by Terry Gault

Just saw this piece and felt it was worth sharing with our readers.  What’s surprising is that the survey revealed that 20% of respondents would rather lose the respect of colleagues than deliver a presentation.  That’s a sad statistic.  ;-(

Seventy percent of employed Americans who give presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their success at work, according to a new Prezi survey. My first reaction? The other 30% don’t know it yet…

The fear of presenting is very real among professionals in corporate America today, so much so that that many people are desperate to avoid it. It’s a problem because the survey also reveals that telling a clear and persuasive story through presentations is a fundamental job requirement and a necessary component of career success. In the information age you are only as valuable as the ideas you have to share. Poor presentation skills mean that leaders fail to inspire their teams, products fail to sell, entrepreneurs fail to attract funding, and careers fail to soar. That seems like a big price to pay for neglecting such a basic skill that anyone can improve upon.

There is hope for anyone who wants to improve at this critical career skill and, according to the Prezi survey, plenty of people want help. Seventy-five percent of those who give presentations say they would like to be better at presenting and to ‘captivate the audience.’ One way to improve presentation skills is simply to watch great presentations. Thanks to sites like, anyone with an Internet connection and a computer or mobile device can watch the world’s most awe-inspiring presentations delivered in 18-minutes.

Cont. at



On October 8, 2014 in Atlanta at Xamarin’s Evolve conference, I delivered a talk titled: “Unleash Your Inner Evangelist”.

If you watch it, what will you get?

You will:

  • Experience a compelling story about how nervous I was during my first high-stakes professional presentation.
  • Be guided through a visualization that will help you feel less nervous (or not at all) during your next high-stakes presentation.
  • Learn the elements of a high-impact story that will engage your audience’s attention and make your message sticky.
  • Understand how to structure your presentation so that your message is clear and memorable and ensure that your audience pays attention.

It’s one hour and 15 minutes long, so, if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip ahead to 47:27 where Pavan volunteers to be coached in front of a room of about 100 strangers.  It’s pretty magical how this guy transforms in front of the room.  I was so proud.


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Denise Green of Brilliance Inc.


Fragile Beginnings

Recently, a client of mine told me he was a little embarrassed about taking criticism personally. He felt that, at his level in the organization, he should have tougher skin, so to speak.

I asked him, “So, do you think you’re unusual for taking criticism personally?”

I assured him that every client I’ve ever worked with, no matter how amazing, successful, and outwardly confident they appear, feels the sting of criticism.

And there are good reasons why. One is that they care; they want to do excellent work and be seen as capable, competent, well-intentioned people. But there’s a deeper reason: humans are biologically wired to take things personally.

Human beings are one of the only animals on the planet who are dependent on others for more than a decade after birth. Sea turtles, for example, are born alone in the sand and left to dodge predators while scurrying for the deep. Only a fraction of the turtles make it, yet there are no turtle psychologists or self-help books for the survivors—just hard shells.

As infants we learn how to connect and communicate so we get basic care. As a result of this early fragility, nearly every human suffers at some level from two basic fears: I’m not good enough, and I will never be loved.

These fears plague us to varying degrees depending on our upbringing and our current mental and emotional state (e.g. how much sleep we’ve had, or how much stress we feel).

Some people try to develop virtual hard shells so they feel the sting less intensely or less often, but there’s a significant cost to this approach. Because we can’t filter which emotions we feel, we sacrifice real connection with all our emotions. They risk losing the ability to authentically and fully connect with other people. They risk losing the ability to feel joy and meaning.

There’s a better way to deal with these universal fears.

Here are steps you can take to develop emotional resilience:

1. Notice & Name:

Instead of immediately attaching negative meaning to your reaction, just notice it and name it for what it is—your adaptive “I’m not enough” story.

Then take a deep breath and

2. Assess:

Ask yourself,

  • How have I personalized this in ways that aren’t grounded in facts? (e.g., what assumptions am I making?)
  • How might this person be triggered? (What might they fear?)
  • How can I respond to their best intention with the best in me, and mitigate their fear?
  • What piece of the criticism resonates and how can I use it to grow?

3. Re-Orient:

Remind yourself of the truth. Come up with your own handy mantra that’s easy to remember and brings you a sense of relief from the “unworthy” story. It could be as simple as “This is just a story that no longer serves me.” I have one client that tells her inner infant to “Shut up.”

4. Be Transparent (Without being emotional):

Be honest with others and say something like “I realize that I’m taking this personally and I don’t think that’s your intent.” Then take a breath and respond from the part of you that knows that you are both divine.

5. Thank Them

Yes, thank them for their criticism. While it may not take courage to anonymously blast someone online, when someone shares their perceptions about us directly, it’s a gift, even if it wasn’t shared in the most gracious way.

No Shame Required

The more you practice these steps the easier it will be to shift your emotional state to one that’s more authentically confident, where you confidently assess your strengths and weaknesses without judgment.

The Antidote

Now that you know that the rest of humankind is taking things personally too, why not give someone some genuine praise today? Trust me, they don’t hear it enough. Start with yourself.

Books and articles:

This may be the best article ever written about how fear triggers our brain and what to do about it.

“No matter what problem might arise in a relationship, the first step toward solving it generally involves redirecting your attention — usually outward to the other person.”

- Winefred Galagher, RAPT


photo credit: woodleywonderworks and Celestine Chua

Share has some good basics to better storytelling via Kevin Spacey – yes, that Kevin Spacey:

“Isn’t good storytelling just luck and a guessing game?” he asked. “No. Good content marketing is not a crap shoot—it has always been about the story.”

Then Spacey shared his three key elements that make better stories:

1. Conflict: “Conflict creates tension and keeps people engaged, and the best stories are filled with characters that take risks and court drama,” Spacey said. “It’s the decisions that characters make in the face of these challenges that keep us glued to our seats.”

It’s also true in advertising, he suggested, noting Nike’s ability to play off the tensions found amid our own aspirations. “They channel the voice in the back of our heads—get your ass off the couch,” he said.

Illustrating from his own life, Spacey described the past 10 years of his life working as artistic director of the Old Vic theatre, in London, as one of the most fulfilling periods of his life. “I am a better actor today than when I started,” he said.

Tradition held that instead of the theater, Spacey should have kept making movies and lots of money for his agents. But he decided that tackling the unexpected would be more rewarding. This holds true for the stories we tell, as well. “Our stories become richer, and become far more interesting, when they go against the settled order of things to achieve the unexpected,” Spacey said.

2. Authenticity: Spacey’s next point was a vote for authenticity and truth in storytelling. The actor recalled the time Volkswagen first began selling the Beetle in the U.S. The German manufacturer took some risks by bucking the big-car trend. But rather than hide the Beetle’s small dimensions, it emphasized cost and parking advantages in a successful advertising program.

“Yes, I’m cheaper, more economical, and squeeze into any space I want!” Spacey said. “The truth? Face up to it. Consumers appreciate this authenticity.”

Continue story at>>

Our Resource for Super Storytelling >>

Photo Credit: Paul Hudson


by Chuck Kuglen

Google is pretty smart as a company. But as companies go, they too have a lot of morons working there. Let’s not take them too seriously as they begin to get into virtually every aspect of our lives. A “very” well qualified friend recently told me, for example, that one of their “People leaders” told him they did not want him to meet his hiring manager early in the hiring process. They said it might “taint” the initial overviews he’d already passed! He laughed at that.  They were all about 20-something and this guy was one of the most critical Finance people who helped build Apple. Anyway, thank God others in that company have sense, we know a few of them. This guy, Laszlo Bock, for example, has a lot to say about resume etiquette. Enjoy the Trade Show season!

In the interest of helping more candidates make it past that first resume screen, here are the five biggest mistakes I see on resumes.

Mistake 1: Typos. This one seems obvious, but it happens again and again. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 58% of resumes have typos.

In fact, people who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error, because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune your resume just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don’t match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment. I see this in MBA resumes all the time. Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality. The fix?

Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation. Or have someone else proofread closely for you.

Mistake 2: Length. A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every ten years of work experience. Hard to fit it all in, right? But a three or four or ten page resume simply won’t get read closely. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you. Think about it this way: the *sole* purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. That’s it. It’s not to convince a hiring manager to say “yes” to you (that’s what the interview is for) or to tell your life’s story (that’s what a patient spouse is for). Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview. Once you’re in the room, the resume doesn’t matter much. So cut back your resume. It’s too long.

Mistake 3: Formatting. Unless you’re applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible. At least ten point font. At least half-inch margins. White paper, black ink. Consistent spacing between lines, columns aligned, your name and contact information on every page. If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview. Formatting can get garbled when moving across platforms. Saving it as a PDF is a good way to go.

Read more from Laszlo Bock on Resume Mistakes at LinkedIn>>

photo credit: resume-wizard


by Terry Gault

This question often comes up in my conversations with clients. Speaking in front of a group of people, it’s easy to feel exposed and self-conscious—which tends to exacerbate any anxiety we may feel about how we represent ourselves or how we feel about the strength of our content. The main goal is learning to be self-aware (so that we know how we are representing ourselves) and can make choices in the moment.

Here are some tips I recommend about what to do with your hands while on stage:

1. Bigger Is better.

Try using broader gestures. They draw the eye and project dynamism. Develop a vocabulary of gestures. They are both an effective and efficient way to communicate.

An example where more dynamic gestures will fit is when you provide the audience with a list as in, “The first point that is important is… The second point is…” Often, presenters will use what I call the Small List. Their elbows are close to their body, and their hands are within the silhouette of their body—this posture is not visually compelling to an audience. Instead, you should use gestures to visually separate the various items on your list, as though you are drawing out a spreadsheet or table in the air.

2. Stay open, not closed.

Some presenters hold their hands in the “prayer” or “professor” position. This always seems either awkward or pretentious to me. Others bring their hands in front of them, like this:

Another common phenomenon is what I call “T-Rex Arms.” In this case, the speaker is gesturing, but their elbows don’t leave their sides. This makes them seem stiff and constrained rather than free and open.

Any closed posture projects the need to protect one’s self. It raises the question in the minds of the audience, “Why do you feel the need to protect yourself?” Open postures project a sense of openness, power, and confidence.

3. Practice stillness.

Some speakers have fidgety hands, which makes them look nervous and unsure of themselves. When not gesturing, try letting your hands just fall in a relaxed way to your side. This will project more openness to your audience. In addition, your hands won’t distract from your message. But be careful about letting your hands slap back to your sides when you’re done with your gestures. Work to sustain the energy of the gesture while letting your hands smoothly descend all the way back to your sides. You may even try leaving your hands in a sustained gesture.

The fundamental truth I learned in my acting training is that our emotions are driven by our actions.  Hence, when we behave in a way that represents ourselves as confident and powerful, we will actually start to feel confident and powerful.

Incorporating these behaviors into your practice will drive that result—more confidence and power.  So go forth—and let your hands help do the talking!


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tim Cigelske

Don’t be put off by those who text or tweet when you speak.

It’s not easy speaking to an audience of people who appear to be distracted by their cell phones, or are clattering away on their laptops or burying their heads in their iPads. We have all been to conferences where people seemed to pay more attention to their electronic devices than to the live person on the podium. As smartphones connect people to their busy lives, this phenomenon will only become more common.

It is tempting to address this issue by trying to ban cell phones at presentations and imposing what author and speaker Scott Berkun calls “a fantasy of obedience” on an audience. But this rarely works.

“Fundamentally, this problem is ageless,” Berkun writes on his website, “It has always been very hard to keep the attention of any group of people — at any age, at any time.”

The distraction epidemic calls for a different type of approach — one that can engage people, not just force them to stare silently. Here is what you can do to capture the attention of a distracted audience.

Let Down Your Guard
What’s the first thing you normally hear when someone is giving a speech? “Please turn off all cell phones.” The last thing you want is to have your cutesy ringtone interrupt the speaker. Author and social media expert Chris Brogan turns this decree on its head during his speaking appearances. “Why is it so quiet in here?” he asked the audience at a presentation I attended in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “This isn’t church. Go ahead and turn on your cell phones. Send tweets. Post to Facebook. Do what you have to do.”

This accomplished two things. First, it established a rapport between the speaker and the audience by creating an informal, friendly setting. Given the choice, most people would rather chat informally with a friend than be required to sit at attention during a speech. People tend to remember interactions with friends, so turn your speech into something that resembles that situation.

The second thing Brogan achieved was the creation of another potentially vast audience. By encouraging people to tweet and post on Facebook, he was expanding his reach far beyond the room. Additionally, audience members who participate this way during presentations become more engaged and attentive; they focus on conveying the speaker’s main points for the digital sound bites they post for social media users.

Another benefit: By reading these posts later, the speaker gets instant feedback and sees what was most memorable to the audience or what may have fallen flat.

Public speaking coach and trainer Lisa Braithwaite says some people learn best by doing something else while listening, whether it’s doodling or using a phone. She assumes the best intentions when she spots someone on his or her phone while she’s speaking.

“I tend to take a positive view that this is a person who’s taking notes, [or] tweeting what a great speaker I am, or is someone who needs to do something with their hands to pay attention,” she says.

Sometimes she has been surprised by what registered with people who seemed to be distracted during her speech. “The same people who didn’t make eye contact or looked down would come up to me afterward and tell me they learned a lot from the presentation.”

Encourage Participation
When I began researching this article, I gave a speech to my Toastmasters club and instructed audience members to act distracted — or to actually distract themselves. They excelled at this, surfing the Web and holding conversations with each other. Some even took photographs with a flash. At one point, I took a break and invited the group to discuss how a speaker might engage a distracted audience. Members were then able to focus on the topic of distraction. Requesting audience participation had helped.

“I like that you asked us to answer a question,” one club member said. “It kept us engaged and comfortable.”

It’s a good thing to remember: When audiences are involved, they are more engaged. You want audience members to become companions as you lead them to the final destination or purpose of your speech. When I was a college freshman, one of my English professors insisted on a regular two-minute “talk break” during every 50-minute class period, no matter how busy we were. At first it seemed a little forced to stop discussing Macbeth or Beowulf to talk about our weekends with the person next to us. But over time it helped us bond, and ultimately the classroom became a better environment for learning.

Braithwaite, who is based in Santa Barbara, California, does the same thing with her audiences if she notices that something resonates with them and they start talking among themselves. She’ll encourage audience members to turn to their neighbor to share a story or an example related to that particular topic. Braithwaite calls that a positive distraction.

“Make use of their distraction and include it in the presentation,” she says of audience members who are chatting with each other about what you’re saying. “You don’t want to punish them for being interested and wanting to engage more.”

Be the Guide
A few years ago I attended a speech by someone involved in education reform. What I remember was a phrase she used: “The teacher needs to become less of the sage on the stage and more of the guide on the side.” Braithwaite reinforces that idea, saying a relaxed speaking environment is more productive and enjoyable for the audience.

“When I was in school, you got in trouble if you did anything but face forward and look at the teacher,” she says, “and that’s just ridiculous. It’s not human.”

For speakers, too, it is best to relax and not judge the appearance of an audience — or more precisely, the appearance of electronic devices in an audience. When you speak to a group of people, it is about making a connection and giving the audience something tangible to take away.

You can find a connection, even amid the clattering of laptops and flashes of iPhone screens.


photo credit: Joi Ito


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kimberly Davis of  Onstage Leadership

Oh my gosh.  Night-before-last I did the parent-thing that I swore I’d never do.  My kiddo was talking a million miles an hour and I was….well yes, I was on Facebook…and according to witness testimony, I was nodding and smiling and responding to what he was telling me.  Ten minutes later my kiddo came back into the room and made reference to what he had said earlier and I turned to my husband and said, “Did he just say he was  performing a piano solo in the camp show?”  My husband said, “Yes.  He told you that ten minutes ago.  You even said, “That’s great, Jeremy!  I’m so proud of you!”

I have no memory of that exchange.  None.  I’d swear it didn’t happen, except my husband assures me it did.

I’m a bit horrified  Horrified for many reasons, among them:

(a) I was so not-present during this conversation (yes, the woman who teaches the importance of being present )

(b) That in the midst of being so not-present, apparently I was faking being present (yup, that’s right, the authenticity-chick…)

The irony of it all.

Here’s the thing.  What I’ve come to realize is that no matter how much I learn and practice and commit to being my best,  I mess up sometimes.  It happens.  It’s part of the being-human-thing.  Oh by the way, you do too.  It’s nothing personal.  We all do.

So last night, as I started writing this post, I was committing to being better!  To being more present!  To being Super Mom!

And I caught myself doing it again.  As I’m writing my blog post about not being present with Jeremy, he’s talking to me and I wasn’t being present with Jeremy.  It wasn’t work hours, it was Jeremy-time, and I wasn’t there.

“Blah, blah, blah… Minecraft….blah, blah…my castle….Mom?  Mom!  Are you listening?”

No.  No, I wasn’t.

“Sorry, Honey.”  I closed my laptop and gave him my full attention.

The irony of it all.

Thankfully for me, I suspect I’ll get many opportunities to practice being more present with Jeremy.  I sincerely hope I improve – as I the legacy I want to leave with him is that he’s worth it to me – to be present.  That I’m interested in what he has to say.  That he’s important.

But I know this isn’t true for many employees.  What I’ve heard from participants over, and over, and over again, is that if their leaders aren’t present, they won’t come back for more.  They stop bringing ideas.  They stop sharing their challenges and their wins.  They stop turning to their leaders for support.  They stop caring.  At least about their leader.

You see, when people sense that we’re not invested in them – that they’re not important enough – they stop investing in us.

As a leader, can you afford that?

Being present is probably one of the hardest things in the world to do.  It’s hard to do as a parent.  It’s hard to do as a leader.  Heck, it’s hard to do as a human!  We’ve got so many things competing for our attention!

But it’s worth it.

When I tucked Jeremy in bed last night, I asked him, “What was the best part of your day today, Honey?”

“Playing piano at the camp show was awesome!”

“It was!  You rocked!”

“But my next favorite thing, Mommy….showing you my cool castle on Minecraft.  I really liked that.”

“Me too, Honey”, I said – so glad I had shut my laptop.

It’s worth it.


photo credit: Scott Robinson


When I hear people using the phrase ”dumb down” as in “I need to dumb this topic down”, I wonder, “Do they really think their audience is dumb?  Or are they not smart enough to know how to simplify your message to suit the target audience?  In which, case who should ‘dumb’ be applied to here?”

The phrase is insulting to the audience and it doesn’t say much for the user either.  The phrase signifies that the speaker isn’t approaching the matter with the right ‘frame’.  The frame they need instead of “dumb down” is “simplify.”

Simplifying your topic so that the audience ‘gets it’ is a sure sign of intelligence in the speaker.

My recommendation to my clients is beautifully articulated by noted smart guy Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

One step that I invariably apply with all my clients when working on an important message is to help them distill their message down to one compelling sentence.  I call it the Main Takeaway Sentence.

For example, in the most viewed TED talk of all time (28 million views and counting), Sir Ken Robinson clearly articulates his Main Takeaway Sentence when he says, “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

In a business setting, the Main Takeaway Sentence also has to answer the question that all audience members are asking: WIIFM or what’s-in-it-for-me?
Here are some examples from some recent coaching sessions with clients:
  • If you can authentically acknowledge someone at a deep level, you can sell to them and the whole process will feel easy and fun.
  • The new features of Xamarin 3 will make developing applications easier, faster, and more enjoyable.
  • To execute a successful Agile transformation, you must start with the big picture and look at each and every part of the organization in order to get it right.
Once you have defined the Main Takeaway Sentence, you have achieved two key objectives:
  1. You understand your message at the simplest level.
  2. You have a very clear editing criteria: Does this piece (slide, story, image, etc.) illustrate or support my Main Takeaway Sentence?
    If not, the piece doesn’t belong and should be cut.
    If you have too much material and it all fits the Main Takeaway Sentence, then simply pick the strongest points that are most likely to shift your audience point of view.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

If you apply this practice regularly, I predict you’ll find the phrase ”dumb down” just as ridiculous as I do.

Author’s Postscript: This is the fourth in a series of Pet Peeves.  While the title includes “#5″, the numbering is NOT to be interpreted as any sort of ranking.  We’ll eventually aggregate my Pet Peeves into a ranked list.  I feel fairly confident this will be the first of many and a Top 10 List will not be hard to compile.  (Aarrgghh!!)

More Pet Peeves >>