It’s the SOUND of the words, as well as the sound of the voice that makes more impact than you might think. It’s one of the things that separates the great speakers from the rest of the pack. Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. realized the power that the sound of their words carried. You aren’t’ limited to listening to their speeches to feel that power – you get a good dose of it by just reading their remarks.
Great speakers use poetic and literary devices to create powerful aural effects with their words. They are really very simple to incorporate – try them yourself:
· Repetition. Echo phrases or sentences throughout an address. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” is a perfect example of this device.
· Assonance. Repeat stressed vowel sounds, such as in “Four score and seven years ago…”
· Parallelism. Pattern words to create rhythm. The “Rule of Three” fits this category: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…”
· Onomatopoeia. Use words that sounds like what they denote. “Bang” sounds like a bang. “Splash” sounds like a splash.
· Alliteration. Repeat of consonant sounds – “Peter Piper picked a peck…” Of course, not every word in a series needs to begin with the same consonant, but it must be “visible” enough to carry an emotional context along with it. A good example is a speech Churchill gave during World War II: “The battle of Britain
Here’s a concept that we could apply to President Bush – comparing his effectiveness as a communicator around Iraq (Normal State) and his effectiveness as a communicator during 9/11 (Fundamental State.)
We know that effective leaders are most usually great communicators – the confidence of leadership often self-evident in confident behavior. There’s an explanation for this from the Harvard Business Review, that is relevant to business and politics…
“In the normal state people tend to stay within their comfort zones and allow external forces to direct their behaviors and decisions. They lose moral influence and often rely on rational argument and the exercise of authority to bring about change…the result is usually unimaginative and incremental – and largely produces what already exists. To elevate the performance of others, we must elevate ourselves into the fundamental state of leadership.”
We’ve all been there in our personal and professional lives – a time of crisis where we rise to the occasion and overcome the challenge. (ie. President Bush leading us during 9/11.) If we force ourselves into the Fundamental State
So, what does this mean for communicators?
1. Don’t stick with what’s comfortable. Instead of standing in one place behind a lectern during a presentation, move and create energy. Actively pursue speaking engagements that push your comfort zone, where you can practice the behavioral skills of communication.
2. Master the Natural Self – that special combination of your unique personality, mind, opinions and behaviors. Don’t become someone you’re not. Harnessing the Natural Self while communicating will increase your ability to connect with others, because you’re just being you – confident and relaxed.
3. Create listener-focused messages. State early and openly the audience’s WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?, action steps and benefits.
4. Read cues and adjust. Practicing is good, but not if you can’t adapt to external cues. Create an experience that’s specific to your audience – whether it’s one person, or one hundred.
I'm not sure President Bush came back from the brink, but he did a great job.
Some interesting sidelights:
Frankly, if he had the demeanor and content and pall of his January 10 speech, we would be in for a very depressing last two years. I'm glad he wasn't. President Bush has a tough road to navigate with Iraq, but I think he has gained some time. After tonight's speech, he gained back some relevance. Now, we'll see how it plays out...
Tonight we'll see. President Bush will give his State of the Union to a skeptical public.
Actually, it's a tuned out public. The Wall Street Journal, in a rare headline, flatly - and shockingly - stated that Bush has "lost the nation's ear," with "A Skeptical U.S. Greets Presidential Speech." With approval polls at all time record lows, in the 20's, The Nation says that "The President appears to be in a freefall."
What do you do when your audience is hostile?
You do not come out weak. You do not offer platitudes. You do not speak on the inconsequential. You are not defensive.
Unfortunately the headline in The Guardian before his speech captured the pre-speech buzz about what he would talk about. It said: "Bush to Seek Cutback in Gas Consumption"
Now that's not what I call compelling.
It's a sad state we are in, politically and practically, in Washington and Iraq. It's not this blog's purpose to get into the issues and politics of this, but I do want to concentrate on the communications. It is a unique time in this country's history when a President is so low, and has to use the opportunity to use the bully pulpit to communicate a new vision and yet he is not strong as a communicator. Clinton gave a State of the Union in the middle of the Lewinsky affair, and he more than survived. Ultimately he thrived. But he is an outstanding communicator. Tonight, like most of the country, I don't have high expectations.
If I were Bush, I would be dramatic, and I would be humble, and I would make concessions, and I would then be bold. It's a tough order. But when nobody's listening, you have to communicate something in order to be heard. And not be disregarded as irrelevant. After all, it can't get much worse.
This year 2007 will be the Year of the Video. (Or so I predict.)
Now maybe you thought it was the year of the iPhone. Nope, as great an implement as the iPhone might be, it’s still hardware - and does not make a paradigm shift.
And the founders of Skype just announced Joost, which someone called the “YouTube Killer” . While that's not so, it is another video breakthrough in entertainment distribution. But this is still not where the power is.
Compression has made mass distribution and small distribution possible – and it is in the ‘everyman’ (and woman) nature of the creation and distribution of this powerful medium that the power lies. I think it has now reached the critical mass necessary. Think of desktop publishing in its infancy, and you get the picture. Anyone can be a video producer (not necessarily a filmmaker however - see below) and anyone can see, or get seen, on video on demand - anywhere.
Movies have always been the most powerful medium in communicating emotional impact – but distribution was mostly in theatres, then VHS and DVDs – but it still was primarily theatrical movies. After all, that is the ultimate communication experience. Now there is a distribution revolution for ‘movies,’ and it will be profound. I’ll have several posts over the next few months on how to take advantage of these new distribution possibilities with video to multiply your influence and impact – and as a learning tool.
Video technology has changed so rapidly that few are experts - and there are many varied interests and needs. And that's just the start - as more distribution avenues become available, people will find new ways to communicate with this great medium that we haven't even thought of. As a past filmaker, and using video myself in a variety of ways, I'll try to bring you some of the ways you can take advantage of this revolution no matter your interests.
And from the WSJ last week: "Corporations are just beginning to see [online video] as a real option to help cut costs and communicate," says Colin Dixon, a research analyst for Diffusion Group, a research firm. "Just from last year to this year, there's been a significant jump." But the real revolution will be how individuals can use it - and quickly edit their own clips.
One of the most massive uses will be (soon) everyone embedding video in their PowerPoints, simply and easily. More on that in a separate post.
And here is just one example of a new approach in using high quality, targeted programming (via internet only) that I found in my inbox a couple of mornings ago:
Stay tuned, for
It's appropriate to hear the whole speech today, and now you can do it here on YouTube (and many other sites.) Rev. King was a master of oratory, rhythm, cadence, and a whole lot more. A great article was in last Friday's WSJ by Mark Oppenheimer on his brilliant use of words with historical reference that strike a resonant cord in any age listener.
And another outstanding reference to MLK, as well as the comparison to some recent communicators (and non-communicators) is at Presentation Zen - worth looking at.
We are no longer in the age of oratory - though we can still learn from it. But good business men and women do not write out speeches and read them. They often speak in a tone that is conversational but not casual, powerful but not stentorian. (Steve Jobs for example.)
Many of you saw (or heard of) the terrible job communicating that the head of Cingular did at MacWorld. (Now what's his name again.) Actually, you can almost tell how bad he is just from this great photo series from Garr Reynolds (Presentation Zen again)
Seth Godin said it best in his comments on this stiff and particularly 'woeful by comparison' communication:
"Stan gives his talk from 3 x5 index cards, which he holds awkwardly on stage. And he doesn't really say anything. One could argue that you can be a great CEO without having a clue how to speak in public. But why not either get better at it or send someone else in your place? If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well, and I think the standards for a multimillionaire CEO announcing a major new venture ought to be pretty high."
It's good we can get inspiration today from Dr. King! See above, and then look at this shorter clip, and you'll be moved to pehaps use some cadence, and begin to use words better, and without note cards!
The Slouching Billionaire
That’s another title for this – and I don’t want to pick on Bill Gates too much, but gosh, the lessons we can learn from his Keynote at CES this year are several.
If you’re the richest man in the world I guess you can get away with posture like this, but when you have the enormous bully pulpit that Gates has, why dilute it with poor speaking skills. Take a look at this video, courtesy of Microsoft no less. Start two minutes in (after their jazzy video intro) and just watch a minute or so and ponder the experience you get. We see a man slouching with hands grasping a clicker in the posture of someone playing scared and playing small, not large – and certainly not the mark of a man of confidence. And then if you want you can watch two hours of that. Tough sledding however, as the content is not particularly visionary either. See Steve Jobs for a contrast.
Remember: You can stand tall, and why not. It’s a habit that just takes some effort to learn if it’s not immediately natural to you. As for grasping on to an object (clicker, magic marker, paper, etc.) so it appears you are clutching on for dear life, learn a new habit. you can gesture freely while you pick up the clicker ONLY when you need to move a slide. And actually, if you have billions can’t you pay for someone to move your slides for you at a Keynote of that importance?
Presenting: Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates
In their contrasting keynotes today and yesterday, there was no contest of course. Steve Jobs presents an experience and Bill Gates presents data. But it’s worth a brief look to see their different approaches, so we can do the former, not the latter.
Macworld has about 40,000 attendees in San Francisco, and the Las Vegas CES show has about 140,000 attendees. Yet Macworld gets equal or more press. Why? It’s all due to Steve Jobs communicating an experience, and Bill Gates communicating data. (It helps to have a new product like iPhone to talk about, but even in those years without breakthrough products, Macworld outdraws CES in publicity.)
“People are rapt, everyone is actually literally leaning forward and on the edge of their seat. We've never seen a presentation like this before.”
Jobs: ‘Isn't that incredible? Right on my PHONE! Look at this, the Eiffel tower -- isn't that incredible? Here's the last one, the colliseum in Rome. Incredible new technology for entering text, a real browser on the phone, we can zoom in, Google maps, Widgets... it's the internet in your pocket for the first time ever. You can't really think about the internet without thinking about google."
And then he brings up Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO – great touch. (Also he brought up CEO’s of Yahoo and Cingular.)
Thanks Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen for this great tool.
And I just finished 'experiencing' Steve's great presentation and even greater new iPhone product. Exciting stuff – person, presentation, product and Engadget.