Joseph Prabhakar

Joseph Prabhakar is an inspirational speaker. He has influenced many celebrities, business tycoons and politicians for good reasons. Joseph is life saver for many people.

Of wit, wisdom and presence of mind!

Very few times in a person’s life is presence of mind as acutely important as when he or she is facing questions as part of a speech, presentation or a debate.

Being able to grasp the intent and meaning of the question, think of a reply, frame it in a fashion that will answer it with clarity and precision while still keeping it interesting and engaging is truly an art. Not to mention that all the aforementioned acts have to be completed within a few seconds.

Not a task for the weak of heart. But certainly doable, if one is committed to the process.

One of the most brilliant displays of wit and wisdom came from the great orator President Reagan during his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale. Henry Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun asked a question, during the live telecast, “You already are the oldest President in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr Mondale. I recall yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?”

President Reagan was seventy three at the time and was debating Mr. Mondale who was younger and certainly looking dapper, energetic and with a lot fewer wrinkles.

But not one to be outdone, President Reagan went on to give an answer which nearly made him immortal for his wit, wisdom and presence of mind. “Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt. And I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” And with that he went on to win the election to gain the second term of his presidency.

Presence of mind, of the kind displayed by President Reagan, specially in a high stakes game like a presidential debate doesn’t come easy or overnight. Besides the oratorial skills that he was known for, President Reagan also had the advantage of preparing his replies ahead of time.

While President Reagan would deny any evidence of preparation for giving such a brilliant reply, his aide Richard Wirthlin recalls a different story. Knowing that age will become an issue in the campaign, Wirthlin reminded the President of the same. And the reply was “Don’t worry Dick, I’ve got a way to deal with that question, and I’m just waiting for it to come up.”

Prepared or not, the reply was brilliant and so was the style of delivery and the roaring laughter from the audience. Even Mr. Mondale burst out laughing.

This certainly underlines the need for preparing for every little possibility and not be surprised by questions from the audience, opponents or the press. Specially in high stakes games like debates, earnings calls, pre-IPO roadshows and boardroom arguments one can never be too careful. And no such thing as too much preparation.

Planned Spontaneity

The scene was the presidential debate. The debaters were the incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan.

An hour into the debate, during a rather lengthy rebuttal, President Carter went on to say “Gov. Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against medicare…”

Master orator Governor Reagan started off his reply with his star powered laughter followed by “There you go again…”

You have to watch it to appreciate the spontaneity of the whole thing.

The results of that election was decided that night – with just those four words.

If you are wondering – NO – this is not about politics. Ok – I will stand corrected. Just the example is from the political scene.

The single biggest question that plagues the minds of curious audience is whether the speaker that they were listening to memorized his/her speech or delivered it impromptu.

To settle the matter before it is too late – every great speech delivered by every great speaker takes an enormous amount of scripting and painfully repetitive rehearsals to get to a level of practiced perfection. And if they deliver it right, you would wonder how on earth can someone remember and say so much without referring to the notes or much preparation.

So, there, that is the truth. Very few, if any, planned speeches are done impromptu. The rest are all ‘Planned Spontaneity’ or in the case of Gov. Reagan ‘Practiced Spontaneity’. Behind that polished presence is knee hurting, tongue twisting, tiring and repeated practices.

Lest there be any doubt, the case was just made for practicing speeches, big and small, a million times before finally letting it loose on unsuspecting audiences. And that is even true for speakers who have done it forty years or more.

So, what does Gov. Reagan have to do with all this? His seemingly innocuous remark came out like it was an off the cuff remark. However, behind that mischievous innocence was planned spontaneity that was practiced and perfected days before the actual debate. However, given Gov. Reagan’s oratorial skills, the remark came out like it was a natural reaction to the President’s rather serious allegation.

Gov. Reagan would go on to claim other experiences of spontaneity, but we know better now.

This is about practicing and rehearsing. Not memorizing. And certainly a topic for another day.

Why Hatred works better than New Year Resolutions?

In comparison to other holidays, the modern traditions surrounding the celebration of New Year’s Eve are quite strange. Christmas is spent exchanging presents with family. Thanksgiving is spent carving a turkey and pushing one’s limit of gluttony. But what do we do on New Year’s? We celebrate the earth’s full orbit around the sun with a night of drinking, debauchery, and disillusionment. Ironically, after that crazy night of unabashed self-indulgence, we vow to do away with it all, to make ourselves better people chock full of discipline and virtues. All this, in the form of the all-revered New Year’s Resolution.

What is so special about the turning of a calendar page that suddenly boosts everyone’s resolve to try and achieve his or her goals? And why does it always fail? Ironically, this is the time of the year, when those resolutions are either given up or taking a back seat to other more pressing matters of life.

A quick lesson from Andrew Carnegie would help throw some light on the situation.

Andrew Carnegie was the American Billionaire who made his riches betting on the up and coming steel industry of the early 1900’s. Born as the son of Irish immigrants, he worked for the majority of his childhood, making a measly $1.20 per week. Over time, he saved up enough money to start investing in the railroad industry. Thousands of lost dollars and hundreds of well-spent man-hours later, he ended up becoming the largest steel tycoon the world had ever seen.

Now this digression isn’t without reason. Andrew Carnegie is among the top success stories the world has ever seen. He is a man who transformed his abstract desire for success into tangible results, and did so without any kind of prodding or external motivation.

Andrew Carnegie and other such successful people never required some kind of a monumental event in their life to make a change. Rather, their successes were fueled by one thing: hatred. Not disfavor. Not animosity. Utter and vehement hatred. But of what?

Well, they knew that there was something lacking in their life. Something was absent from their lives that made them unhappy, whether money, fame, power or whatever else. They reached a point where that absence pained them so much that they had to make a change. And at that point, they began to turn their lives around. For Andrew Carnegie, that hatred was directed towards poverty. He hated the fact that he had to work for minimum wages instead of focusing on his education. He hated the fact that he sometimes went to bed hungry. He hated it so much, in fact, that he devoted large amounts of his eventual wealth to making sure that people had schools and libraries available so that they could educate themselves.

Now that gives some indication why most New Year’s resolutions fail. We all have goals that we want to achieve, but we simply do not want them badly enough to continue to pursue them even when the going gets tough. Even though we might have had these goals for our entire lives, we falsely believe that the start of a new year will give us enough external motivation to pursue our dreams. The problem is, that the rotation of the earth will never give us enough hatred of our current situations to want to make the change. That feeling of hatred for the status quo has to come from within ourselves. The need has to come from inside-out, not the other way.

Now I’m not saying that New Years resolutions are necessarily a bad thing. It’s always good to re-evaluate and re-define our goals. However, it is important to change the way we view New Year Resolutions.

Two questions I ask myself:

  1. What is holding me back from achieving my dream life? What in my life do I hate so much that I need to get rid of it now? Is it a lack of money? Is it extra body fat? Is it loneliness? Is it low social status?
  2. Why do I need to challenge the status quo? And why do I need to do this now?

Finding that sweet spot, where I know what I hate, and why I need to challenge that hatred is central to my ability to succeed with my goals. That is what will spur me to act. Drive me away from pain. Towards pleasure. Ultimately, that is what it all boils down to. Reducing my pain. And increasing my pleasure.

So, the key is to hate the status quo with all our heart. Hate it so badly, that not acting will only take me down the hole even further.

This is also called the leverage. A point in my life where I cannot stand the pain any further. Where the misery of my painful existence is unbearable making my goal the only option to survive.

But for the leverage, I would never push myself to climb out of the pit of agony.

Rather than rely on planetary movements, I turn to my hatred towards the status quo fuel my passion to succeed.

What Trump’s speaking style has to do with his rising poll numbers…

The Presidential race is as thrilling, suspense-filled and nail-biting interesting as any Hollywood movie.

Bluntness and bombast has put billionaire Donald Trump ahead of the Republican pack. With a 39% approval rating his popularity is over twice that of his closest rival. However, many of the controversial statements he has made regarding minority groups has left political scientists baffled as to how he is polling so well. One way to fully understand how his numbers are so good is to take a look at his platform, most of which has been built on the foundation of his Presidential announcement speech. The anchoring statements he made there formed the foundation for his campaign.

An analysis of the speech reveals some pretty interesting points about his speaking style and his personality as a candidate. The first five minutes of his speech alone had the following statements. While no one is going to challenge the veracity of these statements, the way he said it and how he positioned them as the launching pad for his potential new career made the difference in his poll numbers.

  • “How are they going to beat ISIS? I don’t think it is going to happen”
  • “Our country is in serious trouble…we don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories”
  • “When was the last time anybody saw us beating China in a trade deal..they kill us..I beat China all the time…all the time”
  • “When did we beat Japan at anything”
  • “When do we meet Mexico at the border? They are laughing at us..”
  • “The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problem”
  • “And it has got to stop. And it has got to stop fast”

Trump weaves his magic using a myriad of techniques. The three that trump the rest are what we are interested in.

Firstly, Trump feeds off the uncertainties that plague the Nation. With a heightened sense of fear and anxiety caused by any number of shootings and the San Bernardino incident, Trump understands that people are frantically searching for answers, and thus, will look up to any leader that can promise them results. This is regardless of whether or not these results are actually deliverable. His slogan “Make America Great Again” is demonstrative of this fact. Ironically enough, in his Presidential announcement speech, he primarily focused on the performance of the United States overseas rather than focusing on our domestic performance. His first few issues included Chinese trade successes, the Japanese Auto Industry, Mexican Border Security, ISIS, and Iranian Nuclear Capabilities, before finally arriving at things like our national GDP or the domestic situation regarding gun control.

Trump understands that in times of national distress, the populace is focused on large, hot-button issues that have been widely covered by the American News Media, rather than subtler topics such as Climate Change that have largely been ignored. Simply put, Trump knows how to manipulate the emotions of his crowds. Additionally, Trump embraces the Messiah complex and utilizes it to the best of his ability. He sets for himself some very lofty goals and utilizes anaphoric figure of speech in order to convince people he is capable of doing these things. When it came to the potential solutions he was going to take to solve America’s problems, his favorite oratorical tool was the repeated use of the phrase “I will/would”.

  • “I would repeal and replace the big lie, Obamacare.”
  • “I would build a great wall…And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
  • “I will find — within our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy”
  • “I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”
  • “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration, immediately.”

Secondly, Trump isn’t afraid of controversy. He calls it like he sees it, and although his views might not always be politically correct, this is a strategy that works for him. Trump isn’t afraid to take a position that could alienate him with a voter base because he already knows what base of voters his ideas resonate with. Recent polls indicate that the majority of his support comes from the baby boomer generation, a primarily conservative group of adults that have held the same beliefs since before the 1990’s. It’s a smart move because the majority of young voters (those under 30) are still figuring out their political beliefs, and so they tend to vacillate on certain hot-button issues. While members of the left thrive off playing these nuances, Trump isn’t wasting any time by appealing to people who don’t feel the need to voice their political opinions, but still hold their positions on important issues.

Thirdly, Trump is a man of simplicity. He has boiled his campaign speech to a couple of key issues that he can focus the majority of his energy on. All of these issues are urgent; they are rather large and affect the American population immediately. This is as opposed to issues of larger scale that are more long-term like climate change. In this way, he can appeal to people’s emotions whilst keeping his platform small, thereby making it easier to defend. Additionally, he is man who makes use of grandiose gestures but uses a limited vocabulary. Thinkprogress notes “Trump’s favorite word, however, is “I.” His fourth-favorite word is “Trump.” Eight out of his 13 favorite words are one syllable, and the two syllable words are simple — “very,” “China,” and “money.” His only three-syllable favorite word is “Mexico.”” In addition, Trump tends to use extremely large hand gestures as opposed to sharp, precise ones. These gestures seem to convey the confidence and gravity of the issues he talks about, thereby making him seem like a better candidate to his voter base.

Feeding off of fear and anxiety, not being afraid of controversy and using simple language that anyone can understand is a potent combination for any speech – let alone a Presidential campaign.

In conclusion, we can tell a lot about a candidate by the speeches they give. But only time can tell whether they will end up in the White house.

2015: The case for Gratitude

It’s like I blinked. And its almost the end of the year.

If you are like me, I am sure you are wondering how this year went by. Faster in the areas I was excited about. Slower, in the areas that caused pain.

A lot has happened this year. Good, bad and the ugly. Taking stock is certainly in order, if we are to have an even better 2016.

How do we measure a year? It is by the amount of money we made? Size of the bonus? Number of awards? Accolades? Published papers? Accomplishments? Recognitions? Speeches? Number of articles cited in? Contracts won? Sales closed?

If you have been a recipient of one or more of them, you have every reason to be proud of. From “made my day” to re-reading the article for a hundredth time to celebrating the award we have all reveled in the glory of our recognition.

As I do the victory dance one more time, I take stock of the things I am grateful for; things more simple and foundational that made all the others possible.

  • My family and how they are the core of who I am
  • My friends who continue to love me without any expectations
  • For all the new relationships I have established this year.
  • For my intellectual growth. The fact that I could spend the time gathering knowledge.
  • For the material blessings. A place to call home. And a cozy bed to rest my head.
  • For the mistakes I made, that made me wiser.
  • For the number of times, I put my foot in my mouth. I know not to make the same mistake again.
  • The number of times, I got treated badly. I am stronger because of those incidents.

I could go on an on. Long story short – the year was a blessing. In abundance. The overflowing cup. The shiny new toy. And more.

But is that all I am grateful for? Or more importantly, is this how I define gratitude? Is it about what I received? How much I got out of life? Me? Me? Me?

Or is it how much I am willing to move the needle for the people who need it the most?

The number of people, whose needles are misaligned or just broken, is far too many for us to define gratitude by how much we receive rather than how much we do or give away.

Moved by the story of a war veteran who asked for money to buy a sandwich, Komal Ahmad started Feed Forward that has now distributed over 780,000 pounds of food to hungry people in the San Francisco bay area in the last four years. Now 25, Komal wants to replicate the model across the world to solve “the world’s dumbest problem” which is how she defines hunger. With so much food going to a waste, no one should be going hungry on any day, anywhere in the world.

Whether it is the cold and wet winter of California that is challenging the lives of the 8000 people in the bay area, or the repercussions of the colossal governmental mistakes that hit the common man across the world the number of misaligned needles are way too many to ignore.

Like my happy list, this list about the realities of life all around us could be equally long. Longer actually.

As the year comes to a close, I am counting the number of times I moved the needle for others. Writing a note-to-self to send the elevator down for the others to come up. My antidote to selective amnesia that prevents me from extending a helping hand.

What excuse do I have to sit on the sidelines and watch my fellow brethren degrade?

Fact is, till I can learn to measure my gratitude by the help I extend to the needy around me, my gratitude never becomes actionable or complete.

Living a life of gratitude is just the beginning. But living is only a beginning. Demonstrating the gratitude and returning a portion of it to folks that need it is where the translation needs to happen. From having it in our hearts to making it actionable is how I measure my life’s success.

That is my case for gratitude. What is yours?

Public Speaking 111: Style vs. Substance

Keith had a silver tongue. He was the master of persuasion. Any plea, petition, or request that he asked for was done immediately in the most efficient manner possible. Hell, he could tell you to go jump off a cliff and you’d simply reply “Which one?”

So when he suddenly remembered that he had a potentially life-changing presentation at his workplace, only thirty minutes before it was about to happen, he wasn’t worried. He would treat it just like he treated every other situation. He would just talk his way through it.

Needless to say, thirty-five minutes later, the silver-tongued devil got himself into a situation which will eventually get him fired.

Unfortunately, style can only get us so far. Sure, you can probably get through a simple speech using just poise, posture and eloquence. But soon, your audience will catch on. Eventually, they will realize that every time they leave the auditorium in which you spoke, they came out with no new knowledge or information. To go the extra mile, to really captivate an audience, you need substance. People need to be enriched both emotionally and mentally for a speech of any kind to be successful. Be it a business presentation or an announcement for Presidency.

Now we all know that a good speech requires both substance and style. The real question on everyone’s mind is this: how do we know how much style and substance our speeches really require?

Allow me to explain. If an expert physician was presenting his findings to a group of his peers at a health conference, his style of presentation would be radically different from that of a motivational speaker, for example. A technical profession would require the concise explanation of extremely complicated ideas, with large amounts of data being communicated at a rather fast pace. This is the nature of the beast: doctors, engineers, and scientists alike rarely have to sell their ideas. Everything they say is backed up with both verifiable data as well as lofty credentials from an institution of higher learning. Thus, there is little need for emotion or style – not that it will hurt.

In nearly every other situation, however, you are pitching an idea to a group of individuals who are not automatically inclined to believe everything you say. In these kinds of situations, you need to prove to the audience that you are worth listening to, and often times, this means incorporating a bit of flamboyance and bombast into your speaking style.

So returning to the question: how do we know how much style and substance our speeches really require? The answer lies in a simple principle: separating the speech from the speaker.

In about seven seconds the audience decides whether or not the speaker deserves their attention or not. If a speaker can captivate his or her audience within this time, and keep that same energy level going for the whole speech, they are guaranteed to win over the audience. However, once the speech is over and the showmanship has ended, an audience member will begin to mentally recap the concepts they just listened to. And if that mental recap falls short, you’ve lost your audience after your speech has ended. Therefore, the relationship between substance and style is this:

Style gets the audience hooked on the speech.

Substance gets them hooked onto the speaker.

If you want to keep them on the edge of their seats, you need a bit of pizzazz. If you want them to come back for more, make sure they leave knowing something they didn’t know when they entered.

Style is a very in-the-moment facet of public speaking. No matter how great a speaker is with their delivery, it is usually not the thing they are remembered for. Then again, some of the world’s greatest speeches would not have succeeded had it not been for the memorable way they were delivered.

In order to truly understand the concept, however, we have to analyze some examples. And the best place to analyze the concept of style versus substance is from a profession where public speaking is often taken for granted: teaching.

As a teacher, you are always on stage, regardless of whether or not you are actually teaching a lesson. Your students are young, impressionable, and silently waiting for you to slip up. The goal of a teacher is to maintain a sense of authority whilst also making sure the students of their classrooms are engaged. The following two clips demonstrate the teaching styles of two very different teachers in cinema history.

https://youtu.be/wZOy6w6UsMY

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein plays a teacher who utilizes neither style nor substance, and thus, cannot engage the students of his class or teach them the material. In contrast, Robin Williams manipulates the tone of his voice, catches his students off-guard and uses unconventional teaching techniques, all whilst teaching a pretty stimulating life lesson. Williams shows that style is merely the mechanism by which a speaker can get content across. Needless to say, when it comes time to take the test, far more students will know Carpe Diem than the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act.

A silver tongue will get you somewhere. Probably will raw data. The trick is in finding the balance!

Pursuing your career with a 20/20 vision

Addiction to the paycheck is probably the most debilitating and wide spread addiction there is. While not always spoken of in the same realm as the more serious addictions, the end result is comparable in several ways.

Consider this – why else would we enter into an altered state of mind every time we take up a job, and forget or give up all the need to continually challenge ourselves and grow professionally? Or even how we pick our jobs in the first place? Doesn’t it sound similar to be under the influence of something?

If that sounds like bit of a stretch, it certainly how it was to me.

As a recovering addict, I am asking myself, how would I approach my career, if I were to reset the clock by ten years?

Based on the mistakes made and observed, I’d make three deliberate choices in how I approach my career.

    1. Be intentional in how I make my job choices. For most of us, our job choices are not conscious, well articulated and strategized in how we pick them. Some amongst us, have a generic big picture in their mind as to what jobs we should go after. Most often it is based on current skill levels and other immediate compulsions. Not based on a plan of where I want to get to in ‘x’ number of years. We use the compass as opposed to the GPS. With a compass, you know you are moving in a particular direction. With a GPS, you start with a specific intention of where you want to get to, and take the path that will get you there. While some exceptions exist, this strategy is applicable for the vast majority of us. Bottom line, be clear about how you want your career to be. Where do you want to get to? Have the plan on paper – as early on as life would permit – and then go about navigating your jobs through it. With this approach, you are no longer switching jobs for a better pay or benefits, but rather making that move because the map says it is the right thing to do.
  1. Be mindful that each job is a journey and not a destination. I am looking back at each of my jobs and have realized that is how approached every one of them. As a destination. The moment I got into the job, I got all excited, jumped into it head-on and completely immersed myself in the day-to-day pressures of it. Completely. So much so, when you finally wake up one fine day, you realized that the world has moved on. While I excelled in each of my jobs and over-delivered on its expectations, I simply lost sight of where I was headed. More on this, below.
  2. Be flexible. Both in terms of staying the course to reach your destination. And to alter the course or the destination as you mature in your life and interest areas. Map or not, life will throw its curve balls. Expecting them and being willing enough to rough it out should be part of the strategy. A journey is seldom a straight line. Likewise, be willing to accept the fact that your interests could change. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon the map. You just need another one. Redraw the plan and follow it.

The downsides of my addiction dawned on me when I came up for air and realized that

  1. I had stopped learning / reading and failed to keep myself updated on what was going on around the world, both in my area of expertise, industry and the world in general.
  2. I stopped networking. My friends were my team members and those my department had to work with. The rest of the world did not exist for me.
  3. Lost sight of my passion for non-work related interests. I allowed myself to be so consumed by my job, that my hobbies faded away into the distance and I became a robot.

We typically blame all these failures on the pressures of the job. Especially in those high-pressure jobs. I know, I did it for years. Blaming the job for your shortcomings and lack of action is career myopia. Being shortsighted about life choices.

The only time when people ponder upon these three tenets is when there is a life changing decision that jolts them into existence. Like for example –

  • You have been part of a downsizing of the company
  • You realize that you are getting nowhere with your job
  • There simply is no passion to get to work anymore.

In each of these cases, we wake up when it is a wee bit late and then fret about the choices available to us. Age, financial situations, relationship issues that affect geographical considerations are only a few of the reasons why we all need to be mindful of how to stay abreast of our career choices.

If you were smart enough, you would simply use a GPS that shows traffic conditions ahead. An accident a mile away will necessitate a course correction right now. By being cognizant of where your industry is headed, latest trends, state of the competition etc. you can continually fine-tune your strategy to come out winning even in the light of adversities.

You could be myopic about your career. Or build one with 20/20 clarity.

NB: I’d love to hear competing views on this topic. This is just one point of view. Mine. What is yours? Would love to learn.

Public Speaking 110: Establishing Credibility

Depending on whom you ask, you have between seven and ninety seconds before the audience decides whether they like you or not. And that will decide how they will respond to your presentation, speech or meeting.

Neither seven nor ninety are long enough to set the tone for an hour or longer speech. But that is the operating margin you get as a speaker.

I am a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. And his lectures on youtube. You got to give it to the man. He is super knowledgeable. Funny. Makes a lot of good points. And sure knows how to hold the audience in the palm of his hands.

Here is the point though. I don’t necessarily agree with all his thoughts. But I still find him interesting enough to watch his videos over and over again.

The same happens when I watch erstwhile President Ronald Reagan. Doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you are on. When the thespian spoke, you simply listened. More like, sat there captivated. With his powerful voice and conversational tone he could get his point across like no one else can.

Look at a list of any top ten speakers and you will consistently find that they all have the ability to hold the audience’s attention, make their points, avoid being interrupted and keep it all engaging even as many would never agree to their ideologies in the first place.

What is different between them and the others is their ability to establish credibility, even before they can move on to the core elements of their speeches.

Establishing credibility is a conscious choice. Not happenstance. It’s a skill. And that means, it can be learnt.

A ton of research has gone into establishing credibility and several researchers have broken it down into its constituent parts. Content related expertise has to match the style related delivery to work the magic.

For the purposes of this article, we will simply touch upon three techniques. Curious readers can research to learn more or engage in a post-article discussion with me.

  1. Using the credible and approachable voice spectrums: Vocal variety is a key tool in any speaker’s toolkit. With a skillful combination of pitch and frequency, each of us can vary our tones to match the intentions of our speeches. Between seeking a favor and issuing a command, we use a band of voice profiles that say ‘Will you please help me out’ or ‘I want you to get this done by 10 AM tomorrow’. One a request and the other a command. One born out of compassion while the other out of authority. One credible. And the other approachable. Based on the situation and purpose, we use different voices to get our work done. By learning to choose between these two voice patterns, we can establish credibility right in the beginning of the speech. When to use each of the voice patterns, is a contextual question that you, as a speaker, has to determine.
  2. Bringing your presence to the podium: Understanding the purpose of the speech, knowing the audience profile and the mood to be created, the speaker has to bring in his presence to the podium and use it to fully be present to deliver his speech. No one does this better than actors and actresses. They have a tough job. One day they are acting as a soldier. Next day, they have to be a Nobel Laureate. The job is made tougher, if they are shooting for the two movies simultaneously on two different days. But with practice, actors have learnt the art of being present in the moment, and delivering the complete feeling of a soldier and Nobel Laureate right to the very last flick of a finger to the accent and intonation. Bottom line, presence is a much-required skill to establish credibility. One that can be learnt.
  3. Pausing adequately and as necessary: Of all the non-verbal tools available, pausing is the single most powerful one available to the speaker. The sound of silence speaks volumes and louder than all the words in the speech. It is in the pauses that the speaker shows his intelligence to the audience. Not through his words. It is in the pauses that he arrests the attention and holds it on. Pauses allow for the subconscious connection and waking up of the listener’s attention. Effective use of pauses, is a great way to establish credibility with any audience.

Each of these elements have to be blended with several others to establish credibility if you want your audience to respect your status as a speaker and pay attention to what you have to say. Mastering and practicing one in isolation will not do the trick. It’s a combination of many elements that have to be skillfully woven to create that magical effect.

The three above are certainly a starting point.

Establish credibility. Even before you make your point.

Public Speaking 109: Repetition is the mother of skill

A lesson I learnt the hard way.

It was a small audience. And I only had to speak for an hour. Neither one of them justified my bad performance.

The week, before, turned out to be busy. With one too many things to do, I did not rehearse my speech as I always would. It was a speech I had delivered many times before. So, I simply told myself, it would be alright. My familiarity with the subject, and years of speaking experience will compensate for my lack of preparation.

Boy! was i wrong? The speech turned out to be a disaster. I stuttered. Stammered. Caught myself searching for the next point to make. The lack of practice also showed in my non-verbals. Net result, it was one of my tardier performances.

As a stickler for good speeches, I take a lot of pride in delivering perfect speeches every single time. It didn’t seem like the audience saw my botched performance. But, I ended up a horrible mess for a job poorly done.

Once bitten, twice shy. Lesson well learnt. A mistake never to be repeated.

The audience is coming there to listen to our speech either to be entertained, educated or both. And as a speaker we owe it to them, to give exactly what we promised to give them. Anything less, we have no business being in the profession.

The only way to do is to Practice. Practice. Practice.

The To Do

Here is how I practice. Right before an event, I deliver the speech to an empty room multiple times. Over and over. Full length. The same way I would do it in front of a live audience, with all the vocal variety, gestural variety, pause, eye contact the whole nine yards.

Yes, it feels weird the first few times. Funny as well. Weird. If it will help, drag a few chairs and line it up in rows in front of you, to give the feel of people sitting and listening to you. For good measure, you need to time your speeches as well. Over time, you will not need the chairs anymore.

My minimum is thrice. When I have the luxury of time, four or more times. When I did my TEDx speech, it was more like thirty plus times.

And the results will speak for itself. When I practice that many times, I deliver a speech that the audience enjoys, appreciates and walks away having learnt something useful.

No substitutes or shortcuts here.

And the Not To Do

A lot of people prepare for their speeches. But instead of speaking it like they would do in real time, they flip through the material or slides and mumble the speech to themselves. They quickly tell themselves ‘ok, I know this’, ‘I got this one’, ‘this is easy’ etc. They zip through the speech in a quarter or half the time. And when they deliver it for real, most often they are almost mumbling it in realtime as well. The lack of preparation never gives them the full confidence in their speech and the audience will know it.

Bottomline, if you are going to practice, do it like you would do in real time. Vocalize. Verbalize. Talk it out.

No mumbling. No presumed familiarity of content. No more being satisfied with experience.

A world renowned speaker who I admire and follow closely, has been delivering the same speech for thirty plus years. After all these years, he still practices his speeches two days before the actual speech. And people pay serious money to listen to him again and again. I know people who have been to his classes over twenty times. Listening to the same thing. Practice never goes out of fashion, no matter how many years you have been in the profession.

You simply owe it to the audience.

Repetition IS, indeed, the mother of skill.

Public Speaking 108: Don’t tell a story

John got up to speak. As a successful CEO in the Silicon Valley, he was invited to deliver the evening’s keynote speech, to young entrepreneurs, on handling the ups and downs in business and life. He did a great job of telling how he built his business and how his firm was acquired by a larger company, in the process making him a legend and a millionaire. When it came to his personal life, he pointed to his wife of twenty years who was sitting by the podium. And proceeded to talk about how his wife’s brush with cancer really rocked the family and that it was a low point in their lives. They both had gone through some really tough times.

From the way he described it, it was clear that the cancer had taken an emotional toll on the family. Except that no one in the audience was moved. No one felt the weight of the situation as John recalled the dark time he and his family went through. The typical silence that usually descends upon a room when such a tragic moment is recalled did not happen this time.

Something did not seem right. A heavy moment like that did not evoke the imagery, emotion or reaction that is expected out of an incident like a brush with cancer. The pieces did not fit.

Here is what happened.

As John was explaining his wife’s run in with the cancer he used a tone that did not create the necessary imagery in the audience’s mind. It was delivered in a matter-of-fact monotone with no emotion attached to it. What compounded the situation was that John had a smile on his face throughout the time he recalled the illness and the treatment they had to go through.

It was apparent that they were torn apart and suffered physical and emotional stress throughout the entire time. But because the delivery did not match the narration, the story landed like any other – without any impact. Another story. Another event.

John could have easily used that story to demonstrate the power of their love, how they stood by each other during the tough time and how not to give up even in the midst of adversity.

I call it the Audio-Video problem. The Audio has to match the Video. The narration has to match the delivery. The telling has to match the showing. John’s had narration. He got the audio covered. It was like the video was simply turned off.

At a minimum, here are three techniques to use to enhance the delivery of any speech or story:

  1. Gestural Variety: Use your entire body to speak. Not just your mouth (duh!). Use your hands, facial expression, legs (move around) to make your point.
  2. Vocal Variety: Use tone, pitch, volume and pace to make the delivery interesting for the audience. A speech given in a monotonous tone, sounds more like a drone than a speech. Audience will soon be fighting their sleep instead of sitting up to listen to your speech.
  3. Pause: Probably the single most important tool there is in speaking. Effective use of pausing could help demonstrate the point powerfully and enhance the speech or story like nothing else can.

Bottomline, don’t tell your story. LIVE your story. When you live your story, you transport yourself into the moment in time when the story actually happened. And that helps recall the imagery and paints the picture for the audience. You then deliver the story in technicolor as opposed to delivering in black-and-white. As a speaker, you owe it to the audience to transport them to places and situations where and when the story happened. To take them with you on a journey where they can see the life you lived, the ecosystem that you existed in or had to fight through.

For a story to have it’s impact, you need to LIVE THE STORY. NOT TELL THE STORY.

Fortunately for John’s wife, the cancer responded to treatment and she went on to live a healthy life and was smiling as her husband was recalling the incident. Good for them!