Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Private Thinking

"All good public speaking is based on good private thinking."
Scott Berkun (from his new book Confessions of a Public Speaker)

Get it today to get your 2010 reading started right. Caution: it is a complicated, layered, opinionated, clearly written work. If you are not interested in growing or being challenged as a speaker, do not read it. However, I have given at least 100 public speeches each year for the past 18 years and I have found a ton of value in it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You are an Agent of Change

It is said that the amount of energy in the universe is constant. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It is only changed from one form to another. The fat in your body is potential energy waiting to be turned into kinetic energy. A lump of coal is waiting to be burned and turned into fire. Your audience has energy waiting to be turned into excitement, sadness, laughter, surprise, etc.

All presentations change energy from one form to another. A waiting or bored audience member is just a lump of potential energy waiting to be turned into another form of energy. The experience of your presentation should be built around these three questions:

1. What form of energy are you wanting to tap into?
2. How do you plan on making this change happen?
3. What are you going to do with your audience after you've altered their energy?

The next time you are faced with an audience that aren't responding the way you had planned, don't blame it on them - blame your strategies. They are either not changing their potential energy into kinetic (i.e. they are doing nothing) or they are changing it into a different kinetic form than you'd hoped. Your job is to figure out how to get that energy focused on your presentation's needs.

The seeds of that change are in connecting the audience members' needs with your presentation's needs. These needs include:

- Safety
- Entertainment
- Intellectual stimulation
- Social interaction
- New and fresh content
- Fun
- Comfort
- Relaxation
- New solutions
- Encouragement
- Motivation
- Inspiration

My speaking associate, Kelly Barnes, sums up how we get the potential energy of our audience turned into kinetic energy in a big way:

The MOVE formula
(Making Optimal VAK Environments)

Move my feet... get music going
Move my eyes... get visuals up
Move my ears.... get me up to speed on what we are going to do
Move my mouth... get me talking to others
Move my brain... get me thinking
Move me... get me physically moving on purpose
Move on.... get to the point

Saturday, December 19, 2009

One Way to Help People Believe You (And Believe In You)

"If you don't have confidence in your take, then we don't want to hear it."
Jim Rome, Professional Sports Talk Guy

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fab Five Formula for Your Next Speech's Outline

Five questions to answer as you are preparing your next speech's outline:

Who (are you?)
Don't spend much time on this, but quickly let me know who you are:
Why are you qualified to talk on this topic?
What is your style (serious, fun, interactive, etc.)?
What is something about you I can personally relate with?

What (is in it for me?)
Why should I give you two of my most valuable assets - my time and attention? This question is not about future results, this is about immediate results. Which of my needs are you going to satisfy right now? My need to be entertained, informed, safe, social, thrilled, comfortable, challenged, etc.?

When (will I need to take action?)
How can I tell if I need to live your message or not? How do I know if I am already living your message? Help me understand when I need to take out this tool (your message) and put it to use.

Why (should I take action?)
This is probably the most important in terms of helping your audience want to take action. Help them see the benefits of your message, not just the features.

How (do I take action?)
What are a handful of concrete steps (3 - 5) I can take in my life to live your message?

This isn't an all inclusive list and everything on this list might not fit your topic, but take a look at it the next time you are preparing for a speech and it just might spark a thought or two.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Be Clear About and Enforce Expectations

Your audience members need help knowing how you expect them to act. Give them clear expectations early in your presentation and then help them know how they are doing throughout.

Monday, November 16, 2009

9 Tips for Leading a Small Group Discussion

  1. Have a casual presence. This will put your group and you at ease and grease the conversation. However, it is also important to remember that you need to bring the energy to the group. Your eyes, body language and vocal patterns need to model engagement and energy.

  2. Address each individual by name and be personable with them. It is too easy for small group discussions to have a formal/stuffy feeling and this environment prohibits open comments from the group. Keep it loose.

  3. Set time limits on discussions - particularly if you have a set number of topics to get to that concern different members of the group. The easiest way to shut down someone from adding to the value of a conversation piece is to make them feel like their topic won't be discussed.

  4. Mix up cliques in the room - physically and conversationally.

  5. Paraphrase comments from the group to make sure you (as the discussion leader) fully understand them. This will also help the group process any longer, jargon-filled or fragmented comments.

  6. Make certain the group gets to physically move around at least every 60 minutes or so. This could be switching chairs, getting into quick small groups to discuss what they've learned so far, doing an experiential activity to strengthen a certain lesson or actually taking a break. A quick boost of movement is the same as a quick boost of attention energy and leads to a more tuned-in and thus valuable group.

  7. Encourage note taking (a passive way to stay connected to the conversation) and model this for them. Don't forget to have someone capture relevant, revisit-able information on a flip chart or PowerPoint for later discussion or review.

  8. Call out anyone who is actively being disruptive or harmful to the group process. Best case scenario is to do this in private and away from the group, but if you don't have the time or space for that, then a gentle, verbal nudge in the group can be helpful to get them back on track. Be nice about it though. Mean = distrust = disengagement.

  9. Do your absolute best to keep the discussion focused and on track. Your primary role as the discussion leader is not to bring value to the group through input, but rather through leadership and thought directing.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

S.M.I.L.E. Formula

A good majority of your success on the platform is based on how you act before you get there. Click over to my leadership blog for some tips on how to maximize this all important time!

The S.M.I.L.E. Formula to Networking Success

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Audience Rapport Lessons from Shinedown

I caught the band Shinedown at the San Diego House of Blues last month. The room was wall to wall with rockers and there I stood in my biz casual holding a noteboook (I just came from a working supper.) Needless to say, I felt a bit out of place, but I enjoy catching live music when I'm on the road, so there I was.

[FYI - If you don't own any Shinedown, start with Simple Man and I Dare You.]

I knew I would be hit with a wall of sound, but I didn't expect to be overly impressed with the audience rapport skills of Shinedown's lead singer, Brent Smith. However, after the first 10 minutes of the show, he had everyone in the room not only loving their music (which they already did), but also respecting him as an entertainer, crowd-leader and man.

Here's what went down:

1. After the opening song, he gave a heart felt thank you to everyone for coming and paying hard earned money to be there. He graciously put the thanks on them. He even said their city was beautiful, which granted we were in San Diego, but even when you compliment something obvious to a crowd of people, they respond positively. LESSON: Put the focus and thanks on the audience quickly, especially if you are playing a role where most people in that role are in it for selfish reasons (ie - a self-absorbed rocker.)

2. After the thanks, Brent did something I have never seen at any concert, he had everyone give a high-five or hand shake to someone next to you. We do this all the time at our speaking events to break down barriers between audience members, but in this venue Brent did it for a different very obvious reason. LESSON: Get the audience interacting with you and each other quickly.

3. Twenty seconds into the third song, he stopped the song because a fight broke out in front of the stage (this was a hard rock concert you know). He physically and vocally intervened and let everyone know that tonight is about the music and having a good time, not being stupid and fighting. He waited until the two either made up or left. The entire crowd went crazy clapping when this went down. Everyone knew what type of night it would be from then on - all about the music of hard rock and none of the rest. LESSON: Control the room or the room will control you. Its not that a fight will break out at your event/conference/meeting if you don't, but losing control also looks like disengagement, side chatting, texting, no learning, no emotional buy-in or a host of other behaviors.

4. He got the crowd involved in the singing. Most of the time they were singing anyway, but he took one song and orchestrated their involvement. The cool thing is that it was at the start of one of their new songs that not everyone was familiar with. They were after he finished. LESSON: Involving the audience in a big, meaningful way increases all the things you want increased during and after your program - entertainment, learning, retention of content, retention of the experience's feelings, etc.

5. He introduced a hard rock love ballad by having saying that every man here is about pride and hard work and integrity, but we would be nothing without our women. He made great points quickly and honestly and even the single dudes in the room could respect the foundation of his logic. LESSON: Speak from the heart and there are very few presentations where the heart isn't appropriate to bring into the discussion. It connects with everyone.

6. Brent Smith was a performer to the extreme, both as a lead singer of a hard rock band and as a leader of the room of people having a great time. LESSON: Your audience needs you to be a master of both your content and the delivery moment of your content if you are going to make the impact you need to make.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Make an iPod Work With a Sound System

You need three things:

1. An XLR cable. Also known as a mic cable. Most facilities have them, but I keep a short 3-foot one with me just in case. You can get this
at any musical instrument store. Price varies depending on the length.

2. A DI box. These can be purchased anywhere guitars are sold - Guitar Center or you local mom and pop music store Costs around $30.

3. A stereo iPod cable with an 1/8th inch male plug on one end (standard iPod plug) and a quarter inch male plug on the other (this
goes into the DI box). You can get this cord at Radio Shack. $10.

Good luck.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Certainty trumps talent many times on stage. Work as hard getting confident in yourself, your abilities and your content as you do in preparing for the presentation. Of course, what you will often find is your certainty grows with your content familiarity.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Audience Engagement Quick Tips

* Get on the audience's level to build rapport and break down perceived and actual barriers.

* The first 30 seconds are vital to establishing credibility and setting the tone of the presentation.

* Build in questions throughout the presentation instead of having a Q&A session at the end. You want to be in control of the last few minutes and make them as powerful as the first 30 seconds.

* Don't hang out at the front of the room. Mix and mingle with the audience when you have them doing activities or interacting.

* Pull information from the audience through specific questions, having them share with a partner and then with the group, give them challenges that engage their curiosity or expertise, etc.

* Cover a smaller variety of information and go deeper into the info you do cover. Better to give them time to play around with 3 points than to skim over 10 points.

* Tap into the emotional connection the audience has with the topic and when they get emotional, leverage it. I.e. - if you get them laughing, hit them with a serious point. If you get them in a somber state, crack a light joke. The scale is emotion on one side and no emotion on the other. Instead of what some people think - serious on one side and fun on the other.

* If you want them to actually learn your content and have them take action on it, have them write things down (unless you are giving a traditional, story-based keynote.)

* Use variety in volume, pace and tone to give the audience a boost in attention. I.e. - when using the microphone, pull it away from your mouth or simply don't use it from time to time when making big points and that volume change will cause the audience to have to listen even closer. (Make sure if you use this tactic that the audience can actually hear you when not using the microphone.)

* Remember that everyone listens differently. Just because someone isn't looking at you or isn't taking notes doesn't mean they aren't taking your stuff in.

* Have the audience physically move during longer programs (60-minutes or more). This could be as simple as switching seats with a partner, do an up and moving around activity or turning their chairs to face a different direction.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Where Do You Get Your…?

One of the most common questions I get after a program is, "where do you get your music, images, videos, activities, etc. So, here is a quick list of my favorite and most used resources to help make my programs interactive and a rich experience.


I use music in 99% of my programs. It is one of the best tools available for setting state of mind, filling an empty room and taking the experience of the event to the next level. Now, you should know that I love music. I have 3,000+ songs in my iTunes library. I am a singer/songwriter. We even put speakers in almost every living space in our new home to continuously pump tunes. Here are my top music resources:

1. iTunes Playlists. Even if you don't own an iPod, you can get value out of Apple's iTunes music player. It is the cleanest and most functional music player for your computer. I use set playlists in iTunes to quickly access the music I need during my programs. I have published a few of those playlists into the iTunes music store as iMixes. This allows you to view the songs we play and purchase/download them. Go to this post to learn how to access these iMixes

2. Pandora. This is a free streaming music service that allows you to find new songs that closely match the style of songs you like. They have a powerful database. Go to and check it out.

[Playing music during your presentations requires you to pay a licensing fee to the organization's that represent the artists. Read this article to understand what this means and how to do this.]



I use images just in the few Power Points I do every year. I use Power Point more now than I used to, because I learned how to use them to add to the presentation's effectiveness. Even though I only use them sparingly, I still make sure each one is visually-based instead of textually-based. Here are my favorite photo finding sites - some are free and some are paid sites. The fees are based on per image download and the size of the image you want.

1. - A free site that is affiliated with a pay site -

2. - One of the more expensive sites I use, but it definitely has higher quality and cooler pictures.

3. - This one is part free and part fee based. They have less expensive pictures than other sites, but the database isn't quite as large.

4. Google Images - While on the Google homepage, you can click on the Images link and search for pictures. It isn't as simple as going straight to a picture purchasing site (where all the images are designed for design use), but you can find a wider range of image types.

5. Flickr - Advertised as the largest online image database, it is filled with pictures from amateur photographers, professionals, proud parents, flower lovers, etc. Each image author can set the copyright. Some are usable and some are not. You can tell once you are at the image and read the creative commons info.



Just like the images, I don't use video very often in my programs. However, when I do they almost always come from one source - The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference happens every year and all the speakers can only speak up to 17 minutes max. The videos are also free to share in educational and training environments - as long as you credit TED and aren't selling them. The speakers are inspirational and moving for many different ways. I did a post about some of my favorite TED videos here. Also, in my delicious link-sharing database, we have started tagging certain TED videos based on the leadership lesson you can pull from them. You can see that tag list here.



My favorite activity resource is my 15-years of being in the speaking and training business and the activities we have created over the years. We have actually put many of those activities into a book you can purchase over at our PLI site. Beyond that, I primarily use one site to find new activities (always credit where you find activities if you use them exactly as you find them.)

1. The Source - They have a huge database of fun and meaningful activities and games. They also have a powerful search tool that allows you to narrow down your search results significantly.

These aren't all the tools, but they are the big ones. Good luck and remember, the audience will forget what you say, but they will remember how you said it!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Doing Your Own Conference Success Tips

Following are a few tips if you are in charge of running your own conference:

  1. Expect to start 15 minutes late, but do your best to start on time.

  2. If you are hanging signage, check with the facility to find out what material will work best. Use extra tape if you are using masking tape.

  3. Bring multiples up at once. This saves time. Example - instead of calling out award winners one at a time and having all that extra "walking to the stage time", bring up all the potential winners at once and then call out the winners.

  4. If you are doing a PowerPoint or Video, show up at least 60 minutes before you expect the first people to show (which could be 45 minutes before start time) and get it set up.

  5. Have a backup copy of any PowerPoints on a thumb drive and have a backup laptop handy. Also, google "great PowerPoint design" or type PowerPoint in the search box of this blog. Basic rule, PowerPoint should be visually-based, not textually-based.

  6. Have something showing on the screen while people are coming in. Picture show, random quotes show, inspirational images, etc.

  7. Give fewer, but more valuable door prizes. If you are giving out a good number, don't give out more than five at once. Also, spread them out throughout the program.

  8. Triple check the mics and music the morning of. Make sure there are brand new batteries in all equipment.

  9. Have upbeat music playing before people show up until you start. The music should fill the room. Make sure the playlist is entirely CPP (Clean, Powerful and Postive).

  10. Have gophers - people who follow the people in charge and do misc. tasks.

  11. Have greeters to give directions.

  12. Have multiple sign-in lines to avoid bottlenecks.

  13. Have seating assistants moving people to the front rows and center sections. This helps remove the energy gaps in the room and helps build attention and excitement.

  14. Be ok with letting out early, but never go over time.

If you have specific questions about your conference set-up, email me (rhett @ I have attended literally thousands of conferences throughout my career. I can and want to help.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Valuable Keynote Lesson for Interactivity: Off-Plan Moments

If you are going to go highly interactive with the keynote, you better be ready to handle anything and everything that takes you "off plan." Tonight's detours while keynoting for 60-minutes in front of 300 student leaders and adult advisors:

1. Stage art falling off the wall.
2. Girl in front row laughing uncontrollably for 3 minutes.
3. A mystery explosion in the fourth row that I think was a balloon popping.
4. Microphone signal dropping out every 12 minutes.
5. What sounded like a herd of water buffaloes stampeding in the room next door. Was actually a facility worker pushing a cart full of something.

Biggest reason for going interactive on keynotes is to effectively manage attention spans and to help the audience "do the message" not just hear the message. Great way to manage the interactions to maximize attention and retention is to build in transitions - funny to solemn, moving to still, music to voice, listening to talking, loud voice to quiet voice, etc.

Best tips for handling the off-plan moments:

1. Expect them beforehand. Have a mind like water. Don't get caught off gaurd by having a rigid mind that absolutely has to stay on plan. This will get you in a more pliable mind-set that will be able to remain calm, relaxed and responsive (instead of reactive).

2. Trudge through them with a smile on your face and love in your heart. Unless it is someone actually being distruptive in a harmful manner, smile through the off-plan moments and enjoy them. If you are calm and enjoying the off-plan moments, your audience will be more likely too, as well.

3. Handle it appropriately relative to the distraction's size and context. If it is something small, let it go with maybe a raised eyebrow and a smile. If it something larger (like Alexia in the front row who could barely breathe while explosion-laughing for 3-minutes), stop where you were going and go ahead and let the moment live. If the distraction is large, your audience's attention is there anyway, so it is pointless for you to go on. Let your personality decide how you handle them, but the default is to have some fun with it (in a positive manner).

4. Jump back on track right were you left off. You don't have to spend time with lines like...

Now, where were we?
Now that that is over...
So, let's get back to where we before that little train wreck...

Just restart from where you were and act like it never happened. It is amazing how quickly a group can shift attention back and forth if their leader (you) takes them there confidently, smoothly and efficiently.

5. If you have a good number of off-plan moments (like I had tonight), you are taking time away from your original plan. Don't try to cram everything in. Better to make quick adjustments mid-stream, prioritize your remaining content and let the audience really get the big messages than to have them barely remember all of them because you had to blow through.

6. Above all else, remember that everything that happens does so for a reason. Just because you didn't plan for it to happen, does not mean it wasn't supposed to happen. Be like a great surfer - live in the moment, keep your feet underneath you, be ready for anything and have an awesome time!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Advice From my Network

What are the two most important qualities of speakers?

This is the question I posed via Twitter and Facebook to my network. Here are the responses:

1. Being authentic once the speaker gets off the stage. A major client told me recently she is very careful with some speakers once they are off the stage around her students. Not inappropriate touching stuff - just that they are jerks to kids following their speeches Another client asked me recently "will you eat lunch with the students after the assembly". I said "love to" and he hired me on the spot. Said last years speaker said " I talk to kids, don't eat with em" Means a lot to the client when we are real with their kids.

2. Making the presentation fit the time slot - can the speaker make an opening keynote work for that and set the conference off to a great start - and can a speaker make a closing keynote get people ready to head home in a meaningful way -and ..... can a speaker fit into the amount of time the client asks for at the last minute (can you cut it down to 20 minutes? or can you keep em for 90 minutes instead of 45?)
Phil Boyte

1. Honesty

2. Integrity
Patrick Grady

1. I think it is getting the audience to do something/action/change otherwise it is just storytelling.

2. Being a catalyst for deeper thinking is the other.
Norm Hull

1. Connection (authenticity, credibility, entertaining, etc)

2. Transfer (simple, memorable, remarkable, repeatable in audiences' own words/lives, etc)
Jonathan Smith

1. Actually comprehending the basic points to be conveyed - which are usually just a handful at the very most

2. Being able to communicate those points succinctly and meaningfully.
John Satterfield

Other Responses:

1. Passionate
2. Energetic.

1. Authenticity.
2. The ability to relate and connect with audience.

1. The ability to make connections that make people think. Whether it's connections between audience members' experiences/emotions and some point the speaker is making, or presenting thoughts/concepts in a new way, I always appreciate when a speaker makes me think.
2. Energy. Great speakers have a passion or energy that makes them engaging. Doesn't mean they have to be loud or boisterous, just means they radiate an energy that makes you want to listen.

1. Honesty of message
2. Humor

1. Know your audience.
2. Be passionate about what you are speaking about.

1. Confidence
2. Enthusiasm

1. Has something to say.
2. Has an unmissable ability to say it.

1. Knowledge
2. Enthusiasm

1. Knowledge of the audience, subject and desired end result.
2. Innovation in the way presented. Whether it be funny, insightful, witty or emotional.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where Do I Put Your Information?

Your audience walks into the room with a load of information in their brains. Memories in the form of pictures, smells, words, people, data, facts, feelings, places and emotions.

As you plan your next presentation, consider where you want them to put your information and how easy/difficult you make it for them to know:

1. What category does your content fits into? Is this entertainment, education, personal use, school use, professional use, etc?

2. Is it pre-packaged elegantly enough for me to know where the chunks of information begin and end? How well organized do you have your presentation flowed out?

3. When/where/why/how am I supposed to re-access this information? Is this something I should be using today, tomorrow, three weeks from now or all the above?

Your audience's answers to these questions will not only impact how they feel about your presentation, but also the likeliness of them actually using your information after you are gone.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Using Stories You Aren't In...

Be authentic as a speaker does not mean you always have to tell stories from your life or from the lives of people you know. You can branch out and use stories outside of your inner sphere to support your points. A few reasons why:

1. Unless you are a narcotics cop in Detroit, a professional hitch hiker or Roger Rabbit, your life probably isn't full of the most interesting stories out there. Of course, most of the interestingness of a story is in the telling, not in the tale itself, but the lion's share of the stories out there at your disposal don't reside in your particular life line.

2. A big part of being a great speaker is being a great story teller, but that doesn't mean the stories have to be true to your life. True, yes. True to your life, not always.

3. As long as you get permission to use a story that is a creative piece from another speaker or author and you don't tell a story like it happened to you if it didn't, you can use as much great material as you can get your hands on.

4. Sure, there are a large number of speakers out there who have great life stories. Either very tragic, heroic, hilarious, etc. And there are those presenters who have the Seinfeld Gift - they can take the simplest, most ordinary story and make it into something worth listening to. However, just because you haven't lost your leg or haven't made it to the Olympics or you don't have the gift of being able to make cotton balls hilarious, doesn't mean you have to use something other than great, epic stories to support your message.

Will all this great support for searching out great stories from sources other than your life, it is important to add the cautionary tale that you do probably have more interesting stories from your own life worth telling than you think you do. So, I do suggest you search through your personal library of coolness before you expend too much energy in the rest of the world's book store. Good luck and tell 'em like you mean it...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Desktop Background Set - Image 01

I am going to periodically create these computer desktop backgrounds with inspiring images and tips. The current plan is to create a set of 10 over the next few weeks. Keep checking in for more and I hope you enjoy, download and desktop them...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Simple Messages Drive Complex Behavior

People confirm and reinforce their behavior using simple messages. Reasons:

On the message side:
1. Easy to remember
2. Easy to understand

On the behavior side:
1. Simple to explain to our friends, our co-workers, our family and the mirror.
2. Our brains are wired to work like running water - seeking out the path of least resistance. Thus, it naturally goes for the easiest message to remember and understand.

A few examples (with explanations - although they aren't needed):

  • TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) - We use this to define our urgency to escape the drudgery of work and get to the "good life" of the weekend. This is an example of how a simple phrase can reinforce a negative behavior.
  • Fake it 'til you make it - This is used to remind people that sometimes you have to just start something (like smiling) and then you will feel like doing it. This is a positive behavior example.
  • I love you - When sourced from the genuine feeling, this phrase is an extension of one of the most powerful forces in human emotions. Again, based on the context, this is the most positive behavior example.

You can leverage this powerful tool to help put a long tail on your content. Here's the strategy: find the simplicity in the complexity of your message, develop a unique phrase or word that embodies the core meaning of this simplicity and then repeat that phrase/word throughout your presentation, in your handouts, on your visuals and during the before and after connection points with your audience.

(Hit tip -

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Being Prepared to be Original


I have finally started reading The Element by Sir Ken Robinson (of TED fame). It is a book about how to find that magical place where the things you love to do come together with the things you are good at.

It is also largely about how to find and develop our creative muscles. It is a must read for anyone in education or a creative occupation (like speaking).

My favorite line so far is in the section where he is talking about why young people are better equipped to be creative.

"If they aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, they’ll just have a go at it and see how things turn out. This is not to suggest that being wrong is the same as being creative. Sometimes being wrong is just being wrong. What is true is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original."

As a communicator and someone who thinks Authenticity Rules, being original is at oxygen-level importance. However, it is difficult, challenging, frustrating and time-consuming. And it takes the capacity to be wrong 254 times until you finally realize that you were actually spot-on the 158th time (i.e. – your best idea is not always going to be your final one.)

Getting paid to be creative is one of my favorite parts of being a full-time speaker/author/blogger/business owner. Here are a few of my creative outputs from the past few days:




Sunday, April 26, 2009

Assessing Presentation Threats

Difficult situations can and will arise throughout your presentations.  There are three keys:

1.  Prepare yourself, your room, your content and your audience in advance to avoid these situations.

2.  Have a working understanding of the different levels of situation instigators and know how to handle each.

3.  If you do have to engage a disruptive audience member, be as cordial and pleasant as possible.  Do not allow an unpleasant person make you or your presentation’s experience turn unpleasant.  You can’t always prevent the storm, but you can remain calm during it.


Blue_Square Blue Level
Reconnaissance Work
Before your program, build rapport in the room; learn names, be in the audience members’ space, ask questions, learn expectations, etc. If you sense there might be resistance in the room (or if you have been told directly), plan accordingly. If it is one or two people, approach them before the program and discuss options. If it is a large portion of the group, build strategies into your presentation to deal with that reality: use inclusive language, speak to the facts, stand your ground, respect other opinions, don’t pass the buck, be cordial, etc.


Yellow_Square Yellow Level
The Passive Dissenter
The Passive Dissenter does not mean harm. Their behavior is disruptive, but they are not intentionally trying to hurt your presentation. They are more than likely simply unfocused or distracted and need to be more directly engaged in the program. Catch them at break or when the big group’s attention is on something else and point out how their behavior is disruptive. Ask them how they could adjust their behavior to better fit the needs of the group (let them come up with the solution first.) Give them a purposeful, if even passive, responsibility. Ask them to be a small group discussion leader, help with a small logistical item, think about some new ideas for the current discussion, etc.


Orange_Square Orange Level
The Aggressive Dissenter
The Aggressive Dissenter is looking to be disruptive, but not because of you. Their dissention is an outward expression of some inner strife: personal, professional, emotional, social, etc. There is a possibility they can be brought back. When you have a break, approach them one‐on‐one and in private and bring the results of their behavior to their attention. Ask them if they are willing and able to set their personal agenda aside for the betterment of the group. They also need a diversion to get their thinking and emotions back with the group. Let them know you are interested in them, but will not sacrifice the goals of the presentation or the interests and safety of the group.



Red Level
The Aggressive Combative
The Aggressive Combative is out to get you; either because of you personally or because you happen to represent the focus of their aggression. They need to be dismissed as soon as possible. If you can, have someone else in an authoritative position do this for you and then move on. If not, then handle it yourself cordially at first, then aggressively if you must. Never physically though. Always leave a safe zone between you and the Aggressive Combative.


The BIG IDEA driving all of these strategies is control.  Once you lose control or are perceived as losing control, you lose your audience’s trust.  Once that is gone, everything is gone.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Authenticity Rules #4 – Know Your Tools


Authenticity Rule #4
The Surgeon Rule - Know Your Tools.


(Review AR #1 – Know Thyself, AR #2 – Know Your Content, AR #3 – Know Your Audience, AR #6 – Know Your Enemies)


You are in the unfortunate position of needing surgery.  Its not the favorite chapter in your life, but you know you have to go through it. 

You are on the table. Everybody is ready to go.  Right before they put you under, the doctor comes in and you hear her say to her staff, “What does this thing do?   How do you turn this one on?  What are those numbers for?” 

The last thing you remember thinking before you slip off to la-la land is, “Goodnight room.  Goodnight moon.  Goodnight life.”  You are scared to death you will not wake up.  You have been given a rookie surgeon.


This scenario will, of course, never happen.  Unless our modern health system goes entirely off-course, surgeons not only know how to use the tools of their trade, but they will be complete masters of them.  You wouldn’t even consider going to a doctor that didn’t have hours of experience and absolute confidence using their tools.  So, why would any presenter ask their audience to sit through a presentation where the speaker didn’t know how to use their stuff?


Authenticity Rule #4 states:  Your authenticity can show through more powerfully when your presentation tools become natural self extensions.

Here is a quick, non-comprehensive list of this “equipment”:

  • Microphone
  • Music
  • PowerPoint
  • Projector/Laptop
  • Handouts
  • Flipcharts
  • Tape/Pins/Velcro (anything you are using to secure visuals to the wall)
  • Props
  • Room set-up
  • Interaction techniques with audience
  • Interaction techniques with co-presenter(s)
  • Stories


What are the downsides of not having total command of your tools?

  1. Damages Credibility – Trust between you and your audience is the foundation of everything.  The moment you are vulnerable because of a lack in competency, that foundation begins to crumble.   We don’t care if you are perfect, but we do expect you to care about being close.
  2. Distracts – You can only have your focus on one thing at a time.  That one thing should be connecting with the audience.  If you are wasting your “one thing” on how to get your laptop to talk to the projector, someone in the room is getting ignored.  Plus, you want your audience’s attention to be on the message and how it applies to their life, not on the flipchart that keeps falling down because you didn’t think ahead of time to bring push-pins with you.
  3. Drains Time – Your audience has chosen to give you two of their most valuable resources – their time and attention.  If you don’t spend time before the presentation getting your tools right, you will have to waste time during the presentation doing it.  This is disrespectful to your audience and is the same as saying to them, “My time is more valuable to me than your time.”  Not good.

How do you get better at using your tools?

  1. Learn Great Techniques – Read some books, blogs, tweets, etc. written by ninja level presenters.  Seek these people out personally and ask them how they use ____ successfully.  Here is a great portal for finding great presenters – Speaking Alltop.
  2. Practice – After you learn good techniques, practice them.  The best speaking practice is in front of an actual live audience.  In front of the mirror is better than nothing, but not the best practice.  After you finish a presentation, sit down right then and do a Plus (what you did well), Minus (what you didn’t do well), Delta (what you are going to change or find out how to change) list. 
  3. Do Recon Work – Call ahead and find out what the room is going to be like.  How is the audience going to be seated?  Are there tables?  What are the walls like?  Can you put things on them?  Do they have a screen, projector, wireless microphone, corded microphone, podium, etc.?  Everything about the room impacts your presentation and should be included in your “tools list.”
  4. Start here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Impossible to Ignore Keynote Strategies

One of my favorite audience responses from my keynote work this year...

"You were impossible to ignore!"

My first thought after she said this was, "So, what you are saying is that you were trying to ignore me, but were unsuccessful?" Seriously though, she went on to say that it was one of the most engaging 25-minutes she has experienced from a convention keynote speaker and she has seen a good number of us.

Now, this post is not about celebrating me, but rather about celebrating and examining the strategies I employ. Here are a few reasons why I think she was unsuccessful at ignoring me:


(This 25-minute keynote was at the end of a 3-hour opening session for a student leadership conference, in a full auditorium of about 1,200 people.)

1. High-Level Interaction
The first half consisted of humor (wit, not jokes), building rapport by telling a quick story about an experience I had that they are currently going through and two quick full-audience interactive activities. There was zero space in the first 12-minutes to be physically, mentally or emotionally disengaged. It was boom-boom-boom.

2. Clear Outline
The second half was the content - the title of the keynote was The Three Giant Jumps to Have a Giant Leadership Journey. Everything about the content pieces revolved around there being three jumps. This repetition built in anticipation to find out what the three were going to be. This anticipation added to the "impossible to ignore" effect.

3. Emotion-Based Stories
Each of the "Three Giant Jumps" were in story form (Reverence, Remarkable and Risk). If I had more time, I would have included another full-audience interactive activity to support the second point. Because the points were supported with fast paced, interesting, colorful and emotion-based stories, the “ignore factor” was diminished by the power of the story – built-in start/middle/end, easy to understand reference points, and unique (two were stories from my life and one was from a friend’s life).

4. Energy
Energy is the most pervasive strategy employed by keynote speakers, workshop presenters and teachers in the Can’t Ignore Club. Our voice, body and attitude all communicate...

"I am excited and interested to be here, even if you aren't. And if you aren't, I'm not going to yell at you or try to push into getting there, we are just going to have so much fun and get so much done on this side of the fence, that you will eventually want to jump it yourself."

This energy strategy results in us being able to pull the audience up to our level of attention, involvement, excitement, joy, etc. It is very difficult to ignore someone who is fully invested in the moment and is armed with effective strategies to motivate that same level of investment from the audience.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Ultimate Creativity-Sparker and Procrastinator-Killer

You might not be able to have something exactly like Michael Pollan's writing house, but it is worth your time to find something similar to it...

Here are some tips on how to get closer to Michael's recluse paradise:

1. Shut down your mass weapons of distraction.
Phone, email, Facebook, twitter, visitors, TV, web browsing, etc. These elements are designed to attract and control your attention. Unless you have the will power of a Supermonk, shut them off. Give your focus a fighting chance.

2. Find a physical location that has built-in distraction minimizers.
To achieve number one, you might need to do number two. Michael's Writing House works because of the recluse nature of the structure itself. It is physically removed from people, possibly Internet, etc. From the look of it, he pretty much has access to a handful of books, his laptop, a printer and oxygen. When I was in college, this was the fifth floor of the library. Your options are endless if you choose to seek them out: a restaurant, a library, a neighbor/friend's house, your backyard, the hood of your vehicle in the middle of a field, etc.

3. Surround yourself with sights, sounds and smells that inspire YOU.
I don't know, but I would venture to guess that Micheal is inspired by nature, especially since he is a green movement advocate. His Writing House is built of natural material and looks to be in the middle of Sherwood Forrest. These sights, sounds and smells are simply muse fuel. There might even be a certain time of day where he is most prolific. You need to do some self-evaluation and figure out what sights, sounds and smells most inspire you to be creative and/or ultra productive in solo projects. It might be in the middle of a bright, loud, and busy cafe or it could be in your grandma's dark, damp, and quiet basement.

Friday, March 27, 2009

American Dreamin'

There are three reasons why I have some (read: 48 out of 2,735 songs) Hip-Hop/Rap on my iPod...

1. I am a lover of all types of music.

2. Variety is the spice of life and sometimes the stuff is a welcome change to my normal Jack Johnson, George Strait, Michael Buble, AC/DC, Third Day rotation.

3. When it is done without a ton of garbage language or outright ignorant thinking, the artistry, storytelling and ninja-level lyrics are inspiring and highly entertaining.

Like Jay-Z's VH1 Storytellers episode. If you have VH1 or Palladia, watch for it and then watch it. You can also see clips on YouTube. He has a song called American Dreamin' on the episode that is elegantly written. Here is the best piece:

You're now in a game where only time can tell.
Survive the droughts. I wish you well.
Survive the droughts? I wish you well?
How sick am I? I wish you health.
I wish you wheels. I wish you wealth.
I wish you insight so you could see for yourself.

If you read the full lyrics, listen to the full song or even listen to the full album (American Gangster - available in digital download format on, but not iTunes), you will figure out quickly that the story here is about the movie American Gangster. I'm obviously not lifting up and celebrating the story itself - crime, drugs, etc. But the storytelling techniques of the VH1 show are undeniably intense. Its the type of watch that makes a communicator think about how you can tell your story using more visual, creative and intelligent resources.

Starting with the one between your ears and the two attached to your arms.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

TED Conference Videos - Invaluable Resource!

If you are a teacher or professional trainer/speaker and don't know about TED, consider yourself informed...

TED is an annual conference in California. TED stands for Technology, Education and Design. Each speaker has only 18 minutes or less to tell about their innovative idea, their life's passion, the part they play in the world of technology, education or design.

BEST PART, their web site ( has hundreds of their speakers' videos in streaming or downloadable format. They are perfect for showing to your students or peers to reinforce your idea and/or enlighten their world. Even if you aren't teaching/speaking on their exact topic, they are all grounded in a ton of great leadership, creativity, education ideas/concepts.

Here are a few of my favorite...

Sir Ken Robinson - Creativity Expert

"Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this."

Nalini Nadkarni - Tree Researcher

"Nalini Nadkarni has spent two decades climbing the trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon and the Pacific Northwest, exploring the world of animals and plants that live in the canopy and never come down; and how this upper layer of the forest interacts with the world on the ground. A pioneering researcher in this area, Nadkarni created the Big Canopy Database to help researchers store and understand the rich trove of data she and others are uncovering."

Juan Enriquez - Futurist
"A broad thinker who studies the intersection of science, business and society, Juan Enriquez has a talent for bridging disciplines to build a coherent look ahead. Enriquez was the founding director of the Harvard Business School Life Sciences Project, and has published widely on topics from the technical (global nucleotide data flow) to the sociological (gene research and national competitiveness), and was a member of Celera Genomics founder Craig Venter's marine-based team to collect genetic data from the world's oceans."

Elizabeth Gilbert - Writer

"Elizabeth Gilbert faced down a ­premidlife crisis by doing what we all secretly dream of – running off for a year. Her travels through Italy, India and Indonesia resulted in the megabestselling and deeply beloved memoir Eat, Pray, Love, about her process of finding herself by leaving home."

Bill Gates - Philanthropist

"Bill Gates is founder and former CEO of Microsoft. A geek icon, tech visionary and business trailblazer, Gates' leadership -- fueled by his long-held dream that millions might realize their potential through great software -- made Microsoft a personal computing powerhouse and a trendsetter in the Internet dawn. Whether you're a suit, chef, quant, artist, media maven, nurse or gamer, you've probably used a Microsoft product today."

Scott McCloud - Cartoonist

"If not for Scott McCloud, graphic novels and webcomics might be enjoying a more modest Renaissance. The flourishing of cartooning in the '90s and '00s, particularly comic-smithing on the web, can be traced back to his major writings on the comics form. The first, Understanding Comics, is translated into 13 languages, and along with Reinventing Comics and Making Comics, its playful and profound investigations are justly revered as something like the Poetics of sequential art."

Tim Brown - Designer

"Tim Brown is the CEO of Ideo, a design firm founded by David E. Kelley in 1991. Brown carries forward Ideo's mission of fusing design, business, and social studies to come up with deeply researched, deeply understood designs and ideas. Ideo is the kind of firm that companies turn to when they want a top-down rethink of a business or product -- from fast food conglomerates to high tech startups, hospitals to universities. Ideo has designed and prototyped everything from a life-saving portable defibrillator to the defining details at the groundbreaking Prada shop in Manhattan (IDEO designed those famous see-through dressing rooms)."

Jonathan Harris - Artist, Storyteller, Internet Anthropologist
"Brooklyn-based artist Jonathan Harris' work celebrates the world's diversity even as it illustrates the universal concerns of its occupants. His computer programs scour the Internet for unfiltered content, which his beautiful interfaces then organize to create coherence from the chaos."

Johnny Lee - Human-computer Interaction Researcher

"To understand Johnny Lee, just take a look at his personal Projects page. Aside from his Wii Remote hacks -- voted the #1 tech demo of all time by Digg -- you can see all the other places his mind has turned: typography, photography, urban renewal ... to say nothing of his interesting sideline in Little Great Ideas, like the hypnotic "___ will ___ you."

Jill Bolte Taylor -Neuroanatomist

"One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor's brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness..."

Raspyni Brothers - Jugglers

"The Raspyni Brothers' inventory of international championships, TV appearances and national tours may seem a lot to juggle, but then, Dan Holzman and Barry Friedman are jugglers by trade. Their waggish humor, irresistible stage presence and "panther-like reflexes" have turned these jesters from openers into the headline act."

Hans Rosling - Global Health Expert, Data Visionary

"Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did."

Robert Ballard - Oceanographer
"From an early age, Robert Ballard was intrigued by the deep. He's perhaps best-known for his work in underwater archaeology; in addition to Titanic, he has found the wrecks of the Bismarck, the USS Yorktown, the nuclear sub Thresher (on a top-secret mission for the Navy -- for which the Titanic was his cover story) and John F. Kennedy's PT-109."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Is it Really Substance They Want?

The 72 Ounce Steak at the Big Texan in Amarillo, TX. The perfect example that more is not always better. Of course, if you can eat it with a shrimp cocktail, salad, baked potato and roll in under 60-minutes, its free.

I recently had a client give me feedback after a program that said they wanted more substance after a lunch keynote I did.

I replied and said I totally agree with how she is feeling and with how the program was structured. As a person with not a mild case of OCD, I wish we could cover every single angle of a concept, every action needed, and every single acre of space for each of the points delivered in a keynote.

My question though is whether substance is really what they wanted? (Read: substance as in more, not substance as in valuable.) If substance is the end goal, then a speech is not the way to deliver that. Just have someone stop by the local Barnes and Noble, buy every book on leadership (or cooking or mouse-trap building or whatever), bring those books to the luncheon and have everyone read while they eat.

I believe what they really want is action taken by the audience after the program. And action is not a by-product of more substance. Of course the presenter has to cover important, meaning, and relevant information, but not a great big load of it.

If action is the end goal, the way to get there is:

1. Provide evidence that the content is relevant to the audience's life (goals, challenges, authentic make-up, etc.) If I am going to be able to take action, I have to first answer the question "why?"

2. Give a handful of relevant, interesting and visual/concrete points. Remember, more information does not equal more value. There is a certain point (and it is different for everyone) where more information given actually results in less information retained. A famous trial lawyer was quoted as saying, "If I give 10 great reasons to the jury why they should vote for my guy, I might as well give them none."

3. Allow the audience to interact with the content, the presenter, the people beside them, and a piece of paper. This gives the information a fighting chance to be remembered and acted upon. It is a fact that if you want to remember something, you need to say it, read it, hear it, hear yourself saying it (out loud or in your mind), and talk about it with someone else.

Authenticity Rule #6 - Know Your Enemies

One of the biggest enemies of rookie presenters who don't know which piece of content is worth going in or not AND veteran presenters who thinks everything they know about a topic carries equal weight is giving too much information.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Impact of Delivery

Your words comprise 100% of what you say, but only 15-25% of what the audience hears.

Therefore, work tirelessly to perfect your paralanguage, body language and presentation tools (Power Point, handouts, audience interaction techniques, visuals, props, etc.).