Sue Shellenbarger, the creator and writer of the Wall Street Journal's "Work & Family" column, wrote a comprehensive article here on how the quality of a person's voice can impact his or her career. Our solution is a skill called "Resonance," which helps anyone improve the quality of their voice by simply widening their throat, mouth, and nasal sinuses when speaking. You can find a full discussion about resonance along with a set of simple exercises in a chapter called, "How to Develop a Rich, Resonant Voice," in my new book Winning Strategies for Power Presentations.
Leah Garchik, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes mostly about social events, but this week’s column provided two important lessons for presenters. See if you can find them in the text of her column below; and while we’re posing questions, see if you can identify the three authors Ms. Garchik references:
“She could do with a little less training,” said an observer who attended a book lecture last week by a modern feminist member of high-tech royalty. The author, whose homage and how-to about having it all is being snapped up by women everywhere, and is atop the best-seller list, seemed to be so media-coached that instinctive charisma had been replaced by repetitions of the phrase ‘in my book.’ In consultant's terms, this is called “staying on point.” In real life, this is called “tedious.” “I think she wants to run for office,” said the spy.
And then there's the savvy entertainment mogul whose onstage chronological account of his career was peppered with "in Chapter 2," then "in Chapter 3," and so on. We were there to pretend we were chatting with him one-on-one, as if he were sitting across the kitchen table; no one was going to look up citations. Sharing celebrity foibles is interesting, but signing a contract does not an anecdote make.
Finally, my neighbor at a fundraising luncheon a few months ago said she'd heard the main speaker a few days before, at another luncheon for another cause. This was a much-admired national hero whose name has become a household word. At first shy and somewhat stumbling in the media glare, over the past few years, as he's been on the TV and luncheon circuit, his sentences have become more grammatical, his points more polished. In fact, they are so shiny nowadays that his remarks sound as though they were learned in Motivational Speaking 101.
Bravo to all three for the feat of sharing their stories. But too much storytelling practice doesn't always make perfect.
The first presentation lesson resides in Ms. Garchik’s sentence, “We were there to pretend we were chatting with him one-on-one, as if he were sitting across the kitchen table.” One-on-one is the approach every presenter should use in every presentation. As a coach, one of my consistent challenges is to get presenters to be conversational rather than attempt to be performers. Business people are not auditioned for their jobs; they are chosen on the basis of the impression they make during their intake interviews—and those interviews are conversations and not presentations. A simple solution is to make every presentation a series of person-to-person conversations.The second lesson comes from Ms. Garchik’s observation about the excessive repetitions of the phrase “in my book,” which makes the exchange “all about me”—and not about the listener. Substitute “audience” for “listener” and you can see the problem: a one-way street. Just as salespersons who sell features rather than benefits fail to make the sale, presenters who disregard their audiences fail to make the connection. Or as the line from the classic Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke, has it, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Make it all about them.
The 40th and 44th Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, were two men whose politics are poles apart, but who share one common touch point that serves as a lesson for any presenter.
Although their speaking styles also differ—Mr. Reagan, the genial former actor from the Midwest, who overwhelmed audiences with his underplaying, and Mr. Obama, the cool former Ivy League attorney, who rouses audiences with his dynamic voice and elegant bearing—both men use their individual styles in the service of their outstanding ability to tell human interest stories.
Mr. Reagan almost singlehandedly invented the anecdotal game. The Great Communicator rarely missed an opportunity to tell a tale about a brave soldier or a dedicated student. Readers of Presentations in Action will recall the story of how, in 1983, Mr. Reagan honored the courageous act of a federal employee named Lenny Skutnik by recounting the details of the act during the State of the Union Address—while Mr. Skutnik sat next to Nancy Reagan-establishing a precedent that every president since has followed.
Mr. Obama appreciates Mr. Reagan’s talents. In his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, Mr. Obama frequently referenced his predecessor. “I understand his appeal,” Mr. Obama wrote, referring to Mr. Reagan’s ability to spark Americans to “rediscover the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, personal responsibility, optimism and faith. That Reagan’s message found such a receptive audience spoke … to his skills a communicator.”
Mr. Obama took his appreciation of Mr. Reagan along with him during his 2010 holiday vacation in Hawaii in the form of a book. At the slow news periods like holidays, media interest sometimes turns to what the president is reading. That year it was a biography called President Reagan, by Lou Cannon. In it, Mr. Obama read a statement Mr. Reagan made just after he left office:
Some of my critics over the years have said that I became president because I was an actor who knew how to give a good speech. I suppose that’s not too far wrong. Because an actor knows two important things—to be honest in what he’s doing and to be in touch with the audience. That’s not bad advice for a politician either. My actor’s instincts simply told to speak the truth as I saw it and felt it.
Little did Barack Obama know how meaningful that statement would be. Shortly after his return from that vacation, on January 8, 2011, a deranged Jared Lee Loughner shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen other people during a public citizens’ meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. Four days after that tragic event, Mr. Obama flew to Tucson to address a stunned nation and the families and friends of the victims at a memorial service at the University of Arizona.
After a brief formal opening of condolences including a passage from Scripture, Mr. Obama began to talk about each of the victims. In simple, but eloquent words, he painted a warm human picture of each person’s life—especially that of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green whose story he extended as a role model for the nation:
Imagine -- imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council. She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want to live up to her expectations.
The passage could have been taken right out of the Ronald Reagan style manual.
Validation came from the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, a former speech writer for Mr. Reagan and a frequent critic of Mr. Obama. In her postmortem of the Tucson event, she wrote, “About a third of the way through, the speech took on real meaning and momentum, and by the end it was very good, maybe great.” She attributed the pivot to “when Mr. Obama started to make things concrete … specific facts about real human beings.” (F29.5)
“Specific facts about real human beings,” is sound advice for any speaker.
Power Presentations - Wednesday, February 27, 2013
by Jerry Weissman
There’s an old Show Business story about an aging vaudeville comic who is about to meet his Maker. His friends and family come to his deathbed to say their goodbyes. One of his former partners, dismayed at seeing his friend’s frail state, leans in to whisper, “Dying is hard.”
The vaudevillian looks up and says, “Not as hard as comedy.”
Seth MacFarlane tried to be funny as the host of the 2013 Oscar telecast and proceeded to lay more eggs than a chicken farm in rural New Jersey. He bombed because he broke the three cardinal rules of comedy:
He announced that he was about to tell a joke
He snickered or laughed after he told the joke
He mis-timed his delivery by pausing too long before his punch lines
His content was another matter. Content is all a matter of taste, and many critics found Mr. MacFarlane’s mockery of women, Jews, blacks, gays, alcoholics, children, and even the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, thoroughly tasteless.
Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, summed it up perfectly: “It wasn’t funny,” Mr. Foxman said. “It was ugly.”
Mr. MacFarlane, in a sense, agreed. When asked whether he would repeat his performance for the next Oscar broadcast, he said, “No way.”
Teddy Wayne, a novelist whose latest, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, was reviewed on the front pageof the New York Times Book Review on Sunday, also appeared in the newspaper on Monday with an article giving advice about public speaking. Mr. Wayne earned this prime coverage because of his reputation for comic writing. The review called his new book “more than a scabrous sendup of American celebrity culture; it’s also a poignant portrait of one young artist’s coming of age.”
But comedy might not be the best vehicle for advice on public speaking. I commented on his article:
You're a very funny writer, Mr. Wayne, and you've done some clever riffs on the apocryphal misconceptions about public speaking advice, but this is a dead serious matter. Businesses and careers can rise or fall on how a person communicates.
Another clever writer named Mark Twain once said that there are two kinds of public speakers: those who get nervous and those who are liars.
Power Presentations - Wednesday, November 14, 2012
by Jerry Weissman
On the Sunday before Election Day, the New York Times (which had enthusiastically endorsed President Obama the previous Sunday) published a negative article in its Magazine section titled, “Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief.” In the article, Matt Bai, the newspaper's chief political correspondent, pondered how Mr. Obama had “squandered his narrative mojo.”
Mr. Bai was echoing an opinion voiced by many others throughout the election campaign; particularly by his Times colleague, Maureen Dowd, who, in one of her many critiques of the president, took a shot at him by referencing a new book, A Nation of Wusses, in which “Democrat Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, wonders how ‘the best communicator in campaign history’ lost his touch.”
The mistake of my first term – couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times. It’s funny when I ran everybody said, “well he can give a good speech, but can he actually manage the job?” And in my first two years, I think the notion was, “well, he’s been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where’s the story that tells us where he’s going?” And I think that was a legitimate criticism.
That self-evaluation became a self-fulfilling prophecy in his first debate with Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama’s lackluster performance drew a torrent of criticism—including here—and a dip in the opinion polls. But the criticism also served as a wakeup call. He became a man possessed for the rest of the campaign. Reaching back to his breakthrough keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he pulled out all the rhetorical stops from that speech and deployed them throughout the rest of his 2012 campaign: in the second and third debates, in his many stump speeches, and then again in his rousing victory speech.
Readers of The Power Presenter will recall that I analyzed the rhetorical techniques in the 2004 speech. Below you’ll find a reprise of three of the techniques and their equivalents in the 2012 victory speech:
Antithesis: two contrasting ideas juxtaposed in adjacent phrases.
There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.
it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.
Anaphora: a phrase repeated in several successive sentences, clauses, or phrases
America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do -- if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November.
This country has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that's not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
Anecdote is a brief human interest story (and not a joke.)
I met a young man named Shamus in a V.F.W. Hall in East Moline, Illinois…
And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter…
As Mr. Obama starts his second term facing many daunting domestic and international challenges, he will have to keep that narrative mojo going at full strength. As Matt Bai put it in the conclusion of his article, “Once you’re in office, the story you tell about and to the country …is, to a large extent, the presidency itself.”
Twelve years ago, during the presidential election that pitted Vice President Al Gore against then Texas Governor George W. Bush, the candidates met in three debates, just as President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are doing this year. One dynamic from the 2000 campaign could carry forward to this year: dramatic reversals in presentation style. Just as Mr. Obama made a significant shift from his listless demeanor in the first debate to what Maureen Dowd called an “alpha tone” in his second, Al Gore made significant shifts in his style between his debates.
In the first contest, Mr. Gore, who was expected to dominate the notoriously language-challenged Mr. Bush, came out roaring like a lion. His statements and rebuttals were filled with aggressive and divisive words like “wrong,” “not,” “differences,” “mistake,” and “opposite.” His manner was also combative, continually punctuated by condescending sighs, derisive head-shaking, scornful frowns, and disdainful eye-rolling.
The arrogant behavior immediately boomeranged. Television broadcasters had a camera isolated on Mr. Gore for reaction shots. Their news directors took the output of this camera and edited his expressions into a rapid-cut sequence that they ran in their local and national broadcasts repeatedly. Public and media criticism rained down on the vice president.
In response, Mr. Gore made a sharp about face in the second debate and came out like a lamb. During the 90- minute event, he expressed agreement with his opponent seven times—earning him further public criticism. So Mr. Gore reversed field again and swung back to his aggressive ways in the third debate.
At one point, moderator, Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour, who also moderated the first Obama-Romney debate,asked Mr. Bush the same question he would later ask Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney:
I’d like to know how you see the differences between the two of you
Mr. Bush rose from his seat and began to address his answer to the town-hall audience
Well, the difference is that I can get it done. That I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That’s what the question in this campaign is about...
As he continued his answer, Al Gore stood up, and started to walk across the stage, directly toward his opponent, almost menacingly. Unaware of Mr. Gore’s move, Mr. Bush continued:
…It’s not only what’s your philosophy and what’s your position on issues, but can you get things done?
In the middle of his statement, Mr. Bush turned to see Mr. Gore approaching, paused for a beat, then nodded at Mr. Gore and smiled, evoking titters from the audience.
Then, Mr. Bush turned back to the audience and said:
And I believe I can.
The audience titters gave way to laughter.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll about the effects of the debate on public opinion gave George W. Bush a seven point advantage over Al Gore.
Mr. Gore compensated for his initial aggressive behavior by being passive, and then he overcompensated for being passive by being even more aggressive. Mr. Obama compensated for his initial passive behavior by being aggressive.
As 50 million viewers prepare to watch the first of this year’s presidential debates tonight, the media is abuzz with discussions and opinions about the major issues: jobs, taxes, healthcare, Libya, Iran, Israel, abortion, immigration, and same sex marriage. For many voters, this is a single-issue election that drives them to favor one candidate or another, but all voters are driven by one factor more powerful than all the others: their gut feelings.
The feelings actually emanate high above the gut, from a group of brain cells called “mirror neurons.” As their name implies, these cells mirror feelings between people, creating an instinctive emotional bond between them. First discovered two decades ago in experiments with lab monkeys, the mirroring phenomenon became known as “monkey see, monkey do.” In humans, what people see, they feel; if we see another person wince in pain, we cringe, if we see another person giggle uncontrollably, we smile, if we see an anxious person, we feel ill at ease, if we see a confident person, we feel elated. These feelings are also called “empathy.”
Political pollsters call them “likeability,” a more sedate term than "gut" and less touchy-feely than "empathy", yet all of the terms describe the primal emotions that candidates generate in the electorate. After all, the president of a nation, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is very much like the chief of a tribe or the patriarch (and perhaps someday, the matriarch) of a clan. Followers of any leader want to feel—deep inside—that they are in good, strong hands. “Who’s your Daddy?”
Theodore H. White, the great political historian who chronicled the presidential elections of 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972, saw these primal forces at work in the seminal 1960 debate that pitted the patrician John F. Kennedy against the rumpled Richard M. Nixon. In his classic, The Making of the President 1960, Mr. White wrote thatdebates “give the voters of a great democracy a living portrait of two men under stress and let the voters decide, by instinct and emotion, which style and pattern of behavior under stress they preferred in their leader…[they] generalize this tribal sense of participation, this emotional judgment of the leader, from the few to the multitude.”
Half a century later, Mr. White’s words were echoed by Dante Chinni in a Wall Street Journalarticle anticipating tonight’s debate between President Obama and Governor Romney:
Of all the measures of a presidential candidate, the most useful may be the most basic: whether voters have “positive” feelings toward him. In every recent presidential race, the candidate with the higher positive numbers has won the White House.
Mr. Chinni’s article went on to list the likability figures for the month preceding the three most recent presidential elections and that of the most recent month this year:
Will the patrician Mr. Romney break the likability string or will the cool Mr. Obama keep it alive?
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.