Kiss me, you fool

Not like this.

Le Baiser de l’hôtel de ville by Robert Doisneau

And not like this.

What I mean is the “Kiss principle”: Keep it short and simple. (Or, Keep it simple, stupid.)

Anyone can ramble on (and on and on) in a speech.  But the speaker who can cut to the heart of the matter quickly and precisely, and leave the audience enthralled – that speaker has understood the essence of good public speaking.  Want a good example?  Take this little history test.

When you think of the Gettysburg Address, which of the following names comes to mind: Abraham Lincoln or Edward Everett?  Chances are you said Lincoln and then wondered, “Who is Edward Everett?”

Everett was a distinguished Congressman, Senator and President of Harvard University.  He was a big supporter of Lincoln, and both men shared the podium at the dedication to the soliders’ cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Everett gave what was, by most accounts, a fine speech . . . that lasted over two hours!  Lincoln followed him and gave “the” Gettysburg Address – a speech of less than 300 words that lasted only a couple of minutes.

Shortly thereafter, Everett wrote Lincoln a letter in which he praised the President’s “eloquent simplicity and appropriateness”.  It speaks well of Everett’s character that he also wrote, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Of course, most speeches and presentations cannot be given in a couple of minutes.  And there is nothing wrong with a long speech that is well structured and well delivered.  Still, much can be done to separate the verbal wheat from the chaff.

I will provide specific suggestions in future posts.  For now, just remember the importance of the KISS principle.  The next time you are preparing a presentation, rigorously ask yourself: do I really need this much information, this many slides, this number of words, this much time?

By pruning your words carefully, you will find that they make a bigger impact.   As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Edward Everett
Edward Everett (1794 – 1865)

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  1. John, I am a great supporter of the KISS principle, especially after going through over a hundred power point slides and pages and pages of Word documents that my colleagues used to send to me for review. The problem seems to be that the speaker/author wants to be prepared for every eventuality and would like to have all the information at their finger tips. Wish they would spend some time prioritizing what they want to convey and put that first. The rest can be discarded or at best kept as back-up slides.

  2. I have always heard the KISS acronym broken down as “Keep it Simple, Stupid!”. I was very happy to see that you have stated it as “Keep it Short and Simple”. Needless to say I was content to, for once, not be put down when reading or hearing this principle.
    Unfortunately, I checked back with the title of your blog “KISS me, you fool”. Sigh…
    Great post again, Mr. Zimmer.

  3. They say that up to 90% of our communication is non verbal. Kissing, for example, gets the idea across without a single word. I have sesquipedalopholia (fear of big words) so I go for simplicity whenever I must speak in public. John this is a great blog and might even help people like me. Many thanks.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International