Ten secrets of successful speakers

You know the mwa-mwa-mwa sound the Peanuts kids hear when adults talk to them? That’s the same sound audiences begin to hear in their heads around the ten-minute mark of most speeches and presentations. Here are ten secrets that keep the trombones at bay.

  1. Figure out what you want the audience to know and do as a result of your presentation. That’s what your speech is about. Stay focused.
  2. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much information. They’ll turn you off. Humans only remember a max of four things at a time anyway.
  3. Do NOT read from a script. If you can read it from sheets of paper or PowerPoint slides, so can your audience. At home. In a chair. With a drink. And a sandwich.
  4. No matter how good you are at improvising or how many times you’ve said the same thing, do NOT wing your presentation. If you do, you are likely to meander off point and your credibility and message will disappear.
  5. Avoid death by PowerPoint. Check out videos on YouTube about what not to do and watch presentations by Steve Jobs to learn what to do. Keep your slides simple. Use images. And PLEASE limit words and bullet points.
  6. People remember what they see. Not what they hear. Select your images carefully.
  7. Don’t lecture. Have a conversation with your audience. Tune into them and respond to their reactions.
  8. Never assume your audience knows what you’re talking about. Always define your terms, especially ROI, efficacy, net profit, silo, verticals, align, productivity, flat, goals, space, onboarding, next level, drive results, and other business bingo phrases.
  9. If you ask for questions and there aren’t any, be gracious. You put your audience on the defensive and look lame at the same time if you say something like “Surely SOMEONE has a question.” Have a closing sentence handy, thank everyone and sit down.
  10. Don’t know an answer? Don’t ever make something up, lie or sidestep. Say you don’t know and you’ll get back to them or give them a real reason why you can’t answer at this time. This is always true. It’s imperative if anyone from the media is there.

11-13. And here are three more – do your audience analysis, use a cordless mike and don’t move around so much that you make people seasick.

NOTE: Many thanks to Veronica Apostolico at Smith & Nephew whose article on LinkedIn’s Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Forum inspired me to write this.


Four steps to start or refresh your business

A potential client contacted me with two business ideas. He thought one could be a nonprofit, but he didn’t know anything about IRS Letters of Determination or any other rules. The other idea was really about revitalizing his current business. I said he needed to do a lot more research, made some suggestions and sent him this summary of our conversation.

Step One. Start with this one-page business plan that I adapted from $100 Start Up. Use no more than two sentences to answer each question. Use a pencil so you can change your answers as you talk to industry experts, potential customers and other business people. Ask them to be totally honest with you. Even if you already have a business, this is an important exercise.

  1. What product, service or idea do you want to sell?
  2. Who will buy it? (Who’s your primary customer?) NOTE–Your customers and end users may be completely different people.)
  3. How does your business idea help people? (What’s in it for them? What pain does it take away? Why should they care?)
  4. Who’s your competition? (Believe me, you have competition.)
  5. What makes you different than your competition? (This is usually the hardest question to answer.)
  6. What will you charge?
  7. How will you get paid?
  8. How else could you make money from this?
  9. How will your customers find out about your business?
  10. What could you do to increase referrals?
  11. How will you know when you’re successful? Number of customers? Net income? Achieved world peace?
  12. What are your major problems and/or challenges?
  13. Proposed ideas to overcome #12

 Step Two. Use plain everyday English. Try to avoid utilize, prioritize, unique, solution, drive results, maximize, leverage, world-class, global leader, strategic, mission-critical, paradigm, end of the day, impact as a verb, helmed, penned, best practices, and other business bingo terms.

 Step Three. Make an appointment at your local Small Business Administration office and take your answers with you. Almost all SBA services are free. The ones that aren’t are very low cost. Make sure to spend some time at the SBA site. Write down any questions you’re bound to have and take that list with you, too.

 Step Four. Contact me when you’re ready. (I intuited that this particular potential client didn’t have the money to hire me to do this beginning work for him.)

What’s wrong with this picture? Apostrophe s.


More than one computer is computers, not computer’s. Same goes for most things you’re offering more than one of unless you sell deer. Wrong punctuation calls everything about you into question. “Know your ABCs” is right. ABC’s and FAQ’s are wrong. However, “Mind your P’s and Q’s” and “She got straight A’s” are right. However, if people had paid attention in school, I’d be living on a heating grate. Contact me — especially if you don’t know what’s wrong with this picture. I’ll make sure your punctuation is as good as you are.

Want to get published? Do these first.

I invited one of my writing coach clients to attend the January 2016 meeting of my writers group, IWOC, Independent Writers of Chicago. The topic was “How to Write, Publish, and Market Your Book.” My client and I are working on her memoir. I knew the meeting would be useful for her. It was also extremely helpful to me.

The presenters were Jim Kepler, principal of Adams Press and longtime IWOC member, and Kim Bookless, self-publishing consultant. Their suggestions were confirming and practical. I’ve already stolen – I mean – incorporated the new ones into my coaching practice.

However, two of Jim’s recommendations were so terrific, I had to share them immediately:

  • Discover your category. Let’s assume you already have a super idea, which is actually pre-step one. Perhaps you’ve already started writing your book. Maybe you’re even in the rewrite phase, poor thing. Wherever you are in the process (and I’m thinking the earlier the better if possible), Jim suggests that you spend time wandering around a major bookstore to see where your book would be categorized. Examine those books. (You might want to take a look at the categories and books on Amazon.) It’s possible that your category might change as you proceed. You might have to go back to the bookstore a few times. I know, it’s a hardship.
  • Write the descriptive blurb for the back cover. When a book is published, there’s usually a teaser of some kind on the back cover that’s meant to encourage you to buy the book, such as a cliffhanger synopsis or some juicy promise to the reader. Write that. However, remember that it’s almost certain to change as you write – and rewrite – your book. Probably many times, in fact. But it will give you an idea of what your book is about – for now, anyway – and who it’s for – again, for now.

These two suggestions from Jim are especially brilliant. So much so that I wish I had thought of them. And, by the way, they only sound easy.

Nancy’s proposal template

I specialize in marketing communications, which is about helping clients reach the right people and convincing those people to buy my clients’ services or products, support their ideas, give them money or attend their events. I use this proposal template when I have to submit a proposal for my company or when I’m preparing a proposal for a client. It forces me to focus on what prospects really care about:
• Results, results, results
• How much it’s going to cost
• How long it’s going to take
• How much inconvenience, downtime and staff disruption they’re going to have to put up with
• Reassurance that my client or my company is the right choice

It’s absolutely crucial to always look at the proposal from the prospect’s point of view. Whenever you recommend something, ask “So what?” i.e. What’s the benefit to the prospect? Why should the prospect care – and pay for it? How does it solve the prospect’s problem? What’s in it for the prospect?

Remember that the proposal is probably going to be reviewed by a few people, many of whom have no idea who you are, what you do, what they need, and why they should pay you. Avoid jargon and business bingo lingo, i.e. drive results, take the company to the next level, best practices, aligned, grow the company, etc. (I’m old enough to remember paradigm shift, granular, space, and end of the day.)

Unless you’re responding to a formal request or proposal or have to use a specific corporate format, keep the proposal SHORT — one to two pages. Three if absolutely necessary. This length works for assignments up to $50,000. I’ve used it successfully for projects with huge budgets and when I had no idea about budget – which is often the case. You can add attachments, such as team profiles, references, whatever. But don’t go crazy.

In defense of brevity — People, especially business people, do not have the time or inclination to wade through pages of information they don’t care about. Get to the point. Also, the longer and more detailed your proposal is, the more people are going to have to review it – and put in their two cents. All that delays getting your proposal signed and your first check deposited.

Resist detailed descriptions of how you’re going to get prospects the results they want. They don’t care about your fabulous processes, methodology or state-of-the-art tools. They just want to be reassured you have good ones and know how to use them.

Here’s my favorite example of too much information: Going into detail about your processes is like explaining how an internal combustion engine works when all someone wants to know is how to start the car.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all template. Every proposal still has to be tailored to each potential client.

However, there is a conventional proposal structure. And some information can be standardized and dropped in and modified as needed or added as attachments.

Layout and tone
Your proposal is a marketing piece and tells the prospect and the people who are going to sign your check a lot about you, how well you understand what they need and how easy it’s going to be to work with you.
• Your proposal needs to be friendly, conversational, professional and SHORT.
• Put the proposal on your letterhead
• Date it
• Use a simple and universally accepted font, such as Arial, Helvetica or Times New Roman, in 11 or 12 point
• Use the business address block format
• Number the pages and put a reminder that this is a proposal from you in the footer
• Use regular 1 inch margins, single space, block paragraphs, white space
• Have someone else proofread
• Keep it short and to the point
• You probably don’t need a table of contents
• Remember there’s only ONE space between sentences, not two. This is not typing class.

Use the person’s first name if your relationship allows it. Think of this as a letter of agreement between colleagues.

Section 1 – Background
Set the stage in one or two SHORT paragraphs. This is your opportunity to show the potential client that you listened closely and understand what results he/she wants/needs and why.
• This is a summary of whatever conversations you have had with the potential client.
• Be as personal and friendly as possible. If you can. start it off with something like “It was so good to meet/talk with you…”
• Let the prospect know you (and your team) are excited to work with him/her/the company.
• Use the potential client’s words.
• Say something about what makes the prospect’s company or organization special.
• Mention what’s going on that’s causing the prospect to seek help at this time, i.e. market or leadership changes, shift in business environment, merger, expansion, event, etc.
• State the results you and the prospect have decided on in a bulleted list.
• “To achieve these results, I/we propose a xx-phase approach.” Use a bulleted list in order of what needs to be done first, second, etc. Do NOT go into detail here. You will describe each phase BRIEFLY as a separate item in the statement of work section.
• You might also have some additional ideas that have come to you as you’ve been working on the proposal. Weave them in here and in the statement of work section.

Section 2 – About me/you/my client
Describe why you are the best choice to help the prospect. This can be a standardized one or two SHORT paragraph statement about who you are, what you do, what makes you special, and where they can get more information, which should be your website. The content could be from your website’s home and about pages, your business plan, etc.

Section 3 – Statement of work
Here’s where you focus on each work phase you mentioned in Section 1. Each phase needs to be self-contained and complete in itself. Ideally, each phase builds on the one before it. This gives clients with limited resources or reluctance to commit fully the opportunity to hire you one phase at a time. It breaks down the entire process into smaller chunks and helps clients see how the different work phases relate to and depend on one another. It also gives you a natural break to be paid. Here’s a typical phase outline:
Phase X: Use the same words you used in Section 1 for the title of each separate work phase
• State the results you will achieve.
• Briefly describe what you (and your team) will do and why. Don’t go into too much detail.
• List any deliverables for each phase. Briefly explain why the prospect needs to pay you for deliverables whose benefits are less obvious, such as a work plan. (Deliverables are tangible items such as products, reports, programs, materials, content, services, etc. you “deliver” (give) to your client by a certain date as a required part of a project.)

Section 4 – Client responsibilities
List and describe what you require from the client. For example:
• Tangible support from leadership
• Introduction by leadership to employees
• Assignment of a reliable point person with regular and emergency contact information
• Approval process
• Timely response and turn around
• Authorization to contact and access to key personnel for interviews, surveys, etc.
• Schedule availability of personnel
• Provide relevant documents
• With the assurance that you will get approval from the client in advance, the client pays the costs and makes arrangements related to meeting facilities, A/V support, meals for training presentations, transportation, etc. Never ever pay for anything like this up-front to be reimbursed.
• With the assurance that you will get approval from the client in advance, the client pays for photography, media buys, wire services, e-newsletter fees, printing, etc. Never ever pay for anything like this up-front to be reimbursed.

Part 5 – Timeline
Make a note in the proposal that this is as estimated timeline for planning purposes only. Actual timing will depend on how well the project stays on schedule.
• Estimate timeline ranges by phase. Note if some phases can be conducted simultaneously.

Part 6 – Pricing and terms
Ideally you should have an idea about budget ahead of time. But in our fast moving, make-a-living world, you often can’t get as much information as you need – especially about budget – and you have to write a proposal anyway. I’ve written, submitted and won proposals without much information.
• I’ve often had to leave out budgets because I had no idea at all what they were. Sometimes I never find out except by accident.
• The concept and expected results captured the potential client’s imagination.
• In many instances, the proposal at least got me started working with the client.

Price by phase
• Mini-maxi with BRIEF explanations
• How payments will be made and when, invoicing, expenses
• If there are outside fees such as photography, e-newsletter fees, wire services, evaluation tools, meeting facilities, transportation, etc., estimate them.

Ideally, you may be able to have the client agree to your terms and conditions. Some clients will have their own that you have to agree to. Read these very carefully. Pay attention to:
• Cancellation/Termination of contract
• Change orders
• Intellectual property
• Late payment penalty
• Assure confidentiality.

Part 7 – Conclusion
Write a warm, friendly conclusion. It should be a recap of sorts. Mention again how much you’re looking forward to working with the prospect. Mention the attachments to the proposal if there are any. Include how to contact you directly if there are any questions. Add that if the proposal is acceptable as is, please sign below.

Part 8 – Signatures
You or your client should sign and date the proposal before you send it. I use this setup.

For Nancy Solomon & Associates Inc./client/you:


Please print


For (prospect’s company, name, etc. and, upon signing, the client)


Please print


Three basic business questions you MUST answer

The answers to three basic questions should form the foundation of your marketing communications plan — and very possibly your entire business. They are incredibly tough for most people to answer:

1. What do you, your business or organization do? I mean REALLY do.
2. How do (or will) people, i.e. customers, benefit from what you do? In other words, what pain do you take away from your customers? Or what problem do you solve for them? Or what’s in it for them, i.e. what do they get out of doing business with you?
3. Why should someone choose YOUR product, service or idea? What makes you, your product, service or idea different or better than your competition?

I struggle with these questions myself. I know and admire a lot of talented writers who do what I do. So why do people hire me instead of them? What’s my special sauce? What makes me different?

If my clients don’t tell me, I ask them. For example, I might ask them for a LinkedIn recommendation. If you have a sales team, they probably have valuable information for you. And you can also hire someone like me to ask for you.

What I’ve found out is that my clients:

* Like the quality of my work without having to pay high prices
* Know I’ll work nights and weekends to get the job done
* Trust that I’ll always tell them the truth
* Count on me to protect them and keep them from doing something that might be a bad idea or (gasp) grammatically incorrect
* Know I make complex ideas easy to understand
* Think I’m a hoot

What you find out will help you update your marketing and business plans, make sure you’re delivering what your clients want, and refine your message. You’ll learn about things that need to be fixed or can be capitalized on. AND you’ve reminded your clients how much they like doing business with you, which really comes in handy.

How to Get Something Done


The Women in Leadership conferences began with the question, “What could we accomplish if the women of influence in Oklahoma City worked together to make a difference for other women?” The answer is, “A lot.”

But first the women needed to get to know one another.

To that end, Donna Miller founded the Senior Executive Women’s Networking Group in 2008. SEWNG’s first event was lunch at the Governor’s Mansion with First Lady Kim Henry. (Donna won the lunch at an auction at Keystone, her kids’ school.)

Debbie Fleming, a vice president of a public utility and an early member of SEWNG, was one of the 14 women at lunch. “It was the first time many of us had ever met,” says Debbie.

“It’s probably difficult for younger women to imagine our lack of connection to one another at that time,” Debbie continues. “But most of us were pioneers. We were often the first women to sit at the executive table.”

Donna and Debbie agreed that women in leadership needed to develop a social network. They needed a safe place where they could discuss important issues outside their organizations with people they respected and knew they could trust.

Debbie hosted the next event at her home. An executive chef taught 25 women, including Dr. Barbara Crandall, how to create holiday hors d’oeuvres. Barbara saw a natural tie-in with Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business, where she was a professor of management.

Barbara set up and attended a meeting with Donna, Debbie and Meinders Director of Communications (and multiple hat-wearer) Melissa Cory. “We talked about possible speakers, topics and how the University could – and should – participate,” recalls Melissa.

moon-paintingMarian Moon, who had recently retired as a senior leader in the energy industry, also hosted an event in her home. While the women talked about their lives, careers and key crossroads, Susan Morrison, an artist in residence for the State of Oklahoma, created a painting representing the major themes she heard.

The camaraderie increased with each SEWNG social event. The women created bonds, developed friendships, enjoyed networking and built trust as they learned how to pair wines, attended a Thunder game, took a preview tour of the Philharmonic Show House and picked the brain of an Internet guru.

“As women used to multitasking, we soon wanted to expand our efforts beyond socializing,” remembers Debbie. “We wanted to take on a cause to give us purpose and energy.”

The result? The First Annual Women in Leadership: Powerhouse Workshop & Panel was held at the Meinders School of Business in 2010.

The conference has been remarkable from the beginning. The topics are relevant. The conversations are candid and truthful. The atmosphere is intimate and trusting. The speakers talk openly about their successes and their failures, what they’ve learned and mistakes they’ve made. No one gets talked to or lectured at.

Meinders students attend the conference for free and submit essays to win $500 cash prizes. They benefit from learning about real-world experiences and from interacting with leaders they may never have met otherwise.

“Anyone can ask a question,” observes Martha Burger. “They will always get an honest answer.”

Now retired, Martha was a senior executive of an energy company when she joined the conference planning committee in 2011.

The benefits go well beyond the conference. It’s a win-win for everyone.

“The Women in Leadership conference helps us become better versions of ourselves,” notes Debbie. “We all have causes we’re passionate about. The conference and the relationships we’ve developed help us help other women and our community in meaningful ways.”

For example, Donna is an active member of the YWCA board. She has enlisted women in leadership positions to support the Y’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. “One in four adult women will be a victim of domestic violence,” cites Donna. “I truly believe that domestic violence and its impact on children is the root cause of most of society’s ills.”

Martha is a trustee of Oklahoma City University and a graduate of Meinders, which she says has been “a hidden gem” for far too long. “The conference is one of the reasons Meinders is being recognized as the important community, business and educational asset it is.”

The speakers, sponsors and organizers consider the conference a way to give back to the community, nurture students, recruit talent and promote their companies and institutions. It has given many women the opportunity to discover their voices. Employers also value the training and leadership development the conference provides.

SEWNG and its members have been absorbed into the fabric of the conference. They work on the organizing committee, suggest speakers and topics and solicit sponsorships. Martha and Lisa Putt, one of the core members of the planning team, have hosted the reception for presenters and sponsors the evening before the conference for several years.

Looking to the future, the conference organizers are investigating how to keep the intimacy and trust as the conference continues to grow and how to maintain relevance, especially for younger women leaders.

Not to worry. As we know, anything is possible when women work together to achieve a common goal.



Should you establish a medical marijuana dispensary?

RESULTS: This article transformed a local pharmacist into a national subject matter expert and a medical cannabis dispensary owner.

PROBLEM: Illinois became the twentieth state to legalize medical marijuana in August 2013. My client wanted to apply for a medical cannabis dispensary license and asked me to place, research and ghostwrite an article to establish his credibility.

SOLUTION: I convinced Drug Topics, a trade journal, to accept an article about medical marijuana as an excellent entrepreneurial opportunity for pharmacists. Their training, experience and mindset are perfect prerequisites for this new industry. The article I wrote was published online and in print under my client’s name in the December 2013 issue of Drug Topics — and published in Drug Topics’ sister publications. I suggested and arranged for my client to take a fact-finding trip to Colorado, where he formed some useful professional ties. I taught him how to use the article with the media, professional associations, elected and appointed officials and other influencers, which generated extensive media coverage and speaking dates. I prepared his presentations for professional presentations and public hearings and created his initial website.
… see the entire article


Women in Leadership

RESULTS: This article encouraged a new crop of women business leaders to become involved in helping other women — and also recognized the original and ongoing contributions of the founders.

PROBLEM: Donna Miller, a leading human resources professional, and I have worked together for years. She and a few other powerful women in Oklahoma organized what became an annual leadership conference. I wrote and edited welcome letters, seminar descriptions, speaker bios and ads for the conference programs. For the fifth anniversary, Donna asked me to write a history of the conference.

SOLUTION: I interviewed the original movers and shakers. Each woman talked about how the experiences around putting the conferences together had benefitted and changed them personally and professionally. They talked about having a safe environment for them to get to know — and trust — one another. That’s the purpose of the conference after all and became the theme of the article I wrote.
… see the entire article