Speaking under pressure? Break a leg—and a rule.

The new host of “Meet the Press,” the oldest U.S. television show, has an unusual habit on-air. We’ll get to that shortly.

When the last host was replaced, I wasn’t surprised. He seemed depressed, as if the weight of the world had finally ground him down, and he’d lost any shred of hope.

“The news this week,” his expression seemed to say, “is just dismal.”

The new host looks upbeat and energetic. But during the show, he delivers a brief commentary, standing up (that part is good—if you can stand, do it), while holding a rolled up paper.

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Why the paper?

I figured he’d eventually unroll it, and reveal something important, or unexpected. “42,” he might say (that’s the meaning of life, according to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”).

But no, the paper always stays rolled up.

“Lose the paper,” others must have advised. “It serves no purpose, it’s distracting.”

“But the paper makes me happy,” the host might say.

And it’s true, when you’re under pressure, holding onto something—a piece of paper, a large pointer, a small puppy—offers comfort.

But that’s speaker-focused, not audience-focused.

Why not vary the prop for intrigue? One week, you hold the paper; next week, a flashlight; then, a random shoe from one of your colleagues.

You could argue the paper reveals a lack of confidence. Maybe. But maybe someone suggested it to eliminate a worse habit. Or maybe this host is so confident that he simply doesn’t care.

The truth is, over time, I’ve grown accustomed to this rolled up paper—I almost like it, but only for this host, and only because it’s his signature.

That’s the thing about a small, human imperfection: it’s authentic.

Tip: You’ll always feel a tug, when presenting, between following the 101 rules of good form versus expressing your unique presence.

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Find your balance.

© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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