How to supercharge your career in 17 minutes

“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.”

– Eric Hoffer

Tom Peters has an interesting post on his blog -“Get To (Serious!!) Work … On Your Presentation Skills!”

He points out how one Seventeen Minute speech in 2004 catapulted Sen. Barack Obama’s career. Sen.. Obama delivered the Keynote Speech at the 2004 Democratic National attention and he “caught fire.”  He went from a virtually unknown young politician to becoming the presumptive Presidential nominee of his party in less than 4 years!

Fueled by his 17 minute speech!

In 1988 another relatively unknown politician first caught our eye when he delivered a (very long) nominating speech for Gov. Michael Dukakis. That was our first national notice of (then) Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

Yes, it is time to “Get Serious – really serious – about working on your presentation skills.” To quote from the Tom Peters article:

“Fact, in “our” more modest worlds: Poor or average or even “okay” presentation skills trip up or hold back an incredible number of very talented people at all levels, including the highest in big orgs—and yet it is rare to see someone launch a martial-arts-training-like, no-bull, I’m-gonna-master-this-or-die-trying offensive on presentation skill improvement.

Why not?”

Indeed! Why not? Why don’t you put more effort into improving your presentation skills? What is holding you back? Do you realize how much your “so-so” presentation skills are holding you back – from advancing in your career? Holding you back from getting what you really want in your life?

It’s not enough to say, “they are a naturally gifted speaker and I just am not.” That is just BS!

Talent, alone, does not guarantee success. It is the intense desire to work on fully developing our talents that determines our long-term success.

Will Sen. Obama’s desire to become President of the USA drive him to improve his natural speaking talents? He will need to improve his debating skills and to work on his responses to questions if he is to succeed.

I’ll be blogging about the presentation skills (or lack of skills) of our Presidential candidates up until the November election.  I will be interested to see which candidate shows the most desire to succeed.

Which candidate will really commit to fully developing his communications skills? Which candidate is is most interested in supercharging his career?



Why do politicians fumble Q & A sessions?

Senator Hillary Clinton does it. Senator Barack Obama does it. Many people – not just politicians – do it.

What do they do? They stumble and fumble their answers during debates and Question & Answer (Q & A) sessions.

Why? Well, one easy answer is that they fail to make time to:

  1. Anticipate the questions that they will be asked.
  2. Formulate their answers to these questions – especially the “sticky” ones – the ones that will be repeatedly played on the 24-hour cable news stations and on the Social Media internet channels.
  3. Practice their answers – articulate them – speak them – master them – comunicate them.

As I write this, I have been packing my suitcase and listening to MSNBC repeatedly replaying Sen. Clinton’s crude, clumsy, possibly inflammatory response, ina USA Today interview, as to why she appeals to a broad-based coalition of voters. I lost count of the number of “Ahs,” “Ers,” and “Uhs” in her response.  (Click here to read the interview and also access the audio portion.) Why? Is this the image she really wants to project?

And, Sen. Obama also deserves criticism – why doesn’t he put more time into preparing for his debate performance? Why does he come across as “defensive” or “offended” when he is questioned about his core beliefs? Why does he find it so difficult to articulate his response to difficult questions? (Click here for a linkto an excellent video analysis of Sen. Obama’s weak spots during questioning.)

Surely, Sen. Obama knows that these questions are coming. Why doesn’t he put more time into preparing for them?

Surely, Sen. Clinton must know that her answers will be replayed constantly on TV, on YouTube, on the radio. Why doesn’t she put more time into crafting her response?

Why do they continue to fumble and stumble with their answers during Q & A?

It makes me uncomfortable when I listen to their answers. I have to turn away from the “train-wreck” that is about to occur during the debates – I see their blank stares forming, I feel their cold sweat soaking their shirts and blouses… Why? Why? Why?

Why do they make me feel so uncomfortable during their Q & A sessions? Why do I doubt what they say? Why do I question their core beliefs?

Which candidate am I to believe? The candidate who masterfully delivers their stump speech? Or the candidate who appears completely lost and confused when answering a direct question?

It’s the stumbling and fumbling that they go through trying to get the words out that causes me to feel so uncomfortable. And… I do not think that I am the only one who feels this way. How do you react?

Why don’t their trusted advisors take them aside and say, “Senator, it is time to prepare your responses. It’s time to rehearse. It’s time to practice voicing your answers- forming the words and speaking them out loud.”

Don’t fall into this trap! 

  • Anticipate the questions that you expect to be asked; especially the difficult ones!
  • Gather your thoughts and formulate your response. Put it in writing first if necessary.
  • Practice articulating your response. Say the words – speak them aloud. Record your response if at all possible.
  • Ensure that you have reserved enough time for these practice sessions.
  • Work with a speech coach or a trusted advisor.

Q & A usually comes at the end of a presentation. Make your last impression a favorable one. You never get a second chance to re-do your LAST impression. Make your LAST impression a positive, LASTING impression!


Body Language 101


I did not watch the debate last night. And, based upon the news reports I read this morning, I will not search for a replay. Perhaps I should. If only to observe Sen. Clinton’s and Sen. Obama’s body language.

This photo caught my eye. And it is not a pretty picture! Notice their hands. This position is called the “Fig Leaf.” Remember the biblical story of Adam and Eve? How they used a fig leaf to cover their “private parts” after they took a bite of the forbidden apple? They look weak, defensive and vulnerable.

So do Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama in this picture. They look weak, defensive and vulnerable. They do not look “Presidential.” They do not project power, confidence or authority. They appear timid.

“Listen with your eyes!” Body language is quite telling. What message do you receive from this photograph? What message do you project with your body language? What will your audience believe – your words? Or your body language?

If you want to learn more about the importance of body language, I recommend “The Exceptional Presenter,” by Timothy J. Koegel. I particularly like his illustrations of proper and inappropriate hand positions and gestures.

So, what is the proper position for your hands when you are speaking? What change should Sens. Clinton and Obama have made before this photograph was taken?

Use the basic”hands at your side” position. It will relax you because it takes no energy to stand with your hands at your side. Practice this yourself. How does this make you feel? How does your audience react when you stand to speak with your “hands at your side?”

They feel comfortable listening to you. They “listen with their eyes.”

Defining Moments

“The Chinese symbol for adversity contains a symbol for opportunity. Therefore, adversity brings opportunity.”

– Anonymous

How do you rebound after 10 straight losses? Is it possible? Theoretically, yes.  Is it easy? Of course not. How do you do it? Stay in the game long enough to find your opportunity – and then seize the moment!

No doubt about it – Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is on a losing streak. You can not “spin away” 10 consecutive losses. You can not discount the outcome of some state elections  as “not that important.” A caucus or a primary? It doesn’t matter. A loss is still a loss.

But there is always tomorrow. Another opportunity. A chance to gain a foot-hold. A chance to debate. A chance to turn her ship around. A chance to turn adversity into opportunity.

All eyes will be on Austin, TX – the scene of the next Democratic Party Debate.

More precisely, the eyes of the camera will be focused on the eyes, the hands, the posture of the candidates. It is my opinion that the outcome of tomorrow’s debate will be determined more by style than substance. And specifically, I predict that the outcome will be determined by how Senators Clinton and Obama master their body language during the debate.

The audience will be “listening with their eyes.”

We will not require a political analyst to tell us who won the debate. We can throw away the scorecard that tallies points scored on policy matters. The only points that matter will be how the candidates react to each other. Non-verbal reactions to each other.

We will “listen with our eyes.” We will determine the winner based upon what we “hear with our eyes.”

My advice to Senators Clinton and Obama: Spend more time preparing your non-verbal communications than in polishing your 9-point policy positions. The outcome of this debate will be determined by what the audience sees!

This has been the case – at least since the first televised Presidential Debate in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon. The outcome was determined by a “close shave.”Future President Kennedy came across as a tanned, vigorous, confident leader. Then Vice President Nixon appeared to be hiding behind his “5 o’clock Shadow.”

Who can forget these images? Moments when non-verbal communication decided the outcome of the debate: Continue reading “Defining Moments” »

Who’s Line is It?

“People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.”

– David H. Comins

I love quotations! I enjoy collecting and categorizing them. I enjoy reading them. And I use them – liberally – in my writing, speaking and training. I strive to always cite the source of the quotation, but this is not always possible or practical.

With all due respect to Mr. David H. Comins – and I assume that he is a decent, honest and wise man – I could not easily locate any biographical information on him. I remembered this quote and I verified it on the Quotations Page website. But a Google search and a search on did not turn up any background information on Mr. Comins.

So… is my audience more interested in Mr. Comins or in his pithy comments?

And, since I am not a citizen of the fine state of Massachusetts, I must admit that I knew nothing about their current Governor Deval Patrick – up until this past weekend, that is. The 24-hour news cycle continues to churn out stories about Sen. Barack Obama’s alleged plagiarism. Obama “liberally lifted” a riff that Gov. Patrick had previously used – “Don’t tell me words don’t matter.”

As was to be expected, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was watching and vetting Sen. Obama’s speech that night and quickly alerted all parties who would listen – not to mention all ships at sea – about this “outrageous plagiarism.” Full of high dudgeon, they demanded that justice be served – or at least that the press properly criticize Sen. Barama on this matter.

The press did indeed criticize Sen. Barama on this matter. They also played a video tape of Gov. Deval Patrick when he delivered these lines and compared it to Sen. Obama’s speech in Wisconsin. It is almost scary to see how closely Sen. Obama invoked not just Gov. Patrick’s words but also his tone of voice and even his body language.

The question is: “Was this plagiarism?” The answer is: “I don’t know. It depends…” Continue reading “Who’s Line is It?” »

Yes We Can! – Learn How to Give Better Presentations

What makes an effective speech? Is it the content? The context? The delivery? Or some combination of each?

Want to learn how to improve your public speaking skills? Want to pick up a few inside pointers that will really “punch up” your next presentation? Just watch television and read the newspaper. Learn to analyze politics and politicians – not the politicians themselves and not their political positions. Just study their speeches and watch their delivery.

This is the first in a series of articles that I will post on the topic of campaign speeches and presentations. I learn a lot by observing the candidates. I read the text of their key speeches and replay the video to analyze their delivery. Please share your comments with the readers. This is not a partisan blog – I am not advocating for any candidate or party. Please keep this in mind when you post a comment.

Here is a quick overview of the four remaining candidates: Continue reading “Yes We Can! – Learn How to Give Better Presentations” »