THE Presentations Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

THE Presentations Japan Series is powered by with great content from the accumulated wisdom of 100 plus years of Dale Carnegie Training. The show is hosted in Tokyo by Dr. Greg Story, President of Dale Carnegie Training Japan and is for those highly motivated students of presentations, who want to be the best in their business field.
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THE Presentations Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan








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Aug 8, 2022

It seems logical that any presentation we are giving is ours.  Well, that is sort of correct, but what I am talking about is making it reflect your style and personality.  When you talk to people about being a leader, they often bring up the word “authentic”, but when you talk to people about presenting, few ever mention that word.  They are focused on being easily understood, convincing, concise, memorable etc.  Being yourself should be the default, but somehow many people get wrapped up in being the “presenter”, as if it is a role they are playing.


I totally agree that the presenter role is a thing.  What I usually tell the Japanese participants in our classes is that when you are presenting you have a different set of responsibilities.  When having a chat with your friend over coffee, you can talk in a soft voice and not project any great energy.  However, when you are up on stage, that is a different set of responsibilities.  The volume has to be sufficient that no one in the audience is struggling to hear what you are saying. Of course, you might be thinking, what is the issue, we all have microphones today.  True, but have you ever noticed that many people have no clue how to handle the technology.  They hold it down way to too low relative to their mouth or they strangle it, by placing their hand over the mesh, which is specifically designed to pick up the sound.


The energy part is also important.  We buy enthusiasm and confidence and the amount of buying going on is in direct proportion to the amount of energy being projected.  What if I am a low energy person, aren’t I being authentic to speak with low energy - isn’t that who I am?  The answer here is that you should give up any ideas about being a speaker, because there is a range of skills and mindset required to do the job well.  If you don’t have those skills and the right mindset, why do we have to listen to you, when we can listen someone who is more professional.


We have to be ourselves but be our professional selves, not our train wreck selves.  What I am talking about is operating at a high level of skill and bringing aspects of your personality into the presentation.  Many presenters are stuck in low gear and they give a journeyman performance but we don’t feel close to them or impressed by them.  Being able to bring more of yourself means, not being afraid of adding a little flair when presenting. 


I will contrast two presenters.  I attended an event recently and the slides were well done, the presenter (I am his client by the way), was very well presented, his voice was clear and calm.  That was the problem – it was calm.  It wasn’t energised or excited by the chance to share his content with the audience.  The voice was clear but the tone was flat – it was a Johnny One Note performance which can be sleep inducing, if we get too much of it.  He is the President of his firm and he should be the chief proselytiser, he should be projecting his confidence about what a great company they are and about all of the great things they can do for their clients.  The demand for his company’s services is strong, so maybe he doesn’t feel any need to project anything, but that is a big mistake.  Markets turn and he has a professional brand for himself, regardless of where he works.


Another presenter I saw brings all the clarity, professional slides etc., to the party but he also brings a lot of himself and all of his little idiosyncrasies as well.  He brings all of the professionalism around the skill and mindset but also some of his personality.  This is what makes him memorable.  We associate the professionalism with his personal brand and he can take it one step further – he makes his talks entertaining.  This is dangerous territory because being entertaining as a speaker is the hardest element in the speaking universe to pull off.  The true professionals are just that – they are doing stand up for a living and the rest of us are amateurs delving into an area of great complexity.  I am sure you have no shortage of recollections of speakers attempting to be humorous and just falling totally flat.


We don’t need to be comedians, but we can allow aspects of our personalities to shine through which can be entertaining or at least work well in that environment.  The speaker I was referencing isn’t setting out to be humourous, but he is allowing his natural personality to come through and that makes his talks entertaining.  I realise about myself that comedy is not in my future, so I don’t even try it.  I also realise that there are limits to how much I can loosen up on stage.  I compensate for these weaknesses by being authentic, which in my case means being high energy, confident and powerful when presenting.  Think about how you can be authentic, but also be skilled and memorable when on stage and not just fade into the wallpaper and become totally forgettable after the talk is finished.

Aug 1, 2022

I get this question quite often: “should I follow the logic of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ with regard to doing business with Japanese companies?”. Their question is usually related to how to present to buyers. The Western “pitch deck” is usually well designed, professionally laid out and zen like in its simplicity.  Ironically, the equivalent decks from companies in the land of zen, are usually more reminiscent of the Baroque period, highly ornate and florid in design.  Polar opposites in fact.  The style of the actual delivery of the decks is usually also a world apart and it is quite shocking when you first encounter this phenomenon. What should we be doing to be effective in winning business from Japanese companies?


Very, very occasionally, when teaching presentation skills here to Japanese people, we will encounter a preference for the “Japanese way” of presenting, rather than the global standard that we are advocating.  What do they mean by the “Japanese way”?  We should speak in a monotone, with no energy, have our back to the audience and read everything on the screen to those in the room.  It also means having a slide with 5 different fonts and a similar number of colours, packed to gunwales with data.  If using graphs is a good idea, then let’s put up five on the one slide, so that everything is so tiny, you cannot make much sense of it.  If proffering information is considered important, then let’s affix vast slabs of impenetrable text to the slide and then read it to the audience.  Another favourite is to put up the entire spreadsheet, packed with microscopic numbers in the cells.  Just to spice it up, let’s add some animation and have various bits move around.


Why are the Japanese decks and every other collection of information offered often so crammed and dense?  I discovered the reason when I was a university student here in Tokyo.  Back in 1979, I attended an academic conference on Sino-Japanese relations, which was my chosen field of study at that time.  One of the professors was relating a point about the difference in thinking between Chinese people and Japanese people.  Zen travelled from India, through China to Japan and so at various points in history, Japanese Buddhist priests would go to China to study.  There was an allegorical zen tale regarding a well and a bucket, which in the Chinese version, made a macro point about the condition of humanity in the world.  The good Professor made the observation that when that allegorical tale was translated into Japanese, in addition to the macro point, there was a tremendous amount of micro detail about the construction of the well, how the rope was made, the dimensions of everything, etc., etc.


Japan Is A Data Consuming Tornado


This is the point – Japanese buyers have an insatiable need for data.  You simply cannot oversupply data to a Japanese client and they will just keep sucking it up, like a tornado devours everything in its path.  So, when we present our highly refined, trimmed down slide deck or submit our carefully manicured written proposal, the Japanese side often feels like they have just missed their lunch and are starving, ravenous for more information.  Written materials in particular can be a problem.  We are trained in the West to be succinct, to focus on the core information, to get to the point.  Japan is just not that way.


The language itself is circuitous, vague and indirect.  We are a bilingual operation here in Tokyo, so we are constantly switching between languages. Even after 37 years here, I am still amazed at how many more words are needed to express the same concept in Japanese than in English. 


So should we become Japanese when we present?  To be successful here we need two presentations.  We need the global best practice slide deck, the one which gets to the key points quickly and clearly.  The information on screen must be able to be grasped in two seconds.  If it takes longer than that, the slide is too complex and needs to be simplified further.  When we deliver it, we use our eye contact to engage the audience, our voice modulation to provide variety to keep the audience with us and use our gestures to highlight key concepts, phrases and words. 


Bring Supporting Multi Volume Compendiums

We should also bring a massively thick compendium of supporting information, so high you couldn’t jump over it, to go with your presentation which was focused on the highlights.  After the meeting or after they have received your written proposal, there will be staff designated to comb through this data to find all the problems associated with working with you and doing business with your company. 


Japan has a highly risk averse culture, especially in business.  The people you are dealing with are not going to get massive bonuses and rewards for risk taking.  In Japan, the ratio of CEO pay, vis-à-vis the median employee’s pay, is 58 times greater, compared to 670 times in the USA.  The upside isn’t big for risk taking here, but the downside for making a mistake is massive. The people you are dealing with or the people in the presentation room, will not be making any decisions, until the forensic due diligence has been completed. For that purpose, they have a data devouring demonic need for information.  Always be fully professional in your delivery, but carry a very big bag full of information and hand that over. Trust me, no one will complain about the weight. 


Once you understand the conversation going on in the mind of your Japanese customer you can meet them there and things will become much easier.  Don’t try to be Japanese.  Be yourself, but be smart, professional, well organised and come packing heavy with data – lots and lots of data.

Jul 25, 2022

Storytelling in business is an open field.  In most facets of commerce, the field is crowded, established foes are entrenched behind high protective walls and as far as you can see it is all red ocean.  Presenting however is all blue ocean because most business leaders hardly even get their toes wet.  They dismiss being able to present in a professional manner as fluff, smoke and mirrors, all show and no substance, inconsequential.  Their approach to speaking in public is that the audience are only there for the data, statistics, the latest information and the delivery is irrelevant.  If possible, they prefer to avoid the whole affair because it is painful for them.  Being persuasive however has never gone out of style in business and that is a universal and timeless truth.


Being persuasive has many aspects, such as understanding who is going to be in the audience and determining what is the purpose of your talk.  Are you there to inform, inspire, convince or entertain?  Research teams and underlings are good at digging out different data points and the temptation is to throw these logs on the fire to heat up the audience.  Nothing wrong with that except all of this data struggles to remain in the memory and it makes the whole talk crusty and dry, like week old bread left outside.


When we can wrap the information in a story we start to really motor with our audience.  This delivery technique is tremendously impactful because it makes the information easy to remember and makes the message clear and attractive.  Many business leaders however are never exposed to how to tell a story, so they have little idea where to start.  I cannot tell a joke to save my life, but I can tell a story because I know structures, which make this process easy for me.


There are a number of steps.

  1.   We are fed a constant diet of professional storytelling in the media and there are always a number of key characters involved.  Who will these characters be in our story?  They could be the founder, members of the senior leadership team, researchers, scientists, clients, etc.  If the main characters are well known to the audience then even better.  Our object is to have those listening picture the face of that person in their mind.  If I make Elon Musk the main character, then I am guessing that everyone can see his face in their minds eye.  Maybe the company CEO or CFO is also so recognisable that the entire firm can see their face when they hear the name.


  1. What is going on in the background of this story?  Why are the key points we are going to cover relevant?  What is the driving the circumstances of this story’s punchline?  When we describe the context we need some guideposts.  When was it?  Is this last month or two years ago?  What was the season?  Was it a February snowy day or a brutal Tokyo summer August day?  Where was it?  Are we in a boardroom in the HQ, a Hotel restaurant, a convention, a research lab?  Which of the main characters were there at that moment?  Remember our task is to transport our listeners to that key point in the story, to get them seeing the same scene we are describing in their mind.  That requires that we paint the location and people with a series of word pictures.


  1. Conflict/Opportunity. Every drama we see on television or at the movies and every novel we read, has this construct.  The good guys and the bad guys are both there to create the tension in the drama.  In our business story there will be protagonists.  That may be the market, the currency, the competition, the regulator, the bank, the suppliers, the client, the government.  Think about the recent supply chain issues.  There are plenty of protagonists involved to explain why this phenomenon is impacting businesses. 


It could be Covid or the war in Ukraine.  It might be a technological breakthrough that destroys established players as Nokia found with the launch of the iPhone.  We need to place the conflict inside the context we have described and make it clear how high the stakes are here, because that degree of tension is gripping.  There has been no shortage of drama for my industry, the training industry, since Covid started. Probably none of us will have any trouble finding conflicts or opportunities to describe to the audience and we intertwine the main characters to make it real for the listeners.


  1. This may be positive or negative, but there will be an outcome in the story.  Even if the conclusion is that this is where we are at this point and here is what we expect to be coming down the pike, should there be no ultimate resolution at this juncture.  We need to put a ribbon on the story however and tie it off, so it not just left hanging.  The audience needs a finale of some sort or they are left feeling unfulfilled.


  1. After having explained the context, the main protagonists, the drama of the conflict or opportunity and how it ended, we now proffer some insights.  There is no doubt we love to hear the lessons from the train wreck more than the swan story about silkily gliding across the surface of the business context.  If my speech is titled “How I made $100 million”, for most people, it will not be as attractive as the title “How I lost $100 million”.  We all love a juicy business meltdown and all the drama which went toward creating that disaster.  We do this so we can learn what not to do ourselves.


Everyone of us has amazing business stories inside us already.  If we don’t have enough, relax, the universe will just keep minting them going forward.  If you don’t have enough of your own, just start reading the business news and there you have a cornucopia of content to work with.

Jul 18, 2022

Remembering Ex-PM Shinzo Abe As A Communicator


Like everyone, I was so shocked that Japan has lost such a prominent, global representative of the country to assassination. I wrote this original article back in 2016 and I thought to rework it and release it again in memory of Shinzo Abe.  Over many years I have seen him improve as a public speaker and that always encourages me to think that other prominent Japanese leaders can also break out of their self-imposed restrictions and do a professional job too.


October 2016

Japanese politicians have to do a lot of public speaking, but they are rarely engaging.  They are generally speaking at their audiences rather than to them.  I attended the Japan Summit at the Okura Hotel Ball Room run by the Economist. Sitting there listening to three leading Japanese politicians, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Shigeru Ishiba (then Minister for National Strategic Zones) and Akira Amari (then Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy), I was struck by the lack of picture painting and storytelling in their presentations.


By the way, if you have seen Prime Minister Abe of late, he has improved quite a lot.  Previously, his presentations were terribly wooden, lacking animation and any attempt at connection with his audience. In this sense, he was firmly situated in the mainstream, because these are the typical attributes of business and political leaders when speaking in public in Japan.


I sometimes get pushback from some Japanese class participants that this is okay, because this is the “Japanese way” of giving presentations.  Total nonsense.  Being effective as a presenter or public speaker has some universal elements which cannot be neglected.  One aspect is as a successful speaker or presenter you have to push yourself forward.  Yes, it is true that this is not usually seen as a cultural positive in Japan. 


Being low key, humble, even subdued and apologetic is preferred in normal social and business life here.  This doesn’t apply though when we are speaking in public.  We now have an entirely different role and we have to be more loud, more animated, more confident, more engaging and more enthusiastic in this particular role.  When we coach softly spoken people to increase their volume when speaking, they often say they feel like they are screaming.  When we ask the audience listening during the class if they feel that is the case, the answer is always “no”.  Instead, the speaker comes across as more confident, capable and credible.  We have to understand the role is different and we have to adjust to suit that role.


Those who are failed presenters embrace the excuse of the “Japanese way” as an escape route from professional accountability, but it doesn’t work.  Good is good and we can see the difference when people speak in pubic.  They either engage us or they don’t and there is not a “Japanese way” of public speaking which can avoid that necessity.


Whether it was some coaching before the successful Olympic bid or thereafter, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is much better.  More animated, using bigger gestures, more eye contact, using those see through teleprompters to help engage the audience, rather than looking down at a page of notes. He had humour, pauses for clarity and some voice modulation.  Hey corporate Japan, take note, it is possible to become better at public speaking! 


Everyone, please take note – don’t bore us with your data.  Tell us a story, pleeease!  Bring the points being made to life by connecting them to some people and events you have encountered.  Our minds are well trained to absorb stories, because they are the first educational structure we encounter as young children.  The story should start with taking us to the place of the story, the location, the room, nominate the day, month or the season and introduce the people there, preferably people we already know, to make it real for us. 


By getting straight into the story we can draw our audience in.  We can now intertwine the context behind the point we want our audience to agree with.  By providing the background logic, cloaked in a story which is vivid, we can see it in our mind’s eye. We will have more success convincing others to follow us.  Having set the scene, we finish by outlining our proposition or proposal and tie the ribbon on top, by pin pointing the major benefit of doing what we suggest.  This is elegant and powerful.


In business, we should use storytelling appropriately but powerfully.  Less is more, but none is particularly bad.  Unite our disparate audience from multiple backgrounds by wrapping our key message in a story and if you do, what you say will be remembered, unlike almost all messages from Japanese politicians.  Let the story create your context, evidence and sizzle for your key message


Action Steps


  1. Stop believing the quality or quantity of your information is enough
  2. Don’t try and pack too many stories into your presentation
  3. Start the story by creating a vivid mind picture of the scene



Vale Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister

Jul 11, 2022

Imagine an experienced, senior executive from a name brand major company giving a one minute introduction of the company, while holding a piece of paper, reading the introduction to the audience.  What would be your impression of that executive and by extension the professionalism of that company?  I am sure it would be highly negative.  If a senior person can’t manage a one minute talk without reading it, we will be wondering what sort of people are working there? 


The problem today is we are awash in high levels of professionalism around presenting from the professionals.  Netflix, Disney, Hulu, HBO etc., are pumping huge budgets into streaming content with unbelievably high production values and oozing with high levels of script quality and professional actor delivery.   We become accustomed to these images of professional presenters and then a lame amateur turns up, holding their piece of A4 paper and just destroys their reputation on the spot.


Business seems to be the last refuge of scoundrels who cannot present in a professional way, but that is not an acceptable situation.  The audience today are heavily armed with mobile phones which can connect them to the internet in seconds. The delights of social media can quickly outweigh the appeal of the speaker and their topic, if the delivery isn’t professional.  Even when the content is good and the delivery is okay, it doesn’t hold the audience’s attention as it once did. 


I was at a presentation recently and the speaker was doing an okay job – not great but not horrendous either.  That didn’t stop the gentlemen sitting next to me at my table from getting out his phone, then his iPad and later his laptop during the presentation.  He was checking and answering emails, scrolling around social media and generally “multi-tasking”.  This is the nadir for the speaker – to be reduced to competing for audience attention when they are half listening and are simultaneously busy doing something else.


The paper reading speaker I mentioned earlier puzzled me, so I approached him and asked him why he had to read a one minute speech.  He told me he was afraid of his English ability.  This was an interesting comment, because we were famously chatting away in English for about five minutes before we go to this gritty subject.  I said to him that was a surprising comment given his English was absolutely fine. 


Actually he didn’t need the piece of paper, but his fear of linguistic imperfection was driving his behaviour.  He had been focused on the wrong thing.  Perfection is not required in communication.  I know this because my Japanese is certainly not “perfect” but I can communicate freely in Japanese and listeners can follow what I am saying. 


This is the same for English, a language mainly spoken by non-native speakers in fact, if you add up the population numbers.  That means that a good portion of the time, native speakers are listening to a variety of accents in English with some exciting departures from grammatical norms.  No problem though, because we can connect the dots and work out what it is they are trying to say and without missing a beat, give them a response which matches the flow of the conversation.


Fear was his impediment, but a false fear, a self-induced and self-limiting fear. This happens in our presentation classes too.  The participants start totally consumed by their concerns and worries and are relatively oblivious to the audience, because they are totally focused on themselves.  After a few hours of practice with coaching, they, without knowing it, have now switched their focus from themselves to trying to engage with their audience.


If our speaker had thrown away the A4 paper and instead used his minute to engage his audience, he would have rescued the brand.  If he had done all of that and spoken with great energy and enthusiasm he would have actually accentuated the brand.  If he had a few grammatical errors or pronunciation slip ups, no one would have cared, because they would have been tuned into his communication, not to the actual degree of linguistic perfection of his delivery. 


Interestingly, he was not Japanese and yet the majority of the audience were Japanese speakers.  When we speak a foreign language, it is often the case that we can be more easily able to understand non-native speakers because they have very simple vocabularies.  He didn’t take this factor into consideration when thinking about who would be in his audience.  That was another error on his part – his preparation didn’t factor in who would be the audience for this one minute promotion of his company.  This has to be the first thing we do, every time! 


Don’t let the fear of speaking hold you back.  Prepare thoroughly, understand who is going to be in your audience, spend your delivery time focused on engaging your audience, bring your enthusiasm and passion and forget about linguistic perfection.  If he had done that, then his personal brand and his company’s brand wouldn’t have been shredded on the spot, as actually happened.  Today, the risk is simply too high to let people who have no clue what they are doing, to go around representing the brand in public. Why do it that way?  Give them training and then let them go forth and become a terrific brand ambassador for the organisation.

Jul 4, 2022

Recently I have been coaching people on their presentation skills.  It is always amazing to me how some small changes can balloon into major improvements.   If these things are so simple, then why aren’t they making the changes themselves?  Why do they need coaching?  Basically, we all wander through life with a minimum level of self-awareness about anything, let alone how we appear when we present.  The other problem is the zone of vision when we are presenting is in an arc in front of us. It takes some organising to be able to see how we are doing in the eyes of the audience. Most of us are just not that well organised.  So we wind up giving the presentations into the void and are not really sure what needs improving.  Enter the coach.


I found I was focusing on a few items to help the participants in my class improve their persuasion power.  The six elements were eyes, hands, face, voice, toes and energy.  Let's dig in a bit deeper with each of them.


  1. Looking at your audience and engaging your audience are not the same thing. You often see politicians in Japan scanning their eyes across a crowd, trying to give off the vibe that they are connecting with the punters. However, it is a fake construct, because the length of time allocated is only around two seconds per person.  We need around six seconds of one-on-one sustained eye contact, before we can create a sense of “the speaker is talking directly to me” in the audience member’s mind.  If we just keep staring at them, they start to think “axe murderer”, because it is too intrusive.  Six seconds seems to strike the right balance of being personable without becoming threatening.


  1. This is a perennial problem people have of what to do with their hands. Holding them behind the back is a favourite of many, simply because they don’t know what to do with them and this pose seems to anchor their upper body for them.  Holding them crossed in front of our body, where all the soft organs are located, creates a barrier with audience which we don’t need.   Thrusting them into pockets gets them conveniently out of the way, but it also gets them out of the way, which is no particular help to us.


As a presenter, our hands have only one purpose – to strengthen the verbal point we are making.  To find where your hands should be held, just hold your arms out about a shoulder height, then drop them – where they land is where you should keep them until you need to bring them up to bolster some thesis you are promoting.



  1. Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research at UCLA found that we get the maximum concentration from our audience on the words we are saying, when what we say is matched by how we say it.  This sounds simple enough, but what I found when  coaching the class was that they tended to have one expression on their face throughout the talk, regardless of the content of the message.  People put a lot of attention into the visuals for their presentation, slaving over the slide deck preparation, but forget the most powerful visual medium they have, which is their face.  If it is good news, then smile when you tell us.  If it is bad news, then look serious.  If it is exciting news then look excited.  I think you get the idea.


  1.    Having a deep DJ style voice is definitely an advantage.  I remember when I met fellow Aussie Chris Glenn in Nagoya.  He was a local DJ there and out of this tall, slender frame came this astonishingly deep voice.  I didn’t get issued with one of those and have probably fried my vocal cords, with a million karate kiai over my career, so I have a rather husky number.  Folks, we go with what we have. 


We do our best though, to make the most of it by having a good vocal range around tone, speed and strength.  The monotone delivery is the killer of audience attention.  Side note: Japanese is a monotone language!  Uh oh.  Does that mean Japanese speakers are forever doomed to be the denizens of the boredom zone?  Not all. Japanese speakers can create variety through speed and strength changes, which will be enough to keep the attention on them when presenting.


  1. What on earth is he doing talking about toes when presenting?  More correctly, I am talking about the angle you are pointing your toes.  Without thinking about it, I noticed a number of presenters would stand with their toes pointing off at an angle, rather than at ninety degrees to the front.  This alters the body mechanics making it difficult to turn in the other direction.  The result is we don’t turn, so effectively we are now speaking with only one half of our audience.


  1.   Passion, commitment, belief, enthusiasm for our subject are all communicated by the amount of energy we pump out.  We cannot turn the throttle up to maximum output for the whole talk though. We have to release it in bursts, so that we don’t wear out our audience.  On the other hand, if we turn that throttle right down, we will not be projecting enough energy to grab attention and the entire audience will be leaping onto their phones to find something more interesting happening on the internet at that moment.  The key is the energy output has to match the content of what we are saying. 


Think of the key points in the talk where you want to place emphasis and then marshal your energy to help you highlight that part of the talk. A very common error is that speakers allow their energy to drop right off at the end of their talk.  Don’t fade out.  Finish with a bang – remember final impressions are the lasting impressions and we want to be recalled in the right way.


These six points are so simple, but when corrected each of them made a significant impact on the quality of the talk.  I would make the correction and then ask the audience to compare with what the speaker had been doing.  When you see this before and after it is convincing.

Jun 27, 2022

I am just back from a highly pointless presentation.  The bureaucrats who run the Tokyo Metro subway system and the Tokyo Government Planning Division were presenting on their plan for a new subway line to be constructed in my neighbourhood.  This is my second occasion to attend one of these types of presentations.  The previous one was about changing the direction of aircraft landing at Haneda and for planes to fly low over our neighbourhoods, which unfortunately are in the new direct flight path.  These “explanation sessions” are pointless for many reasons, including the way they are conducted.


There is no real appetite to entertain the viewpoint of the assembled residents and so the design is to obscure, divert and suck up as much time as possible with administrative aspects of the meeting, in order to limit the question time. 


Interestingly they had a slide show, which had an announcer read the whole content to us.  Why was that required, when everyone can read what is on screen?  To use up the question time of course.  Question time itself was interesting in the way they handled it.  Somewhat surprisingly, they do what we teach regarding hostile questions.  They had a navigator take the hot question, then paraphrase it, removing all the venom and spiky bits, before handing it over to the supposed experts.


You might be thinking, “well these are government bureaucrats, so there is no relation to the world of commerce”.  Often we can see the flaws in others, but ignore those same flaws in ourselves.  Japanese business presentations are very formal.  There will be a navigator to tell us things, like where the exits are located and to turn off our phones.  The President giving the talk will often not be highly familiar with the slides prepared by the underlings and will read the whole thing to us. 


Sometimes, if there is a screen located behind the podium, they will unhelpfully turn their back to us and their head toward the screen and then read the whole content to us.  Often, there will be a slick corporate video shown, the main purpose of which is to reduce the President’s speaking time burden and which adds very little value to the presentation.


Taking the sting out of questions is a legitimate technique, but you still have to handle the questions.  Today there was a lot of dissembling of answers and that is never satisfactory.  The same things happen in business.  You can see the speaker is flustered by the question and doesn’t know how to handle it.  The first problem is they go directly to answer mode, instead of creating a little brain space to think about the answer.  Invariably, we have all had the experience of coming up with the killer answer about two hours too late, for when we needed it.  What came out of our mouth though was the first thing which popped into our mind and obviously that will never be as good as a more considered answer.  Our mouth was too close to our ear and our brain wasn’t engaged fast enough, before we blurted out our response.  We can wind up sprouting nonsense in reply to the question.


Just adding a little cushion makes a world of difference.  The cushion is that space between the question ending and the answer proper beginning. You might ask them to repeat the question or you can paraphrase what they said or you can make a neutral comment such as, “that is a very important consideration” or all three, to gain thinking time.  Five seconds does a wonder of good when it comes to contemplating how to handle tough questions.  Naturally, our answers won’t always be satisfying for certain members of the audience, but we need to explain the logic of our approach, decisions or our actions. 


If we don’t know the answer, then trying to snow the audience, instead of admitting the truth is a guaranteed way to destroy our reputation.  Audiences will accept it if you say to the questioner, “I don’t have an answer for that point at the moment, but let’s exchange business cards after my talk and I will find the answer for you.  Who has the next question?”.


Now this only works when the question is very specific and the answer is not something that you would be expected to necessarily have at your fingertips.  If it is within the scope of your subject and you don’t know the answer, then that is a black mark on your professionalism.  You see this sometimes from jet setting VIPs who swoop in to give their talk, before they head off to their next engagement.  It is a PR exercise which can go wrong very quickly.  Their presentation was prepared for them and they think their job is to just read it out to us.  Again, it is better to be honest and admit you should know that answer, apologise that you don’t and promise to get the answer to the questioner.  None of us are perfect, so we will accept your odd flaw and imperfection.


We should always keep in mind that every time we get up to speak, we are punting our personal and professional brands out there for all to see.  Prepare thoroughly and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse is the right formula.  If we do that, people will come away impressed with us and feel the time spent was worthwhile and they will be looking forward to hearing from us again in the future.

Jun 20, 2022

The request has been made to give a talk on a certain subject.  The date and time are fixed and now the work begins on the preparation.  Here is how not to do it!  Start with plundering previous slide decks for re-usable content and create new original content for this particular presentation.  Fuss mightily over which slides go in and which go out.  Discover even after that Herculean effort to pare down the beast, that it still needs bits to be lopped off.  Does this sound tremendously familiar to you when getting ready to give a presentation?  Well if this is what not to do, then exactly what are we supposed to be doing?


The warm embrace of an existing tried and true slide deck and the excitement of grabbing new materials and wrangling it into a slide, can be intoxicating I know, however we have to consider what is the point here.  A collage of slides is not a central message and there lies the problem.  Before we even think of any cool visuals, we need to plumb the depths of our brain for what it is we want our audience to know and believe. We need to boil all the possibilities down to a single, crystal clear and pungent message.


This is harder than it seems, because there are a number of attractive messages we could be focusing on. So which is the right one?  This is where we discover we have to take one step back and understand better, who is going to be in our audience.   The topic will give us a hint of prospective acolytes, we can urge to join our cause.  The organisers will have a good idea of who normally turns out for this topic. As they get the registrations, we can know precisely who will be our listeners, presuming the hosts will share that information.  Even if they don’t pony up the info, they will usually tell us which companies are going to be attending.  Once we get some indication of who will be our audience, we can start to think about which message is most likely to hit the bullseye the best.


Having done this part of the preparation, the temptation is to now plunge into the slides and start arranging them accordingly, simultaneously working out which new slides are needed.  We have to switch the mindset from slide equals important to story equals important.  The dilemma with data and information is that it is raw and inert.  When we can wrap that information up in a story, we are really starting to motor along.  The reason is simple.  Data by itself lacks context and colour.  Also a lot of data is hard to visualise or comprehend.  Rattling off some statistics may have our audience’s eyes glazing over.  If we convert those numbers into something they can understand, then it has potency.  A classic example is numbers of football fields to represent the area’s size.  If we can tie that data to a person and what it meant for them, then we bring the whole point alive.


It is almost impossible to relate to measurements, but we can easily relate to someone else’s experiences.  Hopefully, it is no longer the case, but beer has been an arbiter of distance in Australia.  I remember meeting a fellow student at University and when he told me his home town, I asked him how far away it was from Brisbane.  His answer was a classic. In true laconic fashion, he casually replied, “about six stubbies”, meaning the time it would take you to drink six small bottles of beer, while driving the distance.  Jail time today, but this was back in the day.


The beauty of telling stories is it forces the focus to be on us, the speaker, rather than the screen.  Today’s video meetings make this even more pressing.  I was coaching a senior executive regarding a talk she had to make to senior management.  In the process, it became obvious to me that she should either scrap the slides altogether or just use a very small number. Her objective was to have impact, to propel her personal brand forward and position herself for a major global position.  If she used a lot of slides in the limited time she had for their attention, on video, she would be captured in a tiny little box on the top right of the screen monitor, while the slides monopolised most of the screen real estate.  By dispensing with or paring back the screen “share” function, she would have the chance to look straight into the green dot, where the camera is, on the top of her laptop and be seen by the viewers in full and seen looking straight at them.


Without visuals she now has to paint a picture for the audience.  She can tell a story about when this incident took place.  For example, she can create the temporal indications by referring to the season, “it was three years ago and heavy snow fell in New York that day”.  Now we know when it was, where it was and have a mental image of snowy New York streets.  Next, we need some people in this story, preferably people the audience will know.

“I bumped into Warren Buffett who was wearing a thick coat and a long scarf, as he was leaving the Rockefeller Center and I asked him….” 


Most people know of the Rockefeller Center and Warren Buffett, so they can imagine the snowy scene in their minds.  Do we need a slide with a photograph of a snowy New York street or one with Warren Buffett in it? Probably not, if we are telling the story well and it keeps all the attention on us and not letting it leach out to our tough competitor - the slide deck.


Slides have their place.  I do Iike photographs with no words on the slide and then I tell the story, explaining the symbolism of the image.  Unlike text, detailed spreadsheets, graphs or tables of numbers up on screen, the slide with a photo takes about one second to process and then the listeners are open to my story. We don’t have to make or recycle slides, if we change our mindset to storytelling and then plan the talk from there rather than the other way around.  When it is your personal and professional brand out there on display, these choices make a big difference.

Jun 13, 2022

Self-awareness, self-belief, self-direction, self-discipline – there are a host of these “self” aspects to who we are and often related to who we are not.  If you grew up with a silver spoon firmly in your mouth, went to expensive, exclusive private schools, extensively travelled abroad with your parents at a young age and enjoyed the summers at your Swiss Boarding school in your youth, that is terrific.  The chances are strong that your self-belief is strong and your expectations even higher.  A lot of things have coalesced to help you be successful in life and along the way, you have been in an environment where being able to speak in front of others has been as natural as learning how to swim well.


Probably for most of us, me included, this sounds like exceptional skill in parent selection.  If the path in life has been rocky or even just “ordinary”, none of these advantages have been a factor in your life and career progression.  Maybe you were able to pull yourself up by your own efforts and have achieved some success, to the degree that you are now someone who is asked to speak in front of others.  Or maybe, you are an ordinary mortal, but through some strange fate, the firm wants you to speak to your team or the broader organisation or even in public, to industry groups.


I now own my own company outright, have a Ph.D. in political science and international relations, am a 6th Dan in traditional karate and so you might be tempted to think, “naw, he wouldn’t be someone who suffers from imposter syndrome”.  I wish that was true.  You may know this saying, “You can take the boy out of Brisbane, but you can’t take the Brisbane out of the boy”.  I have spent over half my life living in Japan now, but I am still that boy from Brisbane, with the poor parent selection abilities.


In my case, I do a lot of public speaking. I also release six podcasts a week, of which five are what I write, based on my own experience and the curriculum from Dale Carnegie. I am constantly putting myself out there into the world, publicly exposing myself to judgement and critique.  How do you go from where you came from, to now positioning yourself as an expert?  This is where the imposter syndrome raises its ugly head.  “Who do you think you are, to be putting all this stuff out into the ether?”, says the voice of doubt deep inside your head.


Perfectionism is a big blocker for all of us.  We feel because we are still incomplete, not perfect, we don’t have the right to stand up in front of others and speak about our topic.  We worry about being judged and found short.  This is the highest hurdle to clear.  Rather than perfectionism, we need to be thinking in terms of relativities.  There is an old saying that “the one-eyed man is king, in the kingdom of the blind”.  That is us.  We have some small extra degree of concrete knowledge or experience, which may be more than what most people have accumulated, but it is certainly not absolute.  We don’t claim to have absolute knowledge on any subject. We note that we are perpetual students of the subject and are treading the path still, on the learning journey.


This is very freeing.   If we are speaking in front of others and we discover we have a bona fide expert on our subject in the audience, we shouldn’t feel scared, diminished or that we need to become competitive with them. We should celebrate the fact they are attending and ask their views on some pertinent aspect of the subject, in particular an area where they may have substantially more knowledge or experience that we have.  Here is the surprise.  Your audience will appreciate their attendance and your ability to have them share.  They will not stand up and start denouncing you as a charlatan, a fraud and someone who should be run out of town on a rail. 


We all understand that none of us have perfect knowledge on any subject, that we are all in the process of progressing and when you freely admit this, there is no target to attack. In karate we call it taisabaki – a movement to the side, which robs the attacker of a hard target. All they wind up doing is striking thin air, because you are no longer there directly in front of their blow.  When presenting we do the same.  We slip off to the side and admit we don’t have perfect knowledge, we acknowledge the expertise or experience of members of the audience and we keep out brand intact.


The golden rule is never argue with the members of the audience.  Accept they may have a different view, allow them to express it and let the audience make up their own mind about the point at issue.  If you become obstinate, then you are getting into the perfectionism zone and you will always be found wanting. 


The hardest attack is when the person cherry picks something you said, takes it out of context or misrepresents it, trying to make you look stupid.  This happened to me during a Clubhouse discussion on selling in Japan.  I should have handled it better, but the sudden public opposition to my opinion released a fog in my brain, so it wasn’t as sharp as it should have been.  I did have the perfect rejoinder about an hour later, but it was way too late by then.  I did beat myself up about that, but then I realised, “hey, I did have the rejoinder for the next time and I will be ready to go in the future”.


If we have integrity and admit we don’t have perfect knowledge or complete experience, we are in a good position to stand up in front of others and offer what we do know.  If we have the humility to allow diverse views and opinions, we don’t present any target for someone the hit.m If we honestly face out own limitations, then we will interact with others in a manner which invites trust and acceptance. If we are supremely nervous about giving this presentation, then we are never, ever going to betray any sign of that. “Keep it to yourself” is the best policy.  No one will notice, because they want us to succeed and we will.


Jun 6, 2022

How good is your Mongolian?  Well, I don’t know even one word in Mongolian, but I learnt a powerful lesson about presenting and communicating, when grappling with this language recently.  I am a Master Trainer for Dale Carnegie and most of my time is spent working here for Japanese clients.  Occasionally, I am asked to work with Dale Carnegie colleagues from other parts of the world, usually in APAC, to help certify their new trainers.  This is how I came to be working with ten budding trainers from Ulan Bator.


My instruction was given in English, but their own role plays and practice pieces, were done in Mongolian.  I wondered at the start, how on earth can I coach these people, if I can’t understand their language? I was surprised though by a number of things.  We communicate with words, but we also communicate with structure, energy, passion, voice pacing and body language. 


Listening to their role plays, I could tell if they were not following the structure they were supposed to be using, even though I couldn’t understand one word of what they were saying.  This just reinforced for me the importance of designing our presentations using a clear structure, such that one each section flows seamlessly into the next section.  We will have a number of points and sub-points in our talks and we will have chapters in the talk as well, as we move from one subject to the next.  We need to make sure the sub-points flow and are obviously relevant, regarding the main thesis we are making in our presentation.


We also need to make sure we have bridges to link the chapters together.  If we just leap from one topic to the next, our audience may get lost and not make the connection.  We know our subject intensively and extensively, so we have no problem juxtaposing the chapters together.  However, someone hearing about content like this for the first time may struggle to follow the arc of the narrative we are explaining.  The bridge doesn’t have to be extensive or complicated, but it needs to be designed from the start. 


I enjoyed the Chinese classic, The History of The Three Kingdoms.  At the end of each chapter, the author would say something like, “if you want to know what happened to Li Xue, then read the next chapter”.  Such a primitive tool to link the story together, but it worked, because you were really wondering what was going to happen to Li Xue.  We can do much better than that I am sure and we should.  Let’s work on our bridging technique to link the talk together using all the component parts.


The energy levels of the different trainers were also a good indicator for me of the attractiveness of the content.  I had no idea what the exact content was in Mongolian, but the degree of energy each speaker employed, transposed to me the amount of interest I should have in what they were saying.  I noticed that if they were not injecting enough energy, I didn’t feel much resonance with them.  Those who could operate at the higher energy levels kept my concentration, regardless of the 100% linguistic barrier separating us. 


Training people and giving public talks, basically requires the same skill set in communication terms.  Both need to be pumping out vast levels of energy throughout.  Remember, the level of energy we employ for a chat over coffee is not what we need to be tapping into when we are on stage.  Our role is now totally different and we have to move up some gears and adopt a much more powerful persona when we are on stage.


Vocal variety is so important.  If we are too soft or too strong all the way through, as if the volume control was stuck on the one setting, then we will lose the attention of our audience.  If the speaker is too low key in their delivery from start to finish, the audience quickly gets bored and they start daydreaming about something else or even more likely today, they are lunging for their phones to escape from us, to the lure of the internet. 


If we are all relentless fire and brimstone, they get tired under the relentless bombardment from us.  What I noticed from the class participants was the variation in their vocal delivery kept my attention, even though I was oblivious to the meaning of what they were saying.  I thought, “Wow, if you can get this much impact in a foreign language, how much more potential is there when you are using your own native language when presenting”.  The issue is often we forget about this and we get stuck in the one groove throughout our talk.


None of the things I have mentioned here are new, complicated or difficult, but like a lot of things we know but don’t do.  Teaching the candidates from Mongolia was a good reminder for me of things I should be paying more attention to in my presentations.  We all get into habits and lose some of the self-awareness we need to keep improving in our craft.  Let’s not do that!



May 30, 2022

The rule in business is to stay clear of religion and politics, because you risk alienating a chunk of your audience who hold different views to you.  That is clear and sensible. What about other points of view (POV) however which are more related to business itself.  This could be about government regulatory policy, industry trend predictions, marketing issues, quality control, your purported product benefits or any number of contentious items.  When we are giving presentations, should we avoid stating our point of view or should we be open, even if it means being contentious?  Is being contentious a strategy for gaining profile?


Our main objective in giving business related presentations is to gain a positive impression for our company and make ourselves top of mind and tip of tongue, when people are considering the need for our solutions. Most small to medium sized companies are basically invisible to their potential clients, because they don’t have the advertising or marketing muscle of the large corporations.  Giving presentations, getting quoted in the media, engaging in content marketing in social media are all typical ways of overcoming that problem.


How much profile do we want?  If we want to fly under the radar, we are not going to be giving highly opiniated presentations, commenting on issues of the day.  On the other hand, we might do just that, to seek some opportunity to be controversial, so that we get talked about. I see there are some local entrepreneurs here, who have taken a strategic decision to offer opinions and viewpoints, which are designed to counter conventional, accepted wisdom.  This is clearly an attempt to breakthrough all the noise in the marketplace and to try and court the media, which as we know, loves controversy.


I do six podcasts a week, of which five are my opinion pieces on what I think about in regards to leadership, sales, communication and presenting.  My other podcast conforms to the normal arrangement of the guest supplying all of the IP and the host is just there to extract it.  Nevertheless, putting five opinion pieces a week, every week, into the ether could be considered risky. 


When I look back on what I write for my podcasts, there is always a distinct point of view on these subjects.  When I reflect on the public presentations I have given, there is always a strong point of view on these subjects.  The 1000 plus videos on our website are all brimming with my point of view too. Also, the four books I have published are all full of my points of view.  So where is the line when we are communicating our point of view, that we shouldn’t cross. 


I have written about Boris Johnson and Donald Trump in relation to their public speaking techniques.  In both cases, I have sidestepped whether I agree or like what they are doing as elected officials of their countries and just focused on what we can learn from what they are doing as presenters.  This was a conscious decision to avoid alienating my audience one way or the other.  With politics and religion, it is easier to make these judgements I think, because you know the percentage split between their followers and opponents.


What have I done in regard to the Japanese Government’s handing of Covid and the myriad regulations that it has spawned, including shutting the border?  Nothing. This issue doesn’t fit into the four areas I write about, even though the regulations have had a direct impact on my training business, as it has made face to face training extremely fraught.  Whatever my personal views on Government policy may be, I have decided not to seek out advocating any positions at all because they are outside the scope of my area of coverage.  Another factor is I am a migrant here and can have my visa not renewed and have to leave the country, so do I want to poke the beast which is the Japanese Government, specifically their Immigration Department?  I judge that fight not to be worth it.  I did cover ex-Prime Minister Suga’s presentation abilities though in Episodes #233 and #255 and was quite tough in my evaluations.  I didn’t talk about his policies though, so there was a line there I thought I could walk without getting deported. 


The point is to make a decision about how controversial you want to be, why you are deciding that calculation and what are the ramifications, both positive and negative for your positioning.  You can have a clear point of view on subjects without upsetting your audience.  Giving your viewpoint can be useful for your audience, as it helps them to think about their own position in the topic.  As the President of Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan, which is a business built around how to be really good with people, probably avoiding controversy would be an obvious authentic positioning. 


How about your business and your company, are there natural limitations which will apply to how stridently or controversially you can pursue your point of view?  Have you thought about it and decided where the line is located?  Have you set out some points of view on where you stand on relevant topics?  Probably this would be a useful exercise before you promulgate your views into the ether or at public presentations to business audiences.

May 23, 2022

I sometimes read about certain celebrities, historical figures or leaders who are described as being better presenters with small groups or being better presenting to large groups.  I wonder what they mean and why that would be?  I presume the inference is the person is more impactful with one group rather than the other or feels more comfortable addressing one group rather than the other.  Why would the size of the group make any difference?


Perhaps presenting to a tight circle of listeners makes the speaker feel more pressure because the audience is so physically close and immediate.  Up on the stage there is a good distance between the speaker and the audience and maybe that provides less pressure.  The stage is usually a raised platform or the speaker’s position is at the front of the room, so there is more formality in those settings, which therefore provides more authority and credibility for the presenter.


On the other hand, being up on stage, with thousands of beady eyes boring into your skull can be a lot of pressure for some speakers.  The sheer scale can be overwhelming and the serried ranks of listeners confronting. Looking down at that sea of scowling faces and crossed arms can be spine decalcifying. The small group on the other hand may feel more intimate and safe.


There are some things which work well for both groups, so let’s take them separately.  For small groups, the intimacy means our body language, pacing and volume has to be different than if we were up on a vast stage facing thousands.  We will have a better chance of knowing more about a small audience than a mass audience.  The organisers probably know everyone and can brief us about therm.  This helps us in the planning stage to think about what will be of most value for the audience.  Once we have prepared that talk, we will feel very confident we will get a good reception from the people assembled.


Even if it is a small group, we should stand when we present.  The organisers may try to get us to sit down and present, but we should resist that idea. Standing is better for us to free up our body language and deal with any nerves we have.  It also gives us elevation above the crowd, which also gives us more authority regarding what we are saying.  We can easily see everyone and they can see us too.  We want to be working our eye contact, such that we hold the gaze of each person for around six seconds.  Less than that is not effective in creating a bond and if we go longer it becomes intrusive.  When we get the eye contact balance right, the person on the receiving end feels as if we are speaking directly to them and no one else in the room.  It feels like we are having a cosy chat. It is very powerful and attractive.  Our gestures need to be smaller and less energetic or we can overpower our audience.


When we are facing those thousands of people up onstage in a big venue, there is a big difference between those in the audience, depending on where they are seated.  We see them as an anonymous granite block but they are not. Those down the back, those up on the first tier and up on the second tier can feel remote.  We are remote to them too.  If you are ever speaking in a big venue, get there early and go and sit in the seats at the furthest extremes.  This is when you realise you will appear like a peanut to these members of the audience.


In the same way, we had the small group earlier and we apply the same logic.  We don’t talk to thousands of people.  We speak to one person at a time.  We divide the venue up into six sectors, like the baseball diamond.  We have the inner field and the outer field, the left, center and right field and this includes those seated in the second and third floors.  When we are at distance from these people seated far from us and when we select one person to speak to, the thirty people seated around them, all think we are looking directly at them too.  The effect is the same – they feel we are having an intimate conversation with them despite there being thousands of people in the hall.  Don’t look at the sectors in order though. Make it completely unpredictable and random, to keep people on their toes. 


In the big venues, we need to use huge gestures.  Because of the distance, we have to make a much bigger effort to project our energy all the way to the back wall.  We have a microphone, so we are not yelling, but we are trying to drive our physical energy all the way to the rear of the venue.  The people at the back will feel our energy and will be drawn toward us.  We also have to make more use of the stage.  Not running around on stage from left to right like a maniac, as you will have seen by some people, but purposely spending time on the left, center and right of the stage, trying to get as close to the audience as possible.


Regardless of the size of the venue, we have a plan and we know what to do.  We can be effective regardless of the circumstances, because we decided to be in control and we are well organised.

May 16, 2022

We think of our presentations as something we give to an audience physically in the room with us or these days, maybe to an audience trapped in tiny little boxes on the computer screen.  Media interviews come up rarely for most business people. This medium requires a very specialised skill set to do it properly.  Amateur business leaders up against the pros from the ranks of journalists rarely goes well for the great unwashed.   Yet many business people are getting interviewed by podcast hosts who are also not  s.  These are usually never “gotcha” style interviews, but they are still going to be shared with a global audience.  Remember, every time we present we are putting our personal and professional brands on display.  How can we approach these presentations we will give on podcast shows?  Here are some ideas to think about.


Before The Podcast


  1. Research the podcaster.  Who are they, what have they done, why are they doing this podcast?  The guest on the podcast supplies the IP for the podcast host most of the time.  They may be knowledgeable about the area under discussion but usually we are on the show because we are the expert.
  2. What is the configuration of the show?Is there only one host or are there multiple hosts.  This will make the research component more important to know who you are dealing with.
  3. What is the style of the show?We must listen to previous episodes to get some idea of how they approach their guests, what types of questions they ask and how they conduct the show.  Are they a good listener?  Do they constantly interrupt and re-direct the answers?  I personally don’t like watching Howard Stern’s shows because he constantly interrupts his guests, which as the audience I find very annoying.
  4. Is it audio only or video and audio?Increasingly, podcasts are using both mediums.  Knowing this helps us to decide what image we want to project and how we should dress for the interview.  If the host is always casually dressed, should we match them?  I believe we need to decide what is our brand look and dress accordingly.  In my case my brand is always professional which means suit, tie, French cuff shirts, cufflinks, wristwatch and pocket chief.  I don’t care how the host dresses because their brand is their decision.
  5. Do they supply the list of questions beforehand?This is a good idea, although if they always ask the same questions, you can get the idea from watching their shows before you do the podcast,
  6. How will they distribute the podcast?Do we have 100% editorial control over what goes out or not?  Most podcasts are using some platform which will broadcast the interview globally, so we have to understand our brand will potentially be viewed by tens of thousands of people over time.


During The Interview


  1. When we do media training, we are told to keep our answers brief, on the presumption we will get ourselves into less trouble by keeping it brief.Unethical journalists have a nasty preference for cutting up our comments and then rearranging them against pre-recorded questions.  We can be taken out of context, and now we are sounding controversial.  The media industry has learnt that controversial sells.


Podcasts however are a long form show that usually lasts around an hour.  The temptation is to speak in long bursts, because you have the time.  We can speak in long bursts, if what we are saying is high quality and we want to communicate a complex thought.  If we are just rambling on because we can, then that is a brand value destroyer.

  1. We shouldn’t feel any pressure to answer the question immediately.Everything can be edited, so if you take a long pause then the editor will just cut that bit out because they won’t like the long silence.  Take your time and think about your answer.  If you don’t like your answer, then just say you don’t like it and then do it again.
  2. If the show is being videoed then avoid having to look at your notes for the interview if you can.It make us look less professional and not in command of our topic.  If we want to consult our notes, then we can do that off-camera and make sure that bit will be edited out later.
  3. Don’t look at the camera, if it is video plus audio.Keep looking at the host and engage with them.  We can look at the camera at the start and the finish when the host is engaging directly with the audience, but apart from that, keep you attention on the interviewer.  Switching your gaze from the host to the camera and back to the host, breaks your connection with the audience and looks like you are nervous and not quite sure where you should be looking.


After The Interview

  1. Get a copy of the interview, either audio or both video and audio and check the content to make sure you are happy with it.If you are umming and ahhing during the show, don’t worry about that and expect all of these will be cut out.   This is the natural you and the way you speak, so your audience will accept that.  If it is a problem, then there is a hint for you to get some training to improve as a communicator. 
  2. A lot of shows are weekly which means they have to have a stock of shows up their sleeve, so that they are never running out of content.  This means it could be some time before your shows airs.  Find out roughly when it will be released, so you can coordinate your own promotion activities
  3. Ask for the links to the show, so that you can blast it out to your own social media, website etc., when it is released.
  4. If you have your own podcast, ask for the edited file and then add in your own introduction and release it as an episode for your own show.
  5. Get a photograph with the host and pump this out into your social media etc., as a teaser for the coming release of the episode.


These fifteen points will be a good starting point to consider, before you accept any requests for podcast interviews.  Podcasts are a good media to promote our personal and professional brands and we should always be looking for ways to do that.

May 9, 2022

I discovered the journalist Simon Kuper, when I started subscribing to the Financial Times newspaper (FT).  I have a number of go to columnists in the FT and he is one of them. I like his intelligence, wit and writing style.  He recently mentioned his experiences attending conferences after a long break.  He outlined some advice for presenters thinking about addressing conference audiences, which I totally agree with.  Let’s go through them.


  1. Bored Audiences. Simon made the observation that the audience is bored even before you start speaking. This can easily happen. If the preceding speakers have been awful, they will have killed off your audience for you.  Simon references redundant openings as a sure signal for the listeners to grab their phones and escape to the warm bosom of the internet.  How we physically walk on stage, how we start, are going to indicate to the audience, if we are worth following or not.  We need a power start, with no hesitancy or tinkering around with the laptop.  Walk on stage with supreme confidence and launch straight into a gripper opening guaranteed to monopolise audience attention in those vital first two seconds.


  1. One Key Idea. He noted that people won’t remember everything you spoke about.  We have to be careful not to cannibalise our key message, with too many competing messages.  Simon mentioned one idea, backed up with evidence and the use of anecdotes.  He is actually talking about wrapping the points up in stories, because we will recall these more easily that just data.


  1. Speak Less. Simon suggests that if we have a 15 minute spot, then stop at 12 minutes.  His idea is that we don’t want to be blasting through our slides at the end in a panic to get through all the content.  We have all seen this, haven’t we.  The speaker skips what looks like the most important slides in the deck, because they are running out of time and we feel cheated. Less is more.  This stop early discipline will force us to be more concise and clear.


  1. Don’t Read Your Speech. His suggestion is to “memorise it by saying it out loud once a day for five days beforehand”.  I disagree with Simon on this point.  There is no shame or stigma to using your slide deck as the navigation for your talk.  The same goes for notes.  I witnessed a Harvard Professor give a three hour lecture during an Executive Education Course I attended in the Business School, with no notes anywhere in sight.  It appeared he did the whole thing from memory.  At the end, as we were filing out of the lecture theatre, I spied his secret.  Behind us on the back wall, there was a large sheet of paper with 10 words written on it.  These were the chapters of the talk, so that he could keep the order correct.


  1. Be Visually More Appealing. Simon suggests that as we are boring to look at, we should move around on stage and look at the audience.  I agree to a point.  Certainly free ourselves from the confines of being trapped behind the podium.  Walk around on stage, but do it with purpose, rather than your nerves driving you to wander up and down, becoming a distraction from your message.  Move to the apron of the stage to have more eye contact impact with the audience closest to you.  Move to the rear of the stage to make a macro point and use big gestures to try and engage the entire audience at one time.


  1. Use Slides Or Videos. Again, I partially agree.  Simon makes the point to not use slabs of text and that “your mouth is for words and slides are for pictures”.  This is a good idea and certainly pictures are brilliant for engaging the audience.  What we put on the slides can be tricky though.  I watched the Japanese chief economist from one of the major global banks give a presentation on currency movements, which is a very topical subject here in Japan at the moment.  He was a very smart guy and his talk was very good.  Astonishingly, his slides were very amateur. 


He made a very common mistake we often see here in Japan, of just putting up the content, without thinking about whether the audience can absorb it easily.  The slides were too dense and there were too many graphs on the one page.  He needed to simplify his visuals, such that we can get the message in two seconds.  If it takes longer than that, it is too complex.  Also, we should be careful of the visuals competing with us.  They must be our slave and we must dominate the proceedings.


  1. Avoid Cliché Jokes. Simon is right to say we should skip boring statements like, “I have the difficult spot after lunch” or introducing a panelist with “and finally last but definitely not least”.   “Without further ado” is a pet hate of mine as well.  Probably no one in the audience has any clear definition of what constitutes an “ado” and we should do a better job of getting proceedings underway.


  1. Use Simple Language. Simon made this point in reference to non-native speakers of English, but I think it is something we should all adopt. 


  1. Forget Motherhood Statements. He pointed out the weakness of stock phrases such as “all stakeholders need to work together”.  I laughed when he wrote, “don’t say things that are obviously false such as ‘We value all our employees’”.


  1. Give Marcus Aurelius A Rest. Regurgitating well known quotes falls flat, because we all know them and there is nothing new on offer. I suggest you find a quote which is pithy and not so well known instead.  We will learn something new and valuable and we will feel better as a result.


We instinctively know these points don’t we, but sometimes we get carried away with assembling the slide deck and we forget the medium we are operating in.  The chief economist I referenced earlier was oblivious about his presentation’s impact, so there are still some major gaps in understanding on display here in Japan.  Let’s take Simon’s points and work on them so that when it is our turn to speak, we are the outlier, the one person the audience will say made the whole conference worth attending.

May 2, 2022

When we are asked to give a business presentation, we may imagine we are the hero, arriving on our white charger, to rescue the audience from their woes.  We may come armed to the teeth with research, data, statistics, evidence, testimonials and proof.  We have it partially correct.  We are definitely there to add value, to make their attendance worth it and to leave some positive residue from the experience.  However, we are not the hero, jauntily dispensing wisdom and gold nuggets.  We must make those attending the hero and we need to find out what is their kryptonite, the things which are making business hard for them.  We are the catalyst, the seer, the guide, the trusted advisor showing a different and superior path to those already considered.


Once we know their issues, we can fix on our purpose, determine our central message to give them help in their work.  We probably have a lot of good ideas for them, but we have limited time for our talk, so we need to refine the message down to something we can get through in about 40 minutes.


We have some central aims in the talk.  Firstly, we have to find ways to connect with them.  Our grand resume will hopefully go some way to establishing our credibility, but in this era of fake news, that may not be enough anymore.  Our opening has to really crack the code and grab their attention.  A boring start will ensure everyone is grabbing their phones and surreptitiously scrolling around the internet, looking for something much more interesting that us. We need to flag that we have some answers, for some of the central problems which have been plaguing them for some time.


Secondly, we want to motivate them to take action to do something.  This is where we can often get carried away. Before you know it, our talk has become the hundred things you need to do to achieve wealth, happiness and the secret of life.  We need to fix on one major thing which will lift all boats and make a fundamental improvement in their businesses.  We will be facing a mixed audience scattered across industry, specialization, gender age and position. One key action item and one key benefit is the target, because that forces us to go for the richest vein, to tap into the motherload.


Thirdly, to get people behind the idea we need to offer proof of what we are saying.  This is where storytelling is so critical.  If we bundle up a whole bunch of numbers, assorted data and various details, the chances of anyone writing it down are very slim and that anyone will refer to those same notes ever again is even slimmer.  For everyone else, they won’t recall the content, because we forget about 50% of what we hear within an hour, 70% within a day and 90% within a week.


We tend to remember the stories we heard in presentations we have attended if they were told well.  There should be a central figure, the main character and we tell the story of what happened to them.  If we are trying to make a key point, then the main character can become a proxy, an avatar for those in the audience.  The hero of the story is just like them and they can identify with the hero’s situation. 


Next we need to add in some tension.  We want to create some conflict to underline the struggle our hero is going through and which the audience is going through too.  For this purpose, we need the baddie and the “winter is coming” scenario of impending doom, unless we do something right now.  Covid-19, for example, would fit the bill for the common evil negatively impacting our businesses.


We tell the story of some action taken by our hero, who looks very similar to our audience and what was the result of the action they took, that kept them from going off the precipice to their destruction.


When we tell this story it needs to be graphic in order for it to resonate.  We need to transport the audience to the scene, the season and introduce the different characters involved while outlining the plot of what happened.  For example, if there is a CFO in this story, we can’t just say Suzuki was the CFO.  We need to flesh it out more and make it more relatable.  We can say, “The CFO Suzuki looked a very worried woman, her face was lined with worry and you could sense the high levels of stress the low revenue numbers were generating”. 


Each main character needs a small bio involving some emotion, so that we can connect and empathise with them.  We might be having very worrying revenue numbers too, so we know what Suzuki is going through or we may have had this experience in the past, so we can relate.  We need the emotion to be there, to provide the glue to get us interested in what happened to this other company.


Finally, we introduce the fix, our recommendation in the context of what it did for the hero in the story.  We set the scene for what success looks like and this is appealing to the audience, because this is what they are seeking too.  They have identified with the hero’s dilemma and the audience will also identify with the solution.


The more we can have the audience identify with the hero in the story, the more likely they are to receive the lessons we are recommending through the medium of the example we are outlining.  Our purpose was to impart some recommendation and this is one powerful way to get an audience to adopt what we are saying.

Apr 25, 2022

Until a number of weeks ago, I had only vaguely heard of Volodymyr Zelenskyy.  I read he was an actor who played the role of the Ukranian President in a television drama production and then turned that into reality, by winning the election and becoming the leader.  I was thinking of a reality TV star like Donald Trump or a B-grade movie actor like Ronald Reagan both becoming the leaders of America and put him in the same basket.  In terms of presentation skills, Reagan gave some very good speeches in his time as President and although we credit him, we should also be crediting his speech writers.  Trump generally tended to avoid set pieces as far as speeches went and preferred speaking to a few key points in his talks, offering a much more spontaneous style.  As masters of media, they were both effective in using the bully pulpit to get their messages across.


Zelenskyy’s comment back to the Americans that “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition” when offered an escape from the Russian invasion, was a spectacularly successful one liner.  I doubt that a room full of his media advisors had spent hours anticipating and preparing that response. It sounded impressive because it came across as spontaneous and genuine.  In one sentence he said, “we Ukrainians may have been written off by all the military and political experts but I am their leader and we are not giving up”.  Many of us had the image of previous Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country, as the Taliban pushed into Kabul.  Zelenskyy’s stock as a leader went straight up with that comment and he was perceived as a brave person and a real leader.  Coming up with a breakthrough one-liner is certainly not easy but definitely worth the effort to try and craft a zinger.  Try it and see what you can come up with.  We only need one in a speech to have real impact.


Zelenskyy has obvious comfort in front of a camera from his work as an actor and he knows how to work the medium.  I broadcast three TV shows a week on YouTube every week, plus produce vast quantities of video content relating to leadership, communication, sales and presentations.  So after thousands of hours in front of a camera, I have become more comfortable with it, but it wasn’t natural or easy for me. Most business leaders only ever have a fleeting and random relationship with the medium. As a result, few business leaders can really work the medium and get the maximum gains from it, so there is still some way to go. If I can do it, trust me, you can do it too and probably you will do a better job than what I am doing.


All modern politicians today need to gain this skill and they do learn it, so there is no differentiation here particularly. Zelenskyy has done a good job though using his speaking opportunities with the various politician audiences of countries sympathetic to Ukraine.  He has been beamed into joint sittings of the upper and lower houses of these countries political elites and has proven very adept at adjusting his angle of approach.


Japan’s example was a reminder for Americans of the Pearl Harbour attack that reeked such disaster, death and havoc in Hawaii and brought the USA into the war.  The Japanese Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, triple nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima was a reminder for Japan of the damage that event caused and linked it to the current destruction that Russian missiles and long range weapons were inflicting on the villages and cities in Ukraine.  For the French it was calls forLiberte, Egalite, Fraternite to be applied to the Ukraine in their hour of need.  The speech to both houses of the British parliament rekindled memories of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s calls for national sacrifice to fight to the bitter end against Hitler, no matter what.  When speaking to both houses of the Australian parliament, he mentioned the Malaysian Airline flight MH-17 which was shot down over the Russian separatist controlled Donbas region, in which 38 Australians died.  None of Zelenskyy’s references were random and we should be doing the same. We need to spend time to select examples, stories and use these rhetorical flourishes to get our messages to resonate with our audiences.


The point here is that he tailored his messages very carefully to gain maximum appeal with his audiences.  Yes, there is an element of emotional manipulation involved here and I am sure everyone in these audiences were aware of that.  It nevertheless worked, because he was able to link his country’s current dilemma with the emotional wellsprings of his audience and to get everyone to feel a sense of shared commitment to Ukraine’s successful outcome in the war against Russia.  This ability to connect at an emotional level with our audience is an absolutely critical skill which presenters need to work on continuously.


We always stress the importance of knowing our audience before we give a presentation.  In theory this is what is supposed to happen, but how often have you attended a talk and really felt this was tailored to your interests and needs. Most business talks feel like the speaker is talking at us, rather than speaking with us and there is a world of difference between the two.  We must plan how we are going to forge an emotional connection with our audience, rather than concentrating on downloading a bunch of stuff, which will all too soon be forgotten.


“Who is going to be attending and how can I meet the conversation going on in their minds about the importance of this topic I am going to be addressing”, is what I have in my mind when I am preparing my talks.  The audience will have some thoughts about the topic. They will have some points they wish to hear more about and may have some need of ideas, insights, answers or recommended actions.  What would these encompass?  This is the type of analysis we need to be undertaking ourselves, when we are getting ready to give a talk.  Preparation is the key, but that requires that we make the time available to do it properly.  Remember, every time we get up and present we are putting our personal and professional brands on display.


Zelensky’s dress code for these talks is usually a military T-shirt, rather than a business suit.  He is projecting he is a man of action and is ready for combat.  He knows his audience will be dressed in suits and he could wear a suit too, but the stark contrast in dress lends more urgency to his appeals for support. In the same way, we need to dress for battle too. Depending on who you are talking to, it may mean a business suit of armour or it may mean something more business-casual.  We are anticipating how our appearance will make it easier for us to connect with our audience.  When I dress in the mornings, I consult my diary first to see who I am meeting that day, what I am doing and what impression I want to make.  On that basis, I make my selections with the plan in my mind to have maximum impact on my activities for that day.  Style, colours and combinations can quickly alter the image we want to project, but first we have to make decision about what we want to project.  How do you decide what to wear each day?  Is it based on what is clean or pressed?  Grab your diary and do some thinking about what sort of a day you want ahead of you.


It is good that we go to this degree of trouble about how to project our appearance, yet do we also spend the time thinking about how to design the content of our talks, so they will resonate with the audience?  We should spend the time to research who will attend, what they are interested in and then zero in on those points for maximum impact. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s example offers us a chance to reflect on what we are doing to further develop our own communication skills.


Slava Ukraine!

Apr 18, 2022

It is a tricky balance to be clear, concise, articulate and also plausible.  I was thinking about a podcast interview I heard by a titan of industry.  He had obviously been trained in how to handle the media, so as soon as he spied the microphone, he went into media interviews 101 mode.  Media interviews by their very nature are a fake environment.  Those being interviewed are taught to be glib, keep it short, think in sound bite terms, don’t reveal too much or you will get yourself into trouble.  Many journalists are looking for a scoop, a chink in the corporate armour, a gotcha moment.  You may come away from the interview with the gold still in your teeth and relatively unscathed, but how did you come across to the audience?


We don’t sound authentic.  Well this is entirely natural.  You are under siege, so forget about authenticity and focus instead on survival.  We don’t sound conversational because we are avoiding conversation and trying to chop our thoughts up into media bites bite sized pieces.  We are always aware that unscrupulous editors can rearrange our comments with a later recorded overlay, that makes us look bad.  There is a lot going on in the mind when being interviewed. 


Here is a little word to the wise.  If you are ever being interviewed by the media, whether it is audio or video, always assume the camera or audio recorder is still rolling when the journo says “thank you - that is the end of the interview”.  They have learnt from experience that this is when we relax and they get us to make an off-hand, untoward comment, which we will make in haste and later regret at leisure. This offering gives the interviewer a big score and big kudos from their boss and journo colleagues back at headquarters.


The interview I referred to earlier started out wound up like a tight spring. The corporate titan’s propaganda blitz on the worthiness of the company came across as a total fizzer.  Pumping out the party line is a dud in these interviews. Trying to make the firm look good in an obvious, self-congratulatory manner is self-defeating.  It begins to sound like the type of drivel a lot of people posing as PR types try to foist on us, to get us to like the company.

Fortunately, finally, the interviewee realised this wasn’t a gotcha, media style interview and just a humble podcast seeking insights.  Once he relaxed, the entire line of the conversation moved from fake to real.  You could literally spot the transition point. The quality of the answers, the elongation of responses and the credibility of the speaker all lifted.


It was almost as if there were two people being interviewed – the fake and the real.  We have to be clever with interviews and work out who is the audience, what is the interviewer’s “form” from past interviews and understand how we can add value to the conversation in a relaxed and natural manner.  We want to connect with and engage the listeners.  If we try to be too smart, too smarmy, we will trigger warning signals in the minds of our listeners.  We have all been trained to be wary of the smooth talking conman and anytime we hear something that smacks of that effort, we become uneasy about the person and what we are hearing. 


Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, is infamous for dropping in very erudite, learned words into his speeches.  He went to Eton College and Oxford university, so he is well educated and he doesn’t brook from flouting that fact.  He also drops a “big word” and then as a throw away remark says “look it up” to acknowledge that he knows he is using vocabulary which is beyond the understanding of his audience and he does it in a humorous way to reduce the rejection facet.  I always feel undereducated about my English ability, so I have bought a number of his books, because they are positively brimming with vocabulary which is rare or entirely new to me, in a desperate effort to expand my vocabulary range. 


The point is Boris somehow manages to get away with it, but for the rest of us, let’s do our best to be clear, without being glib.  Let’s be concise without masking our valuable thoughts.  Let’s strive to be articulate and do so in order to add value, rather than to come across as a smarty pants.  If we deem the interview to be “safe”, then let’s relax during the interaction and try to connect with the audience in a way they will appreciate.  Explaining complex ideas or information in a simple manner requires a certain level of genius and this is what we should be striving to achieve.  Let’s drop the corporate doublespeak and be authentic in our revelations about the contributions our company makes to the world.

Apr 11, 2022

I was sitting in the lecture theater, as usual in the front row, so that I could catch everything that was being said. University was a big deal for someone who climbed out of the trench and put the shovel down on a Friday and hit the campus the next Monday. Calling me earnest about my studies doesn’t even get close. On this occasion we had a guest lecturer, who was giving a talk on the battle of Sekigahara, a turning point in Japanese history which would usher in hundreds of years of rule by the one family, the Tokugawas.


The Professor was reeling off the ten reasons why Tokugawa Ieyasu won the battle and I was diligently scribbling down all of these logical, worthy points.  At the end of the ten points, he then said these were not the reasons and then spent the remainder of the lecture explaining his view on the real reasons for Ieyasu’s success.  This was very clever.


By providing sound, credible reasons first, he had established his command of the literature and the related scholarship.  It all sounded very convincing to me and what is more I had invested myself in recording it all.  The bait and switch technique now elevated him above the rough and tumble of academic insurgencies over the finer points of history, to stand above the fray and position himself as the one who really knew his stuff.  His reputation was enhanced by a conjurer’s trick of making the penny disappear and then draw it out from behind your ear. 


Academic illusionist or not, it worked like a charm.  Think about the standard business presentations you have been exposed to.  They are usually pedestrian affairs, involving the doling out of data and information, specialised only in delivering the talk in a deadly boring manner. 


Today we presenters face the most difficult presentation environment in history.  It has never been this bad. Our audience are glued to their phones and live in the internet for disturbingly long periods of the day. They have microscopically short concentration spans, are quickly distracted and constantly moving, ever doom scrolling and unable to settle.  Then we turn up for our little party piece representing our industry and firm.  Getting and keeping  people’s attention has become the search for the holy grail for presenters.


Are we allowed to use magic tricks to grab and hold their attention?  Absolutely we are!  This is a zero sum game we are involved with here and we either get our point across or we don’t even get a desultory reception.  Technology and social media have made us experts at pattern recognition.  This has always been a strength of our species, which has kept us going, as we anticipate trouble before it arrives.  This means that as speakers the pattern interrupt aspect of what we are doing becomes very important.


The lecturer mentioned earlier took us down a predictable path, with a fulsome list of plausible explanations.  He then executed a pivot and pulled off a pattern interrupt telling us all of that was codswallop.  We were invested in what he had told us and I for one, had written it all down, so the shock was palpable when he said to forget about all that stuff.  “Hello, hello”, I thought, “what is going on here”. He had removed the central pillar of our commitment to the content and now promised to replace it with a much sexier version.


When we are giving our talks, this can sometimes be added to our repertoire of techniques for commanding the attention of the audience.  We can start with a predictable, safe version for the crowd, leading them up the garden path with content which is persuasive, plausible, cogent and rational.  Throwing all of that overboard creates a vacuum.  Our brain doesn’t like that and wants the correct version to be implanted, so we are all ears to hear the truth, the real story.


We have also self-elevated ourselves above the fray and self-selected ourselves as the superior being, the enlightened purveyor of the most accurate knowledge and best quality information on the subject.  This is a major credibility boost and the audience is wide open to it, because of the way we have set it up.  The flip side is you have to have the goods. If you say the standard interpretation is rubbish, then your next contribution had better be totally worthy of the rock star you are purporting to be.


Obviously, we wouldn’t put ourselves up on the high wire without a safety harness, if we were not confident we could carry this off.  This is where we need to have real knowledge and better research on the subject than our audience.  We also have to deliver the talk with a passion for sharing key information with our audience.  They will absorb the trick if they feel the intention was pure.  Just being a trickster won’t work.  We have to deliver unexpected value and exceed audience expectations.

Apr 4, 2022

I was recently asked to be interviewed by a University senior for a project he was doing on communication in business.  I don’t know if I was a good choice.  After I left High School, I was working for an insurance company during the day and joined then dropped out of a night course on Communication at the Queensland University of Technology. The “communication” study idea sounded great, but what I found was the course was very theoretical and not what I was expecting.  Subsequently, I have become a disciple of content marketing, which basically means you see your company as a publishing firm, in addition to your main thrust of your business.  We push out copious quantities of information on speciality topics for free, to signal to potential buyers, that we are experts in these areas.  In that sense, I agreed to the interview, because I have released 4 books, 1480 podcasts and have written thousands of blogs, so I thought maybe I qualify.


In the course of our interview, he mentioned that he was going to give the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony later this year.  We have all seen these types of affairs.  The student selected to give the talk, begins by thanking the University, the Dean of the Faculty, the worthy Professors and teaching staff and congratulates all of the fellow graduates.  Boring and predictable. 


As we know, the opening of our talk has to be a gripper.  It has to keep the audience away from their mobile phones and instead transfixed on us.  Anything which smacks of clique, predictability, platitudes or bromides will dissipate the attention on us.  “I would like to thank the university…” is a death knell of an opening, so let’s avoid that one.  In business it is the same thing.  “I would like to thank the Chamber of Commerce…”, is another dud opening.


This senior had been at that institution for four years, so he will be brimming with experiences, memories, events accumulated during that time.  We have been in our companies for many years, working away in our industries, so we have accumulated tons of stories.  Our stories are a good place to start.  We need to look at who is in our audience and divine an occurrence which will be relatable for the listeners, something topical, pertinent and uplifting.  It should be uplifting.  We don’t want some downer memory being trotted out for such a festive occasion.


There should be a series of stories in this talk.  The first one has to be short though.  We are going to get to all the usual words of appreciation to everyone, but before that we can grab attention with a quick story.  If we had some defining moment at the university, something which was profound and which shows the institution, the professors or the students in a shining light, that would be a good choice.  If it is a business talk then we can look for something about this association or the hosts organisation we can say nice things about.


After we deliver this little episode, we get to the ordained appreciation piece and then we should look for other stories we can tell in the time remaining, to make a point about the experience we have collectively had. In a five minute commencement speech, there will be time for maybe one more story, but in a forty minute business talk, there is plenty of scope.  Anytime we have data we wish to impart, then carefully bundling that up inside a story is bound to get it remembered, rather than just trying to deliver the information by itself.


Stories work better when they have some key elements included in the retelling.  Placing people the audience knows in the story is very powerful.  It could be a contemporary figure or a historical figure, it doesn't matter, because we can easily see them in our mind’s eye and that is what we want.  We need to include the season, the location and the timing.  Again, we are laying breadcrumbs for our audience, to get them to the same visual image and join us inside our story. For example, “Two years ago prior to Covid, on a muggy Tokyo summer day, I made my way to the gorgeous wood panelled Boardroom of our client in Otemachi, to meet Mr. Tanaka the new President”.


We know how muggy Tokyo is in the summer, we remember life before Covid, we know there are a lot of expensive high rise office buildings in Otemachi, we can see the luxurious Boardroom scene and may we even know this President Tanaka through the media or through industry contacts.  We are in that room. 


When we engage our audience to that extent then we are able to get our key messages across more easily.  Let’s avoid being predictable and instead seek out openings and stories which will keep our audience rivetted to us and what we are saying.

Mar 28, 2022

Kata, the way of doing things and Kanpekishugi or perfectionism are wonderful traits in Japan.  Everything works well and as expected. Things have an order here and there are certain ways of doing things which will brook no adventurism.  Things must also be done properly, no half measures.  As a transplanted wild Aussie, I fought against both for many decades.  “Why does it have to done this way?”, I would ask my wife, who would just answer, “because that is how it is done”.  “Near enough is good enough” I would assure her, but she wasn’t having any of that either.


This mindset flows into language usage too.  If speaking in a foreign language like English then it must be perfect or the speaker feels shame.  Sometimes the amount of exposure to the language or the amount of study hasn’t been sufficient to be perfect, but that is never accepted as an excuse.  The burning, hot flush of shame exists regardless, if a mistake is made.


The pressure ratchets up when Japanese business people have to give a presentation in English and they embrace all sorts of craziness in that pursuit.  A recent case came to my attention regarding a very senior Japanese executive in a global firm, who has to give talks internally as well as externally.  His pursuit of perfection drove him to read religiously from the prepared notes, word for word, so that it would be grammatically perfect.  He also had the forethought to arrange some Sakura or “plants” in the audience, to ask him predesignated questions for which he had carefully curated answers. Everything was perfect, except it wasn’t.


The senior leaders are grooming him for a huge job and when they see this type of behaviour they worry.  This degree of over engineering presentations isn’t authentic from their point of view.  They want him to be natural, imperfect, understandable and capable and confident enough to handle questions from an audience, without having to nobble the proceedings.  Here is where perspectives diverge.  He seeks perfection in a foreign language and his bosses are okay with imperfection in English.


When you think about it, how many people do you know who are perfect speakers of their own language?  Not every native speaker is perfect.  We make a mess of the tenses sometimes, getting the verb wrong, using “is” instead of “was” for past tense.  I have heard very well educated native speakers say “somethink” instead of “something” or “everythink” instead of “everything”. 


I have a Ph. D., an MA, and a BA with Honours. Am I 100% confident in my own command of my language of English?  Certainly not.  I am always paranoid about mispronouncing words I don’t know or hear very infrequently. English grammar has defeated me since Year Three of elementary school.  I am certain I make mistakes in these podcasts, I just don’t know where.


If we cannot claim purity in the linguistic applications of our own language, then we certainly know we are not able to operate at perfection levels in a foreign language.  Yet this is exactly the type of crazy pressure which Japanese business executives place on themselves.  They need to lighten up a bit.

The high powered Japanese Executive in question has not had my coaching at this point, as discussions continue.  One of the first things I will be teaching him is to get rid of any perfectionism baggage holding him back.  You don’t have to be a perfect speaker of English when giving presentations because nobody cares.  If they are fellow Japanese, they cannot say anything, because they are not perfect either, so no casting of the first stones of criticism by them.  If they are foreigners, then they have likely grown up listening to non-native speakers mangle the grammar and mash the pronunciation of English.  They accept it for what it is and if they cannot understand what is being said, they just ask for it to be repeated.


Studying Japanese here for the first time back in 1979 I made a revolutionary discovery.  If you wait to manufacture the perfect sentence to lob into a conversation, you will never get to speak. The conversation will have moved on to another topic before you get a chance to use it.  Therefore, perfect or otherwise, SPEAK.  Get it out and if they don’t register what you mean then say the same thing in a different way, until they do get it.


If we are doing a presentation, then there can be perfect text on screen as we speak imperfectly to the content, rounding out the information further.  We can also take comfort that audiences don’t remember the detail of the talks, but they do remember the speakers.  They will overlook imperfections in speech from a dynamic, passionate, energised speaker, because they will remember the speaker as impressive.  A perfect rendition in English by a native speaker, delivered with no passion in a monotone, will dispatch that person to oblivion in the memory of the audience.  Perfection isn’t needed but passion for the subject and for the audience is.  Focus on those two things and the world will be right, non-native speaker or otherwise.

Mar 21, 2022

Being persuasive is a key element to business success.  You can argue the rights and wrongs of that statement, but it is the reality.  We cannot avoid the fact that being able to present to others and get their agreement is a critical skill which we all need. Now we meet vigorous, go, go, go people and so when they give a presentation, their passion, motivation and power come to the fore.  For them, they are not even thinking about being a high impact speaker, this is who they are.  For others though, they are demure, calm individuals who speak quietly, even softly.  Both types are being their true self and being authentic, so isn’t that enough?  Actually no.


Being an authentic individual and being a professional and successful speaker are related but not derivative.  Being authentically boring isn’t much help.  Being authentically monotone in your delivery doesn’t work.  Yelling at people for the entire forty minutes of the talk, so that all the audience hair is being blown back like we see portrayed in cartoons is not humorous in real life.  Authentic yes, but grossly ineffective.


Regardless of the style of the presentation, the content and the structure of the talk have to be well constructed.  This is a given.  However the impact of the delivery is not a given.  The best, highest quality information with the best navigation for the talk can be a disaster if we are yelling at the audience the whole time or speaking so softly that hardly anyone cares what we are talking about.


You might think it is easier to calm down the fast talking, high energy speaker, so that they can get some variety into their delivery.  You think this would be the easier of the two to fix.  Not in my experience.  They are both tricky and for different reasons.  People who speak fast get on a roll and away they go. They disconnect from the audience and have created a new audience of one – themselves.  They are talking to themselves, the way they like and are not focused on the listeners at all.  Because this is their normal speed range, slowly down really kills them.  They find it so uncomfortable and fake, they hate it.


The softer presenter, when encouraged to put more energy into the delivery and ramp things up they stop going any further, because they feel they are screaming at people.  I tell them to double their output and the most they manager is a five percent lift. Well they aren’t screaming at anyone and there isn’t much appreciable difference from what they normally do, so there is a lot of scope to become more energised, but it feels uncomfortable and they stop.


These are the two extremes of speakers – the loud and the quiet.  Should they do us all a favour and not become presenters?  Every single one of us can improve what we are doing, me included and certainly it is not game over for these representative extremes.  This is where coaching comes into help them develop range in their energy and voices.


A good metaphor for public presentations is classical music.  We are not sitting there subjected to crescendo after crescendo.  Nor are we being put to sleep with a constant lull in proceedings.  There are passages in the music which are intense and some which are almost inaudible.  There is distinct power in both and we have to learn to master both.


Not every word in a sentence of a presentation is equal.  Some words require more emphasis than others.  That doesn’t mean those words have to always be yelled out.  It can be equally powerful to deliver them like an audible whisper, a conspiratorial sharing of some key information.  The point is to decide which words or phrases need emphasis and then decide how we are going to deliver them.


For those who speak quietly, the conspiratorial whisper will be easy to pull off.  The high energy speaker will be dying to speak so quietly.  The going hard part presents the opposite problem and the quiet speakers believe they sound crazy at that amplification.  We video our presentations and when we do the review, the quieter speakers are always amazed that they don’t sound or look like they have lost their minds.  The most common reaction is that “this person on screen looks very positive and committed to their message”.  That is a good thing for a speaker to be doing isn’t it.  The boisterous speakers comment that “this person looks very professional and considered”.  Again, a good result by any measure.


The key is to get the coaching and to do lots of rehearsal.  Usually business speakers give their talk once – when they are in front of their audience and usually they get no coaching beforehand.  This is pretty adventurous stuff, given these are our personal and professional brands that we are putting out there on display.   If you are too quiet or too loud, then you need to work on your range and find the strength in what you are good at and add to your presentations, elements you are not good at.  The coach will make that happen for you because it is very, very difficult to do it by yourself.  What you think is soft is still yelling and what you think is yelling sounds soft.  Our range sensitivity is not well calibrated enough to make the adjustments by ourselves.  Get coaching and do rehearsals would be my advice.

Mar 14, 2022

Presentations have a cadence.  Notices are sent out to the mailing list or promoted through some form of media.  Interested people sign up and attend the event.  There is a hosting organisation representative delegated to get proceedings underway. I went into detail on that component last week, so if you have missed it, please go back and listen to that episode #280 on “How To Introduce A Speaker”. When the presentation is over the host organisation has to wrap things up. Usually, in well organised events the role of the MC and the person thanking the speaker are separated.  The MC will call on the person designated to give a vote of thanks to the speaker and then conclude the event once that part is completed. If that is you, it is important you do a good job, because all of this is coming at the end of the event and this is contributing to people’s final impressions.  Those final impressions will also include how they think about you and this will be one of the last things they remember.  Last impressions can be deadly, if we don’t plan for them to succeed.


If we have been given that task to thank the speaker, we need to pay careful attention to what the speaker says, so that we can refer to it at the end.  If we can get hold of the slides or the speech outline before the presentation, this will make our job that much easier.

We have to remember that we are in the public eye, when we carry out this role.  This is like a mini-presentation of our own.  Again, these are our personal and professional brands on show, so people are judging how well we can do it.


However, it shouldn’t become a complete summary of the speech, so that we come across as wanting to compete with the speaker.  Have you ever seen that?  The person thanking the speaker decides to take this opportunity to promote themselves and they try to hog the limelight. People are mentally heading for the door and their next appointment and here is some windbag raving on, wasting everyone’s time. We need to keep it short, sharp and terrific.  I didn’t pay much attention to the final thanks to the speaker because most of them were very pedestrian or they were a self-centered rendition of this person’s own views on the subject.


That changed when I heard Thierry Porte, then President of Morgan Stanley Japan, give the thank you speech at an event I attended.  The actual presentation was a disaster.  The banker giving it had put up his actual text document on screen and was scrolling through it.  The font was abysmally tiny and basically he was reading to us what was on screen.  It was a dagger in the heart of his firm’s brand at that point, because this guy was obviously clueless about giving presentations. Then Thierry, who later became my boss at Shinsei Bank, gave his comments thanking the speaker for his talk.  Actually his short comments were a lot more impressive than the actual presentation.


I didn’t know Thierry at that point, so it was my first exposure to him and today I cannot remember the detail of the points he made years earlier, but what I do remember was that I thought they very intelligent and concise.  It was impressive and I recall thinking, “this guy is really smart” and I made a point of exchanging business cards with him. It also showed me the power of being able to thank the speaker in an intelligent way and make an impression with the audience, promoting your personal and professional brands at the same time. The point is to think like that – “this activity is going to add to or subtract from my personal and professional brands”.


So how should we carry out this important role?  We have a formula for this we can rely on called the TIS model.

  1. T-Thanks. We might thank the speaker using their personal name if appropriate.

This degree of familiarity will vary depending on our personal relationship with the speaker and the culture we are in.  Japan is a very formal country, so it is more likely we will be using their title or highly polite forms of address like sama instead of san.  So I would say “thank you Suzuki sama” rather than “thank you Suzuki san”.  There is a world of difference in Japan between those two polite forms.  Recently, I attended an online webinar and the person giving the presentation was a bengoshi or lawyer and the person giving the final remarks addressed him as “Sensei”, which is a very polite reference taking into account his prestigious line of work.


  1. I-Interest. We pick up one area of the talk which we think would have been of most interest to the audience. This is an important decision because there are probably a lot of fascinating things the speaker was able to cover in the 40 minutes of their talk. We have to be listening carefully to the content and at the same time making a judgement about which particular aspects we think will have resonated most with the audience.  We don't have that much time, because as soon as the applause dies down, we are up on our feet making our contribution to the event.


  1. F-Formal Thanks. If the MC is doing their job, then they will take over from us and wrap things up. In this case, we would just thank the speaker and then hand over the baton to the MC.  If it is down to us however, to bring things to a close, then we make a formal statement of thanks for the speaker, using their title and full name.  We ask the audience to join us in applause, thanking the speaker for their presentation.  For example, “May I ask everyone to join me, to again express our warm appreciation for Dr. Greg Story, giving us this wonderful presentation today”, at which point we start applauding to signal to everyone that they should now start applauding too.


There are always different levels of understanding of simple roles in a presentation event and the thing I notice is how few people actually understand how to do them properly.  From now on, pay careful attention to how the MC opens and closes proceedings and to how the person designated to give the thanks, carries out their role.  You quickly realise it is very easy to get into the top 1% of professionalism in these areas, because most people are not much good.  What a great opportunity to build our personal and professional brands!

Mar 7, 2022

Today we are going to look at how to introduce a speaker, something which we may not do so often, but still an important facility which we should do well.  I am sure we have all seen the MC introduce the speaker.  I am also sure we have seen very few do a good job of it.  One of the problems is that the MC hasn’t connected this role with their personal and professional brands.  They are mumbling and bumbling along.  Often they don’t see this role as particularly vital and so do a very offhand version of the introduction. 


They make a mess of reading the Bio they have been provided by the speaker or even worse they dispense with the document altogether and they freestyle, giving their own half baked version of the Bio.  This is particularly annoying from the speaker point of view, because we will have written that introduction to maximise our credibility with the audience and also to stimulate their interest in the content to come. Having been on the receiving end of these MC introductions, I notice they will often leave important parts out, get the order wrong or make mistakes with the dates.


Basically, what they deliver is an insult to the speaker because they are not taking the proceedings seriously enough. Remember, it doesn’t matter how long we have in the public limelight, we are being judged by the audience.  Even if we are an audience member and we ask a question after the speaker’s presentation, we are being judged by everyone present.  If our question sounds stupid or our delivery is awful, everyone present is making a mental judgement about us.


The MC role is important because this is how we quiet the audience and grab their attention for the speaker’s message.  We are preparing the audience to accept the speaker into our midst. There is a delicate balance needed here though.  You may have also seen the MC start to take over the presentation.  They begin the introduction and then start telling us what the speaker is going to cover in too much detail.  The MC should be brief and get us to the main speaker smoothly and should intrigue us with their introduction, so that we want to hear more.


We can use the TIQS model when it is our turn to introduce the speaker at the event.

  1. T-Topic. We start by referring to the topic or title of the talk.  This reminds everyone what the talk is about.  Yes, the notice went out and everyone signed up but that could have been weeks ago.  It is best practice to again focus on the formal topic of the talk, to make sure everyone is mentally geared up for the presentation.


  1. I-Importance. We highlight the importance of the topic. We are reinforcing why it is in the interests of the audience to attend today and justifying this use of their time.  The MC role includes that of salesperson for the talk.  As the representative of the hosting organisation, the MC is selling the organisation’s value in being able to procure such high quality speakers for the audience members and thereby indirectly encouraging them to attend future talks.


  1. Q-Qualifications. The well organised speaker will have supplied their introduction.  When we are the speaker, we need to make sure it has been professionally presented. We also have to directly ask the MC to use what we have prepared.  Often the MC ad libs with our content and they don’t do a good enough job.  We need to be insistent they stick to the script we have prepared. When we are the MC the speaker’s document will outline who they are and what they have done.  We should check if there any things which need further clarification before we present it to the audience. The introduction is the chance for the speaker to promote their credentials to be the speaker on this topic.  If the speaker hasn’t done this, then we need to do some simple research to be able to introduce them properly.


  1. S-Speaker Name. Having built up some anticipation, we now reveal the name of the speaker.  The audience already knows this, because they have seen the promotional material advertising the talk. Nevertheless, we take this chance to build some buzz before the speaker begins.  We now call upon the audience to join us in applause for the speaker and call the speaker to the stage, to start their presentation.


If there is no one to introduce us, then we should do it ourselves and start by stating our name and our organization.  Next, we talk about the topic we have chosen for today.  We now talk briefly about our qualifications to give this talk.  The introduction to the talk is an important element in the event and we need to give it proper care and attention.  Done well probably nobody notices, but done badly it jars and distracts from the professionalism of the event and the talk.  Let’s all make sure this part of the proceedings is a winner, whether we are in the speaker or the MC role.


Feb 28, 2022

Today we are going to look at inspiring people to embrace change. Not grumbling and finally accepting change.  Not resisting change, until the bitter end. We are talking about “embracing” change.  This is a big task.  We may have all done that exercise where we fold our arms across our chest, but with the bottom arm on top this time.  It is a simple change, but instinctively we don’t like the change.  If we can’t deal with such a simple change, how hard is it going to be to get people to accept big changes.  


How can we persuade people to go for the changes we are recommending?  Here is how we design the talk.

  1. We start with clearly defining what it is we want to change.  We have to make sure this is crystal clear to ourselves and everyone else involved.  If you have ever designed a questionnaire or a survey and haven’t been clear enough on the question, about what you want, then you know it throws the whole effort out of kilter and you can’t use the results. So, the change has to be communicated to people and that means we have to be concise and clear about what the outcome is that we want.


  1. This isn’t the order we present the talk in, but for design clarity purposes we start at the end. We need to design two closes. We have to decide how we are going to close the talk before we open up for questions.  The second close is for after the Q&A.   The latter is particularly important. We don’t want some random, off topic question hijacking our audience’s attention and have them forgetting the key point we were making. 


Remember we want our recommendation to be ringing in the ears of the audience once the talk is over. So the second close is the last thing they will hear from us and we have to dominate their memory banks with our messaging.


  1. We should be anticipating likely questions we will get.  We don’t want to be surprised by a question we are not prepared for.  We can see our own credibility and the credibility of our suggestion about the needed changes crash and burn, if we cannot properly handle the questions thrown at us. 


  1. We have to justify the reason for the change.  This has two parts, one being the statement of why we need the change.  We have to be clear about asking for the change so that there is no doubt about what we say we need. The other part is an example why we need the change.  This example has to be clear and compelling.


  1. Now we need to come up with three quite viable solutions for fixing the problem we have specified.  We can’t have two ludicrous solutions and one which looks like the perfect idea.  This type of approach will come across as an attempt to manipulate the result and our credibility will be damaged.


  1. To demonstrate balance, we need to nominate the pros and cons for each of the three suggestions.  Having chosen legitimate alternatives, there will be real pros and cons and we need to outline what these are in detail.  We want the audience to feel we are being objective in our approach.



  1. We purposely make the third suggestion the one we prefer.  We know that recency means that the listeners will best remember the last thing they heard.  It has to be the strongest of three strong alternatives. 


  1. We need to specify that we are recommending option number three and then provide convincing evidence of why we are recommending that solution.  We have to make sure the audience feels the other two options could work and that this last one is clearly the best option.


  1. Lastly, we design the Opening.  As always, the opening has one main task and that is to break through all of the distractions going on in the minds of our audience.  People today are so preoccupied with their phones and social media, that we have a gargantuan struggle ahead of us to pry their phones out of their hands and have them give us their full attention.  This is the hardest time in history to be a public speaker, so we need to be up to the task.


So the order of delivery is as follows: 1. Opening, 2. Statement of Need, 3. Example of the Need, 4. Solution One – pros and cons, 5. Solution Two – pros and cons, 6. Solution Three – pros and cons, 7. Our recommendation that we choose Solution Three and why, 8. Close number One, 9. Q&A, 10, Final Close


If we follow this structure, then we have a much better chance of people adopting our suggested course of action.  Getting people to make changes is extremely difficult.  Getting them to make the changes willingly is even more difficult, so we need this type of special preparation in order to be successful.

Feb 21, 2022

Today we are going to look at motivating others to action. Actually, this is a devilishly difficult task. Getting anyone to change what they have been doing and take a new action is extremely complex.  We all talk up a storm about this or that should change, but we are not keen about changing ourselves. In fact, we expect everyone else make the necessary changes and we want to stay exactly the same. 


In our training on the topic of mindset, to underline the power of our habits, we ask people to make small changes.  For example, put your wristwatch on the other wrist or fold your arms across your chest, such that the arm that is usually on the bottom is now on top.  Try it for yourself and like most people you will feel a bit uncomfortable with the change.  Appealing to others on the level of logic works well, but people need their emotions to be engaged for them to take action.  We act on emotion and justify it with logic. Let’s look at how we can design a talk which will motivate others to take an action we recommend.


Here is the design order, which is different to the delivery order.

  1. We start with the end in mind and decide what is the concrete action we want people to take. This action has to be clarified and made not only easy to understand but also made to seem easy to complete.  If the action required sounds complicated and onerous, our audience won’t be motivated to make it a reality.


  1. We might think it is a good idea, but will our audience be convinced? This requires some clear benefit to taking action. Everyone thinks in terms of what is in it for them, so we have to supply that component.  It also has to be powerful or the work to achieve the benefit may not seem worth the time and effort.  The outcome of the action has to seem much more advantageous than sticking with whatever it is they are doing now.


  1. Telling people what to do will induce resistance. That is why starting with the action is almost guaranteed to fail. Instead, the incident, the context, the background  providing the evidence that this is a good idea comes next in the planning. 


Storytelling is so powerful and this is where we have to make good use of it.  There must be some reason we think taking this action is a good idea.  What have we experienced, heard or seen that makes us think that is true.  We need to reach back into our memory and capture the very basis for our belief.  Our job now is to tell that as a story involving the people, the place, the season and the time.  Ideally, we should include these elements in such a way that the listeners can see it all in their mind’s eye.  People they know, a season they can relate to, a location they have seen or can imagine etc.


This structure is called the Magic Formula. When we deliver the talk, we reverse the usual order and we start with the Incident, then we finish off with the action and the benefit.  The key here is the majority of the time is spent on the incident, the context and the action and benefit are honed down to the most key elements. 


If we have more than one action, we are splitting the focus of the audience and we don’t want that.  If we pile on the benefits, then each additional benefit we add dilutes the effect of the first one and so on.  We must focus on the most convincing benefit and highlight that one alone.


One huge advantage of the Magic Formula is it is very hard to oppose what we are saying.  Normally if we put up an idea, we are faced with a room full of critics.  They are firmly fixed on why our idea won’t work and why their idea is better.  By starting with the incident, we are taking our audience straight into the background, the context. 


Often hearing the context, they conclude the same thing we have concluded.  By the time we get to the action part, they are already there ahead of us and have concluded the same thing themselves.  This is genius, magic, because we have now secured their agreement to undertake the action before we have even made the recommendation.  If you want others to take an action you want to sponsor then this is the winning formula, the Magic Formula  to make that happen.



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