(By Carmine Gallo)
“Telling stories is the single best way to make an emotional connection with your listener. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. So few leaders use storytelling effectively that simply by incorporating more stories in your presentations, you’ll stand apart.“
“Public Speaking is a skill and, almost nobody has it,” writes columnist Joe Queenan in this recent Wall Street Journal essay. I agree. Public speaking is a skill and, like any other skill, it requires hours and hours of refinement to improve it. It takes years of speaking for many leaders who I’ve met to gain the confidence they need to captivate an audience.
One strategy that significantly reduces the amount of time it requires to hone public speaking skills is to study the world’s best communicators, something I’ve been doing for the better part of 30 years. I like to show leaders contemporary examples of magnificent presentations so they can actually see themselves adopting the techniques of great speakers in their very next sales pitch or PowerPoint presentation. Here are three examples that can help you
Use humor like Craig Federighi. At the most recent Apple developers conference (WWDC 14), CEO Tim Cook introduced senior vice president of engineering, Craig Federighi, as “Superman.” Federighi did put on a super show, commanding about 70 percent of the entire presentation. Federighi engaged the audience with his energy, polish, smooth demonstrations, and, above all, his sense of humor.
Federighi kicked off a discussion of the new Apple operating system, “Yosemite,” by poking fun at the “crack product marketing team” that develops names. “We shoved them in their VW mini bus and set them out on the road. They ventured south and discovered OS X Oxnard…before boldly venturing north, landing at OS X ‘weed.’ Strangely, this had large pockets of support within the product marketing organization,” Federighi said as 6,000 attendees laughed and cheered.
Throughout the presentation he poked good-natured fun at himself (with a few references to his mane of gray hair which he jokingly calls “hair force one”). He’s not above flashing devil horns on his fingers when introducing Metal, Apple’s new gaming program system. Federighi even brings his mom into the act. When he was demonstrating new phone features of the iOS devices he was interrupted by a call from his mother (all of this is planned and rehearsed, of course). “She surely wants to grill me about the newest fourth tier LVM compiler, but this is not the right time,” as he hung up on her. The audience good-naturedly groaned. “I’m sorry,” Federighi responded. “She’s a wonderful, wonderful woman, but this is my space,” he said with a smile.
Most business presentations are dry, boring, stuffy, and stiff. Federighi didn’t get the memo. A compelling presentation should inform, educate, and entertain.
Tell a story like Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched a movement called Lean In. I’ve argued that millions of women would not be “leaning in” to the workplace if it had not been for a story Sandberg told about her own challenges as a working mother. It started with Sandberg’s now famous TED topic on Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders. Sandberg recently acknowledged that her original presentation was “chock full of data, and no personal stories.” A friend convinced Sandberg to break down the walls, and to tell authentic and personal stories about her own struggles with being a working mother. Sandberg did, the video went viral, and launched a movement.
Telling stories is the single best way to make an emotional connection with your listener. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. So few leaders use storytelling effectively that simply by incorporating more stories in your presentations, you’ll stand apart.
Have a conversation like Bryan Stevenson. Civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson successfully wins cases that he argues before the U.S. Supreme Court. Stevenson also has the notable distinction of attracting the longest standing ovation in TED talk history. Stevenson likes to tell stories, too. In my analysis of his presentation, stories made up 65 percent of the content, a far higher percentage of stories than you’ll find in most average presentations.
Stevenson is also notable for his impeccable delivery. After reviewing hundreds of TED presentations as well as many other presentations in my career as a journalist and communications coach, I’m convinced that Stevenson has the most comfortable pacing of any public speaker I’ve seen. He’s not reading to his audience; he’s having a conversation instead.
When I asked Stevenson about his speaking style, he told me that he likes to sound like he’s talking to a friend over dinner in a restaurant. His speaking pace is about 190 words a minute, slightly faster than the average business speaker but slower than a super high-energy motivational speaker like Tony Robbins, who can speak at 225 words a minute. I don’t want you to get caught up in counting words, but I do want you to pay attention to your delivery and pace of speaking. Sound natural, and not like you’re “reading” a script. Use Stevenson’s guideline—think about how you’d sound if you were enjoying a conversation with a friend over dinner.
“Nothing is more grueling than having to listen to…amateurs who don’t know they are amateurs,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Queenan, referring to the skill level of the average public-speaker. Amateurs in any field become experts only by learning from the best and then practicing their tails off. Federighi, Sandberg, and Stevenson offer valuable public speaking lessons for any business leader who wants to leave the amateur ranks and join the elite.