Former Cisco CEO John Chambers lost me

I saw John Chambers speak on Nov. 14; he is the former CEO and Chairman of the Board of Cisco.

I had many issues with his presentation, but I will focus on my main objection:  the speed at which he spoke.

Yes, he is accomplished and smart.  Yes, he has tons of enthusiasm. Yes, he was voted one of the top 10 Best Performing CEO’s by Harvard Business Review.

But, YIKES, he talked way too quickly.

The speed, combined with his West Virginia accent, made it challenging to understand and follow what he was saying.

I brought a guest with me who is from Brazil.  Considering that her second language is English, (which describes many people in the San Francisco Bay Area), she struggled to understand him.  Ultimately, he lost her and she fell asleep.

When you make your audience work to understand your message, they will eventually tire of straining and tune out.

We were disengaged.

An accent can pose another challenge to being understood.  However, if you speak deliberately and slow the pace, you can be confident that you will be clear.







I know you have heard this before…the Lectern is a barrier. It is so true.

This was exemplified in a training I did in Anaheim this past month.

My clients have to present before their Board several times a year. It has been protocol that they stand behind the lectern to deliver their information.

During rehearsals, I had them move out from behind the lectern and get closer to the audience. What a difference.

To a person, they exhibited more energy, an ability to be more expressive, and the audience felt more connected to the presenter.

Lesson learned: the lectern hamstrings a presenter from being fully engaged.

I understand there are situations when protocol dictates that you have to stand behind the lectern, for example, when you are presenting to a political body, or if the microphone is the only way you can be heard.

However, whenever possible, free yourself from that obstruction.

You will find you can elevate and enhance your engagement and connection with the audience, by ditching the lectern.



Have you ever really listened to Wolf Blitzer and how he speaks? To me, he sounds slightly frantic. Plus…it is oftentimes hard to follow his conversation and line of questioning.

WHY?  I contribute this to his breathing and pausing … in all the wrong places.

WHERE SHOULD YOU BREATHE AND PAUSE?   Where the punctuation lies within a sentence. Or, in the TV world…when setting up the meaningful information.

Because he is not breathing at the end of each phrase, he is forced to take a quick breath, mid-sentence, which makes him sound slightly frantic and out-of-control.

This also disrupts the logic or flow of the sentence, thus causing confusion with the audience, or having them work harder to follow the question.

Here is an example I took from a recent interview with Reince Priebus, the Chairperson of the Republican National Convention.

(When you don’t see the punctuation, that means his sentences were colliding; there was no pause to separate the content.)

“You’ve seen our new poll numbers Secretary Clinton (breath) saw this convention bounce uh after both conventions The CNN/RNC poll (breath) shows that the number of voters who believe Secretary Clinton’s (gulp) policies (breath) will move the country in the right direction That actually jumped from 43 percent before to 48 percent now The number of voters (breath) who said the same about Trump’s policies actually went down from 40 percent before the conventions to 38 percent now Did the Republican (breath) Convention achieve what was needed?”

Here are my suggestions on how to improve his pacing/phrasing.

“You’ve seen our new poll numbers. (PAUSE) Secretary Clinton saw this convention bounce after both conventions. (PAUSE) The CNN/RNC poll shows that (catch breath) the number of voters who believe Secretary Clinton’s policies (catch breath) will move the country in the right direction… (PAUSE) Those numbers actually jumped from 43 percent before (catch breath) to 48 percent now. (PAUSE) The number of voters (hesitate) who said the same about Trump’s policies, (catch breath) actually went down (catch breath) from 40 percent before the convention, (catch breath) to 38 percent now. (PAUSE) Did the Republican Convention achieve what was needed?

Here’s the link to the interview:



I have worked with clients in helping them prepare for a presentation to their Board of Directors, a political body like a Board of Supervisors or City Council, or to an executive team.

If you are preparing for one of these scenarios, here are the some of the elements you should consider addressing.

State why you are there. Are you making a recommendation, giving a progress report or informing them of a new project?

Give a brief history of how you/they got to this point.

If you are requesting an action or their consideration, why do you need to do this now?

How will this change the present state of things?

What are the benefits?

What are the consequences if you don’t take this action?

Is this one-of-a-kind? Are other organizations doing this?

How will it be measured?

What is the cost?

What is the time frame to complete this?

Re-state the recommendation.

I would love to hear from those of you with this type of experience.  What would you add to this list?





When you are standing in front of an audience giving a giving a talk, I know you don’t want to make a mistake. You don’t want to experience stumbling over words, forgetting what you were going to say, or blurting out something you didn’t intend to say.

But, if any of those situations happen, I say to you….. so what? Is that really what the audience wants from you….to be perfect? To never make a mistake?

Not in my experience. Audiences want relevant information that will help them do their jobs better. Or, they want to be entertained.

When you make a mistake, depending upon your audience and the topic, you have choices on how to deal with it.

Since my seminars are not formal, I call out my mistake, poke fun at myself, and then move on. I don’t belabor it; I don’t let it throw me off.

If I forget where I was going with a point, I call it out. “Gosh..I was going somewhere with this point, but my mind went blank.”

Someone in the audience will always help me get back on track. “You were talking about X.”

If you are in a more serious or formal setting, you may say, “I misspoke. Let me go back and give you the correct information.”

If you forget where you are, look back at your PPT to remind yourself or, look down at your notes. You can do this in silence.

I can’t imagine your audiences holding that against you. And, in fact, you may be setting an example for them as to how to handle a mistake when they are presenting.

We speakers always want to be fluid, articulate and laser-sharp. But, we are human and make mistakes.

I have found that perfection is a lofty goal. It is far more important to be human and connect with your audience.

So, remember, strive for connection….not perfection.

Are you sure you truly understand the question?


A portion of my training is devoted to Q & A, both how to formulate your answer, but also how to make sure you truly answer the question.

What I am discovering is presenters answer the question they think they hear.

Why not be respectful of the questioner and find out what s/he truly means, rather than assuming?

In a recent training, a fellow participant asked the presenter at the end of his (mock) presentation, “Tell me your process.”

The presenter launched into an explanation that didn’t answer the question.

Instead, he should have done some investigative work. Here is an example of how you can get to the true intent.

“We have several processes in place for both budgeting and scheduling. Is there one that you wanted me to focus on?”

Here is another example.

Q: “Tell us about Project A?”

A: “I am happy to. Is there a particular phase you are interested in?”

Reach clarity before you answer.

Clarification not only helps you narrow your response (generally, answers should be around 1 minute or less), but more importantly, the questioner will feel listened to, and you will answer the question s/he asked.

Some people might over use this as a stalling technique, and it is true…this does buy you time. However, my suggestion is always to be authentic and to only use this when you genuinely need clarity.