This is the second of my three-part interview with Robin Kermode, actor and author or the terrific book, Speak: So Your Audience Will Listen. I love this book and the audio book that you can also order. Public speaking is something all execs have to do. And honestly, his book has done more to help me in my public speaking self-confidence than any other book or class I have read or attended. And this podcast series, especially designed for BankBosun audiences will hopefully do the same for you. And if you like it, buy his book and consider his company to help you and your team.
Kelly Coughlin is CEO of BankBosun, a management consulting firm, helping bank C-Level officers navigate risk and discover rewards. He is the host of the syndicated audio podcast, BankBosun.com. Kelly brings over 25 years of experience with companies like PWC, Lloyds Bank and Merrill Lynch. On the podcast, Kelly interviews key executives in the banking ecosystem, provide bank C-Suite officers, risk management, technology and investment ideas and solutions to help them navigate risk and discover rewards, and now your host, Kelly Coughlin.
In part one, we covered five of the seven steps, nerves, confidence, connection, voice and body language. In part two, we will cover structure and delivery with some focus on PowerPoint type presentations. If you listened to part one you will recall Robin overcame his fear of public speaking by once appearing totally naked on the stage. Robin, are you on the line, and tell us where you are right now, and are you on the stage, and do you have all your clothes on now?
Robin: [Laughs] Hello Kelly. Yes, I am in sunny London and I am fully clothed. Although it’s audio only, I am fully clothed.
Kelly: Excellent. So, for a minute, let’s talk about eye contact. Give us a couple tips on using eye contact to enhance the connection with an audience. And are there different techniques for large groups or medium groups and small audiences?
Robin: Yeah, okay, eye contact is really instinct. I maintain that if you can be authentic with a small group you can also be authentic in a large group. Of course, it feels much more exposed, you know, when you are on a big stage, like the sort of TED talk type of thing. I write quite a lot of articles for the newspapers and I wanted to write an article about TED talks, under the title of something like, How to Give Good TED talk without looking completely smug and overconfident and self-satisfied. Because there is something about the style of those TED talk deliveries which have become a bit ubiquitous now. And I think even CEOs feel they have to be a bit like that, you know, with the radio and mike around the head and everything and they have to have this very, very long pauses and very stylishly over-rehearsed deliveries, and I am not sure how authentic that is actually. I think it looks very, very rehearsed. There are some people who can pull it off, you know, the Steve Jobs type of approach when he was launching a new Apple product. There was a big buzz around that, you know, but I think for a CEO to come and do that it just looks a bit odd, I think, you know, in our internal conference environment. But what we want to do is, we want to connect with everyone. And the way we connect with them is to make sure that we look at them. You can’t look at everyone but you can look individually at people. Now, in a large hall, of course, you can’t see their eyes because you can maybe see the first five, ten rows but you can’t see beyond that very clearly. So, the trick is to look as if you are looking at one person, which means you choose a spot in an auditorium. You maybe look at somebody, maybe three rows back. You look straight at them in the eye and then maybe you look about 40 rows back at a slightly different point as if you are looking at somebody. And what it does is, by choosing different areas of the room it looks like you are talking specifically to an individual person. So, if you look at about 20 people around the area you are looking at toward the back of the hall they will all think you are looking directly at them because of the angle of the width of the projection. I worked at how to do eye contact when I went to see Hamlet a few years ago at the national theater in London. And I was sitting on the front row, I was very lucky to be sitting bang on the front row, and the actor playing Hamlet was about to do the famous speech, To Be or Not to Be. I’m sitting down in the front row and there is a long pause and Hamlet came right down to the front of the stage, I mean, I could almost touch him, I was that close, and it is 1700 people behind me, big auditorium, and Hamlet’s there looking up and I am so close to him thinking this is... what a wonderful chance to see this famous actor playing Hamlet so close up. And then he suddenly looked straight down at me and said, “To Be or Not to Be.” It was sort of electric, that was amazing because he was doing it to me, and then he carried on, and he said, “That’s the question.” And I met a friend of mine afterwards and I said, it’s amazing, he is doing the whole play to me. And she said, he is not doing the whole play to you because I’m sitting in the dress circle and he is doing the whole play to me. And of course, he didn’t do the whole play to me but that’s what it felt like. He only did two lines to me and he did two lines to my friend in the dress circle but both of us said he did the whole play to us. So, the secret of eye contact is to have one thought with one person and one thought with another. And in a large hall you have one thought with one area of the auditorium and another thought with another area. As long as you connect with everyone, at some point they will feel they have been with you, they have actually connected with you. What a lot of people do is they sweep the room with their eyes. They sweep from back side, left to right and up to down. They are almost defocusing, they are not really focusing on anyone in particular. But much better, I think, to come out to an audience and look at a particular spot in the audience and say, good evening, and then look at another spot and say, really nice to see you, as opposed to, good evening, nice to see you, in a sort of scatter gun way, right across everybody. In the audience, we want to feel special. We want to feel the speaker is actually, at some point, talking to us, and that’s the way to do it.
Kelly: That’s excellent. Since you mention TED talks, I am a fan of the TED talks 20 minute presenting and then 40 minutes listening versus the traditional business presentation of 40 minutes talking and then 15 minutes Q &A. Do you like that idea?
Robin: I totally agree with that.
Kelly: Any tips or tricks, once you have opened it up for Q &A, how to get it going, how to get that first question asked?
Robin: I think one of the things is to have a prepared question. I think one of the hardest things to do, actually, is to ask a question from the audience. It’s much easier to be on a panel on stage than it is being in the audience asking a question. Because often what happens is, you think of a question and then by the time the microphone is passed down the line to you and previous questions finished, partly, they possibly answered the question in some way anyway or you can’t quite remember what you had said so the nerves kick in, and so I think it’s quite difficult. So, I always have a question up my sleeve. Maybe the moderator would say, you know, do we have any questions? And if there isn’t one straightaway, I’d say, excuse me, but I was talking to someone earlier, just before this, and they asked me, of course they didn’t, that didn’t happen but what I am doing is I am posing a question that they might well want to ask or the people have asked in the past. I’ll frame it as if I was talking to somebody just before and that makes the feeling that it is much more collegiate and then that normally starts the ball rolling.
Kelly: So, you pose that question and then you answer it yourself. Okay, I got it.
Robin: I actually answer myself, yeah, yeah. The other thing I have done before is, any question is a great question. “That’s a great question” sets it off in that way.
Kelly: Yeah, I think Socrates or one of these guys said, Confucius said, “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who never asks a question is a fool all his life.”
Robin: You know, you’ll regret it as well, you know. You would also think, I wish I had asked that person. I applaud people for asking questions because I think it takes a lot of bottle when you are in an audience. You know, when you are on stage with the microphone you have much more power than you do when you are in the audience. I really feel it for people asking questions and I am very very grateful when they do. And I always thank them afterwards, I go up to them afterwards and thank them for asking the questions.
Kelly: Okay, I want to get to a couple of the really kind of mechanical things that aren’t that exciting but I think they’ll be helpful. Tell us your thoughts on standing and what to do with our hands.
Robin: Okay. So, you have basically got about five choices with what to do with your hands. You’ve got hands behind your back, which is a bit military. You’ve got hands down by your side, which is an interesting one. So, if you stand there open very much, open body language, you know, with your hands standing by your side, it’s what actors call actors neutral. And the reason that actors do it, the next time you go to see a theater play watch out for it. Actors do it because it’s very very easy for the audience to go between the two characters having a conversation on stage. Because physically they are quite still but mentally and emotionally it’s quite cut off and quite fiery. Physically they might be quite still and in life very very few people do it. The people who carried off best normally are world leaders making big pronouncements on the world stage, and they quite often do it, and they look very very open but it’s quite hard to do. And often it looks a bit grand, I think, in many situations. Some people like it but I would say it’s quite hard. And hands in pocket, obviously, is just a cultural thing but also on an animal level you don’t show your hands it’s the sign of hiding something, maybe nerves or a gun or whatever but I think the ones that most professional speakers use, most politicians, most TV presenters. I have my hands held lightly together around the line of my belt, so just below the belly button. And the reason that works is that’s your emotional center so you feel protected in that position but it looks open. Obviously, if you cross your arms you look closed but this looks open in that position. I use my hands a lot so my hands are moving around all the time but when they finish, whatever the move is, then like a magnet they are drawn together level with the belt.
Kelly: Excellent, and feet are shoulder width apart.
Robin: Yeah, hip width apart is the best way. And the reason feet even weight is good because it tends to make your spine straight, and if your spine is straight your ribs will breathe better and so you have more air. You look more centered but also actually physically you are more centered. And if they’re too wide it looks inappropriately, you know, like a wild west cowboy, just got off your horse.
Kelly: You talk about five types of body language, four variations of closed which are aggressive, defensive, nervous and bored, I don’t want to spend any time on those, I want us to focus on the one version that you recommend is open and interested. Talk about that and include smiling in that, because I think that’s part of the key part of body language that makes one open and interesting.
Robin: It is. The closed ones, obviously, are, you know, crossing your hands and rubbing your face and shifting the weight and the yawning and all that sort of stuff. But the open interesting body language, this is where we meet somebody who genuinely looks like they want to connect with us. They will probably have a reasonably firm handshake, but not too firm. They will have good eye contact; they won’t be embarrassed to hold our eye contact so they will actually look us in the eye. They will have a confidence stance but they will have a low center of gravity if they get it right. Their gestures will be quite relaxed but smiling is instinct because it changes the sound of our voice as much as anything else. And the other thing about smiling is, it’s easier than frowning because actually it takes 42 muscles to frown and 17 to smile. So, it’s far fewer muscles to smile. I do voiceovers for TV commercials and stadium events and things and if you have a little twinkle in your eye it changes the sound of your voice, literally changes the sound of your voice. If you have a cheesy grin, like sort of a cheesy toothpaste commercial salesman, that will tighten your voice, and you can feel it tightening your throat if you try it. But just a little twinkle in the eye, absolutely softens the voice and changes the voice a bit. And of course, we can tell on a gut level, even if we are not experience in this, we can tell whether someone’s smile is genuine or not. And the answer is, does the smile reach the eyes? You can tell when someone’s eyes are really smiling. And actually, if you want to spot an insincere smile, you want to spot a sincere smile, you look at someone’s eyelid. You look at the outside corners of the top eyelid, and when you are genuinely smiling that comes down, and it’s almost impossible to fake that one. So, if you want to see if somebody is really smiling look at the top outside corner of their top eyelid.
Kelly: Interesting. Let’s get to the last question I have in this part one segment on presentations, is presenting while sitting down. What are your thoughts on that?
Robin: Well, presenting when sitting down requires energy. It’s hard because you want to look relaxed and calm. There are basically two ways to sitting, actually, in a meeting if you are presenting. The best way actually is to sit forward on your chair. It is to push your chair slightly further back than you would think away from the table and sit on the front edge of the chair and have both feet flat on the ground. I was coaching a lady the other day who is the CEO of a big company and she was trying to raise 100 million or whatever for her company and we were rehearsing her pitch to the financial institutions. And after about 15 minutes of this rehearsal pitch she started coughing and so she asked for some water and I just looked under the table and I just said to her, okay, could you just put both feet on the ground, because what she had been doing was having her feet crossed, so they weren’t flat on the ground they were crossed. And I said, just try that, and interestingly enough, once you put both feet flat on the ground she didn’t cough for another forty minutes. So, what that does, by having both feet flat on the ground and sit forward on your chair, both feet flat on the ground, it tends to make your spine a little bit more straighter and it brings your voice more forward, and you get more air out and therefore you don’t tend to hurt your throat. The second way of sitting is what I call the high-status CEO position which is sitting further back in the chair, often with your legs crossed, maybe with weight on one arm. So, it’s quite a sort of senior politician TV interview type position. And I see a lot of CEOs do that at boards, they sit slightly away from the table, giving themselves quite high status. It can work, and it just depends on the situation, but those are basically the two ways of sitting when you are presenting ourselves.
Kelly: Exactly. So, to summarize, I’ve got, number one, feet are hip with the part. Number two, thighs or buttocks clenched. Number three, hands held together close to the stomach. Number four, speak from the gut. And then five, smile.
Kelly: You indicated in your book that there are three essential questions that needed to be asked and answered in your talk, what are they and why are they important?
Robin: Okay, well the first one is, why are you giving this talk? And it seems a very obvious question, why are you giving this talk? The reason I have to ask people this often is, I sit, I would say maybe two or three times a week, in an audience listening to a talk and I think, I am not quite sure why that speaker who is giving the talk. They are giving me lots of information but I am not quite sure what they want out of it. So, I think the speaker always needs to know what is their reason for giving the talk and what do they want successful talk look like to them at the end of it. What are they trying to do? And there are basically two types of talk. Of course, there is a talk to sell or to motivate. And those are basically the only two types of talks. So, even family talks like at a wedding or even a eulogy at a funeral, they are ultimately motivational talks, otherwise they are sales. And sales talk will always require an ask at the end of it. You are giving this talk so that the audience thinks differently, behave differently, buys your product, does something differently. So, those are selling and motivating talks. We need to be very clear what we are trying to do. I was coaching a guy recently and he has got a big company and he was going to give a speech to two and a half thousand employees and I said to him, okay, so before you rehearse your speech with me, what are the reason you are giving this talk? Why are you giving this talk? And he said, well, I am sort of giving an update. I said, do you know what, with greatest respect, nobody wants an update. Why are you really giving this talk? And he said, well, you know, I have got various things to say. I said, no, no, we’re not really clear what the point is. I said, but I tell you what, can I make a bet with you? I am in the UK so I said, I took out a 10-pound note and I put it on the table and I said, I put 10 pounds down so I am going to make you a bet. And I am not really a betting man but I’ll make you a bet. About three minutes into our talk I bet you will say something like, so I suppose the real point is. And he said, yes. And I said, fantastic, thank you, I’ll take your money. I said, can we start with the real point? So, it is so much better for him to stand up there and go, I suppose the real point is this. If that’s the question that the audience wants answering, then of course you are home and dry. So, it’s about, why are you giving this talk? And the second one is, why should the audience care? And that’s the bit we just did up top there. Why should the audience care? You have got to get into the audience’s head, they have given up their time, they have given up 40 minutes of their time or whatever an hour of their time to come and hear you speak so what value are you going to add? Why are you giving them some information? Why is that relevant to them? And if we construct the talk from that point of view, being aware also of why we are giving it but ultimately, why they should care. And then the final question is, what are you really saying? What are you really saying? So, we are clear, why do we want to give it, we care with the audience, what’s the benefit they can get from it, and what are we really saying. And I think if you can say it in one or two sentences then you are really clear. If you can’t say it in one or two sentences, you don’t really know what your speech is about. I wonder if I could share something incredibly personal. It might be interesting.
Robin: My father died recently. We have five children in the family, and my sister said, could she speak at the funeral? I said of course you can. I said, you know, how long are you going to speak for? She said, well I thought about it, I am going to speak for about 14 minutes. And I said, Okay. I said, that’s quite long, and also there are five of us. So, I said, you know, do you think you can cut it down at all? And she said, well, it’s quite hard, isn’t it, and I have got lots of things to say about my father. So, are you going to speak? And I said, yes. She said, well, how long are you going to speak for? And I said, well, I thought about it very carefully and I am going to speak for exactly 60 seconds. And she said, well, you can’t say everything you want to say about your father in 60 seconds. You can’t do that. I said, you can but it’s harder than 14 minutes because you have to know what you are really saying. And I ended up my 60 seconds, I spoke a little and then at the end I said, but what I really want to say ultimately is just six words, thank you for being my father, and I sat down. That was the essence of my message. So that’s what I was really saying. I could have given lots of anecdotes and talked about lots of things and said how kind he was but ultimately, that’s what I wanted to say. And it took me funny enough to write that 60 seconds it took me two days. And it sounds odd but it takes longer to write a 60 second speech that it does to write a 14 minute one.
Kelly: That’s wonderful, wonderful, thank you very much for sharing that. In these three questions, these three essential questions, why am I giving this? Why should the audience care? And then what’s the third one?
Robin: The third one is, what are you really saying? And that’s what we just covered there. What are you really saying?
Kelly: In a nutshell, what are you going to say? Okay. Should that be introduced at the beginning? Because it leads to one of your early points of, know how to start a presentation.
Robin: Well, I think so. I think all audience’s attention, well, we all know, audience’s attention spans are shortened. I love it when a speaker comes on and ask a provocative question or somehow nails it right at the beginning. And I use something call the headline sandwich which you may well be familiar with under a different name but I call it the headline sandwich which means you start your talk with your headline and you give your talk and at the end you hit the headline again. So, for example, a friend of mine who was asked to speak at a wedding, he was the best-man and he said, could you give me some tips? And I said, yes. And I said, before you even start thinking about humor or anything, tell me about your friend who is getting married. And he got a little bit emotional about this friend and he said, Oh, Peter. And he said, Pete, he is probably the kindest man I have ever met in my life. And I said, but you have written your speech there, really. You have written your speech. So, at the wedding he stood up and he said, Peter is probably the kindest man I have ever met in my life. Let me tell you why. And then he added a couple of anecdotes as to why that was the case and then he ended up by saying, so, can we now drink a toast to one of the kindest man you will ever meet. And it works in almost every situation. It works in eulogies, it works at weddings, it works in business speaking.
Kelly: Tell us why ethos, logos and pathos have been so important all these years. They are kind of never changing and why are they still so important.
Robin: Ethos, logos and pathos, in that order, so, it is trust, persuade, motivate. And they have to come in that order, interestingly. So, ethos is about building rapport and credibility. So, building trust, in a sense. So, in other words, trust me I know what I am talking about. Then there is the logos which is the logical argument. So, the audience can follow your argument very clearly. And then pathos is then engaging with them on an emotional level, on an empathetic level. So, we can inspire and motivate. So, we want to say, you can trust me. These are my credentials. My persuasion is this. This is my argument and then now I am now going to emotionally motivate you. It is a wonderful expression from the 60s advertising guru which is, sell the sizzle, not the sausage. It’s about selling the excitement of the product not just the product itself. But you don’t want to sell the emotional stuff before you have done the logic because then if it doesn’t work. So, we need to go, okay, I’m a car salesman, I mean, I obviously know about cars. This is a logical reason why this is a good car for you based on what you have told me. And these are now the emotional reasons why I think you really love this car. You go in that order and it tends to work. And the same way the speech as well.
Kelly: Excellent. You have introduced the five classic starts of a speech, what are they?
Robin: Okay, the five classic starts, the most common one, actually, is the benefit, and that’s what sales people do, which is, I’m going to tell you how you can make more money. Here’s a great product for these reasons. This is the benefit to you. So, benefit is a classic one, and be very clear what benefit is. The second one, people in talks do, it is, somewhat, radio stations do it. It is what they call the tease. So, you say, I am going to tell you how you can double your money in the next 10 minutes, but first of all, I am going to do something else. So, you tease them with something that’s coming out, that’s the tease. The question is the other one which is, it can be the same as benefit, it’s just in a question form. So, it can be, grabbing the audience’s attention, you know, who here wants to double their money in the next 10 minutes, just that. Who here wants to look after their retirement planning better? I do a talk on charisma, one of my talks is the opening question which is, can you teach charisma? Very simple question but what it does is, it absolutely frames the talk. Can you teach it or is it something that you are born with? Right up front and the audience know exactly what is there. The shock is the other one. And this is quite often used internally in business meetings where you say, if we don’t do this, we are toast. If we don’t change our behavior we are going to lose all our customers. There is a real call to action in the shock. And then this is what politicians love, which is what’s called the three-way opening, you give three things, but actually you talk about things you say you are not going to but actually you do. Tell you about the current state of the world’s economy. I could tell you how ill-prepared we are about our retirement planning but instead what I am actually going to tell you about is how you could do this. They get three points in one but actually they are only really talking about one but they get the others in at the same time.
Kelly: So, I sell consulting services to a community and regional bank so would a classic start be something like this, if I pose it as a question, can a sleepy community bank compete effectively with big brokers and big banks and achieve double digit growth rate, or would it be how can?
Robin: Good point. The answer to that, it depends on your audience. Both of those questions are great because they are questions that the audience would actually be interested in hearing the answers to. What’s tempting for people when they are selling their services or their products is, you say, we are the best. There was a wonderful advertising campaign in the 60s for lawn seed. Their original campaign ran the best lawn seed in the world, and interestingly enough, they didn’t sell very much lawn seed because the audience doesn’t want lawn seed. What the audience wants is a good lawn. So, they changed the campaign to the best lawns in the world. So, customers don’t want lawn seed, what they want is a lovely lawn. What a customer doesn’t want is your services or my services, they don’t want the services, what they want is the outcome which is, we want to be a more effective team. We want to communicate better. We want to increase our margins, whatever services you are selling. They are not actually interested in your services. They are interested in what your services can do for them, which is why your question was in the right way, which is, how can a small bank do this or can a small bank do this? It doesn’t really matter which way you do it but it’s about...it’s the relevance to the audience that’s important. And I think if you get the first question relevant to the audience that’s when you get them, but normally, when I see speakers they make the first sentence about themselves and that is where it goes wrong, right from the first sentence.
Kelly: That concludes part 2 of my interview with Robin Kermode, actor and author of Speak: So Your Audience Will Listen. In part 3 we will cover some guidelines on Powerpoint type presentations and why a speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start one. But to end it requires considerable skill.
We want to thank you for listening to the syndicated audio program, BankBosun.com. The audio content is produced and syndicated by Seth Greene, Market Domination, with the help of Kevin Boyle. Video content is produced by the Guildmaster Studio, Keenan, Bobson Boyle. Voice introduction is me, Karim Kronfli. The program is hosted by Kelly Coughlin. If you like this program, please tell us. If you don’t please tell us how we can improve it. And now some disclaimers, Kelly is licensed with the Minnesota Board of Accountancy as a certified public accountant. The views expressed here are solely those of Kelly Coughlin and his guest in their private capacity and do not in any way represents the views of any other agent, principal, employee, vendor or supplier.