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 them, their policies, their history. In fact the only information you have, is what each candidate’s son says about their Dad. Which candidate would you vote for? (And yes, you have to vote)
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 — and be honest, this is for posterity — 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 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 of these, then you notice them 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 is a few notches lower than you think. Not that they are, 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 eight-year old. They should be capable of understanding most of the words you want to use.
Finally, make sure you sprinkle in a little verbal seasoning to your presentation, and use one or two wordhacks — words that do 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.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.