Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, who was the driving force behind the controversial Vietnam War, went on to a more successful stint as head of the World Bank. He lived until the ripe old age of 93, but according to his New York Times obituary, “spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral consequences.”
As part of his struggle, he agreed to be the subject of a 2003 documentary in which he expressed regrets but ultimately defended his actions. The film is called The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara. Lesson Ten is about communication, and it contains sound advice for presenters about what not to do. Said Mr. McNamara:
One of the lessons I learned early on: never say never. Never, never, never. Never say never. And secondly, never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It's a very good rule.
Unfortunately, that rule has taken on a life of its own in the modern business world. Many consultants urge presenters to stay on message. And yes, it’s good to do that--within bounds. But think about it: How can it be a “very good rule” not to be responsive to other people? In interpersonal relationships, not answering a question can lead to an argument; in business, not answering a question can lead to the failure of a deal. Only in politics, where the public has become inured to the practice of ducking and spinning does the public tolerate unanswered questions. But even there, the McNamara rule can backfire.
In the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry threw his hat into the ring late in the game, but his track record of three consecutive victories in Texas elections and strong conservative support vaulted him to the top of the public opinion polls very quickly. However, after hapless performances in live televised debates, Mr. Perry’s poll numbers sank as fast as they had risen. The polls were confirmed in his dismal showings in the first three primaries, and he withdrew from the race five months after he entered.
Mr. Perry’s two most notorious performance stumbles were his brain lock in one debate and a bungled statement in another, each of which went viral on the Web and in the media. But what was largely overlooked in all that attention was a Robert McNamara moment in the October 18, 2011 debate on CNN, when moderator Anderson Cooper asked this question:
COOPER: Governor Perry, the 14th Amendment allows anybody. A child of illegal immigrants who is born here is automatically an American citizen. Should that change?
PERRY: Well, let me address Herman's issue that he just talked about.
COOPER: Actually, I'd rather you answer that question.
PERRY: I understand that. You get to ask the questions, I get to answer like I want to.
“I get to answer like I want to.” Imagine a salesperson saying that to a customer, a mid-level manger to a senior executive, an executive to a board member, or a CEO to an investor. Meeting over. No deal.
Imagine saying that to your significant other. No comment.
Anderson Cooper called Mr. Perry on it, “That's actually a response, that's not an answer.”
Four months later, in another debate among Republican candidates, a déjà vu Robert McNamara moment occurred in this exchange between Mitt Romney and CNN moderator John King:
KING: What is the biggest misconception about you in the public debate right now?
ROMNEY: We've got to restore America's promise in this country where people know that with hard work and education, that they're going to be secure and prosperous and that their kids will have a brighter future than they've had. For that to happen, we're going to have to have dramatic fundamental change in Washington, D.C., we're going to have to create more jobs, have less debt, and shrink the size of the government. I'm the only person in this race --
KING: Is there a misconception about you? The question is a misconception.
ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions want, I get to give the answers I want.
You must respond to all questions. This is not to say that you should give away state secrets; you have every right to decline to answer on the basis of confidentiality, competitive data, or company or legal policy, but you must provide a rational reason — and “I get to answer like I want to” is irrational.
At first glance, the only Greek in Guy Kawasaki might be the most recent dinner he had at Evvia, the popular Palo Alto restaurant, but after reading his new book, What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us, I’ve decided that he must be a distant relative of Aristotle. The classic Greek philosopher established the ground rules for rhetoric 2300 years ago, and Guy has brought them roaring into the 21st Century at a gallop.
Aristotle proposed that, to be persuasive, a writer must provide the holy trinity of Ethos, or credibility, Pathos, or benefits, and Logos, or evidence.
Ethos. Guy, whose new book positions Google+ in the social media space, posts five to ten times a day himself, and so he knows whereof he writes. If that were not enough, he runs Alltop and HolyKaw, two popular social media sites. And of course, his legacy as the Chief Evangelist at Apple Computer gives him the ultimate in credibility; think of it as Cred+.
Pathos. The book is loaded with helpful advice for anyone who wants to be current and successful in today’s online—social and business—world.
Logos. The format is studded with illustrative screen shots, tables, and examples. As a crowning touch, Guy kick starts each chapter with a clever but pertinent epigram.
Taken together, What the Plus! provides a clear comparison with Facebook and Twitter, and forms the basis for a valuable manual in the art and science of social media.
Coincidentally, on the day I read Guy’s book, I also decided to sign up for an online music service. I tried one and found it so complex and daunting that I abandoned the effort after two frustrating hours—especially when I was unable to reach customer support. I tried another service, logged in instantly, and then had some questions. They responded to my email query in less than five minutes with full, clear, and authoritative answers.
The experience was a perfect metaphor for Guy’s new book: swift, helpful, and thorough or, as his undoubtedly long-lost ancestor Aristotle would say, Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
“Message sent is not the same as message received.”
“Telephone,” the traditional party or children’s game—in which a phrase or sentence is whispered from one person to another around a dinner table or room—provides a valuable lesson in the lost art of listening. Inevitably, at the end of the cycle, when the last person speaks the message aloud, the phrase has taken on a completely new meaning. The phenomenon has the positive effect of stimulating conversation and interaction in the game, but in other walks of life—particularly business—the outcome can be a failure to succeed, let alone communicate.
Influential venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, whose five-second rule of slide design you read about in an earlier post here and Forbes post, is a keen observer of all aspects of communication. Another of Mr. Khosla’s cardinal rules is “Message sent is not the same as message received,” an eloquent statement of the obligation of all presenters to assure that their target audience has received the intended message. Fulfilling that obligation requires a full court press that can be described, with all due respect to Stephen Covey, as “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Presenters”:
1. Analyze your audience in advance. Just as sales people qualify their customers, presenters must qualify their audiences. In your preparation, gather as much information as you can about who they are, what they know, and what they want to know; identify their concerns, fears, and hot buttons.
2. Develop focused content. Armed with your thorough analysis, create content that addresses your audience’s interests. An essential part of this process is to eliminate irrelevant information—easier said than done because most presenters operate under the assumption that, for their audience to understand anything, they must tell them everything. Wrong! Tell them only what they need to know.
3. Offer multiple benefits. Here, too, a basic sales practice provides a lesson. Most sales persons sell features rather than benefits—and so do most presenters. Infuse your pitch with benefits. Find multiple points in your presentation to insert a sentence that begins, “The reason this is important to you…” and then concludes with a benefit to your audience.
4. Customize, customize, customize. In today’s high pressure, high stakes business world, presenters—who have become road warriors—try to save time by making a one-size-fits-all presentation. Wrong again! Use the information you collected in your preparation and make frequent references to it throughout your presentation to keep it fresh and specific.
5. Track your progress as you present. The importance of eye contact in presentations is a given, but most presenters merely scan their audiences and see nothing. Read your audience’s reaction to your story. Look for their head nods.
6. Adjust your content. If instead of head nods, you get frowns or puzzled looks, pause in your narrative and add a brief explanation, or ask your audience if they have questions.
7. Respond to all questions in full. Whether you get questions during or after your presentation, you—unlike politicians—must respond. This is not to say that you must reveal strategic or confidential information, but that you should address the issue in every question and give a reason when you cannot. Respond you must. Never evade.
Although Mr. Khosla applies his cardinal rule to the presentations of his existing portfolio companies—and those who aspire to become one of his portfolio companies—he represents every member of every audience of every presentation you will ever give. If you aspire to succeed, make sure that every message you send is received—loud and clear— by every audience.
oes this large, illuminated letter look familiar? It should. The style has been around ever since medieval times to mark the beginning of a new document. It has continued on into modern publishing where an enlarged first letter marks the beginning of chapters in books and the beginnings of articles in magazines and newspapers. Now it becomes a factor in how we view computer screens.
EyeTrackShop, an eponymous Swedish start-up company, does exactly what its name says: track eye movements to, as their slogan puts it, “identify where people look, for how long and in what order.” Using webcams to follow and record how viewers perceive images, the company’s technology helps advertisers create effective ads and web designers create effective web pages. By understanding the dynamics of how viewers perceive ads and web pages you can create effective graphics for your presentations.
One of EyeTrackShop’s projects studied how users viewed the homepages of Facebook and Google+. The results, shown in the “Fixation Order” charts below and reported in the Wall Street Journal, found that in both cases, “Users’ eyes head straight for the big status column in the middle of the screen, then over to the list of categories on the left side, then hop across to alerts on the right.”
Those movements are driven by forces more powerful than the images on the Google and Facebook sites, two forces that drive the eyes of every human being:
Nurture: In Western culture, because we have learned to read from left to right, our eyes always start reading at the upper left corner of documents
Nature: The optic reflexes in all human eyes impel them to take in new images, and so, having started at the upper left, readers’ eyes naturally—and involuntarily—move to the right.
As a result, human eyes do essentially what the eyes of the subjects in the EyeTrackShop study did: after centering on the full image, they move to the upper left to start reading, and then sweep across to the right to continue reading. Therefore, whenever you click to a new slide, your audience’s eyes start reading at the upper left of the screen and sweep across to the right.
If your slide is densely packed with images, numbers, and/or text, your audience’s eyes will not see the entire image on the first rightward move; they will have to come back to the left and go back to the right again. The denser the slide, the more times your audience’s eyes will have to traverse the screen, the more traverses they make, the less they will hear of what you are saying.
Do you see where this is going? Back to the familiar Less is More principle, and this new added corollary: Reduce the number of moves your audience’s eyes must make to understand your slide.
Apply this basic approach to the two most common slides in presentations today: text and bars.
Avoid wordwrap in text
Eliminate left axes in bar charts.
You saw these principles applied in a prior blog, but they’re worth another look:
Feel how your eyes naturally take in each slide: they start at the left and swing to the right.
Do the same for all your presentations. Design effective slides by reducing the number of eye moves your audiences must make.
Minimize the processing their eyes—and their brains—must do. Let them spend their energy and time focused on you.
his campaign to become the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt
Romney has taken many lumps for being rich. His opponents and the media
have exploited the contrast between his personal wealth and the economic
struggles of much of the electorate. Mr. Romney hasn’t helped his cause
by making several awkward statements about the subject. Yesterday, the
day before today’s critical Michigan and Arizona primaries, the ABC News
OTUS site ran a twelve-page post titled, “Is Mitt Romney out of touch?” which included the following assertions:
The latest gaffe came last Friday in a speech Mr. Romney gave in Detroit,
during which he said, “I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck,’’
but then went on to say, “Ann drives, a couple of Cadillacs, actually.’’
The statement wound up on the first page of the ABC News post.
On Sunday, however, Mr. Romney reversed gears by turning the gaffe into an asset. During an interview on Fox News, Chris Wallace asked, “Governor, could you understand why some voters could be put off by those things?”
(video clip requires Microsoft Windows Media Player)
Mr. Romney replied:
I can't be perfect, I just am who I am and I can tell you this
with regards to the cars that was talked about last September and people
ask us what vehicles we own. We have a car in California; we have a car
And so that's the way it is. If people think that there is something
wrong for being successful in America, they should vote for the other
guy. I have been successful.
Mr. Romney didn’t equivocate or evade as so many politicians so often
do. In the parlance of the middle America he is trying to win over, he
“told it like it is;” in the parlance of effective communication, he was
being open and direct. But being even more effective, he added one more
sentence to his answer:
And I want to use that success to help the American people.
That single sentence represents both a benefit to the electorate and a
declaration of his qualifications to provide that benefit. This is a
technique called Topspin; taken from the tennis term for a power stroke,
it adds power to answers. You can read more about Topspin in my book, In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions—and can get a FREE Kindle copy now on Amazon.
Going into last night’s debate among the four candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination, Rick Santorum had the wind at his back. Having swept the contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Coloradotwo weeks ago, he surged to the head of the polls for next week’s primary election in Michigan—the home state of Mitt Romney, the presumptive favorite—a potential bump in the latter’s road to the nomination. CNN moved Mr. Santorum to center stage for the debate, a promotion from his wing position in the previous 19 televised debates. However, being the front runner also means being in the cross-hairs of the other candidates and, as expected, Mr. Romney, Ron Paul, and John King, the CNN moderator, as any moderator would, went after Mr. Santorum.
In the run up to the debate, one of the major subjects drawing attention in the media was Mr. Santorum’s social conservatism, particularly his views on birth control. A viewer sent a question on the subject to CNN via the Internet, and Mr. King asked it of each candidate:
KING: We take a question now from cnnpolitics.com. You can see it up on the screen here: “Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control and if not, why?”
Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich each gave his answer, and then came Mr. Santorum’s turn:
SANTORUM: As Congressman Paul knows, I opposed Title X funding. [Title X Family Planning program, was enacted in 1970 as part of the Public Health Service Act.] I've always opposed Title X funding, but it's included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things, including the funding for the National Institutes of [entity display="Health" type="section" active="true" key="/health"]Health[/entity], the funding for [entity display="Health" type="section" active="false" key="/health"]Health[/entity] and Human Services and a whole bunch of other departments. It's a multi-billion-dollar bill… So while, yes, I -- I admit I voted for large appropriation bills and there were things in there I didn't like, things in there I did…
Now flash back to the 2004 presidential campaign and candidate John Kerry’s statement about his position on support for the Iraq War:
KERRY: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
Now flash forward to the current campaign and Mr. Santorum’s repeated accusations of Mr. Romney’s flip-flopping. As philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
After last night’s debate, NBC News/Marist released a new poll that showed Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum “locked in a statistical tie” in Michigan.
Power Presentations - Wednesday, February 22, 2012
“I” versus “You”
by Jerry Weissman
There’s an old joke about the opera diva who receives an adoring fan in her dressing room after a performance. The diva goes on and on about how magnificently she sang every one of her arias, about her dramatic acting, her expressive gestures, and her fabulous costumes. After about half an hour, the diva says to the fan, “But enough about me, what did you think of my performance?”
Joe Dator, a cartoonist for New Yorker magazine, did a variation on the diva joke. In his sketch, a man is speaking to a woman seated across a table. The caption reads, “Enough about me, but nothing about you just yet.”
This is no laughing matter in most other walks of life where self-centeredness is an obstacle to communication. In presentations, self-centeredness is manifested by a lack of relevance to the audience, and in sales by the lack of benefits for the customer. But to fully understand the negative impact of such one-way communications, let’s take a more universal view by focusing on self-centeredness in conversations, a social phenomenon otherwise known as “Having a ’versation.”
We’ve all been trapped by party bores who emulate the opera diva by delivering monologues all about themselves. One of the early indications that the one-way street is heading for a dead end is the ratio of declarative statements to questions. Bores speak with no question marks on their verbal keyboard.
Another indicator is the ratio of how frequently bores say “I” to how infrequently they say “you.” That simple metric serves as an early warning for you to excuse yourself to head for the bar and refresh your drink. But the role of pronouns in communication extends beyond chit chat into interpersonal relationships.James W. Pennebaker, a University of Texas at Austin psychologist, studies the connections between the frequency of words and feelings. In his book, The Secret Life of Pronouns,he writes:
Pronouns (such as I, you, we, and they)…broadcast the kind of people we are…By looking more carefully at the ways people convey their thoughts in language, we can begin to get a sense of their personalities, emotions, and connections with others.
Mr. Pennebaker conducted a variety of research projects ranging from Craigslist ads to Twitter messages to prove his point. One of the most revealing was a study on speed-dating which, according to a report in the New York Times, “found that couples who used similar levels of personal pronouns, prepositions and even articles were three times as likely to want to date each other compared with those whose language styles didn’t match.”
This post is not meant to help you improve your results at speed-dating, but to urge you to match closely with your listeners, to focus on the “co-” in communications, to have a conversation, not a ‘versation.
When you present, be mindful of your audience by offering them benefits; when you converse, be mindful of the other person by balancing your “I” to “you” ratio. When in doubt, err on the side of the latter.
After several high school and college courses, a few classes at Berlitz, and numerous trips to France and Italy, I have developed enough facility in their languages to get by in their restaurants, hotels, and shops, but not nearly enough to have full conversations. However, I have also developed a taste for French and Italian cinema, and so my Netflix queue is populated primarily by such films. Of course, when I watch them, I have to rely on the subtitles for translation and drop my eyes to the bottom of the screen every time they change. As I do, my ears pick out some of the spoken words but, because the actors are natives, they speak too quickly for me to follow them—except for the words at the ends of their sentences.
Therein lies a lesson for presenters.
Whenever actors, public speakers, clergy, or people in conversation, end a sentence or a phrase, they usually pause. The pause gives the listeners—the audience—time to absorb the words. But when a presenter stands up in front of an audience, the stress of the situation triggers an adrenaline rush which produces time warp that causes the presenter to speak faster and rush past the pauses.
Watch any Woody Allen film and you’ll see the effect of stress on speech tempo. Most of his characters—as reflections of his own public persona—are neurotic people who get into complicated situations. As soon as the plot thickens, the characters’ words accelerate like a Ferrari on the open road. This is amusing in a Woody Allen film, but it can damage a presentation because the rapid pace not only makes a presenter appear harried; it garbles the presenter’s words. The latter problem is heightened when—in our globalized world—presenters speak to audiences for whom English is a second language.
That is where we come full circle to the lesson from foreign films. Professional actors pay as much attention to the cadence of their speech as they do to the tone of their voices; and so, when actors end their sentences, they pause to punctuate the meaning of an idea. Presenters are not actors, but their ideas do fall into logical phrases. Presenters would do well to give their audiences—whether native English speakers or English-as-a-second-language speakers—a moment to absorb their information by pausing at the ends of their phrases. The best way to create a pause is to drop your voice at the ends of your phrases. Sadly, many presenters today do the opposite; they let their voices rise at the ends of their phrases, producing the dreaded “Valley Girl” effect (the subject of an earlier post.) If you concentrate on dropping your voice, you will not only sound more authoritative, you will add those valuable pauses.
I attended a presentation given by a Frenchman who started his pitch as fast as a racehorse bolting out of the gate. In the first moments, I heard him say “zee ontairpreez,” and didn’t understand. But later on in the presentation, when he settled down and began pausing (if nothing else than to breathe) he spoke the words again. Only then did I realize that he had said, “the enterprise.”
Learn a lesson from foreign films and from the classic Coca-Cola slogan, take “the pause that refreshes.”
In a prior post on the art of developing your story, you read that Federico Fellini, the legendary Italian cinema director noted for his imaginative stories, approached the creative process with an open mind; considering any and all ideas fair game for his films. The equivalent of Mr. Fellini’s method in presentations is brainstorming, a step most presenters skip in their rush to prepare their next pitch. Instead, they begin by shuffling existing slides, and often at the last minute. They do this because, as results-driven people, they seek to impose structure at the outset. But every human mind, whether artistic or business, generates ideas randomly, and so an essential part of the creative process—and developing a presentation is a creative process—is to incorporate the randomness. Artists understand this fact of life and go with the free flow.
Woody Allen, a virtual one-man movie studio, having written more than 60 films during his long and illustrious career, is no exception. He revealed his creative process in a biographical documentary on the American Masters series PBS. In a scene shot in his apartment, Mr. Allen reached into a nightstand drawer, took out a large stack of cluttered papers and said, “This is my collection. This is how I start. It’s all kind of scraps and things that are written on hotel things. I’ll ponder these things.” Then, as he tossed the papers onto his bed, he added, “I’ll dump them here like this…I go through this all the time, every time I start a project. And I sit here like this… and I look at one… like that...and then …”
For your brainstorming, as your version of Mr. Allen’s hotel scraps, you can use 3-by-5 index cards, a whiteboard, Post-it Notes or one of the many software products on the market, among them Inspiration, MindManager and Microsoft’s Visio. Whichever vehicle you choose, consider any and all ideas—but be sure that you resist your results-driven instinct to impose structure during your free flow. If you impose structure too soon, you impose censorship, and could lose a fresh idea. Save the structuring for after the brainstorming is done.
Here, too, we find a lesson in the methodology of Woody Allen and Federico Fellini. Each of them is noted for his creativity in post-production, the period after the writing and the shooting, when the director assembles and structures the film. In fact, one of Mr. Fellini’s techniques was to cast actors who looked best for the filming and other actors whose voices sounded best for the sound track and overdubbed them in the post-production.
Let your mind do what it’s going to do during your brainstorming, and do your structuring afterwards. Use the right tool for the right job and in the right sequence.
Follow Woody Allen’s advice, “It’s not rocket science, this is not quantum physics. If you’re the writer of the story, you know what you want your audience to see because you’ve written it. It’s just storytelling and you tell it.”
frequently asked question of presentation coaches is “What do I do with my
hands?” In a previous post, I cautioned against
choreography; I’ve seen far too many presenters attempt to illustrate their
narrative with specific gestures and wind up tying themselves into pretzel
knots. Instead, use your hands and arms
as you do naturally, to illustrate what you are saying. However, I do recommend
one gesture: to extend your hand and arm periodically, bridging the gap between
you and your audience (as AT&T says, “Reach Out”), while simultaneously
replicating the universal handshake.
Reagan provides an alternative point of view. Throughout his career, The Great
Communicator rarely used any gestures. A commercial DVD called Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicatorcontains
clips from more than 100 public appearances during his eight years as
president. In all the clips, he made an expansive gesture with his hands and
arms only once.
Reagan actually began to use this style during his formative years as a
presenter. Between the twilight of his days as an actor and the start of his
political career as the Governor of California, he spent eight years as a
spokesman for General Electric Corporation which gave him many opportunities to
present in many venues. One of them was as the host of GE Theater, an anthology
series of television dramas. In one 1954 episode, he delivered his introduction
standing, framed by stage lights, in front a blank wall of a movie studio.
Attired in a smartly-tailored tweed coat sprouting a natty pocket kerchief, he
had his right arm propped on a stage light and his left hand in his trouser pocket.
During the entire introduction, neither arm ever budged.
might call this the “Look, Ma, no hands!” approach, taken from the common
phrase that a child riding a bicycle might call out to its mother—and used in countless other variations. The style
worked—wonders—for Mr. Reagan. Would it work for you? The answer, as always, is
to do what comes naturally for you.
unnatural approach is to treat gesturing as performing. One variation of performing is to divide the
use of hands into two camps known as “Anchorperson or Weatherperson.” As we all
know from television news programs, Anchorpersons sit stock still at a desk,
rarely using their hands; while Weatherpersons
wave their hands and arms about broadly to indicate weather patterns on a map.
This division parallels the Ronald Reagan no-hands style vis-à-vis the
gesture-to-illustrate style, but it does so as performance.
are reading this post, it is highly unlikely that you are a performer or that
you were auditioned for your position or that you were hired because of your
acting skills. You were hired on the basis of the personality you presented
during your interview and vetting process; and that personality was your natural style.