When Senator John McCain lost the presidential election, he gave a concession speech that was lauded for its dignity in defeat. After congratulating Barack Obama on his victory, McCain added:
It is natural—it’s natural tonight to feel some disappointment, but tomorrow we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again. We fought—we fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.
At that, his audience roared “No!” But McCain continued.
I am so deeply grateful to all of you for the great honor of your support and for all you have done for me. I wish the outcome had been different, my friends. The road was a difficult one from the outset. But your support and friendship never wavered. I cannot adequately express how deeply indebted I am to you.
John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, denied the opportunity to speak at the same event, proceeded to do her own post-mortem on the failed campaign in a series of television interviews with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News and Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today,” among others.
Palin’s most recent interview was a week ago with John Ziegler, a film producer who is preparing a new documentary called, “Media Malpractice.” One has only to click on Ziegler’s website to know that he would give the governor free reign to air her opinions about the recent campaign; and air them she did—with a vengeance. Ziegler posted excerpts of the interview on YouTube. Asked her view of the media, Palin said:
You know, I have the same question that perhaps you do, and others who would participate in this documentary, even try to figure out. Is it political? Is it sexism? What … what is it that drives someone to believe the worst, and perpetuate the worst in terms of gossip and lies?
Two of the most powerful factors impacting the Palin candidacy were Tina Fey’s scathing impression of her on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” and a disastrous interview with CBS’ Katie Couric. Ziegler asked Palin to comment on both:
I did see that Tina Fey was named Entertainer of the Year and Katie Couric’s ratings have risen. And I know that a lot of people are capitalizing on … I don’t know … I just think that exploiting that was done via me and my family and my administration. That’s a little perplexing and also says a great deal about our society.
Tina Fey’s impression was another in a long line of other notable SNL impressions: Dana Carvey’s George H. W. Bush, Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton, Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush, and Darrell Hammond’s John McCain; but none of those subjects ever complained about exploitation.
Katie Couric’s supposed exploitation was to ask Palin—repeatedly to no avail—to name the newspapers she reads. Sarah Palin’s view of the Couric interview:
My understanding there are so many other topics that were brought up, certain things weren’t portrayed as accurately perhaps as they could have, should have been after that interview.
Ziegler also brought up the subject of Caroline Kennedy’s attempt to fill Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate seat. The governor’s reaction:
I’d been interested also to see how Caroline Kennedy will be handled, and if she will be handled with kid gloves or if she will be under such a microscope. Also, it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out, and I think that, as we watch that perhaps we will be able to prove that there is a class issue here also, that was such a factor in the scrutiny of my candidacy versus, say, the scrutiny of what her candidacy may be.
No sooner did Caroline Kennedy express interest in Clinton’s job than the media began to scrutinize her. Ben McGrath’s article in The New Yorker reported on one of Kennedy’s interviews:
She met with a couple of Times reporters recently and said “you know” a hundred and thirty-eight times. Speaking to the News, and on NY1, she broke two hundred.
Now that’s scrutiny.
Politics, sexism, gossip, lies, Tina Fey, Katie Couric, exploitation, inaccurate portrayal, and class issues are not scrutiny, nor dignity; they all have one lowest common denominator: blame.
We’ve all been in the audiences of far too many presentations that unleash all the bells and all the whistles of PowerPoint animation with a frenetic, pyrotechnic display that challenges a Fourth of July celebration. This phenomenon is like putting a 14-year-old boy behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa.
That such excess happens is no surprise. All the many options in the pull down menus and ribbons of PowerPoint animation (in Slide Transition alone, there are 58 effects grouped into five categories, with three speed options for each) are as tempting as are all the many buttons, levers, dials, and gears in the cockpit of a Ferrari. They cry out, “Try me!”
Uncontrolled, they can cause a crash of the car or of a presentation.
The obvious solution is to exercise restraint, but that is negative advice. What to do instead? There are three simple overarching rules that, if followed, will bring your presentation to life (after all, that is the definition of animation) and, more importantly, bring clarity, if not tranquility, to your audiences.
Rule One: Make the default direction of your animation left to right.
Text in Western languages is printed from left to right. This simple fact drives how human beings perceive visual stimuli. When your audience sees images move from left to right, it will feel natural and pleasing to their eyes—and make them more receptive to you and your message.
Rule Two: Use motion to express the action in your message.
If you want to show rising revenues, have your animation move from the bottom up; if you want to show declining costs, have your animation move from the top down. If you want to send a negative message—about your competition—reverse direction, and move your images right to left.
Rule Three: Allow your audience to absorb your animation.
The highly sensitive optic nerves in your audience’s eyes cause them to react involuntarily to light and motion. The instant your animation starts, all of their attention suddenly shifts to the screen and away from you. Because your audience is so focused on the animation, they do not hear what you are saying, nor do they see what you are doing. Therefore, whenever you introduce animation, stop talking, turn to the screen, and allow the animation to complete its full course of action.
The presenter’s actions and words, as well and the design and the animation of the graphics, must be closely integrated. They all come together in a technique called Graphics Synchronization, drawn from the world of television directing. If you would like to learn more about this unique skill, you can find it in Chapter Eleven of The Power Presenter.
Valentine’s Day is a full month away, but yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, gave the junior Senator from New York her bouquet a month early. Most of the senators spent most of their allotted time during the hearing tooting their own horns or praising Clinton rather than scrutinizing her. In turn, when Clinton had the floor, she heaped praise on her colleagues. After observing the mutual admiration celebration, Slate’s Mike Madden titled his report, “To Hillary with Love.”
These high profile hearings can get very testy. Witness the sharp grilling of the automotive executives at the end of last year, and of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees three years ago. When senators consider one of their own, however, they change their tone. As Madden put it, “lawmakers never show more deference to a nominee than they do to a nominee who still, technically, serves with them.”
The only semi-serious challenge during the session came from a dubious source: Republican David Vitter of Louisiana. Vitter, who was implicated in a personal scandal in 2007, brought up Bill Clinton’s finances, particularly the Clinton Global Initiative, and then asked his wife, “Would you support and help produce an amended MOU that would bring the same disclosure to future contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative?”
Having dealt with this issue extensively in public, Senator Clinton was primed to answer.
In this particular case, the Office of Government Ethics and the career ethics officials at the State Department have looked at the rules and concluded there is not an inherent conflict of interest in any of my husband’s work at all. However, the foundation and the president-elect decided to go beyond what the law and the ethics rules call for to address even the appearance of conflict and that is why they signed a memorandum of understanding, which outlines the voluntary steps that the foundation is taking to address potential concerns that might come up down the road.
Even The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, one of Clinton’s sharpest critics throughout last year’s primary campaign, was impressed; today she wrote of the exchange with Vitter, “Hillary swatted him away.”
As evidenced by her performances in the Democratic primary debates against a very sharp opponent in Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton is eminently capable of handling tough questions. Her senate colleagues threw her only hearts and flowers. For hardballs that truly challenge her, she’ll have to wait for the likes of Putin, Chavez, or Ahmadinejad.
The past weekend brought us two excellent examples of the art of interpretation by two grand masters of interpretation; one a virtuoso of words and the other of music: Abraham Lincoln and Frank Sinatra. Each example was an appreciation from a highly-qualified source.
In the current edition of The New Yorker, Jill Lepore, a Harvard history professor and a novelist, in an article anticipating Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, turned to one of Obama’s favorite inspirational sources, Abraham Lincoln. Revisiting The Great Emancipator’s memorable First Inaugural Address, Professor Lepore tells us that Lincoln gave a draft of the speech to William Seward, his nominee for Secretary of State, who wrote a new ending:
I close. We are not, we must not be, aliens or enemies, but fellow-countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly, they must not, I am sure they will not, be broken. The mystic chords, which, proceeding from so many battle-fields and so many patriot graves, pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours, will yet harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angels of the nation.
Ever the wordsmith, Lincoln revised Seward’s words:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
The appreciation of Sinatra, the ultimate tunesmith, was provided by a fellow tunesmith, Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, who sang a duet with Sinatra on a 1993 album. Bono is also a contributing columnist for The New York Times and, in yesterday’s edition, he wrote about two recordings Sinatra made of his classic song, “My Way.”
The first was recorded in 1969 when the Chairman of the Board said to Paul Anka, who wrote the song for him: “I’m quitting the business. I’m sick of it. I’m getting the hell out.” In this reading, the song is a boast—more kiss-off than send-off—embodying all the machismo a man can muster about the mistakes he’s made on the way from here to everywhere. In the later recording, Frank is 78. The Nelson Riddle arrangement is the same, the words and melody are exactly the same, but this time the song has become a heart-stopping, heartbreaking song of defeat. The singer’s hubris is out the door.
To what end? Duality, complexity. I was lucky to duet with a man who understood duality, who had the talent to hear two opposing ideas in a single song, and the wisdom to know which side to reveal at which moment.
It also ain’t what you sing, it’s how you sing it. ‘Nuf said.
Yesterday, in his first speech since the election, President-elect Obama spoke at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he formally unveiled his stimulus plan to address the economic crisis. But the magic carpet ride of his vaunted rhetoric ran into a snag. The New York Times, in a lead article, reported resistance to the plan, even among his senate allies. Moreover, the usually-supportive newspaper was less than thrilled about his delivery of the speech. They wrote, “Known on the campaign trail for inspirational addresses, Mr. Obama on Thursday was sober and ominous, summoning the nation to meet a daunting task.”
Andy Borowitz, the political satirist, was not so constrained in his online comments: “Hoping to calm a nation whose nerves have been rattled by economic woes, President-elect Barack Obama today delivered the first in a series of numbingly boring speeches designed to put the nation to sleep.”
Has the bloom come off Obama’s rhetorical rose even before he gets to give his much anticipated Inaugural Address? What happened? A very simple analysis of the text reveals what went wrong. Obama fell into the classic structural trap of spending too much time on the problem before getting to the solution. Problems are, of necessity, expressed in sober and ominous tones. The speech ran only 17 minutes, but Obama spent almost half of it describing the economic crisis that every man, woman, and child in this country is living through daily. He finally got around to his plan at about the seventh minute.
Waiting half the movie to bring in the cavalry is desirable in Westerns, because it keeps the audience in suspense and munching lots of popcorn. In speeches, the audiences, deprived of popcorn, don’t have that kind of patience. The speaker has to get to the point quickly.
From the sparkling string of his previous speeches, you know that Barack Obama will get his story straight on January 20th. Yes he can.
At the beginning of my career as a speaking coach, I spent many tortuous, torturous, and torturing hours copying the mistakes of conventional presentation skills training, treating businesspeople as performers, thus perpetuating a counterproductive approach for both the instructed and the instructor. The very word ‘‘training’’ denotes rigorous discipline; while ‘‘coaching,’’ derived from the word for a transportation vehicle, denotes movement. My goal was to move the businesspeople I coached to become successful presenters naturally.
In search of solutions to my dilemma, I looked back on my days as a producer of public affairs programs at WCBS-TV in New York City. A key part of my job was to invite men and women from the government, academic, health, scientific, and culture sectors—none of them performers—into our studios. To help make these people feel comfortable and look comfortable in the stressful circumstances of appearing on camera, we leveraged the basic format of public affairs television: the talk show. By structuring our programs as conversations—person-to-person interviews or small group discussions conducted by professional moderators—we put our non-professional guests into familiar settings that promptly reduced their stress levels.
Another part of my job was to screen hours and hours of new and archival film and videotape, conduct hours and hours of interviews, read stacks and stacks of reports, and condense all of that information into a clear 28-minute-and-40-second program. In doing so, I developed an array of techniques to distill and focus ideas.
Looking at those two job functions in retrospect made me realize that control of content and control of mind would make the stressful circumstances of speaking in public or delivering presentations less onerous for business people—and for all human beings for whom standing in front of an audience provokes a fear equal to, if not greater than, that of heights, insects, or flying.
At that moment, the vicious cycle of copying mistakes ended and The Mental Method of Presenting began. My own coaching business, Power Presentations, provided a broad set of techniques to help presenters and speakers clear their minds by organizing their stories, and then to deliver them as a series of conversations rather than as performances.
De´ja` vu! Businesspeople in Silicon Valley promptly experienced the same comfort in presentations as did our guests in the CBS studios. Now that this powerful methodology has evolved and proven successful for two decades, its techniques are now available to wider audiences via our books and workshops. Now any presenter can learn how to feel natural and appear confident in front of any audience.
What does it take to get children to listen? Do they listen with their ears, or are they reacting to what they see?
When I call out to my son or give him instruction, he laughs and runs away, as though it’s a game. I never gave it much thought, he’s a two year old…that’s what they do. However, there are times when I want to make specific points with my son, and instruction I want heard. This had me thinking, I needed a on solution for how to best communicate with my young child.
Let me back up for a moment and describe my son to you in better detail.
He is the most independent person I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Yes, I do realize he is only two.
He climbs into his own high chair and buckles himself in when he’s ready to eat. He wants to brush his own hair and tie his own shoes, saying, “I wanna do it myself!” To keep from fighting with him, I now buy shoes with velcro closures and let him wear hats to cover his badly brushed hair. “No,” is his favorite word, and the opposite of what I say has now become the most interesting thing in the world to him.
Do I yell? Do I cave in? Do I treat him like a baby?
Absolutely NOT, to all of the above. I use a very simple business communications approach, eye contact.
Now, when I speak to my son, I kneel down to his size, I look him in the eyes, both eyes, and wait for him to connect back to mine before I make my point. Low and behold…he not only hears me, but he listens. He puts away his toys, stops the noise, he puts his cup in the sink (he’s a tall two year old,) he sits down and pretends to read his book.
I still get the “No, mommy,” and the “I no want to,” but I have found a way to win a few battles.
Ever since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, security measures for our presidents have become virtually airtight. Occasionally, a breach occurs as did John Hinckley’s bullet aimed at Ronald Reagan in 1981 and Iraqi reporter Muntadhar al Zeidi’s shoe aimed at George W. Bush in 2008.
The security for today’s inauguration of Barack Obama, already heightened because of the event’s exposed activities, has been heightened still further by “threats against him and intensified racist commentary on Web sites used by white supremacists,” as David Johnston reports in the New York Times. Johnston goes on to describe the $50 million security effort that will seal off the District of Columbia by closing all roads and the five major bridges to the city while fighter jets provide air cover and Coast Guard boats patrol the Potomac River and “teams of intelligence analysts, evidence response technicians, bomb experts, cybersecurity specialists, hostage negotiators, emergency medical personnel and SWAT units” are deployed.
I had my own foretaste of the level of security on Friday in Philadelphia. I was in the city to deliver a keynote at a University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education event, and then headed to the airport to return to San Francisco. During the taxi ride south to the airport, the northbound lane suddenly came alive with flashing red, white, and blue lights of a motorcade of more than two dozen vehicles police cars, motorcycles and black SUVs that went zipping past, doing 50 or 60 miles an hour. I asked the driver what it was all about, and he replied, “Obama!”
Only later, when I picked up the Wall Street Journal at the airport, did I learn that Obama was in Philadelphia to begin a whistle stop train trip “intended to reflect the inaugural voyage of fellow Illinois lawmaker Abraham Lincoln, who rode 12 days from Springfield, Ill., on the way to his 1861 inauguration.”
But the balance of my ride to the airport made the high level of security to protect the President-elect indelibly clear: for miles the northbound lane was an empty ribbon of concrete. Every entrance and exit ramp to that lane was barricaded by a pair of police motorcycle officers.
An average TV commercial lasts about 30 seconds. Creators of such short-lived entertainment must grab viewers’ attention within the first five seconds before they decide to change the channel. The sustained appeal should remain in the minds of viewers long after the span of the advertising campaign. The same holds true for any presentation or conversation.
The Government Employees Insurance Company, better known as GEICO, is an American insurance company that has mastered the skill of capturing minds of viewers with their catchy commercials. Most of us are familiar with the company’s talking gecko with an English accent. Since the company’s success with the GEICO gecko, it has launched another entertaining character. In 2004, the GEICO caveman was born.
A recent GEICO commercial starring the caveman at an airport serves as a perfect example of an attention-grabbing technique. In the commercial, the camera follows the caveman moving down an automated people mover with a plain white background. The boring background forces viewers’ eyes to focus on the caveman and their mind to wonder, what’s next? Within seconds, he encounters a large ad on the wall with the tagline “GEICO: so easy a caveman could do it,” followed by his disgust with the stereotype of caveman stupidity.
After watching the commercial in its entirety, it held my attention. The scene is a striking resemblance to the opening scene to The Graduate, a classic movie directed by Mike Nichols in 1967. Dustin Hoffman playing character Ben Braddock is shown moving down a people mover in an airport against a plain white background. Again it forces the viewers’ eye to focus on Hoffman. Viewers can’t help but to wonder what’s going to happen to his curious looking young man. (Of course, we all know where the story leads…)
There is no coincidence in the striking resemblance of the GEICO caveman commercial to the opening scene of The Graduate. It has been increasingly popular for ad campaigns to search in classic films and music for familiar yet catchy ideas.
People pay attention to subjects they recognize, it creates a common ground. When you present, capture your audience’s attention right at the beginning.
If something worked well as an attention grabber before, it will most likely work again.
In the five years since the publication of the first edition of Presenting to Win, I am proud to say that it has made a significant impact upon readers, selling more than 100,000 copies in 12 languages, and was named by Fortune Magazine as one of 8 “must read” books. By the same token, I am surprised to say that the book has not had as great an impact upon the presentation trade. Despite the extensive reach, and despite the continuing stream of clients that take the Power Presentations program upon which the book is based, I’ve learned that most presenters, after reading the book or taking the program, nonetheless default to a practice counter to the main theory in its pages.
Simply put, that theory is stated in the subtitle: The Art of Telling Your Story. True to its promise, the book offers techniques about that classic art, but does so for only two-thirds of its total pages. The other third is about graphic design in presentations, yet that aspect is not even mentioned on the cover. The imbalance is intentional.
Thank you for reading our blogs. You can now read the rest of this blog post in Jerry Weissman’s newest book, Presentations in Action: 80 Memorable Presentation Lessons from the Masters, now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 800-CEO-READ and many other online book stores.
Please read more about Presentations in Actionhere.