Walter Isaacson – A superlative storyteller – but I have one complaint

I just saw Walter Isaacson speak.  For one hour, he told stories about the creativity, beauty, curiosity and humanity of Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs.

With this common thread, he recounted anecdotes from each of these geniuses.

There were no slides.   Just Mr. Isaacson.

You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium which held over 500 people.

It was the stories that held our attention.

I can’t stress enough how storytelling will help you elevate and enhance your ability to capture the audience.

So, instead of reciting data and statistics, tell us a story that helps us visualize the meaning of your message.

I had two issues with his presentation skills, which could be solved by making one change.  First issue – he kept his hands in his pocket most of the time; and two –  his voice trailed off as he was concluding a lot of his sentences.  This prevented many of us from hearing the entire phrase.

However, when he pulled his hands out of his pockets and started gesturing, he became more animated, more engaging, and so did his voice.

My years of experience tells me that there is an interesting connection between our hand gestures and our voice.  When we include a deliberate gesture, our voices will gesture, too:  involuntarily.  We automatically look and sound more involved, interested, engaged.

While Walter Isaacson held the audience’s attention, most of us need as much help as possible.  My advice is – don’t hide your hands.  Find a neutral place to rest your hands (when not gesturing) so that they are ready to serve their purpose – to emphasize and illustrate words.


I was visiting with my neighbor who works at well-known tech company in the SF Bay Area.  I was talking to him about what I do  – helping people elevate their presentation skills.

I said I’d seen his boss present, and that he seemed unprepared and awkward in an All-Hands meeting.

My neighbor explained, “That’s tech.  Many of us are awkward when we present.  We have learned to accept this about our industry.”

OKAY.  I get that.  Those who know us are more accepting of our idiosyncrasies – especially if you are well-known and in charge.

But, will you ever face an audience who will be less forgiving and unable to get past your awkwardness?

VCs?  Bankers?  Lawyers? Testifying in front of Congress? TED talk?

In those instances, I would encourage you to work with a coach to improve your skills and build your confidence.



Practice your speech, and then….get feedback!

Good for you for practicing your presentation before you have to give it.  This is certainly mandatory in order to enhance your confidence.

It is equally important to know if you are improving.

To find out, ask trusted colleagues or friends to sit in as you rehearse.  Let them know you are interested in getting their feedback.

But, here is an important point.  You need to guide them on how to give feedback.

For example, if you are working on eliminating filler words (ah, um, like, so, and), say that.  “Susan and Joe, as I am speaking, can you count the number of filler words I have?”

This is much more valuable than asking them, “How did I do?”  Most people won’t know what to say other than, “that was great.”

However, if you guide your friends, you will get a much better idea if you have improved.



When I asked a client how she wanted the audience to feel about her at the end of a presentation, she answered, “Confident.”

Now, it is my job, as a coach, to tell her HOW to achieve this.

I am convinced that this is not just a visualization exercise.  I must give her tangible tools that will help her get there.

Out of the nine body language skills I have identified, there are three techniques that project confidence.  They are:


  • Sustained eye contact
  • Adopting a proud posture
  • Mastering the pause (think Barack Obama)


During our session, I had her work on these three – one at a time.  This is how I finally determined which one will benefitted her the most.

Ask yourself, how do you want to be seen by a boss, client, or the public?

By understanding the communication skills – and then applying them – one by one, you can achieve your goals.


Do you talk too quickly?

For those of you who talk too quickly while presenting, there are three ways to slow down:

Extended eye contact(looking at each listener for  2- to 3-seconds);

Deliberate enunciation(taking the time to pronounce every part of each word):

Adding a pause at the end of every sentence.

Jon Meacham: a model of humor and humility


What a privilege to see Jon Meacham in person.  There were so many things he did as a speaker to captivate his audience.  I will focus on two:  humor and humility.

They occurred within the first two minutes of his speech.

After receiving a glowing introduction, which went on and on, with one notable accomplishment after another, and ending with the title of his most recent book, “The Soul of America,”  Mr. Meacham began his speech.

(Full disclosure. This is not verbatim.  I am telling the essence of the story, even though I am using quotations.”

“Thank you for the wonderful introduction.

“I was walking in the National Mall, when a woman comes rushing up to me  – which doesn’t happen nearly enough.  She said, ‘I love your books.  I’ve read all of them.  I have one in my car nearby.  If I go get it, will you sign it for me?'”

“I was flattered and told her I would.

“A few minutes later, she comes hurrying back to me with “Runaway Jury.”  (John Grisham’s bestseller.)

“My ego deflated, however, I signed it, thanked her, and she walked away.”

Jon Meacham – a celebrated and distinguished presidential biographer –   captured us all with humor and humility.