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· 3 min read
Adam Kecskes

Two answers (both of which you know):

1) It depends and 2) as long as it needs to be, but no longer.

So how do you figure out how long is long enough?

The other night I evaluated a 4-5 minute speech; the speaker was concerned that a quote she was planning on using would make the speech too long, so I told her to excluded it, and she did. And the speech was still too long. Yes, she managed to fit it into the 4-5 minute window, but she rushed her way through the content, speaking far too quickly than would be comfortable for the audience.

So we conflate fast talking and speech times, but the two are intertwined. If we want to shorten a speech, we think we can just speed up our speaking and that'll do the trick; but it doesn't. It's too much content too fast. So speed is one element; get your voice down to a comfortable, conversational pace. Leave time for your voice to be heard, and the idea to absorbed. Pause a lot.

The notion of making a speech conversational also is a good guide to how long you should make it. Be candid with yourself. How long would you want to listen to your topic, without a break? How would you share the idea with someone you were going to spend an hour over coffee with? You'd probably share it in fragments, right? Make point, get a response. Make another point, check to see if they understand.

You can do the same with on-stage speeches, too. No matter how big the topic is, human nature will dictate that your audience will get restless at around fifteen minutes. Imagine yourself, again, at coffee with someone who doesn't stop talking? Fifteen minutes will seem like forever!

So keep it short. Really, short. Shorter than you feel comfortable with. Much shorter. Compress the most cognizant points into the first fifteen minutes. If you have time allocated to speak longer, say an hour instead, use the rest of that time to find ways to directly engage the audience. Take them on a guided tour of your idea, rather than have them passive listeners.

So there you have it. Fifteen minutes or shorter and only, only, if you're speaking a normal conversational pace. Use the remaining time (forty five minutes) as an exercise in creativity. Prepare questions ahead of time. Create follow up slides and "sub-speeches" on the topic and interject as need. But let the audience have fun for the remainder of the time. That's how long a speech should be: long enough that the audience only has time for fun.

· 3 min read
Adam Kecskes

Richard Branson is quoted:

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.

— Richard Branson

I like this people-centric point of view. You can argue which is more important, clients, customers, vendors, employees, shareholders, management, the sales team (which in some companies I've worked for, the sales team seemed like they were treated as most important!), but the overall gist of Branson's quote is that company leadership needs to take care of employees, and from there, a positive cascade effect will occur for the clients and company alike.

I'd add, you can best take care of employees if you take care of the systems they use.

· 3 min read
Adam Kecskes

We all like to be acknowledged for the work we do; for the effort we put into something; and sometimes just for the sake of being human. We all have challenges to overcome. And this is true for both speech makers and meeting takers.

So how does one give kudos to another, in an environment where most all of the focus is on you, and not the other person to be recognized?

With precise humility. Precise humility? Yes, precise humility. Look, being humble can sometimes be a bit of a fiasco; some days you think you're being humble, but others around you think you're just doing it to take on the appearance, but not the reality, of humility. On other days, you're giving out kudos left and right and the very people you're trying to recognize just aren't buying it. Sometimes, despite all your efforts of being a good person, people are ready to accept another's offerin of humility or of recognition.

So in a meeting (or on stage), you have to be very clear about why you're passing on a recognition and it has to be related to the topic at hand. You have to satisfy both conditions. You can't just say "Let's give a hand to Barbara for having the most sales revenue" in a meeting that is about user interface design. It's incongruent. If you're in a sales meeting, you're going to need have a good 'why' to attach to that. It's great that Barbara is meeting her numbers, even beating out the others on her team. But what in particular makes Barbara special in this context? Was there a contest among the teams? Did she have a special technique that you'd like her to share with the rest of the group?

To really be successful in giving acknowledgement, you have to satisfy the expectations of the the audience. Out of the blue can seem nice, but it can create dissonance in the crowd/meeting attendees. It may even cause hurt feelings, unintentionally. It may look like sucking up, especially if the person your acknowledging is your superior in the organization.

But if in a meeting, everyone expects some sort of recognition for someone because of some prior notion that's been established, you're safe to give legions of kudos, and the entire audience will be buoyed by the gratitude you offer to the one person. Because gratitude revealed is gratitude shared.


· 2 min read
Adam Kecskes

Sometimes, you're not alone on stage.

"Great! The other person can do all of the work," you think. Not so fast, Slick. You've gotta shoulder some of that responsibility. If you want your pitch, your presentation, your partner to be successful, you have to participate as well.

While being alone on stage imparts focus and attention from the audience more so than multiple would, having a pair of people on stage can be highly effective in getting your point across. But it only works well if you back each other up. Having another person on stage doing essentially nothing is a distraction. Don't be the distraction!

One key to success in business is collaboration. This is especially true on the stage, when you and a partner are working together to present. Presenting as a pair is not much different than presenting alone; all of the same components apply:

  • Write, Rehearse and Repeat. Together. Practicing together is essential.
  • You still need Logos, Pathos, and Ethos to make the speech work. Having two people on stage doesn't make you more credible; it just means you have twice the opportunity to prove yourselves
  • Body language and timing become more important than ever before; you have to be able to hand off topics in way that is clear to the audience. An improper segue can lose you audience's attention very easily.

Partnering with someone on a presentation can be very gratifying. You get to share your ideas with another person who is aligned with you and you also can get a different take on your shared topic. It can make getting on stage a little less anxiety inducing for many people, but that does not mean you can simply delegate all the effort onto to the other person.

Partnerships take practice, but double the potential.


· 2 min read
Adam Kecskes

In a conversation with a successful entrepreneur buddy of mine, he offered an interesting (to me) perspective to take with regards to making forward motion your life. His premise is that most people tend to look for work that "suits their current needs or personalities." This is wrong, according to my friend. Rather, a person should adapt his or her ideas looking for a job that will suit their future needs.

This isn't a particularly new idea; Dan Gilbert talks about it in his book "Stumbling on Happiness" (which I have not read, but have seen his TED talk that has similar content). What I think I like about my friend's perspective is that it's just skewed enough away from my current thinking that it got me thinking more.

If we stick with the "looking for a job based on current personality," what we're really doing is anchoring ourselves to our past personality -- you know, the one that would rather binge watch TV than writing the next great screenplay? -- and in doing so, we're limiting ourselves. What we should do instead is project our personality from the present into the future, and ask something like, "What would my personality need to be like in order to succeed at this particular job?" and "How do I adapt from where I am to where I would like to be?"

I think what really stands out about my friend's perspective is much more basic than the philosophy and psychology of happiness. Rather, it's a reminder that simply talking to other people with an open mind and an ear towards listening can offer new, even if tiny insights. And each insight is a stepping stone into the future, rather than reflection of the past.


· 2 min read
Adam Kecskes

Overheard at a coffee shop, regarding a final presentation for a college communications class:

"Three of us were accountants, but the fourth was a geo-engineer. We all wore business casual, but he wore sneakers and a t-shirt and a backwards baseball cap that he refused to take off [emphasis from speaker]."

Wow. It's not so much that they disagreed on the mode of dress; what makes this a bad situation is that the forth fellow refused to even accommodate for the situation. Granted, this was a college class (and it sounds like they passed), but what would have happened if the presentation was "for real?"

It'd go badly, I think you can image. Again, not so much the style of dress is the problem, but rather the inconsistency between the entrepreneurs. If they can't manage to act like a team during a pitch, how much of a team will they be when the business ramps up to full speed?

Take a moment to reflect on past team experiences -- heck, even personal experiences. Have you let your attitude get in the way? Have you let a minor stubborn tick lead you to go against the grain of the moment? Yes, going against the grain is the way to go when you're committed and have a fantastic idea to pitch to the world, but refusing to remove your hat to support the rest of the team's pitch? That's just unreasonable.

Suit up, hat off -- if that's what is going to win the pitch.



· 3 min read
Adam Kecskes

In my almost twenty years in the mobile and semi-conductor industry, I've never stood around and chatted with co-workers around the watercooler. Either the business I was in simply didn't have water coolers to stand around, or there the water cooler was just located in the most inconvenient of places, like next to the boss's office. So no standing around for me.

Metaphorically, speaking I did indeed spend a lot of time standing around the water cooler chatting with my co-workers. Odd as it may sound, I learned a lot about how conversational styles, both good and bad, in such water cooler scenarios -- hallways, kitchenettes, cubicals, empty meeting rooms and the odd actual water-cooler.

Water cooler chit-chat can be fun. It's part personal, part business, and generally speaking, a relaxing break from the doldrums of daily deliberations. But what happens when water cooler talk goes wrong?

· 2 min read
Adam Kecskes

At whatever age you learn to ride a bike (if you have done so), it's safe to say it's no easy task, at least initially. When you're young, you're own body and pressure from parents and peers gets in the way just as much as learning how a bicycle work does; and when you're older, habits and attitude can be just as inhibiting.

Yet, once a you pass some magic threshold, it's as if you've always known how to ride. Sure, you're not an expert; you're not going to be doing stunts and you'll stumble here and there, but the hard part is done and a "naturalness" replaces most of the struggles. Why is that? And how does it apply to public speaking?

"Motor Learning" is the key to a person's success in riding a bike. It's less habit and more... ingrained physicality. From the wikipedia article on the topic (

"It often involves improving the smoothness and accuracy of movements and is obviously necessary for complicated movements such as speaking, playing the piano, and climbing trees."

The same thing applies to public speaking as well. Practice does approach perfection. But I want to take this a step further; good public speaking is more than just words coming out of your mouth. It's also gestures and gesticulation, body movement and physical presence. Riding a bike involves a significant amount of body interaction; this muscle memory portion of motor learning is what makes cycling so intuitive after awhile.

You can make public speaking as intuitive by adding in body language components to your speeches, deliberately. Common, culturally shared patterns such as spreading your hands apart to represent growth or large size, not only engage your audience, but they also help you embody your speaking habits more readily. Not unlike riding a bike.

A stereotype of many public speakers is the dry professor standing behind a lectern, barley raising a finger. That professor would be a lot better off teaching class having applied the same basics of bike riding to speaking. Take advantage of motor learning!


· 2 min read
Adam Kecskes

We're creatures of habit, pattern-making machines. We crave novelty and often (well, at least I do) overindulging in social media, videos, TV, eating, drinking, etcetera, just to get that dopamine rush.

But feedback -- like in the form of an evaluation of a speech your developing, or a valid critique from you boss -- is almost always a novel experience as well, right?

Fruitful feedback is a form of productive novelty.

If you're looking to be a better speaker or even build better habits, embrace going out and finding people to provide feedback to you about what you're working on. Your brain will be ignited by all of the new ideas and observations that you'll get out of it. There's a nice double-whammy with feedback -- you can give it as well as receive it. The act of watching and listening, with rapt attention, is in itself fairly novel for most modern Westernized folks. Observing and thinking about how you'll respond; that generates novelty as well.

You'll grow, they'll grow, everyone will grow. That's why I think feedback is a form of productive novelty.


· 3 min read
Adam Kecskes

When I was a kid, I was terminally shy. The concept of eye contact was as terrifying as jumping off a bridge. The sensation of the hair raising on my back each time I'd even glance someone's way was a clear sign of being in a flight response. If I didn't know you, I probably barely would look you in the eye.

Thankfully, partly through the miracle of puberty and then practice through college, I had far less trouble making eye contact with folks; came to understand the cultural norms regarding it as well, just so I didn't overshoot any tender boundaries.

What I've noticed over the years in networking and business meetings is almost an inverse problem that I had — people are too focused on eye contact. Not in a creepy way, but in an exclusitory way.

When your engaged in a circle of folks at a networking event or around a table in a meeting room, make sure that you engage with everyone. If you're speaking, look not only at the main target of your comments, but also glance around at the other folks, giving them at least a micro-second of empathic connection with your eyes. What I often observe is that the speaker of the moment cannot take their eyes off one person, almost forgetting other people are around them.

This is what I mean by eye contact being used in a exclusionary way. Instead, by at least scanning the other observers you become inclusionary. The benefits are:

  1. You can see the state of your listeners; are you boring them? Exciting them? Their micro-expressions will tell you legions.
  2. You give yourself a bit of break from staring at the same person; likewise, you give the person your staring at a break and an reason for them too to look at the other folks.
  3. When you return to your main focus, you can given them the opportunity to respond back. Glancing around is a great "pre-check" that your point has been made, and then you are handing over the baton for another person to take.

That's inclusion through eye contact. So watch yourself next time you're in a meeting. Keep a conscious tally of how often you look around at the other folks in the space. Let them feel involved. Even if they are a shy as I was as a kid, and don't say anything at all, they'll be glad when your give them a friendly look.