Excerpt found in New York Women In Communications, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 6-7

Can You Take The Heat? Staying Cool In The Spotlight

By Ginny Pulos

Fall 2008

WE’RE IN THE LAST DAYS BEFORE THE ELECTION. The presidential candidates are in a 24-hour spotlight. By November, we will know them—or think we do—and judge what we believe we see and hear from them. Are they credible? Likeable? Trustworthy? They know our votes depend upon the answers to these questions.

Unlike Obama and McCain, we may never have to grapple with the glaring spotlight of a national campaign. Yet we regularly present ourselves in a variety of settings—at meetings, interviews, conferences or seminars. Some of us speak publicly all the time. But being the focus of attention can still challenge our confidence.

With a few “insider” tips, however, you can shine both in and out of the spotlight.


  • Focus on your message—not on how you’re feeling —to overcome nervous jitters. How you approach the podium is key. Take the time to breathe from the diaphragm, smile and make eye contact with a familiar face. Know your opening and closing cold so you can connect at these two critical moments. Don’t try to cover up your nervousness. Experienced speakers learn to move beyond it imme- diately to what their audiences need to know.
  • Never memorize. Instead, go over your words so frequently that you become conversational. Open with an attention-getting fact, quote or anecdote. Mark your notes for pauses, eye contact, breathing and emphasis. Use large type, double-spaced lines and the top two-thirds of the page only, so you can quickly spot your points when you need them. Then look up, speak—and slide the pages across the podium rather than turning them over. Flag your closing with “finally,” “in conclusion” or “before closing,” then sum up and hit the home run. Don’t just fade away.
  • Learn how a teleprompter works. Remember, when there is laughter or applause, the prompter operator will be moving ahead to your next speaking point. You can begin whenever you like. The prompter operator can’t move for- ward until you actually speak, so you’re in control, not the operator. Obama is comfortable with this, but McCain is not, and it shows.
  • Practice, practice, practice, especially if someone else has written your speech. Read it aloud to be sure it sounds like you. Busy people often wait until the last minute to review a speech and then stumble in the delivery. Sounding good in your head is different from getting your lips, teeth and tongue around the words. If it doesn’t read well aloud, edit. Ronald Reagan made every speech his own by skillfully editing and including his own stories.


  • Communicate leadership and strength through your tone of voice, the words you use and your body language. When these expressions of yourself are consistent and in alignment, you build trust. What do you believe? What do you stand for? Let people know.
  • Use positive, genuine emotion and enthusiasm to speak with your true “voice.” If you have no emotional contact with your audience, you will have no impact. Think of Al Gore, who sounded like a policy wonk in the 2000 campaign. On the other hand, think of McCain discussing his war record or his refusal to give up in Iraq, Obama’s “Together we can!” or Hillary’s “I will always fight for you…”
  • People know unerringly when we’re genuine. Rudy Giuliani is a textbook example. Watching his 9/11 press conferences, you see he’s wearing a Yankees cap, breathing easily and answering that we’ll keep working to rescue people because… “we’re dealing with New Yorkers here.” That day, everyone became a New Yorker, whether they loved Giuliani or hated him.
  • Be inclusive. Use words like WE instead of ME or YOU. And be aware of how you are using your body. Face the audience fully. Obama is good at inclu- sion, frequently using “we” and opening his palms as he speaks. Inclusive also means using fifty-cent words instead of $1.50 ones. Reagan and Bill Clinton were masters of this. Whether speaking to commoners or kings, keep the language easy. Simple. Leave no one out.


  • Learn to read and use these powerful cues. We make instant decisions about people in the first seven seconds we meet. Studies show that 93 percent of the impact of face-to-face communication comes from the tone of our voice and what our bodies say about us. What nonverbal cues are you sending? When Obama showed he was annoyed with Hillary’s answers, we read that. When McCain walked with his back to the audience, blowing his nose while listening to a voter’s question, we read that too.
  • Appear credible. Don’t let the way you look divert attention from your message. Wear a great-fitting pants or skirt suit—and leave the distracting chandelier earrings and charm bracelets at home. (TV anchors are good role models for this.) Both Obama and McCain dress well. While Obama has the advantage of a tall, thin build, I’ve seen McCain in person, and—although shorter—he conveys powerful internal energy. We all have to do our best with what we’ve been given at birth. I Make direct eye contact, the most powerful credibility-builder in the West. I Stand straight, with your weight equally distributed on both feet. Lean slightly toward your audience. Don’t slip a shoe off because your feet hurt. Let your hands rest at your sides or on the podium, then use them for emphasis, making sure your gestures match your words.
  • All nonverbal behaviors are powerful clues to underlying inner beliefs. Watch Obama and McCain over the coming days, and see what you can detect from their examples. Do their gestures match their words, or are they late? Are their smiles genuine, or are they grimaces? Are their heads cocked, communicating contempt or boredom? I guarantee that if you use even one of the tips included here, you’ll be perceived as more confident and powerful—whether you’re in  the spotlight or out of it.

Ginny Pulos is president of Ginny Pulos Communications, Inc., a speech and media consultancy, and adjunct professor at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She is a past New

York Women in Communications board member and past Matrix Program Committee chair (

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