Yesterday was a great day for me to watch and observe two great communicators deliver high-stakes presentations.
The presentations were surely different, and had different goals, but they did share some important attributes.
One of the main things they had in common was the level of comfort each speaker displayed. Jobs’ presentations,always seems very informal and unscripted. Make no mistake, however; he prepares like crazy. And I’m not even going to go into the beauty and simplicity of the slides.
Jobs is also known for stagecraft. His comfortable, modern leather chair (Corbusier?) communicated -– well -– a nice, comfortable, modern place to sit with your nice, new, comfortable, modern iPad. It’s as if we were in his Cupertino living room (or maybe his media room). Though this one was somewhat lower key than usual, Steve Jobs always shows his passion for his products (though he might want to moderate his use of superlatives).
Another sign of Jobs’ confidence and authority is the ease with which he turns the stage over to other members of his team. He shares the spotlight even though they are much less accomplished speakers. He understands this is on-the-job training.
President Obama seemed much more at ease and comfortable this time. He’s been in office for a year and has begun to warm to the role of speaker-in-chief. In this venue, the stage does not vary and neither does the stagecraft (that would be something, though, hmmmm…). There are, however, small, but significant adjustments that can be made. One modification was the position of his chin. His habit has been to keep his chin raised. To the average person, this communicates arrogance, aloofness and even talking down. This time, for much of the speech, it was lowered as if to say, “We’re in this together; I’m one of you.”
There was also a healthy sprinkling of humor, particularly the self-directed kind. Self-directed humor is one of the best ways to connect with an audience. We like people who can laugh at themselves, which takes confidence and authority and welcomes the audience. His voice, as always, was rich and resonant, though a bit sing-song (a repetitive pattern of vocal expression). He actually showed more passion (this is something about which I have been highly critical of him).
I do wish he’d get away from those darn teleprompters. Turning his head back and forth so much made me think of Wimbledon. If he’s looking for a game-changer, maybe next year he can work from notes and, as a result, truly speak from his heart. How powerful that would be.
Here are the takeaways:
- Speaking is on-the-job training; you cannot get comfortable unless you do it. A lot. If you’ve got a team, give them a chance in the spotlight.
- Stagecraft is important. Props can help immensely to communicate the message.
- Use humor. There are lots of resources – funny articles, etc., but self-directed is best.
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Ruth Sherman Associates LLC  / High-Stakes Communication / Greenwich, CT