‘Show Some Teeth’ and Other Misguided Coaching Commands

This blog was originally published on Forbes as ‘Show Some Teeth,’ And Other Misguided Coaching Commands on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

Public and private companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to develop what is broadly termed their “messaging.” To create their story, those companies enlist the aid of an array of specialists including management consultants, public relations firms, advertising agencies, strategic positioning experts, and my field, presentation coaching. But no matter how clear and well-shaped the message is, its success depends on how well it is expressed by the messenger.

The messengers in business are the presenters who stand and deliver to their companies’ constituencies—investors, customers, analysts, partners, or stakeholders—with the goal of having them respond favorably. Whether those audiences react with a “Meh” or an “Aha!” depends directly on whether the messenger projects uncertainty or confidence.

That’s where presentation coaches enter the scene. As a presentation coach for the past 28 years, I have seen a variety of approaches: “Speak up!” “Louder!” “Stand up straight!” “Move around!” “Stand still!” “Slow down!” “Speed up!” “Don’t speak with your hands!” “Gesture more!” “Gesture less!” “Smile!” and the latter’s elegant variant, “Show some teeth!”

But every one of those commands treats the presenter as a performer. Therein lies the rub. Presenters are not performers, nor should they be treated as such. They arrived at their positions by excelling at their particular business skill—marketing, selling, writing, or managing—and not by auditioning. Moreover, presenting in critical environments is stressful and treating business people as performers only serves to heighten their stress. Think of the times you’ve encountered an agitated person and told them to “Calm down!” What happens? They become more agitated. One of my clients told me how perturbed he was by a coach who told him to show some teeth.

The path to overcoming stress and show confidence is actually quite simple and is the hallmark of how I coach my clients: consider every presentation to be a series of person-to-person conversations. Stand and deliver to your audience—regardless of size: five, fifty, one hundred—and address them one-by-one as if you’re having a conversation with each one of them.

An excellent model for this technique is John Chambers, the Executive Chairman of Cisco Systems. As the CEO of the company for 20 years until 2015, he was its primary spokesman. His trademark technique was to step off the stage or dais and move around the audience, engaging in a series of person-to-person conversations. Here is his last keynote as CEO at a company event called CiscoLive.

You can follow the example of Mr. Chambers as an outstanding messenger, but always keep in mind the importance of your message. Give equal emphasis to crafting a clear and well-shaped story that produces many “Aha!” moments from your audiences.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as ‘Show Some Teeth,’ And Other Misguided Coaching Commands on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.