Barack Obama has endured expected criticism from Republican, Tea Party, and Libertarian naysayers who disagree with his politics; but he has also taken heat from his own supporters who have accused him of being distant and aloof. On the eve of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Maureen Dowd took him to task in herNew York Timescolumn:
Obama doesn’t like to share the stage with other politicians or even campaign for House Democrats. He thinks of himself as a singular force, a unique brand, and his narrative has always begun and ended with him. He thinks he did build it himself. But now — because of his own naïveté, insularity and arrogance — he needs Clinton
As if to drive the point home, just as Mr. Obama was about to deliver his speech yesterday, the Times published a lengthy article that analyzed transcripts of his campaign speeches and found that he used the words “I want…” 174 times in 41 speeches.
But in his actual speech last night, Mr. Obama turned the tables and the pronouns:
So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens — you were the change.
You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage. You did that.
You’re the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he’d be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance. You made that possible.
You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home; why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love, why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely, welcome home. Welcome home. You did that. You did that. You did that.
If you turn away now — if you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void, the lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote, Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves.
Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Only you have the power to move us forward.
The shift impressed the Times’ David Brooks, who wrote:
I liked the emphasis he put not on himself but on the word “you” — the idea that change comes organically from the bottom up.
Power Presentations - Thursday, September 06, 2012
By Jerry Weissman
Last night, former President Bill Clinton returned to the scene of his original crime, the Democratic National Convention, exonerated and honored. Twenty-four years earlier, he gave a speech in the same venue—in nomination of Michael Dukakis—that ran so far over his allotted time, the audience cheered derisively when he said, “In closing…”
There was no derision last night as the seasoned warrior pulled out all the stops in a barn burner of a keynote, trashing the Republicans and making a powerful case for Barack Obama’s re-election. Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote an excellent analysis of the speech here.
In 2007, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for New Yorker magazine, wrote a comprehensive profile of Barack Obama when he was an up and coming Illinois state legislator, called “Can Barack Obama Catch Hillary Clinton?”
In 2008, Barack Obama caught Hillary Clinton and kept running—all the way to the Oval Office.
In the August 6, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, Mr. Lizza wrote a comprehensive profile of up and coming Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.
Five days later, on August 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, announced that Mr. Ryan was his choice for his vice-presidential candidate.
Has Mr. Lizza picked another winner? Only the Election Day will tell, but both of Mr. Lizza’s choices for in-depth profiling have parallel communication qualities:
Speechmaking: In 2004, Mr. Obama wrote and delivered a Cinderella speech that took him from obscurity to rock stardom. In 1993, Mr. Ryan did his political internship as a speechwriter for former football hero Jack Kemp who, three years later, went on to become Bob Dole’s vice-presidential candidate.
Positive messaging: In 2008, Mr. Obama’s famous campaign slogan was “Yes we can!” In 2012, Mr. Ryan told Mr. Lizza:
If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose…People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, “Just criticize and don’t do anything and let’s win by default.” That’s ridiculous…They don’t want to produce alternatives? That’s not going to stop me from producing an alternative.2
“Criticize and propose” represents an unusual positive strategy in a campaign that, until now, has been as negative as it gets; characterized by the New York Times as “sliding back down the banister.” Mr. Obama’s “Yes we can” has vanished—replaced with a welter of critical ads and speeches. Mr. Romney, who battled his way to the Republican candidacy by attacking and counterattacking his opponents in the primaries, has continued in the same antagonistic mode against his Democratic opponent.
Mr. Ryan’s positive strategy, if he can stay with it, in the face what looks like an unrelievedly contentious campaign, provides a lesson for any communicator.
Business people cannot make their own case at the expense of the competition because it not only casts a negative pall on the whole market; it also boomerangs back onto the naysayer. Bashing sounds defensive. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. It is far better to look at all the players in the competitive landscape and position them within that larger context.
One way to do that is with the classic comparison matrix, originated by the Boston Consulting Group, of four quadrants, charting values along the x- and y-axes. Here’s how the BCG website describes it: “This framework categorizes products within a company's portfolio as stars, cash cows, dogs, or question marks according to growth rate, market share, and positive or negative cash flow.”
Another comparison table shows all the players on one axis and how they compare in several key features along the other axis, and grades them with checks and crosses, or plusses and minuses, or what is known as Harvey Balls, in which filled circles represent full value, empty circles, no value, and partially-filled circles represent partial value:
Just imagine if, in the upcoming October debates that will pit Mr. Ryan against Mr. Biden, and Mr. Romney against Mr. Obama, the candidates were to compare and contrast each other along the lines of one of these charts. We might just have a campaign that focuses on issues rather than charges; alternatives rather than criticism.
In the Sunday New York Times Book Review section, novelist Colson Whitehead took the opportunity to poke fun at some tried and true rules of the writers’ craft, some of which I have recommended myself.Among them are:
See Jerry’s interview on Pando Daily’s Pandolist: CEO Coaches.Pando Daily, founded by Sarah Lacy in 2012, is a news site that covers the technology startup ecosystem. Its single goal is to be the site-of-record for that startup root-system and everything that springs up from it, cycle-after-cycle.
1) What is your biggest fear?
The polarization in the United States now.
2) What's one thing you believe in that nearly everyone disagrees with you on?
My approach to presentations, people want me to give them short tips, they don’t want to take the time to learn. If I become a critic, nobody learns.
3) What's the one event in your life, be it personal or professional, that brought
you here today?
When my friend grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said start this business and do it now.
4) What is one piece of advice you're glad you didn't take?
I should just maintain this as a one man operation and close the door when I'm finished.
5) If you could have any mediocre super power, what would it be?
Arianna Huffington, the president and editor-in-chief of the
Huffington Post Media Group, a nationally syndicated columnist, and
author of thirteen books wrote about the value of good story telling in her blog today.
“I like that person; he/she looks you straight in the eye!”
“I don’t like that person; he/she is shifty-eyed!”
These two familiar exclamations define the opposite poles of eye contact, the most essential element in interpersonal communication. But effective eye contact has another little-known but important benefit: Calming the user.
Whenever you—or any presenter—stand up in front of any audience, the stress of the moment triggers an adrenaline rush that sets your whole body into the accelerated motion of Fight or Flight; particularly your eyeswhichsweep the room in search of escape routes.
The rapid eye movement makes you appear furtive to your audience, which makes feel them uneasy; when you sense their uneasiness, you become more stressed which heightens your adrenaline rush which makes your eyes move faster and…a vicious cycle.
It gets worse.
During the sweep, your eyes take in a great deal of sensory data. All of that data is processed by your brain which increases your stress which heightens your adrenaline rush which makes your eyes sweep faster; the faster your eyes move, the more data you take in… the vicious cycle compounds.
Instead, look at each individual in your audience long enough to see that person look back at you. This simple step will suddenly diminish your rapid eye movement. Readers of The Power Presenter will recognize this technique as “Eye Connect,” a more pronounced form of eye contact in which you engage with each member of your audience in full. Contrast this approach with the scanning that most presenters do in their attempt to make eye contact. Connect with every person you see by waiting until you see each person look back at you, until you make the connection.
While Eye Connect decreases the frequency of your eye movement, it also decreases the amount of sensory data your brain has to process, which reduces your stress, lowers your adrenaline rush and makes you calmer.
The calming effect created by diminished eye movement has an analogy in scuba diving. Karyn Scott, the Director of Enterprise Segment Marketing at Cisco, is a certified scuba diver. She explains that when she sees a novice diver panic under water, she swims to that person and gives hand signals— pointing two fingers rapidly back and forth between their eyes and hers—directing the person to look her in the eye. As soon as their eyes stop darting, their panic subsides, and the air bubbles coming from their regulator quickly slow down. Connecting eye to eye with another human is so powerful there’s almost no need for words.
Bruce Iliff, an Australian scuba Divemaster, has a variation of Ms. Scott’s method: he recommends that when divers start to panic, they should “look at the surface. At 20 metres the surface looks so close you could reach out and touch it, a comforting thought!”
In essence, both Mr. Iliff and Ms. Scott are advocating the same method you can use when you present: look at each person in your audience until you see that person look back. That simple but powerful step will decrease the frequency of your eye movement, increase the duration of your engagement—and you will become calmer.
Sue Shellenbarger, the creator of the
"Work & Family" column for the Wall Street Journal, did a piece last week on the importance of good
grammar in the workplace. The column quickly became the most popular on the
newspaper’s website. Ms. Shellenbarger identified the challenge at the
beginning of her column: “looseness with language can create bad impressions
with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors.”
The rest of her column is just as good,
so I’ll step out of the way and let you read
P.S. Be sure to try your hand at the 22
test questions by clicking on the "interactive graphics" tab directly
under the title.
No presenter in his or her right mind would want to see an audience yawning, right?
Of course not, but there is an aspect of yawning that is desirable: Empathy, the involuntary sharing of feelings between human beings. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of one person’s yawn producing a contagious chain of yawning in other people in the room. But I’m not talking about putting your audience to sleep; I’m talking about provoking a positive empathy as contagious as yawning.
Empathy occurs in specialized brain cells called mirror neurons. Studies have shown that mirror neurons cause us to mimic the physical behaviors and emotional states that we observe in others. What we see, we feel.
ABC Science of Australia reported on a study on empathy made by Atsushi Senji at the University of London’s Birbeck College. In the study, two groups of children, one with and one without autism—a developmental condition that severely affects social interaction—watched video clips of other people yawning. The researchers found that the children with autism yawned less than the other children, leading the researchers to conclude, "It supports the claim that contagious yawning is based on the capacity for empathy."
In other words, empathy is intrinsic. Your audience perceives and responds to your emotions on a very fundamental level. If you appear poised and confident, they will feel your confidence and you will win them over.
But how can you be poised and confident when you get up on stage, the bright lights hit you, and your adrenaline starts flowing? The only method I’ve found successful is to do the groundwork first.
As a producer of corporate meetings and events, I’ve seen the full spectrum of efforts when it comes to presenters. Some prefer to be spontaneous and just “wing it.” Others inherit a slide deck from their boss or a colleague and try to shoe-horn it into the context of their presentation or speech.
Effective presenters first get their story straight by brainstorming, determine the key elements, the benefits for the audience, establish a logical order for their story, and then develop slides that support their message. But most importantly, they are the ones I see showing up for rehearsals!
No one can completely eliminate the adrenaline rush that occurs when you are on stage. But if you’re well-rehearsed, you own your own story, and tell it in a logical order, the adrenaline rush will be greatly reduced. You will feel more poised and confident, and your audience will feel it too.
And I guarantee they won’t be yawning!
Thanks to Chad Hall of Ioxus and Eli [Oleg] Pozniansky of CSR Technology (formerly Zoran) for their contributions to this post.