Inhaling and Exhaling is Key in Public Speaking

The most important thing to do when you give a presentation is to breathe. That may sound like an obvious statement, but when presenting to a group it is easy to forget to breathe properly. When you forget to take good, deep breaths your lungs can run out of air before you finish a sentence, then your voice becomes soft and even crackles. An acting coach I worked with in New York referred to this as the “shallow breathing syndrome.”

Think about this way, if you are a shallow breather, and the most important point you want to convey to the audience comes at the end of a sentence, it is going to fall flat and limp, just like the dreaded dead fish handshake. With a sufficient supply of oxygen in your lungs, your voice cannot project throughout the audience, showing confidence and a command of the stage.

According to Harvard Business Review article titled, “Breathing Is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking,” deep breathing exercises help to harness the power of breathing to speak with confidence and electricity. A deep breathing exercise that will help rid shallow breathing was taught to me by the New York actor coach. He said to stand straight, shoulders back, and chest out. Now take a deep breath through your nose by expanding your stomach and not your chest. Then begin to let out all of the air slowly through your mouth and squeeze every last air molecule out of your lungs. Repeat the exercise again and again and again. Once you are comfortable doing that, take the exercise to the next level. This time when you exhale slowly count: “1…2…3…4…5…” Master that and take it to an even level higher: Exhale saying the words, “Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do.” As you practice and gain confidence, add more words like, “Hello, my name is [insert name].”

Caution! When doing this exercise for the first time, if you begin to feel lightheaded, stop and try another time until you get your stamina up — your lungs need to adapt to this technique. Once you have your stamina up, do ten reps, four times a day for a month. You should see improved results almost overnight. Even when you do not have a presentation scheduled practice every day. You can back down to ten reps each day you are not speaking. On presentation, days shoot for 20 reps.

In addition to strengthening your voice, proper breathing helps to keep sufficient oxygen in your blood and your brain. Having sufficient oxygen helps you focus on your presentation.

What happens when you blank out and can’t remember what you were going to say next? You are standing there with all of those eyes staring at you, and you begin to panic. When we panic on stage, what do we forget to do? That’s right: We forget how to breathe and become shallow breathers. When this happens, pause for a moment and take a deep breath or two. Chances are you will remember what comes next in your presentation, and you can carry on. If not, be honest with the audience and say, “I just had a brain cloud and forgot what I was about to say.” The audience won’t turn on you because you just showed them that you are a human being and even you, the person on the stage, can make a mistake.

As speakers, presenters and facilitators we need to be very cognizant of our breathing and the effect it is having on our voice. Allison Shapira, the author of the HBR article mentioned earlier, makes the comment that breathing is one of the most critical components in public speaking and it is one of the least taught subjects. Think of it this way, you may be the subject matter expert, but if your voice can’t command an audience and keep them engaged, then the audience can’t act on your words.

With a strong, powerful and confident voice, you will influence people’s lives, so practice your breathing. Inhale and expand your diaphragm. Exhale slowly and squeeze all the air out.

To be the Best You Have to Watch the Best

As a speaker, presenter or facilitator, we are always honing our craft. Making subtle changes and improvements in our delivery, stage persona, or our body language is key to developing a professional presentation.  A member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) once told me, “If you want to be the best, go watch the best. Learn from them but don’t mimic them. Stay authentic to yourself and use what you learned to become one of the best.”  I took that piece of advice to heart and spent countless hours watching past U.S. Presidents, speakers at the NSA Annual Convention and at our local chapter meetings, and TED Talks.

Former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton that were known for their incredible speaking skills.  Both knew how to connect with an audience and capture their imagination.  Watch and listen to their cadence and tone of voice.  Listen for when they pause and the look on their face. Watch what they do with their hands.  Early in Bill Clinton’s political career, when he would speak, he had the tendency to point his finger at the audience.  He was given advice to stop pointing his finger because it makes the audience defensive.  Instead of pointing his finger, he would make a fist and place his thumb on top of his fist and make the pointing gesture without using his finger. I have heard this method to be called the “remote control.”

As a member of the National Speakers Association, you gain access to some of the best speakers, both domestically and internationally – Mike Rayburn, Patricia Fripp, and Derrick Kayongo.  When I see them on stage, I am constantly study their mannerisms, pace, voice, delivery – all the nuances that work together to create a powerful presenation.  This is a challenge because they all have a great message and are excellent in engaging the audience. It can be difficult to dissect pieces of the presentation when you are so focused on the full experience of their presention. The art of a great speaker.

If this happens to you, and I bet it does, right after their presentation start taking notes from what you witnessed. Try to capture their body language, movement on the stage, use of humor, design of their presentation slides, use of the microphone, fluctuation in their voice, eye contact with the audience.  Write it all down.

Another way to watch the best is to watch a TED Talk.  If you are unfamiliar with them, let me explain.  According to the website, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics, from science to business to global issues.”  Some of the speakers at a TED conference include Bill Gates, Al Gore and Tony Robbins, and to name just a few.

According to their website, the top five TED talks to date are:

  1. Sir Kenneth Robinson – Do schools kill creativity? (over 38 million views)
  2. Amy Cuddy – Your body language may shape who you are (over 32 million views)
  3. Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action (over 26 million views)
  4. Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability (over 24 million views)
  5. Mary Roach – 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm (over 18 million views)

When you study TED talks remember this: These speakers are taking very complex information and presenting it through stories and visual aids. No TED Talk is ever a data dump.  They are evoking an emotion in the audience, whether it is laughter, sadness, or shock.  If they can do this, I am sure you can, too. It does require a lot of work but in the end you have a presentation worthy of sharing.

Go watch The Best of Ronald Reagan ( and watch him deliver his humor with perfection. Watch Bill Clinton Bids Farewell at the 2000 White House Correspondents’ Dinner ( and watch his facial expressions, especially when he is discussing writing his resume.  Watch one TED Talk a week.

Become a member of the National Speakers Association.  You want to be the best, go watch the best!

Information You Need When Developing Presentation Slideshow

Words can be very powerful, but not always as powerful as images. As we all know, “a picture is worth a thousand words!”

Microsoft PowerPoint is the most popular presentation software in today’s business environment.  There are other software products such as Apple’s Keynote or, but it appears that Microsoft has the corner on the market because, according to Microsoft, there are over 30 million PowerPoint presentations given worldwide every day.” Personally, I am a Mac user so I work with Apple’s Keynote; I have found it to be more user-friendly and to have more creativity components than PowerPoint. My opinion only.

Based on years of experience and research as well as some hard learning lessons, I want to share how I plan and execute the visuals for my presentations.

Make A Visual Impact

Using visual aids in your presentation will create a greater impact and enhance the point you are trying to get across to your audience.  At the TED2009 conference, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was delivering a presentation on malaria and how the disease was transmitted via mosquito bites.  According to multiple accounts, Bill shouted at the audience, “Malaria is spread by mosquitoes.” Then he released non-disease ridden insects into the audience. “I brought some (mosquitos). Here, I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected.” I think Bill made his point to those who were in attendance, and the millions who have watched it since.

You can create a similar effect by using pictures, videos, sound bites, charts and graphs in your presentation. John Media, the author of Brain Rules, states, “Vision trumps all other senses.” He goes on to say, ”Our evolutionary history was never dominated by books or email or text messages. It was dominated by trees and saber-toothed tigers.  Vision means so much to us because most of the major threats to our lives in the savannah were apprehended visually.”

Tell your story with fewer words and more visual aids to help the audience visualize the issue at hand. Think about this for a moment: When you read a novel, you create a picture in your mind based on the words you have read. In your presentation, when you create a picture for the audience you give them a gift.  As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap

Your Slides Are Your Friend, Not A Crutch

Business audiences expect a slideshow to coincide with your presentation, no matter if you are speaking at a conference or delivering information at a board meeting. A vast majority of these presentations are developed to be a crutch and not as an aid.  According to, a crutch is “anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; prop.” While an aid is defined as “to provide support for or relief to; help.”


Actually, when used properly, your slideshow will act as an aid in helping to get your thoughts and ideas across to your audience.  Remember, YOU are the presentation and not your slideshow.

Here are some examples of how a slideshow becomes a crutch:

  • You pack every word that you want to say on your slides.
  • You have more bullet points on your slides than bullet holes from the St. Valentines Day massacre.
  • Your slides are not visually appealing to your audience .
  • If your font size is smaller than 20 point.
  • Your charts and graphs are confusing because there is too much data on the slide.
  • You overuse transitions and animations.
  • The audience is reading their email and not reading your slides.

When acting as an aid, your slides are notecards  a memory jogger  and allows you to create a conversation with the audience.  That is the goal.  Here are nine tips to help you create a slideshow that will keep you audience engaged.

  1. In the majority of your slides, eliminate bullet points by using one idea and picture(s) per slide.
  2. When bullet points are warranted for a comparison view, limit the number of bullet points to no more than five.
  3. Embed polling questions into your slides to stimulate audience engagement.
  4. Use visual aids to help get your key message points across and to create a more engaging experience.
  5. Use high quality pictures, images and video, and make them large enough so everyone can see.
  6. Choose colors carefully. According to Garr Reynolds, best selling author and speaker,  “Color evokes feelings. Color is emotional. The right color can help persuade and motivate. Studies show that color usage can increase interest and improve learning comprehension and retention.”
  7. Use a font size greater than 20 point so people in the back of the room can see.
  8. Garr Reynolds also suggests that you “choose your fonts carefully. Fonts communicate subtle messages in and of themselves, which is why you should choose fonts deliberately. Use the same font set throughout your entire slide presentation.”
  9. Calculate your slides per minute to ensure you are creating a conversation presentation.

Choosing Your Colors and Fonts

Because I believe visual aids are critical to a successful presentation, I want to share more information with you about selecting colors and fonts. Garr Reynolds has great advice on how to choose the colors in your background and in your fonts. In choosing your colors, he states, “You do not need to be an expert in color theory, but it’s good for business professionals to know at least a bit on the subject. Colors can be divided into two general categories: Cool (such as blue and green) and Warm (such as orange and red). Cool colors work best for backgrounds as they appear to recede away from us into the background. Warm colors generally work best for objects in the foreground (such as text) because they appear to be coming at us.” He goes on to say, “If you will be presenting in a dark room, a dark background (dark blue, grey, etc.) with white or light text will work fine. But if you plan to keep most of the lights on then a white background with black or dark text works much better.”

I have found that in a vast majority of venues the lights will be somewhere between 75 to 100 percent illuminated. So I intentionally design all of my slides with a white background with black font colors with a blue thin stripe down the left margin.

You might think that the color selection conversation is a little picky. That won’t be the case after we discuss choosing your fonts  now this is picky!  Garr suggests, “make sure you know the difference between a Serif font (Times New Roman) and a Sans-Serif font (Arial). Serif fonts were designed to be used in documents filled with lots of text. Serif fonts are said to be easier to read at small point sizes. San-serif fonts are generally best for PowerPoint presentations.”

Avoid Copyright Violation

Let’s discuss a critical point about the use of pictures and videos in your presentation:  Unless it is a photo or video that you shot or have express permission to use, you could be committing copyright violation.  I was accused of a copyright violation once when I got a picture from Google images and used it in a blog posting.  One day, I received a very nasty email informing me that I did not have the rights to use the picture and I needed to remove it from my site AND pay a $700 fine, or I would subject to legal action.  After some research, I concluded that it was legit; I paid the penalty and removed the picture. Because pictures help in increasing the audience’s retention, I purchased a subscription to Getty Images through  As to videos, you need to buy a license from the Motion Picture Licensing Company (

Calculate Your Slide Per Minute

Wait, there is math involved? Yes, and, this is a crucial calculation. One mis-calculation and you complete your presentation too early, or you run out of time and rush through the many slides remaining in your presentation.  Either way, this is not very respectful to your audience. It reveals your unpreparedness and lack of professionalism.

For example, you are giving a 60-minute presentation, and you have 60 slides which equate to only one minute per slide (this is easy math to do). One minute per slide is considered “the rapid fire approach” with no audience participation.  You are talking at them, not to them. If you have only ten slides for the 60-minute presentation, then you have the opportunity to create a conversation with your audience for six minutes per slide. Six minutes doesn’t seem like a long time until you are giving a presentation and the audience isn’t in the conversation mood.

The dean of the business school at Franklin University gave me the suggestion that the optimum amount of time per slide is two to three minutes.  That equates to about 20 – 30 slides in your presentation, for a 60-minute presentation.  However, there is one important and additional step needed.  Most of the slides are content driven, but some might contain a video. Determine the length of time of the video and adjust your calculation.

Don’t Lose On A Technicality

Most conferences, especially larger ones, will be supply laptop PCs loaded with PowerPoint.  If you are a MAC user, like me, and are allowed to use your laptop, make sure you have all the necessary adapters for VGA, HDMI or any new type of technology.  If you choose to export your Keynote file into PowerPoint, and you have video’s embedded with the file extension of .mov, .qt, or .avi, you will need to convert them to .wmv to play them on a laptop PC.  Early in my career, I learned this the hard way. I had to use the meeting planners laptop PC, and my videos would not work.  I discovered this only minutes before my presentation was to start and didn’t have enough time to delete the slides.  Moving forward, I decided when a conference supplies the laptop PC’s, I will be develop my slideshow using a PC and PowerPoint.


As I stated earlier, YOU are the presentation, not your slideshow, and your slideshow this there to aid in the delivery of your message.  “We have seen so many bad presentations that we get fearful every time we see another one start. In actual fact, it isn’t the tool that we dislike, it is the way that the tool is used that we dislike. Too many presenters think that just by using the PowerPoint tool, they don’t need to properly plan their presentation. Any tool is useful only if it is used properly.”  Presenters that recognize this will stop wasting their audience’s time and start enhancing their learning experience.

Practice! Are We Talking About Practice?

It was 2002, and I can still hear former NBA Allen Iverson’s classic rant to the media, “We sitting in here – I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen: We talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talking about practice.”  Allen didn’t want to practice because he felt that his past accomplishments (NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997, NBA All Star and League Most Valuable Player in 2001) gave him the privilege to just show up on game day and play.

The professionals that I follow, whether they are athletes, speakers, or leaders, do not follow the Allen Iverson methodology of practice because they do not want to be complacent and lose their precision and edge. According to, the definition of practice is “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.”

When I was Program Chair of Accounting at Franklin University, part of my job was to hire adjunct facility.  When a new faculty member with little to no previous teaching experience joined the staff, I would sit down and discuss the amount of preparation they would need to be successful in the classroom. I would describe this by saying, “we are paying you $2,500 for the course and since this is your first time teaching, that will equate to about a nickel per hour.”  The look of horror on their face was sobering.  They needed to know the material inside and out, as well as demonstrate the homework assignments and answer questions, even for an introductory course in accounting. In the classroom they needed to be perceived as the subject-matter-expert, and this was achieved not through lecture, but through conversations discussing the material. I had to convince the new faculty member that they spoke a foreign language, accounting, and their role was to develop a way to translate the accounting language to plain English.  Translating accounting into plain English takes a lot of practice.

If they were successful, then they would have the opportunity to teach the same course over and over again to gain that proficiency, which in turn reduced prep time and drove the salary per hour higher.  Practice!

People ask me a variety of questions about practicing techniques, such as, “should I picture the audience naked or should I practice in front of a mirror?” My answer is always NO.  I prefer not to have my audiences appear in my head naked or even partially dressed, that would be a big distraction and many times, not for the better.

As to practicing in front of a mirror, I always ask, “Is that how you will be presenting to your audience, in front of a mirror?”  Of course not.  You won’t be looking at yourself, you’ll be looking at your audience.  The premise is valid, to see yourself and the mannerisms you are projecting.  However, wouldn’t it be better if you practiced your presentation in front of a video camera and then watched yourself.  “YIKES!  You want me to watch myself?!  I hate watching myself on camera.” Really, you can’t watch yourself on camera, but you want everyone in your audience to watch you.  That is not congruent.

I understand the discomfort watching a recording of your presentation because I hated it, too.  I find that practicing in front of a camera and pretending that I am delivering my presentation to an audience is the second best way of becoming proficient.  Even better, record your performance while you are delivering it to a live audience.  Then watch it a couple of days later.  Either way, you will discover more areas that need improvement than you would with any other way of practicing.  The camera never lies.

Early in my career I practiced by reviewing my presentation slides while sitting at my desk, only hearing the words in my head. But that didn’t help me the full experience, and I don’t suggest that technique. Outside of a panel discussion, a vast majority of presentations are given standing up, and all require the use of “outside words,” words actually spoken outloud. My suggestion is to find a conference or training room that has a projector, plug in your slide deck and practice out loud.  This method helps you to hear the words and make a determination if there are better words to use or a different way of expressing your thoughts.

I am often asked how much practice is enough practice. Let me paint a picture: You are going deliver a 60-minute conference presentation. Just before you start, your computer freezes and you can’t use PowerPoint.  Can you give your presentation with 95% accuracy without the use of your slides?  When you can honestly say yes, then you are well rehearsed.

Here’s another scenerio: you are going to deliver a presentation to a board of directors No visual aids, no PowerPoint, just you. Can you give your talk without referring to your notes? Can you anticipate questions that will be asked, and are you able to answer them without reference to any notes?  Once again, when you can honestly say yes, then you are well rehearsed.

Another practice technique that I use is to visualize your entire presentation.  This method is similar to what sports figures do before they start their game.  They see themselves hitting the shot, fielding the ball, making the putt.  I want to visualize the entire room, stage, audience and envision me as I deliver my presentation.

I first utilized this technique back in 2013, when I gave a keynote address entitled Embrace Your Inner Superhero.  I began visualizing the presentation two weeks before the presentation date. I knew there would be about 150 attendees, the event would be held at a hotel conference room, and I had 75 minutes.  Having presented many times in similar settings, I knew how the room would be set up with round tables, a stage with a podium, and two large screens on either side of the stage.

So I would visualize my entire presentation from my introduction to me walking on to the stage to delivering my speech. It’s easy to visualize a perfect performance but that would not help me get past obstacles. In addition to visualizing the actual material, I visualized problems, lots of problems.  I saw me stumble over certain words, saw me stumble around the podium, even saw me taking a wrong step and falling off the stage. I would do this many times to begin to work out the kinks, all to ensure that I would not stumble on words or off the stage. The day of the presentation I had rehearsed all aspects of my keynote fifty or more times, and that does not include the number of hours of working with the material and vocalizing the speech.  I was ready. And there were no stumbles.

If you want to feel comfortable and be a better speaker, presenter, trainer, or facilitator you have to put the in the practice time.  By the way, no matter how busy you are, there is always time to practice, even if it is only 5 – 10 minutes.  You can always find a place to practice, whether it is in the shower, on your daily commute, or in your kitchen in front of your pets.  I admit that I do practice in front of my two Labrador retrievers a lot. I set up the video camera and present to my attentive audience using my “outside words.” Then I watch the video and critique my performance.  As Robert H. Schuller once said, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.”

Knowing Your Audience Better With Seinfeld

Demographics matter – when you understand the demographics of your audience you can better connect with them.  This is true in presenting financial information, developing new business, understanding internal and external customers, developing a professional network, and just about every kind of interaction with people.  It is inevitable that at some point you will deal with individuals who will not share your views, opinions, or approach. In those instances, you want to quickly assess a person’s communication and personality styles so you can adapt, improvise and keep the conversation moving forward.

There are a number of tests that can help us understand the personality and communication styles of others, including the popular D.I.S.C. model. This model contains four quadrants that represent parts of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. In general, the left hemisphere is where logic and language reside, and the right hemisphere is where visual and creativity live. The four quadrants of the D.I.S.C. model are Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Influence and steadiness inhabit the right hemisphere while dominance and conscientiousness inhabit the left hemisphere. The ability to understanding the endearing qualities and the “at their worst” characteristics of each quadrant will help you to better connect with your audience, no matter the situation.

What Seinfeld Quadrant Are You?  

I’ll let you in on an interesting tidbit: successful sitcoms often include a character from each quadrant. It is a proven formula because the resulting friction tends to be funny.  Next time you watch a sitcom, take note of who is in what quadrant.  Seinfeld is a perfect example of this because each of the main characters exemplifies one of the D.I.S.C. quadrants.

Jerry: Dominance

These people are the drivers among us. They are competitive, decisive, independent, determined, and results-oriented. Control and admiration are critical. They also tend to be domineering, impatient, and poor listeners. Disorganization and wasting time drive them crazy. They don’t think you should bring your feelings into work. Some people in this category might be considered poor listeners because they often make a decision independent of input, and anyone else’s words are wasting precious oxygen. In fact, sometimes they are described as bullies.  People who fit this quadrant are CEOs, CFOs, Managing Partners, Mark Cuban and General Colin Powell.  Their endearing quality is their ability to get things done and take charge.  At their worst, they are very poor listeners.

Elaine: Influence

These are the cheerleader types who want to do what they love without being confused by the facts. They are optimistic, animated, persuasive, imaginative, enthusiastic, excellent communicators who enjoy telling stories. Often described as dreamers and very creative, they love having fun, being the center of attention, and receiving applause. However, they tend to talk too much, overwhelming others with information, and they have short attention spans.  Structure frustrates them. People who fit this quadrant are salespeople, speakers, and coaches, like Coach Boone in Remember The Titans movie. Their endearing quality is that they are good communicators and visionaries. At their worst, they tend to be disorganized and miss deadlines.

Kramer – Steadiness

These are the “can’t we all just get along and work together” people who want to be sure that everyone is okay. They are friendly, reliable, and supportive, like a Labrador Retriever. Patient and very diplomatic, they want everyone to like them and obsess if someone doesn’t. They are very concerned about personal relationships and harmony in the workplace but tend to be overly sensitive, conformist, and lacking in time boundaries. Rather than tell you what they think, they will say what you want to hear— which can be a dangerous trait. They don’t like to be rushed, don’t want to be alone, and avoid conflict when possible. People who fit this quadrant are human resources professionals, therapists, and clergy, like Pope Francis and Carl Jung. Their endearing quality is they understand diplomacy and demonstrate patience. At their worst, they tend to be indecisive, easily overwhelmed, and miss deadlines.

George – Conscientiousness

These are the thinkers. Efficient, thorough, accurate, and careful, they want to get it right every time. They are disciplined and love solving problems and researching issues. This group tends to be very critical and picky. They don’t like disorganization or surprises. People who fit this quadrant are accountants, engineers, actuaries, and the character Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory sitcom. Their endearing quality is that they love detail and research. At their worst, they are rigid, argumentative, and stubborn.

Understanding Your Sitcom Cast

Now that you understand the quadrants, you can begin to think about how to work and respond to any cast of characters attending your presentation. Friction will naturally arise because these are people with different outlooks. Still, you must tailor your presentation to meet a particular group communication style or to an audience that contains all types, like a company quarterly briefing or a board meeting. So, how do we connect and adapt to groups that are not like us?

  • To connect with those who are in the dominant quadrant, be direct, be specific, and offer multiple solutions. Remember, they are the decider. If you give them only one option, it’s more than likely going to fail, or it can become their idea instead of yours.
  • To connect with those who are in the influence quadrant, be enthusiastic and positive, and avoid details. Put things in a way that they can understand. Tell them a story versus spewing data at them. I have often heard accountants complain that the salespeople never get their expense reports in on time. My solution would be to point out to those salespeople that they file early for their tax refund so that the government doesn’t get to use their money any longer than necessary, so they should submit their expense report to the company for a similar reason.
  • To connect with those who are in the steadiness quadrant, engage in small talk, ask a lot of questions, and be informal, as if speaking with a friend. Just don’t let them suck away your time and extend your workday. You need to be respectful but firm about managing the conversation. Let them know you appreciate chatting, but it’s time to get down to business.
  • And for those who are in the conscientiousness quadrant, we need to communicate to people in the other three that we would like to focus on just the facts, please, so that we can get organized.

Having positive experiences with people from all backgrounds and perspectives starts with respect.  Respect comes from having a better understanding of who people are and what type of personality and communication style they possess.  Just like in improv, communication goes two ways, so the better we understand others—including their pet peeves and their hot buttons, their likes and dislikes—the better we will get along and can feed off of one another.  It always comes back to listening carefully to what people need and want, adapting readily to the situation, and taking your agenda off the table.