The Difference One Small Word Can Make


Karen Kalutz, speaking to participants in our Executive Seminar.  She  frequently coaches speakers to replace “you” with  “we.”

“You have the easiest job in the world,” the boss said to his staff.

That’s what one speaker tried out on us when we were practicing delivering messages to different audiences.

He meant it as encouragement: Our company makes a great product, one that people love. Your job is easy, because all you have to do is get this product they want into their hands.

But of course, there’s every possibility in the world it won’t be heard that way.

Instead, we imagined the staff thinking “thanks for your total lack of understanding” or “sure buster, easy for you to say, you don’t have to do my job.”

So yes, it’s important to frame messages with your audience in mind, a task that can be challenging if you have a difficult message or an audience you need to know better.

But there’s also a simple fix here, one we are always reminding speakers to make.

When possible, go with “we” instead of “you.”

“That simple change helps you align yourself with the audience, rather than setting yourself apart–or up on a podium, preaching down to them,” said Buckley School Director Karen Kalutz in a recent seminar, when giving feedback to a participant.

“We have the easiest job in the world.”  It’s a small change than can keep minds open to hearing  the how and why.

An app for that? Um, maybe

We should resist the call to scrub our speech of ‘filler words,’ accents, and other markers of where we come from and how we relate to people.”

Nora Caplan-Bricker taking issue with speech improvement apps

screen322x572Ummo is an iPhone app released by a team of MIT and Harvard students. It promises to track your ums, likes and you knows, in order to help you, like, get rid of them.


At The Buckley School, we’ve long had an app for that. We call it The Dread Bucket, and it involves marbles and a metal pail. High tech stuff. But it does help speakers recognize habits they might not be aware of.

It’s true that The Dread Bucket does make some speakers feel distracted as they struggle to think and ditch old habits simultaneously.

Not everyone believes making speakers hyper-aware of their um-you knows is such a great thing.

Responding to the release of Ummo, one writer says it’s yet another means of taking unfair swipes at women’s speech patterns and regional accents. You can read her take here.

Her points are worth considering. Many a speaker has asked us how to get rid of a regional accent–and we say keep it! Our wish in most cases is for people to relish their accents and the other qualities of their speech that make them distinctive.

We’re not ready, however, to come to the defense of excessive um-ing–though at least one writer has tried to make, um, a case for that.

Your thoughts?

Descriptive Gestures and the Candidate

“Far be it from us to question the strength of Donald Trump’s mighty hands.”

–Bloomberg Politics


We’re getting a kick today out of a video from Bloomberg Politics that’s collected Donald Trump’s gestures from a speech he made at a political rally in Buffalo.

Bloomberg reports documenting 73 different gestures including “bunny hands,” the “I know you” point, and the “whoop-dee-doo.”

As our alumni will tell you, we are fans of descriptive gestures. At the same time, we also caution against using so many that you appear to be a flight attendant showing the emergency exits.

Trump’s gestures are out of context, of course, in that video. But what do you think when you see his speeches in full? Does he use too many? Or are they working for him?

A Lesson in Gestures from March Madness

Like most everyone else, we thought the answer Taurean Prince provided after the Yale-Baylor game yesterday was pretty darned perfect.  And while we were chuckling at it, we also had to note: Great use of descriptive gestures and body language, sir!

We’re always encourage our speakers to use their hands to show us things, and he does it perfectly, along with a look up that makes us envision the rim.  Well done!

This video also illustrates another point we make frequently. Lessons for speakers are all around us.

Make Yourself Bigger?

One of the most popular TED Talks comes from psychologist Amy Cuddy.

She explains how you can use body language not just to communicate to others–but to influence your own thoughts and feelings.

She says to feel more confident, you should make yourself big, striking the starfish pose you see depicted on the cover of her bestselling book.

Does it work? We’ve tried it before some Buckley School debates, and we can say it doesn’t hurt!

Here’s Cuddy’s TED Talk, if you haven’t yet seen it:

A Delightful Christmas List

“3. Ladies who shop at liquor stores who are at least 80 years old dress very, very well.”

–Cathy Monetti

We grabbed this photo from Cathy’s blog. She’s the bellringer on the left!

In our Writing and Organizing workshop, we look at all the ways to put a message together–trying to determine which scheme works best for audience and subject matter.

Here’s a fun use of the list that turned up in our Twitter feed a few days ago, written back in 2013 by a Buckley alum, Cathy Monetti.  She calls it “10 Things I Learned Ringing A Salvation Army Bell At The Liquor Store.”

Happy holidays to you–and thank you, Cathy, for this charming story!

Adventures in Panel Discussions

onsite trainingRecently, a long-time client asked us to develop a custom day of training to help their experts make better use of panel discussions.

A look at earlier panels they’d organized showed something we (and no doubt you) have seen a lot: speakers made statements, one after the other, with little or no interaction. Meanwhile, the moderator introduced the speakers, then all but disappeared.

We developed role plays to explore what an exciting panel discussion could look like–and you can use the same techniques that worked for this group:

1. Focus on the “discussion” aspect, otherwise you wind up with a panel presentation–which is not a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

2. If you’re a facilitator, it’s your job to act on behalf of the audience, clarify confusing points, look for ways to pull out differences of opinion, and keep things on topic and moving along.

3. If you’re a panelist, you’ve got to do your part by listening to other panelists,  responding to what your hear, and keeping answers short.

From introductions, panel chat, audience involvement to the conclusion, there are many opportunities to make a panel discussion exciting.  If your format doesn’t promote lively interaction, try shaking it up!

Lessons All Around You

“You’ve got to view those folks that have the power to engage and just take notes on what they do.”

–Christopher Emdin TED Talk, “Teach Teachers How to Create Magic”

Every once in a while, time spent goofing around on Facebook pays off–as when we came across this TED talk by Christopher Emdin.

Christopher Emdin (source: HipHopEd)

Dr. Christopher Emdin

A Columbia University professor of education, Emdin wants teachers to bring more passion–and entertainment value–to their classrooms. The points he makes about how teachers can engage students are the same ones we make about what it takes for speakers to engage audiences:

Good content is not enough.  We say this all the time. There are two parts to a good presentation–what you say and how you say it. Without a doubt, the content needs to be there. But if you don’t deliver that material with some enthusiasm, you won’t engage the audience.

Put yourself in the audiences’ seats and consider how you can connect with them.  In Emdin’s talk, he says if you want to engage students in urban schools, familiarize yourself with the things they care about. Likewise, if you want to engage audiences with your speeches, make it clear for them why they should care about what you have to say. Too often, speakers talk about material from their own points of view. They love to tell us why they care–but don’t give enough thought to why the audience should give a hoot about what they’re presenting.

There are great lessons everywhere if you’ll pay attention.  Emdin urges teachers to watch how preachers engage congregations, how men tell stories in barbershops, how rappers use gestures and work the stage. We like to tell our students they’ll never have to see a boring presentation again–once they start viewing every speech and presentation as a chance to learn.

In that spirit, maybe you’d like to take a look at Emdin’s passion-filled talk (above) and see what you can learn. He’s also the force behind HipHopEd and Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S.

Great Debate…Topics?

“They hate to lose.”

-John Donvan on how teams respond to the outcome of an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, though he could easily be talking about any debate team that has ever taken
the stage at The Buckley School

Because we use debate as a tool for teaching public speaking, we’re always searching for new topics to tackle. People often ask us how we decide what those should be.

We might draw a debate topic from the news, how the world might respond to a nuclear Iran, for example. We like to revisit some resolutions; our debate about whether college sports should be abolished has become an autumn staple.

John Donvan

Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, moderated by John Donvan

Occasionally, we toss something a little outlandish out there–“Be it resolved: The world would be better off if the 1960s had never happened”–a resolution, it turns out, that has led to some serious and interesting discussions.

And that’s really all we want–a topic that challenges your thinking so that you can get excited about challenging how the audience sees it. Because when you’re excited about your message, you’re a better speaker. At its best, debate makes each team member into a speaker who has concerns bigger than self. Our goal, after all, is to help each speaker become the servant of his message. Read more

Jargon: Silos, Parking Lots & Flagpoles

“Blue skying. It’s like brainstorming but much, much worse.”

-from a Fast Company ballot for worst corporate jargon

3049222-poster-p-1-vote-for-the-worst-business-jargon-of-all-timeThis week, we’ve had fun watching the votes add up for worst corporate jargon–as the editors at Fast Company have highlighted some of the phrases we ask our clients to consider ditching.

Some of these contenders you may have even used once or twice:

  • Growth Hacking
  • Core Competency
  • Synergy
  • Run up the flagpole
  • Leverage
  • Outside the box

And there’s the creepy “opening the kimono” which Fast Company attributes, not to trench-coat-wearing flashers, but to the boom in Japanese business acquisitions by American companies in the 1980s. (If true, then there was something worse than acid wash denim to come out of the 80s.) Read more