Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat
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Phil Slott, author of Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat: A Tranquilizer for Presenters, has written a brilliant book for professionals who have to make presentations. Taken from his 26 years experience in many top advertising firms, Slott’s points are intelligent, clear and thought provoking.
Phil Slott started his career as a junior copywriter, and was so nervous when he had to present that he would have to pray on the floor of his studio apartment before meetings. Years later, as chairman of BBDO London, Slott was adept at holding an audience of hundreds in the palm of his hand, and is described as one of the masters of presentation.
He created dozens of well-known campaigns. But, the two most famous ones are “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” for the US Navy and the unforgettable campaign for Gillette, “Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat”.
Finally there’s a concise, detailed and humorous book written about how to overcome the anxieties that keep us from being effective presenters. In Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat, Slott offers practical information on notes, outlines and props, and gives concrete advice on deflecting hecklers, interacting with the audience and using humor to engage your listeners.
Slott gives the reader a One Minute Manager for people who have to make presentations. He prepares everyone from the novice to the veteran presenter with his 21 “Nevers” such as never say always, never be too positive, never get caught lying. There’s no fake motivational hype, just simple, easy-to-follow steps to becoming a more effective presenter.
This book is for anybody who has to give presentations, whether it’s for a small staff meeting or a large audience of 10,000 executives.
Never Confuse Public Speaking With Presentation
Saying is one thing and doing is another.
Sure you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?
– Jock Slang
Public speaking and presentation are not the same thing. Public speaking may be talking the talk, but presentation is walking the walk.
Public speaking is speaking well in public. Presentation is speaking well in public plus all the elements of showmanship.
Most people would call Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, or George Will great presenters — but they’re not. They were or are great public speakers.
In the business setting, presentations are a ray of light in most people’s workday. People come to presentations to get away from the dull paperwork in their offices. They come to escape. They come for the show. As a result, the presenter must always live up to the audience’s expectations for entertainment. If you as a presenter don’t do this, you will soon be labeled a bore and suffer the consequences that go with that label.
Skilled presentation involves acting, rehearsal, scenery, sound effects, and possibly music and lighting. A presentation may also call for the right make-up, hairstyle, useful props and apropos wardrobe.
Public speaking only involves a few of these elements. Acting, rehearsal, timing and appearance are important to public speaking, but that’s where the similarity ends. Public speaking rarely involves cues, sound effects, scenery, music or lighting.
The challenge of presentation starts where public speaking leaves off.
Because presentation means “walking the walk,” it’s not surprising that some great presenters have made their mark on history. So, who have been the greatest presenters in history? We could debate the answer to that question forever, but my own choices are Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler, Carl Sagan and Elizabeth Dole.
Alexander was the son and successor of King Philip II and is known for reuniting the Greek empire and tirelessly leading his army to conquer Persia. He finally met his death in Babylon at age 33.
Did Alexander, the famed Macedonian conqueror, pay his men well? The record says yes. Did he feed his men well? Yes. Did he rotate his men well? Yes. Did he make sure his men heard from home? Yes. Was he a great public speaker? Sure.
But Alexander also was a great presenter because he used showmanship and symbolism. He was the best showman on the battlefield. His men could see him because he was always on horseback and he always led from the front. He wore an outstanding uniform. He had polished armor, a flowing cape and sharp shiny weapons. In short, he was a great showman who showcased himself. His presence said, “Look, here I am. I’m not behind the lines eating grapes in some safe headquarters. I’m out in front where it’s life-threatening. I’m right here. They’ll get me long before they get you.”
He didn’t have to communicate this kind of bravery with words since he communicated it with action. Alexander was beloved because soldiers always love someone who walks the walk instead of just talking the talk. He symbolized all the qualities his men felt a leader should stand for. They wanted him to be a symbol of bravery and he was. His three-dimensional presence and God-like ambition was inspiring. In the end, presenting himself as a symbol made him a legend.
Hitler is deservedly maligned as an evil Fascist who was responsible for World War II. In spite of that record, it must be noted that he was a highly skilled presenter. I’m sure Goebbels taught him a few tricks, but Hitler also originated techniques of his own. He was good at presenting because he mastered both showmanship and symbolism. His intuition told him if he began his presentations with three minutes of absolute silence, he would capture his audience’s attention. Even in his speeches to audiences in the tens of thousands, he would begin in silence. All he did was step up to the podium and stare at the audience for three long minutes. Three whole minutes of silence!
Sound easy? Think you can do it? Try it.
More often than not, everybody wants to start talking right away. Even if it’s just to say: “Hey, I’m not going to say anything for three minutes.”
The principle is that silence is a better attention-getting device than sound, and Hitler was able to confidently establish this silence better than anyone else, then or now.
When he finally began to speak, he began slowly and conversationally, in a matter-of-fact way. As he warmed up, he became emotional about German patriotism. He articulated the pain, embarrassment and nationalistic pride of the German people in the early 20th century.
Hitler was called Mien fuhrer, because his emotions were the people’s emotions and he wasn’t afraid to express them in public. Millions of people did his bidding because they saw him as one of them.
Hitler presented and staged a nationalistic spirit very forcefully. His methods included extensive and ingenious use of the German flag, the national anthem and German folk music. He employed Albert Speer, a brilliant and sympathetic architect, to help him design these presentations. Under his direction, Speer came up with the dramatic device of using columns of lights as an awesome prop, against a night sky, for a Hitler speech.
Presentation helped popularize Hitler by helping the Germans regain their sense of pride. Unfortunately, it also misled the nation and made them focus on war and barbaric atrocities.
Carl Sagan was an acclaimed astronomer, scientist, professor and author. He dedicated his life to the study of other life forms in the cosmos. As co-founder and president of The Planetary Society Committee, Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize, the Oersted Medal, and many other awards and honorary degrees. He will always be remembered for his contributions to science, education and preservation of the environment. Dr. Sagan died 1996 at age 62.
Hitler was the showman of the Third Reich, but Carl Sagan was the showman for a whole planet because he hoped to present life on earth to other galaxies and set about doing so. Through the television series Cosmos, he was the first person to present the idea that we are “not alone” in the universe to an audience of millions.
Sagan was among the first to take the mystery of the universe out of the realm of science fiction, present it as tangible and popularize it. He was the first person who actually developed symbols for life on earth and sent them into space on the Voyager spacecraft.
To do this he created a comprehensive message of earth sounds designed to be received by extra-terrestrial beings elsewhere in the cosmos, a galactic greeting to be carried on a spaceship. The first “Hello, how are you?” designed for aliens.
This greeting was a true presentation. It included a disc that contained his sweetheart’s heartbeat, samples of earth music, samples of 60 different earth languages and a videotape of a typical earth kiss.
Acting on his belief that “we are not alone” he conceived these ideal communications.
Sagan’s best symbol was the idea of shooting the message off into outer space because it symbolized that he expected sentient life out there to receive it. When Carl Sagan passed away in 1997, America not only lost an icon, the Earth lost an icon.
Those are my nominations for the three greatest presenters in world history, but who are today’s greatest presenters? There are millions of them out there and, for all I know, you may even be one of them. I could have chosen CEOs, sheet-metal contractors, music arrangers, or doormen. Or maybe I’d choose realtors, vendors, painters or fabric designers. But, finally, I settled on Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Dole. Why politicians? It’s simple. They really are our best presenters. Think about it, politicians have to present 24 hours a day because they have to sell something 24 hours a day. If they’re not selling a project, they’re selling a cause, and if they’re not selling a cause they’re selling new legislation, and if they’re not selling new legislation, they’re selling their party. But no matter what they’re pushing for, politicians are great presenters because they’re great showmen and they’re great showmen because the show is them.
Let’s take a look at Elizabeth Dole’s example.
Dole’s performance at the Republican National Convention in 1996 is justly famous. It was a great presentation because she was able to combine showmanship and symbolism.
Remember how she presented while walking through the convention audience with a hand-held mike? She reached out and touched her listeners while she spoke, “Vote for my husband, the kind Republican.”
Her sense of symbolism helped her present the Republican Party as friendly, informal and approachable. Dole found a fine way to translate the Republican message into a more sensitive feminine medium. Her sense of showmanship made sure the medium became the message.
And who could forget Bill Clinton’s public presentations?
Bill Clinton gave a good example of how presentation can save a career in 1998. He was able to pull this off because he’s a master of symbolism and showmanship. His sense of timing is perfect and it seems as if he’s connecting to you personally, even though he’s on TV. For instance, he brought off his State of the Union address in spite of being involved in a major White House sex scandal. His presentation on the floor of Congress was so masterly, you’d never know he was under siege.
Making his point with his voice was just a start. Clinton also made it with his eyes, expressions and gestures. And he always made it with important symbols. For example, he announced new minority programs in minority neighborhoods, he revealed ecological initiatives in ecological settings and he invoked patriotism in patriotic settings. He even hired six former welfare recipients to work at the White House to symbolize the workfare program.
Clinton rarely signed a bill anywhere without having a symbol standing by in person, a living symbol of what the problem is or who the bill would help. He invited successful disabled people to the White House. He visited Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the field. He met with high-ranking women in the military and senior women in their corner offices. He invited disabled kids to the Rose Garden for the signing of the Disabled Education Bill. And if a material symbol like a wheelchair or a saxophone was suitable, it was there instead of a person.
Maybe you’re still thinking that presentation is too fancy a word for what you do everyday. Maybe presentation is too corporate-sounding for you. Or maybe presentation sounds like something yuppies do on the 19th floor. Anyway, if you don’t want to call yourself a presenter, don’t. But, if you spend your time greeting customers, supervising co-workers, recruiting volunteers or calming patients, you’re already a great showman.Now Available as an Ebook for only $2.99