Kelly talks to Chris Carlson, CEO, Narrative Pros, about what business leaders can learn from a stage and theater actor about presentations to small and large audiences.
Kelly Coughlin is CEO of BankBosun, a management consulting firm helping bank C-Level Officers navigate risk and discover reward. He is the host of the syndicated audio podcast, BankBosun.com. Kelly brings over 25 years of experience with companies like PWC, Lloyds Bank, and Merrill Lynch. On the podcast Kelly interviews key executives in the banking ecosystem to provide bank C-Suite officers, risk management, technology, and investment ideas and solutions to help them navigate risks and discover rewards. And now your host, Kelly Coughlin.
Kelly: I’ve got my friend Chris Carlson CEO of NarrativePros on the line, Chris are you there?
Chris: I’m here.
Kelly: Great, Chris and I have known each other for many, many years. Chris is an actor at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis He’s also a lawyer and an entrepreneur, and I’m a big fun of his. Listeners are saying, why does he have a starving actor, lawyer on here? Before we get to your connection in to the banking ecosystem. A little bit of personal background.
Chris: Minnesota residence, most of my life, three kids, I’m 46. I’ve been, as I said earlier acting professionally for 22 years. I’ve been an attorney for about as long.
Kelly: Well let’s get into why I have you on BankBosun and your connection to the banking echo system. If you recall, I asked you to give a talk at a conference my company was hosting for banks and investment managers. I think we had like six or seven speakers there over a two day period, probably eight or nine I suppose. You got the highest rankings of anybody in terms of popularity. Tell me why you think that happened and what your value proposition, if you will, to the banking industry is. What was it that resonated with these bankers in that message?
Chris: Absolutely, and I to think to answer as many of those question as efficiently as I can, it has to do with the value of genuine connections between individuals, whether that’s one on one or one to many, or many to one. The expertise that I have amassed over the years, is to how to efficiently create that. How to make that efficient, how to maximize the feedback that you get from any communication.
Kelly: What does that really mean?
Chris: Let me give you an example, bankers are smart guys. They tend to live in their heads when it comes to ideas. They believe if they have a great piece of advice, that that’s the end of their value. That I tell you to invest in stock A, because that will help you. But the real world has as much to do about that conversation and whether or not you say invest in stock A, in a way that is meaningful, whether it makes sense to them. Whether you’re rude, whether you’re cold or indifferent. The value of advice when it’s person to person, which is at the center of any banking relationship, depends on the connection between two people. It’s not whether or not I like you necessarily, but it’s I have to trust you. I have to respect you. I have to understand you absolutely. It has as much to do about that as anything.
Kelly: How I perceive you or how a customer perceives a banker. Not necessarily how he really is.
Chris: Well actually I would say that the goal is to have them perceive you as you really are, and we are many different people to many different audiences. You yourself are a father, a friend, a boxer. You will behave differently in the ring than with a client. What you need to do is harness what will be of the most value, and make the strongest connection with the audience that you’re in front of. That has to come from somewhere that’s true. One of the things that people often mistake is that acting is fake, and it actually has all to do with truth. If you see a good actor, you get them, you buy them, you connect with them. If you see a bad actor, you absolutely reject them. You don’t get it. It’s not real.
Kelly: I think what you’re saying is that you learned this in your acting career. And as a lawyer, you practice this. But you learned this through your acting training to be real. Two scenarios, one is making a one on one presentation, and another is giving a talk to 20 people. What does your advice do in those two scenarios?
Chris: My advice hopefully will encourage people to understand that their impact on their audience, whether it’s one person or 20 people, has more to do with how they say their message, and how they’re able to let people connect with them as real individuals. How they’re able to be themselves in a very genuine and authentic way, and then share the advice that they have. Far too often people, I call them left brain professionals. People who think a lot will sit in front of their computer and work on their outline in their PowerPoint and then get up and give it, without really spending much time on whether or not they’re giving it in a way that incorporates who they are. I think you, Kelly, are a good example of an effective delivery. That’s you, when I hear you talking, that’s the same Kelly that I hear when I’m having a conversation with in the coffee shop. People are drawn to that.
For a banker to have an interaction with somebody, the more genuine they can be, the more that they can focus on that individual as a human being, and also share with them, themselves as a human being. That will make the advice that they give, that much more meaningful and valuable. In many ways it’s the same thing when they stand up in front of 20 people. It‘s genuine and real and to a degree vulnerable. That has a lot to do with fear that is natural, standing in front of a group of people or a high pressure sale. Anyway that you can wrestle that fear, and you kind of say look, “This is me, and this is what I have to say and I think it would be great if you used it, or bought, but if you don’t I understand.”
That’s incredibly attractive for people to be around that kind of energy versus, “Look you really got to buy this and it’s really important to me. I don’t know what I’m going to do if you don’t, if you don’t buy this, if you don’t listen to me.” Even though it is important what the person thinks about you, or whether or not they take your advice or buy it. Showing that, gets in the way of who you are and their comfort quite honestly.
Kelly: Give me a couple of takeaways that relate to preparing for a presentation and then three or four related to the actual presentation itself, beginning, middle and end that kind of thing. We’ve got some real solid takeaways, I can put some guiding principles here.
Chris: Let’s start with the content, that’s where everyone’s comfort is, and most people will spend 100% of their preparation time working on their PowerPoint slides, and you definitely have to work on some kind of presentation, outline and some visuals do help. Number one, when it comes to the visuals, speaker support, PowerPoint, I would work as hard as you can to get rid of all the words quite honestly and just focus on graphs and charts, and pictures or visual creatures. There is a huge disconnect when somebody puts up a bunch of words on a slide, and reads them, or makes the audience read them. It’s just counterproductive and disingenuous to a live environment. You as the speaker need to be considered to be value bringer and you have to explain these things.
I would say as few words as possible on any kind of visual support. The content in what someone says, you should outline in bullet points, words or phrases, but not in complete sentences. Don’t lock yourself into phrasing them, in any particular way. Let yourself react to those ideas and explain them, and that’s come off and it’s very authentic and genuine.
Kelly: No words on slides.
Chris: No words on slides. I would join the audience in cheering if I were to see less words on slides. It’s easy to do, and I think it’s actually fear. People are insecure and they’re like, ”Ah, I got to put all these words on here.” Well take the words off and say the words to people.
Kelly: No words on the slide, that’s number one. What was number two?
Chris: Number two outline your points in a way that you can speak to them in a genuine way instead, for example, I have been involved in the banking ecosystem since I was 22. Instead of writing that out and then reading it, you might just have something that says 22. You look at it and you say, “Ever since I was 22, I’ve been working in banking.” Let those words, let you work through the thoughts, so that the words come to you at that time. You have to have good notes but it will force you to pick the words authentically and people will hear that. That’s number two. Number three is when you pick these ideas and when you explain them, pretend you’re explaining them to your 92 year old father, or your grandma next door.
In other words avoid jargon, you’ve got to be simple, direct and accessible, and I think that people who work in the idea profession tend to be complicated, inaccessible and you always want to be as clear as possible. Simplicity is not easy, it’s very difficult and working on that simplicity is an incredible investment in giving your audiences, who’s paying attention, a return of interest. They will appreciate you, summarizing things very simply and to button this third point off. Work very hard to summarize the single point that you have to make in one sentence.
Imagine that your audience is walking out the door, and they don’t have time to hear your whole speech, what would be the one thing you would want to tell them. If you complain, oh no it’s too complicated, it can’t be distilled into one sentence, I would say to you that your audience is doing that anyways. After they walk out, someone’s going to say, “What did Kelly Coughlin talk about?” “Oh, Kelly is working on this cool BankBosun thing, that it’s needed, it helps out C-suite Executives in the banking industry.” They’re summarizing what you’re saying anyways. If you jump into their shoes and try to say all right, “What is the one takeaway from this? You’re going to help them do that.
Kelly: That’s good, I recall again from that conference you spoke at. There was some prep work that you recommended.
Chris: Sure, let me focus on one of them. A lot of acting technique or approach is focused on combating the nerves and stress of performing. That we appear, genuine, authentic relaxed. One of the truths of performing in front of a bunch of people is that you are nervous. It’s human, so what we want to do is make sure that we find another truth to counteract that. The best counter measure to stress is breathing. When we’re with our friends, or when we’re relaxed, or when we’re uncomfortable and not threatened, the human being breathes from the belly, they use … we use our diaphragm to pull in breath, and when you’re very relaxed, and actually if you watch your kids when they’re sleeping, you’ll see their stomachs go up and down.
Now their stomachs are going up and down because the diaphragm is pulling in breath. When we’re nervous we tend not to breath from our diaphragm, our belly, we tend to take shallow breathes and it makes us more nervous and it changes our voice. Someone who’s really relaxed would sound like this, but if they were breathing … their voice goes up a little bit, and it gets a little breathy, and it’s just not as grounded. We can hear that, we feel that someone has a breathiness to their voice and it’s a little higher in pitch, but if you take a breath, and breathe from your diaphragm, not only does the pitch go down, but you can also project your voice further. You can talk louder.
So breathing, putting your hand on your stomach and trying to train yourself to breathe so that your stomach flops out when you breathe in, is one of the most effective counter measures to stress and to get you back into yourself, to being a relaxed confident genuine person.
Kelly: Let’s talk about, what are kind of some of the deal killers out there. The absolute be cognizant that you don’t do this.
Chris: We’ve already touched on some them. These things would be anything that disconnect you from your audience; that separate you from them. For example, number one, the minute you start reading off of the slide, you’re not being in front of an audience genuinely. You’ve turned towards the screen, you’re reading something that everyone else is perfectly capable of reading. I mean that’s just a fundamental disconnect with one audience. “Hey buddy, I can see the slide and you’re reading it for me and it doesn’t make any sense.” Another one would be reading your speech which is very similar, and that’s telling the audience, “I’m not going to talk with you. I’m not going to share with you my ideas, I’m going to read what I wrote, and you’re going to listen to it.” At which point the audience feel like, well why don’t you just give me them for the reading, so that I can read it.
Something that’s kind of fun, that I’ve uncovered, is that the average person speaks at about 150 words a minute. We can understand and we think at about 800 words a minute. That means that there is an attention gap. Every time someone starts talking over a couple of 100 words, where my mind is running circles around what you’re telling me. You always have to participate in that because if you don’t, if you don’t give them something to think about that is helping you, they’re going to think about something else.
Kelly: Well don’t the non-verbal clues fill that void to a certain extent?
Chris: They can, or they cut against it. Something that I was just doing some research on, hand gestures and body gestures. It’s fascinating, the neuro-scientists have studied it, and we use specifically our hands to make gestures, to help us think of a word, and so if we’re genuinely using our hands it’s because we’re trying to think of how to say something, but if you want someone who has prepared a hand gesture like a politician or a bad speaker. The hand gesture comes at or after what they’re trying to say, not before. In the real world, the hand gesture comes a little bit before what it is that they have to say. That’s what the hand gesture is for. When someone plans it, when someone says, “I think it would be good if I moved my hand like this.” They tend to do it in a way that’s very disconnected and fake, because we can tell that. Instinctively, they do it as you’re saying the word or phrase, or after it.
That’s an example of another disconnection with an audience where they get the sense, and it’s an unconscious sense, it’s not, “My, he moved his hands in a way that was not matching with the phrase. Therefore I think he’s fake.” We’re not aware of that consciously but unconsciously we think to ourselves, “Wow this guy is a … he’s a fake, he’s not being real with us.” It’s very common.
Kelly: Tell me about what should people do with their hands as a default, and then how should we stand? One foot, two feet, hands in the pocket, hands by the side? Give us a couple of ideas on that.
Chris: It’s hard to do, but you forget about your hands. Don’t plan any gestures, let your hands go. Just like I was suggesting with your words to jot a note, and then let the specific words you use to express that idea come out in that moment. The same thing should be with your hands. Let your hands make whatever gesture. If you’re an Italian, outspoken hand gesturing person, that’s what you have to do.
Kelly: Even if it’s a distraction I’ve been to talks where somebody will be using their hands, you end up following their hands the whole time.
Chris: I would say to you that hands gestures become distracting when they’re not connected with what they’re saying. If they’re connected with what they’re saying, you’re not even going to notice them. You become attracted when they’re not connected. If someone has a non-verbal tick, if they’re just moving their hands and it has no connection with what they’re saying, yes it becomes repetitive and it’s a distraction. It’s just like someone who says, has a verbal tick and says um, um all the time and it’s distracting because it’s getting in the way of um, um what you’re trying to say.
Kelly: What about movement on the stage?
Chris: Less is more, when you start moving around, there’s a huge temptation because of nerves, the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight reaction kicks in, and people want to move and I see this so frequently with inexperienced presenters. They’ll start wondering around the stage, or they’ll shift away back and forth on their feet, and that is not connected with anything they’re saying 90% of the time…99. They’re just moving because they’re full of adrenaline and they feel like they should move. But, if it’s not connected with what they’re saying, it is inherently destructive. Why is someone pacing back and forth on the stage?
It’s funny because I’ll get push back on that, people will say, “Well I’m trying to be more interesting and dynamic on the stage.” I have no problem with being interesting and dynamic, I have a problem, if it’s not connected with what you’re saying. When in doubt, you need to practice standing still because you’re going to want to move. Move if there’s a reason, move if it makes sense. For example, if you’re separating a point. In the first situation, the FED needs to do XYZ and I’m going to talk about this for a while. In the second situation, and then you can move on that, that might make sense. That’s an example, but that requires practice and planning. So I always recommend that people just stand still.
Kelly: Do you prefer microphone that is attached to you versus attached to a podium, because you’re kind of stuck and glued to the podium, but is that your preference?
Chris: Yes, a lapel or lavalier microphone allows you to forget about the microphone and that’s what you need to do with a majority of the technology that’s helping support you. Some microphone on a podium tends to trap you behind the podium, which is bad for a number of reasons. You have a temptation to lean on the podium, you’re blocked and a lot of your body language from the audience. You might have more of a tendency to look down. A lavalier microphones will allow you to just take one step to the right or left of the podium, and to find a comfortable position in front of the audience and be accessible.
Kelly: That’s terrific, I appreciate that. Chris do you have a favorite quote to finish off here? I always like to get one
Chris: Any good quote.
Kelly: Good quotes.
Chris: Good quotes. “In law, what place are tainted in corrupt but being seasoned with a gracious voice obscures the show of evil.”
Kelly: Good one, Chris I appreciate your time on this, and good luck to you with NarrativePros, and we’ll be in touch. Anybody wants to contact Chris, feel free, Narrativepros.com, is that the website?
Chris: That’s it.
Kelly: Thanks Chris
We want to thank you for listening to the syndicated audio program, BankBosun.com The audio content is produced by Kelly Coughlin, Chief Executive Officer of BankBosun, LLC; and syndicated by Seth Greene, Market Domination LLC, with the help of Kevin Boyle.
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Kelly is licensed with the Minnesota State Board of Accountancy as a Certified Public Accountant. Kelly provides bank owned life insurance portfolio and nonqualified benefit services to banks across the United States. The views expressed here are solely those of Kelly Coughlin and his guests in their private capacity and do not in any other way represent the views of any other agent, principal, employer, employee, vendor or supplier of Kelly Coughlin.