Knock Their Socks Off

Your alarm goes off. It’s 7:00 am. You didn’t sleep a wink.

Today is the Big Day – the day you have to make that presentation on which everything depends.

You’ve prepared and practiced, but naturally you’re nervous.

You’re praying you’ll fly but afraid you’ll fall flat on your face.

You wonder how some people can walk into a room or onto the stage, establish presence, capture attention, delight, inspire, and impress, and win over their audience seemingly without effort, while others lose them as soon as they begin.

How is it, you ask, that some speakers consistently knock your socks off, while others convey the same message in a way that makes you want to pick your toes?

I find many answers in books, especially ones that have nothing to do with the question. For the secrets of successful presentations, I open The Cookie Jar Cookbook, a 9 x 9 square with a retro pink dust jacket that features the priceless cookie jars of a Dakota-dwelling New York society doyenne paired with her practiced, perfectionist recipes for everything from classic chocolate chip cookies and Linzer hearts to rich “Rockefeller Cookies” bulging from a moneybag jar and “Bittersweet Flying Saucers” ready for take-off from a rocket shaped container. On page 146, there is a recipe for “Knock-Your-Socks-Off Cookies” – dark chocolate rounds laced with black and cayenne pepper to create a sweet, spicy, and unforgettable treat.

I’ve made these cookies dozens of times, and I’ve identified four elements that make them remarkable: surprise, intensity, satisfaction, and lasting impact. It’s no surprise that these are the same elements of sensational presentations that knock people’s socks off.

  • Surprise
    You’re expecting ordinary chocolate cookies, but when you take your first bite, the spice hits you like a life-changing epiphany.
  • Intensity
    The sharp pepper stands out against the dense mass of the sweet chocolate background, taking your taste buds by storm and making them come alive, the way the sun suddenly breaks through a stretch of dark clouds.
  • Satisfaction
    The simple thrill of an unexpected pleasure.
  • Lasting impact
    The alchemy of spice and sweetness renders a unique blend, a third and wholly different flavor that lingers on your tongue and tingles on your lips long after the last crumbs are gone.

If you follow the recipe, baking the cookies is easy. But how can you create surprise, intensity, satisfaction, and lasting impact in your presentations? Putting pepper in their cookies, or Tabasco sauce in their water bottles, isn’t likely to win them over.

Here are some strategies and tactics I’ve cooked up for knocking their socks off every time you get in front of people.

1. Be the Naked Chef – Start by taking off your own socks – and everything else. This means sharing yourself, your beauty and your ugliness, your successes and your failures, your fulfilled hopes and dashed dreams, your truth, all with your unique voice and sense of style. Yes, you make yourself vulnerable when you do this, but you will never be boring.

2. Find Your Inner Spice – In the cookies, it’s a mix of black and cayenne pepper. For you, this is your God-given gift. It might be humor, wordplay, metaphor, mimicry, physical gestures, timing, perspective, or grounding in familiar literature or scripture. Whatever it is, use it liberally.

3. Turn up the Heat – Raise the stakes from the first moment and set high expectations for what you intend to achieve. This will force you to say and do things that fire up your audience, generate excitement, and motivate them to act.

4. Stir with Love – Let your audience know how much you love them and how much you love sharing, and use the power of love to create an atmosphere of intimacy and connection in which transformation can take place.

5. Pour in the Passion – Bring what you love and feel passionately about to the podium. It’s the only thing you can serve up with the convincingness of conviction.

6. Double the Recipe – Your goal is not to feed your audience but to stuff their faces, to share your abundance so they can indulge. The more you give, the more they’ll take, and the more they take, the more likely they are to take up your call.

7. Believe in Magic – Baking is a form of magic that changes the shape, texture, and taste of a little ball of moist, sticky, salty dough into a crunchy, sweet, delicious cookie. Speaking is a form of magic that can that can turn a locked door into a window of opportunity, shatter illusions, and heal brokenness.

8. Dream Big – (Special thanks to Mitch Matthews for this one) Big dreams don’t start small, they start big. In his poem Failing and Flying, Jack Gilbert writes:  “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. . . I believe that Icarus was not failing as he fell/but just coming to the end of his triumph.”

9. Be Spirited – Spirited children are energetic and enthusiastic, and you must be both. But you also must be a spirited adult, and allow your belief, your faith, and your connection to a power higher than yourself to inspire your words and inform your message.

10. Don’t  Just Rock the Cradle; Rock Their World – Gentle persuasion has its place, but people don’t take big steps and make big changes when they’re nudged. They do it when they’re pushed.
Your alarm goes off. It’s 7:00 am. You awake refreshed after a full night’s sleep.

Today is the Big Day – the day you have to make that presentation on which everything depends.

You’ve prepared and practiced, and you’re confident that you will shine.

You’re still praying you’ll fly, but you’re no longer afraid you’ll fall flat on your face.

You know you’re going to kick it.

You know you’re going to knock their socks off.

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Leave A Reply (7 comments So Far)

  • Tom – Great job with this buddy! You do a fantastic job of mixing whimsical prose with hard core biz strategies! I’ll be sharing this with my tribe… for sure!  Thanks also for the shout out! I know a lot of us have the DREAM BIG battle cry because it’s so flippin’ needed right now. But I’m honored to get the mention buddy!

    • Thanks, Mitch! I knew you’d appreciate the ingredient mix of fun and serious stuff in this one. And it’s my pleasure to mention one of my sources of inspiration.

  • Oooh how I LOVE your writing! One thing really struck me as I was reading this – I once ordered some super spicy mocha at the cafe- thinking I love spice and I love mocha so surely it will be lovely. But what dismay! From my first sip I hated it!  I was in shock that my drink was ruined by so much pepper. 
    Sometimes I think that as we bring our most authentic, spicy self into the marketplace, a sign that we are making a difference will be the occasional one who looks, or listens and says, “Yuck!”  (Of course in my little village that’s what everyone said at their first swig of Starbucks coffee too.) ha!  We will focus on those who loved getting their socks knocked off, and I will see myself as the one who slept all night long before doing so.

    • Wow! Thanks, Gina! And thanks for adding that when we share our full, unique flavor, the people who don’t like the taste are actually letting us know that we’re making a difference and being effective. And to switch metaphors, the ones who never take their socks off will never experience the delicious feeling of sand under their feet or the lapping of the ocean’s waves over their toes.

  • Love this recipe for effective speaking, Tom.

    Vulnerable? Yes
    Boring? No
    …and Impactful? Most definitely.

  • Awesome Post Tom! and now I’m hungry!!  (for cookies AND a successful presentation)

  • Marc Lockhart

    Wow – you’ve got me energized to both make a speech and eat a cookie!