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CEO Presentations

How to Tap the Power of Your Smile

Use your smile to change the world. Don’t let the world change your smile.

          — Anonymous


Working with a CEO on her conference speech recently, I urged her to smile more during her opening, despite her nervousness. She protested that her smile would look “phony” to her audience because she felt some anxiety.

But after some deep breathing and a couple of run-throughs, she was comfortable and radiated a warm, confident smile. It made a huge difference in connecting with her audience.

Smiles are that important. Substantial research shows that simply initiating a smile in a meeting, presentation, chance encounter, or other social interaction can have a dramatic impact on the outcome for us and others.

Research also finds that smiling has positive effects on our brains, our lives, and our success.

Charles Darwin initiated our modern “science of smiling” in the 1800’s. He noticed that unlike learned cultural behavior like gestures or touch, smiling and its effects are universal.

Ron Gutman gave this interesting 2011 TED Talk on the benefits of smiling. He notes that smiling is also one of the most frequent forms of communication, particularly for children.

“More than 30 percent of us smile more than 20 times a day,” Gutman said. “In fact, those with the greatest superpowers are actually children, who smile as many as 400 times per day!”

As human beings, we are hardwired for smiling from the start. Babies begin smiling fully at five weeks old and babies born blind smile like sighted infants. It’s said that babies learn that crying gets the attention of adults but smiling keeps it.

This holds true throughout life. We’ve all felt the effect of someone speaking with a broad smile. Their face lights up, energy enters the room, and we feel our mood brighten.

There’s little downside to smiling, and a whole lot of upside, so let me give you four reasons to smile more often, especially when you’re involved in an important presentation or conversation.

Smiling makes you more likable
We naturally find people with sincere smiles to be more likable, which is critical to your success in business and life.

Smiling is positively contagious
Like a yawn, a smile can be contagious. When we see someone smile, it lightens the mood and makes others more likely to smile. At the very least, research finds that a smile reduces the likelihood that someone will frown at you.

Smiling increases your confidence
Just as our body language increases our confidence, our smiles improve how we feel. Research has shown that simply holding a smile, real or manufactured, reduces stress and produces positive emotions in our brains. Of course, a smile will also make others perceive you as being more confident.

Smiling can change the way you see the world
Some research suggests that your smile may actually change the way your brain interprets other people’s emotional responses to you. You’ll view other people’s expressions toward you more positively. 

Take action:

  • How often do you smile every day?

  • Are you among the top 30 percent who smile 20 times a day? 

  • This week, notice people who have great smiles and how they affect you and others.

  • Add an intentional smile to a critical situation and see what happens.

That’s how you tap into the power of your smile.
 
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Most Important Factor in Successful Presentations 

“It’s better to sweat in practice than to bleed in battle.”

 -- Ancient Proverb

 

Any professional who expects to excel at an activity must take it seriously. This is why:
 

•    Elite athletes condition themselves and practice their sport endlessly, picking up thousands of reps to build muscle memory.
 

•    Special Operations forces train on the same few actions relentlessly, often thousands of times to ingrain their instant reactions.
 

•    Emergency room doctors go deep in crisis medical training to deal with an unending line of unexpected traumas.


High-Stakes Presentations

While giving business presentations is not nearly as critical or heroic as these professions, leaders have a lot on the line with important speaking events. The ability to communicate is often the one factor that makes or breaks their careers. 


And given the stress and anxiety that many people feel during high-stakes presentations, they might actually have the feeling of life or death situations.


That’s why it’s surprising that, when it comes to giving presentations, a remarkable number of business leaders put their communications off until the last minute and will rehearse little, if at all.


Rehearsal Most Important Factor

This is sad because, in my experience over the past 20 years, rehearsal is the most important factor in building confidence, reducing anxiety and delivering successful presentations.


Working on CEO presentations and with other senior leaders, some will say that they don’t want to rehearse because it will reduce their spontaneity, being in the moment with the audience. This is a myth. 


The fact is that the more you prepare, the more you rehearse, the more spontaneous you can be. The leaders you see who seem the most spontaneous in their talks are generally those who have done the most preparation -- and specifically the most rehearsal of their material. It allows them to speak from their hearts as leaders.


When I wrote about the importance of preparation, one of our readers, the General Counsel of a Fortune 500, wrote back about how she handles rehearsals: “My rule of thumb is to rehearse the remarks at least three times. If you can do that, you will be familiar enough with your remarks that you can navigate them effectively and genuinely.” And, she added, “Obviously, the more significant the presentation, the more rehearsal.”

Here are a few recommendations for making the most of your rehearsal time:


Rehearse Out Loud
I have far too many clients who tell me that they did rehearse their presentation -- that they’ve been thinking about it over and over in their minds. I quickly dissuade them of the notion that they’ve rehearsed.


This is the rule: It is not rehearsal unless the words come out of your mouth.


Video Record Yourself
Seeing yourself give your presentation can be extremely enlightening. The General Counsel I mentioned had also written about the importance of this: “I advise folks to be videotaped whenever they can. As difficult as it is to watch yourself on tape, I think it is the single most effective educational tool there is for public speaking.”  I agree with her 100 percent.


Today, there is no excuse. You have a smartphone ready to record you in HD. If you can go to the actual room where you’ll present, then do so. Deliver your presentation, as you will that day; talk the way you’ll talk; walk the way you’ll walk; stand and deliver.


If you can’t get the actual room, set up some environment that closely resembles the space. Turn on the camera and go through your paces.


Stop Talking to the Mirror
I know a lot of people like to rehearse looking at themselves in the mirror. I recommend against this because we can't actually do two things at once: you can't give your presentation and evaluate yourself at the same time. You're constantly switching back and forth. In a way, I think it's like trying to tickle yourself. It's not that effective. ;-) 

Having said that, if rehearsing in the mirror is what you've done all of your life and it makes you feel confident, then continue. Just add in videotaping yourself as well and see which works best for you.

Audio Record Yourself
If for some reason you’d rather not see yourself on video, at least make an audio recording of yourself delivering your presentation. Listen for what you think are your challenges, but with limited time, pay particular attention to your vocal energy, your pace, and where you stumble in transition. These are high-value targets, when you’re time crunched.


Use Your Drive Time
If you have a commute, it can be a great time to practice your speech. Give it out loud as you drive. Breathe deeply and project your voice as loud as you want. Try saying certain phrases with different emphasis. I have a business leader client who was a singer in a garage rock band. He likes to sing his speeches in the car as a way of practicing. That’s got to be fun to see on the freeway.


You can also spend your time in the car listening to an audio recording of yourself on your phone. That recording could be of you delivering the speech, or of you reading your presentation. This will help you reinforce your lines, building your mental muscle memory.

Over the years, I’ve tested messaging with focus groups, a few people representative of the larger target population.


Deliver to a Focus Group

You can do the same thing with your presentation. Why not gather a few of the people who will be the audience for your delivery, especially if you’re using new material. 


I’ve done this myself before major new presentations. I ask them to come listen to my talk and we have lunch brought in for everyone. 


Instead of having hundreds of people, I’m presenting to 5 to 10 people around the boardroom table. I give my talk and use my slides in exactly the way I intend to on the Big Day. 


Then I ask for specific feedback, with substantive questions like “What is the main message?” “What am I asking you to do (call to action)?” “Did you feel any specific emotion during the talk?” “Do you remember any stories?” Then I’ll ask for one positive comment and one challenge that I could improve on. 


Sometimes with a group of people, I’ll actually put together one page of questions like this, so that they will feel more comfortable answering and they won’t influence each other with group think.


This helps a lot because you’ll get feedback to improve your presentation and you’ll also feel more confident because you’ll already have given the talk to the audience, just in a smaller setting.


Put it on the Calendar
Finally, and possibly most important, schedule your rehearsal. As you know, anything that is critical has to go on the calendar, or it will never happen.


Make communications a priority. With deliberate rehearsal, you’ll feel and project confidence as you present yourself and your message to your most important audiences.


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How to Build Your Confidence in Public Speaking

Nervousness. Anxiety. Fear.

It happens to all of us when we think about public speaking of any kind. Some people get more nervous than others but in one way or another we all experience some version of this, even with CEOs doing presentations.

One of the major contributing factors, based on my coaching and training with thousands of clients over the years, is the fear that your mind will go blank – that you will forget what you were saying. And you have no idea what to say next. That would be embarrassing! Humiliating! Career ending!

These are some of the terms my clients use to describe this situation. Sometimes they laugh when they say these things, but it’s a nervous laugh that masks the fear we all have.

Paralyzed by fear and public speaking anxiety

This is serious fear that paralyzes many people, so they are not as successful as they want to be because they avoid opportunities to voice their ideas. Their anxiety about public speaking stops them cold. They’ll let someone else give that outline of the project’s success or they’ll let others speak up in meetings.

It’s often surprising to hear this fear because it’s often voiced by people who are experts in their fields. If you ask a question about their work in simple conversation, they’d be able to give you eloquent answers with as much information as necessary. They could go on all day.

But for some reason, standing in front of a group or looking around the table in a simple meeting make peoples’ minds go blank. In a second, I’ll give you a simple tool to help with this problem to help you build and maintain your confidence.

Prepare and rehearse your presentation

But first let me say, the ideal answer takes a lot of work. To fully address this problem, you should spend the time preparing and rehearsing your presentation so that you know it inside and out.

When working through a process like that, I recommend beginning with a full written text of the remarks you intend to make, if that makes you feel more confident, or go straight to bullet points. Then take that text and boil it down to bullet points. Then, take those bullet points and turn them into simple phrases.

This works especially well with material that you know and which is in your area of expertise, or that you have presented before. With new material, you may need to keep some bullet points or other support in front of you.

Build your confidence

But I promised a “simple” solution. This is what I recommend to my clients and what I use myself: a confidence card. This is an index card that contains the key ideas and flow of your presentation or your response in a meeting.

I use a card like this myself for my keynote and training workshops. I used a confidence card recently in a 45-minute presentation on “tapping the power of storytelling.” I could use this card to speak from 15 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the need.

While this is a simple solution, it still takes a lot of work. As Mark Twain said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Confidence card

It takes time to lay out your topic and to create a brief version that will keep you on track. I’ve been successfully using this confidence-card concept for many years. I even use this on CEO presentations.

It’s great for your meetings with the boss, a client or with groups. It allows you to simply and clearly map out what you’re going to say and in what order.

Sometimes you want to have this card in front of you, but more often I recommend simply keeping the card in your pocket. Use it as needed. I put mine in my breast shirt pocket if I have one, so it’s close to my heart and I feel the confidence. ;-)

I’ll just take it out if I’m completely lost. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out the card and telling people, “I want to make sure I covered everything I want you to know.”

I always say that your greatest confidence comes from being well prepared and rehearsed. A confidence card will help you feel you have a path to find your way home if you get a little lost when speaking.

So, how do you keep notes?

What do you do to stay on track?

If you want to let me know how you handle this or if you have a story to share, reach out to me on our contact page and I’ll get right back to you.

10 Tips to Handle Difficult Questions During Your Presentation

Working with CEOs and other leaders preparing for their presentations, I find that one of their greatest concerns is how to handle questions that might arise during or at the conclusion of their presentations.

This was confirmed for me when I was interviewed recently by Inc. Magazine for an article on how to effectively answer questions.

You can read the article here: 7 Surefire Tips to Ace You Next Q & A.

To supplement this I wanted to give you a deeper perspective including 10 quick tips on answering difficult questions.

Why do you think we are all so unnerved by the prospect of answering questions?

I believe there are many reasons for this fear, including:

Fear of the unknown: Virtually any question might be asked and we will be on the spot in a high-pressure situation.

Lack of preparation: Most people don’t actually prepare, or know how to prepare effectively for questions.

No real confidence in our positions, our answers or our ability to respond.

Over-imagining the difficulty of questions and assuming our questioners will be antagonistic.

Fear of failure: What if I can’t answer the question? Will I be embarrassed, ridiculed, rejected? Fired?

It may seem as if I’m being extreme with these reasons, but believe me, I am not. From my intimate work with leaders, all of these may underlie our feelings of exposure. You may have felt some yourself; I know I have.

Early in my career, I became a media spokesperson and found myself doing live interviews on local and national television or talking to crowds of reporters about controversial subjects. I would also speak at public meetings with sometimes-hostile crowds.

Those experiences taught me what I teach others today in media training and speech coaching: To handle questions effectively, you must be prepared, listen carefully, be present inthe moment, and answer with confidence.

Here are some tips to help you when questions put you on the spot:

1) Do not attack the questioner
During an earnings call on May 3, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked a question on capital expenditures from a financial analyst. It is a relevant topic for a company that has yet to make a profit. Nonetheless, Musk responded, "Excuse me. Next. Boring, bonehead questions are not cool. Next?"

Though he apologized in a later call, Musk showed the damage that can be done when we attack the questioner to avoid answering legitimate questions. Do your best to avoid picking on your questioners.

2) Prepare and rehearse
As I have written before, the best way to deal with any communication situation is to prepare as much as possible in advance. You can't anticipate every question that will come at you, but you can prepare for most of them. You can also be ready in a generic way for almost every type of question that will come your way.

3) Develop go-to messages
You should have an overriding theme –– the one thing you want people to remember about your presentation. I also recommend having three key points that will serve as your go-to messages.

For instance, if you’re doing a status update on a project, your theme might be, “Our product introduction is on target.” You support that theme with three main messages, such as “we are on budget, on schedule and initial sales are on plan.” 

4) Pivot to your messages 
Whenever you’re asked a question, you should pivot back to your key messages that support your theme. It might feel odd repeating these messages, but it’s necessary, given peoples’ limited attention spans today. It will feel like repetition to you, but you’re really reinforcing your main theme.
 
Just don’t use exactly the same words as you say these messages: change it up by saying things a different way. Use different data, examples or stories to make your points. People won’t think of you as repeating yourself, they’ll think of you as someone who is clear on what you’re trying to communicate.
 
5) Make a written list
I was trained in journalism in college and will share this formula reporters use to write news stories: In the first paragraph journalists are supposed to include the who, what, where, when, why and how, so that people get all the information they need up front. You can use the same approach to develop your list of questions.

Take your topic and write every related question you can think of that might come up. For instance, if you are presenting to management about your product introduction, then consider questions like:

What is the most important potential obstacle to success?

When will we see results from this new product?

Who is responsible for any delay in this product?
 
6) Add the toughest question 
When you’re done writing your list of questions, there’s one more you need to add. I tell people to add the question that you don’t want to be asked.budget

All of us have a question that is the absolute toughest in our minds. It’s important to write that question down and also write down your best answer to get it out of your head and onto paper.
 
If you don’t write it down, it will be swimming in your subconscious during your presentation. You may just be thinking, “don’t ask that question, please don’t ask that question.” When the question is asked, your mind might go blank.
 
But if you’ve written down your answer—the best possible answer—you’ll feel more confident and ready to answer the toughest question.
 
7) Don’t get defensive
It’s important not to let people hit your emotional triggers when you’re answering questions. If that happens during a session and you get defensive, you lose. Maintain your confidence by maintaining your composure.
 
8) Don’t dwell on a negative questioner
When someone in a crowd, such as in a meeting, essentially heckles you by posing negative questions, it’s important not to let them steal the show. In other words, it’s okay to answer a question or two from that person, each time going to your key messages, but then move on. Turn your gaze and your head to someone else, another questioner, as soon as possible.
 
9) Don’t end your presentation on a negative question
Be sure to end your presentation on a positive note. You may have several negative questions in a row, but when you get to a positive question and you feel like things are wrapping up, it’s time to end your talk.
 
I recommend having two “closes” or final remarks for your talk. What I mean is, that first you summarize then open it up for questions and answers.

When the questions are over, hopefully ending on a positive question, again summarize with your theme and some of your key messages or call to action (your second “close”) so that people walk away with what you want them to remember.

10) Don’t Wait
The worst thing that people do is wait until the question is asked and then try to think of the answer -- under pressure -- and then smoothly give the answer.

That’s a really difficult feat to accomplish. It’s no wonder that we feel anxiety when we’re not ready to answer. Questions only become “tough” if you aren’t prepared for them, or if you’ve inflated them out of proportion in your mind.

In other words, even “tough” questions can be handled with confidence and grace, if you have the right mindset and are prepared to address the questions.

There is both an art and science to answering live questions. Be patient with yourself. Like any other skill, answering questions takes focus, deliberate practice and repetition.

I really enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please visit my contact page to send me a message, and don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee.

4 Leadership Lessons from Self-made Billionaire CEO Sara Blakely

Don't be intimidated by what you don't know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.

–– Sara Blakely, CEO, Spanx


When we think of the most senior business leaders, we often conjure mental pictures of stodgy chief executives spewing numbers and corporate speak.
 
It’s unfortunate because leaders like these do not connect with their most important stakeholders -- employees, investors, partners, and others. By hiding behind the veneer of business babble, they deny people what they want the most from their leaders: authenticity.
 
This is why one of my primary missions in working with CEOs and other senior leaders on their presentations is to help them find and share their truth – their authentic selves.
 
Admittedly, there are many paths to success in business, but the best journeys are authentic.
 
It’s not an easy path. It takes determination and courage to push past the fear of being so real, but those few who are willing to do so become truly great leaders.

Spanx CEO Sara Blakely
A great example of this is Sara Blakely, who grew up wanting to be a lawyer like her father but was unable to obtain a high score on the LSAT. After trying her hand at stand-up comedy, she sold fax machines door-to-door before starting her company, Spanx.

(If you are not familiar with Spanx, the company says it sells “the largest selection of slimming intimates, body shapers, hosiery, apparel, and the latest innovations in shapewear for men and women.”)

Blakely is America’s youngest self-made female billionaire, according to a 2014 Forbes profile, which estimated her privately held company earned "over $250 million in annual revenues and net profit margins estimated at 20 percent.”
 
The origin story of Spanx is that Blakely was going to a party and didn’t want panty lines to show through her white pants, so she cut the feet off pantyhose and later patented the idea. While she possessed little knowledge about fashion or retail, in 2000 Blakely, at age twenty-seven, began her shapewear and legging company, investing her life savings of $5,000.
 
In 2013, Blakely became the first female billionaire to join The Giving Pledge, the campaign founded by Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, which has the mega-wealthy pledge to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
 
Today, this mother of four young children continues to be an advocate for women through her Sara Blakely Foundation, which supports women in education and entrepreneurship.

Blakely’s path and approach offer unique leadership lessons:
 
1) Embrace failure
One of Blakely’s biggest lessons is to embrace failure, a lesson she learned as a child. In an interview with Entrepreneur, she talked about how her father helped shift her mindset:
 
My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn't have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don't be afraid to fail.
 
Most of us don’t enjoy failing, even go to great lengths to avoid it. But the real failure lies in not trying. Instead of seeing failure as an outcome, try to view failure as evidence that you tried. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
 
One of the ways Blakely leads her employees is through sharing her mistakes and encouraging her employees to do the same. Employees share their mishaps and blunders during these “oops meetings,” which routinely end up turning into humor-filled anecdotes.
 
While speaking at the Stanford School of Business, she noted: “If you can create a culture where [your employees] are not terrified to fail or make a mistake, then they’re going to be highly productive and more innovative.”
 
Blakely is especially curious about how the fear of embarrassment can hold power over us. If we intentionally acknowledge our mistakes and find humor in them, the fear loses power.
 
2) Don’t take yourself too seriously
New employees at Spanx are required to do standup comedy as part of a training boot camp. It encourages them to feel less intimidated and to let go while embracing fun as part of the Spanx experience. “I don’t subscribe to the fact that you have to act serious to be taken seriously,” Blakely said.
 
In honor of that playfulness, when Blakely first started Spanx, the packaging said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got your butt covered.” She has continued to keep her company – and its products – lighthearted and fun.
 
Blakely advocates using humor to capture a potential client’s interest. She has noted that even the name of her company makes people laugh.
 
Her previous experience as a saleswoman came in handy when she was growing Spanx. “When I cold-called to sell fax machines door-to-door,” she said, “I learned very quickly that if I could make somebody laugh or smile I’d get another thirty seconds before they’d slam the door in my face.”
 
While you may not be cold-calling in your day-to-day life, using humor can break the ice in most conversations. It helps to put people at ease and bring down their defenses.
 
Humor can also be a powerful leadership strategy, according to new research from Harvard and Wharton. People attribute confidence to those who are brave enough to tell a joke.
 
3) Be relentless
Sara spent two years trying to convince manufacturers to take a chance on her before a mill owner in North Carolina agreed to help her. He had been convinced by his daughters to take on this invention, which they told him would be a “goldmine.”
 
“I must have heard the word ‘no’ a thousand times,” she said. “If you believe in your idea 100 percent, don’t let anyone stop you! Not being afraid to fail is a key part of the success of Spanx.”
 
Blakely didn’t let the word “no” deter her from pursuing her vision. She continued to push forward until she heard “yes.”
 
4) Break the rules
While speaking to Stanford students, she recalled how she used a rogue tactic to get noticed at Neiman Marcus. Her products were in the back of the store, where few customers frequented. She bought envelope dividers and put Spanx around the registers, promoting greater visibility.
 
After management realized they hadn’t approved this tactic, the head of Neiman’s allowed her to keep doing it because it was so successful. From turning the undergarment industry on its head to trailblazing new paths for women, Blakely has remained innovative and forward thinking.
 
How about you?
 
What’s your view of “failure”?
 
Do you encourage risk taking with your team?
 
How could you take yourself less seriously?
 
Do you have an “oops” moment that you might share with others?

I so enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please visit my contact page and don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee.