An Interview with Jerry Weissman
Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj
Date Created: March 16th 2009
Last Updated: March 16th 2009
Jerry Weissman is among the world's foremost
corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who's who of the world's best companies,
including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intel, Intuit, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Netflix and many others.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco Systems IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco's Board of Directors, attributed "at least two to three dollars" of the offering price to Jerry's coaching. That endorsement led to more than 500 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market. In this conversation, Jerry discusses his new book: The Power Presenter: Technique, Style, and Strategy from America's Top Speaking Coach.
Geetesh: This interview is essentially about your book: The Power Presenter – but can I start by asking you more about yourself – what you do as a person at work, and beyond work.
Jerry: I have the best job in the world because of a common ground I share with bakers and bricklayers: we all see the fruits of our labors at the end of each day. As a coach, I start my days by giving business people the skills to develop their presentations and then bring them to demonstrable improvement at the end of that day. This is particularly important because public speaking is one of the most stressful – and feared – circumstances known to humankind. I’ve developed a unique approach to conquering those fears by treating presentations as a series of person-to-person conversations rather than as performances. This simple approach has given confidence to thousands of men and women who previously dreaded standing up in front of an audience. Now those techniques are available in The Power Presenter.
Beyond work, I indulge in my favorite pastimes: art, music, cinema, and politics. I do this as a diversion as well as support for my presentation concepts. After all, everything in life is connected. In fact, my blogs at www.powerltd.com – which are extensions of the core concepts in my programs and books – often, range into art, music, cinema, and politics.
Geetesh: What inspired you to write your book: The Power Presenter?
Jerry: I was inspired to write The Power Presenter because I have explored countless other approaches to conquering the fear of public speaking and found them wanting. My approach, “The Mental Method of Presenting”, came from an unusual source: my days as a producer of public affairs programs at CBS television in New York. There, I helped people – mostly from the business world, but none of whom was a performer – to feel comfortable in the stressful environment of a television studio. And I accomplished this by putting them in familiar conversational settings and letting be themselves.
Geetesh: How can body language and narrative skills assist a presenter.
Jerry: Body language and narrative skills deliver a presenter’s vital message, very much the way a NASA rocket launches the vital payload of a communications satellite. If the rocket misfires, the satellite doesn’t go into orbit. If the presenter is wracked by nerves or tells a confusing story, the message is lost. If the presenter appears confident and tells a clear story, half the battle is won. The other half is the strength of the business concept, a matter separate from the presentation.
Geetesh: Will the techniques explained in this book work for an everyday, common person? What can such a person take away from this book?
Jerry: The Power Presenter can help anyone because all of its techniques are based on the most natural behavior in which everyone engages: person-to-person conversation. I am particularly proud of the endorsement of the book by Chip Heath, the co-author of the bestselling Made to Stick, who said, “If you’ve ever had butterflies when standing before an audience, this book is for you. Jerry Weissman is one of the world’s experts in teaching people to overcome their nerves, and his secret starts with something very natural – the comfort we feel when having a conversation with one other person.”
Geetesh: How significant is delivery style for any presentation – and does it complement the PowerPoint based slide-ware that we are all so used to?
Jerry: Delivery style is quite significant. Consider Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He delivered a single 16 minute and 25 second speech that took him from obscurity to the presidency, and his powerful speaking style was a major factor in his ascent.
Delivery style must be thoroughly integrated with PowerPoint slide-ware. In fact, there are two full chapters in The Power Presenter about a unique skill called “Graphics Synchronization” with specific details of how to integrate body language, narrative, slide design, and even animation. BTW, this skill is derived from my days as a television director at CBS where I integrated multiple, diverse sophisticated graphical elements.
Geetesh: If there’s just one thing that people can do to create and deliver better presentations, what do you think that one thing ought to be?
Jerry: Very simple: make the presenter the focus of the presentation rather than the slides. The slides exist only as for support for the presenter. The best role model for the proper use of graphics is in television news broadcasts. The graphics are composed of only a simple headline and a thematic image, allowing the news anchor to provide the details and add value.
Geetesh: Do you want to share any thoughts with Indezine readers, share an experience, or add anything that we haven’t covered in this conversation yet?
Jerry: One of my favorite moments in 20 years of coaching was at the end of an intensive four-day program I delivered to a CEO in preparation for his IPO road show. The man was an accomplished presenter before the program, but he found value in the techniques. When he left, he smiled and said, “You know, Jerry, everything in your program is the blinding flash of the obvious.”