Tag Archives: Toastmasters International

The Complications of Spoken Confidence

Sometime last year, I came across a speech from the 2015 Toastmasters World Champion, Mohammed Qahtani. If you have a few minutes, I really suggest you take the time to watch it. OK, let’s say you only have a couple of minutes: just watch the introduction.


While I’m not a fan of Qahtani’s parenting style (either option), I’m going to skip over that for now, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post. I’m also going to skip over the stereotypical portrayal of scientists, again, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post (but I will say that I’ve never meant a scientist who confirms that ‘stereotypical portrayal’). The main reason for writing this post is the first few minutes of the video. The startling anecdote that Qahtani shares about smoking and diabetes. Be honest — did you believe him when he said, “the amount of people dying from diabetes is three times as many dying from smoking?” Based on the audience’s response, I suspect that there are probably — at least — some of you who didn’t know this. To be clear, it’s not my aim to make you feel bad about this. If this isn’t a piece of data you’ve been exposed to at some point in your life, you probably have little reason to know. (Unfortunately, smoking is part of my family history, so I knew Qahtani was up to something when I heard him make that statement. Oh, and if you’re curious, WHO posits that smoking is the leading cause of death where 1 in 10 adults worldwide [!] die as a result of it, whereas diabetes is ‘only’ the 7th leading cause of death in the US.)

Circling back to the video… conviction. Did you notice the conviction with which Qahtani parroted the statistics about diabetes and smoking? He said it so assuredly that it almost makes you want to believe him (or at a minimum, question whether what you thought you knew about those two pieces of statistics was true or not). When I saw him do this, it reminded me of the hundreds of articles you see published each year that advise people on how to sell themselves or their company. The infamous elevator pitch.

Invariably, when you read articles (or books!) about how to give a good elevator pitch, you’re going to find that it’s very common that one of the most important things you can do in that elevator pitch is to be confident (or passionate or some other synonym that fits nicely into the author’s acronym). Don’t get me wrong, confidence is certainly important when it comes to making your elevator pitch, but in seeing Qahtani express himself with an air of confidence, it made me wonder about the human fallibility, with regard to elevator pitches.

Sure, I suspect that for people who’s job it is to listen to elevator pitches on a constant basis will tell you that they have a finely tuned BS-detector, but what about the rest of us who haven’t spent 10,000 hours listening to elevator pitches? I bet you’re thinking that you don’t have to worry about that when it comes to your field because you’re an expert. OK. Let’s accept for a moment that you are — what about all the other fields that you haven’t achieved “expert” status in — what do you do there? Well, I suppose you/we could perfect y/our BS-detector, but I suppose there’s still the possibility that you might make a type I/II error (depending upon your perspective). That is, there’s still the possibility that you might miss the BS for what it is and it’s also possible that you might incorrectly assess something as BS when it’s actually gold!

On that note, I want to leave you with the powerful words of Dr. Maya Angelou, on words:


If You Must Give a Presentation, Please Make it Worthwhile

Few things in life are as annoying as a poorly prepared presentation. Twenty years ago, many folks relied on things like Toastmasters (do people still do that?) to help make them better speakers. Based on the presentations I’ve had to sit through in the last ten years, my guess is that Toastmasters numbers are probably declining. Of course, there’s probably a sampling bias here, but let’s look past it.

What’s happened in the last twenty years that may have worsened presentations? Note: In 1993, I wasn’t listening to many presentations, so it’s possible that the presentations haven’t gotten worse just that I’m seeing more of them. Computers. These convenient devices are far more ubiquitous than they used to be. More than that though, powerpoint (or some sort of presentation software) is even more readily available.

“I’ll just plug my notes into a PPT and I’ll be all set to give this presentation.”


Or, let’s have a guest better express my feelings to just plugging your notes into a presentation:

Simply plugging your notes into a presentation is not the answer for a presentation. No. If you’re going to simply plug your notes into a PPT, then why don’t you just send me a paper? Most people can read something faster than if a person tries to tell it to them. So, make your case in ink and I’ll read it — it’ll save us both time. In fact, this is something that is done at one of the biggest companies in the world: Amazon.

Last year in an interview with Charlie Rose, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, revealed that there are no PPTs when he and the other senior executives meet. Instead of a presentation, the “presenter” has to write a 6-page memo. Upon beginning the meeting, everyone sits around the table and spends the first little while reading the paper. Then (and only then), do they begin discussing the issues raised in the “presentation.”

I realize that this method probably won’t work for everyone, so I thought I’d include a wonderful presentation (ha!) on giving presentations. There’s a lot of great information in there and while I’m not crazy about the “death imagery” at the beginning, the points contained within are important.


To be fair, I should say that not all of the presentations I’ve given are ‘stellar’ nor do they follow some of these simple rules. Just like you, my first excuse would be, “I’m too busy to properly prepare, etc.” The question that follows that line should be something to the effect of, “then why am I giving this presentation?” If you don’t have the time to properly prepare, then maybe the presentation isn’t as important to you as it should be. Maybe you should pitch your boss (or your team) Bezos’ idea of sending a 6-page memo instead. Regardless, if we’re going to be presenting to each other, then I think we should do each other the courtesy of delivering an effective presentation.

Note: Why do I get the feeling that someone — at some point — is going to dig up this post I wrote and make me want to eat my words? I guess I’ll have to send them to the disclaimer.