First up was Tomer Gewirtzman, 18, from Haifa, Israel, currently studying at the Buchman-Mehta Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. He\'s tall and skinny, and, just by walking onstage, shyly charismatic, gave a sense of the way he plays: with power, but also a dreamy side, holding something in reserve.
He played Rachmaninoff\'s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, a torrential finger-buster. He is a huge talent: long fingers plying liquid interludes, with a chiming cadenza driving down to leather-punched bass notes, then shimmery trills in the treble. Yet, he seemed a couple of years away from storming the world; his emotional and technical palette needs more shades of color.
For me, the goose-bumps began when Chaoyin Cai, 24, from China and now studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music, peeled the opening chords to Rachmaninoff\'s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor: power and beauty! This was conversational playing, at home with the music, and extraordinarily accomplished: many colors and shades, with every phrase beautifully shaped.
She played satin textures or shifted from a whisper to a shout, singing Rachmaninoff\'s big songs. It was electric: She controlled the performance\'s temperature, partnering with the orchestra, which sounded lush and inspired - and, at times, carried away, too loud, drowning out some of Cai\'s passages. Still, I couldn\'t imagine the night getting much better.
For me, as it turns out, it had reached its pinnacle. Not that the final performer, 22-year-old Christopher Falzone, a Philadelphian studying at the Curtis Institute of Music, is some kind of slouch.
He was technically brilliant, mowing down Tchaikovsky\'s billion-noted Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor: those crashing, opening chords, bounding up across six-plus octaves; those flying double-octaves in the cadenza. He nailed all of it, but nailing it seemed the objective: The performance felt too screwed-down.
As he moved toward the finish, I thought, \"This is a no-brainer. Cai takes the gold, followed by Gewirtzman, then Falzone.\"
Then Falzone brought Tchaikovsky to a thundering finish and the audience burst into the night\'s biggest ovation.
Clearly, I was in the minority - and, half an hour later, on a ledge.
Out marched the judges, led by jury president Antonio Pompa-Baldi of the Cleveland Institute, who explained that their decisions were based on the night\'s performances as well as two earlier rounds of solo performances. It had been unanimous, he said,
Jerry Seinfeld has a skit where he points out that studies show public speaking is a bigger fear than death. That means, he claims, that if you are going to a funeral you are better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. While there isn’t a lot you can do to melt away your anxiety, a the best start is simply to make a better presentation.
Becoming a competent, rather than just confident, speaker requires a lot of practice. But here are a few things you can consider to start sharpening your presentation skills:
10-20-30 Rule - This is a slideshow rule offered by Guy Kawasaki. This rule states that a powerpoint slide should have no more than 10 slides, last no longer than 20 minutes and have no text less than 30 point font. He says it doesn’t matter whether your idea will revolutionize the world, you need to spell out the important nuggets in a few minutes minutes, a couple slides and a several words a slide.
Be Entertaining - Speeches should be entertaining and informative. I’m not saying you should act like a dancing monkey when giving a serious presentation. But unlike an e-mail or article, people expect some appeal to there emotions. Simply reciting dry facts without any passion or humor will make people less likely to pay attention.
Slow Down - Nervous and inexperienced speakers tend to talk way to fast. Consciously slow your speech down and add pauses for emphasis.
Eye Contact - Match eye contact with everyone in the room. I’ve also heard from salespeople that you shouldn’t focus all your attention on the decision maker since secretaries and assistants in the room may hold persuasive sway over their boss.
15 Word Summary - Can you summarize your idea in fifteen words? If not, rewrite it and try again. Speaking is an inefficient medium for communicating information, so know what the important fifteen words are so they can be repeated.
20-20 Rule - Another suggestion for slideshows. This one says that you should have twenty slides each lasting exactly twenty seconds. The 20-20 Rule forces you to be concise and to keep from boring people.
Don’t Read - This one is a no brainer, but somehow Powerpoint makes people think they can get away with it. If you don’t know your speech without cues, that doesn’t just make you more distracting. It shows you don’t really understand your message, a huge blow to any confidence the audience has in you.
Speeches are About Stories - If your presentation is going to be a longer one, explain your points through short stories, quips and anecdotes. Great speakers know how to use a story to create an emotional connection between ideas for the audience.
Project Your Voice - Nothing is worse than a speaker you can’t hear. Even in the high-tech world of microphones and amplifiers, you need to be heard. Projecting your voice doesn’t mean yelling, rather standing up straight and letting your voice resonate on the air in your lungs rather than in the throat to produce a clearer sound.
Don’t Plan Gestures - Any gestures you use need to be an extension of your message and any emotions that message conveys. Planned gestures look false because they don’t match your other involuntary body cues. You are better off keeping your hands to your side.
“That’s a Good Question” - You can use statements like, “that’s a really good question,” or “I’m glad you asked me that,” to buy yourself a few moments to organize your response. Will the other people in the audience know you are using these filler sentences to reorder your thoughts? Probably not. And even if they do, it still makes the presentation more smooth than um’s and ah’s littering your answer.
Breathe In Not Out - Feeling the urge to use presentation killers like ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ or ‘you know’? Replace those with a pause taking a short breath in. The pause may seem a bit awkward, but the audience will barely notice it.
Come Early, Really Early - Don’t fumble with powerpoint or hooking up a projector when people are waiting for you to speak. Come early, scope out the room, run through your slideshow and make sure there won’t be any glitches. Preparation can do a lot to remove your speaking anxiety.
Get Practice - Join Toastmasters and practice your speaking skills regularly in front of an audience. Not only is it a fun time, but it will make you more competent and confident when you need to approach the podium.
Don’t Apologize - Apologies are only useful if you’ve done something wrong. Don’t use them to excuse incompetence or humble yourself in front of an audience. Don’t apologize for your nervousness or a lack of preparation time. Most audience members can’t detect your anxiety, so don’t draw attention to it.
Do Apologize if You’re Wrong - One caveat to the above rule is that you should apologize if you are late or shown to be incorrect. You want to seem confident, but don’t be a jerk about it.
Put Yourself in the Audience - When writing a speech, see it from the audiences perspective. What might they not understand? What might seem boring? Use WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) to guide you.
Have Fun - Sounds impossible? With a little practice you can inject your passion for a subject into your presentations. Enthusiasm is contagious.