By Tim Hayes
You’ve heard of these books. “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” “Good to Great.” A stroll down the self-help aisle at any chain bookstore offers scores of similar titles.
But I’ve found some of the greatest tips not in the pages of a book, but on a treasured set of DVDs – the entire “Seinfeld” collection. And it’s my pleasure to share some of those pointers, especially as they pertain to making successful public presentations.
First, there’s the instance of the “low talker,” Kramer’s fashion designer date, who got Jerry to agree to wear the “puffy shirt” on the Today Show. Only problem was, she spoke so softly that Jerry and Elaine really didn’t hear her make the request, so they just nodded in the affirmative so as to not appear rude.
Lesson learned for anyone speaking to a group? Open your mouth! Make your jaw go wide. Stretch your facial muscles before you get up to speak. And while you’re making your presentation, keep the flow of air wide and open from your diaphragm and out past your teeth. The audience is there to hear you, so you are obligated to honor that expectation.
Then there’s the “close talker,” Elaine’s friend who would stand uncomfortably close to anyone with whom he was speaking. I call this the “Wanting It Too Much” syndrome for speakers who like to escape from the podium and prowl into an audience. An eagerness to connect on a personal level is great, but bursting through people’s individual bubble space actually has the opposite effect and repels those you’re trying to embrace.
Lesson learned? Use vocal inflections, warm eye contact, and genuine gestures to engage the audience. Again, they’re eager to connect with you too. They just don’t want to go steady on the first date, so attempting a physical closeness is uncomfortable, unnatural, and unnecessary.
And lastly comes Kramer’s big break when he’s cast in a Woody Allen movie being filmed in Manhattan. As he tries to find just the right delivery for his single line of dialogue, “These pretzels are making me thirsty,” this simple statement gets repeated by virtually everyone in the episode in different contexts, with wildly varying intonations and meanings.
Lesson learned? A well-crafted presentation has intentional phrasing, pauses, passages meant to be spoken softly, verbal crescendos leading to major payoff declarations, and many more verbal cues. The great speakers look for these opportunities to maximize the impact of their delivery for their audiences, and rehearse ahead of time to find just the right blend of information, entertainment, humor, and drama.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to pour myself a tall glass of iced tea. These pretzels are making me thirsty.
Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting