5 things Neil Diamond teaches us about giving presentations

Whether you’re a ‘Brother Love’ type of guy or a ‘Sweet Caroline’ kind of woman, here are lessons from the prolific singer/songwriter behind these tunes and others.

I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1970s.

Neil Diamond was the Jewish Elvis, the kid from the neighborhood who made it big, so I was indoctrinated early. The first cassette tape my parents ever owned was Neil Diamond’s You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. My mother used to pick me up from grade school—in our brown Oldsmobile station wagon—while blasting “Forever In Blue Jeans.”

So, you see, my affinity for the man isn’t my fault. I was genetically (and geographically) programmed to like him.

Here are five things Neil Diamond—my musical guilty pleasure—teaches you about live presentations:

1. Don’t be afraid to stand out.

If you’ve ever seen Neil Diamond in concert, you know he loves his sequined shirts. He started wearing them early in his career so everyone in the audience could see him—and it became a key part of his shtick. No, you probably shouldn’t wear a sparkly vest during your next speech. But it’s a good reminder that occasionally dispensing with convention can work to your advantage.

2. Know who you are.

Neil Diamond is about as schmaltzy as they come. But somehow, he has become an icon of “cool.” Over the past few years, he’s appeared in teen movies and inspired cover bands—and this year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His “coolness” doesn’t come from being trendy and hip, but from knowing exactly who he is and embracing it. Great presenters convey a sense of being comfortable in their own skin, regardless of whether the rest of the world has caught up to them.

3. Involve your audience.

Diamond’s signature song “Sweet Caroline” is the perfect example of audience involvement. Through the years, his audiences have supplemented his chorus by singing “bum, bum, bum” and, “so good, so good, so good!” He knows that great speakers treat their audiences not as passive potted plants, but as active participants.

4. Tell detailed stories

Compelling communicators know they have to be concrete, not abstract. That often means telling stories that resonate deeply and evoke a specific response. Sure, Neil Diamond’s music can be cheesy, but he’s also one hell of a storyteller. For example, his song “Brooklyn Roads” contains this verse that everyone who ever under-achieved can relate to:

“Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, ‘He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it’
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else”

5. Be real.
In recent years, Neil Diamond has been working with super-producer Rick Rubin, who’s produced a wide variety of acts, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Run-D.M.C. and Johnny Cash.

Rubin instructed Diamond to lose the sappy tunes and be more “real.” He forced him to play guitar on his own record for the first time in decades. One result of their collaboration is “Hell Yeah,” a beautiful song that tackles Diamond’s advancing age.

Who’s your musical guilty pleasure? Leave yours in the comment section below—and leave a link to one of their YouTube videos if you’d like.

Brad Phillips has another guilty pleasure: 1980s music. Visit the
Mr. Media Training Blog to see 12 Things Cheesy 1980s Music Can Teach Public Speakers. Brad’s full-time job is being the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training.

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