Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Audiences love contact with celebrities--and trust me, if you've been asked to give a major presentation or keynote speech, you can consider yourself a "celebrity." Arrive early and stay late. Shake hands and look into faces. Connect with the crowd before you step on stage and they'll be in love with you before you even open your mouth.
Oh, and working the room doesn't stop when you step off the stage. Stick around and chat, sign a few autographs, let everyone who wants to shake your hand or ask a question get a little one-on-one time. (My experience is to set your mental clock to two minutes for each person--that way you're not still working the room at midnight!) You'll really make a lasting impression and you'll probably pick up some future business, too!
As one of my favorite speakers, Patricia Fripp, advises, "There is more business to be had from the connection with the audience members and contacts from the client organization than the greatest speech."
Thursday, February 22, 2007
You can learn a lot about leadership from American Idol.
First, character counts. The contestants who resonate with American Idol fans the most are those whose backstory contains faith and perseverance. Taylor Hicks, who toiled in bar bands for years and finally drove from Alabama to Las Vegas to audition on a dare from one of his buddies. Kellie Pickler, whose father is still in prison. Or this season's best talent, Lakisha Jones, a single mom who just wants a better life for her 4-year old daughter. In any leadership position, your character is what establishes your opportunity for success. Management guru Peter Drucker once said, "The proof of the sincerity and seriousness of an organization is uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character."
Second, keep it real. Out of all the hundreds of thousands of people that have auditioned through the past six seasons of American Idol, the 60 finalists may not have been the most talented singers--but they were the most refreshing. Last night, Simon told one of the women who absolutely tore UP a version of Aretha's Since You Been Gone, "Melinda, I have seen people walk out here with little talent and a lot of arrogance...and you are the opposite." That girl will be star, even if she doesn't win this season's American Idol competition, because she's humble and genuine and drop dead talented. From a leadership standpoint, don't take yourself seriously--take your job seriously.
Third, pick the right song. Nothing undermines a leader more quickly than pretending to be something he's not. Every season, we hear Randy, Paula, and Simon advise and admonish the American Idol contestants to choose music that fits their style and range. Take Katherine McPhee--if she had delivered that knockout performance of "(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow" earlier in the competition, she probably would have won it all. However, she tried to be sassy and edgy and it didn't work--meanwhile, Taylor Hicks consistently picked songs that he knew he could deliver with style and creativity. In leadership, picking the right song (or rather, choosing the management style that he can perform consistently and successfully) makes all the difference.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
For instance, you'd think that a public information officer working for a controversial politician would be especially careful with his words--particularly in a setting where the media was ready to pounce on anything he said that might be "newsworthy." Unfortunately, this guy wasn't...(if you need the backstory, check out "How NOT To Handle A Media Stunt.")
It gets better. Better as in, "Raise your hands if you didn't see this train wreck coming." Our intrepid PIO agreed to take part in a public forum on freedom of speech--of course, he's the guy who (on his boss' orders) physically tried to keep several radio station talk show hosts out of the mayor's presser last month.
This poor guy is stuck trying to defend his boss' actions in a no-win situation (Mistake #1,) so he tries to inject a little levity into the proceedings by starting out with a lame joke (Mistake #2) that referred to the time-worn advice to speakers about imagining their audience wearing nothing but underwear (Mistake #3--that advice never works, by the way. It's well down on the effective presentation skills scale, right below "Break wind frequently.")
And the joke falls flatter than a pancake jumping off the Sears Tower. Here's what he said (courtesy of the Toledo Blade:)
"Two ladies that I used to work with when I worked at the [Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority], though, made me promise I would not picture them in their underwear when I spoke," Mr. Schwartz said of the women who were seated in the front row.
Mistake #4. Cue the crickets.
Not having endured enough discomfort, the PIO now has to handle a heckler who turns out to be the C-I-C of the radio station (meaning "Clown-In-Charge.") Having conveniently ignored an invitation to appear on the dais with the PIO, the heckler chooses instead to lob a few snarky comments up on stage. The PIO falls on the grenades and the entire forum degenerates into a screaming match.
Chances are that the relationship between the mayor's office and the radio station will never be repaired until the personnel changes. However, there are two key lessons to be learned from this brouhaha--one, always deal with a heckler calmly and politely. And since you have the microphone, you control the room...so if the heckler won't shut up, then ask the moderator or host to politely remove the offender.
Two, never argue with a fool. Your audience may not be able to tell the difference.
Monday, February 19, 2007
(By the way, this guy could be a sleeper in the 2008 presidential race...much like when Bill Clinton came out of nowhere to win it all in 1992. If he can continue to handle the Mormon issue as well as he did at this event, watch out.)
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I had an audition for a talent agency in San Francisco yesterday--they're interested in representing me, so who am I to say no?--and it was all I could do to maintain an even strain. (It's a crazy concept to begin with...I live in Sacramento, so for all intents and purposes, I agreed to drive an hour-and-a-half, spend $30 on gas, tolls, and parking, give a three minute audition, then drive an hour-and-a-half back home and hope they liked me!) The audition itself could have been a disaster, but the experience reassured me that I can walk the walk when I talk about presentation and speaking skills. Here's what I learned:
- Practice doesn't make perfect--perfect practice makes perfect. When the situation looks and feels surreal, it's always good to know that your performance can't go wrong because you've rehearsed it enough so that the words seem effortless. A good thing, considering all the obstacles I encountered.
- Check out the venue before you deliver the content. The only big mistake I made...because I assumed (yeah, yeah, I know what happens when you assume) the audition space would be comfortable. It turned out to be an old office that was turned into a video room with just a camera, a carpet, and a piece of masking tape to mark where I would stand. I should have asked to see the room first, then planned my performance around it.
- When you're not comfortable with the performance setting, change it. My monologue called for me to sit in a chair. I had practiced for over a week in a chair. There was no chair. So--I asked for a chair. No big deal.
- Preparing to fail can be more important than preparing to succeed. What I mean is, it's just as important to prepare for disaster as it is for success. Because they didn't have a chair (or it was too much trouble to get one.) Fortunately, I had rehearsed standing up almost as much as I had sitting down, so I automatically knew how to adapt.
- Be professional. Be pleasant. Be persuasive. Nothing can shoot down a talented speaker like a bad attitude. Despite the setbacks, the spartan setting, the rush of the process, I was determined to make a great impression. It must've worked, because I got a thumbs-up from the assistant who handled the video camera.
It's great to be vindicated. Let's see if it translates into some paying gigs.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
It's worse than that. I'm old and fat. Fat, bald, and flirting with 50. Yippie skippie.
Not a great way to start out a Monday. Especially when you get out of the shower and suddenly realize you can't fit your gut in the mirror frame anymore. I'm so out of shape, I get winded brushing my teeth!
The funny thing is...I'm also excited. Excited and encouraged. Filled with hope and making grand plans because I just hit that magic "tipping point" where the future doesn't look flabby anymore.
(Do you ever get those moments where the big picture suddenly comes into focus and all your worries immediately crystallize into a light bulb of inspiration? I did. This morning. Naked and fat and unveiled in a foggy bathroom mirror, the answer became clear.)
I have to get middle-aged fit. Not cut-like-a-jack-bull fit. Not Men's-Health-Magazine-abs-like-a-washboard fit. I'm talking just fit enough to fit into the jeans I wore ten years ago. Fit enough to run a couple of miles with my ten-year-old. Fit enough to live long enough to really enjoy my family and friends.
When your values finally outweigh your desires, you can accomplish anything. That's why I'm telling you this--because I want you to have a defining moment, too. One that grabs you by the heart and shows you the right path toward personal and professional success.
Let's share our stories. And our progress. I'm really looking forward to the journey.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
A staff photographer from the Sacramento Bee stopped by the radio station to take some pictures for an interview that I'll be featured in next month called "In The Hot Seat." For some reason, after he was through, I asked if I could see some of the unusual angles he chose...
They're right when they say the camera adds, oh, 50 pounds.
But it also inspired me to offer some advice to anyone who makes presentations on a regular basis--you need to update your image every 6-12 months.
Let me ask you this...
When's the last time you got a good look at yourself?
When's the last time you had your headshot refreshed?
When's the last time you updated your wardrobe?
When's the last time you videotaped your speech or presentation or sales pitch?
It's amazing how different we actually look from the way we think we look. (One of the most interesting bits of trivia I ever read--as much as you have seen your reflection, you've never actually seen your own face!)
Since almost 80% of everything you communicate is non-verbal and how you look when you speak is an important part of your non-verbal message, doesn't it make sense to look at yourself as others see you just to make sure you're not communicating failure when you're trying to promote success?
Monday, February 05, 2007
Notice he spoke of God. When he does, no one rolls their eyes. Because it is Tony Dungy. Because there is nothing but sincerity there and you know he will not talk of religion and several hours later go chase a few skirts as many people in his profession tend to do.
Dungy is the epitome of class in a business filled with screamers and look-at-me's. Let's hope everyone who watched him during all those press conferences learned a valuable lesson in character and leadership.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Thursday, February 01, 2007
It gets worse...because cell phone technology has made it possible to record short video, and since it seems that everyone has a link to YouTube or MySpace, you can't be safe in any public setting. Read this article in the NYTimes and see how the 2008 presidential candidates are weighing the pros and cons of using the Internet. Howard Dean embraced the Internet in 2004 and developed a formidable fund-raising/volunteer campaign...until the video of his primal scream hit everyone's Web browser, and suddenly, it was goodbye, Howie.
Again, my advice is that if you're in a leadership position that requires you to make public presentations, keep it clean from the moment you enter the room until the moment you leave. You never know when someone's watching. And recording.