Strategy. Innovation. Brand.


When you’re on stage to give a persuasive presentation, you have a lot of variables to manage. The postings in this category teach you how to come across as a comfortable, confident presenter.

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Chris Christie: The I Guy

Me, myself, and I

Me, myself, and I

In my video, Five Tips for the Job Interview, my first tip is to be careful how often you say “I” as opposed to “we”. If the company you’re interviewing with is looking for team players — and many companies say they are — then saying “I” too often can hurt your chances. You can come across as self-centered and egocentric. Someone, in other words, who doesn’t play well with others.

I thought about this tip the other day when I watched Chris Chrstie’s press conference addressing the bridge closure scandal. (If you haven’t heard about it, you can get a good summary here). As the Republican governor of a very Democratic New Jersey, Chritsie is widely regarded as an appealing candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. In a way, he’s interviewing for the biggest job of all. Perhaps he should have watched my video.

In the press conference, Christie needed to address a scandal that appears to be about naked political payback. The Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey didn’t endorse Christie for governor in the recent campaign. As a result (it appears), Christie’s minions shut down traffic in Fort Lee for four days. Christie needed to apologize and distance himself from such nasty political deeds.

Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post, paid close attention to the press conference. In fact, he went through the transcript and analyzed Christie’s language. The press conference lasted 108 minutes; Christie said some form of “I” or “me” (I, I’m, I’ve, me, myself) 692 times. That’s 6.4 times per minute or a little more than once every ten seconds.

The net result is that Christie comes across as an egomaniac. That may be the case but, generally, you don’t want to come across that way in an important interview. There’s a lot that I like about Governor Christie — he seems to be one of the few politicians in America who can actually pronounce the word “bipartisan”. I hope he can learn to pronounce “we” and “you” as well.



Presenting Decisively

chip heathThe other day, Suellen and I saw Chip Heath give a presentation on the key messages of his new book, Decisive. Heath is on tour to promote the book and Denver was a well-promoted stop along the way.

I’ve written about the book in recent weeks and plan to write more in the near future. It’s a simple, clear synopsis of recent research on decision-making.

Today, however, I want to focus on Heath’s presentation style – he reminded me of many lessons I’ve learned in public speaking. Here’s a summary.

Establish rapport and credibility – a large audience turned up in Denver and Heath commented on it immediately, saying, “It’s clear that the people of Denver are intellectually curious. In fact, I’d say that they’re four times more curious than people in Austin and eight times more than people in Los Angeles.” It was funny but it was also a nice compliment. We loved him right away. Best of all, it wasn’t canned.

Slides as hooks not as script – Heath used a lot of slides. He advanced to new slides regularly; no slide stayed up for more than a minute or two. Each time he advanced, the audience “refreshed”. Most of his slides had fewer than ten words on them. Many had only an image. Heath told the story; the slides illustrated it. The text on the slides helped you remember the key points; they didn’t steal Heath’s thunder.

Tell a story, not an abstraction – Heath told a lot of good stories about decisions gone right and gone wrong. They were stories about flesh-and-blood people whose experiences illustrated key ideas about decision making. Every now and then, he would state an abstraction to summarize a point.  He never said, “the moral of the story is…” but he could have.

Humor — he wasn’t rolling-in-the-aisle funny, but he had a dry, wry sense of humor that helped hold our attention. We paid attention partially because we didn’t want to miss a laugh line.

Parallel construction – Heath’s book has four major messages – the WRAP process. Heath covered all four and each section was structured in exactly the same way. We always knew exactly where we were in the narrative. We never got lost.

Finish early – Heath finished about ten minutes ahead of schedule (at least, ahead of the schedule that I had in mind). Giving 500 busy people ten minutes of their life back is a nice contribution to our mental welfare. We appreciated it.

Practice, practice, practice – it was clear that Heath was a polished presenter and that he had given this presentation before. That didn’t make it boring. Rather, we concluded that he respected us enough to make good use of our time. If he respects us, we can respect him.

The Carat Contest. Who Wins?

I win!

I win!

Let’s say that I buy my wife a two carat diamond ring. At the same time, you buy your wife a one carat diamond ring. Let’s also assume that the diamond I buy is not very good quality — it has a few flaws, the cut is not great, and the color is a little off. Your diamond, on the other hand, is superb — it’s flawless and clear and the cut is spectacular. In fact, though the diamond you bought is half the size of the one I bought, your diamond cost more — maybe quite a bit more.

So, in the Best Husband Sweepstakes, who won? Well, I did. Even though it takes four C’s (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight) to measure a diamond’s quality, people really only talk about carats. When your wife flashes her diamond, no one asks, “Gosh, what clarity is it?” The only question is, “Wow, how many carats is that thing?” You bought a better diamond but I win the opinion poll.

It hardly seems fair, does it? You’ll know in your heart of hearts that your wife has a better ring. So will she. But in the “marketplace” of public opinion, two carats is better than one.

What does this have to do with strategy, innovation, and brand? All too often, companies and individuals really don’t understand how they’re being judged. It’s useful to take a step back and determine how the league table is really being compiled. Here are some examples:

  • I thought my last company, Lawson Software, was doing a very good job at improving customer satisfaction. But what about our stock price? It was doing reasonably well, considering all the changes, but it wasn’t outpacing the market. So another company bought us. Our customers were getting happier but they were no longer our customers.
  • Landline telephone companies thought they were being evaluated on the quality of their calls. Did it sound like the person you were calling was right next door? That was important up to a point but, beyond that point, mobility and convenience were much more important. The landline companies were toast.
  • Your local bookstore thought it was being judged on the quality of its collection and customer service. That worked well for a long time. Then people decided that what they really wanted was the information inside the book rather than the physical book itself. Ooops!

Do you really know how you (or your company) are being judged? Maybe it’s time to step back, look around, and re-evaluate. Ask around. Do some research. Evaluate what other people are evaluating. It’s good to know about cut, color, and clarity. It’s crucial to know about carats.

Verbal, Vocal, Visual – Body Language and You

Let me explain quantum mechanics.

Let me explain quantum mechanics.

A woman says to a man, “Oh, you’re such a brute.” What does she mean? Well, it depends. The words have meaning in themselves but the way they’re delivered also counts for something.

Let’s say that she delivers the line with an aggressive posture, a scowl on her face, and a harsh tone in her voice. Most of us would conclude that the man should take her words literally; she’s angry and the man should back off.

On the other hand, let’s say she delivers the same line with a smile on her face, a flirtatious giggle in her voice, and a soft, inviting posture. She uses the same words but delivers them in a very different way. Most people would conclude that she doesn’t mean for her words to be taken literally. What she does mean may not be crystal clear but it’s probably not the literal words she speaks. (By the way, I adapted this example from an excellent article in New Scientist).

This is what Albert Mehrabian, the father of the so-called 7%-38%-55% rule, was studying. Mehrabian was trying to identify how face-to-face communication actually transpires, especially when the words are ambiguous. He identified three basic components: 1) the words themselves; 2) tone of voice; and 3) body language, including facial expressions. These are often summarized as the three V’s – verbal, vocal, visual.

In ambiguous situations, especially when discussing feelings, how do you sort out what the other person means? Mehrabian calculated that the words themselves account for 7% of the meaning (from the perspective of the receiver). Tone-of-voice accounts for 38% of the meaning, and body language accounts for 55%. To determine whether you’re really a brute or not, you should probably pay less attention to what the woman says and more attention to how she says it. (For more on the multiple meanings of simple words, click here).

Mehrabian’s findings may be accurate in the very specific case of conveying feelings in face-to-face communication. Unfortunately, far too many “experts” have over-extrapolated the data and applied it to all communications. When you give a speech, for instance, they may claim that 93% of what the audience receives comes from tone-of-voice and body language.

If that were really true, then why speak at all? If 93% of meaning comes from non-verbal channels, a good mime should be able to deliver a speech just as well as you can. Indeed, if 93% of communication is non-verbal, then why do we bother to learn foreign languages?

Fortunately or unfortunately, even Marcel Marceau (pictured) can’t effectively deliver an information-laden speech without words. Words are important – use them wisely and use them sparingly. Body language is also important. The best advice on body language is simple: you should appear comfortable and confident to your audience. If you don’t, your audience will wonder what you’re hiding. If you do appear comfortable and confident, your audience will attend to your words – for much more than 7% of the meaning.

Barry and Mitt — Who Won?

How do you like me now?

Though nobody landed a knockout blow in tonight’s debate, Mitt Romney did exactly what he wanted to do: position himself as a legitimate alternative to the president. Romney came across not as some right-wing crank but as a thoughtful, intelligent candidate who is reasonably articulate. Surprisingly, Romney actually seemed more human than President Obama who came across as wonkish and overly abstract. Obama looked rusty to say the least.

I expected the President to play defense but he seemed downright tentative at times. His body language suggested that he really didn’t want to be there. On the split screen, he rarely looked at Romney. He also had many more verbal tics than Romney — more hemming and hawing and umms. He also said “I tried” far more often than necessary. “I tried to do this”, “I tried to do that”. It seems to me that the President of the United States should say “I did” more than “I tried”.  He seemed apologetic rather than confident.

As several commentators have mentioned, this was a “wonkfest”. The satirist, Andy Borowitz, suggested that we join him in watching the Weather Channel — much more interesting. Twitter lit up with discussion about whether Romney would really kill Big Bird. Twitter was almost universal in criticizing Jim Lehrer. More than one Twitter commentator asked if he was a replacement ref.

I found Intrade much more interesting to follow than Twitter. The last time I wrote about Intrade (back in July) the prediction market gave Obama a 56.2% chance of being re-elected. Since the conventions and various mis-steps by Romney, the market has trended toward Obama. Last week, Intrade betting predicted an almost 80% chance of Obama winning. The line started to drift back during the week and was in the low 70’s when the debate started. As the debate got under way, Obama’s stock started to fall and stayed down. I checked a few moments ago and Obama’s chances had dropped to about 66% — down almost 6% for the day. Clearly, the prediction markets think Romney won the debate though they’re still saying that Obama has a 2/3 chance of being re-elected. I’m sure Obama will be sharper in the next two debates but Romney has shifted the dynamic and given his campaign a lift. Now the race is on.

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