Don’t make the same mistake as Donald Trump

You’d be forgiven if, after reading the title of this post, you asked, “Which one?”

Don’t worry, we’re going to leave politics and policies aside, so that narrows it down, at least somewhat.

Instead, I want to discuss a mistake that the President made during his address to the United Nations on 25 September 2018. This might come as a surprise, but many speakers make the same mistake, particularly when they are making a sales pitch.

Only 40 seconds into his speech, Trump said, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America’s … [laughter from audience] … so true … [more laughter].”

As the laughter spread throughout the General Assembly Chamber, he paused a moment and then admitted, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.”

Readers of my blog and social media platforms know that I am no fan of the President and that I disagree with the majority of his policies and positions. Nevertheless, I have also acknowledged the potent simplicity of his speaking style, particularly when it comes to connecting with his base.

And, as my stand-up comedian friend Mel Kelly noted in a recent conversation I had with him, Trump did respond well to the unexpected reaction by “calling the room”, a technique used by comedians to acknowledge when a joke doesn’t work. So he did win the audience back, at least for a few moments.

But all that aside, Trump made a gaffe when he started his speech by boasting of his accomplishments. Not only did he come across (yet again) as self-centred, many in the room would not consider his accomplishments to be worthy of praise.

So what is the connection with sales pitches? Fortunately, most people are not nearly as self-centred as Trump. However, when they pitch to potential clients, many of them make the same mistake that Trump made at the UN:

They begin by talking about themselves and their companies.

This is putting the cart before the horse. I’m not saying that you or your company or your successes or your ideas aren’t important. They are. But the people in the audience, and the problems with which they are struggling, are more important.

So if you are pitching a product or service to a potential client, start with them. Show them that you understand their problems and then work your way to how you can help. And if you want to talk about your company’s reputation and successes as a way to boost your ethos, you can do so towards the end of the presentation.

In their seminal book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath write:

The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.

It will come as no surprise that one reliable way of making people care is by invoking self-interest.

So whenever you are pitching a product or service, start with the audience and their problems. Make sure that they understand that you understand them. Then they will care. And when they care, the chances are greater that your sales pitch will be a success and that you’ll leave smiling.

Like Donald Trump.

Posted in Audience, Delivery, Structure | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

5 Books for Public Speakers

PG LogoI am one of the co-founders of Presentation Guru, a digital magazine for public speaking professionalsThis post is part of a series designed to share the great content on Presentation Guru with the Manner of Speaking community.


Today, there are hundreds of books about public speaking and presentation skills. While the best way to become a better speaker is to speak in front of a live audience, we can also learn from the experiences and insights about which others have written.

I have several such books on my shelf. In a post for Presentation Guru, I selected five to share with readers. Each of the five approaches the topic of public speaking from a different angle and thus it is my hope that everyone will find at least one book of interest.

To find out which five books I have recommended, please click this link and head over to Presentation Guru. While you are there, check out some of the great posts that others have written.

Happy reading!

Posted in Book Review, Presentation Guru | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

22 tips for effective video presentations

These days, an increasing number of presentations are delivered, not from a stage, but in front of a computer screen. The audience is live but dispersed across offices and cities or even countries and time zones.

Presentations via videoconference on platforms such as Skype and Zoom are now a normal part of work and will only increase in popularity. They are cheap, relatively simple to set up, and save people time and travel expenses. While they are not bug-free, the quality of videoconferences has improved significantly in recent years.


However, when it comes to presentations, these advantages come at a cost. Because they are not in the same room, presenters face an increased challenge to engage with their audiences. They are usually limited in their movements and the audience can only see the presenter’s face or upper body. Indeed, sometimes, audiences only hear the presenter’s voice while slides are shown on screen.

Furthermore, even if there are 50 people listening to a presentation, there is a good chance that each one of those 50 people will be behind his or her own computer at home or at work or in a coffee shop or on public transportation. Not only do speakers have to compete with the distractions found in these locations, the fact that people are not together in one place means much less energy for the audience.

And so, speakers need to up their game. Seth Godin recently wrote a post in which he offered eight tips for videoconferences. While those tips are directed at people who are having a conversation or meeting, they also apply for presentations, especially where the speaker can be seen.

Seth’s eight tips are immediately below. They are followed by an additional 14 tips from me.

Seth’s Tips

1.  Sit close to the screen. Your face should fill most of it.

2.  Use an external microphone or headset.

3.  When you’re not talking, hit mute.

4.  Don’t eat during the meeting.

5.  When you’re on mute during an audio call, you can do whatever you want. But when you’re on mute on a video call, you need to act like you’re truly engaged. Nod your head. Focus on the screen. Don’t get up and feed your dog.

6.  Don’t sit with the window behind you. A little effort on lighting goes a very long way.

7.  When you’re talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not the screen. You’ll appear more earnest and honest this way.

8.  When you’re talking, go slow. No one is going to steal your slot.

Additional Tips

9.  Send an agenda to the audience members beforehand that contains the following information: (a) date and time (and your time zone if presenting to people around the world) of the presentation; (b) clear instructions how to connect; (c) outline of the topics to be discussed; and (d) any pre-reading material.

10.  Test the platform beforehand, especially if you are going to show slides. For major presentations, consider having a tech person help with the broadcast.

11.  Choose a quiet room, put your cell phone on mute and take whatever steps necessary to ensure that you will not be disturbed.

12. Be aware of what is behind you. Make sure there is nothing distracting in the background.

13.  If feasible, stand up when you present. Place your computer on a bookshelf so that it is eye level. Standing up opens the diaphragm and allows you to breathe more deeply than if you are slouched over your computer. It also helps you feel more energetic which will be transmitted through your voice.

14.  If you stand up and your audience cannot see you, it is OK to move about if that helps with your delivery. Just be mindful of not moving too far from the microphone if you are not wearing a headset.

15.  If you have to sit, sit on the front half of the chair bottom and keep your feet flat on the floor. This will help your breathing and will keep you anchored in front of the screen.

16.  If people will be able to see you, dress appropriately. At least as far down as they will be able to see! Solid colours are best; fine patterns might “flicker” on the screen. Avoid any jewelry that clinks.

17.  Make sure that your hair is neat and that your face is not shiny. Get some camera-friendly makeup — for men and women — if necessary.

18.  Warm up your voice beforehand just as you would for any presentation.

19.  Have a glass of water within reach. It should be still water and room temperature.

20.  Make sure that your gestures don’t extend beyond your audience’s field of vision.

21.  If you use slides, you should be the one who advances them. Ideally, you should use a remote; however, if you use the keyboard, press the key gently to avoid a noisy clicking sound.

22.  Unless you are delivering bad news, smile!

Posted in Video | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 293) – Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton – American Politician and Diplomat

“If you’re not comfortable with public speaking—and nobody starts out comfortableyou have to learn how to be comfortable. Practice. I cannot overstate the importance of practicing. Get some close friends or family members to help evaluate you, or somebody at work that you trust.”

— Hillary Clinton

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore
Posted in Quotes for Public Speakers | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A lesson from the skyline of Chicago

Old and new meet in Chicago

According to the Chicago Architecture Center, “Chicago has long been a laboratory for architectural innovation and experimentation.” I was recently in Chicago for a conference and got to experience that great city firsthand.

While in Chicago, I was joined by my daughter Alexandra and together we explored some of what the city has to offer. And yes, the architecture is magnificent.

A highlight was the Architecture River Tour. For 75 minutes, we cruised up and down the three arms of the Chicago River while our tour guide shared the history of, and stories behind, approximately 40 or so buildings.

If you ever visit Chicago, I cannot recommend this tour enough. It’s a great way to see this fantastic city and its architecture. From Art Deco to Beaux Arts to Postmodernism to Spanish Colonial Revivalism and more, Chicago has it all.

I took all the photos in this post; click on any of them to see the larger images.

So what is the lesson to be learned from these very different buildings? Well, it has to do with the one thing that they all have in common (apart from being in Chicago).

They all have structure.

Without structure, none of these buildings would be stable and most, if not all, would fall. It’s the same with speeches and presentations. They need structure.

The essential elements of any speech are an opening, development of the theme or message, and a conclusion. The opening should grab your audience’s attention and let them know where you are going to take them. The conclusion should summarize the key points, include a call to action if any and, ideally, link back to the opening.

The structure of the main part, during which the theme or message is developed, can differ from talk to talk just as the structure differs from building to building in Chicago.

The following are examples of different speech structures:

  • Chronological: The key points are presented in chronological order, beginning with the oldest event and proceeding to the present or, where applicable, the future. This structure is useful when discussing, for example, the history of a company or the evolution of a product.
  • Sequential: The key points are presented in the order in which they must be accomplished. This structure is useful when discussing the different steps in a project or undertaking.
  • Pros and Cons: Arguments in favour of, or against, a proposition are presented. This structure is useful when a decision has to be made and there are different options.
  • Climax: The key points are presented in order from least important to most important. This structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The speaker’s argument builds in intensity to the final point.
  • Headline: The key points are presented in order from most important to least important. Like the Climax structure, the Headline structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The difference is that the Headline structure is better when you have little time to present or are presenting to busy people with a short attention span. In such cases, you don’t want to bury the lede.

Whatever your speech or presentation, make sure that you structure your ideas in the most effective way possible given your subject, your audience and your objective. Throwing random ideas together in a haphazard manner is not an option.

Until next time, Chicago!

Dad and Daughter Day in Chicago

Posted in Structure | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 292) – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) American Essayist, Philosopher and Poet

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted in Quotes for Public Speakers | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Change your perspective

Good, better, best.

Bad, worse, worst.

One, two, three.

Past, present, future.

When we speak, we often find ourselves comparing things (e.g., different investment opportunities; different options for a business) or reviewing a timeline (e.g., stages of a project). Thus, we should structure our presentations using the appropriate format.

But the work doesn’t end there. Once you have your structure, you have to present the material in a way that is effective for your audience.

In Western societies, when we show or display information, we start at the left and move to the right. This is because in Western languages (English, French, German, Spanish, etc.) we read from left to right. (You’re doing it now.)

Thus, it is normal for us to think:

1 → 2 → 3

Past → Present → Future

Good → Better → Best

Likewise, it’s natural for us to gesture from left to right when we describe the patterns above. However, if we gesture this way when facing an audience, the audience members will see things in the opposite direction.

3 ← 2 ← 1

Future ← Present ← Past

Best ← Better ← Good

To make things as easy as possible for your audience, you have to change your perspective. You have to gesture and move in a manner that is opposite to what you would normally do.

For example, let’s suppose you were talking about the growth of your company. You want to speak about its creation and past, then talk about where things are now and finish with your projections for the future.

For the benefit of your audience, when you talk about the past, stand stage right (the right side from your perspective but the left side from the perspective of the audience). As you begin talking about what is happening today, move to the centre of the stage. When speaking of the future, move to stage left (the right side of the stage from the audience’s perspective).

You can take the same approach for any of the other speech structures mentioned above. And if the stage does not allow you to move very much, you can get the same effect by gesturing in the appropriate direction.

Just remember that your audience has a mirrored view of you. Your movements should always reflect the point of view of the audience. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have it, you will find that the right movements and gestures come naturally.

Of course, if you are speaking to an audience of people whose mother tongue is a language that is written from right to left (Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Urdu, etc.), then you want to do the opposite of everything I have said above!

I used to work in United Nations and I traveled regularly to several countries in the Middle East. Because I had learned to adapt my movements and gestures for Western audiences, I had to temporarily “unlearn” my stage movements and gestures and revert to my natural way of gesturing, which now felt bizarre and unnatural to me!

Posted in Delivery | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 291) – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) German-American Physicist

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

— Albert Einstein

Posted in Quotes for Public Speakers | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 290) – Hamilton

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game
But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game


God help and forgive me
I wanna build
Something that’s gonna
Outlive me

I wanna be in
The room where it happens
The room where it happens
I wanna be in
The room where it happens
The room where it happens

— “The Room Where It Happens” from the musical Hamilton

Posted in Quotes for Public Speakers | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

In the footsteps of Aristotle

In May 2018, I visited Athen, Greece to speak at a conference. While there, I had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis and see the Parthenon. With the Parthenon as an amazing backdrop, I made a short video on Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric, which you can see here.

After the Parthenon, I visited another historical focal point of Athens: Aristotle’s Lyceum (Λύκειον in Greek). While taking a stroll, I decided to shoot a short video of the experience. The video and some photos are below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 289) – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey – American Talk Show Host, Actress and Philanthropist

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.”

— Oprah Winfrey

Photo courtesy of
Posted in Motivation, Quotes for Public Speakers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Recovering from a memory lapse during a presentation

The people at Visme have designed a simple infographic with eight tips to recover from a memory lapse when delivering a presentation. They expand on these points in a blog post that you can read here.

I like the tips, particularly No. 7 (don’t memorize your talk but rather know the points you want to cover so you can keep moving forward) and No. 8 (don’t try to be perfect). I would also add a couple of caveats.

Tip No. 1 is to say something … anything. However, before filling the vacuum with your voice, I would advise you to do something that is not on the infographic: pause! To be fair, Visme does say in its blog post that by maintaining eye contact (Tip No. 3) it will look like you are pausing. Many times, a pause of a few seconds will be sufficient to jump start your thought process. It has worked for me on several occasions. For more on pauses, see this post.

Tip No. 6 says to have your notes handy and scan them “surreptitiously”. My first comment is that your notes should just be the key points of your talk and they should be easy to read. My second point is that there is no reason to look at them surreptitiously. If you are really stuck, just take a moment, check what comes next and then get back to speaking. After all, nobody’s perfect (Tip No. 8). For more on using notes, see this post.

Posted in Delivery | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments