Everyone remembers at least one dreadful speech they’ve had to sit through. The one with the disconnected, droning speaker who obviously didn’t believe a word he was saying and subsequently dragged a 20-minute presentation into an endless nightmare.
“That’s exactly what we never want to have happen again,” says Fred Walker, corporate training specialist at the Dale Carnegie Training Institute in Bordentown. Walker wants speakers, presenters, and even interviewees to pop when they are given the floor. He wants them to be memorable, but not like the guy in the example above.
Walker, a veteran corporate trainer, and colleague Don Workington, former leadership trainer at GE, will present “High-Impact Presentations,” a two-part course aimed at adding sizzle to public and corporate events, starting Wednesday, August 7, at 8 a.m., at the Dale Carnegie Training Institute on Route 130. The course concludes the following Wednesday. Cost: $1,800. Call 609-324-9200, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
One way of keeping things interesting, Walker says, is by paying attention to the most famous — and misquoted — equation in public speaking, the Mehrabian Study. In 1971 Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor at UCLA, deduced that in any given speech, body language carries more than half the impact. Tone of voice carries most of the other half, leaving the actual words being spoken with just 7 percent of the overall responsibility.
The study is often misinterpreted to suggest that what you say is less important than how you look. But the misinterpretation is not entirely inaccurate. If you don’t look and sound as if you believe what you’re saying, no one will buy it, says Walker. Indeed the real point behind the results of Mehrabian’s study is congruity, whether spoken language and body language marry up. If you were to give a speech about the importance of following one course of action, yet your slumping posture, your lack of eye contact, and your fidgeting hands belie your doubts or disinterest, your audience will know it.
“Manner is as important as subject matter,” Walker says, quoting the man who trained him to be a trainer himself. “We want people to wear their emotions.”
The program is a hands-on, intensive course not intended for novice speakers. The Dale Carnegie Institute dates back to 1912, when its founder gave his first courses in public speaking in a YMCA in New York. Very early on, Walker says, Carnegie found that positive reinforcement for those afraid of speaking in front of crowds not only broke the fear but seemed to generate an all-around confidence in life and business dealings among his clients.
For newbies, he says, the institute still strictly follows this formula — only the good is promoted so that clients can build on their strengths and, consequently, thicken their skins. This particular course, though it also relies on positive feedback, adds a little of what Walker calls “constructive coaching. It’s a little rougher.” Novice speakers, especially those who have not gained their full confidence, might react badly to being told they need improvement. Videotaped sessions allow student and instructor watch where things are going right and where they’re going wrong, he says.
Aha!. In 1964 Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously summed up the difficulty of defining what is obscene when he said, “I know it when I see it.” What makes a presenter appealing, says Walker, has a lot in common with this. There is no single defining characteristic, nor any one-size-fits-all method of teaching someone to be an effective speaker.
People, however, have innate positives, things they do that make them effective in their own way. “We see glimmers of it in people and we say, ‘Right there! That’s it!’” Walker says. When he spots one of those glimmers on the video he tries to work with it. But sometimes he has to lay it on the line, however best it needs being said.
The Eminem face. Being a constructive coach means knowing when to follow the textbook and when to throw it out. Walker says he’s learned this over his 16-year relationship with Carnegie. He started out in the entertainment industry, having graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1983 with a bachelor’s in theater. After a few years of being a stage manager (the “air traffic controller” of theater) he decided to shift gears and so he called Carnegie looking for work. He began in sales, left for six years, then came back in the corporate training arm of the institute.
For about a year Walker took his training methods straight to corporation’s doors as a traveling trainer. Dealing with diverse companies on their own turf, he says, taught him how to teach, but, more importantly, it taught him a lot about how to listen. People, he says, cannot all be dealt with in the same way. The realization, he says, helped him with one young manager who ave every speech through a scowl.
“Did you ever see pictures of Eminem?” Walker asks. “The dude never smiles. I told my guy, ‘You’ve got to drop the Eminem face.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh yeah.’” Carnegie’s training manuals, unsurprisingly, have no reference to the rapper’s brooding countenance. But Walker says that’s the point. To be an effective presenter, you have to know how to get through to your audience and think on your feet. If the text isn’t working as scripted, say it in a way your audience will relate to.
Not just speeches. While knowing how to blow away an audience is a valuable skill, the most important business transaction is the one that lands you a job. Interviews, like speeches and presentations, need to pack a hearty punch to be successful.
“In an ideal world there’s not much difference between the interviewer or the interviewee,” Walker says. “An interview wants to be a conversation. It becomes both parties painting word pictures.” What this achieves, he says, is the removing of stiffness from the interview and the promotion of an actual relationship. And good conversations yield specific examples of what each side’s strengths and weaknesses are. An interviewer, he says, needs to know that an applicant is right for the company just as much as the applicant needs to know that the company is right for him.
Executive presence. All of Carnegie’s methods seek to increase the effectiveness of a client’s interpersonal skills. For speech-givers and presenters, the aim is to cultivate “executive presence.” The military version of this, says Walker, is “command presence.” The ability to exude a sense of control and command over what is being said.
This is where the lessens of the Mehrabian study come into play. People need to see their message like an artist sees his, Walker says. They need to embody what they are trying to say. Sometimes it requires creativity and a little bit of acting. “It’s like Shakespeare said: Assume a virtue, if you have it not.”
Walker grew up in Robbinsville under parents who both worked at Sarnoff. His mother was an occupational health nurse and his father worked with the HVAC crew. Despite his theater background — which he admits neither he nor his parents know the origins of — Walker never dreamed of taking center stage as an actor. He prefers to keep to the wings whence he can keep complicated projects moving.
Remembering his stage manager roots, Walker says he plans to introduce his clients to Lawrence Stern’s seminal book, “Stage Management for Theater” because “it incredibly parallels project management.” The essence of project management, he says, is the coordination between all departments. A successful project manager engages every one of those departments toward a successful end (because they believe in the message).
“We have a saying at the institute,” Walker says. “People will support a world they help create.”