Like ESPN Classic, I occasionally like to showcase some of the best advice from early practitioners of speaker coaching. Because visuals have become an expected accompaniment to most talks – and practically synonymous with the word “presentation” – I’d like to share a few poignant tips on using visuals from Dorothy Sarnoff (1914-2008).
Dorothy Sarnoff was an opera singer and Broadway star who had a much bigger second career as one of the first, and most influential, image consultants and self-help gurus. She advised presidents, prime ministers, political candidates and actors on how to become better public speakers.
She began her consulting career in the 1960’s. She bemoaned the fact that women’s magazines focused only on beauty and clothes and not on areas like poise and voice quality. Sarnoff was soon offering a course at a New York City department store called Speech Cosmetics. Students (mostly women) paid $25 for six classes designed to help them become better public speakers, to “achieve social poise” and to carry on conversations at parties. By the mid-1970s, her clients were paying her $1,000 for coaching sessions and $2,000 per lecture. She famously coached then-candidate for President Jimmy Carter to tone down his smile.
Regarding the use of visuals, Dorothy Sarnoff had these three practical pieces of advice:
“The next time you use visual aids, in deciding whether to use each one, ask yourself: Do I need it? Nine times out of ten the answer is no.”
“Most people say they use visuals to emphasize a point. You don’t need visuals for that. Emphasize your point with your voice and forget the slides.”
“Depending on visual aides to get your message across sends a signal right off the bat to the audience: your written material, your personal chemistry, or both, aren’t up to the job.”
Once again, it comes down to this: You are responsible for your presentation, not your laptop or your deck. Spend more time on making sure YOU are ready, rather than on perfecting your slides.