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