A Short Guide To Using The Force Like A Motivational Speaker

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So I went to a motivational speaker thing-y a little while ago and I really hated it.

First of all, I want to make it clear that I don’t think there was anything wrong with the speaker or what he was saying. But after about fifteen minutes, I felt like I was stuck in a room full of despairing souls having their brains happily tenderized by a mallet of charisma. Now, that’s not necessarily what was going on. There were probably plenty of folks in that audience having a perfectly good time, experiencing perfectly legit ‘ah hah’ moments. People weren’t being abused or manipulated.

But I realized later on that I was reacting strongly to the experience because I grew up attending churches like this. So I feel defensive—a just a tad bit cynical—when I find myself in crowds of people being whipped up by an admired leader-figure.

Anyway, in order to deal with my discomfort, I went into full-on analytical mode. I started taking down notes about the techniques this speaker had incorporated (consciously or instinctively) into his oratorical approach. I figured I might as well generate a ‘how to be a motivational speaker’ list while I was writhing inwardly in my business casual attire.

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February 20, 2015

‘Be The Change Room’: 3 Novel Ideas For Beating Presentation Anxiety

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As a truly spazzy stage fright sufferer, I deeply emphasize with nervous clients who are about to make presentations or go on-camera. In the tenth grade, all music and drama students at my school were forced to try out for a production of Annie by singing ‘Tomorrow’ in front of the teacher and a few student adjudicators. My audition ended in wracking on-stage sobs after a mere one or two shaky bars. I was crying so hard that my sniffles and choke-sounds were reverberating in the Suddenly Most Uncomfortable Auditorium In The World. That’s me.

I can travel from 0 to 100 on the anxiety-meter in less than 10 seconds.

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November 28, 2014

Robert Evans’ Paramount Personality

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Robert Evans produced ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and for these two reasons alone, I love him.

Even if he were not responsible for bringing the iconic pictures of Hollywood’s true golden age to the masses, Evans would still be the walking/talking definition of swagger. The man has remained a steady shade of burnt umber for six full decades. His voice cruises along at roughly the same pitch as a fully deployed dishwasher. It soothes colicky babies and encourages regular ovulation.

Robert Evans inspires awe, baby.

He’s a perfect example of a phenomenon I’ll call Paramount Personality, named in honour of the legendary studio that Evans commanded for so many years.

Paramount Personality is when the essence of a potent figurehead so saturates a company’s identity that the two entities are hardly distinguishable.

This has happened with Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg, Huffington Post/Arianna Huffington, and about a zillion other contemporary and classic cases. I’d argue that it’s probably one of the more effective ways of ensuring that a corporate brand remains timeless.

This is because people do not bond with corporations. They bond with other people. The monkey brain is strong. We want to make that eye contact that communicates infinite volumes in nanoseconds. We want that big, strong, splendid ape to wink at us and assure us that he knows exactly where all the best bananas can be found.

Watch the clip Robert Evans created with ‘The Graduate’-director Mike Nichols. Paramount Studios was on the verge of being snuffed out, and the burden was on Evans to save his company. Evans decided that this artful piece of communications shrapnel might do the trick. He screened it for his Board of Directors, et voila. Paramount Pictures was spared. Under Evans, it became the biggest studio of the era. 

It’s interesting to me that Evans created a mini-film rather than presenting to the Board in person. He selected one of Hollywood’s greatest directors to film him striding manfully around an office that he drolly concedes is a set. Evans, the former actor, delivers a masterful, Reaganesque pitch without once revealing a flicker of desperation or doubt. He keeps one or both of his hands in his pockets at all times. He manages to seem so casual yet commanding. He’s not a disconnected authority figure, but instead seems to be a living extension of the industry he represents. Flashy but human, charismatic beyond credulity yet still somehow authentic—just like our favourite movies. Robert Evans is Hollywood.

The story he tells is extremely clear: even though I don’t spend all that much money, I make genius films. He obeys the principle of recency and primacy by book-ending the three-minute clip with his two most salient points. At the beginning of the clip, he communicates the first point (‘I don’t spend all that much money’) in a brilliantly concrete, memorable, and funny way, by acknowledging outright that the palatial office in which he is being filmed in is not actually his. With a twinkle in his eye that could cut glass, he explains that they couldn’t fit the cameras in his own modest headquarters. At the mid-point of the clip, Evans subtly transitions from ice-cool Class President mode into that of Passionate Advocate. As he argues his second point (‘I make genius films’), Nichols zooms into Evan’s face so that the producer’s utter sincerity and belief in the power of his own product can course directly through the screen into the viewer’s soul. It’s no wonder the Board was persuaded.

Robert Evans made a movie to save his movies. He was an executive who personified for the dazzled masses (and shareholders) the same emotional promise as the actors he paid, made, and bossed around. Somehow Robert Evans fit the mould of Paramount Pictures or Paramount Pictures fit the mould of Robert Evans. Either way, the Paramount Personality makes unexpected things happen when his eyes manage to lock with yours.

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

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April 30, 2014