The #1 Skill of a Great Presenter

The Wedding Singer Paradox

I have been told that when I stand in front of an audience and deliver a presentation that I appear confident and unfazed by the size of the group I am speaking to. I think this is true because of four things:

  1. I know the topic really well.
  2. I have studied and practiced and I am ready to deliver.
  3. I am energized and excited to share with the audience what I know
  4. I am completely aware that I could be wrong – i.e. there are other smart people in the room!

By being competent and prepared and knowing that I have what it takes to deliver this message, I am confident and energized. By keeping in mind that there are other smart people in the room and I might not know everything there is to know on this subject, I infuse enough humility to ward off the appearance of arrogance that many speakers adopt as they grow in their expertise.

The Wedding Singer Paradox

So, with all that said, why did I waiver when asked to sing at a friends wedding this past weekend? Isn’t singing just another form of public speaking which I DO FOR A LIVING?? Yes and No!

Yes, there is an audience. Yes, I am prepared. Yes, there is a message to deliver. But, NO, it is not the same as doing a standup presentation. Why is that? Because singing is a skill that you either have or you don’t have. Everyone can speak, some better than others, but we all speak. Singing is judged! (think Reality TV shows). There is no “America’s Got Speaking Skills” TV Show, is there??

The Greatest Skill of All

Fortunately, in my early public speaking days I had a coach observe me and provide me feedback. What he shared with me changed my life as a professional speaker and this weekend, made even singing for people an enjoyable event. The greatest skill that I think a professional speaker (or an amateur singer) can possess is to remember that everyone in your audience is tuned to the same station – WII-FM (“What’s In It For Me”). They are not there to evaluate how you look, or sound, or how smart you are, which is where my brain instinctively wants to go. No, they are there for bigger reasons than YOU.

As I arrive at every venue where I will speak (or sing this past weekend) I arrive early enough to walk the room and ask myself, what is my message for this audience today? What nugget can I give them that will help them grow and be better? In the case of the wedding song, as much as I want to give a good performance and for everyone to be in awe of me and my talent, I forced my brain to think about the bride and groom and that this was their special day. No one, not one person, was there to see me sing. So I asked myself, what is the message of this song as it relates to the couple at the altar? What truth could this song provide to the 100+ people in the audience?

As the couple moved to light the unity candle and I walked to the microphone to deliver the song I had one last thought – let this be meaningful for those that need this message today. It’s not about me.

It’s Not About You!

The beauty of developing this skill is that after the performance you don’t have a need for people to flock to you and tell you how great you did. Although some will, and that feels good, it’s not what’s important. It’s not about the song, or my skill. It’s about the message and adding value to the lives of the people who were in that room on that day.

Keep your focus off of you and you can do amazing things in front of audiences of any size….whether your are speaking or singing.

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10 Half-truths About High Engagement Leadership

Many leaders have the best intentions when it comes to how they lead and engage their teams. But, employee engagement worldwide is at the lowest levels in years. Why is that? Well, it is mostly because you cannot be successful on what you intend to do, only what you actually do. And doing it half-way won’t get your there either.

Are you guilty of any of these half-truths?

1. My people understand that I have a very demanding job.

This may be true, but what they also know is that where you spend your time is an indicator of what you value most. And if it is not with them then you risk disengaging your team. Demanding job or not, make time, regular time to spend with each individual on your team.

2. My people know that I need them.

This may be true, but do you value them? Needing someone is more about you and meeting your needs. Valuing them is more about them and will lead to a highly engaged team. Not feeling valued is the #1 reason people disengage and eventually leave their jobs.

3. My people know that I care about them.

This may be true, but do you show care to them on a regular basis? Care is in the eye of the beholder. What may be received as care by one person might be an annoyance to another. If you are caring for people in the way that you feel cared for you may be missing the mark. Learn what shows care to each individual and DO THAT.

4. My people know that I appreciate their need to be autonomous.

This may be true, but do you truly allow them to be autonomous? Micro-managing your team can lead to animosity and most likely a disengaged teammate. Provide guidance and offer help, but let people do the job you hired them to do.

5. My people are clear on my expectations of them.

This may be true, but do you frequently review expectations and results with the individuals on your team? Maintaining a constant dialog of what you expect and how they are doing against those expectations is important to high engagement.

6. My people understand that I give feedback when I can.

This may be true, but not giving feedback, for whatever reason, is a sure way to lose the engagement of your team. Feedback (what you are doing well and where you need to improve) is a key factor in showing people you value them. Value me = high engagement from me!

7. My people understand that I give coaching when I can.

This may be true, but if you don’t have time to coach me and help me improve then what am I doing here? People are motivated and engaged when they are moving toward mastery. Your willingness to coach shows you value their mastery too.

8.My people understand that I make the decisions

This may be true, but when you don’t expect me to have a point of view I disengage. When you expect me to think like this is my business engages me at a much higher level. When you are always the one stepping up, I am the one that is stepping back. Stepping back = disengagement.

9. My people know they can trust me.

This may be true, but what actions are you taking to increase trust with me? How do I know I can trust you? What things do you intentionally do to increase trust with every person you lead? It only takes one thing to erode the trust between us.

10. My people know that I am here to help them.

This may be true, but are you actively looking for ways to help? Help me grow my skills. Help me grow my capabilities. Help me get promoted. Help me find my greatness. Helping me shows you value me and increases my engagement.

High engagement leadership is a leadership competency and requires intentional acts over time. If you are able to transform these half-truths to FULL TRUTHS you will find you have a fully engaged and high performing team.

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Storytelling to Drive Results

Before I got married I am pretty sure I had never once been in an antique store. I figured I had worked hard to get a degree and get a job so I could buy new things. Why would anyone want to buy old things? But, as I said, that was before I got married. Since that time antique stores have become almost a weekly event and I am actually finally learning how to enjoy them.

One thing I notice in antique stores is how something that looks like a piece of junk can take on a completely different appearance when the person offering the junk puts a story with it. “Yes sir, that pocket watch you hold in your hands may not look like much, but let me tell you a little bit about that baby…” You might as well hand over the credit card right then.

Adding Value, Making a Connection

When I was first working my way up the public speaking ladder from one small event to another I would often overwhelm my audiences with facts and figures and PowerPoint charts that would test the limits for words on a page. I was less than engaging. Then I learned the power of stories. I decided that the minute I was introduced I would start a story. No “hello”, no “good to be here”, just a standing start right into a story. The response was amazing. My connection with the audience grew as did their engagement with me and my subject.

Why Does Story Connect

NYU Psychologist, Jonathan Haidt was quoted as saying, “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.” From the responses I see when I resort to story to communicate a teaching point I would say he is 100% correct.

Stories capture attention and open a door for a deeper connection. I once started a story by talking about my teenage son. I saw people in the audience begin to smile and shake their heads. “Yep, my boy does that exact same thing.” They would mouth to each other.

Stories make you seem human, especially if the story is about you and a challenge you have faced and overcome. People respond very positively to authenticity and humility in others. Plus, telling a story on yourself almost always generates a laugh and the only thing better than a story is a funny story.

Getting Started

If you think that storytelling is for creative people and you’re not creative, well you need to get over yourself and try anyway. I usually start with the point I want to make and then think of situations where that has happen to me or where I saw it happen to someone else. If I need to change names or circumstances to keep things anonymous I will do that.

Here’s an example: When my son was a teenager and looking for a job, he secured an interview with a local company. I suggested he wear a suit to the interview, but he didn’t think that was necessary for the type of job he was going for. Now, I could have argued with him about it, but instead I sat back in my chair and smiled, “That reminds me of a time when I went to an interview when I was about your age. I was applying for a stockroom job so I wore casual pants and a dress shirt. When I walked into the interview the person I was meeting barked at me, “You don’t own a suit!” I assured him I did and he barked again, “Don’t you think today would have been the day to wear it??” He dismissed me with no further questions. Turns out they did originally need stockroom help, but were now looking for certain individuals to help them up front with some customer service work. A higher paying job, might I add.”

My son looked at me and quietly said, “I’ll wear the suit.”

Stories communicate on a different level and help you connect strongly with others.

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Doing What You Were Meant To Do

ID-100168479“He didn’t know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws…”

This phrase is from a song by the late singer/songwriter, Harry Chapin. In the ballad titled, “Mister Tanner”**, a man who runs a dry cleaning shop and loves to sing is urged by his customers to do a concert and display his great gift.

“Hi friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat. They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.”**

The cleaner takes the risk, hires an agent, and schedules an event. The critics wrote the next day that although he had a nice voice, he lacked range and experience. Instead of working and improving and trying again, the cleaner returns to his shop, and as Harry sings it, “…he never sang again, excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed. He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.”**

Using Gifts

In the chorus of the song Harry reminds us that the cleaner sang because,

“Music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy, and it made him feel so good. And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole.”**

This song has always spoken to me. I saw Mr. Chapin perform it live and I bought the guitar music so I could play it at home. It reminds me of the challenges many of us face when it comes to doing the things that “make us whole”.

Remembering Truth

Here are a few truth’s I constantly need to remind myself of…maybe you need reminding as well.

  1. You have a gift. You have something to share.
  2. Believe in yourself. You have what it takes.
  3. Don’t let others steal the joy you feel when living in your gifting.
  4. Don’t let fear of failure or fear of criticism keep you from trying.
  5. Invest in your gift. Practice, Prepare. Perform.
  6. Encourage others to live in their gifting. Never steal someone’s joy.

I used to sing solo’s in church. I played the guitar and sang on a regular basis. I stopped one day and I have never gone back to it. I let my perception of what others thought silence my singing.

I had a dream to write a book. I almost didn’t do it (even after signing a major publisher’s contract) because I was afraid that it would reveal my inability to write. Then I remembered why I no longer sing and it made me sad. I heard an author I greatly admire talk about re-reading his first books and thinking how terrible it was. He commented that he was glad he didn’t quit because if he did the world never would have seen his improvement as a writer. I decided to take a risk and exhibit my writing. I have continued to write and speak. It is my gift and I get great joy from it.

Don’t let anyone steal your joy. Take a risk. Do what you were made to do.


** From the song, Mr. Tanner, words and music by Harry Chapin. ©1973 & 1976 Story Songs LTD.

Photo Credit: by sippakorn