Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hostile Audience?

(sort of a follow-up to my past posting...)

If we do our job right, then there should be no such thing. Conducting an audience needs analysis prior to your presentation is critical. This helps to uncover hot buttons, taboo topics, burning fires, etc. BEFORE your presentation.

If, on rare occasion, you are chosen to deliver bad news in a crowd (poor form, bad news should be delivered in small groups or individually), then be authentic! That's the key. It is okay to say that you are not pleased with the situation either. Most adults know that life is not fair.

On the other hand, if you encounter the "sniper" or the person who is just out to be a jerk, then try one of these responses:

1. "We do not have the right people in the room to have that discussion today." (Being honest, of course.)
2. "That's an interesting idea, one that I need to give some thought to, and I'll get back to you." (And then move on.)
3. "That is out of scope for this discussion. Allow me to place that on our parking lot (list) for another time."

The idea is take a moment to acknowledge the person's discontent and then move on with the agenda. Never, ever, argue with anyone in your audience, unless the person is viciously harassing you or someone else. Your audience will admire your composure under fire.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I'm Right, You're Wrong

I recently witnessed a workshop presenter who insisted that she was right about everything because she was the “expert.” If someone objected to her perspective, or presented a variation, she insisted on arguing to make herself appear right and the other person look wrong. Oh how I cringed. Talk about a control freak. Shutting down opposing opinions is a sure-fire way of shutting down audience participation. 

Never make your audience wrong (unless, of course, someone is being terribly offensive to you or others). Even if someone’s idea seems a bit bizarre, acknowledge them by saying something like, “That’s an interesting perspective, one I have not considered.” (Be authentic!) And then move on. 

There are always other perspectives. Thank others for their distinctive points of view. No matter how many times I facilitate a particular workshop or deliver a familiar presentation, I continually learn varying perspectives from members of the audience.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Attention Span Is...Wait, Be Right Back

"Attention Span?" How about calling it "Attention Limit?" 

The latest research tells us that our amount of attention is limited, just like our amount of cash (unless your Buffet or Gates). We cannot expand our attention like we can our just is not possible. So, we may have to rethink this whole "multi-tasking" thing.

Let's face it, if you are driving a car in traffic, then it requires your undivided attention. Don't fool yourself by thinking you can do a good job of driving and talking on your phone at the same time, unless you are on a deserted highway. You really can't contribute your best during a meeting if you are tapping away on your PDA. It just is not possible.

So, why do we do it? Why do we dilute our attention on multiple important tasks simultaneously? One explanation could be that as a species, we are naturally attracted to distractions. The invention of the book helped us to focus our attention on one area for an extended period of time. Now, technology is taking us back to a more primitive state. Is this a good thing?

Oh wait, just got a back in a sec.

Okay, I'm back...what was I saying? Oh yeah, it is important to manage our attention just like any other valuable resource. If we pay attention (notice the word "pay"), then we should get something of value in return. If we ask for attention, then we should give something of value in return. 

As presenters, remember to manage the valuable attention in the room. Here are some frequent goofs that presenters make when it comes to attention management:

1. Talk while asking the audience to fill out a form.
2. Open blinds to hallways and allow others to peer in.
3. Leave irrelevant information on white boards or flip charts.
4. Distribute information that we are not going to cover until a later time.
5. Load up PowerPoint slides with text because we are too lazy to rehearse.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

My phone is ringing, gotta go!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Grooming and Appearance

It may not be the right thing to do, but people do judge a book by its cover.

There are many expert consultants dedicated entirely to helping others improve their appearance. Below is a collection of the most common items that come up for discussion during my workshops.
  • Do not wear excessive jewelry, loud prints, or colorful shoes that create competition for attention 
  • Avoid strong perfumes/colognes 
  • Remove change from pockets so you do not jingle it unintentionally 
  • Make sure your belt is through all the loops in your pants 
  • Check your teeth & face after meals 
  • No gum, mints, or anything else in your month while speaking – they can fly out and cause an awkward moment 
  • Check all your buttons 
  • Position all coat flaps correctly 
  • Straighten your scarf or tie
  • When in doubt, dress conservatively
  • When speaking to a larger group, be sure to wear something that has a lapel or place to clip a remote microphone 
  • Check your zipper(s) 
While you do not want to appear stuffy and unapproachable, you also want your message taken seriously. Unless you are absolutely sure that casual dress is the way to go, dress it up a notch. Your audience will sense your comfort level, so it is important to feel good in what you are wearing. Just don’t over do it to the point that your attire competes for the attention.

What can you add to the list above?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Words to Avoid

“Well basically, fourscore and seven, uh, years ago, you know, I think, our forefathers, uh…”

Junk words are those extraneous words (and sounds) that add no value to your message. When used frequently, they diminish your power and credibility. Be direct with your statements. Having to search for the message under the junk words is like digging for hidden treasure – we know it is there somewhere, but we might lose patience and give up.

Here are some common examples:

  • “Uh” – Using good eye contact is the best cure for eliminating this word (or sound) from your vocabulary. Watch others as they speak. The “uh” occurs when the person is looking at the floor or up towards the ceiling – somewhere other than another person’s eyes. It is okay to look elsewhere to gather your thoughts – just don’t speak while doing so. 
  • “You know” – Actually, I do not and I’m hoping you will tell me. 
  • “Basically” - “Basically, we are going to attend the meeting.” Either you are, or you are not. The word “basically” adds no value in most cases. 
  • “Obviously” – This word can sound condescending. It may not be obvious to some in your audience. If it is obvious to everyone, then why bother to say it? 
  • “Whatever” - “You can get from here to the airport on a bus or whatever...” What? A train, a pony, a pig? What is this word telling us? 
  • “Like” – If your intention is to sound like a teenager, then continue to disperse this word throughout your presentation. However, if your goal is to come across as an expert and trusted business advisor, then use this word only when describing how something is similar to something else. 
  • “Unbelievable” – Think about the meaning of this word. If you are trying to persuade someone, then this may not be your best choice.
  • “I want” – Many presenters tend to say something like this, “Today I want to show you…” or “During the next couple of minutes, I want to tell you about…” These phrases imply that it is about what you want (as the presenter) rather than what your audience wants. As the old saying goes, your audience does not care about you until you demonstrate that you care about them. Try removing “I” statements, especially during the first few minutes of your presentation. It’s simple to do. Try these, “Today you will discover…” or “During the next couple of minutes, you will learn about…” 

Most presenters are not aware that they are using junk words habitually. If you are uncomfortable coaching them, then leave them a short, gentle, anonymous note. I once did this with a former boss who frequently used the word “irregardlessly.” After he left for the day, I left an anonymous note on his desk informing him that there is no such word. It did the trick. I hope he doesn’t read my blog.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

WoW Em Right Away

First impressions are important. During the first seconds of your presentation, your audience is deciding whether to tune you in or take a mental trip to Santa Fe. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression!

First impressions are not drawn from content or subject matter expertise. First impressions are formed when the presenter has the highest level of adrenaline – the first several seconds of the presentation!

Get plenty of sleep the night before your presentation. Eat healthy, and avoid a heavy breakfast and lunch on the day of your presentation. If you happen to forget your opening statement, have a relevant question handy, even if it is rhetorical. This places the focus on the audience and allows you to catch your breath and collect your thoughts.

What impacts first impressions?
  • Eye contact builds trust and interest.
  • Facial expressions convey enthusiasm and seriousness.
  • Movement and posture convey confidence.
  • Touch and handshaking give a feeling of openness.
  • Appearance and clothing show professionalism.
  • Personal space impacts audience comfort.
  • Voice quality conveys confidence.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Resources For Free Graphics

By now we all know that we should be using less text on PowerPoint slides and more graphics. I recently came across this great resource from Slidequest for free graphics. Check it out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

10 PowerPoint Tips

1. Replace text with graphics whenever possible.

2. About one slide for every three minutes of presentation, unless you are using hyper-links.

3. Limit 6 points per slide, 3 words per point…if you insist on using a teleprompter.

4. Limit 2 fonts per slide...avoid the “ransom note” look.

5. Limit 2 levels of bullets…if you still insist on using bullets.

6. Limit animations and transitions…unless they support your message.

7. Black out the screen when the slide is no longer relevant. (Press the “B” key when in presentation mode, or use a black slide, or remote mouse.)

8. Know your goal of your presentation and build slides around it. (What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do differently?)

9. Have a backup plan. (Memory stick, disk, flip chart, white-board.)

10. Start and end on time…and keep them close together.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

10 Webcast Tips

  1. Practice — practice — practice! (Know your content!)
  2. Remain flexible by using hyperlinks to meet the needs of your audience.
  3. Set participation expectations at the start by letting participants know that you will stop every 4 – 8 minutes to ask for their input. Plan interactivity every 4 – 8 minutes by displaying a graphic (such as a light bulb) to let them know it is time for their thoughts, comments, and questions.
  4. Skip the long cordial introductions and get to your content quickly. Explain the benefits they will receive from the presentation first, then you can introduce yourself and provide a little background.
  5. Do not read to your audience. This is one of the most disrespectful things you can do to your audience. We read to children, not to adults. Moreover, it sends a clear message to your audience that you are not prepared. 
  6. Summarize frequently to check that your message is received as intended. 
  7. Include plenty of “spice” such as polls, relevant examples, stories, metaphors, analogies, and Jeopardy® type games.
  8. Test the technology before the event, every time! Systems are constantly changing and being updated.
  9. Have a backup plan, especially for a software demonstration. If the software fails for some reason, use a series of screenshots from the software and combine with hyperlinks to simulate navigation. 
  10. Have an “icebreaker” question on the screen during session logins, and/or use an etiquette slide at the beginning as attendees are joining the webcast.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Value of Feedback

The Scottish poet Robert Burns asked the Almighty for the power to “See ourselves as others see us.” He did not get that wish, and neither will we. Nonetheless, we still wish we had that power to stand back and watch ourselves as we go through life. We would love to see our performances as others do.

Critique becomes easier with video and audio recording technology. Whenever possible, record your presentation for your private review. We are our own best critics and often pick out our distracting habits. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be sure to acknowledge your good habits too.

Become comfortable asking your trusted advisors and friends to provide honest critiques of habits that distract attention away from your message. This is valuable throughout your career. No matter how good you are, over time, bad habits can sneak in. You can become too fond of your own voice and forget how to stop talking after you have made your point. (I'm guilty!)

Don’t let criticism scare you. 
Ask people who demonstrate good judgment to observe your rehearsal. Continuous feedback and coaching are required to grow in any endeavored. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Get To The Point!

Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so much information. Practically everyone is using cell phones, email, and digital assistants to transmit data and ideas as fast as they can, meanwhile causing information overload. Therefore, the presenter with the message that is concise and easy to understand will win the fierce battle for attention.

Choose the shorter, more familiar word instead of the complicated one. Get to the point quickly. We form impressions in a matter of seconds. If that impression is blurry, confusing, or complicated, we may leave you – never to return.

Use visuals that illustrate what you are saying. A picture is worth a thousand words – make sure they are the right thousand words that support your message.

John F. Kennedy's speechwriter may have been thinking, “It is no longer appropriate for a citizen to ascertain the level of benefit which she or he might wish to accumulate from his geographic governmental unit…”when he had the President say, “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

In a world characterized by an information “glut,” it is the simple, timely, pertinent message that gets through and is remembered.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

PowerPoint: It's Going To Get Worse

In a recent workshop, one of my participants shared a story about his 7th grade daughter. She has to prepare and present a book report, and her teacher is requiring a minimum of 20 PowerPoint slides. What is the message being sent here?

More disturbing news. Young people entering the workforce have just been exposed to college professors who read from PowerPoint slides. Then they are bombarded during company on-boarding with PowerPoint slides. They witness their senior leaders abusing PowerPoint. What is the message being sent to them?

I'm afraid it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Now for the good news! It does not take much to stand above this valley of underwhelming presenters. When you know your topic, prepare well, and can make eye contact with people instead of a screen, then you become a powerful and persuasive communicator!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Close The Loop

At the conclusion of your presentation, your audience wants you to wrap up the loose ends and bring everything into perspective. I call this “closing the loop.”

Most mediocre presenters close their presentations by saying something like this, “Well, that’s it. Are there any questions?” There may be a question or two, then, realizing they are out of time (or have exceeded their time), presenters say, “It looks like we are out of time. Thanks for coming.”

The outstanding presenter chooses a different closing. Rather than closing on the thoughts of an audience member, the exceptional presenter stops for questions several minutes before the conclusion of her presentation. After responding to questions and inviting the thoughts of others, she delivers her strong closing (the message she wants her audience to repeat long after her presentation), and ends with a simple and powerful, “thank you.” Closing the loop can be as easy as rephrasing your opening statement. Here is how it works:

Opening (The very first words spoken):
“Organizations around the world suffer from a shortage of good presenters. If you can do well what so many others do marginally, then you will be more successful. Good morning, I’m Mark Tamer and welcome to Presentations from A to Z.”

Closing (The very last words spoken AFTER the optional Q&A session):
“Remember, most organizations around the world suffer from a shortage of good presenters. As you leave here today, you are fully prepared to elevate yourself above the valley of mediocre presenters, and deliver exciting, effective presentations that promote your success! Thank you.”

Notice that you end with the two words “thank you.” These are the perfect words to let your audience know that the presentation has ended. Avoid diluting these two words by attaching superfluous words such as, “Thank you for being here today, this has been great and I truly appreciate it. I’ll be in the hallway if anyone wishes to…blah, blah, blah.”These extra words dilute your crisp closing and create the Alfred Hitchcock mystery effect. You have seen it, the awkward time when you are left wondering if it is over, is there more, or is it time to applaud?

If you feel compelled to convey extraordinary appreciation or to provide public service announcements, do so before your closing statement and the final “thank you.” Then smile as you receive a standing ovation!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

3-Step Storytelling

When it comes to getting the point across, nothing beats a relevant story. Learn to be a good storyteller. Stories are what people relate to and remember. All good stories, from the beginning of time, contain the following three phases. (Think of your favorite book or movie and see how the phases apply!)
1. Start the Journey. Tell your audience about some of the details such as the when the event occurred and the first names of the people involved. Describe the location, name the city, describe the climate, etc.

2. Face the Challenge. What occurred that was unexpected or deviated from the norm? What were
the challenges and how did you proceed? What were the obstacles to overcome? To draw people in and maintain attention, spend most of your time in this part of the story detailing the struggle(s).

3. Find the Victory. What did you learn from your difficulty or success? Regardless of the outcome, let your audience know that you “landed on your feet.” Each member of your audience will find a part of himself/herself in your story. Remind your audience that success is not determined in the challenge. Success is created when we learn something that changes our lives forever, and when we “return to the village and live to fight another day."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Visual Clutter

Are you confusing your audience by using animation and slide transitions during your presentations? Chances are yes! Our brains are wired to synchronize what we see with what we hear. So if something is flying across the presentation screen, then it should support your verbal message. If it does not, then you are creating cognitive dissonance (confusion of the brain) and your audience will tune out.

Have you ever witnessed someone smiling while delivering negative news? (Former President G.W. Bush had a problem with this.) It can be pretty uncomfortable to watch. That's because what you are seeing does not match what you are hearing, and the left and right hemispheres of the brain become confused.

Workshop participants often tell me, "I use animation to wake them up!" If your audience is bored, then no amount of flashing text or graphics is going to achieve your presentation goal (unless you are selling the flashy features of PowerPoint). What your audience sees and hears should be in synch during your entire presentation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prepare Before You Wear Spandex In Public

In my battle to lose some weight, I started biking to the gym. It's a few miles each way and seems to be helping. I follow a bike path the entire distance and encounter many other bikers. I'm amazed at how many of them wear spandex pants. There is a size for everyone. I'll bet the wearers think they look okay, and they probably even have a friend or two who tells them so. I think wearing spandex in public should be reserved for the actual "cyclists" who have spent some time preparing by getting in shape.

Same goes for the presenter. (Oh yes, there is a connection here...stay with me.) Frequently, I encounter folks who say that they don't rehearse before they speak in public. They think they do okay, and they also have a friend or two who tells them so. Yet, these people would do so much better with some preparation. That's what separates the actual "presenter" from the amateur who talks in public.

So, if you want to be a good presenter, prepare before you put on the spandex in public.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Start By Setting Your Goal

Having a hard time creating your presentation? Always, always, always start by setting your goal for the presentation. What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do differently after your presentation? Spend a little time on this. Once you get this down,the rest falls into place. Be specific. Simply wanting your audience to "know it" will not do. If they know it, then what? Be precise.

This may be common sense, but not common practice. Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

JFK and PowerPoint?

Who do you consider to be the best presenters of all time? When I ask this question in my presentation workshops, common responses include: Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Barbara Jordan, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, Douglas MacArthur, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Tony Robbins, Carly Fiorina (add your favorite here).

Now, for the big question: Do you recall any of their PowerPoint slides?

I rest my case...however, I do appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Social Media Phenom

I attended a powerful seminar last week called the "Power of Social Media for Small Business" (thanks Cbeyond/Cisco!). Now I am a true believer! I'll do my best to continue offering interesting and valuable information related to presentation skills and public speaking.