Tag Archives: presentation skills

Expertise + Soft Skills (especially Communication Skills) = Path to Success

I was reading this article, Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time?:  Don’t feel too sorry for graduate students. It’s worth it, by Daniel Lametti, and this grabbed my attention:

Even the Economist, despite its disdain for “pointless” Ph.D.s, likes to hire scientists. As the ad for their science-writing internship reads, “Our aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student or scientist than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist.”

Notice the formula:  expertise 1st, then writing talent.

This says two things.  Good communication skills without genuine expertise is just a little too short on substance.  Genuine expertise without good communication skills is just a little too incomprehensible.  Thus, the formula:

Expertise + Soft Skills (especially Communication Skills) = Path to Success. 

Karl Krayer and I present training on Writing Skills and Presentation Skills (actually, we both provide the Presentation Skills sessions; Karl leads the Writing Skills sessions) for all kinds of professionals.  Companies with engineers and scientists and “techies” hire us to help these folks become a little more “understandable.”  The reason is obvious.  Expertise that cannot be communicated is expertise that is not fully utilized.

I have no doubt that expertise is truly critical.  But there is a reason that Literature and Speech are “required courses” in practically every college degree program.  To be able to write clearly, and then to speak clearly, really is a job requirement, a “core competency,” in this hungry-for-good-information world.  The problem is that most students promptly forget what they learned in these classes, when they are immersed in their “real jobs.”  They tend to view their real jobs as the “work” they do, and they consider communicating their insight and findings as something of a “step-child,” kind of necessary “busy work,” but not critical to their job.

This is a mistake!  Communicating well is part of every job.  A failure to communicate leads to ripple effects that cause lost productivity, confusion… something close to “failure.”

Have you taken an inventory of your own skills?  If you have genuine expertise, do you write clearly?  Do you speak clearly?  If not, it’s time to work on these “soft,” but absolutely necessary, skills.


Contact me at , or call Karl at 972-601-1537, and we can bring this training into your company or organization.

From Winston Churchill and Walter Cronkite – Your Communication Tips of the Day

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Winston Churchill

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory.”
Winston Churchill

“And that’s the way it is.”
Walter Cronkite


Many famous people are buried beneath Westminster Abbey.  But, at Westminster Abbey, there is one plaque, prominenty on display, honoring someone who is not buried there:  Winston Churchill. (Read about it here).  Here’s what is on that plaque:



He deserves such recognition.  I’m not sure the country would have survived without him.  Especially without his words.

Winston Churchill at work

Last Saturday, NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday aired a segment on Winston Churchill:  Winston Churchill’s Way With Words by Tom Vitale.

It was a wonderful segment, with a reminder that Churchill may have saved England with the sheer brilliance (actually, “simple” brilliance) and power of his words, his speeches.

Here are some excerpts of the segment:

Winston Churchill wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he’d spend an hour working on a single minute of a speech.
Winston Churchill is best remembered as the British prime minister whose speeches rallied a nation under a relentless Nazi onslaught in World War II. But few people know that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature — in part for his mastery of speechmaking.
Now, a new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, Churchill: The Power of Words, holds a megaphone to Churchill’s extraordinary oratory.

In another landmark speech, Churchill proclaimed: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

Churchill wasn’t born a master orator — he overcame a childhood lisp by practicing enunciation.

On June 18, 1940, immediately after the fall of France, Churchill rallied the British people once more. With his characteristic Shakespearean gusto, he declared, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ “

On April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy summed up Churchill’s speechwriting achievements, saying, “In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone — and most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life — he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

He spent an hour on a minute of speech.  He used exactly the right word(s), the best word – the “simple” word.  “In a word, victory.”  It can’t be any clearer than that.

And he “practiced” enunciation to overcome a childhood lisp.  He worked hard to be easily understandable.

Walter Cronkite at work

That point reminds me of a specific detail about Walter Cronkite’s brilliance.  He wanted to be easily understood, and so he developed the skill of speaking slowly enough to be easily understood.  This is from the Wikipedia page about Cronkite (but I’ve read it elsewhere also):

Walter Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult-to-understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute.

So, here are your three presentation skills tips for the day:

#1 – Learn to say what you have to say with the fewest number of clear and easy-to-grasp words. Work! on the right word choice.  (Churchill took an hour to write one minute’s worth of text).

#2 – Practice your enunciation.  The only test is this:  are you easily understood?

#3 – Slow down in your speaking.  Say your words slowly enough to be easily understood.  Again, the only test is this:  are you easily understood?

And, a reminder that goes without saying – getting good at genuinely effective communication is not all that easy.  It takes time, and work, and long-term focus, and…

Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, with the Presentation Tutorial of the Day

Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston, and Vince Gilligan (the creator of the series)

I’ve never watched Breaking Bad.  Barely heard of it (though, I have heard the lead actor interviewed twice in recent days).  But here is an article about how it nearly did not ever get off the ground, by the creator, Vince Gilligan: I Almost Broke Bad:  The creator of the award-winning Breaking Bad explains how his show almost didn’t happen.

Here’s how Vince Gilligan described what he had to do in front of the executives, the small and select audience (in fact, an audience of two:  Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, the co-heads of Sony Television) who would decide yes or no on his idea.  I’ve bolded the key lines, for those of us in the communication business, those of us who have to communicate our ideas – and, don’t we all?!

I spent several more weeks expanding my 15-minute thumbnail into a full-fledged, 30-minute rundown of the first episode. This is called a “pilot pitch,” and it’s something you do verbally, acting it out for various stone-faced executives. There’s an art to it: Maintain eye contact, exude boundless enthusiasm, and never, ever refer to your notes. Have the entire thing memorized backward and forward so that you can toss it off with the aplomb of David Niven on The Dick Cavett Show. For me, that’s one tall order. But I gave it the old college try.

So, here’s your presentation tutorial for the day:

#1 — Maintain eye contact.  Look your audience members in the eye – eyeball to eyeball.  In order to persuade anyone of anything, you have to connect.  A failure to maintain eye contact is a sure fire way to fail to connect.

#2 – Exude boundless enthusiasm.  This is not what you would call new advice.  Aristotle referred to pathos, what speech teachers commonly call “the emotional appeal,” as one of the three primary means of persuasion.  (The other two, from Aristotle, are logosthe logical appeal, and ethosthe ethical appeal, referring to the character, and especially the credibility of the speaker).  Others added mythosthe narrative appeal to the ancient formula).  It boils down to this:  if you’re not enthusiastic – very! enthusiastic —  about what you are proposing, how can you expect your audience to be enthusiastic?

#3 — Have the entire thing memorized backward and forward…   In other words, know your material so well, so thoroughly, that it’s beyond second nature.  It is practically “first nature.”  This message is actually you! – you in a message, presenting a presentation coming from the depths of what is deep inside of you.  This is you speaking — the real you , the “authentic” you.  If you are just “presenting a presentation” rather than speaking from the depths of the inside of you, it will come across as a “job,” a job to present “this presentation.”  And such a “job, presenting a presentation,” comes across as a distant second to the person who is able to speak from the depths of his or her very being.

Oh, and by the way, did you notice?:  Vince Gilligan did not mention PowerPoint at all.  It was him:  his body, his words, in front of a very interested audience.  Nothing else.  If you insist on Powerpoint, make sure that it is just an aid.  You – yes, you yourself – are the presentation!

Quite a challenge — and quite a tutorial, don’t you think?

Don’t Mumble – Your Communication Tip of the Day (One Reason why Todd Bradley is not the CEO of HP)

This is big.  Assuming you have something worthwhile to say when you are giving a presentation, don’t mumble!  Make sure you pronounce your words clearly.  Clearly!; fully; every syllable; especially every ending consonant.

Don’t mumble!  Not ever.

Here is a paragraph about the “who will be the next HP CEO” battles to remind you that mumbling is really not a good thing.  (from the article:  How Hewlett-Packard lost its way).  Note the phrase in bold.

Four internal aspirants stepped forward. The strongest was Todd Bradley, the head of HP’s personal computer group. His group generated $41 billion in annual revenue and had tripled its profitability during his tenure. But Bradley had shortcomings. His critics said he tended to mumble in presentations… (emphasis added) 

The article mentions other shortcomings, but being good in front of people is a big-time trait for a leader.  And being easy to understand plays an incredibly important part in this.  DON’T MUMBLE!  If you do mumble, learn to quit mumbling.  Then quit mumbling.

If you have a problem mumbling, and you don’t know it, you don’t acknowledge it, then I can’t help you.  But if you mumble, and you know it, it’s time to get to work.

This only takes a few minutes a day – if you stick to it!  Print out your favorite poem, your favorite Psalm, your favorite song lyric, mark it up with a great big slash between words, and read it aloud one-word-at-a-time.  Put your lips fully together in between each word to force yourself to practice saying each word fully, and then stopping (ask yourself – “Did I pronounce this word fully?”); then, and only then, do you read the next word.  Read at least one selection once a day, one-word-at-a-time, for a month.  At the end of the month, you have a shot at mumbling less.  At the end of many months, you will be speaking much more clearly.  If you work at it, meaning practice, every day!

Here are some exercise sheets to get you started.  Print them out, and start – today.

Click on image for full, printable view — page 1 of 3

page 2 of 3

page 3 of 3

Once you quit mumbling and you speak each word fully and completely, then you can work on other vocal traits that you need to master.  Like:  never speak in a monologue; instead speak with vocal variety and verbal punch.

But first, you’ve got to get rid of your mumbling.

Never Speak with your Back to the Audience – One of Three Use-of-Powerpoint Suggestions

(First, a confession.  I’m not much of a fan of Powerpoint.  I seldom use it (actually, I prefer Keynote), and when I do, it is mostly images, and mostly to introduce my speech/presentation.  So, take this as criticism from one who is not a fan).

Here is the deal.  You should speak to your audience.  So look your audience members in the eye.  Eyeball to eyeball.  You are not speaking to a projection screen, you are speaking to people.  So look at the people – eyes front at all times!, toward your audience members.  They, and they alone, are your audience.

Have you watched any TED talks?  The speakers always look in the direction of their audience.  Yes, they have a pretty big budget, with multiple monitors in front of the speakers.  But the principle is crystal clear – eyes front!

Never stand facing this direction

Recently, I saw again what I have seen too many times to mention.  A speaker was presenting a report to a room full of folks.  For practically the entire time, he stood facing the screen, with his back to his audience, reading the slides at times almost word for word.


So – here are your communication tips of the day, for when you speak with PowerPoint or Keynote slides.

#1 — Never speak with your back to the audience.  Not one word.  Look at your audience at all times, and not, not ever!, at the screen.

#2 — Never have a chart or graph on a PowerPoint slide that is too small for the audience to read easily.  If you just have to have it on the screen, even if it is too small to read, make sure your audience members have a copy in their own hands that they can read clearly and easily.

#3 – Darken the screen when you want your audience to pay more attention to you directly.  Do this frequently throughout your presentation.  In other words, be in control of the eyeball direction of your audience members.  When you want them looking at the screen, then have a slide on the screen.  When you want them looking at you, darken the screen.

Instead, stand facing this direction

All of this should remind you that PowerPoint slides are not the presentation.  They are presentation aidsYou are presenting your presentation.  So look your audience members in the eye, speak directly to them, every minute, every word of your presentation.

(And, read my earlier blog post, A Set of PowerPoint Slides is NOT a “presentation” – a rant)

What we can learn about Corporate Training Programs from The King’s Speech

The King had a speech deficiency.  He spoke poorly.  He stammered.  Badly.  He needed to speak well.  His people needed him to speak well.  And he took the steps (the many, many hours of steps!) to learn how to speak better.  And then, he spoke better.  Maybe not perfectly – but noticeably better.

The King and his Coach

Yes, I’m a little behind in my movie watching.  I just watched The King’s Speech.  Winner of four Oscars, including best picture and best actor, it is the touching story of one man’s bold and consistent attempts to overcome a speech deficiency.  The man happened to be the King.  And, after trying a plethora of speech therapists and speech coaches, his wife finally dragged him to a rather strange, but successful, speech therapist/coach.

But, notice the obvious.  The King did not go to one weekend seminar, or one month’s worth of classes, and then master this skill.  His new-found teacher, Lionel Logue, was at his side time and time and time again.  With drills, and rehearsals, and coaxing, and coaching, and encouraging, and correcting, over and over and over again.

And in the hour of his most important speech, at the beginning of the Second World War, the King ordered “Get me Logue.”

Yes, I read up on the facts behind the movie, and yes, the film makers took some dramatic liberties and truncated some of the chronology.  But the real story makes the same point:  Logue worked with, very closely with!, the King, for a long period of years – many years!

In other words, a weekend seminar has little chance (let’s make that practically no chance) to bring about the changes and learning needed for so many jobs.  Successful training is not a one-day-seminar thing.

I occasionally read an article that paints a pretty dismal picture of the value of corporate training – some form of the “training doesn’t work” argument.  But, we already all know this.  Deep in our hearts, we know that it takes a rare (very rare!) pupil to go to a seminar, or read a book, and then successfully implement all of its recommended job-improvement changes.  It takes reinforcement, repetition, constant reminding, refreshers, and one-on-one coaching for the mere mortals among us.

Oh, the weekend seminars, the day long workshops, can be great starting places.  And the good leader/manager can identify the ones who are “good targets” for the next steps by the way they “return” from such training opportunities.  But it is in the next steps that the needed improvement comes.

And those steps must be repeated, over a long haul.

Corporate training does not fail.  Corporate training without a lot – a whole lot! – of targeted follow-up fails.

The King had a speech deficiency.  He spoke poorly.  He stammered.  Badly.  He needed to speak well.  His people needed him to speak well.  And he took the steps (the many, many hours of steps!) to learn how to speak better.  And then, he spoke better.  Maybe not perfectly – but noticeably better.

It took many, many hours of coaching (years!) for the King to get better.  I suspect there are things we all need to work on for many, many hours — even years.  That’s one lesson I got from watching The King’s Speech.


As they introduced the Best Picture nominees, the Academy Awards played the words of the King’s speech behind the full montage.  Here it is.  A terrific montage!