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Presentation Skills

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.


To share your thoughts and stories with me, please reach out on my contact page and we'll talk directly.

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How to Stop Overthinking Things

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” — Tina Fey
 
Working with a group of data scientists a few months ago, I started a workshop with a simple icebreaker exercise that had them name their favorite film and tell a brief line or story from the movie. This is always fun and gets a lot of laughs and insights into people.
 
But on this day, we were about three people in when it broke down. I started getting questions and analysis: “What do movies have to do with data? Shouldn’t we be timing each person? Are you judging these?” and the like. Finally, I said, “Hey, we’re just having fun. You guys are overthinking this.” One guy said, “Duh, that’s we do!” That got a good laugh.
 
While it’s true that scientists are professional deepthinkers, I find overthinking is a common problem for many of my clients. 
 
With a world of information at our fingertips and constant demands for our attention, a lot of people get wrapped up in their own heads and become paralyzed by too many choices and fear of making the wrong decision. 
 
Overthinking often impairs your judgment, making it even harder to come to a decision. If you’re a golfer, you know that the longer you think about a short putt, the less likely it is to go in the cup.
 
In our business and personal lives, overthinking often leads to procrastination, frustration, delay, and poor results. 
 


Whether it’s giving a speech, having a difficult conversation with a colleague or making a personal decision, it can be tough to avoid overthinking. With that in mind, here are a few of the best ways to combat overthinking: 
 
Keep it simple
We can frequently overwhelm ourselves by creating too many options or through finding complex solutions to problems. The best solution is most often the simplest one. 
 
Apple is well known for its sleek and elegant design. Steve Jobs explained: “The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”
 
In an era of excess, Jobs’ minimalist approach was radical. He returned to Apple in 1997, when the company was trailing behind Microsoft and sales were down by 30 percent. Jobs reduced Apple’s product lineup by 70 percent, including a focus on building only four Mac computers: a desktop and a laptop, two for consumers and two for professionals.
 
The greater simplicity increased focus and quality, as well as profitability that has led Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. It was a return to Apple’s roots, as its first marketing brochure said in 1977: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
 
Like Apple, think of producing with a minimalist mindset. Find the simplest solution. 
 
Done is better than perfect
“Perfect is the enemy of good,” wrote Voltaire. In our quest for perfection, we can often stop doing something or drop a project because it’s “not good enough.” Perfectionism is a never-ending quest since there is no such thing as “perfect.”
 
When developing a project, it can be tempting to wait to release it or show others until it’s completely“ done.” But unreasonable standards can make it impossible to ever complete.
 
Set a hard deadline
One of author Seth Godin’s famous mantras is “ship it.” It means to set an unwavering deadline for a project and at that point release it out into the world, no matter what. If people come up with additions and other ideas during the process, those are parked in a holding pen for Product 2.0, your next iteration.
 
As Godin writes in Linchpin: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” It’s helpful to remember that few things are final and changes can always be made down the road. 
 
Imagine the best-case scenario
For many of us, fear is the root of overthinking. It holds us in place like a frozen rabbit, as if staying still will keep something bad from happening. 
 
I have a CEO client who likes to say that when people look into the open door of a dark room, they never imagine it’s filled with angels. Our imagination of the future usually paints a negative picture. But most of the terrible things we imagine never happen. Instead of always preparing for the worst-case scenario, we should try to imagine the best possible outcome. What good could happen? 
 
Stay in the moment
Overthinking can cause us to dwell too much in the future, or to rehash the past, instead of staying rooted in the present. By thinking of everything that could happen tomorrow, you take away the opportunity to enjoy today and take action now. 
 
Mindfulness and meditation have become increasingly popular and an accepted antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. A study using MRI scans showed that after a two-month practice of mindfulness, the power of the amygdala, also known as the “fight or flight” center, starts to diminish. 
 
Harvard Business Review explains: “Through repeated mindfulness practice, brain activity is redirected from ancient, reactionary parts of the brain, including the limbic system, to the newest, rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” If you’re intrigued by meditation, two popular apps to try are Headspace and Calm.
 
Adopt a beginner’s mind 
A fresh perspective can help to prevent overthinking. The beginner’s mind or shoshin is a concept that comes from Zen Buddhism. It teaches, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
 
A beginner’s mindset helps us to be more innovative and embrace new ideas while cultivating curiosity. For example, a beginner is more likely to identify a simple solution that “experts” don’t see because our minds are too full. 
 
There is a famous Zen story adapted by John Suler that illustrates this concept:
 
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about all of his theories about Zen Buddhism. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘It's full! No more will go in!’ the professor blurted. ‘This is you,’ the master replied, ‘How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’
 
Likewise, adopting a beginner’s mind, we can become open to simple ideas less burdened by our thoughts and old beliefs.  

Take action
The best antidote to fear and overthinking is action. Take action. Do something. What’s the next action you can take to move closer to your goal?
 
A small step forward is enough to create momentum in a project without triggering perfectionist tendencies. Starting is the hardest part and can cause stress and worry. By taking that first step, you can allow yourself to let go of worries and embrace the journey ahead. Soon momentum kicks in and you're making consistent progress.
 
Again, done is better than perfect and one small step is preferable to standing still. 

What about you? 
 
Are you an overthinker?
 
How do you control overthinking?
 
Is there a way to find a simpler solution to a problem you are facing?
 
I really enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please hit “reply" and we can talk.

How to Use Pauses During Presentations and Other Communication

Working with a group of leaders in Washington DC recently, I had a woman and a man, who I gave the same advice to, but for different reasons:

–– He came across as dominating the room, continuing to talk endlessly, even after he made his key points. He talked so much, it made people tired of listening to him.

–– She was making great points and was very concise. But she sped through her comments breathlessly. It was hard to listen to her words because you almost felt like you wanted to breathe for her.

While I gave each of them deep advice on their individual presentations, on one point I gave the same tip: please pause during your talk. 

Common problem
This is a common problem for my clients. Most of us fear pausing while communicating with others. That's because a pause of three seconds in front of a room full of staring eyes can feel like three hours.

It's a truism that when preparing for an important presentation, meeting or conversation, most of us focus on what we’re going to say. Few of us plan for a pause — the intentional space when we will stop “saying” and, simply, wait.
 
This is critical because what you don't say can be as important, or more important, than what you say.
 
This is the art of the pause.
 
Artists, graphic designers, and interior designers call this “negative space.” That’s the space that is not filled in a painting, for instance, that gives emphasis to the person or object that is the focal point.
 
Songwriters, too, use a rest — a beat or two of silence — to draw in the listener and to create a sense of anticipation for what comes next.
 
The same is true in your communication: when you strategically pause you give emphasis to what you do say.
 
Effective listening
I’ve stressed the importance of listening and pauses are a critical underpinning of effective listening. If you’re purposely pausing, you’re either giving others the chance to fully understand what you said, or you’re giving them the opportunity to speak so that you can listen to them.
 
I know this advice runs counter to your instincts. When you’re nervous, you often don’t want to stop talking. You’re thinking, “Let’s get this over so I can sit down and breathe again.” Any pause can be frightening. It can seem like an eternity.
 
Trouble is, we have a natural tendency to want to fill the gap — to keep talking.

Human Instinct
I do a lot of executive media training and I warn leaders about reporters using this human instinct to lure people into giving answers they normally wouldn’t dream of saying.
 
I warn them, when doing a media interview, to avoid giving in to the temptation of filling in the gap when they finish answering a reporter’s question.
 
It goes like this: a reporter will ask you a question, you answer it, and the reporter remains quiet, looking at you. Most people will think, “maybe I didn’t give the right answer, maybe she expects me to say more,” and they’ll keep talking. In fact, many people will start to modify their answers to find something acceptable to the reporter.
 
This gives power to the reporter and usually ends badly for the executives when they inevitably go way off of their planned messages.
 
Instead, I have the executive smile and ask the reporter, “Do you have any other questions?” The reporter usually will give a knowing smile and move on.
 
You may never do a media interview, but you’ll face similar opportunities to pause for more effective communication. I want to raise your awareness of the importance of creating space in your communication.
 
You’ll start to notice other situations where a pause might help. Here are a few tips for using pauses effectively in varying circumstances:

Presentations  
In your presentations and meetings, think about how you can strategically place pauses in your talks. For instance, to stress the importance of something, make sure to pause. That might seem obvious, but few of us actually put it into play. 

Pausing at an important point lets people soak up the meaning of what you said. If you’re a fast speaker you should also pause.

Stop and take a breath to give people the chance to catch up with you.
 
Your material might also dictate the need for pauses. Too many speakers, particularly in technical fields, will force-feed their audiences with way too much data.
 
The best policy is to carefully limit your data to the most important information and make sure to pause intermittently to ensure your audience understands what you’re saying.
 
Crucial conversations
When you have these heavy talks, maybe when you have to give bad news, it’s important to create space in the conversation. Give the person an opportunity to react and give feedback.  Help them to comprehend the gravity of your words.  

Of course, pauses are extremely useful in everyday conversations when you want someone to open up. It’s your job to create the space for them to hear you and respond or share themselves.

Sales 
The best salespeople know that you need to make your strongest pitch, ask for the sale, and then be quiet. Let the person fill the vacuum. These closers also avoid the rookie mistake of continuing to talk after the person has said “yes.” In business and in life, once you’ve made the sale, stop selling!

You should look for pauses in communication all around you: Are you pausing appropriately?

Watch how people around you operate: Do they pause, or rattle on forever? Consider conversations where you might benefit from creating space.
 
You’ll be an artist. You’ll be practicing the art of the pause.
 
How do you use pauses in your communications?
 
Hit reply and let me know how you employ pauses or if you have a story about pausing to share with me.

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How to Use Numbers in a Presentation

Numbers numb, stories sell. We don’t deal well with numbers, [they tend] to suspend our sense of emotion, but we respond very, very well to stories. Individual stories will almost always trump a litany of statistics.  
 

– Edward Maibach 

 
Sooner or later you're going to have to make a presentation to convince people to support you, your ideas, or your projects.

You’re often going to have to present data – numbers – to make your case. And in some jobs, numbers may be the bulk of your presentations. I’m looking at you, CFOs, CMOs, actuaries, investor relations and financial experts.

The problem in talking about numbers is that human beings are not naturally gifted to understand or relate to numbers. Data quickly becomes white noise. Instead, as humans we are hardwired for telling and hearing stories.

As my friend Kent Stroman, a conversational fundraising expert for nonprofits, likes to say, “numbers numb, but stories store.” Kent calls him self a "recovering accountant" and has effectively learned to seamlessly blend stories and numbers. (Kent's latest book is called The Intentional Board: Why Your Board Doesn't Work ... and How to Fix It.)

You’ve probably experienced the fact that numbers numb, but stories store yourself. You might sit through an hour-long presentation of data and not remember a thing, but if the speaker had one good story, you’ll be able to recall it immediately.

With this in mind, here are a few tips for communicating with numbers:

Tell your story
First, and most important, remember that numbers don’t stand alone. They are meant to support a larger narrative. Never lose sight of your story.

For instance, at the highest level, your organization’s big message might be: We’ve had some challenges, but we’re moving in the right direction. Your job is to highlight and emphasize the numbers that support this argument.

Less is more 
As an analytical person your instinct will be to give more and more data to support your case, but the truth is that the more numbers you present, the less effective and persuasive you will be. You are no doubt familiar with the concept of diminishing returns. In a world of information overload and minute attention spans, less truly is more.

Hide numbers in a story
As I wrote previously, Stanford Business School research concluded that data included in a story is 22 times more likely to be remembered than data on its own.  And you want your numbers to be remembered, don’t you?

Simplify 
In line with telling a story, you should pare your numbers presentation to a manageable set. Consider using a photo to illustrate your point or a slide with only one key number blown up large. Help them understand why this number is so important in the context of your organization’s story.

Think like a teacher 
By focusing on presenting fewer numbers in a more meaningful way, you develop opportunities to educate your audience on key concepts.

Consider taking the time to drill down on a meaningful idea. For instance, you might ask, “Why are we pushing so hard to reduce expenses?”  Show the effects of each dollar saved in context. Talk about what it means to your stakeholders and the impact it will have on those in the audience.

Your listeners always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” You're much more likely to get support when people understand your rationale, the "why."

Show your personality 
I know you have a lot of interests, but your colleagues may not. Bring your personality to your presentation. Do you run marathons? Use a running analogy: You’ve heard the old sprint versus marathon metaphor. Talk about race times and how your financials compare. “It’s our personal best!”

One of my clients is a CFO who is wicked smart but also has a dry sense of humor that he seldom shared in presentations. I coached him to start slowly to reveal more of himself. When he started opening up and sharing himself, he got great feedback and improved his reputation inside and outside the company.  He told me he felt “liberated” by being himself on stage and in meetings.

Career differentiator
There are also other benefits to becoming a better presenter of numbers. In addition to engaging your listeners more effectively, you will position yourself for greater success. In any organization today, the ability to communicate is the career differentiator.

Too many CFO’s and other “number crunchers” don’t get top jobs because they don’t inspire other people. They are “crunched” by their numbers if you will.

The leaders of your organization are looking for people who not only have technical skills but also leadership and communications skills. If they have to choose between two “numbers people,” the one who can communicate effectively will win every time.

Also, I know it might be hard to believe, but you’ll start enjoying your presentations and feel more confident when you know you’re engaging people.

If you want to talk with me or want to share your experiences with presenting numbers, please contact me.
 

How 3 Billionaires Make Money with Communication

If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential. You have to learn to communicate in life – it’s enormously important.

–– Warren Buffett

 
Many people are curious as to how wealthy, celebrated leaders – such as self-made billionaires – achieved their success. While there may be untold secrets of the rich and famous, one of their secrets is on display in the public realm: a focus on clear, effective communication.
 
Warren Buffett, widely regarded as one of the most successful investors in history – currently the third-richest person in the world – considers communication skills priceless. 
 
Speaking to Columbia Business School students in 2009, Buffett made a semi-serious offer to invest in the students’ careers for 10 percent of their projected lifetime earnings. He told them he believed they could increase their lifetime earnings by 50 percent through learning effective communication skills.
 
One way to improve your own communication skills is to study the communication styles of successful leaders.
 
Let’s take a look at three billionaires at the top of their games in business and examine their perspectives on communication. All three, Buffett, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, clearly value communication and its role in business leadership. By examining their personal philosophies and techniques, we can gain insight into how their communication as leaders brought their visions to life. 
 
Warren Buffett: Be clear and transparent
Buffett is an advocate of using plain, clear language to explain finance to everyday investors and anyone wanting to understand the financial marketplace. Many industries, from finance to medicine, remain obtuse and confusing in their wording; often it seems to mask the truth. 
 
It can also be plain laziness that prevents succinct writing. If you’ve ever tried to compress a long document into a few hundred words, you know that simplicity takes hard work. 
 
Tell the truth
In 1998, Buffett wrote the preface to A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents: "I've studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I've been unable to decipher what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said."
 
He added, “In some cases, moreover, I suspect that a less-than-scrupulous issuer doesn’t want us to understand a subject it feels legally obligated to touch upon.” 
 
Buffett is renowned for writing frank and entertaining annual letters to shareholders that document successes but also prominently highlight investment failures by Buffett and his team.
 
Buffett lives his message of clarity and transparency in business communication.

Elon Musk: Kill the bureaucracy
Elon Musk is the revolutionary thinker and leader behind SpaceX and Tesla. I consider him our modern day Thomas Edison. From promoting sustainable energy to pursuing a human colony on Mars, he is a man of vision and action.
 
Musk believes that bureaucracy stifles action. In a memo to all Tesla employees a few years ago, Musk decried the corporate hierarchy that slows progress in most big companies, and encouraged employees to buck the chain of command at Tesla:
 
Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.
 
Musk said this archaic approach enhances the power of the manager but degrades the power of the company to serve its customers. So Musk declared that:
 
Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager's manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else's permission.
 
Like Buffett, Musk also believes that plain, precise language is critical for success. Musk urges employees to avoid the jargon that prevents straightforward communication.
 
Drop the jargon
In a recent email to Tesla employees about plans to improve Model 3 production, Musk cautioned, “Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software, or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.”  
 
Jeff Bezos: Stop the PowerPoint
Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.  While a New York Times article recently referred to him as “a brilliant but mysterious and cold-blooded corporate titan,” it is evident that there is a method to his madness, making him currently the richest man in the world.
 
Bezos is known for his annual letter to shareholders as well as Amazon's innovative leadership principles. In his 20th anniversary letter published this year, Bezos shared his preferred method of communication during meetings: well-reasoned memos. But they aren’t just any memos, they are narrative essays.
 
Write your narrative
In fact, Bezos has banned PowerPoint and slide presentations at Amazon meetings. Instead of relying on the crutch of slides, an executive must create a six-page “narratively structured” document spelling out a proposal or issue. The memos are read silently at the beginning of executive meetings as a type of “study hall” for 30 minutes before beginning the discussion. Not surprisingly, some of the memos are excellent, while others are lackluster. 
 
After acknowledging the difficulty of pinpointing the exact details that create an exceptional memo, Bezos came to an interesting conclusion:
 
Often, when a memo isn’t great, it’s not the writer’s inability to recognize the high standard, but instead a wrong expectation on scope: they mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more!
 
As with any thoughtful communication, a great narrative requires a concerted effort. It’s like the story from Mark Twain – he apologized to his friend for writing a long letter because he “didn’t have the time to write a short one.”
 
It takes writing, rewriting, and more editing to create an effective narrative.
 
Excellent communication also takes time, effort and focus. I’ve worked with CEO’s and other senior leaders who put communication at the bottom of their priority list as they pursue activities with what they perceive as a “higher ROI (return on investment).”
 
Yet the truly enlightened and successful leaders I work with realize that communication is fundamental to the success of their businesses and their careers. As the president of one company said to me recently, “We can have the perfect strategy but if no one understands it, it’s worthless.”
 
So true. Bezos, Buffett, and Musk illustrate the importance of continuous improvement in your leadership communication.
 
Your communication
How about you?
 
Do you recall a time when you heard yourself saying, at work or at home, “that’s not what I meant!”?
 
Do you and your team use clear language or do you tend to use jargon? 
 
Do people in your organization maintain the hierarchy, or are they free to communicate with anyone that can help to solve a problem?
 
Your answers to these questions might not make you a billionaire, but you’ll be on your way to better results through clearer, more effective communication.

Just use our contact form to let me know what communication obstacle you run into in your organization.

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How to Introduce a Guest Speaker

I'd like to introduce a man with a lot of charm, talent, and wit. Unfortunately, he couldn't be here tonight, so instead . . .

–– Melvin Helitzer


One of the most frequent requests I get is for tips on how to introduce a guest speaker. This is understandable because we are so seldom asked to perform this ritual and an introduction is so easy to mess up.

We’ve all seen it:

  • The introduction that seems to last longer than the speech
  • The person who reads word-for-word a long biography exactly as it is printed in the program
  • The introducers who make it more about themselves than the speaker 

These are just a few examples of how the simple act of welcoming someone to the stage can go awry.
 
With this in mind, here are a few tips to help you next time you’re called upon to make an introduction:

Do your research
You may have the speaker’s bio, but you should still do some homework before the event. Go online or talk to people who know the guest. Your goal should be to learn what is most interesting about this person.
 
If possible, talk with the person ahead of time. You’ll not only make a connection, but you can ask how the person would like to be introduced.

If the biography is in the program, point that out and then cover a few highlights that you believe are most relevant and compelling to your audience.
 
Make it personal
You may receive a bio or a written introduction for some speakers. As a professional speaker and trainer, I have short- and medium-length introductions ready to go.
 
If you receive one of these for a speaker, it’s most effective to personalize it based on your experiences. It could be from your research, from a colleague who has praised this speaker, or from your own interactions with this person. A brief story can have a huge impact in effectively kicking off the talk.

I always appreciate it when I’m introduced with a personal touch. This helps me to develop an intimate relationship with the audience more quickly.
 
Don’t steal the show
While it’s good to make the personal connection with the speaker, it’s also important to avoid making it about yourself. You can talk about your personal experience briefly, but then quickly transfer attention to the speaker.
 
Keep it brief
Your job is to set the tone and to transition the person to the audience. Your introduction should be clear, concise, and focused. In most cases, 60 to 90 seconds should be your goal, with some introductions shorter and some longer depending on the situation.
 
Practice your intro
It’s good to rehearse your introduction, making sure that what reads well on paper sounds good when spoken. Practicing out loud will help you feel comfortable and confident. I tell my coaching clients that reading is not rehearsing. It doesn’t count unless the words are spoken from your lips.
 
Critical tip: Make sure you have the correct pronunciation of the speaker’s name. Few things will be more embarrassing for you, and awkward for the speaker, than mispronouncing the person’s name.
 
Establish the speaker’s authority
It’s important for you to establish the speaker’s credibility as an expert on the topic and the relevance to this audience. Whether you’re in a small meeting or at a convention, it’s critical to connect the audience’s needs and interests with the speaker’s talk. People always want to know, “why should I care about what this person will say?”
 
Show your excitement for the speaker
How you introduce a speaker can set the tone not only for the speech but for your entire event. Too many introductions are lukewarm, merely going through the motions.
 
If you’re excited about what comes next, you need to let people know, through your voice, your body language, and your facial expressions. Bring some energy to your introduction, ask for a warm welcome, and lead the applause.
 
Stay focused with your eyes and body toward the speaker and smile and welcome that person like an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time.
 
The art of the introduction is not easy, but with some planning and practice, you can create a warm welcome that makes all the difference.

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