October 16th, 2009
Things come in threes.
First Representative Williams of South Carolina yelled, “You lie!” at the President during his speech on health care reform.
Then Serena Williams went off on a line judge at the U.S. Open.
Then Kanye West lost it at the Grammy Awards Ceremony.
The Serena thing is understandable—she’s out there fighting for her life and is all pumped up. John McEnroe did much worse and is now a distinguished elder statesman of tennis. Let’s give Serena a break.
But the other two guys stepped way over the line. Screaming at the President and hijacking a microphone at a public ceremony are disruptive and rude behaviors.
It’s interesting that it got them both a lot of attention. I suspect that was Kanye’s motive. I think Representative Williams is just a guy who is used to speaking his mind and lost the gyroscope on his social skills.
And that’s what can happen to us as presenters.
I know one guy who was questioned about his marketing plan by an executive committee. They wanted to know how he came up with his forecast number. He told them and they said it didn’t seem right.
After a lot of going back and forth on his methodologies for determining the forecast, he got impatient and said, with his hands on his hips, “Well, if you don’t like the number, what do you want the number to be?”
You can imagine the silence in the room. The President of the company took a breath and said, “Randy, why don’t we figure that out later. Thank you for your time.”
Randy did not get sent to Siberia, but almost. It took him years to earn his way back into the good graces of the executive committee.
Think two or three times before you let your temper get the best of you when you’re in the public eye. Staying calm under pressure demonstrates maturity and leadership.
Sims Wyeth is a private speech coach in Montclair, NJ specializing in executive speech coaching and public speaking training in order to give accomplished people the knowledge and skill they need to become accomplished speakers. Learn more public speaking tips at www.SimsWyeth.com.
April 22nd, 2009
I have written an article called 5 Ways to Speak Like Obama on Bnet.com about President Obama’s abilities as a public speaker–saying that he is skilled at connecting with audiences, making the complex clear, and using his voice and body language to project confidence and authority.
The article has brought out opposing views. Some of them seem to be opposed to Obama’s policies rather than his speaking skills, but others make good points.
They accuse him of simply being good at reading scripts on a TelePrompter. I admire the President’s comfort with the TelePrompter, but some have said that this is no indication of oratorical skill or leadership ability. Perhaps we could train a chimpanzee to use a TelePrompter, but we couldn’t train one to write Candidate Obama’s speech on race, or deliver it with such restrained passion.
Whatever you think of TelePrompters, they are tools that speakers must learn to use. The President is not an actor who is given 4 weeks to learn his lines. He gives dozens of talks a day and must use the tools at his disposal.
On another front, many of the comments on the article on Bnet make the point that when President Obama goes off script, he says “er” and “uhm” a whole lot, and that does not inspire confidence. At the same time, one or two commenters mention that his speaking skills are tools of deception, and that I am advocating that business speakers develop their ability to “seem” authentic, or “appear” confident and authoritative.
(Interesting that they fault the President for saying “er” and “uhm” while at the same time fault him for being slick.)
While I agree that authenticity and genuineness are attractive traits, and that there is a thin line between “polished” and “slippery,” I also know that nobody follows a weak trumpet.
In a job that requires non-stop public speaking, a good man with bad speaking skills will be less effective than a bad man with good speaking skills.
We as Americans want a leader who is ethical, smart enough to figure out how to solve our problems, and tough enough to get the job done.
And by the way, he better be a good speaker, too.