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Humor is the Right Prescription for Your Speech


Charlie Chaplin once said, “a day without laughter is a day wasted.”

Imagine a world without humor.  Everyone walking around with straight faces.  People engaging in monotone dialog.  There are no smiles.  Imagine going through life in this kind of existence day in, day out.  This is what a world without humor looks like.  I can hear the late Heath Ledger’s Joker character now asking, “Why so serious?”  Kind of scary, right.

Not only is it scary but over the long term it can be unhealthy.  Believe it or not, humor has major health benefits, many like smiling.  Humor oxygenates vital organs, boosts circulation, and adds a sense of well-being.  It also helps you to cope with stress and adversity.  So, if you’re adverse to stress, find your way to a good laugh.

Now, imagine adding a dose of humor in your presentation and how it will benefit your audience.  For starters, you will make an immediate connection with your listeners.  This in turn will make you more approachable, likable, and trustworthy.  Once you connect with them, you will keep them engaged because it is hard to laugh and fall asleep…pun intended.  Last, you lighten the load because just a little humor can make even serious or heavy topics more bearable.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s mounting evidence that laughter has short and long-term benefits such as:

  • Soothe tension – Aid muscle relaxation and stress (Short-term).
  • Stimulate many organs – increases the endorphins, stimulate heart and lungs (Short-term).
  • Activate and relieve your stress response – A good, relaxed feeling (Short-term).
  • Improve your immune system – Positive thoughts can release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses (Long-term).
  • Improve your mood – Laughter can help lesson your depression and anxiety (Long-term).
  • Increase personal satisfaction – Humor make it easier to cope with difficult situations and helps connect with other people.

As a public speaker, you want that connection with your audience.  Individually or collectively these benefits make a potent prescription that can improve many ailments.  Now, I know some of you are thinking, “I’m not that funny” and you’re right, some of you are not.  But no fear because there’s an app for your challenges.  The good news is, humor can be learned.  It is also a skill that can be developed, refined, and is easier than you think.  Most of the humorous events we share are connected to our own lives.  Look within yourself and your life experiences.  The key is to make it relatable to your listeners.  Like a comedian, you must practice it.  If possible, practice the timing and relevance before a sample audience and ensure its in good taste.

Now, I’m not a doctor, but sometimes I pretend to be one while delivering a presentation.  With that, take everything I just shared ‘with a grain of salt’ or take it to heart because after all “laughter is the best medicine.”  Imagine that!

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A Smile is a Powerful Tool to Have in Your Public Speaking Arsenal


We all have heard about the health benefits of a smile.  We’ve heard about how smiling can lower stress and blood pressure.  We’ve heard about how smiling can make others feel better.  We’ve also heard that smiling is contagious?

I believe that smiling is the first form of human to human wireless emotional connectivity.  When we smile at other people they oftentimes reciprocate and a connection is established.  Smiling is a powerful tool to have in your public speaking arsenal.  It’s right up there with body language and eye contact (see my last blogpost).  When combined, you become a more engaging and memorable speaker.

According to a 2010 Wayne State University research project published in Forbes Magazine that examined the baseball cards photos of Major League players in 1952.  It was found that the span of a player’s smile could predict the span of his life!  Players who didn’t smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, while players with beaming smiles lived an average of 79.9 years.  Wow, that’s almost a ten percent life span increase.  You can’t make this stuff up!

If this isn’t a good enough reason to smile there are other documented therapeutic effects of smiling like increased health and mood enhancing hormone levels (like endorphins), lowered blood pressure, and reduced stress hormone levels (like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine).

Mother Theresa once said that “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

Imagine you’re at a restaurant and the person waiting on you approaches, gives you that ‘death stare,’ no smile, then ask, ‘What are you ordering?”  How would that make you feel?  Within seconds, you’ve already decided that you don’t like the waiter, you may get insulted, or even lose your appetite.  It is an understatement to assert how this encounter can adversely affect your overall dining experience.  On the other hand, the same person approaches you in a friendly manner, pleasant gaze and smile, welcomes you, then asks “What would you like?”  The ‘feel good’ endorphins kick in, a connection is established, you reciprocate the gaze and/or smile, you’re ready to order, and may even spend more money.

A similar approach can make a huge difference in your presentation.  How you approach the platform, the manner of how you connect with your audience, maintain that connection, and conclude matters to your listeners.  No matter the speaking occasion, a simple smile can help set the tone of emotion.  It is one of the key nonverbal communication cues we share with our audience.  When appropriated, a simple smile in a presentation can be engaging and powerful.

Now, for my infomercial voice, “but wait, there’s more!”  Smiling while speaking can make us appear more likable, confident, and competent.  When you smile, you look good and feel good.  Last, when others reciprocate a smile they look good and feel good too.

Actress Diane Lane says it best “I think that everybody that smiles automatically looks better.”  Your smile is to charisma what lumen is to a light bulb.  Let it shine while speaking to your audience.

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If the Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul, What Do Yours Reveal When You’re Speaking?


When speaking to your audience, what do your eyes reveal?  Do they convey confidence?  Do they convey trust?  Do they convey conviction in your message?

According to The Discovery Eye Foundation list of 20 amazing facts about the human eye, it is said that “humans and dogs are the only species known to seek visual cues from another individual’s eyes, and dogs only do this when interacting with humans.”

Making eye contact with individuals can be random or it can be strategic.  When delivering a speech having ‘assertive eye contact’ can make the difference between being appalling or appealing.  Our eyes are the second most complex organ behind the brain and it is said that 80% of what we learn is through our eyes.  So, what’s your eye contact strategy?

Before you answer my question, let me share another assertion about assertive eye contact.  As a child, I can remember watching early Dracula movies, with the great Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee.  I found it amazing how they used their eyes to hypnotize their victims before rendering them helpless and bending them to their will.  Talk about assertive and deliberate.  Both guys (or undead), in my opinion, were smooth, cape and all.  I can remember as a teen, while on a date, trying to use that technique on my date, bite included…I never saw her again.

Assertive eye contact works and can be a very powerful persuasive tool in your public speaking arsenal, if practiced.  In a recent study published in the journal Environment and Behavior, researchers at Cornell University manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adult subjects were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.  “Making eye contact even with a character on a cereal box inspires powerful feelings of connection,” said Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.  Now, Trix may or may not be your favorite breakfast cereal but I believe this study alone is reason enough to practice and make assertive eye contact while speaking.

Here are a few reasons why making assertive eye contact is beneficial:

  1. When you look someone in the eye, he or she is more likely to look at you, more likely to listen to you, and more likely to buy into you and your message.
  2. When you don’t look people in the eye, they are less likely to look at you. And when they stop looking at you, they start thinking about something other than what you’re saying, and when that happens, they stop listening.
  3. Focusing your eyes helps you concentrate. When your eyes wander, they take in random, extraneous images that are sent to your brain, slowing it down.
  4. When you fail to make eye contact with your listeners, you look less authoritative, less believable, and less confident.
  5. When you look a person in the eye, you communicate confidence and belief in your point of view. One of the most powerful means of communicating confidence and conviction is sustained, focused eye contact.

So, if you want to increase your ‘persuasiveness quotient’ or ‘PQ’ while engaging your listeners, practice and use assertive eye contact every time you deliver a presentation no matter the size of your audience.  You will be viewed as a confident, convicted, and persuasive speaker.  One of the returns on your investment is not having to overly depend on PowerPoint slides, gimmicks, or even magic to convey your message.  Besides, “Trix are for kids!”

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Are Your Movements in Sync with Your Message?


Have you ever had the experience of dancing with someone who has no rhythm?  One of your favorite songs is playing, you get up to dance, everyone in the room is moving, grooving to the beat and all’s in sync.  You look at your dance partner, but something’s wrong, s/he’s not in sync with the music and they’re throwing you off.  You’re wondering if the two of you are listening to the same song.  In the meanwhile, your dance partner just smiles at you, while continuing to ‘bust a move’ like nobody’s watching.  Now, anyone on the dance floor that happens to glance at the two of you get thrown off rhythm, the entire room becomes an out of sync rhythmic crap tsunami.  You think to yourself, “When will this song end?”

This is how your audience can feel when your movements are out of sync with your presentation.  Some of your listeners may begin to think, ‘when will this speech end?’  Purposeful movements are essential to delivering an effective speech.  It’s one of those key nonverbal communication cues that’s as important as gestures and eye contact because it sets the tone and rhythm of audience engagement.  It’s a body language thing and skill that takes practice, persistence, and patience.

All the great ones, Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Missy Copeland put in long hours perfecting their movements, timing, and synchronicity.  They even obtain the assistance of another professional to help them perfect their moves and choreography.  Think about it, while we fall in love with their lyrics or music, it’s their movements that makes the performance memorable.  Remember, Michael’s legendary performance during nationally televised Motown 25 (1983) to his hit song, “Billie Jean?”  The song and music was no doubt captivating, but it was his moonwalk before a national TV audience that made the song a classic.  Some of us still try to moonwalk today.

In a recent Psychology Today article, Susan Krauss, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst wrote “It’s a well-known fact that body language makes a huge impact on your ability to impress others. Of the many aspects of body language that count in impression management, the cues that you give off in the first few minutes—or even seconds—of meeting others play a particularly important role.  Often, you make those crucial first impressions when you enter an ongoing event or situation. Whether it’s a social gathering, business meeting, date, or family occasion, by focusing on the way you walk into the room, you can control whether the rest of the encounter goes well or poorly for you.”

So, how do you get there from here?  How do you develop the artistry of purposeful movement that will elevate your timely gestures such as eye contact, expressions, and total swagger while delivering a presentation?  First, humble yourself and look at what you’re doing wrong.  Admit that your speech could be out of rhythm or sync with your movements.  Don’t get offended, I’m not questioning your dance moves.  Have a coach or body language professional (not your cousin Vinny) take look at you in action while speaking.  You can do this in person, online (Skype or Facebook Live), or share a recording.  Second, commit to getting it right.  This takes practice, persistence, and sometimes patience.  Yes, you may fall off the horse, if you will, but get up, remount that mammal, and keep it moving.  One of the ingredients of a memorable speech is repetition, the same applies to perfecting your purposeful movement.  Third, your body is exciting, so put it in action.  I like the concept of Pace, Space, and Place.  The first involves managing your pace.  You don’t need to pace the floor like a ‘caged tiger’ or stand as ‘still as a statue’ or wander like a ‘lost tourist.’  Be casual, conversational and deliberate in your pace.  The next involves effectively using your space. This involves getting physical with listeners by effectively leveraging proxemics (space and distance).  Mastering this skill can elevate listener engagement.  The last is to know your place.  Here your posture is key.

Just ask TED Talk extraordinaire Amy Cuddy.  Also, your entrance is key.  Just ask any great actor who has walked the ‘Red Carpet’ at the Academy Awards.  Both posture and entrance are inextricably connected.  Actors are very conscious of this.  It’s a confidence thing and people are attracted to confidence.  One of the first things I notice when coaching a public speaking client is how they approach the platform.  This speaks volumes (pun intended).  Confidence or swagger begins with your nonverbal cues of posture, entrance, and movement.  This is the first impression!

When your purposeful movements are in sync with your presentation you are far more likely to be captivating, engaging, and memorable.  Listeners will be in sync with your message, just like on the dance floor, because your speech, gestures, and movements will have timing and rhythm.  It’s like Soul Train, American Bandstand, and James Brown (‘Get On the Good Foot’) all over again.

You can do this, yes you can! ~ Jim

P.S. Need help building your ‘presentation swagger’ to connect, engage, and move your audience to action.  Check out our current training, coaching, and keynote offerings.  Connect with us via social media LinkedIn,  Twitter, and Facebook.  Please comment and share the knowledge!

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How Strong is Your Core Message?


All of us have heard that the key to a strong body begins with your core.  This is true.  Having a strong abdomen and back is the center from where all your true power and strength comes from.  When your core is strong your overall performance is greater, you feel great and it is reflected in your walk, posture, and confidence.

The same philosophy applies to the core message in your presentation.  Think about it.  When your message is strengthened, it is fluid and powerful, like Usain Bolt.  When your core message is strong, your swagger is high and you perform better.  The endorphins are ‘on and popping.’  That confidence is converted into audience engagement, they connect with your message and are more likely to be persuaded to a new way of enlightenment, thinking or action.

So, what is a ‘core message?’  It’s the central idea or theme of your presentation.  It’s a message that should be described in one sentence.  Everything you say should ‘orbit’ around your core message.

BMW says it’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”  Nike says, “Just Do It.”  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King says, “I Have a Dream.”  McDonald’s says, “I’m Loving It.”

Think about it, these core messages are powerful and has stood the test of time.  They are ‘etched’ in our consciousness because they are reinforced by repetition and are memorable.  How does this happen?  First, the core message is crafted with passion.  Second, the message is expressed with clarity.  Third, the core message is delivered with awareness and knowledge.

The same can apply with your presentation core message when you include these three elements:

  1. Passion – You must speak to what you believe in. If you can’t ‘feel it,’ then how can we.
  2. Clarity – This is more than the state of being clear. It’s an expression of clearness.  If you can’t express your core message in one sentence, you need to ‘sharpen the saw’ or return to the drawing board, if you will.
  3. Knowledge – How much do you know about your core message? How much research have you done on the topic?  What credibility or awareness do you bring to the topic?

Now comes the fun part, the delivery.  When speaking, you must state your core message, repeat it, then ‘circle back’ and revisit it.  In (President) Barack Obama’s 2004, Democratic National Convention keynote speech (Audacity of Hope) in Boston, he used the word hope (his core message) several times.  Everything ‘orbited’ around the “Audacity of Hope.”  He also used repetition and ‘rule of three’ when he said, “Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America…” He was applauded at many times throughout his keynote but it was these powerful lines that got the audience on their feet and are the most repeated and memorable.

The key to building a strong core message is having a central theme to your presentation that can be described in one sentence.  Everything you say must ‘orbit’ around that central theme.  Your message must be stated with confidence, repeated, and revisited.  This is what makes it memorable.  Just like strengthening your physical core, targeted repetition and muscle memory are keys to achieve desired results.  Like Coca-Cola, your message then becomes “The Real Thing!”

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Are You a Trusted Public Speaker?



Can you be trusted?  Before you get offended at my question, please understand the context from which I’m asking you.  Can you be trusted to deliver the public speaking goods to your listeners?  Before you answer this question, let’s understand a little something about trust first.

As you know, trust is a very powerful emotion.  Trust is demonstrated in personal and business relationships, politics, spirituality, sports, entertainment, law, education, etc.  Here’s a few examples of what trust looks like – we give someone the key to our heart (or place), you visit a nice restaurant, you take skydiving classes, or you give your teenage son or daughter the key to your car.  Yikes!

It is often said that trust is integral to the idea of social influence, which occurs when a person’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others.  In other words, it is easier to influence or persuade someone who is trusting.  When you have it, it feels great, you’re at peace, and your mind is at ease.  When someone we care about demonstrates trust, we are very comfortable with that person, we relax our natural defenses to protect ourselves and sometimes let go.  It’s a pretty darn good feeling because it increases your overall well-being which can be healthy.  Your dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin levels are high.

Now, you’re feeling it, the skies have parted, the sun comes out, it’s raining skittles, there’s even background music playing.  Then, without warning, the needle scratches the record and the music (and skittles) stops.  Your trust has been violated, you’ve been ‘sucker punched’ with deceit and disappointment.  You’re hurt and even angry.  The trust that has been violated is very hard to regain.  This is how your audience can feel when you don’t deliver the public speaking goods.

speaker-trust-3-combiboilersleeds-comBuilding your credibility as a trusted public speaker involves more than showing up and being on time.  To build speaker trust and gain credibility as a trustworthy speaker you must place your experiences, beliefs and even values on the table.  There are five ways to grow and show public speaking trustworthiness:

Nonverbally Speaking

The number one advice I can share is to walk on the stage confidently, make regular eye contact, move purposefully, and smile.  This is the quickest way to make that early connection with your audience.  This is what the great ones do.  Doing this speaks volumes!

Demonstrate Authentic Vulnerability

An act of speaker trustworthiness is to show your own vulnerability.  It’s always ok to get a little (not too) personal, reveal something about yourself and your life experiences.  This is one of the best ways to disarm your audience, connect, and bring them closer to you and your message.

Give Them Confidence (Swagger) and Humility

Confidence does not contradict the display of humility. The easiest way to display confidence is to be confident. And the easiest way to be confident is to know what your listeners need and how you can help.  Humility is profoundly appealing and inspiring of trust. It speaks of wisdom, perspective, depth of feeling, sensitivity.  It takes a real person with real character to bring humility to the venue.

Give Em’ a Story

Every epic presentation begins with a story.  We love stories and there’s a good reason why we do.  Stories has shaped our thoughts and influenced our actions.  Most TED talks have stories.  Joel Osteen tell stories.   All of us have stories within us, just waiting to be told.  The most engaging stories are the ones about you personally or about people close to you.  Sincerely, sharing stories about misfortune to miracle or tragedy to triumph or humor to humility always creates interest and true engagement.

Give Them What They Want and Bring It

If you were fortunate enough to attend a Prince concert, you know that he “brought it” and gave the crowd what they wanted (and then some) every time.  Prince was so talented that he could randomly announce a concert anywhere and the place would sell out within hours.  He knew what his fans wanted and delivered a great show night in, night out.  Prince left it on the stage and he was well loved and respected by fans and fellow artists alike, globally.  Good speakers earn trust because they believe in giving the audience what they want (and then some).  They know why their audience came to listen and come prepared to leave it on the stage.  Their message is ‘right and tight’, it persuades and influences action.  In turn, listeners share applause, praise, and respect.  They tell others about you.  Your name is passed around like a good stock tip, but your value is increasing.  In translation, you just “brought it.”  Drop the mic, baby!


Collectively, these strategies shared will build your speaker credibility and trustworthiness.  All of us heard the saying that ‘trust isn’t given, but earned’.  This is true!  Now, once you earn it, how will you sustain it?  What I have shared with you is the formula to gain, maintain, and sustain your credibility as a ‘trusted public speaker.’  You will increase that social influence, which, in turn, will place you in a higher position to persuade your listeners into action.  They’ll act because they trust you!

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Making the Case for Public Speaking Training and Coaching



I’m often challenged to hear individuals marginalize the need for effective public speaking training and how it can benefit them in all aspects of their lives.  They often say things like “I’m comfortable with speaking before a crowd,”  “I already speak at my church or organization,” or “I don’t do a lot of speaking on a stage so I don’t need this.”  And often, I can smell the fear in their voice!  As most of you know, public speaking is the number one fear in America and the fear of death is a distant second.  This common fear is called Glossophobia (or, informally, “stage fright”).  Yes, most public speaking does involve presentations before small to large groups but some involve everyday conversations such as meetings, negotiations, and brainstorming sessions.  Public speaking and oratorical skills are considered some of the most importantly valued skills that an individual can possess and one that employers covet.  This skill can be used for almost anything.

That said here’s my case for the need for public speaking training and coaching.

First, it will teach you to face and conquer your fears.  Public speaking training is almost guaranteed to build your confidence and who couldn’t use a little bit more of this?  An effective training session will teach you how to deal with your fears and turn weaknesses into strengths.  When I take on a client for coaching or to facilitate training, I sometimes record their presentations.  You’d be surprised at the flaws we uncover.  As my old football coach used to say, “The film doesn’t lie.”  Working with a coach will help you to correct your mistakes, up your game, and improve that confidence. Second, public speaking training will teach you how to take advantage of the influence you already possess within.  It will also encourage you to speak up in meetings and voice your ideas.  Last, public speaking training will help you to correct those flaws you are currently demonstrating while speaking.  This sends me back to the beginning of this blog when I mentioned that some individuals state that “I’m comfortable speaking before a crowd.”  Yes, you may indeed be comfortable, but are you connecting with your audience?  This is paramount!  Have you performed an audience analysis?  Did you ever bother to ask how long are you required to speak?  Or, how many people will be in the audience?  These are just some of the key things to know before delivering any speech.  Trust me, I’m a professional speaker and I have a public speaking coach.  Tiger Woods has a swing coach.  Beyonce has a voice coach.  Even my public speaking coach has a coach.  We all share one thing in common and that’s the desire to up our game.  We also know that to do this, we can’t do it alone!

So what’s your excuse?

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Can Public Speaking Charisma Be Learned?



Let’s play a game, a brief word association game.  Close your eyes and think of charismatic speakers.  Which ones come to mind?  The first few that immediately pop into my head are Jesus, Frederick Douglas, JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama.  Charismatic speakers are all around us.  Maybe, it’s someone you work with, maybe it’s a political or spiritual leader, or even you.

Many believe that being a charismatic speaker is an inherent gift – you either have it or you don’t, in other words, it is bestowed at birth.  What do you think?  Is this a skill bestowed at birth or can it be cultivated?  Why do some people appear to have it and some don’t?  Given the fact that it is a skill suggests that it can be learned and there’s lots of research to support this.  Everyone can be charismatic.  In fact, all of us have our own levels of charisma which was acquired and cultivated simply by observing and learning from individuals who we believe are charismatic.  Charisma is like a light with a dimmer switch, it can go from bright to low to not at all.  It resides in all of us but most don’t even know it’s there.  What separates the dynamic speaker with charisma from some others is that they identify, cultivate, and own their charisma.  Yes, an essential part of having charisma is owning it!

Now, after reading this, if (for some reason) you believe that charisma is a Starbucks drink or a skin cream, please stop reading this blog immediately, change the channel and call 911.  If this sentence doesn’t apply to you, please continue reading and enjoy the regularly scheduled program, already in progress.

Why do some speakers exude charisma as bright as the sun while others are as dim as a hallway nightlight?  The answer could be tied to your self-confidence (or swagger), dynamic speaking skills, and presence while speaking.  Let’s visit all three.

Self-Confidence (or swagger)


Speakers that smile and make eye contact with their listeners while presenting are generally viewed has more confident and charismatic than speakers who don’t.  Smiles hold great power, but they must be sincere and should fit the situation.  If you’re always smiling people won’t connect with you and may even question your sincerity.  If you never smile, people won’t like you.  In regards to eye contact, you can up your game by simply sectioning off the room in threes (left, center, right) while focusing on a couple supportive listeners in each section.  Please don’t pay attention to those who suggest that effective eye contact involves looking towards the back of the room or imagining that everyone in the audience is naked while speaking.  Unless, you’re auditioning for an episode of “Naked and Afraid,” I wouldn’t recommend going there.  In my opinion, doing this could suggest an unresolved childhood issue or possibly result in a few legal challenges for you.

It’s also a good idea to appropriately vary your vocal tone, variety, and pitch while speaking.  Your tone and variety should tie into your emotions while speaking.  This works, just ask any singer.  Can you image listening to Adele, sing the theme song “Skyfall,” from the James Bond movie “Spectre,” in monotone?  Or, listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from a PowerPoint slide?  Audiences love to hear passion and at times, a little emotion from speakers.  Emotion and passion can be contagious and is infectious.  It radiates, stimulates, and energizes your listeners.  It doesn’t matter if you are delivering a eulogy, a technical speech or a keynote.  Your listeners are touched one way or another.  If you feel me here, yell amen, if you don’t, just say ouch!

Dynamic Presentation Skills

A charismatic speaker has dynamic presentation skills and know how to use them.  For example, have you ever expressed or heard someone say after a speech “It felt like he was talking to me?”  The ability to reach out and touch people in that manner is powerful.  It’s like grandma’s chicken noodle soup that she made just for you.  It’s created with a little bit of this, a pinch of that, and slow cooked to perfection.  It’s just right!  Smelling it teases your senses with anticipation and eating it touches your soul.  It’s the perfect recipe!

So, what are some key ingredients to that perfect recipe for dynamic speaking skills?  Let’s start with a dash of storytelling.  Most of us love a good story.  Stories reside in all of us and are a part of our DNA.  How about a sprinkle of humor?  If you lived long enough, funny things have occurred in your life.  So, there’s plenty of material inside you to share.  Next, deliver that same story but sprinkle it with a little humor, and “BAM,” you have your listener’s attention.   Now, just add a pinch of passion and enthusiasm in your delivery.  Your audience is now connected, engaged, and hungry to hear more.  Soup is served!


Charismatic speakers have platform (or stage) presence.  They project gravitas, confidence, and an ability to read their audience.  They tweak their body language and manage their movement to accommodate their listeners.

Body language expert, social psychologist, TED Talk speaker, and author, Amy Cuddy suggests that we can change people’s perception of us and even our own body chemistry by simply changing body positions.  Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths before a speech and striking a ‘power pose’ (firm posture and stance) while speaking can boost your confidence, make you more self-aware, and even change your body chemistry.


It is stated that 60-80 percent of your communication is affected by your nonverbal cues. When presenting avoid slouching, which demonstrates low confidence or shun pacing the platform like a caged tiger, which exhibit nervousness or eliminate poor eye contact which can indicate a lack of sincerity.

Standing in a posture of confidence, purposeful movement, and appropriate gestures while presenting can positively affect your presence and influence the power of your message.  This influence is transferred to your listeners because they are engaged and thus, ripe for persuasion and ready to act.

This leads me back to my original question, “can public speaking charisma be learned?”  Absolutely!  However, you must commit yourself to developing and strengthening your self-confidence, dynamic speaking skills, and presence.  Charisma isn’t a black or white concept, or even a Starbucks beverage, it’s more gray zone because it resides in all of us.  Some of us exude more, some exude less.  Like the sun, charisma has various levels of intensity and with the right amount it can supply vital nutrients and mood stimulation in the form of speaker energy.  The result is a kind of photosynthesis which converts that speaker energy into listener engagement, message memorability, and action.

When I think of public speaking charisma, I can’t help but reference a song we sometimes sing in church, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…!”  Tap into your speaking charisma and let it shine!

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Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies – Three of the Sharpest Tools in a Speaker’s Arsenal



Metaphors, similes, and analogies are all around us.  They’re in commercials, songs, plays, and even everyday conversations.  How many of you have heard the saying “The early bird catches the worm,” or “Wise as an owl”, or “He eats like a horse?”  One of the most famous metaphors is an excerpt from William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” which says:

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances[…]

A simple definition of a metaphor or ‘figure of speech’ is a form of expression used to convey meaning or heighten effect often by comparing or identifying one thing with another that has a meaning familiar to the reader or listener.  In other words, Metaphors can compare the known to the unknown; the abstract to the concrete; or dry stuff to fascinating topics.

In relation to public speaking, a metaphor can serve as a device for persuading the listener of the speaker’s argument or thesis.  Metaphors are very powerful and can make your presentation more personal, more memorable, and more persuasive.  They work by creating vivid images in your audience mind – making it easier to understand and remember your message.


A Simile is also figure of speech and is often compared to metaphors.  The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th edition) explains the difference as – a simile states that A is like B, a metaphor states that A is B or substitutes B for A.  Simply using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ doesn’t make a simile.  For example, saying “he looks like his father” is a comparison not a simile.  On the other hand, saying that “he runs like a deer” is a simile because it is comparing him to something of a different kind – a deer.  Another great example comes from the Sugar Hill Gang’s 1979 hit song Rapper’s Delight (I’m dating myself here) – “I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast, but we like hot butter on the breakfast toast.”  Here, they’re comparing themselves to hot butter on toast asserting how hot they are as a group.

An analogy is a comparison in which an idea or a thing is compared to another thing that is quite different from it.  It aims at explaining that idea or thing by comparing it to something that is familiar.  The key words in using an analogy are “like” and “as.”  I’m sure most you heard the saying ‘He’s as nutty as a fruitcake.”  Translation – that dude’s crazy.

analogy-1-dashe-thomsonAnother perfect use of an analogy is from the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, where actor Tom Hanks says “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”  Translation – Life’s a mystery.

The main difference of the metaphor is that it makes a comparison without the use of the words “like” or “as”, whereas a simile or analogy does.  Saying “He’s a dog” is different than “He runs as fast as a dog” or “He eats like a dog.”

Adding one or all three of these powerful tools to your presentation can be a creative way to bring imagery, vividness, and persuasion to your audience’s overall listening experience.  It doesn’t matter whether you are delivering a technical or medical, entertaining or informative talk.  Strategically incorporating these tools from your arsenal into your speech can add powerful and vivid images in your audience’s mind, thus engaging them because they want to hear what happens next.  They hang on your every word, in other words, you have them ‘hooked’, hooked like a fish.

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When Presentation Swagger® Comes Full Circle



We have heard of getting in the zone?  NBA basketball great Steph Curry talked about getting in the zone.  Artist Brittney Spears sang about getting in the zone.  Even, in psychology circles, there’s a zone or flow.

Some psychologists define the zone or flow as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”  In the public speaking world, we call this “achieving an unheard level of performance” or simply “bringing it home”.

A great example of “bringing it home” was First Lady Michele Obama’s 2016 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Regardless, of your political leaning, you must admit that she ‘brought it.’

The first lady’s speech was like a nice vegetable soup from her garden, a soup with all the right ingredients.  It was food for the soul.  In her speech, the ingredients included connecting with the audience, a great story, and effective use of the rule of three.  The result was a presentation that brought the crowd to their feet and one people will remember for years.  This is what we want in a speech, one that is impactful, engaging, and memorable.

This is what presentation swagger that has come full circle looks like.  You’re in the zone of engagement and your audience is right there with you.  You don’t need a collection of fancy slides, animations, and gimmicks to animate your audience because your message does.  Here’s what I believe are key ingredients every presentation should have.

Audience Analysis


The first ingredient and one of the best strategies to place the odds in your favor for connecting with your audience is to do an audience analysis prior to your presentation.   An audience analysis, basic terms is a tool that helps you create a profile or snapshot of your audience and their expectations.  It can also provide invaluable information that will assist you in finding your audience commonalities and shared traits.  It is the root of your preparation!

Some of the basic ingredients or questions that makes up an audience analysis are “What are the audience expectations?”, “Why are they coming to listen to me?”, “How long am I expected to speak?”, and “How many people will be in attendance?”  Doing an audience analysis can help you ‘tailor’ your message to who you are speaking to, thus creating a listening environment that’s receptive to your message, and it turn heighten your level of persuasiveness.  Your audience will be in the zone of engagement because they connect and identify with you, and you with them.  This is where you want to be.


The Chocolate Journalist

The next ingredient is adding stories and/or humor to your presentation.  You might ask “why should I bother using humor in my presentation?”  “I’m not that funny!”  Or assert, “I don’t know any stories, I live a pretty simple life.”  Well, I’m not buying that excuse because simply living has given all of us many life stories to share.

Someone that does an extraordinary job of telling stories, while using humor, sprinkled with clarity to make a complicated topic relatable is astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, who is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York and host of “Star Talk” on the National Geographic Channel.

What makes Tyson so impactful, engaging and inspirational?  After all, the brother is an astrophysicist.  If you think that such an ultra-intelligent, highly educated scientist would be a bit dry and boring – you’d be wrong.  What separates Neil Degrasse Tyson from the pack his fact that he’s an extraordinary communicator.  He blends stories, humor and knowledge combined with clarity, excitement, and passion for the cosmos.  He demonstrates his great intellect when he speaks, yet he doesn’t make you feel dumb, instead he makes you want more; he stimulates your curiosity, a curiosity perhaps you didn’t even know you had.  This is a bad dude!  It’s no wonder he has such a following among geeks and non-geeks alike.

He also shares his experience being an African-American boy who didn’t want to be an astronaut and was discouraged from entering the field by a teacher.  But a family trip at age 9 to the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan to see an audio-visual show about space awakened his curiosity.  Ironically and eventually, he became the director of the Hayden Planetarium.  We love a good story, especially a challenge to triumph story because it connects with us.

In fact, many people find Tyson’s assertive intelligence seductive.  What would you expect of someone who was named the 2000 Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by People Magazine?  In a recent article of The New Yorker, one of his 2 million Twitter admirers tweeted “I am the straightest guy you ever met, but if @neiltyson showed up at my door with a bottle of wine and a Barry White CD I’d let him in.”  Like I said, he’s a bad dude!  If an astrophysicist can use stories and humor in his presentations to inspire, engage and excite geeks and non-geeks alike about the cosmos, you can do the same.

How do you reclaim your storytelling mojo?  First, begin with a message – You should always begin with the audience in mind.  Next, start with you and look within – The best storytellers look within themselves and their own life experiences to share their message.  Doing this opens you up and make you appear more authentic and accessible.  Last, you don’t have to be the star of the story.   It’s okay if you are at the center of the story but at the end of the day the ultimate focus should be on the audience.  They need to see themselves as the hero.

Doing these will elevate your storytelling to another level and captivate your listeners every time.  What’s your story?


Incorporating humor in a speech can be powerful if integrated effectively.  Believe it or not incorporating humor is a strategy and it should be.

There are 3 main benefits to using humor in a speech:

  1. Humor helps you establish a connection with your audience.
  2. Humor arouses interest and keeps attention.
  3. Humor makes you more likable.

How do you strategically incorporate humor in your speech?  First, don’t rely on someone else’s material, look in the mirror, consider the humorous incidents from your own life.  Second, keep a humorous story file.  As you reflect on the funny moments in your life, if something causes you to laugh, even in retrospect, jot it down and add it to your file.  Third, have a point.  Link your funny story to point.  No one should get “lost in the sauce” and miss the point.

 The Rule of Three

Huffington Post

The final ingredient is incorporating the rule of three which involves incorporating strategic rhythm to your speech timing by establishing a pattern, then giving it a twist.  The first two elements the pattern and third element is the twist.   The rule of three has been around since the biblical times and is used in folktales, fairytales, biblical tales, and popular culture, for example:

  • The Three Pigs – “I will huff, I will puff, and I will blow your house down.”
  • The Three Wise Men – “Gold, Frankincense, and Mir.”
  • The Holy Trinity – “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
  • Spiritual – “Faith, Hope, and Charity”
  • Declaration of Independence – “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
  • Popular Culture – “Tall, Dark, and Handsome.”

A perfect example of what this looks like, is the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King who was known for his use of tripling or rule of three in many of his inspirational speeches.  In his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Dr. King brilliantly invokes the spiritual and brings the crowd to its feet when he says at the end “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”  Using the ‘rule of three’ allows you to express concepts more completely, emphasize your points, and increase the memorability of your message.  You can effectively use the ‘Rule of Three’ by simply outlining your speech in three sections:  An introduction, body and conclusion.  Believe it or not, this simple concept allows you to introduce your message, emphasize it, and then make it memorable.  Within your message there must be a core element and that element needs a theme.  Dr. King’s speech core element and theme was “I Have a Dream,” which was repeated in eight successive sentences.  Your core element is the heartbeat of the entire speech.  Everything you say should ‘orbit’ around your core message.  It need not be long and something that can be explained in one sentence.

The ingredients I have shared is a perfect recipe for public speaking success!  A sprinkle of this and a pinch of that will give you a presentation that’s impactful, engaging, and memorable.  You’re now in the zone and your ‘presentation swagger’ is full circle.

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