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3 Tips on Failing Elegantly at the Podium


3 Tips on Failing Elegantly at the Podium

San Francisco, CA- A friend of mine put up a social media post a few weeks ago seeking encouragement. He’d lost the passion to pursue public speaking after years of rejection and denial. This little social media blurb really got me thinking about an internal conflict I’ve often bumped up against, a conflict that relates specifically to realizing my vision as a professional speaker and trainer. On one side: the oft-recommended self-help trope of specifically visualizing your dream, right down to the door knob on your eventual mansion. On the other side: the also oft-recommended self-help trope of staying present in the moment. How do I reconcile these two concepts? Especially when staying present in the moment is terribly painful specifically because I am failing to achieve my door knob vision?

For a highly self-critical and goal-oriented person, living for the future can be the opposite of being present. And even more importantly, when it comes to public speaking, focusing on one’s goals at the expense of being present to your audience can reek of desperation, as opposed to the essential energy of play. Here are three tips to help you stay present while realizing your goals.

Acknowledge that it ain’t easy.

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Acknowledging that we’re in a difficult situation rather than getting angry at our inadequacies can be challenging for hard-driving achievers. I’ve heard Buddhists call this “the second arrow.” The first arrow would be the pain of the situation, and the second arrow would be the suffering we place on ourselves by wishing it were different. In a society that focuses on relentless improvement, there is a surprising lack of acknowledgement of difficulty. It can be seen as ‘weak’ or a waste of time. However, I’ve found that some self-compassion can actually improve my speaking performance when in scary new environments. I’m currently reading Dr. Kristen Neff’s excellent book “Self-Compassion.” It suggests simply placing your hand on your heart and taking a breath during difficult moments as a way to acknowledge and give credit to yourself. Give it a try, it works!

Make mistakes.


Public speaking happens in public. To get better, we must practice and make mistakes. Hence, public speaking mistakes will be made in public. I love clowning exercises because public failure is the path to transcendence. Failure is not only encouraged, it’s essential. I often refer to an experiment conducted by Social Psychologist Richard Wiseman for his 2010 book '“:59 Seconds.” He had 2 salespeople identically demonstrate blenders to mall-goers. However, one salesperson consistently forgot to fasten the top of the blender, so that salesperson was covered with smoothie in each demo. Who do you think sold more blenders? It was the salesperson who made the mistakes. Mistakes are your friend, folks.

Be kind to yourself.

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I love asking people what they do for self-care. A few years ago, I had no idea myself. It took conscious thought and experimentation to simply figure out what I liked to do if achievement were not involved. If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you know that my go-to these days is heading off to an afternoon at the Korean spa for alternating hot and cold pool dips. But how do you to figure out what works for you? A good place to start is to sit down and make a list of ten things you enjoyed as a child: coloring, swimming, playing ball, etc.. Some of these can still bring a surprising amount of joy. Credit for this childhood ten things list goes to Julia Cameron’s transformative book, “The Artist’s Way.”


Both vision and presence are critical in the pursuit of excellence. Both practices have their merits, but moderation is the key. Have that mansion door knob image, but hold it loosely in the present moment. And remember, if you don’t believe you are already enough right now, everything else just falls apart. “You are enough” is a primary tenet of my presentation coaching curriculum. Hopefully these three tips can keep you present on that road to your vision-mansion. By the way, what do you do for self care? Please let me know in the comments!


World Championship Competition Speech "Failure is not an Option"


World Championship Competition Speech "Failure is not an Option"

San Francisco, CA- On April 10, 2019, I placed second in the Toastmasters Division A International Speech Competition with my inspirational speech, “Failure in not an Option.” The winner, Aaron Samson, went on to compete for the designation of World Champion of Public Speaking, the highest public speaking award in the world. On June 6, 2019, I reprised my speech by request for Slalom Toastmasters in Palo Alto, CA.


Maximize Booth Preso Results with these Rhetorical Hacks


Maximize Booth Preso Results with these Rhetorical Hacks

San Francisco, CA- It was 2017, and I was working at the Black Hat Conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. A charismatic sales engineer on a makeshift stage had a crowd spilling out of his booth and blocking the aisle. His prospects were transfixed- cheering on his command, eagerly leaning forward, ready to do anything he asked. No, he wasn’t doing a raffle, he was using the principles of rhetoric to persuade and mesmerize his audience. These classic principles can offer huge power to trade show professionals who wield them effectively. Below I’ll define rhetoric and give three tips on how to use it in your booth presentations to maximize your booth results.

Rhetoric on the Expo Floor

Aristotle defined Rhetoric as "the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” He defined the three means of persuasion as ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic). Most trade show presentations rely too much on logic and can be far more effective by utilizing emotion and credibility/shared identity to persuade groups of prospects in their booths. The “group” aspect is critical. Whereas a sales deck may be presented to a single person, a trade show presentation will be presented to a group of 8-30 people, and groups behave much differently. Just ask Sigmund Freud, one of the first trade show consultants! According to Freud, when individuals are part of a group, they have a tendency to be infected by any emotion within the group, and then to actually amplify that emotion through what he called, “mutual induction.” So, if you can elicit a group emotion through your presentation, it will become self-sustaining and grow on its own accord.

Sigmund Freud, trade show consultant

Emotion can be powerful, unpredictable and not terribly bright. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt described a model of emotion as an elephant (our emotional side) and a rider (our rational side.) Chip and Dan Heath elaborate in their book “Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard”:

Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.

Admittedly, in the business-to-business space buying decisions are made with input from many stakeholders over time. However, each of those stakeholders is an emotional human being, and on the trade show floor we should utilize the most effective tools in our marketing arsenal. So, here are three tips to use in your presentation to speak to the emotional elephant, rather than the rational rider.

Identify with your Prospect

Most trade show presentations quickly attempt to establish credibility (Aristotle’s ethos) by overwhelming prospects with accomplishments and social proof in the form of testimonials and case studies. A more efficient and effective method can be to establish common ground and a shared identity. Strive to create an inclusive group which includes both your prospects and yourself. A quick way to do this in your presentation is by defining a common problem that “we’ve all faced,” opening the door to inside jokes and lamenting- only to be solved by your solution later, of course!

It helps here to passionately give voice to your prospects’ common sentiments, complaints and aspirations. The word “demagogue” generally holds a negative connotation, but it deserves a second look in the trade show setting. Google defines the word as one “who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.” Many trade show presentations are simply rephrased sales decks, loaded with highly technical demos and statistics. A quick stroll around the expo floor can show that it’s a tough place for careful, nuanced thought and evaluation. While hard features are important, establishing common ground with your prospect’s identity can also be very effective when used with restraint.

Limit the problem carefully

Uncle Sam, trade show consultant

After successfully establishing credibility through shared identity, its time to frame the problem which your solution solves. Government wartime propaganda offers a useful example here. During times of conflict, news outlets consolidate multiple enemies into one, and portray complicated situations as black/white and good/evil. This is highly effective as a means to create group identity and motivate action, and this technique can also be used in the much lower stakes world of trade show presentations. Consider reverse engineering your problem to clearly point to your value proposition. In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” social psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes an overriding cognitive bias that humans share, abbreviated as WYSIATI, or “What You See Is All There Is.” Essentially, those problems which are most recent and easily accessible seem most important. Consolidating the problem can also further create a shared identity and increase receptivity to your solution. Save those complicated use-case specifics for one-on-one demos.

Connect to basic human needs

Finally, connect the dots from your feature, to your benefit, then all the way back to your prospects’ basic human needs and desires. Sure, your solution is easy to install, but what does that mean to your prospect in his day to day life? More time, saved money, or a longer lunch? Daniel Kahneman offers another tip here from his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow:” Humans have been shown to be primarily loss-averse. In other words, your prospects are more likely to act to avert a loss than to achieve a gain, so showing avoidance of bad outcomes is more effective than showing gains when pitching your solution.

Handle with Care

spidemank trade show consultant

Using these three rhetorical techniques will have a measurable effect on your qualified booth conversations. Their power has been leveraged for centuries for both good and nefarious ends, so its important to use them with care. Keep in mind what good old Uncle Ben said to Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Aristotle himself also had something to say about that:

If it is urged that an abuse of the rhetorical faculty can work great mischief, the same charge can be brought against all good things (save virtue itself) such as strength, health, wealth, and military skill. Rightly employed, they work the greatest blessings.

Any use of persuasion techniques can cross the line into manipulation, and I’m fascinated by where we choose to draw that moral boundary. Please post your thoughts on this historically controversial issue!