Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’


The Emmy Awards Show’s Big Mistake – or How To Quickly Lose Any Audience

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The 2013 Emmy Awards Show failed to entertain – in part, because the host, Neil Patrick Harris, significantly missed the mark, starting with his opening number. Harris, who has proven himself an engaging, entertaining host of other awards shows, failed his audience during this year’s broadcast, not once, not twice, but three times.

Harris and the show’s writers ignored a basic tenet of effective communicators -to put the focus on your audience and what they care about – not on yourself and your concerns.

For over 11 minutes Harris’ opening number focused on himself – as one former host after another climbed on stage to offer Harris hosting advice. What someone should have said to him was to put the focus of attention where it should be – on the audience and the nominees – not on himself as host.

Harris also failed by not giving the audience what they anticipated from him – an opening song and dance number. Effective communicators should surprise their audience, but never disappoint. And while the opening was different, it wasn’t as entertaining as a musical montage might have been.

As if feeling guilty, the show’s writers did eventually add a song and dance number and, with a bit of a snarky wink, called it “The Number in the Middle of the Show.” It was lively, entertaining and too late.

Finally, Harris again repeated his “self-focus” theme with a nearly three minute skit performed by his cast mates from his TV show How I Met Your Mother. With sobering facial expressions, the actors looked straight into the camera and discussed Harris’ EHD or “Excessive Host Disorder.” Again, we didn’t care.

By the end, Harris had spent 15 minutes of a 90 minute show talking about his role as host. Interestingly, the very first words of the show’s opening came from TV monitors playing scenes from past TV shows.  Those first words: “Enjoy the night, it’s all about you.”  If only the “You” referred to the audience and not Neil Patrick Harris.

Why We Need Inaugurations

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

As I watched President Obama’s second inauguration, I came to realize that this historic gathering is really a cavalcade of words –  words delivered in forms of prose, poetry and song – arranged with the rhythm of a well established ritual that we, as a nation, participate in every four years.  Why is this process important?

The word “inauguration” means to mark a beginning – and the root “augur” means to foresee or predict.  An inauguration is the ultimate leadership moment.  It is a time for our president to set our course, to begin anew.  The patriotic songs with familiar lyrics, sung by powerful voices, stir audience emotions – and neuroscience shows us that these emotional connections are essential to our decision-making process.  The prayers and the poetry also connect with the audience on an emotional as well as spiritual level.

The best inaugural speeches help us to envision a brighter future – and inspire us to participate.  In President Obama’s speech, his language reflects his desire to bring our politically divided nation “together.”  He uses a litany of collective pronouns like “We,” “Us,” and “Our.”  He speaks of “collective action,” “binding” and “bridging together” our “one nation” and “one people.”  Later, the poet, Richard Blanco, reiterates the president’s theme and uses the power of metaphor in his poem “One Today.”

As a nation, we benefit from this coming together.  You can also benefit by applying these concepts in your professional life.

Perhaps your company or your team is changing leaders –  or you are updating a product, or seeking support for a new project – whenever you begin something new, you can apply the lessons of our presidential inauguration.  Start by creating your core message with a compelling storyline and concrete, vivid language. Use metaphors, especially for complex ideas.

Your “inaugural” event may also be the time to take a risk.  Following the President’s speech, political commentators remarked about Obama’s history-making mention of gay rights and climate change – two issues that will likely be on his agenda during his second term.

Next, connect to your audience emotionally, by way of stories and using confident delivery skills.  If you are working with a team, align your content and theme with others who participate in your “inaugural” gathering.  At this year’s inauguration all speakers included references about coming together (beginning with Senator Schumer who used the unfinished dome of the Capital building during Lincoln’s time to illustrate this point).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, bring people together, physically or visually as you share your message.  There is power in physical presence.  As President Obama spoke to our country, he looked out on a sea of people gathered on the mall, an invested audience, waving flags and applauding.  Later, the President and Mrs. Obama traveled in the motorcade along the procession route, lined with people.  Near the end of the route, the President and First Lady stepped out of their car to walk along, to wave, smile and connect with the public.  (A tradition started by Jimmy Carter).  If you watched on TV, you too were connecting – and that is, after all, what effective communication is all about – connecting.




Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

It’s happened to everyone – you’re about to say something important when suddenly – your mind goes blank. Noth-ing. Your train of thought slips into a tunnel of grey fuzziness and you panic. Where did that great idea go? Did the CIA “scrub” your memory bank or have you just been watching too many spy movies?

The problem is that our short-term memory allows us very limited storage capacity and most of us fail to leverage that capacity with much success. World famous cognitive psychologist, George Miller, who passed away this summer at age 92, uncovered the secrets about how we retain information.

Based on years of research and studies, Miller discovered that the average individual can remember roughly seven “chunks” of information such as words, names, or numbers at any moment, before needing to “refill” their short-term memory bank. In his often cited paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two,” Miller wrote that on average most people can retain up to five words at a time.

Think of your short-term memory bank like an ATM bank account. When you go to the ATM to withdraw funds, (or ideas) you can only withdraw the contents that your account can store – and in the case of our short-term memory – that’s up to seven numbers or five or six names or words. Our short-term memory doesn’t have overdraft protection and like any bank, you can’t withdraw what you haven’t deposited.

So here’s how to save your self from ever experiencing that panicky brain drain feeling again:

  • Use notes, or talking points that contain no more than five or six words per point. – Look at one note before you speak and if you forget something, stop speaking and quickly look down to find your next point. Joe Biden did this during his recent debate with Paul Ryan.
  • Take notes when listening to others – short notes, along the margin, allow you to easily locate your point when it’s your turn to speak. Again, you’ll see the Presidential candidates using this technique during the debates.
  • When notes aren’t practical – think in twos or threes and visualize those brief two or three ideas in a memorable, mental graphic. I like baseball, so I visualize the bases and picture my two or three ideas standing on first, second and third base. I will often see home plate as my one “Big Idea” and the bases as the supporting ideas.

According to an article about Miller in the LA Times, “The number seven also had a role in his personal life…he made his only hole in one at age 77, on the seventh green…using a seven iron.”

Find your own magic in fives, sixes and sevens by leveraging the capacity of your short-term memory – you’ll feel like you’ve come out of the tunnel of grey fuzziness into a bright, clear day.

(Visit Miller’s creation of WordNet, a type of electronic Thesaurus)