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.
Yesterday, in his second inaugural address, President Obama eloquently expressed his future vision of America: “…it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence…” but he did so by looking back in historical context: “… to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
In the second paragraph of the speech, the president quoted the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
He then proceeded to echo his idol, Abraham Lincoln, by embedding the famous words of the Gettysburg Address in this sentence: “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”
And then, as a unifying theme, Mr. Obama used the immortal first three words of the Constitution, “We, the people…” as a recurring phrase at the beginnings of four consecutive paragraphs:
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still
By using repetition, the president was echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was celebrated concurrent with Inauguration Day. Dr. King used the phrase “I have a dream” 16 times in his 1963 speech. In fact, Mr. Obama was reaching even further back in history to the Greek orators who termed the use of a repetitious phrase in successive sentences, Anaphora.
If you look back at the fourth instance of “We, the people…” you’ll see that Mr. Obama employed another rhetorical device: By restating the words of the Declaration of Independence, “the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal,” he created a bookend, an echo of his beginning.
Bookends, anaphora, and familiar quotations, are techniques any presenter can employ in any presentation.
Yesterday’s post, in anticipation of the third and final presidential debate of 2012, described how Al Gore agreed with his opponent, George W. Bush, seven times during one of their 2000 debates. In last night’s debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, Mr. Romney outdid Mr. Gore nearly twofold:
1.…we’re going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done. I congratulate him on — on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaida.
2.There was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement. And I concurred in that and said we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with…That was your posture. That was my posture as well.
3. After Mr. Obama, speaking of his handling of Syria, said, “What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go,” Mr. Romney said:
Recognize I believe that Assad must go.
4. After Mr. Obama, speaking of his handling of Libya, said, “We did so in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with. And we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Mr. Romney said:
I don’t want to have our military involved in — in Syria. I don’t think there’s a necessity to put our military in Syria at — at this stage. I don’t anticipate that in the future.
5. After moderator Bob Schieffer of asked Mr. Obama, “During the Egyptian turmoil, there came a point when you said it was time for President Mubarak to go,” and Mr. Obama said, “Right,” Mr. Schieffer turned to Mr. Romney for his position, and he said:
I believe, as the president indicated and said at the time, that I supported his — his action there….once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did
6. After Mr. Obama said of Mr. Romney, “He’s praised George Bush as good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment,” Mr. Romney said:
My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that.
7. After Mr. Obama said, “What I now want to do is to hire more teachers, especially in math and science, because we know that we’ve fallen behind when it comes to math and science,” Mr. Romney said:
Look, I — I love to — I love teachers, and I’m happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers, do that.
8. I want to underscore the — the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel.
9.After Mr. Obama said, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I’ve made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy,” Mr. Romney said:
And crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago when I was in Israel speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps. Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions.
10. When Mr. Schieffer asked Mr. Romney about the president’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, he replied:
Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014. And when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.
11. We look at what’s happening in Pakistan and recognize that what’s happening in Pakistan is going to have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. And — and I say that because I know a lot of people just feel like we should just brush our hands and walk away. And I don’t mean you, Mr. President, but some people in the — in our nation feel that Pakistan (doesn’t ?) — being nice to us and that we should just walk away from them.
This is — this is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is — is technically an ally, and they’re not acting very much like an ally right now, but we have some work to do. And I — I don’t blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do.
12.When Mr. Schieffer asked, “Let me ask you, Governor, because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones? Mr. Romney replied:
Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.
To repeat the George Santayana quote I cited after Mr. Obama’s flat presentation in the first debate, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
In a previous post, you read about how self-centeredness is an obstacle to all communication, extending all the way from social conversations to our focus, presentations. To remove that barrier, to put the “co-” in “communication,” the effective communicator adds interaction to interpersonal exchanges, but more important, adds benefits for the listener—whether that listener is the other person in a conversation or the audience for a presentation.
But that leaves open the question of why any person in his or her right mind would allow a failure to communicate to occur in the first place. There are two answers: one scientific and the other a pervasive misconception that has taken on the status of a legacy in the world of presentations.
Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir and her Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell conducted a series of experiments to explore why people like to talk about themselves. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said:
Here, we test recent theories that individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward. Five studies provided support for this hypothesis. Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area.
The mesolimbic dopamine system just happens to be the same part of the brain in which pleasurable sensations occur. Meaning that, as the Wall Street Journalstory about the study summarized it, “Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money.”
This places a very high barrier to being able to interrupt the party bores who monopolize conversations; and the only solution I can offer is to repeat what I wrote in the previous blog: excuse yourself and head for the bar to refresh your drink.
Presentations are another matter. As a coach, I have spent the greater part of my career urging presenters to include benefits in their pitches. But the need to remind them still persists. Presenters continue to sell features and/or blow their own horn. The reason they do—and this is only conjecture—goes all the way back to the dawn of the presentation universe when some sage decided that presentations should begin with a “snapshot” that introduces the presenter’s company. This usually results in an initial slide that, depending on who creates it, is a hodgepodge of disparate facts that include (but is not limited to):
year of founding
number of employees
This step gets the presentation off on the wrong foot for a number of reasons: the slide attempts to tell the whole story, the story is not apparent at a glance, the focus shifts attention away from the presenter, the presenter is forced to read the slide…the list goes on. But worst of all, it’s all about you and not about the audience and, to paraphrase the title of the 2004 bestselling book, they’re just not that into you.
Make the front end of your presentation about your audience. Focus on their issues and concerns and tell them what your company can do for them. Pivot from your point of view to theirs. This pivot is best illustrated by the story of Theodore Leavitt, a professor at Harvard Business School who told his students not to try to sell customers a quarter-inch drill, but a way to make a quarter-inch hole. Tie what you do to your audience’s needs.
Consider the snapshot as boilerplate that is best left to the handout materials. If you still feel the need to include information about your company within the presentation, shift it to later in the deck, after you have shown them how well you understand them.