I came to the career of speech coach from the world of theater. For 15 years I was an actor, and an instructor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and at the Michael Chekhov Studio.

Family life intervened. My wife and I had a baby girl, and I needed a heftier income. I joined a consulting firm that served the pharma industry. I've been counseling business leaders ever since, which means I've been at it for 26 years.

I have grown.

With my first clients, I used the language of the theater. What is your intention? What do you want your audience to feel, to know, to do? How can you get them to do what you want them to?

It was from the inside, out.

That was foreign to many clients, and the guys I was working with did it a different way. For them, it was all about working from the outside in. The physical stuff: make eye contact, emphasize this word, this gesture is good, that one is bad.

We hardly ever talked about the content of the talks our clients were developing, primarily because we weren't experts in the subject matter.

Also, we only recommended one format for business presentations: Tell 'Em What You're Gonna Tell 'Em, Tell 'Em, and them Tell 'Em What You Told 'Em."

For ten years or so, these bits of advice kept me off the bread lines. However, there were at least three problems with offering up these helpful tips.

  1. My competitors were saying the same things.
  2. It felt cosmetic instead of transformative.
  3. I was giving everyone the same advice.

I was frustrated because I felt I wasn't making an impact on people's lives, and I was bored saying the same thing all the time--which is the curse of the advice giver.

I was having a mid-life crisis.

Then I stumbled on this thought: one's skill as a speaker should not be judged on style, but on outcomes.

This means that a presentation skill, such as making eye contact with listeners, is a good skill, but it is not necessarily going to generate better outcomes for her listeners.

In fact, many skills that speech coaches impart are cosmetic, more packaging for the speaker than meaningful contributions to the audience.

This is not to say that packaging is unimportant. Packaging helps to predispose the audience to see the speaker as a trustworthy source of information. An example of packaging could be what you wear, how to use your hands, or how to stop fidgeting.

Cosmetic adjustments such as this contribute to the overall impact, or impression, of the speaker. But cosmetics may also make it harder for the audience to discern the truth--harder to distinguish between a demagogue and a statesperson.

So here's the question. Whether as a leader, salesperson, researcher, or influencer of any kind...what are the great presentation skills that one must demonstrate in order to create outcomes that are good for the audience?

The speaker must:

  1. Take apart the thinking of the audience on a given topic and rearrange it so that it's new, improved, and widely embraced by the audience.
  2. Move the audience out of a state of contemplation and into a state of action or preparation for action.
  3. Be understood, remembered, and believed. The audience should be able to retain a certain amount of the speaker's messaging and information.

Please keep in mind that I do not claim these are ironclad laws of the presentation platform. Rather, they are my attempt to define great presentation skills (as opposed to merely good ones).

Ask yourself, can you do any of the above three things sitting, slouching, or standing with your hands in your pockets? I believe the answer is YES.

Would it be possible to do any of these things with poor eye contact, disheveled clothing, and awkward body language? Probably.

Let me supply examples of speakers I know who have made a meaningful contribution to me through their ability to communicate.

  • Charlie Green of Trusted Advisor Associates took my thinking about sales and rearranged it. I now think of selling as problem solving, as doing well by doing good, so now it's a lot easier to pick up the phone and prospect.
  • Barack Obama got me out of my state of contemplation and into a state of action. He was the first politician I volunteered for.
  • Beth Frates is a physician at Harvard Medical School. She speaks on the subject of exercise--her theme is exercise is medicine. Not only is that a powerful idea, but she has all the science to back it up, and the stories to make it compelling. Plus, she's working on changing the role of the physician from "repository of information" to wellness coach. She is teaching doctors the interpersonal skills needed to help patients do what they need to do to stay healthy.

I don't disparage good presentation skills. But great presentation skills benefit the audience and create positive outcomes. I urge you to start the journey from good to great.

Published on: Oct 13, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.