Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Paul Harvey Taught Us About the Art of Public Speaking

From today's Washington Post:

Paul Harvey, 90, a Chicago-based radio broadcaster whose authoritative baritone voice and distinctive staccato delivery attracted millions of daily listeners for more than half a century, died Feb. 28 in Phoenix.

What can we learn from how Paul Harvey used his voice?

Certainly, as the Post recognizes, Harvey had a unique style that was easily recognized. But of course there is something deeper happening.

Listen to Harvey read a hypothetical letter from God:

He addresses the letter to "My Dear Children." And that is exactly what we hear. Paul Harvey seems to actually be speaking to people he deeply cares about and is truly invested in. As a result, his voice inspires trust.

From the Green Room: Speak to your audience as if you were addressing someone who is precious to you. Be generous - with your eye contact, voice and with your message.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gov. Jindal and Mr. Rogers

What can Bobby Jindal's delivery teach us about what NOT to do in front of an audience?

Before he spoke a single word, he bombed. How? By making a Mr. Rogers entrance.

Jindal should have begun his speech with this feet planted - ready to deliver. Instead, he strides merrily towards the camera, much like Mr. Rogers entered the room the beginning of each episode.

What makes this mistake especially egregious is Gov. Jindal's age. He is 37 - the youngest governor in America. What he needed to do at that moment - that critical moment of first impressions - was to raise his status. His Mr. Rogers entrance communicated "casual," and only served to lower his status in the eyes of the audience.

An older, more established politician could have gotten away with it - maybe - but not a junior governor.

From the Green Room: If you're more junior than your audience, make sure that your body language raises your status.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

See How Bono Uses Public Narrative

Watch this video of Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006.

Bono brilliantly uses the Public Narrative storytelling method. (see my last post if you want to learn what public narrative is.)

Bono begins with his story of religious struggle - the Story of Self. He then connects his story to the religious leaders in the room - the Story of Us. Finally, he gives the audience a mission - using the language of religion - to give one percent of the federal budget to the poor. This is the Story of Now.

From the Green Room: Climb the Highest Mountain. Run through the Fields. Learn from Bono.

Public Narrative

Recently, I attended a training given by folks from the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on powerful storytelling technique called "Public Narrative."

A giant in the world of community organizing, Professor Marshall Ganz is the architect of Public Narrative, the key to the success of the Obama's grassroots organizing.

In a nutshell, public narrative is a simple - and powerful - way to move an audience to action using storytelling.

The following is from Professor Ganz's Public Narrative Syllabus:

The questions of what I am called to do, what my community is called to do, and what we are called to do now are at least as old as Moses’ conversation with God at the Burning Bush: Why me? asks Moses, when he is called to free his people. And, who – or what - is calling me? And, why these people? Why here, now, in this place? The intent of this course is to offer students an opportunity to prepare to lead by asking themselves these questions at a time in their lives when it really matters.

Public narrative is the art of translating values into action. It is a discursive process through which individuals, communities, and nations construct their identity, make choices, and inspire action. Because it engages both “head” and “heart”, narrative can instruct and inspire - teaching us not only how we should act, but moving us to act. Leaders use public narrative to
interpret themselves to others, engage others in a sense of shared community, and inspire others to act on challenges that community must face. It is learning to tell a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.

I was deeply moved by the training and by the stories it inspired from the participants.

From the Green Room Room:

Each time you tell a story, begin with your own. This is the story of Self.
Next, connect your story to the audience - the Story of Us.
Last, give your audience a mission. End with the Story of Now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lessons from "Shopaholic"

Even the best presentations can fall flat if the they are given to the wrong audience.

As a far too blatant example, read this excerpt from a review of "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (

Could the release of the new movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic” be any more poorly timed? Based on a popular book series, the story is about a credit-crazed, New York City woman who makes Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection look like a joke. We just watched the trailer where the Shopoholic, played by Isla Fisher, animalisticly bashes her emergency credit card out of a block of ice with a stiletto, desperate to spend more money...

Warning: it’s tragically painful to watch, given the current financial crisis.

Talk about tone deaf.

Before you prepare, take time to learn as much about your audience as you possibly can. Who are they? What matters to them? What challenges are they going through? What do they know and what do they need to know? What do you need them to do?

And if any of your answers change before you give your speech - adjust your content accordingly.

From the Green Room: Know Your Audience.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Emotion Rules

People remember what they felt when they listen to you. Your content will have a much deeper and lasting impact if you have an emotional intent when you speak.

Before you sit down to write your speech, ask yourself, "How do I want the audience to feel when they listen to me?"

If you are clear about this in your own mind, it will come through in your words and in your delivery. Make sure that your emotional intent is an active verb. For example, your goal should be to motivate, not “to be motivational.”

Here is a list of emotion verbs from the fabulous book Leadership Presence, by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar. (Penguin Group, New York, NY 2004) (







































Shake Up








Win Over


From the Green Room: Make Them Feel It!

Freddy Mercury and the Art of Public Speaking

The key to a great presentation is making each person in the audience actually believe that you are talking directly to him or her.

Take a look at this 1985 video of Freddy Mercury singing Radio Ga-Ga at the Live- Aid concert. It is an immensely powerful performance. You can feel the energy and connection between Mercury and the audience at Wembley Stadium.

Let’s unpack some of what makes his performance so brilliant and so compelling:

  1. Presence. Freddy Mercury is 100% in the song and with the audience.
  1. Bold movements. He walks with confidence and direction. You can tell that knows exactly where he is going and why.
  1. Open body. Notice how he holds his arms out. His body is completely open to the audience.
  1. Sustained Eye Contact. Mercury looks out into different sections of the audience as though he were focusing on just one individual face. The result? Each person in the section (and even those of us watching on our computers) feels that he is looking only at him or her.
  1. Generosity of Spirit. His eyes, his body, his voice all feel like a gift to the audience.

From the Green Room: Having presence is the difference between making an audience of 1 feel overlooked and ignored and an audience of 100,000 feel seen and heard.

Squeakin' Lincoln: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

Check out these descriptions of Abraham Lincoln's speaking style, as quote in Abraham Lincoln Online (

Lincoln's voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered.
--William H. Herndon letter, July 19, 1887

Whenever he began to talk his eyes flashed and every facial movement helped express his idea and feeling. Then involuntarily vanished all thought or consciousness of his uncouth appearance, or awkward manner, or even his high keyed, unpleasant voice.
--Abram Bergen in Intimate Memories of Lincoln

Shrill. Squeaking. Unpleasant. Wrinkled and Dry Flesh.

Surely this is not the Lincoln whom Obama tries to emulate.

Or is it?

Baesd on the words of his audience, Lincoln's conviction and passion seemed to erase any physical distractions. How? Because he was able to synthesize body and language. "Every facial movement helped express his idea and feeling." The audience was able to forget his high-pitched voice because when he got into the speech - every part of him joined together to communicate a single idea.

By matching his externals and internals, this man had mastered the art of public speaking.

Clearly Obama lacks Lincoln's physical awkwardness. Yet even those of us like Obama, whose appearance is not "wrinkled and dry"and whose voice is not "shrill, shreaking, and piping," can be our own worst enemies when our words say one thing - while our body language says another.

The audience will pay attention, when what they hear is also what they see.

From the Green Room: Body language makes a greater impact that spoken language. Use it to communicate your message.

To Master the Art of Public Speaking: Embrace the Fall

Here are three headlines, all from today's NYT Sports Section:

1. Gordon Looking to End Winless Season as Nascar Season Ends

2. Mets' Church Has Clear Head and Bubbling Optimism After Season of Concussions

and my personal favorite:

3. Owner of Older Dogs Revel in (10-year old) Westminster Winner

What do these headlines have in common?

In each one - and especially #3, the story is compelling because the underdog comes back.

Sure, you can be the most polished speaker in the world. You can present flawlessly each time. You can convince the world that the last thing you are is nervous.

And you will be very boring.

The most powerful speakers aren't perfect. They embrace their human imperfections as opportunities to rise again. The audience loves the underdog.

Keep in mind that the audience also mimics the emotion of the speaker. When you "mess up," and express discomfort, the audience will feel that discomfort, too. When you "mess up" and plunge ahead - the audience not only will feel at ease, but may even be swept up in the victory of the moment.

After all, the audience wants you to succeed.

So the next time you are about to speak and ask yourself, "Will I mess up?" -

Remember that the answer is always, yes. Yes, you will mess up.

And it's a good thing, too - because your mistake has the potential to be the most outstanding and powerful moment of your presentation.

From the Green Room: If you want to master the art of public speaking, embrace your imperfections. They make you interesting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top Ten Tips to Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

Top Ten Speaking Tips

10. People remember what they hear first, last, often – and how they felt when they listened to you. Be crystal clear on your emotional intent.

9. Limit Powerpoint. Never forget that you are the star – not your visuals.

8. Be Present. Prepare beforehand so that before you are about to speak you can be aware what is happening around you. Get your body in the optimum state. Jump up and laugh!

7. When selecting information for your presentation, make sure everything you choose to say is both new and relevant. Know your audience. Make them essential to your presentation.

6. Get right into it. No explanations or caveats. In one sentence, let the audience know what you are going to tell them. Then tell them. Stay on message.

5. Tell a story. Remember the four types of listeners. Add visual, audio, digital, and kinesthetic details.

4. Vary your voice. Practice varying volume, tempo, pitch, and emotion. Punch the “operative words” and pause… purposefully.

3. Physical motion makes the greatest impact on an audience. Move to enhance and emphasize your content. Stand to YOUR right side of the room.

2. Stand if possible. Step away from the podium. Maintain a heroic neutral stance most of the time. If you must sit, lean forward and keep your hands above the table.

1. The best speeches are the ones where each listener feels personally addressed. Use your eyes as a way to connect to individual people. Don’t scan. If you focus on one person at a time, all eyes will focus on you.

Michelle Obama: No Magic Dust

It doesn't take magic to have stage presence.

Having presence means connecting to your audience on a true and deep level.

Check out Michelle Obama's conversation with a group of high school students in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in DC this past Tuesday. (

"I was somewhat where you are," she told the kids. "I didn't come to this position with a lot of wealth and a lot of resources. I think it's real important for young kids, particularly kids who come from communities without resources, to see me. Not the first lady, but to see that there is no magic to me sitting here. There are no miracles that happen. There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or Barack's head. We were kids much like you who figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands."

Michelle Obama's "magic" is her ability to connect her story to the students' story.

Get real with your audience.

Show your audience that your story is their story.

And show your audience that your mission is their mission.