Tag Archives: how to design great slides

The President’s Speech: SOTU 2018

President Trumps 2018 State of the Union speech was one of the worst-delivered speeches I’ve ever seen. Note I said, “delivered,” not “written.” I have yet to read the transcript from beginning to end.

The next day, I was on the radio to discuss it, made my case, and the host pushed back, telling me a CBS poll had said 75% of respondents approved of the speech. I wasn’t moved. I know what I know.

Let me explain why the speech was a failure from the delivery standpoint. The core reason is that so-called speaking from the heart requires the speaker to be in touch with one. That’s the intangible reason. But there are tangible reasons, as well, that every speaker should learn. Here they are…

  • He clearly didn’t practice: This is a badge of honor for him, which is ridiculous and a disservice to his audiences. It is something the best speakers get right, which is why there are so few of them.
  • He didn’t sound like he’d read it through from beginning to end. Some words seemed to surprise him, like Scourge, which he pronounced Skorge. (See #1.)
  • The body language was all wrong, particularly facial expression. He seemed angry and scowled throughout. Also, his applauding of his own words was particularly off-putting and his incitement of the GOP members to chant, “USA, USA” was completely inappropriate. This was not a campaign rally.
  • His rate and pacing were plodding. These speeches are always on the long side and this one was much too long. It didn’t have to be. A moderate pace is about 140 words per minute. Including the frequent prolonged applause interruptions (common), this one was 65 wpm. If we are generous and subtract the applause, that brings us to about 100 wpm. This is much too slow and another result of #1.
  • His voice is very low quality. It’s thin, breathy, and although very familiar, it’s unpleasant to listen to at length. It’s also somewhat monotone in these types of formal, stick-to-the-teleprompter-delivered speeches. A good speaker doesn’t need a voice like James Earl Jones (see Bill Clinton or George W. Bush), but there are ways to strengthen the speaking voice and the POTUS should do so to meet the requirements of his job.
  • He has a habit of biting off choice words, lingering on it, spreading his mouth, jutting out his chin, and baring his teeth, but not in a smile. This seems to happen when he feels he hasn’t received credit for something he thinks he deserves or wants to cast blame. It’s utterly graceless, just plain weird, and out of place in such a decorous setting.
  • The structure of the speech lacked enough rhetorical flourishes. Not that the president would’ve known what do do with them if they were there. There were a couple, but he was unable to land them (see #1) which did not allow this speech to rise to the soaring, uplifting speaking we as a nation crave and deserve.
  • Audible inhales were prevalent. What is with this? It’s an unfortunate and distracting habit he should work on.

As I alluded, the written speech may be much better than his delivery showed. (I still haven’t had a minute to read it all the way through.) Yet, for all the claims from him and the White House that this speech would be unifying and “from the heart,” it seemed clear to me the only unity he was interested in was with his existing fans and as for his heart, I don’t think he actually knows where it is.


Do I Give Hugs or Handshakes?

Hugs or handshakes? That is the question.

Like most women, I have had to put up with too many men who felt it was ok to invade my personal space and put their hands on me or whisper unwelcome and uninvited sweet nothings in my ear.

So with the seemingly unending revelations about sexual harassers, I thought it would be a good idea to explore what happens when men and women greet each other in a professional setting.

There is a lot to say about this and I won’t get it all into this newsletter or video. I also don’t have much in the way of answers, but the times call for some deep thinking about what happens when men and women greet each other, what gets communicated, and whether that’s what we intended.

For simplicity’s sake — and to keep myself from going off the rails – I’m breaking it down into three distinct situations.

1. Greeting someone new

In this situation, professionals (in the US at least), will generally shake hands. Still, there is a right and wrong way to show professional respect via a handshake. Too often, a man takes a woman’s hand in what I call the “dainty,” which clasps only the fingers. This is instead of the full-fledged handshake men typically give each other. That’s the one where the webs between the thumb and forefinger meet, a level of firmness is exerted and one or two shakes happen as the partners make eye contact and say their pleasantries. This communicates mutual respect and a level of professionalism. By the way, sometimes women give each other the “dainty” and also to men. That communicates weakness that does not bode well for women who wish to be taken seriously. So my advice to men is, shake a woman’s hand the way you shake a man’s and to women, do not act daintily or you will be perceived as such and suffer for it.

2. Greeting someone you have affection for and are reuniting with after some time has passed

Men who feel affection toward other men almost always shake hands when re-uniting. They may do some backslapping and other upper body touching. But, in a similar situation with a woman, they almost always hug and kiss them. And women hug and kiss them back. Quite frequently women initiate it, including me. This, frankly, has always been ok with me, probably because it’s always been this way, but I have come to believe it is risky for women and the perceptions it engenders, even if unintentional or unconscious. This is one of those areas where I don’t have good answers. So, in a professional setting, I’d like to see this change to the way men greet each other. (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you.) Now, if you’ve done something one way for a long time and suddenly change, it can create friction. I feel uncomfortable even thinking of how I’m going to do it going forward, but I’m going to try to keep professional greetings professional and I’ll be interested to know what your experiences are if you decide to make a change or if you never did it to begin with. It’s complicated.

3.  Greeting someone you’ve met a few times and have no real affection (or disaffection) for

This is the most difficult one because it may result in some weirdness that, frankly, no one needs. It’s so much easier to acquiesce to a surprise or unwelcome hug and kiss. But doing so is also the riskiest for women because impressions count. When people greet each other, they’re sizing each other up. If a woman allows herself to be hugged and kissed, even though it’s a cheek kiss, and sometimes even while shaking hands, it sends a signal that perhaps she’s open to more gestures that would be more audacious and more unwelcome. Again, I’m telling myself this as much as opening a discussion with you. So, what to do? In such cases, I’ve found that putting my hand out first and stiffening my arm will often nip it in the bud. Witty conversation and high-quality small talk will mitigate any awkwardness. Sometimes, however, a man will pull that hand he is shaking and force other contact. Here is where I don’t have good answers. Recoiling in the moment may put the woman at further disadvantage professionally and, of course, it depends on who it is doing the pulling – a boss? A client? Two people you most certainly wouldn’t want to offend. So here is where I get stumped. Certain people will respond to a good, private chat, where you explain how this undermines your professional stature (bad for the company and bottom line). Others will be offended and seek to deep-six you. In which case, if you can, you may have to escalate.

Of course, then there is the guy who is a harasser, who gets his jollies by exerting physical power over women. I’m not addressing that here since I wanted to stick with people who are well-intentioned, yet may be clueless or struggling with what to do in this watershed moment, which is a far more common situation and one, that if we figure it out, could have wide-ranging positive consequences for the future workplace

Also, I want to be clear that all of this is based on the US business communication culture. International customs vary so what’s acceptable here is not elsewhere. Also, it could be generational. Generations differ in what they think of as acceptable, a very good thing. I’m a boomer, but I wonder if millennials and Gen Xers handle things the way my generation has.

My only goal is to see women valued for their professional expertise and not have it discounted by traditions meant to preserve the status quo. Hugs hurt women professionally and handshakes help.

I would love to hear your take on this, your experiences. Please add your thoughts to the comments section.

The Problem With Beautifully Designed Slides

With all the big stages I’ve been appearing on, I thought it would be a good idea to finally bring in a professional designer. The slides she produced were gorgeous, powerful, and very effective. I received tons of compliments. But there is a problem with beautifully designed slides.

In the past, I’d done the typical amateur design. I’m pretty facile with PowerPoint and Keynote, so I would take my business’s branding elements and do my best to make the slides look good. They’d typically have a single text statement, a Speakret® or a Ruth’s Truth, that would trigger a good paragraph or two of spoken content. Sometimes I’d add an image and sometimes there were bulleted or numbered lists. I’m choosy about fonts and I know how animations and slide transitions can add to engagement, but am careful not to overdo the bells and whistles.

Now, however, I thought it was time to kick it up a notch or two, to have my visuals match my position and brand. I knew I needed beautifully designed slides.

My goal was to have more images than text. I also wanted to include videos (which I’ve done before), GIFs, audio, and other effects. Of course, they all had to align with and support the messages I wanted to convey.

The slides came back and they were great… beautiful, really… and after a couple of revisions, I was good to go. To practicing, that is. And that’s when I realized the big challenge inherent in having graphics instead of words:

I could no longer use my slides as content cues or speaker notes.


I hadn’t recognized how dependent I’d become on the actual slide content to help lead me through the presentation without referring to paper notes and without stumbling too much. Think about it: Slides with few or no words mean you have to really learn the slide sequence, what points you want to make on each slide, and the transitions to the next slides

Now, truth be told, I had confidence monitors to rely on. These are TV-type monitors that sit on the floor at the apron of the stage or at the foot of the stage itself that a speaker can subtly glance down at. These replace the paper notes.

But technology has a habit of not always working the way you want it to. So, for example, at one speech, during the dry run, the AV team had trouble putting what I needed to see on these slides. Instead they put the actual slide that the audience would see. I told them that would be of no help to me and hoped and prayed they’d figure it out. They did. During the dry run.

When I stepped out onto the stage for the actual performance, however, I immediately noticed one monitor that was facing stage right had the correct information and the other, facing stage left, was wrong. Oh well! Now, did I just stay on the right side of the stage? No. And here’s why.

I had practiced until I was blue in the face, that’s why. So even though the talk wasn’t memorized, it was learned. I was able to command every part of that stage. No one but me knew,  the presentation went smoothly, and no one was the worse for wear. I gifted myself with a big, fat vodka after that one!

But what if I had walked out and both monitors had been incorrect? Well, then I would have felt more stress. Knowing how with so many moving parts, things can go south, I had earlier asked the stage manager place my paper notes on a table I’d ordered to be on the platform, just in case. There is so much security anticipating the worst and being ready for anything. My clients know me for this level of preparedness.

The upshot is although I received many compliments on these beautifully designed slides,  if I hadn’t rehearsed and practiced out loud as much as I did, I could’ve been and probably would’ve been thrown. I would not have been at the top of my game. I’m polished enough so no one would likely have noticed.

Except me. And that’s enough – even with or especially with beautifully designed slides – to cover all my bases.