How to Influence in 19 Seconds

Last week, during my seminar, Meet to Present, my client took me aside and pointed to one of the participants. "Do you know who he is?" she whispered.

"No, but he looks familiar," I said. "Who is he?"

"He played Mikey in the Life Cereal commercial," she revealed.

"I love that commercial!", I squealed. "Mikey was so cute".

If you're a baby boomer who grew up in the U.S., you saw the commercial about Life Cereal. Years later, people remember this commercial even though it's only 19 seconds in length. It first played in 1972 and was one of the longest, continuously running commercials.  In 1999, TV Guide rated it as one of the top 10 commercials and in a survey 70% of adults could identify it.

So what does this commercial teach us about public speaking success and influence?

The message tells a story. There are no statistics, no lecturing. The audience watches two brothers reject the "healthy" cereal they think isn't good enough to eat. The brothers call in Mikey to be the guinea pig. To their surprise he likes it.

The message is simple and clear. This is a tasty cereal that's good for you. Yet nobody ever says that.

The messenger is memorable. The commercial ends with "Hey Mikey." People remember the last thing they hear and that's why to this day the audience remembers Mikey's name.

The message is replayed. It's not enough to speak once or twice. To make the message land, savvy speakers tell their signature stories. They present their message frequently to many audiences through different media.

Like television ads, a speech or presentation must tell a good story. The ad took 19 seconds to tell the story and sell the message.

How long does the average speaker take to give a presentation? What if you had only 19 seconds? How would you tell your story? Would it be memorable?

For a trip down memory lane, here is Mikey's Life cereal commercial:

What's Your Speaking EQ?

Most discussions about emotional intelligence talk about communication and controlling emotions in the workplace. But rarely, do I hear about public speaking in regard to emotional intelligence. Yet, public speakers who present with high EQ tend to be more successful and are more engaging to the audience. Here's a simple tip from Jeanne Sullivan. In every presentation Jeanne aims to "tell them something they don't know and to make them laugh." This is a good public speaking goal for any presenter at any level. When you make an audience laugh you are tapping into your EQ skills because laughter accesses the emotions. Watch this video to learn about your public speaking EQ.  

Bill of Rights for Public Speakers

July seems to signify freedom. July 1st is Canadian Independence Day, on July 4th  the U.S. celebrates its birth as a nation, and on July 14th, the French celebrate Bastille Day. I started thinking about the freedoms we enjoy-freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech.

We have this great gift of expression, the freedom to speak our minds. Yet some public speakers are anything but free. They approach the podium as if they're walking their last mile. Their bodies stiffen, their faces freeze,and their words trip over their tongues. These speakers are imprisoned by their own negative beliefs and shrink before an imagined enemy-the audience.  Well, it's time for all public speakers to assert their rights.

Public Speaking Bill of Rights

  1.  I have the right to be my authentic self.
  2. I have the right to be relaxed and in control.
  3. I have the right to smile and enjoy myself.
  4. I have the right to engage the audience.
  5. I have the right to not know all the answers.
  6. I have the right to make mistakes and recover with grace.
  7. I have the right to walk in like I own the room.
  8. I have the right to reference the slide without reading it.
  9. I have the right to own my power and not give it all to the audience.
  10. I have the right to establish eye contact and not get flustered if they don't smile.
  11. I have the right to speak with conviction.
  12. I have the right to enjoy my standing ovation!

Public Speaking: Entice Your Audience to Come to You

A coaching client called me because she was about to have a performance discussion with her boss. She wanted to be promoted and knew she had to be a clear, confident, and convincing communicator. But there was one presentation obstacle that she wasn't sure she could overcome. Her boss liked to watch financial news on TV when people were in the office. She wondered how she could command his attention, gain his respect, and make herself heard. In keeping with my philosophy, (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em), we decided to make a three minute video. That's right! Showing a video would get his attention. My client would speak into the video camera as if she were speaking directly to her boss. She would talk about her credentials and her accomplishments and then add a couple of quick video testimonials from her biggest supporters in the company.  Thinking creatively would get his attention,   position herself as an innovative, outside -the box -thinker, and certainly make her more memorable than any of her colleagues.

Last month, I wrote about Public Speaking: When Science Meets Art, which is a great example of using creativity when presenting. In 2012 the stakes will be higher.  Greater creativity and innovation will be needed for communicators and public speakers to get noticed, stand out, and be heard. And video marketing will play an important role.

Public Speaking Ranks As The Top Entrepreneurial Skill

Quora.com printed the best advice for entrepreneurs, from entrepreneurs. This quote was one of the top three submissions that received the most votes from readers. Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, a popular music-streaming service:

Learn public speaking. Of all the skills that an entrepreneur can have, I think the ability to convey an idea or opportunity, with confidence, eloquence and passion is the most universally useful skill. Whether you're pitching a group of

investors, rallying your employees, selling a customer, recruiting talent, addressing consumers, or doing a press tour, the ability to deliver a great talk is absolutely invaluable. And it is perhaps THE most under-recognized and under-nurtured skill.”

I couldn't agree more and I've been saying this for years. In 2007, I was quoted in a  New York Times article, "Um, Uh, Like Call in the Speech Coach".

'Small business is leaving money on the table because it is overlooking one of the most powerful marketing skills: speech,' said Diane DiResta, a speech and communications coach in New York. 'Speech is the way a small business builds its brand, establishes expertise, gets free publicity and gets in front of its market.'”

And that's why I give webinars and speeches to entrepreneurs on Speak Powerfully, Sell More, How to Use Speaking To Grow Your Business. Speaking is the most cost effective and underutilized marketing strategy.  I spoke in Tanzania as a result of  giving two free  presentations. (The client doesn't always buy the first time).  A free speech at a National Conference led to business in Egypt. Speaking pays. Good presentation skills impact every aspect of business from getting the interview, making the sale, attracting funding, or running for office. It's the very essence of executive presence.

As leaders and executives, entrepreneurs cannot afford to avoid public speaking. Public speaking is the new game changer.

Audience Resistance: If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

You don't need the audience from hell to encounter resistance. Resistance can occur in one-to-one conversations or in  small groups. Sometimes, resistance is subtle as in the passive aggressive participant. It occurs in sales calls all the time. Most presenters think of resistance as negative. Yet, research demonstrates that in sales calls, skepticism is actually a good sign and often leads to a sale. Resistance shows that the audience is engaged. Your job is to embrace the resistance and as in martial arts, use their energy to reverse the situation. In sales presentations you can reverse negative questions. Objection: "You've never worked in our industry."  Answer: "That's exactly why you need me. I'm objective."

Whether you’re managing a team, running a meeting, or giving a formal presentation, it’s not enough to be a good speaker. Effective public speakers must be able to manage the process. Group dynamics are ever changing and dealing with groups can be sticky. A  good leader or facilitator is able to change perspective and use a number of strategies.

I developed the 3D Strategy which works in most situations-Depersonalize, Detach, Defuse.

Step one: depersonalize. People come with their own emotional baggage. One woman walked out of a motivational speech because the speaker was wearing an Elvis costume. The audience member didn't  like Elvis. It had nothing to do with entertainer’s talent or competence. So don’t take it personally.

Step two:  detach. That means that you don’t engage the ego. Once you go head-to-head with that heckler you set up a competitive dynamic. Don’t let your emotions get out of control. Ask questions; don't defend. Use the power of peer pressure.

Step three: defuse. Dissipate the negative energy. One of the best defusers is humor. If you get tense, the negative energy will increase. Take a light, playful approach. You can’t laugh and be angry at the same time.

I've learned that when I embrace resistance, the audience is more engaged. Recently, I gave a speech at the NYXPO at the Javits convention center in New York.  Knowing that people would be checking their cell phones, I created a hash tag #dianediresta,  and told them to tweet any tips they'd like to share with their networks. What once was a negative is a great BIG positive. Now my message is going out to thousands of people.

Just like a grain of sand is an irritant to an oyster, over time that irritant becomes a pearl.

The anonymous author of this quote said it best:

"With every shift, with every change resistance is the natural order.  The tree resists the wind, the egg resists the chicks hatching and the cocoon resists the butterfly’s first flight.  Without resistance there could be no stability and there could be no strength.  Ultimately resistance is the promise of success, never of failure, always of success; yours, mine and every person’s everywhere".

The Speaking Secret of Inspirational Leaders

November is Inspirational Role Models MonthHave you ever wondered why some leaders are more inspirational than others? Here's the secret. They speak from the inside out. Where most leaders speak about the WHAT and the HOW, leaders who inspire audiences with their message do one thing differently. They speak about the WHY. Steve JobsAn example of this is Steve Jobs of Apple.  His mantra was "Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo." It's his WHY for his company. That's why he inspired a strong cult-like following. His customers are more than buyers. They are believers who want to "think different".

Martin Luther King, Jr SpeaksMartin Luther King wasn't the only leader who believed in civil rights yet he was the one who inspired a national march on Washington. He spoke from his WHY. He didn't talk about facts. He said, "I believe. I have a dream." It became a movement that went beyond the African-American community. It was a universal cause that people could believe in.

Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, surprised the media with the overwhelming success of his book. His belief that "God Has a Plan for You," tapped into a deep, emotional need regardless of religious orientation. It's a message that is bigger than the individual and people connected emotionally.

We now know the neurological reason these speakers are able to inspire.  When a speaker talks about the WHAT and the HOW, the message appeals to the neocortex of the brain. This is the center of rational thought. People are not generally moved to action by facts and figures.

When you talk from your WHY, you speak directly to the limbic brain. The limbic brain appeals to trust, loyalty, and emotion. People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

So, what is your WHY? Why do you do what you do? What do you believe? Think about those leaders who inspire others, whether it's one-on-one or to a large audience.  Who are your inspirational role models?


Click to read BusinessWeek's article: 10 Attributes of Leaders Who Inspire

What I Learned About Presentations from Starbucks

This morning I stopped in a Starbucks on W43 Street and Avenue of the Americas in New York City.  I was expecting the usual long line that doesn't move. Instead, we moved quickly and the server asked for my order before I approached the cashier. Then she gave a coffee to the man in front of me and told me someone was delivering my tea right now.  That was pleasant! Then I sat down and watched the baristas behind the counter. They called each person by name-"Ron, here's your grande. Adam, you have a latte. They actually wrote the person's name on the cup.  It was a good presentation and that prompted me to compliment them on their personal service.  This was the first time I had seen this approach at Starbucks. It made me wonder what it would be like if our presentations were that personal. What if we spoke directly to individuals and made them feel special? Well, we can. It's called engagement.  Public speaking is personal. Simply by doing some homework to get to know the audience members in advance we can tailor the message to include their individual challenges and experiences. Arriving early can accomplish the same thing. When I talk to audience members  as they enter the room, I hear their stories and situations. I can then refer to them by name. For example, "When I was speaking to Laura this morning she told me..."  Steve, you'll appreciate this story. I know you've been there."

Nothing impacts an audience like a personal message just for them. It's not difficult to do. It engages them, creates a bond, and makes them feel special.

PowerPoint is Ruining Our Love Lives

I knew we were PowerPointed out but I didn't realize it was this bad.  A recent survey released by Sliderocket indicated that 24% of people polled for a new study said they'd rather give   up having sex tonight than have to sit through yet another PowerPoint presentation tomorrow. 32% of those polled have fallen asleep during a presentation, 20% dozed off so often that they've lost count. It seems like PowerPoint may quickly become the new birth control. Public speakers unite! Either throw away your PowerPoint or learn to do it better. As  a speaking strategist, I've discovered that too many speakers allow the slides to lead them by the nose.  It's time to take charge. The key word in Visual Aid is AID! YOU are the visual.

Here are some of the most common mistakes I see:

  • Reading the slides.  I can read as well as you can. If you read word-for-word, you'll lose credibility. Experts use the slide as a backdrop and add value from their knowledge base.
  • Talking and changing the slides. Again, are you leading the presentation or is it leading you? Come to the end of a sentence, pause, advance the slide, and then introduce your next point.
  • No transitions. This will make you sound choppy.  Write out your transitions in advance. They can be statements or questions.
  • Too much text. Get rid of the sentences. Substitute photos, pictures, charts, graphs, cartoons, symbol, and key words or phrases.
  • Busy, cluttered slides. Too much content is distracting. Aim for lots of white space.
  • Small font. If people have to squint, the font is too small. For titles use 36 points and for bullets use 32 points for maximum readability.

I'll bet the number one reason people are bored with PowerPoint is they're not engaged. The speaker is a talking head. You can be more effective when you use PowerPoint to engage the audience.  Ask a question and then flash the correct answer. Tell a story and then flash a picture. Create a dialogue, engage people, and let PowerPoint fade into the background. When the speaker takes center stage that's when the magic happens.


What Christina Aguilera's Flub Can Teach Us About Public Speaking

During the Superbowl Christina Aguilera sang the National Anthem. She started strong with her powerful voice and her signature vibrato vocalizations and eleven second notes. As she continued singing she substituted the wrong words for a line of the lyrics. Instead of reciting "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming" she substituted "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last reaming." While anyone can make a mistake, an audience expects a professional performer to know the words. It's also significant because this is a national song that we hear at every game and civic event. Yes, a professional singer and speaker should be prepared. But that's not the main lesson.  The question is, why didn't we catch the mistake? This is  a performer with a booming, powerful voice.  I certainly wasn't aware of it until the media pointed it out. My husband didn't catch the mistake, either.

I believe the reason we missed it was because we were distracted. I commented during the performance on how her vocal gymnastics were overkill. Her focus was on her melodic variations and range. The song became about the mechanics and not the feeling. My attention followed the seesaw of her tones rather than on the well written words.  The song seemed to be a showcase of her versatility rather than a connection with the audience. Advertisers vie for the coveted Superbowl commercial spots. Christina had a national spotlight and she blew it.

Public speakers can learn a lesson from Christina's performance.  Authenticity trumps technique and connection is more important than content. When speakers come from ego, they sacrifice the relationship with the audience. Showing off one's platform skills, instead of connecting with the audience, can expose the speaker to all kinds of risk.

One professional speaker had an opportunity to present at a convention. She was generally confident and knew she could WOW them on stage. And that became her focal point. She walked on stage as if she owned it. She confidently belted out her first story as she had done many times. And then she went blank. Totally blank. The audience tried to encourage her with applause. It was painful to watch because she was a pro. She finally regained her composure but the speech was not a success.  Later, she explained that she had tried to impress the audience with her smooth performance skills.  She recognized once she was back "inside her body" that she had learned an important lesson.

You're never too skilled to practice. And it's not about you. It's about them-the AUDIENCE.