Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Five Important Questions to Ask About Your Audience

Every presentation should be built with the audience in mind. In order to do that, you need to be armed with some important information about them.  Here are five key questions so ask of whoever invited you to speak. 

1)    Who are they?  Are they prospects? Clients?  Peers? Management? A Board of Directors? One size does not fit all when it comes to presentations.  Begin with the simple knowledge of whom you’ll be speaking to.

2)    Why are they coming to hear your presentation? Are they coming voluntarily or are they required to be there?  Are they coming eagerly or under duress?  Understanding their attitude about your message will go a long way towards helping you design it.

3)    How much do they know about your topic? Are they well-versed in your subject matter or are they clueless?  Are there a variety of knowledge levels among the audience members? Is there one know-it-all amidst a group of novices? If their knowledge levels are mixed (which is often the case) you’ll want to create your message very thoughtfully. Your best approach is to aim for middle ground. DO NOT speak to appeal to the most knowledgeable person in the room at the expense of everyone else.  Instead, acknowledge Mr. or Mrs. Expert before you begin.  I say something like, “Ben here knows at least as much as I do about this topic. If I should drop dead in the middle of this presentation, he can take over.” That gives Ben a shout out for his knowledge without sacrificing the group’s understanding of the message. 

4)    Do they have preconceived notions about your topic? This is critical to know.  Better to walk into the room having a good idea of how your audience feels about your topic than to be blindsided three sentences in.  If they’re fans of what you’ll be speaking about, that’s great.  You won’t have to spend lots of time winning them over.  If, on the other hand, they have negative views and/or feelings about your message (or your product or service) you’ll have to begin with a very convincing argument to win them over.  Sometimes simply acknowledging their feelings – getting it out in the open - is the best way to begin.  Tell them you know they are skeptical about  “X”. If you can, get specific. List a few of their reasons, and then debunk each one.  Now you’ll have them ready and willing to hear what you have to say.

5)     What is their attention span? Find out what it is and then do not exceed it! If they’re over-the-top interested they’ll ask questions and keep the conversation going. In fact, the more concise and compelling you can be, the more likely it is that they’ll be eager to continue the conversation. 

These and other questions are part of our bespeak audience assessment tool, included in our recently released book: Nail it. Create and deliver presentations that connect, compel, andconvince. (Available on amazon.com) Have suggestions for others?  Email, tweet or comment on LinkedIn or Facebook – we’d love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why your presentation isn't coming out the way you thought it would

If you’re reading this, my guess is this has happened to you.  You’re about a minute and a half into your presentation when things start going wrong.  Maybe just slightly, uncomfortably wrong or maybe horribly this-can’t-be-really-happening wrong. Either way, you end the presentation feeling somewhere between a little let down and completely wrung out.  “How did that just happen?” you think to yourself, “It sounded so good in my mind.” Want to avoid this kind of unwelcome surprise in the future? Next time, make sure you are not doing the following:

1.  Running through the presentation ‘in your head’: Things sound great in your head. You’re the keynote speaker of your dreams, the smartest guy or gal in the room.  You’re uttering the pithiest, most hilarious, most insightful stuff ever said.  Except that you’re not hearing yourself saying it, you’re hearing it in your head. Nothing ever sounds the same in your head as it does coming out of your mouth.  In fact, you don’t really even know how it sounds at all until you hear it OUT LOUD.  OUT LOUD you’ll hear where you’re missing transitions, where you’re spending too much time on one point and not enough on another.  OUT LOUD you’ll find the right words to say. Oh, and OUT LOUD you’ll see how saying those words feels. Saying stuff in your head and saying stuff OUT LOUD are two completely different experiences. First of all, OUT LOUD you have to push air through your vocal chords and out of your mouth – which has to form different shapes depending on the words you’re saying. That requires energy, effort and skill.  Remember “Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore”?  How easily can you say it in your head?  How easily can you say it out loud? See? Lastly, let’s face it, when you’re running through your presentation in your head you can be easily distracted.  Something else (anything else) can easily take precedent and poof!, your presentation is replaced by thoughts of lunch, a meeting, a Facebook photo… This is why you must practice OUT LOUD.  In your head does not count.  Period.

2.  Reading from a script: I know, I know.  You want to be sure you don’t forget anything.  You don’t want to digress or get a fact or figure wrong.  Plus, (according to you) you’re not so eloquent.  Writing it down ensures you’ll be well-spoken, right?  Wrong.  Writing it down and reading from it ensures you’ll sound like you’re reading.  And unless you’re a playwright or script writer you’ll be delivering something that sounds like reading material, not like conversation. Even worse, it’s virtually impossible to be lively, dynamic and – most important – connecting when you’re reading.  Who cares if you repeat a word, or search for a word or even back track to a previous point to tag on something you forgot to say? As long as you’re looking at your audience and not reading from a script, they won’t care about any stumbles. And if you’ve practiced OUT LOUD there will only be minor stumbles anyway.  You’ll be speaking in real, everyday language, just as you would in conversation with friends or colleagues.  You’ll be communicating living ideas, not reciting from a dry (and most likely deadly) script. Instead of scripting every word, give yourself notes with keywords or at the most, short phrases.  These will keep you on track and focused, while not sacrificing the connection between you and the audience or the natural pace and vocabulary of your regular, lively unscripted speech.

3.  Relying on text heavy PowerPoint slides: This, combined with not practicing out loud, is probably the biggest detriment to presentations.  Frankly, if you practiced your presentation OUT LOUD odds are good you’d end up deleting just about all of the text.  You’d see that having all of those words up on the screen only caused distraction (and not only for you, for the audience as well).  Once you practice your presentation OUT LOUD you’ll find that you don’t need all of those words, you can remember what you want to say without them.  Bravo!  And thank heavens, because those slides were never ever meant to be your notes. Lots and lots of text on a slide does nothing but create a barrier between you and the lively connecting delivery of your message.

Don’t let any of these bad habits get in the way of your next presentation.  Use notes with simple key words or short phrases, remember that PowerPoint slides are there to aid the audience, not hold your copious notes.  And for goodness sake, practice OUT LOUD. You’ll be giving presentations that feel even better than you imagined in your head!  And you’ll be heard.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Three Things Every Human Being Loves to Hear

The other night I was speaking about presenting oneself in different venues - informal (a cocktail party), intentional (a networking event) and formal (an interview).  Somehow I mentioned two of the three things human beings love to hear, and I watched as the audience's faces showed signs of deep connection and agreement. As receivers, we know how much these simple phrases mean to us.  As deliverers - why aren't we saying them more? 

1. Thank you

We all love to feel appreciated.  Even when we think we don't really need the thank you, it's always, always great to hear it. (Or read it in a note, email, or even text). Thanking people for things small and large can make their day. A sincere thank you, delivered with eye contact is priceless.

2. I'm sorry

This one is way way tougher for folks to say, and equally important for the potential recipient to hear.  I'm not advocating apologizing all over the place for, like, breathing.  Those kind of apologies don't show remorse or sorrow, they show tremendous insecurity and need for attention on the part of the apologist. I'm also not talking about presenters apologizing to audiences for things otherwise invisible to them, like slides being in the wrong order.  Apologies like those only distract audiences from your message - never a good thing. I'm talking about really apologizing for something you did wrong; deliberately or inadvertently.  And the best part about saying "I'm sorry" is that it makes the deliverer feel as good - or better - than the recipient!

3. Their name

When we call someone by name we immediately personalize whatever comes after.  We remind them we know exactly to whom we are speaking.  Especially these days, when all of us are so constantly distracted by cell phones, computers, radio and TV, it's important to let the person to whom you're speaking know that you know their name!

Do you have other suggestions for things humans love to hear?  Weigh in!