Posted by Gavin McMahon on Monday, February 24, 2014 - 00:00
Being good on your feet, commanding a room and getting people to follow you starts with standing up. Then words have to come out of your mouth. But are your words persuasive? Is your pitch compelling? Do the words you use move you to charismatic or characterless?
Here's a little test for you.
You get to vote for President. The trouble is, you don't know anything about the candidates, their policies, their history. In fact, the only information you have is what each candidate's son says about his dad. Which candidate would you vote for? (And, yes, you have to vote.)
Who would you vote for?
Based on what their sons say about them, candidate A or B?
A) "The opportunity [is] for someone like my dad to come in and run the country. And the challenges we face right now in this country, to have someone with my dad's experience, his knowledge and his vision for America, someone that can come in and do this. It's worth whatever it takes for us to get my dad into office."
B) "This is so awful. It's so hard. They always say, why can't you get someone good to run for President? This is why. This is why you don't get good people running for President. What better guy is there than my dad? Is he perfect? Absolutely not. He's made mistakes. He's done all sorts of things wrong. But for goodness' sake, here's a brilliant guy whose had experience turning things around, which is what we need in this country. I mean, it's like, this is the guy for the moment. And we're in this, and you just get beat up constantly."
Unfortunately, there is no realpolitik answer to this. You don't have facts and figures to decide, no allegiance to a cause, real substance – just a few words answering the question, "Why should your father be President?"
Now a second question.
Which of these answers sounds more like you in the office, or with the customer, giving your presentation?
In an informal and wholly unscientific survey of our office, the overwhelming choice for who to vote for was candidate B, but many thought it was more appropriate to speak like candidate A. That's both surprising* and not.
I think I know why. Answer A is typical, not just of politics, but of business. It's the sterile monotone and boring humdrum of saynothing. The utilization of leverage over the use of clout. Answer A is not real. It doesn't feel authentic. Business presentations and keynotes are full of it. Corporate messaging is rife with it. The jargon monoxide and corporate Pig Latin that makes you secretly squirm inside, switches off your brain and leaves you pretending to understand.
There's a simple answer.
Speaking more like candidate B in professional settings is a question of breaking and making a habit. Start by noticing the words used that frustrate you. My personal list starts with the word utilize, and includes favorites like synergy, leverage, value creation, solution and pivot. It's an ever-evolving list that includes just about every acronym out there.
It's a little like new car syndrome: You buy a new car, thinking no one else has one, and then you notice it everywhere. Once you've made your list of frustrating phrases, you will start noticing these words being used everywhere, and it will begin to annoy you. That's good; it's part of the cure.
When you're building your PowerPoint deck or practicing your pitch, assume the level of expertise of your audience is a few notches lower than you think. Not that it is, but you don't want to make them think too hard in understanding your argument; you want them to engage in your argument. Think about speaking to an intelligent 8-year old. He or she should be capable of understanding most of the words you use.
Finally, make sure you sprinkle in a little verbal seasoning to your presentation and use one or two wordhacks – words that make people sit up and take notice. Now you're a few steps closer to compelling.
*The candidate's son is the same person. It's Josh Romney, speaking about his father, as documented in Mitt.
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Guest contributor Gavin McMahon is a PowerPoint obsessive. He's a founding partner at fassforward Consulting Group, and blogs about PowerPoint, communication, infographics and message discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can tweet to him @powerfulpoint.