National Speakers Association, Northern California, January Chapter Meeting

Dan Thurmon HeadshotOver 60 members and guests of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association gathered in Lafayette last Saturday to hear NSA National President Dan Thurmon, CSP, CPAE, who presented a talk titled “Doing what it Takes: How to Differentiate & Deliver in Today’s Competitive Marketplace”.

Dan is an author, entrepreneur, workplace performance expert, fitness advocate, acrobat, unicyclist, and more. He’s delivered over 2,500 presentations on six continents in all 50 states and 33 countries, traveling over two million miles and completing…wait for it… over ten thousand backflips on stage!

Off Balance On Purpose

Dan believes we’ll never achieve “perfect balance.” Instead of chasing this impossible dream, we should learn to embrace uncertainty and initiate positive changes that lead to personal and professional growth.

His 2013 TedX talk (155,000 views and counting…) highlights the precarious nature of balance and illustrates his thesis that it’s best to live life “off balance on purpose” complete with handstands, back-flips and juggling:

Dan requested a number of times that no-one post video of his presentation, since video can’t do justice to the full impact of seeing him live. However, I assume he’s OK with the TedX video, and it’s fascinating for those who were in the room last Saturday to see how his content has evolved over the last five years.

Putting the Professionalism into Speaking

Dan first appeared in front of audiences at a young age, while still in grade school he performed at local Renaissance Faires. Now 50, he says that all professional speaking requires is “everything you’ve got”. He certainly delivered all he’s got while on stage.

The five balls he keeps in the air (literally!) include the work we do, our relationships, health, spiritual life and personal passions and interests. He pulled no punches when it came to the dynamic tension between doing what it takes to achieve success as a freelance speaker and the balance with relationships and family. He counsels that we should not compromise by focusing too much on one area at the expense of others. There’s a price to be paid for speakers who are on the road when kids sports games and celebrations are happening.

All speakers deliver three talks each time they are onstage:

  • The one they planned to give
  • The one they gave
  • The one they think about while driving home.

Storytelling Insights

Dan shared the structure of the stories he tells onstage. His template details the hero’s journey as:

  • Once upon a time… (setting the stage for the awakening)
  • And every day… (establishing “normal life” as the point of departure)
  • Until the day… (the inciting incident)
  • Because of that… (on several different levels)
  • Until finally… (the resolution)
  • Ever since that day…

This is a great framework, one that shares some of the elements of Michael Hauge’s 10 Essential Elements of a Great Story, but is a simpler model for many of us to build our stories with.

Storyboarding

Dan ThurmonI was thrilled to see Dan’s portable storyboard. His use of colored Post-It’s to map the topics of a talk has strong echo’s of Nancy Duarte’s guidance in Resonate. The beauty of Dan’s board is that it’s completely portable. The savvy speaker can switch elements of the speech on the way to the auditorium. This is a powerful tool for speechwriters and public speakers.

I’d recommend checking out Dan’s blog for brief 2-3 minute videos where he shares insights in how to live “off-balance on purpose”. These are professionally edited…by his son! The most recent (Jan 15) is delivered in a snowstorm in Golden, Colorado. His YouTube channel has over 50 of these snappy ‘Weekly Coaching’ videos.

NSA National President

Dan became the President of the National Speakers Association this year. This video from the Greater Los Angeles Chapter was filmed last June and previews his presidency:

Public speaking for women

It’s good to see Susan Cain getting well-deserved press in the Financial Times.

Her 2013 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and guest posting on this blog are a a great resource for anyone intimidated by the challenge of speaking in public. Opening an article in the Dec 27 FT, Emma Jacobs quotes Susan and then focuses on the specific challenges faced by women speakers.

Viv_Groskop_Book_CoverEmma’s interviews comedian Viv Groskop, who tackles anxiety and vulnerability in her book, How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking.

Ms. Groskop claims that she wrote the book for women because:

…they have been underserved when it comes to advice on this area. “Almost all the books ever written about public speaking and rhetoric have been about men, by men and for men”.

Overlooked resources

Surprisingly, the article does not mention either Toastmasters or the Professional Speaking Association in the UK, both of which offer great resources to help prepare speakers, male or female, for presentations. Ironically, the current President of the PSA is a woman. In the US, many of the members of the National Speakers Association are women. Patricia Fripp, the first woman national president, offers a wide range of resources to help people deliver powerful presentations.

Another resource for women which the article overlooks is Kate Peters’ excellent book Can You Hear Me Now?. Kate frequently addresses organizations such as Women in Business and E-Women where she highlights differences in how men and women communicate.

Then there’s Speaker Sisterhood, started by Angela Lussier. This group is very active in New England, and offer a community to women who want to discover, awaken and create their voice through the art of public speaking can gain confidence, meet amazing women, and become a better speaker. They have recorded over 100 podcasts that deal with issues such as thriving on stage, overcoming a dread of public speaking, storytelling, and much more.

The weaker sex?

Speaking coach Lisa Braithwait tackles the issue of coaching women speakers in her blog. She asks why there are presentation strategies for women, but not men:

By continuing to write about these alleged weaknesses of women presenters, we perpetuate negative perceptions and assumptions about women as speakers and leaders. We perpetuate the myth that women (because of either birth or gender socialization — we’ll never know) need to be fixed. I work with individuals, and they all have unique characteristics, personalities, flaws, strengths, and needs. I couldn’t possibly categorize or stereotype them and give blanket advice. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the same basic principles apply to presenting.

Five tips for public speakers

Be that as it may, the article concludes with Viv’s five tips on being a confident speaker. I would suggest men can also benefit from these:

  • Write down the excuses you are making to yourself about not speaking. What are your self-limiting beliefs? Read these back and later write an opposite truth. For example, by “I don’t have a strong voice”, write, “I can work on strengthening my voice.”
  • Pick a topic you care enough about to write a speech on. Write five phrases that suit the topic, persuading the audience why they should care. Then give this speech — perhaps by recording it and publishing it online, or at a party.
  • Work on self-belief. Give yourself two minutes to write down 10 things you have done that make you proud. Set the timer to 20 minutes and write another 40. Read the list back.
  • Watch and analyse speakers’ styles. Find ones you like on YouTube and TED Talks and try to see what works about it.
  • Look for opportunities to speak. Practise different types of speaking. Don’t be put off by a bad experience.

A Conversation with Ian Griffin on Speechwriting, Social Media & Blogging

On Thursday, December 13 the Silicon Valley Speeechwriters Roundtable hosted Ian Griffin in a free conference call.

I’m usually the one doing the interviewing. However, Barbara Seymour Giordano suggested she turn the tables and interview me. Barbara had been my guest back in May.

Barbara and I discussed my career as a freelance speechwriter, corporate employee, and blogger. We reviewed how I got into speechwriting, my experience in Silicon Valley companies, my Professionally Speaking blog as well as my new Booch News venture, and more.

To hear the full discussion, click on the podcast icon below.

Speaking of fascism: ‘Bigmouth’ exposes the use and misuse of rhetoric

BigmouthThe Chicago Tribune has reviewed the play ‘Bigmouth’ (created by the Antwerp, Belgium-based SKaGeN) currently on stage in Chicago. It’s a one-man tour de force by Belgian actor Valentijn Dhaenens who delivers extracts of political speeches from the time of the Greeks to the 21st century. Dhaenens speaks in English, German, Greek, Flemish, French, Italian and the unique patois of Ann Coulter.

He appears onstage behind a table configured with nine microphones, reciting a script composed of the words of the Grand Inquisitor, Nicola Sacco, Socrates, Joseph Goebbels, Gen. George S. Patton, Pericles, Baudouin of Belgium, Patrice Lumumba, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Louis Farrakhan, Osama bin Laden, Frank Vanhecke, George W. Bush and, finally, Coulter.

The Tribune observes that

There is no greater tool in the promotion of hate, disarray, retribution, racism, disunity and fascism than lofty rhetoric. Most of the speakers, of course, did not promote such things, but some did… What makes this show so daring is how Dhaenens works to show you the similarity of rhetoric devices across ideologies or, to put that another way, how history teaches us that it is near impossible to separate good and evil people merely by listening to the words they choose to deliver. Why? Because, as Dhaenens shows us by pairing, say, Goebbels with Patton, the fascists long ago learned the soft-pedal tricks of rhetorical power.

The performance reveals how the tricks of rhetoric have remained unchanged since the dawn of language. They can be deployed both for good and bad purposes.

If you’d like to sample the show check out this interview with Dhaenens:

A Conversation with Jeff Davenport on Speechwriting, Screenwriting and Delivery Coaching

Jeff DavenportOn Thursday, August 30th the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted Jeff Davenport in a free conference call.

Jeff serves as an executive speaker coach and senior content developer at Duarte, the well-known communication design and consulting firm based in Santa Clara, founded by Nancy Duarte.

Using his background as a screenwriter and professional public speaker, Jeff helps clients communicate powerfully and persuasively by infusing story, dynamism, and empathy into their presentations. Whether he’s coaching high-level executives or thought leaders taking the stage for conference keynotes or commencement addresses, Jeff brings a thoughtful, personal touch to his roles, tapping into speakers’ personal passions and helping them create lasting connections with their audiences.

Jeff is a 2017 Cicero Award winner in the Public Policy category for his speech ‘Someday is Today’ delivered by Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor at CADE in Lima, Peru.

The call covered a wide range of topics including:

  • How he went from a wallflower in high school to a premier public speaking coach.
  • The secrets of the “Duarte Method” that any and all speechwriters can employ (Hint: read Resonate and Illuminate).
  • The value of the DataStory training workshop available from Duarte that helps speechwriters structure a compelling argument based on analytical data.
  • The three books on screenwriting he recommends speechwriters read:
    1. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field
    2. Save the Cat!, by Blake Snyder
    3. Into the Woods, by John Yorke
  • What you’ll learn by watching the directors cut of Toy Story 3 on Blu-Ray.

Jeff’s parting words:

I would encourage anybody to do more public speaking, especially if you are writing for other people. We all had PE teachers who we realized never once played a sport. They were terrible PE teachers. So get out there and know what it’s like to play. Take a public speaking class. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. Do some sort of public speaking, writing for yourself and delivering yourself so you can get more in the heads of your clients and what know their true struggles are.

Otherwise, I would add, you’re forever the virgin trying to write a sex manual, aren’t you?

To hear the full discussion click on the podcast icon below.

Don’t quote me on that …

Two letters from Wednesday’s edition of the Financial Times attribute a quote about the difficult of writing a short speech or letter rather than a much longer one to two different sources. Financial Times letters

Pascale’s quote is translated as “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”

Woodrow Wilson’s quote is variously represented as

If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

The debate over who to attribute the quote to has been analyzed in depth by the Quote Investigator — an invaluable resource — which finds evidence for a number of sources including Woodrow Wilson; Abraham Lincoln; Rufus Choate; Thomas B. Macaulay; William Howard Taft and Mark Twain.

No matter the degree of difficulty, the final word on the value of short speeches goes to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.

Mini Skirts

However, the Quote Investigator finds that Churchill was re-stating a saying that had been in circulation for over 20 years.

Cannon fodder

FT ExtractI’m continually amazed by the hidden gems buried in the pink pages of the Financial Times. Today’s edition has a fascinating article on the manner in which auto companies protect their fleets of new vehicles parked in the open at distribution centers in places at risk of hailstones.

It seems VW and Nissan have installed cannons which fire shockwaves into the air that can actually prevent the formation of damaging hail stones that might rain down on the new vehicles.

Unfortunately, the weather-altering technology has deprived local farmers of much-needed rain, causing droughts. The farmers are suing.

In the spirit of compromise (perhaps learned as a result of the unfortunate emissions scandal) VW are silencing the cannons and installing protective “anti-hail nets” above the cars.

Business Insider notes that the use of cannons to influence the weather goes back to the time of the Romans

Herodotus and Caesar made note of the fact that barbarian tribes tried to shoot arrows at oncoming storms. In parts of Europe, guns were used to shoot at storms, until Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa prohibited the practice in 1750 — apparently, it was a source of complaints by neighbors of the storm shooters, who were upset about the way the weather changed as a result.

If the technology is so effective, one wonders why Flanders was so darned wet when the guns of August split the air during the First World War.

Announcing: A Conversation with Jeff Davenport

Jeff DavenportOn Thursday, August 30th the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable will host Jeff Davenport in a free conference call.

Jeff serves as an executive speaker coach and senior content developer at Duarte, the well-known communication design and consulting firm based in Santa Clara, founded by Nancy Duarte.

Using his background as a screenwriter and professional public speaker, Jeff helps clients communicate powerfully and persuasively by infusing story, dynamism, and empathy into their presentations. Whether he’s coaching high-level executives or thought leaders taking the stage for conference keynotes or commencement addresses, Jeff brings a thoughtful, personal touch to his roles, tapping into speakers’ personal passions and helping them create lasting connections with their audiences.

Jeff is a 2017 Cicero Award winner in the Public Policy category for his speech ‘Someday is Today’ delivered by Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor at CADE in Lima, Peru.

In this call we’ll discuss the background to the Cicero Award-winning speech and the “Duarte Method” Jeff employs with his clients. Jeff is also an accomplished screenwriter and a firm believer in the use of the story structure in speeches. Finally, we’ll touch on why he believes speechwriters must write with delivery in mind, and share his secret for pitching a completed speech to the client to ensure successful delivery from the podium.

Click here to RSVP for this free conference call.

Book Review: Bad Blood — Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

For anyone with even a passing interest in executive communications in Silicon Valley, Bad Blood is a must read.

Bad Blood CoverWall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou delivers a step-by-step history of Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup headed by the young, charismatic founder and Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes. He has written a masterful, suspenseful tale of allegedly illegal acts that range from intrigue and deception to outright lying and fraud.

Elizabeth Holmes, who imitated Steve Jobs in both dress, abrasive management style, secrecy that verged on paranoia and, most tellingly, presentation skills that created a “reality distortion field” among her audiences, was able to raise hundreds of millions in venture funding and the support of an incredible cast of characters including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Rupert Murdoch, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, Larry Ellison, Mark Andreesen, Chelsea Clinton and the head of Stanford’s chemical engineering department Channing Robertson.

What seems almost unbelievable, in hindsight, is that every one of these eminent leaders supported Holmes even as doubts were being raised about the technology by a number of ex-employees and regulatory agencies. Most poignantly, Secretary of State George Schultz chose to believe Holmes over the pleas of his own grandson who had worked at the company and had serious concerns.

Fortune_CoverTheranos was founded on technology that promised vital health information could be gleaned from a small drop of blood using handheld devices supposedly equal in accuracy to the those depending on the much larger quantities of blood drawn by companies like Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America. This was, apparently, never the case. The company was adept at hiding its failings from those who doubted their claims.

Theranos ran under a strict code of secrecy. Management created smoke screens and diversions. Investors kept pouring in money, turning Elizabeth Holmes into a temporary billionaire. Companies like Walgreens and Safeway struck deals with Theranos. The press lionized the charismatic Holmes.

Bad Blood ReviewDespite the aggressive tactics of the best lawyers money could buy, including the super-scary David Boies, Carreyrou’s investigative work shone light on the deception. The final third of the book is his story and the revelations that started with the October 15, 2015 front page story in the Journal.

For those working in Silicon Valley this is a cautionary tale. Take note of what your moral compass is telling you.

Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many speechwriters did you kill today?

LBJThanks to David Murray for pointing to a piece from DelanceyPlace.com about President Lyndon Johnson’s relentless work schedule that exhausted most of those who worked for him in the West Wing. This from the book Organizing the Presidency by Stephen Hess

He worked a two-shift day, 7:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. Between 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. he took a walk, swam, ate lunch, napped, showered, and changed clothes. Then, returning to his office, he was known to say, “It’s like starting a new day.” Top assistants were expected to be available at all times, for both shifts.

This relentless determination to do more of everything for as long as he would be in office inevitably took its toll on those around him. For example, in 1964, an election year, when he made 424 speeches, almost everyone on the staff was pressed into service as a presidential scribe, and everyone joined the constant talent search for speechwriters. The length of the day, the intensity of the work, and Johnson’s reputation for verbally abusing those close to him also meant a ceaseless turnover of presidential assistants, which gave the executive mansion “the appearance of a well-slept rooming house.”

The challenge of working as a speechwriter in the Johnson White House are highlighted by Robert Schlesinger in his excellent book White House Ghosts. Writers had

…a struggle to find the right balance in Johnson’s rhetoric…His insecurities and moods, skills as an extemporaneous speaker and deficiencies with a text, and his inability to adapt to television had push-pull effects on the speechwriting process.

JumboThese difficulties were exacerbated by the President’s eccentricities, such as his habit of intimidating other men by showing off “Jumbo”– his masculine appendage, of which he was inordinately proud. Schlesinger reports that he interviewed speechwriter Douglas Carter by forcing him to join in a skinny dipping session in the White House pool.

The speechwriters serving Johnson lived life on the edge

The pressure was crushing. Waking in the middle of the night, Hardesty would realize that he had been editing a speech in his dreams.

and

A ceaseless week of drafting drove Goodwin to his physical and mental limit in the predawn hours of January 12, the day of delivery. At the end of a thrity-six hour jag, Goodwin could neither focus on his typewriter keys nor order his thoughts in complete sentences.

The root of these difficulties was a simple of case of Presidential envy

Kinter later said that Johnson was “Always angry” about the drafts he was getting. “He always felt they were inferior to Kennedy’s,” he said. “I’ve never known him to be satisfied with a speech, either before, after, or at any point.”

Alas, even Jumbo was no help.