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You Gotta Have Style

Posted on April 2, 2012 and read 3,135 times

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michaelweiss You Gotta Have StyleMichael Weiss
Managing Director

Create your own visual style…
let it be unique for yourself and
yet identifiable for others.
-Orson Wells

Truth be told, not everyone is a great presenter; some are just better than others. Is it natural ability? Could be. Some people are simply born to entertain and engage audiences. Could becoming a great presenter be learned? Yes. But I do think that all great presenters have a solid base of innate talent that enables them to win over their audiences and deliver time and time again. But what is it? What do they have? What could they possibly possess that makes them that much better?

Is it a skill? Not really. Is it experience? That helps, but that’s not it. It’s so simple, that it comes down to one single word:


Every great performer, be they an orator, presenter, comic, singer, actor, dancer has their own unique style. Some are funny and some are serious. Some use unique hand gestures, while others use language. Some use their voice while others use their whole body. Whatever defines their style and whether it is something they were born with, believe me when I tell you, they worked hard at it, honing it, creating it, and making it their own.

Style is knowing who you are,
what you want to say,
and not giving a damn.
– Gore Vidal

For the sake of an example, I will use myself. I played bass and was the lead singer in a rock trio throughout the ‘80’s. No I am not Sting or Geddy Lee, but I aspired to be them. In fact, I spent as much time practicing as I did watching MTV and reading all books and magazines about my rock heroes. I wanted to create a persona, a style of my own. I took a dash of Flea, mixed it with a little Sting and whole bunch of John Entwistle, and created my own style. It influenced how I approached playing my instrument as much as how I conducted myself on stage. I was the funny, dancing, happy, slapping bass player in the city of Boston.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

I borrowed from so many performers that the list would be a who’s who. Yet among all of my influences there is one certain gentleman that has inspired me for the past 30 years; he is none other than the great Pete Townshend. Pete has said many things about performing, but there is one thing he said way back in 1964 that has stuck with me for the past three decades:

“The audience is thick and doesn’t appreciate
quality, no matter how hard you try. You do something
big on stage and a thousand geezers go ‘Ahhhh!’”
- Pete Townshend

And he’s right. I am, if I do say so myself, a pretty good bassist. I spent countless hours learning new techniques and ways to play. But no matter how hard and complex my playing, the audience (more often than not) simply didn’t care about triplets and arpeggios. It was only when I ran around on stage, acted crazy and jumped all over the place did they take notice. I witnessed this hundreds of times and the results were always the same. I could have played like crap, but because I was entertaining, people would come up to me after a show and say, “You are an amazing bass player!”

I no longer play in bands, yet I have taken this practice and adapted it into my speaking and presentations. No matter how great my data is or my slides, or even the story I am telling, sometimes it doesn’t compare to my movements or my jokes. Sometimes the audience simply doesn’t care about what I care about. They have their expectations: to be engaged and entertained, and fortunately my style enables that to happen. I am comfortable on stage and able to adapt to my audience. And believe me, this has come from being on stage for thousands of hours for the past 30 years. I put a lot of work into creating my own personal style.

Whether you get up in front of a client for a pitch, or large audiences to present, you have to remember that you are performing for them. You are on stage. It is your responsibility to engage, entertain, educate and inspire. Standing behind a podium and reading slides is not going to do it. If you are new to presenting, be patient – it will take time to find your unique style. It could be as subtle as wearing a particular type of clothing, or more over the top like how you use the stage and move around.

I urge you to try new things. Maybe humor is your thing. Maybe you need a cool hand gesture (look at Bill Clinton and the “Clinton Thumb”), or maybe a voice inflection (listen to Jerry Seinfeld as he raises his voice a notch just before a punch line).  Whatever it may be, I urge you to take the time to create your style. Watch videos on YouTube of your favorite entertainers, comedians and rock stars. Spend some time on the TED site and watch a bunch of TED Talks. Absorb not only their knowledge, but also their style. Allow yourself to be influenced, but not dominated. The goal is to be unique, not a copycat. Own it and make it yours.

As John Salisbury said hundreds of years ago, some the greatest and smartest people in the world “stand on the shoulders of giants.”

  • Robert Rose

    Mike… great post…  It’s just wonderful and so true… No one buys the shiny gadget that is produced a
    million times over by guys in white coats in China.  They buy magic held
    in the palm of Steve Jobs hands and set to a funky beat.  This is as true for us as it is for our products… Design counts.

    People don’t
    want real stories. They are very much like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar
    Named Desire when she says: “I don’t want realism, I want magic!
     Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to
    them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. 

    Great presenters aren’t telling the truth… they are telling what SHOULD be the truth…

  • michael weiss

    Right On Robert! It’s not about fact so much as it is about entertainment….sure it’s a business meeting, but let’s have some style, some fun!




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