Friday, February 15, 2013

Learning to Talk

Remember doing that a few decades ago?  Well, as it turns out the fun never ends!  In person communication is the most powerful form of persuasion.  As an entrepreneur – especially as a founder – your voice is the most important asset you bring to a company.  We can always hire for skills.  However, that person who’s passion can power a team or persuade an investor becomes the irreplaceable piece of a company’s DNA. That’s a key difference between a founder and an employee.

Since speaking comes naturally we often will gloss over the practice of this art with a good enough subsistence level of skill.  What an opportunity to miss.  Like any other skill, through deliberate practice the level of competency will grow.  In this vein HBS brought in KNP Consulting to study some videos of past presentations.  Here’s the one I chose:

I was lucky enough to sit down with Matt Kohut who has some pretty incredibly experience training speakers – especially in the engineering space (NASA no less).  Here’s the core lessons he had for me based on the clip:

  • Slow Down! Not news to anyone that knows me – but I talk FAST.  This makes the message hard to digest and understand. 
  • Cadence is a roadmap.  Modulating the pace and tone of speech provides an audience with subtle cues for the importance attached to each part of the speech.  When you get to the most important point – lower your voice, slow down your delivery, and then stop.  A pause is the most powerful form of punctuation.
  • Move deliberately.  When walking around a stage – it’s important to pick a point or a person and walk towards them.  Deliver a message as you walk.  Finish the point and walk away.
  • Play with balls.  Most motions on stage should mimic holding a sphere ranging in size from a basketball to a bb.  The deliberate movements conforming to a round shape creates a strong movement with an organic (warm) pattern.
  • Reading recommendations:
  • imageStrong vs. Warm.  The core analytical tool they use to think about a speaker’s effectiveness is how strong or warm you are perceived as.  It’s important to note that people prefer warmth to strength (just in case you’re picking one).  Figure out what your baseline place on the spectrum is and then carefully pick the appropriate place on the spectrum for each situation (talking with your team vs. talking with a VC). 


I love the framework and deliberately choosing the mix of strength and warmth that you need to project in any given situation.  The real challenge to continually developing this skill is collecting feedback.  Self-monitoring is extremely difficult since it distracts you from the conversation and will inherently make you less effective. 

The best way I’ve found (both personally and with my clients) is to designate a spotter – an ally in important presentations and meetings who can focus on watching you to provide feedback afterwards.  Any ‘bad behaviors’ go on a list for the spotter to flag in conversation for me (think of it as an early warning system).  The notes from KNP will definitely go on mine!

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