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Review: Joseph McCormack’s Brief – Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

briefThis review first ran in the March 31st edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

By Joseph McCormack



If you’re at the podium and I’m in the audience, know that I’m putting you through the Twitter test.

I used to bring a notebook to speeches and presentations. Now I take out my smartphone.

I like to tweet the best lines, punch lines and headlines from speeches and presentations.

Invariably, the most powerful and persuasive talks – the ones that grab an audience’s attention and challenge what we feel, think or do- are loaded with tweetable moments. These moments become fewer and farther between as presentations slide from pedestrian to painful.

So before you stand and deliver,ake the key points you want to make. Why are you talking with us? What do you want from us?

Wrestle the answers until they fit within 140 character tweets.

Your easily distracted, mentally stretched, information-overloaded and impatient audience will thank you for it. And it will make you a far more effective communicator.

Brevity is the order of the day whether you’re talking to one person or an audience of 100 people, says Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.

“These days, it’s no longer possible to get by on the merit of your idea, title or allotted time. You have to put it in a smaller package and make it easier to consume and digest.”

Here’s why you need to avoid the slow buildup. We’re drowning in a flood of information. The average professional gets 304 emails a week. She checks her smartphone 36 times an hour. Her attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2012.   She spends 56 seconds looking at a webpage and 3.95 minutes watching a YouTube video. So how much time is she going to give you?

“If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them. When they don’t get the clarity they need quickly, they check out. Get to the point or pay the price.”

Don’t simply approach brevity from the point of view of time, says McCormack. It’s not how long you talk. It’s how long your talk feels to the audience. Some hour-long talks feel like 10 minutes. Far too many feel like 10 hours. Make every minute and every word count.

Smart people talking to busy people forget to be brief thanks to the seven deadly sins of cowardice, confidence, callousness, comfort, confusion, complication and carelessness.

One way to avoid sinning is to start with an outline. Always map out what you’re going to say. “The path you plan to follow must be crystal clear before starting.”

And do your homework.  To be clear and concise, you need to dive deep into the issue you’re presenting.  You can’t summarize without thorough knowledge.

“The road to brevity requires hard word and lots of time. Doing all the digging and analysis on your own time saves the members of your audience from doing the labour themselves,” says McCormack. “Nobody likes assembling toys on Christmas Eve and people don’t enjoy exerting energy assembling random words and thoughts.”

McCormack shows how to be brief in key conversations that are critical to your professional well-being, from presenting to senior executives and closing sales with clients to delivering good and bad news and using social media.

So the next time you go up to the podium or step into the executive boardroom, stop dishing out the verbal equivalent of a seven course meal. What your audience really craves are tapas with no assembly required.

Review: Ready to be a Thought Leader? by Denise Brosseau

9781118647615_cover.inddThis review first ran in the March 17 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Ready to be a Thought Leader? How to Increase Your Influence, Impact and Success

By Denise Brosseau



Get ready to hear some remarkable stories, Hamilton.

I got a preview earlier this month when I talked media relations 101 with the founding members of Speak Now Hamilton (follow on Twitter at @SpeakNowHamOnt).

They’ve joined a speakers’ bureau created by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.  About two dozen Hamiltonians are learning how to deliver a speech and meet the press. That training will complement their courage to share very personal stories about living in poverty.

They’re going to be powerful speakers with important stories worth hearing. And here’s hoping some members of Speak Now Hamilton become thought leaders on poverty to prosperity solutions for our community.

“Thought leadership is not about being known; it’s about being known for making a difference,” says Denise Brosseau, author of Ready to be a Thought Leader?, cofounder of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and CEO of Thought Leadership Lab.

“Whatever issue you are tackling, whatever problem you are working to solve, whatever arena you choose to educate and inspire and engage others in – it needs your voice.

“To stay on the sidelines or keep silent or not value your participation will mean not only that you will lose the opportunity to make a difference but that the rest of us will lose too. We will lose your passion, your commitment and your dedication to making a difference. We will lose your unique story and your ability to have a meaningful impact on the issues you care most about.”

Based on her experience turning business and community leaders into thought leaders, Brosseau has come up with a seven step process.

Step one is to find your driving passion.  Figure out where your interests, expertise, credibility and commitment converge. “This intersection point will be an arena that can be uniquely yours, or where you’ll be one of the few.”

After finding your niche, envision your world-changing What If? Future.  All thought leaders need one.  “A WIF is a single, simple, striking description or image of the future you want to see.”  Push yourself to think big and then go even bigger, advises Brosseau. Big, seemingly improbable ideas have the power to inspire and turn audiences into advocates who take up your cause.

Thought leadership isn’t easy. Prepare to invest a lot of time and effort. Expect some false starts, wrong turns, cynics and critics.

But above all else, trust that you can do this, says Brosseau. “Thought leaders do not have a special gene, any inborn talents or a secret decoder ring. They are not always confident – they have their moments of doubt. That are not always the smartest kid in the room. They have stumbled around, lost their way and then, somehow, found it again. And so will you.”

Thought leadership isn’t a maybe someday proposition. It’s an obligation, says Brosseau.  If not you, then who?

“There are so many unexplored opportunities to make a difference. There is so much work to be done to create organizations, businesses, governments and cities that serve the needs of all. Go out and change the world. Increase your impact, expand your influence, and leave a legacy that matters.”

Review: 11 Deadly Presentation Sins by Rob Biesenbach

deadlyThis review first ran in the March 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins

By Rob Biesenbach

Eastlawn Media


Not only does Jon Favreau know how write a great speech, he knows how to deliver one too.

I was at conference in Washington where President Obama’s former speechwriter delivered the opening keynote.

Favreau owned the podium. He came prepared. He told stories. He gave us three lessons learned from his time with the President. He didn’t inflict death by PowerPoint.  He was authentic and self-deprecating. He talked candidly about his greatest hits and misses. He spoke for 20 minutes and then spent the rest of the hour fielding questions.

It was a gold medal performance free of the 11 deadliest presentation sins catalogued by author Rob Biesenbach.

“It’s happening right now,” laments Biesenbach. “Somewhere in the world, in a windowless conference room or a cavernous ballroom, people just like you are suffering through PowerPoint Hell. Their only solace is their little smartphone screens, which they use to steal occasional glimpses of an outside world that now seems hopelessly out of reach.”

How do we take audiences to this forlorn place? As a presenter or speaker, commit any or all of the following sins.

Don’t bother trying to understand your audience. Be clueless about who we are, where we’re at and where we want to go.

Deliver a flat opening.  Read us your resume. Tell us a joke that’s familiar and not funny. Give us the dictionary definition for teamwork. Or tell us how you’re really nervous or deathly ill.

Be completely unfocused. Cram everything into your presentation even if it means you ultimately communicate nothing. Ramble on and leave us guessing what you want us to know, feel or do.

Either skip telling us a story or walk us through a long, tortured tale that never gets to the point.

Deliver a presentation that’s drained of all emotion. Numb us with numbers. Ignore the heartstrings and just hammer us in the head with blunt force logic.

Use dull, ugly visuals. Or better yet, skip the 1980s clip art and overload your slides with words, sentences or best of all, complete paragraphs.

Turn down the volume. Talk with little or no energy and suck whatever life is left out of the room.

Don’t interact with your audience. Look over our heads while delivering your monologue. Pretend we’re not there.

Fool yourself into believing that how you say it matters more than what you say. Compensate for your complete lack of content with some razzle dazzle and jazz hands.

Skip rehearsal and just wing it because your time is so much more valuable than ours and we have nothing better to do.

And close with a weak finish.  “I guess that’s it and there’s nothing else to say” is always a crowd favourite that brings us to our feet.

Biesenback offers practical tips for avoiding these 11 deadliest sins in your speeches and presentations. “Work on a few of these tips at a time. Learn from your mistakes and measure your progress against yourself. Don’t despair when you see a TED Talk that knocks it out of the park. That’s not a fair comparison. Nobody who watches Tiger Woods on TV expects to get off the couch and join the PGA Tour.”

Or deliver a keynote like a former speechwriter for President Obama.