Monday, May 2, 2016

Want the audience to listen? Make 'em care.

Let's face it; sometimes we've been in our business too long. We're so well-versed, so immersed, so totally completely "in it" we can't remotely remember what it was like pre-obsession/thought leader/expert. While it's great to be super knowledgeable and enthusiastic about our message, it's not so great to dive right in and begin speaking about it without first ensuring it has meaning - real, significant meaning - for our audience. 

If we're being honest with ourselves, we often assume, especially when we're asked to pitch or present our product or service, that our audience already knows the importance of it. We think it is our job to simply describe what makes us different, better, of more value than our competitor. We jump right into "all about us, our product, our service, our mission" before making sure it matters to them. No wonder we're getting blank stares, yawns, discreet (and not so discreet) phone surfing. Your audience is thinking, "Who cares?"

At bespeak, we begin our presentations by drawing a "picture" for the audience, metaphorically speaking. A picture of their world, their goals and/or problems. Possibly a picture of their industry, their competitors, the economic environment  they're facing. Rather than beginning with the "All about us and how great our stuff is" show, we begin with their world, what they're worried about or aspiring to. This gets their attention. Why? Because it's about them. And that's what they (and all of us, really) care most about. Ourselves.

Occasionally, we must create relevance. Our audience may not be aware of a very real threat or a very real opportunity ( solved or attained by our product or service, mission, etc). We must shine a big bright light on this threat or opportunity, explain it clearly and compellingly before we ever begin talking about our solution. We must create the interest, the relevance to them and their world.  We must make them care.

Before your next presentation, whether it be a formal pitch or an informal informational one. Ask yourself as an audience member; why would I care about this? Why does it matter to me? How will it positively affect my life/work/success? If you can't answer these questions, STOP, and determine the answers. These will form the beginning of your presentation. The all important part of making them care about your message. Do that and you'll be heard.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 tiny tips to be a better presenter TODAY

Sure, there are BIG IMPORTANT things to do to be a great presenter.  Things like turning your focus 180 degrees, organizing your presentation in threes, and PRACTICING OUT LOUD. Here are five tiny, but equally important, things you can start doing today, right now, to be a better, more effective presenter. They're "tiny" because they require virtually no effort on your part, but the results they provide will be, to quote my family's favorite elf, "ginormous."

1) Smile! At your audience! Forget your fear, forget your conviction that you're not a great presenter, that you're totally uncomfortable in front of a group of people and SMILE. C'mon, just do it. Great things will happen when you do.  First great thing: your audience will smile back - they won't be able to help themselves; we're physiologically or sociologically programmed to smile at another person when they smile at us. Second great thing: you will literally feel better when you smile - smiling makes our bodies feel good. Third great thing: when our audience smiles back at us their bodies will feel good!  It's a virtual circle of feeling good. How great is that? Plus, when you look at your audience and smile, the message you're sending is, "I'm happy (and confident) to be here." That gives them confidence in you and what you're about to say. Great way to begin, right? But wait - there's more...

2) Make eye contact.  I know, I know, some "genius" told you that if you're afraid of public speaking just look over the audience's heads. Bad bad bad advice. How can I connect with you if I don't look you in the eye?  How can I know if you agree, disagree, if you're confused, bored, angry, tired...? Remember, the audience doesn't feel like a big scary blob. They feel like what they are - individual people.  They are there to be communicated with, and a big part of that communication is eye contact. Look at 'em. And smile. See?  Nothin' to be scared of.

3) Stand still.  At least for the first two to three minutes or so.  Allow your audience to get a clear look at you.  In these first few minutes they're determining how they feel about you and thus, about what you have to tell them.  Allow them these first few minutes to make that determination.  It will make it much easier for them to give their full attention to your message.

4)  Go short.  No one ever faulted a speaker for ending their presentation five or even ten minutes early. In fact, if you're speaking at a conference and you're the speaker just before lunch or (worse) just before cocktails, tell your audience at the start of your presentation that you're going to shorten your remarks. You'll be a hero before you say another word!  One note of caution; don't go too short in these situations or you'll mess up the conference hosts' schedule. Always let your audience know that you'll be around after your presentation to answer any questions or hear any thoughts they might have. 

5) Thank 'em.  I begin and end every presentation by sincerely thanking my host and the audience. (This makes it easy to smile, by the way.)  Not only do I mean it, but I believe it's good manners. They've invited me to speak, often at their own time and expense. I am their guest, and as such I want to show gratitude. Begin and end each of your presentations with a sincere "thank you". Gratitude is always a good thing, and will endear you to your audience right from the start.

None of these five "tiny" tips are difficult, or even new or different.  They're easy to implement immediately and most important - they work. Do them and you will be connecting positively with your audience right from the beginning of your presentation and you'll be heard. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

5 PowerPoint Crimes (and how to avoid committing them)

PowerPoint doesn’t ruin presentations; Presenters do. That’s right.  PowerPoint gets an endlessly bad wrap, but let’s be honest – the software can’t create slides on its own.  Presenters do that, and unfortunately, most of us do it badly.  Here are the five biggest PowerPoint crimes. Stop committing them and you’ll be heard!

Crime #1: Filling your slides with lots and lots of text.  I know, I know, you have to put all of the information on the slide so that your audience will know it. Here’s the thing; audiences read and listen with the same side of their brains.  So when you put a slide up on the screen that forces them to read, you’re requiring that they make a choice.  They are either going to read or listen.  They cannot do both at the same time.  Thus, they’ll do one of three things: they’ll ignore you and read the screen (making you superfluous), ignore what’s on the screen and listen to you (making your slides superfluous), or read the screen as quickly as they can and then listen to you (at which point you’ll have been talking and they’ll be lost.) none of these scenarios maximize understanding for the audience.

Instead of lots and lots of text, how about a graphic that shows what you’re telling? How about a chart or graph? Maybe even an evocative photo? Something that visually reinforces what you’re talking about will not only help your audience understand it, it will increase their remembering of it. 

Crime #2: Reading the lots and lots of text you’ve put on your slides. News flash: YOUR AUDIENCE CAN READ. They don’t need you to read the slides to them. (And they can read somewhere between 7-10 times faster than you can read it to them, so…) If you have all of the information you’re going to present on your slides, do your audience a favor – email them your slide deck and let them read it themselves at their convenience.  Let’s not drag a group of people into a room to watch you read slides aloud. Don’t they have better things to do?

Crime #3: NOT being a control freak. Yes, you read that right.  When it comes to PowerPoint slides (or any visual) you want to control when and how the audience sees the information. You want to give them information to look at one bit at a time.  If you put up a slide with lots to look at, who knows where they’ll look first, or for how long? Instead, make good use of the animation tool in PowerPoint to control what they see and when.

Crime #4: Making it fancy. When it comes to PowerPoint slides, plain is better.  NOT uninteresting; your slides should be visuals that provoke thought and interest. By plain, I mean they shouldn’t be wild colors that don’t match your brand, you shouldn’t use every kind of image known to man; a photo here, a drawing there, clip art (ick) anywhere… Your slides should not bounce in, or checkboard in, or zoom in.  Fonts should be sans serif (like this one) not serif (like this one).

Crime #5: Cramming too much on one slide: I’m asked all the time, “How many slides should I have in a 20 minute presentation?” My answer is, “As many as you need to illustrate your important points.” More important than your number of slides is your number of big ideas per slide. Think ONE: one big idea per slide. Sometimes we have to make a slide look like it’s building when PowerPoint’s software won’t do it for us by creating multiple slides.  Who cares?  The audience only sees it as one slide that’s building information in a way that’s easy for them to digest.

Take a good look at your slide decks.  Are you committing any of these PowerPoint crimes? If you are, I implore you cease and desist immediately.  I promise you and your audience will have a much better experience.  And you’ll be heard.

Monday, August 10, 2015

5 Rules for a wedding toast that NAILS IT

1.)    Watch the comedy: Humor in a wedding toast (or most anywhere else) is great, but you want to be certain your comments will in fact be funny to the bride and groom and their family and friends. This means no inside jokes, no spilling of secrets, (this is not the time to tell the bride she was actually the groom’s second choice, or to tell the groom the bride is marrying him against her family’s advice…) no snarky comments and please, no bathroom humor, people are in tuxedos for heaven’s sake.

2)    Run it by one (or more) people you trust.  It may sound hilarious and /or touching to you, but to an objective ear, not so much, or even “What were you thinking???”  Best to know that before the big day. If you can, run it by someone on both the bride and the groom side. People of different ages will hear your toast differently as well, so if you can have a 28 year old, a 58 year old and an 88 year old test it out so much the better.

3)    Keep it short: People are socializing, eating and drinking.  They will stop doing those things to hear you speak.  Be kind.  Be brief.

4)    Do NOT Read: I’ve said it before, and it applies here as well, it is impossible to look sincere when you are reading the words, “I’m so happy for my dear friends…” It’s OK to have notes! Just don’t make them whole sentences.  Think phrases or even key words to keep you on track.  When my sister got married I had an index card with five words on it: Joy, Her birth, Lucy, Frank.   The theme of my toast was the Joy my sister had brought to our family.  First, when she was born, second, her cat, Lucy, and third, her husband Frank. I knew with those key words I could elaborate without getting off track. And even though it was only a three minute presentation, I knew I had to do step #5 – the best way to insure I would nail it.

5.)    PRACTICE OUT LOUD: Yep, just as you would for any other important presentation, you’ll want to practice this little speech over and over and over. That way, no matter how nervous you may feel, the words will form nicely and flow easily because your brain and your mouth have practiced.

Implement these 5 rules before your wedding toast. You’ll be giving the bride and groom and their family and friends a cherished memory. (And you’ll NAIL IT.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The MOST offensive thing Donald Trump said at Thursday night's debate.

As a public speaking coach, I absolutely positively forbid my clients (those that are not running or in office) from mentioning anything even remotely political. After all, when you make a statement or joke that comes down on one side or the other, odds are good you're offending about half the people in the room.
So I want to be clear; this post is not meant as an opinion or viewpoint on the Republican party - or any other party for that matter.  I am appalled by something Mr. Trump said in Thursday night's debate that no one seems to have picked up on.

When asked by Megan Kelly to address his jabs and name calling of women, Mr. Trump responded, "It's fun. It's kidding. We have a good time."

Calling women "fat pigs" "dogs" and "disgusting animals" is not "fun".  It's bullying, plain and simple. Mr. Trump explains it away as "kidding".

But that's what bullies do, right?  They name call, taunt and tease and then claim to be "kidding", they say it's all in "fun". These explanations of Mr. Trump's are not unfamiliar to anyone who was bullied as a kid. As we felt the sting of the insult, the bully tried to absolve him or herself of  any wrongdoing with the toss off, "Only kidding." In other words, blaming the victim for taking the name calling to heart.

 As someone who (chronologically) is an adult - Mr. Trump should have abandoned this kind of "fun" long ago. As someone running for office - ANY office, I find it abhorrent. I cannot imagine any American wanting to be represented by someone who thinks name calling - bullying - is "fun". It may be a "good time" for him. Being on the receiving end of his "fun" in not only not a "good time" for the recipient, it is not a good thing for our country.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Tell me something about yourself."

“Tell me something yourself”

Just about all of us know that this is a question we can expect to be asked in an interview or sales meeting, but how many of us have a confident, compelling answer? One we can back up with stories?
This week I had the pleasure of conducting an interviewing skills workshop with the very talented young apprentices in the Great Hartford Arts Council’s “Neighborhood Studios” summer arts program.  At the beginning of the workshop, I asked them all to jot down at least three adjectives about themselves that they would use in an interview. What they came up with blew my mind.  I share it with you here in the photo above.

Yes, that’s right, you see the word, “affable” (and the contributor knew what it meant).  A few of my favorites: put –together, resilient, determined, go-getter.  Every one of these young people had (at least) three adjectives at the ready to describe themselves. And not just any adjectives, their choices are descriptive, evocative, meaningful words.
Even more impressive, later in the workshop I asked them to think of an experience in their lives that would illustrate one of the words they’d used to describe themselves. Not more than five minutes later they were finished writing and the room was abuzz with small groups sharing their stories with one another. There is not a doubt in my mind that these kids will be super successful interviewees, super successful communicators and super successful people.
How about you? Do you have your three (or more) adjectives at the ready? Are they boring, sleep –inducing business-speak words, or are they juicy, descriptive words like those the Neighborhood Studios apprentices came up with? (And hey, you can borrow theirs, I’m sure they won’t mind.)
Once you have your describing words, do you have stories you can tell to prove what you claim? Do your stories have a beginning middle and end? Have you tried them out on someone to make sure they’re complete and clear?
If not, take an hour or two – or more and run through these exercises yourself.  The  payoff will be well worth it.  On your next interview or meeting you’ll be heard.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Five Biggest Mistakes Commencement Speakers Make

It's that time of year again. Most of us know someone who is graduating from somewhere. Many of us will sit through one or more commencement ceremonies. A few of us will even have the honor of being commencement speakers. So what kinds of mistakes do commencement speakers make that are truly egregious? Here's a short list. Be sure you're not committing any of these commencement speaker crimes and you'll be heard.
 1. Not having a theme for the presentation
 Few things are more frustrating for an audience than searching unsuccessfully for the theme of a presentation. For a commencement speech this is even more important. Think up your theme and then stick close to it. Be true to it. Do not digress from it. Tell your audience what the theme (point, main idea, take away) is right from the start. Mention it throughout the presentation. Bring it home at the conclusion.
 2. Not having a structure for the presentation
 Listening is really hard work. And everyone in this particular audience is not only listening, many of them will want to remember what you said. Make it easy for them. Tell them there are "Three big lessons learned" or "Five steps to personal success" (but no more than five). This kind of structure will allow them to create labeled buckets in their minds into which they will put the stories and information you're sharing with them. Forever after they'll be able to refer to the wise things you shared with them on that special day. 
3. Reading the presentation
Nothing SCREAMS insincere like someone reading "It's such an honor to be here today." Create notes for yourself that act as mind joggers to keep you on track and remind you of key points. Will it be smooth as silk? Probably not. What it will be is lively, with lots of contact with the audience, because rather than looking at a paper and reading, you'll be looking out - at them - and communicating. Way way better. Oh, and by the way, be sure to PRACTICE OUT LOUD so that you'll be super familiar with your content. 

 The first three mistakes are bad. These next two should be illegal. No kidding.

4. Speaking "off the cuff" 
Seriously? You have to have known you were going to be addressing a (probably large) group of people on a day that has great import to them. Odds are there are many audience members who have traveled great distances at significant expense. Many who got to the ceremony extra early to be sure to get a good seat. With all of that effort on their part, couldn't you have planned and practiced your presentation?
 5. TELLING the audience you don't have formal remarks and will be speaking "off the cuff" 
 OMG OMG OMG. It's bad enough that you don't have prepared practiced remarks, but to brag about it? To begin your presentation with it? How in the world can this be a good thing??? Maybe you're thinking it makes you more "approachable" "just one of them". Newsflash: you can't have a "chat" with hundreds (or thousands) of people. Plus, commencement is a very important day for everyone there. One for which the graduates have been preparing for like, years. A day for which the audience has been imagining for, like, ever. (see above). Please, please, please, if you're really not going to prepare - make that your own dirty little secret. 

 If you have been asked to be a commencement speaker; do everyone a favor. Make sure the presentation has a solid theme, a great structure, practice it OUT LOUD with only trigger words and phrases as notes. Not only will you be heard, you'll have given a memorable, even possibly beloved, commencement speech.