Another Great Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Listening to the radio recently, I was captivated as someone read one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches that I hadn’t heard before.   The speech, ‘What is Your Life’s Blueprint?’, was delivered to a group of junior high school students.  I was struck by three aspects of the speech:

The Blueprint Theme. This was an easy to understand, and visual, metaphor.  Even younger teenagers can understand what a blueprint is and the value of having a plan for your life.  I also liked it because you could use it at a high level, like Dr. King did by relating to a life plan, and you could also go into more detail by comparing parts of the blueprint to elements of a life plan.

Brevity. The speech was 562 words long. Every word and every sentence had a purpose and made an impact.

Connection to the Audience. Dr. King related his points to questions, issues and problems that the students had on their minds.  At that age, they were trying to figure out who they were and what they were going to do with the rest of their lives. As he made his points about believing in themselves and staying in school, it was clear that he knew what people in the audience experienced and felt every day.

When I eventually read the speech, it reminded me that it is possible to make a difference with our communication – when it’s clear, concise and compelling.

Women Leaders Speak on Success

Traveling in Asia, I read a Financial Times article that profiled 50 female business leaders across the globe.  The stories were inspiring and I liked how a few executives shared their keys to success.

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox,“People say all the time, ‘I knew this wouldn’t work’.  And I would say ‘Well if you knew this wouldn’t work, then why didn’t you say so?’  If you know things, you should take a stand.”

Alison Cooper, CEO of Imperial Tobacco,“Dare to be wise (a favorite motto) – it encourages you to break out of the mold…being authentic, always learning and being driven.”

Nahed Taher, CEO of Gulf One Investment Bank, “I decided not to be invisible.” She described her mindset as the first and only woman to join the 4,000-strong National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia, where she worked as chief economist.

Nahed Taher, CEO of Gulf One Investment Bank

Nahed Taher, CEO of Gulf One Investment Bank

Alison Cooper, CEO of Imperial Tobacco

Alison Cooper, CEO of Imperial Tobacco

Nahed Taher, CEO of Gulf One Investment Bank

Nahed Taher, CEO of Gulf One Investment Bank

These are also great words of advice for presenters, especially those speaking at the highest levels on the global stage.

Boost Your Career With Success Stories


On a recent trip to Cleveland, Ohio I presented at the Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) Institute’s Career Day event for investment professionals.   Of the 80 participants, 50 were employed, 30 were in transition or soon to graduate from college, and everyone wanted to know how they could sell themselves more effectively.   The economy was tough in Cleveland at the time, with banks and investment companies hard hit by a recession.  Competition for new business and jobs was intense!

I showed them how to create powerful success stories that tell a potential client or hiring manager about their experience and the value they deliver.  The structure I gave them for Success Stories had three parts:  What; So What; and Now What.

Here’s an example of a story that a candidate for a sales position could use for an interview with a hiring manager:

What: What you did and how you did it.

“As an account manager, I grew my territory to 125% of quota for five years at a time the industry was declining 23%. I did this by presenting to wholesale brokers who then introduced new products tailored to our target market. I conducted breakfast meetings and brown bag sessions twice a month where I educated them on the products and showed them how to do investment presentations.”

So What: What were the results of your efforts?

 “After six months, 65% of the people I presented to became clients, and they generated an additional $25 million in revenue over the next year. That success opened the doors for us to introduce two more products, which created a strong foundation for future growth.”

Now What:  What value does this have for the hiring manager?  

“With this experience, I know I can help you open new markets, introduce products and grow your business.”   

The third step is what most people leave out of their success stories.  It’s important to connect your experience to the challenges and goals of your audience.   Show how you can help them succeed!!

I had each participant outline a story, practice it with a partner and ask for feedback.    The exercise was a great success – everyone walked away from the session with a new story they could use and a structure for creating more.

Improvise Your Way to Great Presentations


I just read a book about Chicago’s famous Second City improvisational theater group.  It reminded me of the improv classes I took while studying for my MBA at the University of Washington in Seattle.   Three principles I learned in the classes, and applied performing for the Seattle TheaterSports group, definitely translate to delivering great presentations.

Make The Other Person Look Good.  Great scenes happen when you respond positively to what your fellow improvisers do on stage, rather than trying to steal the show yourself.   Great presentations happen when you focus on providing value to the audience vs. worrying about how you are doing.

Structure Provides Flexibility.  You’re not completely winging it as you improvise, since most scenes have a structure or theme.  You might be limited to speaking one word at a time, have to rhyme with another performer’s last word, or even do the scene in reverse!  You are ‘freed up’ to improvise because the structure helps guide how you create the scene.  The same holds true for presentations.  When you take time to create a structure or theme for your ideas, it’s easier to be flexible and respond in the moment to your audience.  You can answer questions and be spontaneous because you have a structure that gets you back on track.

Passion Counts.   Improvisation is a risky activity– some scenes go well and others fail miserably.   While audiences love great scenes, they also love bad scenes, if you give a 100% effort and have fun while performing.   If you hesitate, become self-conscious or deliver a half-hearted performance, you’ll lose the audience’s support.  With presentations, a 100% efforts means you develop content that has value for the audience and you deliver it with enthusiasm.   You’ll keep the audience’s attention and their support if you show them your passion for your topic.

Keep these principles in mind and you’ll have more success and more fun with your presentations.

The Successful Global Presenter

What would you do if you had to deliver the same presentation to audiences in Finland, Puerto Rico, Australia and Taiwan?  The answer to that question, and more, came up during the workshop on global presentations I gave at the Society for Research Administration (SRA) international conference in Seattle.

Senior managers from universities and research institutes in Europe, Asia/Pacific and North America attended the workshop.  They lead large global project teams, so, one of their biggest challenges is delivering presentations and workshops to international audiences.  We discussed three strategies to improve their cultural agility and connect with audiences when speaking globally.

First – tailor the content to the local culture.  Use examples, analogies and themes that fit the culture or have a broad cultural appeal.  If you’re in India, cricket is a better sports analogy than baseball

Second – adjust the amount and type of interaction with the audience.  Audiences participate in different ways across cultures. Some are very engaged and open to participating in exercises and Q&A sessions, while others are more reserved.  The key is to provide options for dialogue and feedback, as speaking up in a public format may not be culturally acceptable.

Third – modify your nonverbal communication.  Pay attention to your body language in cross-cultural presentations. Some cultures such as the U.S. and Brazil are quite animated and appreciate hand gestures and an energetic delivery. Others (Finland, Japan) expect speakers to remain calm, with a less animated delivery.   

There are resources to help you prepare for global presentations.  Ideally you ask a local contact what you can do to be effective.  You can also talk with someone who has presented in that culture before.  A great web site is for information on cultures is located at   Excellent books include: Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands and Working GlobeSmart

Overall, we had great discussions and everyone agreed that when you’re speaking on the global stage, cultural agility matters.

The Power of Passion


As I work with different presenters I’m always looking for ways to help them express, in their own way, passion for their ideas.  When they do this in a genuine way it helps them connect with their audiences and adds power to their words.

Last week I saw a couple of compelling movies that illustrated how two very different individuals brought energy and dedication to their professions.  Senna is a documentary that spans Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna’s years as a Formula 1 driver.  The movie follows Senna’s achievements and struggles from the mid-1980s until his death at 34 during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 86-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef and proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station.

While Senna and Jiro succeeded in very different professions, I saw some common principles in how they approached their work.  These principles are relevant to how we approach presenting our ideas.

Humility.  They focused on creating a great experience for their customers and fans, not on their own accomplishments.  Even though Jiro’s restaurant was awarded the perfect three-star rating from the prestigious Michelin review, he was very self-critical of his work and spoke frequently about the need to “dedicate your life to mastering your craft”.

Attention to Detail.   Their passion was evident both in their performances and in their dedication to understand every element that went into those performances.  Senna was constantly working with his team to fine-tune his race car and expressed “… a great desire to improve… If my growth slows I am not happy”.  Jiro believed that “every meal (I create) has to be better than the last time”.

Resilience.   The path to the top was not an easy one for Jiro or Senna.  Jiro left home when he was 9 years old, apprenticed at sushi shops and even survived a heart attack at age 70 as he built an amazing 77-year career.  Senna fought his way through the physical, mental and political challenges of driving on the go-kart and Formula 3 circuits before finally breaking into Formula 1 racing in the mid-1980s.   He saw the good and bad sides of racing, and still loved the sport.

These films inspired me to look at how I approach my work and my presentations.  If you’ve seen them, tell me what you think.  If you haven’t then take a look and send me your thoughts.

What are your favorite movies that address the theme of ‘overcoming adversity to achieve great things’?