, it becomes a skill. If you do have a potential talent for speaking and you work at it, you are likely to receive encouragement and recognition for your […]

Public Speaking Training: The Dreaded just-after-lunch Slot on the Program

By on May 22, 2008

Effective speaking has many enemies. A partial list would include a speaker’s lack of experience, stage fright, lack of training, no clear point, too much information, and finally, no clear flow, or structure. We could go on. But the items on the list are only those enemies that hide within the speaker himself. What about […]

Effective Presentation Skills: Hang ‘Em in the Bat Cave

By on April 3, 2008

“What do I do with my hands?” is one of the most frequent questions I get from people striving to improve their public speaking skills. The answer is more complicated than you’d think. First of all, why is it important? It’s important because your hands speak quite loudly to the emotional radar of the audience. […]

Effective Presentation Skills: Substance with Style

By on October 1, 2007

Cicero, the great Roman statesman and orator, said that he preferred tongue-tied intelligence to ignorant loquacity. That’s a convenient polarity, and one we’re familiar with. We see the former occasionally when college professors make an appearance on national TV. They can look like owls with ruffled feathers blinking in the glare of daylight. We see […]

Speech Training: Speech Disfluencies

By on August 30, 2007

Um and His Cousin Er I hate speech coaches who don’t let you say “Um!”  I listen to a lot of speakers, and a few “Uhms” don’t bother me.  They make the speaker seem normal and conversational. On the other hand,  I try not to say them myself, and I DO get annoyed when the […]

Effective Speaking: Keeping Attention

By on August 27, 2007

Back in the days before Gutenberg, it took months or years for a few dedicated scribes to create a single copy of a single book.  A literate medieval person, provided he or she was not interrupted by the Inquistion or bubonic plague, could probably read the book as fast as your typical modern high school […]

Presentation Tips: Think Forest, Not Trees

By on July 9, 2007

If you want to position yourself as a high-status individual with the capacity to lead, consider this:  Power comes from abstraction, not from facts. According to recent research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, abstract thinkers feel less constrained by details and prefer higher-power roles. Abstract thinking broadens options, while thinking concretely is more likely […]

Communication Skills: The Head Waggle

By on June 12, 2007

Keep your head relatively still most of the time when speaking! A case in point. My daughter took me to see Romeo and Juliet at The Delacorte Theater in Central Park on Father’s Day.  Juliet waggled her head to express emotion.  We both get distracted by it.  The waggle was a personal mannerism that didn’t communicate effectively to […]

Scientific and technical presentations

By on May 30, 2007

Last week, in New Jersey, Denver, and New York City I ran into the exact same problem in three different industries–a consulting firm, a pharmaceutical company, and a hedge fund.  The problem was this:  People were having trouble beginning their presentations so that they inspired curiosity and interest in their listeners. Of course I saw the obligatory title […]

Presentation Training: White Crow, Black Swan

By on April 23, 2007

On our honeymoon in Nova Scotia more than 25 years ago, my wife and I were amazed to see an albino crow rubbing shoulders with his black brothers, who showed not a shred of colorism.  I’ve never seen another. Now along comes a book called The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  It takes its title from Karl […]

Presentation Skills: The Bang at the Beginning

By on March 24, 2007

You will have noticed, if you’ve read through these postings, that I am a fan of Henry Ward Beecher, one of the greatest speakers in American history.  Even Lincoln looked up to him. Here is a description of Beecher written by Milton MacKaye and published in The New Yorker. Henry Ward Beecher had a genius for […]

The Best Public Speaker in America

By on August 28, 2006

He was the son of a fire and brimstone New England preacher, the brother of the writer of one of our greatest Southern novels, a friend to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mark Twain, and the defendant in one of the biggest sex scandals in American history. The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate […]

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