5 Illustrations Mediocre Speakers Don’t Know: Endorsement

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When should you use a quotation, stat, testimonial, or endorsement? Mediocre speakers all sound the same because mediocre speakers tend to do things for the wrong reason. You can’t answer when to do it unless you first understand why.

Last week we showed how evidence should be used not just to make a point, but to build the credibility of the speaker. My SpeechDeck communication skills system used the five Es of illustration. Today is number three–Endorsement:

What is an Endorsement?

Here are three common types of endorsements:

  1. Quotes
  2. Testimonials
  3. Associations

Evidence such as facts, figures, and research can be used as an endorsement, similarly quotations or testimonials may include factual evidence or have a basis in research. There is often overlap between the two. So what’s the difference?

“There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” – Mark Twain

Are the words from Mark Twain above an “endorsement” or “evidence”?

For our purposes, what matters most is the your PURPOSE for using the words of Mark Twain.

As explained last week, the PURPOSE of “evidence” is to prove the credibility of the speaker (and only rarely your argument).

In other words, if I quote Mark Twain to illustrate that I know a lot about public speaking and that I am familiar with the industry, then I am using that quote as “evidence” — evidence that makes me a more credible messenger on public speaking.

On the other hand, maybe I just want to quote Mark Twain because he’s funny. Maybe I used Mark Twain because I know that in America, most people know who he is and love his pithy wisdom. That would be an “endorsement.”

The purpose of an endorsement is to NORMALIZE your message and yourself.

If I and everyone in the room laughs together, I instantly become NORMAL–no matter what I’m talking about. When we all do the same thing–laugh–I can’t be perceived as too different. In the SpeechDeck color-coded presentation skills system this is the orange principle of “Developing Relationships.”

Bad Endorsements

Anytime I quote Mark Twain the sentiment of the message seems quintessentially American. It builds relationships and develops rapport because Mark Twain seems NORMAL (to Americans raised in America).

But what if I was talking to a Chinese Audience?

Some of the audience might still laugh, but for those that don’t really know Mark Twain or relate to American culture I can easily do myself a disservice. Instead of building rapport, the exact same quote might actually seem AB-NORMAL. By reinforcing my cultural difference, a Mark Twain quote to a non-American audience might make me seem less NORMAL, less credible, and more foreign.

Mark Twain calls people liars. It’s normal for Americans to call people liars. That’s not normal everywhere.

So back to my original question: When should you use a quotation?

NOT when it breaks rapport.
NOT when it highlights differences with the audience.
NOT when it seems ab-normal.

This is why quoting Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in a politically diverse audience is likely to get you into big trouble. No matter how wise the words, half the audience won’t think it’s NORMAL, even if the other half does.

Good Quotations

Good endorsements, on the other hand, are those that align with the listeners’ existing in-group relationships and experience.

If you’re talking to an audience of Republicans, quoting president Reagan seems a lot more normal, because Reagan is already in the Republican in-group.

A good quotation is one that comes from a person the listener already admires and understands. Or perhaps even better said, someone who understands the audience. The originator of the quote must seem NORMAL.

When do you use a quotation? When it makes you and your message seem NORMAL.

Good Testimonials

This is why testimonials make great endorsements. A testimonial is pretty much just a quote from someone in the audience member’s own peer group.

If you have ever been to a sales presentation of any kind, a skilled presenter probably had people “just like you” who already bought the product stand up in the room, or speak on video about how great the product was.

The salesperson–if he or she was good–was trying to make the product seem NORMAL!

When do you use a testimonial? When you need your message, or yourself to seem NORMAL.

Good Associations

Associations are the cheater’s endorsement.

If you don’t have a good quote from someone the audience already respects, and you don’t have an audience peer to quote, then you just associate yourself with someone or something that seems normal.

An association is an implied endorsement without the direct quote.

Master inspirational Zig Ziglar is really good at making associations

Do you see what I did there?

I’ve never met Zig Ziglar.
I didn’t quote Zig Ziglar.
I have no idea what Zig Ziglar thinks about this blog post.

Nevertheless, I associated him with my main point. Subconsciously, the reader also associates my message with him–someone more famous than I am in my industry. Some of his gravitas rubs off on me props up my message.

And I didn’t even lie! Nothing I said above was dishonest — so I didn’t really cheat.

I can associate myself with objects, people, experiences, language, traditions, or anything that my audience finds NORMAL.

Like … totally normal, dude!

If I jokingly say it that way I automatically associate myself and endear myself to people who are my age who remember that kind of language as a NORMAL part of  junior high school. If you don’t get it, you’re probably not my age. I shouldn’t use that specific language association when I’m speaking to someone that never thought it was NORMAL.

The Weatherman

As we have done in every post of this series, let’s help the TV weatherman become a better communicator by adding endorsements. Our mediocre weatherman starts by saying.

It’s going to be a comfortable 82 degrees tomorrow.

The weatherman could appeal to a third party that the listener already respects:

According to the National Weather Service, it’s going to be 92 degrees tomorrow.

He could appeal to an audience peer testimonial:

We received an e-mail from Jessica in Springville who said she’s going to use the nice weather tomorrow to take her kids to the park.

The subconscious message is: “If normal listener Jessica believes him, I should too.” Alternatively, the weatherman could associate himself indirectly with someTHING that seems normal to the audience:

This is the kind of weather that makes it really hot in a parked car. Be careful for pets and children.

Of course you already know that. Nevertheless, I bet you’ve heard some newscaster actually say something like it — because everybody listening knows what’s it’s like to get in a parked car that feels more like a sauna. It makes the weatherman seem NORMAL.

There are 5 types of illustrations — 5 Es:

  1. Explanation
  2. Evidence
  3. Endorsement

Next week we discuss the biggie: Examples.

 

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5 Illustrations Mediocre Speakers Don’t Know: Evidence

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For some reason, mediocre speakers think facts and figures make them better presenters. Yet somehow, even after adding more facts and figures, mediocre speakers still sound just like everybody else.

Last week we discussed the least effective type of illustration–Explanation.

This week we’ll discuss the second of the 5 types of illustrations that you can use to convey your message–Evidence.

If you do it right, evidence (facts and figures) can make you look more credible, more authoritative, and more intelligent.

On the other hand, I’m willing to guess that you’ve also been to that know-it-all’s presentation with so much information that you sat there with only one thought:

I don’t care!

Have you seen that know-it-all? Do you respect him more? or less because of all the evidence he spews all over the office?

I can’t possibly enumerate all the ways that you can do it wrong, but here’s three:

  1. Other people’s knowledge
  2. Logical Argument
  3. Information overload

All of these problems lead to mediocrity because of one simple fact:

The purpose of evidence is not to prove your POINT. The purpose of evidence is to prove YOURSELF.

Let me illustrate …

Other people’s knowledge

The most common mistake I see from mediocre public speakers is including statistics, research, facts and figures from others.

Isn’t that what they taught you to do in school? Always reference where you got your information? Of course! You have to give credit where it is due.

The problem is, that the more you talk about other people’s expertise, the more other people look like the expert instead of you!

The point of sharing evidence is to prove YOURSELF — YOUR credibility. Merely sharing evidence for the sake of evidence can actually make you look worse. This is especially true is you have to consult your notes, read the evidence from a slide, or hesitate to “make sure you get it right.”

If you want to use Stephen Hawking’s research to prove your point, why should I listen to you instead of reading what Stephen Hawking says about it himself?

Don’t get me wrong–you can and should use evidence. Just make sure you are establishing your own credibility and not someone else’s.

A mediocre speaker shows a chart like the one above from the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), then they begin to nearly quote the CDC numbers verbatim:

In 2010, a total of 2,468,435 deaths occurred in the United States. The first two leading causes of death, heart disease (597,689 deaths) and cancer (574,743) …

That’s the wrong way to do it because nobody actual cares about the exact number 597,689!

If you’re giving a speech on heart disease your goal it NOT to prove how many people die of heart disease, your goal is to prove that YOU know enough about heart disease to be trusted.

The actual number is nearly irrelevant. When you read other people’s information verbatim, all you prove is that you know WHO ELSE knows more than you.

All you have to do to retain credibility for yourself if make the information your own. MEMORIZE the most relevant evidence, reference the source, but present it as your own knowledge.

According to the CDC, 24% of deaths are from heart disease. I know that if you include indirect deaths from other causes, it’s even higher …

All that other information, and sometimes even the chart is just evidence for the sake of evidence, and will not help you.

Logical Argument

Another EXTREMELY common mistake from mediocre public speakers is to present facts and figures as proof  in a logical argument that the speaker believes will convince the listener of some “thesis.”

If you are actually presenting an academic thesis or dissertation, this may be expected behavior, but in real life, business, or social settings, that type of academic presentation puts people to sleep.

Academics want the evidence for the evidence sake. Remember, though, everywhere else, your goal is not to make the EVIDENCE credible, but to make YOURSELF credible.

There is a subtle, yet monumental difference between:

Academic: This research proves I’m not wrong

and

Persuasive: This research illustrates my point

The academic, in the interest of appearing unbiased, leaves open the possibility that he may be wrong, and indirectly invites the listener to doubt. This may be a healthy approach in the scientific method, but it’s also why it takes decades for the scientific consensus to be overturned.

Most presentations require more inspirational, fast-tracked results. In science the researched assumes the truth of her position and tries to disprove herself.

The persuader assumes the truth of his position, and illustrates it with confirmatory evidence.

There is a reason I call the proof an illustration, and not a proof. One approach assumes the presenter is wrong, unless he can prove the EVIDENCE is valid. The second approach assumes the SPEAKER is right because THE SPEAKER knows the evidence.

In most settings, you want the latter — because you are trying to establish your own credibility, not that of the evidence.

It’s not about the EVIDENCE; it’s about the SPEAKER!

Information overload

I don’t think I need to explain “information overload.” You’ve been there. You’ve seen it. You didn’t like it.

More information doesn’t make the SPEAKER more credible. You only need enough information to establish your own credibility, no more.

Because once again … your goal is NOT to show the audience what all the information is, you’re goal is to show that YOU have all the information.

If you have everything, they need you! If you give them everything, they don’t! Give them just enough that they know you have more of what they want.

The weatherman

How would I coach the TV weatherman to include evidence. The weatherman doesn’t usually just say:

It will be a nice day sometime …

Credibility requires names and numbers:

Saturday it will be 82 degrees by noon

The name is “Saturday” and the numbers are “82” and “noon.” Names and numbers make you more credible — they are evidence.

Of course, any wanna-be-weatherman with no real credentials can read that off the screen, or from the National Weather Service (NWS). The more persuasive weatherperson will learn how to make the names and numbers his or her own:

The NWS models say it will be 82 degrees by noon on Saturday; Based on the lower stratospheric winds, I forecast you’ll have an about 5 degrees warmer Sunday.

This weather report delivers the message, but also builds the credibility of the messenger, because  the weatherperson shares his own evidence “I forecast” with specifics “5 degrees” and “Sunday” in addition to someone else’s. Also the messenger throws in specific names “lower stratospheric winds” to prove his or her own credibility.

Warning: If the weatherman looks like he has to read it, he looks like a wanna-be. The words only work if they appear to be coming from the weatherman and not from the teleprompter.

We as listeners probably don’t care to understand about the “lower stratospheric winds.” What we do care about is trusting that the weatherman does!

Likewise, your boss doesn’t usually care about all the evidence in your presentation. He or she doesn’t want to know it all, but your boss does want to know that you do.

The purpose of evidence is not to prove your POINT. The purpose of evidence is to prove YOURSELF.

The evidence only helps if it has your fingerprints all over it!

Mediocre presenters think evidence by itself will make them better communicators. It won’t! It take 5 types of illustrations to rise above mediocrity:

  1. Explanation
  2. Evidence

Next week we’ll make the most of number 3.

 

 

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5 Illustrations Medicore Speakers Don’t Know: Explanation

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Mediocre communicators are all the same! By that, of course, I mean that mediocre presenters get in the rut of presenting everything the same way.

In my SpeechDeck Communication System, there are 5 types of illustrations — five types of proof that support the message you are trying to convey. I call them the 5 Es. Mediocre presenters tend to pick one or two and ignore the rest.

Explanation

Mediocre speakers almost always default to the least effective E — explanation.

This is the speaker who rambles. This is the presenter who thinks he has to explain the joke when nobody laughs. This is the “teacher” who thinks “teacher” is a synonym for “lecturer.”

This is the presenter whose first slide is a bulleted list, whose last slide is a bulleted list, and all the slides in between were probably bulleted lists, but nobody was paying enough attention to remember.

This is the lecturer who follows the same format from beginning to end and that format is … explanation.

Did you notice that instead of explaining what it means to explain something, I instead gave you examples of people who explain? I could have just explained it:

Explanation: statement or account that makes something clear

That definition is REALLY boring. <<<—- And that sentence (and this one) are the perfect examples of explanation. You really don’t need me to tell you any of this paragraph. As you see, explanation is usually unnecessary. We better try something else …

Are you an explanation addict?

You know that you’re falling into the explanation trap if you catch yourself trying to make a point, and then clarifying it, and then rewording it again and again. If you’re never satisfied with what you say, that’s a sure sign that you’re trying to explain something instead of “present” something.

Explanations usually focus on a mediocre speaker’s selfish need to perfect and articulate information in his or her own head rather than the inspirational speaker’s desire to “present” something the audience truly wants and craves from the audience perspective.

Here is a mediocre TV weatherman who is an explanation addict:

Tomorrow will be a nice day … nice, meaning a day you probably will like … maybe not perfect, but nice, you know … not to cold, not too hot, nice … you might prefer to call it a pleasant day … or comfortable … the dictionary defines NICE as agreeable, satisfactory …

Of course, if you’re mediocre enough to use such an ambiguous word as “nice,” some explanation will be required.

Building a Better Explanation

No speaker can avoid all explanations, but not all explanations are created equal:

  • Definitions
  • Descriptions
  • Comparisons
  • Visuals
  • Demonstrations
  • Analogies

I’ve created the above (incomplete) list of explanations in order of typical effectiveness.

The mediocre presenter inexplicably feels the need to EXPLAIN details that are irrelevant or obvious.

In 2007, apple began selling the iPhone. Before 2007, people didn’t have smart phones, or any phone with a touchscreen or internet which they could access by tapping the screen.

If you were in the audience do you really need the speaker to explain to you that once upon a time you didn’t have a smartphone? NO! DEFINING what a smartphone is and DESCRIBING how to use it is pure unnecessary EXPLANATION.

Giving that explanation makes you look less credible, less interesting, and more patronizing.

It might look obvious in my example, but I’ve heard nearly those exact words about the very subject of cell phones in numerous presentations.

DEFINITIONS and DESCRIPTIONS are usually the least effective explanations. If you must have descriptions, such as describing the setting of a story, make sure you use the SpeechDeck principles of color to make those descriptions more engaging.

Keep logical explanations simple:

Most of us didn’t have smart phones until at least 2007

That’s enough to raise the point that things have changed. We already know what that implies without having it explained to us.

If you really feel the need to drive home a point about not having smart phones, don’t explain it with a DEFINITION or DESCRIPTION, use one of the more effective types of EXPLANATIONS such as a DEMONSTRATION in which you could imitate using a 1990 style car phone in today’s world, or an ANALOGY:

In 1990 you probably had a VCR. Do you remember the video store charging you extra fee if you didn’t rewind? We didn’t have smartphones until the iPhone in 2007! Imagine using VHS tapes today, or 1990s style car phones today …

I hope you can see, without any commentary, how DEMONSTRATIONS and ANALOGIES almost always make less patronizing EXPLANATIONS than DESCRIPTIONS and DEFINITIONS.

The Weatherman

The simplest way for the amateur to rise above mediocrity is simply by replacing the long-winded definition with a COMPARISON:

Tomorrow will be a nice day … 5 degrees warmer than today.

A weatherman could take it up another notch with demonstration or analogy.

Weatherpeople on TV almost always use a visual representation of the forecast. Visual Aids are a type of DEMONSTRATION that is usually more effective than a mere verbal explanation. The most effective presenters make their DEMONSTRATIONS more creative.

I remember a few years ago, the most popular weatherman in my local area used to wear a white suit coat every time the forecast called for snow. That’s a DEMONSTRATION. That’s also why his station had the highest ratings — every other station just had a guy in a business suit saying it will probably snow.

So if I were coaching the weatherman on the ten o’clock news — a job that requires a lot of EXPLANATION, I would encourage him to spruce up his explanations with COMPARISONS, VISUALS, DEMONSTRATIONS, and lastly, ANALOGY:

Tomorrow’s going to be a nice day … like the sun wants to give you a big hug (5 degrees warmer).

Cheesiness is optional. I’m merely trying to illustrate that better explanations don’t put you to sleep.

You should try to avoid long explanations, whenever practical. The more you EXPLAIN, the more your whole presentation sounds the SAME, and the more you seem mediocre.

There are 5 types of illustrations that drive home your message. We’ve covered just one:

  1. Explanation

Next week we’ll talk about another illustration type that mediocre speakers butcher, the second E: Link here.

 

Weatherman image: Dave Scott by photographer Phil Konstantin (wikimedia)
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Why People Tune You Out

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People will tune you out when you act like a book. People will check out the cover, maybe pay attention to the inside of the jacket, and then close the cover, put you back on the shelf, and forget about you.

The most common reason people tune you out is predictability, I wrote about that months ago. Acting like a book, is a very close second on the list of what makes a mediocre public speaker.

If you act like a colorful picture book, you’ll be okay, but most mediocre speakers act like one of those long, poorly formatted, picture-less research studies that’s hardbound in a blank, solid cover.

Verbal communication and public speaking skills are not the same as writing skills.

How to Be a Book

The man in glasses shows a finger on the book on a white background

The first rule of being a book:

It’s the reader’s responsibility to understand

When your audience is reading, they have already committed to putting in the effort to read, think, and understand. Written communication has the advantage that you already know the reader is committed and engaged.

Second rule of being a book:

Give them lots of information

Nobody wants to buy a book and feel like they read 300 pages for nothing. You better include lots of great stats, lots of proofs and examples, and lots of details.

Readers expect to concentrate. They read and reread, backtrack and sometimes flip pages out of order. You better give them lots of information!

In other words the structure of a book might look something like this:

Agree with me message because …

  1. It’s convenient
  2. It’s easy
  3. It’s cool

My book above, is structured to give you three, or more reasons to agree with me. Most books have 7, 10 or even hundreds of tips, techniques, and arguments.

In a written message you want to say lots of things about your topic. The reader does all the work. The reader finds the parts that are most relevant, reads, rereads, and analyzes.

Don’t Be a Book!

If you want better verbal presentation skills, you can’t assume the audience will take on that responsibility. When you’re communicating verbally: DON’T BE A BOOK!

Don’t be a book. Don’t be an essay. Don’t be a research paper.

If you take “your book” and present it verbally, you present as if it’s the listener’s responsibility to do all the work. No offense, but even if you are a great speaker, trying to concentrate on your every word for more than a few minutes is exhausting.

First rule of NOT being a book:

It’s YOUR responsibility to make them understand

lessAs a public speaker, you’re listener doesn’t have the luxury of choosing when, how much, or how slowly they read. They only have one choice, listen or not to listen. Therefore, when presenting verbally it’s YOUR responsibility to make it easy.

Second rule of NOT being a book:

Don’t give them lots of information

The audience at your presentation, without written information, has no rewind, stop or pause buttons. The more information you give them, the harder you are forcing them to work. Good public speaking skills make it easier for the listener, not harder.

Whether it’s due to their laziness, your ambiguity, or a distraction, a listener only has to miss one step in your logic to subvert your good intentions. With no rewind button, everything you say after that missed step is pointless.

Either they get caught up  trying to understand something they missed, and you lose them. Or they stop trying, and you lose them. Either way, you lose them. They tune out.

Verbal Presentation Organization

The structure of a non-book (verbal presentation) requires that you narrow your presentation to the most relevant topic. Verbal presentations are ideal for this because you have the ability to interact:

“Tell me what’s most important to you?”

“Convenience!”

Let me show you three ways my idea is “convenient.”

1. Convenient because …
2. Convenient because …
3. Convenient because …

list-27221_640Notice that that verbal outline only covers one thing, even though the “book” version would cover 3, 5, of 10 things.

Nearly everyone who contacts me for public speaking coaching or speechwriting help has lots of great content–they have a “book.” Whether it’s officially published or not, they have a book’s worth of information.

Nearly every speech I review and evaluation includes the “3 ways” or the “7 steps” or “10 laws” and so forth.

I get it. Your product has 12 great features and you want to talk about all of them.

DON’T!

Pick one–the one that matters most to the listeners–and give me several examples that all illustrate that ONE thing.

If you ask professional speakers you’ll probably hear this rule of thumb

Say only one thing every 15 minutes.

No rule is hard and fast, but 10-15 minutes is a good ballpark.

If you really must tell me more than one thing, you can, but you need a lot more time. If you’re trying to show me all 12 things in 15 minutes you’re more than likely a mediocre speaker.

I’m lazy (and so are most listeners). I’ll pay attention to the first one (maybe) and then tune out.

If you really want to tell me all 12 things, you need at least two hours (12 times 10+ minutes each).

Conquer Public Speaking Mediocrity

oneWhat’s the difference?

In a book, you tell the reader THREE THINGS (or more). In a verbal presentation you tell the listener ONE THING three(or more) different ways.

Verbally you can’t tell them everything. You can’t give them all the information that’s in the book. See my previous posts about the big lie that you need more information.

This is so critically important that I need to repeat myself:

In a book, you tell the reader THREE THINGS (or more). In a verbal presentation you tell the listener ONE THING three (or more) different ways.

Lot’s of people know lots of great information. Lot’s of people can WRITE great content. But lot’s of people don’t condense that information correctly when they present verbally.

If you do, you will instantly become more clear, more memorable, and more successful at verbal communication. You will take your presentation from mediocrity to excellence.

In one of life’s great ironies, you may become a better writer when you say more, but you become a better speaker when you say less.

When your speaking, don’t be a book!

When you make it YOUR responsibility to keep the listener engaged you change everything.

Your “book” represents everything you know. It represents your contribution to your organization and customers. Your “book” is your expertise, talents, and value.

Know everything in the book, but don’t act like a book. Give them something a book can’t give–interaction.

Make a great impression interacting about ONE thing. When you prove one thing so thoroughly, you’ll leave a great impression, and leave the listener wanting more. When the audience wants more, they won’t tune out.

They’ll invest in YOU–they’ll buy the book.

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Myth-buster: Dress for Success

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You have an important presentation. You have to make a good impression. What do you wear?

I’m not a fashion consultant. My father gave me his fashion sense–I inherited the who-cares-about-the-paint-stains-it’s-still-a-good-shirt gene.

If you took fashion advice from me, you’d definitely “stand out.” I’m even colorblind. I can’t give you specifics about accessories and colors, but fortunately, I don’t need to be a fashion expert to answer the question in principle.

So what do you wear?

What NOT to Wear

320px-statelibqld_1_207213_a-_g-_murray_1901Years ago I began a job that gave me the opportunity to do training in US federal government agencies all over the USA. I was fortunate to get public speaking experience in front of audiences ranging from secret service agents, to smoke jumpers, to pencil pushers.

My first day training, I wore my best suit!
A few months later I quit wearing the coat.
Months later I wore just nice pants, nice shirt, and tie.
Months later I downgraded to cotton pants.
Months later I lost the tie …
… and kept it that way for the next 5 years.

It wasn’t just because I was uncomfortable. People actually liked me better, learned more, and gave me better evaluations when I DIDN’T wear the tie.

Something about the pretense of your “best” is just a pretense. Decades ago, this blog post would not have been the same, because US culture was different. But in 2017, at least in US culture, pretense is out, and “dressing for success” doesn’t mean what it used to.

Back when I still wore the tie, I happened to be at a US department of agriculture facility in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Just in case you’ve never worked for the US government, outside, in the sun, all year long, in the middle of the New Mexico desert, let me assure you: They don’t wear three-piece suits to work!

At the end of my seminar, I joked that because of my tie I was overdressed. The next thing I know, a man in the front row, opened up to me about how often “city-slickers” show up in their suits to give official presentations. According to this US government employee, guess what happens after the presenter leaves? They make fun of the guy in the suit!

Why? Because when you show up in a three-piece suit (or a little black dress) in the middle of the desert to talk to a bunch of people wearing blue jeans, everybody in the audience is feeling the same thing:

You’re not one of us!

By over-dressing (or under-dressing), you’re unintentionally sending the message that you are not part of the group. That unintentionally makes you less interesting and less persuasive.

The same thing happens when you’re the only one in a dress, or the only one in jeans, or the only one in shorts, the only one in a tee-shirt, the only one in makeup, etc.

What to wear?

So what do you wear? Easy:

Start with the same thing as everyone else.

The answer of what to wear is not about fashion. If you want to be an effective communicator, you don’t have to look the best, you just have to look normal.

Depending on to whom you are speaking, normal may be anything: a tux, a dress, blue jeans, boots, high heels, or anything else.

I’ve heard WAY too many people promote the myth that you should always dress for success. Technically, that’s true. You should dress for success, but dressing for success does not always mean dressing your BEST!

steve_jobs_wwdc07Why was a black turtleneck and jeans good enough for Steve Jobs? Because it was normal!

If your best does not fit in with the audiences version of “normal” you are breaking rapport with your audience. In that case, dressing your best will actually do you a disservice.

Standing on stage and talking about your imported designer shoes will give the wrong impression if your audience isn’t made up of the kind of people who also wear imported designer shoes. I’ve seen this happen. The audience politely ignores the shoes, and the speaker obliviously ignores the lack of rapport.

You must dress nice enough that they notice–so they know you care–but not extreme enough to be a distraction.

It’s true that scientific studies have shown that better looking, better dressed people can appear more trustworthy, more confident, more credible and smarter. In isolation, yes.

But in a public speaking or presentation situation, rapport is the more important goal. No amount of IQ points or trustworthiness will overcome a lack of rapport, and to build rapport you must mirror the audience. Mirror their words, mirror their attitudes, mirror their body language, and yes–mirror their attire.

Public Speaking Attire Rules

You can’t answer the question what to wear unless you know the audience. My rule of thumb is this:

Dress slightly nicer than the audience.

First, I have to know what the audience will wear. I mirror their attire in some way, so that I appear “normal.” That builds rapport. Whenever I’m hired to give a keynote or a seminar, one of the questions on my checklist is to ask the host what people in his or her organization will wear.

Second, I want the advantage that science tells me better dressed people achieve, so I take my wardrobe up just one notch–not all the way up–just enough that they know I’m supposed to be the center of attention, but not enough to break rapport.

Yes, there are exceptions. Just remember that the exceptions are always based not on what YOU think is appropriate, but based on what the AUDIENCE thinks is appropriate:

Nice and noticeable, but normal.

Don’t wear a three piece suit in a room full of agricultural field researchers.
Don’t wear a bathing suit to an awards ceremony.

Do dress for success.
Dress slightly nicer than the audience.
That’s how you’ll succeed.

Beyonce and Evangeline Lilly image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beyonce_and_Evangeline_Lilly.jpg
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3 Rules of PowerPoint Nirvana, part 2

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So you have to use a slide deck. You have some important information that you want people to remember and it needs to go on the big screen!

How do you do it right? How do you make sure that your presentation is closer to PowerPoint Nirvana than it is to PowerPoint Saṃsāra (aka:hell)?

Continue reading 3 Rules of PowerPoint Nirvana, part 2

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3 Rules of PowerPoint Nirvana

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PowerPoint makes most speakers worse. Let’s talk about how you use PowerPoint to make you better. All it takes is 3 simple rules.

The rules have nothing to do with fonts, point sizes, number of slides, number of words, colors, animations, or any of the typical advice you’ll see on most of the web. Continue reading 3 Rules of PowerPoint Nirvana

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