Issue Number 42: Leadership and The Presentation Skills Expert

I once attended a training session on presentation skills that was to be delivered by a person reputed to be an outstanding teacher. There were about 150 students in attendance and I sat in the back of the room with the other faculty members, looking forward to seeing a genius at work.

We were a bit disappointed when he finally arrived. He was a rather short, older man who seemed about ready to crumble. He was introduced to somewhat confused applause, shuffled his way to the podium and began to speak haltingly in a voice barely above a whisper, looking at the floor and pausing for increasingly longer periods of time.

The students were clearly uncomfortable and kept turning to look at us for guidance, but we were as stumped as they were. After a few more minutes of mumbling he stopped talking and just stared at the floor.

At first he had looked like he could use a V8, but now he looked like he was about half past dead.

After what seemed like forever he suddenly stood up straight, looked directly at one of the students, smiled mischievously and asked in a voice we all envied: “Is that the kind of speaker you want to be?” The student blurted out a “No.” “Well,” he said, “then we have some work to do!”

The room erupted with laughter and applause. The students even applauded us, thinking we were in on it. He had their attention for the rest of the day and received rave reviews. I imagine some students are still telling that story.

My take-away from that class had nothing to do with presentation skills, but rather with the power of personal energy. All of us in that room reacted to the energy this man was projecting. He began by projecting weakness and uncertainty, and created a feeling of anxiety and discomfort among us. When he changed the nature of his energy to calm confidence, he created similar feelings in the audience. It took about two seconds and gave all of us a tremendous lesson in leadership.

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