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The CEO Whisperer Shares the Key to a Great Presentation

Remember the last time you and your partner trotted out your perennial argument? Were you at a loss for words? No. What about those heated political discussions with your in-laws? Were you ever caught flat-footed? Of course not.

Why? Because those were points of view you have honed over time. Most importantly, you immediately focused in on the content most relevant to your audience.

CEO whisperer and communications specialist Rebecca Goldsmith of C-Level Stories graciously told me why these situations result in seamless communication, while presentations and pitches fall flat.

Rebecca Goldsmith, CEO Whisperer.

It’s practice.

Unfortunately, many smart, articulate professionals believe they are great public speakers, and that there is no need for them to practice a keynote or important presentation.


This thinking is called exaggerated positivity, and we are all prone to it. Simply put, most of us tend to think we are just a little bit better at what we do than other people. Neuroscientists have proven that our efforts to protect our self-esteem cause a strong cognitive bias.

On the flip side, Goldsmith says some execs think they are so bad at presenting that practicing for perceived failure is not a valuable use of their time, probably because they’ve rehearsed incorrectly in the past.

Goldsmith reminds us that the world’s greatest presenter, Steve Jobs, practiced. A lot. TED speakers are encouraged to start practicing their 20 minutes of fame at the outset, before they’ve even written their presentation. So here, according to Goldsmith, is what you learn through repetition:

1. You revise what you want to say, and how you’ll say it. Exhibit A: TED’s advice to presenters. Goldsmith says saying something aloud changes the tone of the presentation, causing the speaker to simplify sentences, choose shorter and more powerful words, and eliminate tangents.

2. Your message becomes crisper, stronger and better. With live practice, you articulate your vision more directly. Awkward pauses, like “Ums” and “uhs,” disappear when you aren’t thinking about what you want to say next. That doesn’t happen by simply reviewing note cards yourself, silently.

3. You become more confident, cool and collected. Practice results in a core message that is fully internalized and can run on auto-pilot. This leaves a speaker able to focus on connecting with her or his audience through eye contact, gestures, pauses, and moving about the stage.

And, I would add one more for any doubters.

4. Have someone videotape you and watch it repeatedly, as a talent scout would. Do you really say “like” or “right” in every third sentence? No one likes to believe they do, but tapes don’t lie.

Goldsmith says this prep doesn’t take days. A poor speaker can become a decent one, or a decent speaker can become a good one, in as little as a few hours. A before-and-after video will prove it.

“If there’s just one thing you do to prepare for a speaking engagement, carve out the time to practice aloud what you want to say,” Goldsmith said. “You’ll find this discipline to be far more worthwhile than reading note cards to yourself silently, tweaking slides or writing a script.”

Thanks to Goldsmith for sharing her wisdom. You can find more trusted and tested advice at C-Level Stories, and in her LinkedIn posts. For quick snippets, follow her on Twitter at @C_levelStories.

Susan Kostal is a legal marketing and media coach specializing in the Bay Area legal industry. Find more great content on Twitter @skostal.

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