Speaking With Authority

 Are you in control when you speak to a group?

When Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, in his nominating speech for Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, spoke the words, “In closing…” a roar went up in the convention hall. He was finally finishing!

Fortunately for him, his 1992 speech, accepting his own nomination, got much better marks. In fact, some said it was the best speech of his life. Not only was it important as a kickoff for his first presidential campaign, but Clinton erased once and for all the memory of that dud four years earlier.

That story has at least three important points. One, you’re never too good or too experienced to ignore some of the fundamentals of good speaking. Two, you can give an occasional poor speech and still retain your charisma, as Clinton did in the intervening four years. And three-and most important-the ability to communicate well to groups of people can make a critical difference in your career.

In fact, a study conducted by AT&T and Stanford University revealed that the top predictor of professional success and upward mobility is how much you enjoy and how good you are at public speaking. Yet surveys also show that the number one fear of most adults (even above death) is speaking in public. Now there’s a contradiction for you: The best thing for anyone’s career is also what we most fear!

The ability to speak confidently is one of the most marketable skills you can acquire. Organizations continually seek individuals who can sell products, present proposals, report findings, and explain ideas effectively. It’s no coincidence that more than 50 percent of Toastmasters clubs are in-house corporate or government groups.

Audiences, accustomed now to slick media, are less tolerant than ever of marginal presentation skills. So the ante has been upped, the bar has been raised, on what level of public speaking is now needed to get your message across.

Here are some other tricks of the trade:

1. Really care about your subject. Passion is the starting point of all good public speaking.  Peggy Noonan, President Reagan’s celebrated speechwriter, describes a speech as “poetry: cadence, rhythm, imagery, sweep! [It] reminds us that words, like children, have the power to make dance the dullest beanbag of a heart.”

So pick a subject that has an inordinate impact on you, a subject you’d like to share with others because you know, intensely, that they could benefit from your knowledge. Your enthusiasm will show through.

2. Be brief. The best way to impress an audience is to finish early. “My father gave me this advice on speech making,” said James Roosevelt, son of FDR: “Be sincere … be brief … be seated.” So hit it hard, hit it well, finish strong, and, for maximum impression, keep it short. The less opportunity you give your audience’s minds to wander, the more they’ll appreciate you and remember what you had to say.

3. Make use of memory joggers. You can keep attention high and help people remember your message if you use ample examples to transmit your message powerfully. Similarly, statistics, if used sparingly and presented simply, can add drama and credibility to your message. Comparisons can help your audience evaluate different options quickly and logically, and testimony-personal stories of credible people-can make your message more memorable and believable.

4. Remember the pause that refreshes. The sweet sound of silence, the power of the pause, can be artfully used in any speech. Pauses are not really empty spaces. Instead, they’re opportunities for the audience to respond to your words with their own thoughts, images, and feelings.

 “The right word may be effective,” Mark Twain said, “but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

5. Don’t dawdle at the finish line. Good speakers understand that the end is just as important-and maybe more so-as the beginning. This is your chance to sum up your best thoughts, words, and images and imprint them indelibly on the audience’s collective brain.

Don’t miss that opportunity by running beyond your time limit, or fumbling your final message. Know what you want to say, say it, and then say good night.

What is YOUR Silent Message? Are You Sending It During Work Hours?

Sending Out Your Best Silent Message


You make a statement about yourself even before you open your mouth. This is your “silent message,” and it can include everything from your posture to your positiveness. In short, it’s the way you carry yourself, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Such quiet signals profoundly affect people’s initial perception, or image, of you.


Of course, image isn’t everything-but it is important. As you know by now, doing well in life doesn’t hinge solely on merit and hard work. Image, especially when backed up by strong performance, is a powerful force. And a negative first impression-saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong clothes, coming across as uncaring or inept-creates roadblocks that can cut off relationships before they get started.


When we meet people we immediately like, we tend to put a positive spin–at least, initially–on everything they say or do. Some call this favorable first impression presence. Others liken it to energy, or aura.


People with a presence, energy, or aura are able to maintain an excitement about themselves that starts with-but usually lasts far beyond-a favorable first impression. Thus, we admire them before we even know much about them, therefore, they possess an enormous advantage in establishing a bond with people.


Here are some other ideas on projecting a positive image:


1. A winning image starts with a good self-image. A good self-image doesn’t follow success-it precedes it, as Robert L. Shook says in his book Winning Images. Someone saddled with a poor self-image may fool some people some of the time, but eventually he’ll fail, unless he comes to grips with his basic self-image.


Get some photographs or videotapes taken of yourself when you feel you’re looking your best and study them carefully. What do you see that you like, or don’t like?

Then ask your best friends for their candid opinions on not only how you look, but how you carry yourself, how you come across verbally, how you come across in terms of knowledge, enthusiasm, sincerity, and integrity, and what your car or house or briefcase or other material goods say about you. Promise you won’t take offense–and don’t!


2. Avoid annoying or distracting habits or mannerisms. Marcia Grad, in her book Charisma: How to Get That Special Magic, calls these distracting habits or mannerisms “charisma  robbers” and includes among them:

¥          Tugging at clothing

¥          Drumming fingers on a table

¥          Tapping pencils or clicking pens

¥          Doodling

¥          Jangling keys or change

¥          Biting nails

¥          Cleaning teeth


Not only do these habits make it more difficult for the other person to hear you; they also detract from your image.


3. Seek winners, spurn losers. Attitudes are contagious! So nurture your emotional well being by choosing friends who genuinely want you to succeed and who encourage you. Also, ask yourself about your surroundings: How’s my house or apartment decorated? What about my office? Is it drab, or energizing?


Read some inspirational and motivational books. Or listen to happy music. (Have you ever heard a mournful banjo tune?) Or make it a point to go to funny movies or watch a TV sitcom that makes you laugh.


Consciously reduce your exposure to the negative, whether it’s gossip from co-workers, violence in the media, or pessimism in your own thoughts.


4. Practice treating everyone as if he or she is the most important person you’ll meet that day. This will mean seeking to replace arrogance with empathy-not an easy task for a lot of people. However, it’s a real test of character, and every once in a while, you’ll learn a big lesson from that “little” person.


5. Make fitness a lifestyle, not a chore. You don’t need an expensive club membership or a cross-country ski machine to maintain a body that exudes vitality. Forget the spandex, stopwatches, and ankle warmers, for instance, and just:

¥          Walk up and down the stairs to your high-rise office or apartment.

¥          Ride a bike to the neighborhood convenience store to pick up that quart of nonfat milk.

¥          Take a nature hike instead of watching a nature film on television.

Tell us, what do you do to project a positive self-image? What is your “silent message?”  Share with us and comment to this blog!

Charisma-What is it? Do you have it? What will it do for you?

Charisma: What Is It? What Will It Do for You?

 Charisma is easy to spot but hard to describe. Nailing down a definition is like trying to define America. And the effort is made more frustrating because we all tend to overuse the term, lavishing it indiscriminately on insolent athletes, glamorous film stars, and fanatic cultists, as well as on genuinely enchanting and inspirational personalities like, say, John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Princess Diana. Here’s my definition

Charisma is the ability to influence others positively by connecting with them physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

I’m convinced that, popular wisdom to the contrary, charisma is not in your genes-and it’s not beyond your grasp. You already have charisma, but it’s not configured the same way in you as it is in the person next to you.

Think of it this way: Each of our personalities consists, let’s say, of a series of containers, like cups or glasses. If all the glasses were filled to the top, you’d be so charismatic people would think you were a god-and you’d probably think so, too. Some really, really gifted people may come close to this ideal. But, for most of us, some of the glasses are nearly empty; some brimming; yet others are partially filled to varying degrees. Together they constitute our charisma, or at least our potential charisma.

Still, I’ve wanted to be able to describe charisma more concretely. So I’ve thought a lot about it, done applied research and formed some opinions. I’ve also studied the literature, going back decades, and compared the conclusions of scholars with my own observations.

Though the results may not be strictly scientific, I’ve sought to reduce charisma to its bedrock. What I’ve come up with are seven qualities that I’m convinced are at its core.

Here’s how I see those seven main components of charisma-or, the “glasses,” if you will:

Your silent messages. You make a statement about yourself even before you open your mouth. This is your “silent message.” It’s the way you carry yourself, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

Your ability to speak well. You may have a terrific idea, but who will know if you can’t articulate it?

Your listening skills. Rarely taught and infrequently practiced, listening is nonetheless a key to communicating and making others feel special in your presence.

Your persuasiveness. This is your skill at motivating others to follow your lead or adopt your idea. No idea, however great, ever gets anywhere until it’s adopted.

Your time and territory smarts. How you honor or violate another person’s personal space and time will affect the amount of tension or trust between you.

Your adaptability. Building bridges to others is impossible without understanding how to treat others the way they would like to be treated.

Your vision. What do you feel passionately about? What do you care really deeply about? Whatever your objective, you’ll never influence anyone to change their ideas or take action if you don’t feel strongly about it yourself.

You can apply these seven elements of charisma to your personal life, your job, or in any setting where the ability to influence others positively is beneficial.

And the wonderful thing about charisma is that it makes you powerful without making others less so. That’s because the kind of power I’m talking about is personal power, rather than position power, the kind of power that doesn’t take power away from others, but gives you and them the power to achieve favorable outcomes.

The potential to be more charismatic is within you. And the payoff for doing so has never been higher.