Presentations: Always have plans B and C

January 9th, 2014

Plan A B C.001It is not unusual for a meeting or conference agenda to fall behind.  This can happen for a number of reasons, but one of the most common is speakers running over their assigned presentation times.  If you are asked to be a presenter then you have a responsibility to keep within your assigned limit, to do otherwise is indulgent and disrespectful of those with whom you are sharing the platform, and to the meeting planner who painstakingly developed the program.  Demonstrate professionalism and consideration. Be prepared.

You may have already experienced being that presenter who is the victim of the prolonged agenda. The scenario usually goes something like this.  You are the last, or close to last, speaker on the agenda. Out of the corner of your eye you see the meeting planner approaching with a stealth-like stride. Your inner voice sighs, “Uh, Oh.”, as your body goes tense.  Sure enough, you are asked to cut your 30-minute presentation, which you worked so long and hard to prepare, down to 15 minutes. Your mind races as your presentation flashes before your eyes. What slides should I cut?  What stories should I dump? Shall I speak double time?

Spare yourself this anxiety and be prepared with a Plan B, and possibly a Plan C.  Practice the abbreviated versions in the same way as you would your full presentation.

To determine how to make the edits consider these three questions:

1. What is the most relevant content for this audience?

2. What is the most compelling information?

3. What are the most compact stories and examples?

(Choose stories and examples that require minimal set up and narrative.)

Other Tips to making Edits:

–      Determine the content that is a “need to know’ for the audience versus ‘a nice to know’. The ‘nice to know’ information is the disposable one for your plan B and C

–      Time each story or example so that you know how long it takes to deliver.   Always practice in real-time and at performance level. Speaking more quickly is never a good solution.

–      Limit the number of slides and number of bullets. You can always expand when time allows.  Not every idea has to be displayed in your slide show.

–      Calculate the length of your Q and A and include this as part of your assigned time.  This timing is often overlooked or poorly estimated

Best Wishes for A Purrfect Holiday Season

December 9th, 2013

Abby Santa hat 2.001Why choose my cat for my season’s greeting?

‘Tis the season of comfort and joy, and my muted calico provides both.  For over seventeen years Abby has been a loyal companion and gives unconditional love.

I affectionately refer to Abby as my Corporate Cat because when I am in my home office she likes to join in conversations and offer her support as I work. She lies patiently by my side making herself available for scratches behind the ears or strokes on the head.  Her gentle purring of gratitude makes me feel calm and appreciated.  In fact, right now she is attentively watching me write this blog. I can feel her pride and support. After a long day she curls up on my lap and we share relaxing moments together and allow any stress or tension to ease away.

When the tree is being decorated Abby tilts her head to offer her perspective.  Mostly the arrangement meets with her approval.  She has her own miniature sleigh full of Christmas ornaments.  In the morning, on my way to the kitchen, I am sure to encounter one or two Christmas baubles that have ‘found’ their way on to the floor.

I join Abby in wishing you, along with your family and friends, a healthy and joyous holiday season and all the best for 2014.

Presentation Logistics: Be Your Own Stage Manager

September 20th, 2013

Presentation room.001You have been invited to give a presentation. You prepare your content, build your slides, and practice your delivery. Excellent. But have you given any consideration to the logistics involved to ensure that your presentation will go smoothly?  I refer to those common obstacles that can impair your performance, such as: no microphone when you expected there to be one; poor staging so that you find yourself straining to see the screen; no one to help set up a projector that is totally foreign to you; the extension or VGA chords are missing; you expected tables to facilitate interactive exercises but the room is set up classroom style.

Whether presenting in a boardroom or ballroom you need to control your presentation environment to establish the best audience engagement and speaker ease.  Many presenters presume that this is the sole responsibility of those organizers. This is not the case. The reality is, you are the one alone in front of the audience, so better look after yourself. You have more control than you think.

There are several actions you can take prior to the meeting and one site at the venue. You want to minimize the unknowns. The more you plan in advance the greater confidence you will have when you present on site and less chance of being derailed by unforeseen circumstances. Logistical management is just as important as practicing your presentation.  You likely have enough anxiety about presenting so why escalate the situation by having to deal with unsettling and unexpected obstacles?

Sometimes there is a technicians and on site to help you and they act as the Stage Manager. Introduce yourself and ask for any special directions that will help you interact with the A/V devices most effectively.  Prior to presenting, a professional speaker will walk the stage, do a sound check, practice with the remote, and review the slides. If there is no Technician or Planner support then you need to be your own Stage Manager.  Follow the seven important steps on the checklist to ensure that you are ready to confidently present.

CHECKLIST FOR LOGISTICS

  1. Copy your slideshow and speaker notes on a flash drive or in a virtual cloud like Dropbox or iCloud
  2. Print a hard copy.
  3. Inspect your laptop case includes your charger.  If you have a MAC make bring your own a VGA adapter as on site technicians may not provide these.
  4. Bring your own remote.  Keep extra batteries in your laptop case.
  5. Provide your own travel clock – you can buy one for under $10
  6. Make sure you receive clear directions to the venue.
  7. Give yourself plenty of travel time. Allow for traffic and find out where park in advance.  Arriving in a panic is not a good way to start or fair to the organizer.

© Lorraine Behnan, ExpressionLab Communications Inc.

Golfing and Presenting: Common Ground

June 5th, 2013

ImageI am not the first presentation coach to use a golf analogy, and likely will not be the last.  The comparison is so fitting that it is worth another perspective. And it is golf season after all.  My apologies to non-golfers, however I trust you will get the idea.

There are no short cuts.  No magic wands. No luck. It is preparation. Period.

When I coach business professionals my first question is usually, “What is your preparation process?” Often the response is, “I don’t really have one.

There are those presenters who think they do have a process simply by putting their slides together, attaching a few speaker notes, and going through the main messages in their head.  Like golf, this is not an armchair sport.  You need to practice on your feet, speak aloud and learn to how to properly use your tools.

Let’s look more closely at the golf analogy. We all want to lower our score by sinking those long putts, chip with accuracy, and hit long and straight drives.  Yet, even after dozens of rounds of golf, our game is not much better at the end of the season than when we started. Frustration mounts.  We think the quick fix to lower our high handicap is to buy new clubs and more expensive golf balls. Not surprisingly there is still little improvement.  What we really need is a disciplined practice process and to practice regularly.

The presenter, like the golfer, may have all the right tools – great messages supported by compelling slides with engaging animations and graphics.  To really maximize the power of those tools you need to practice diligently and actively, otherwise you are not going to elevate your game.  Meanwhile, your competitors are likely out on the course elevating theirs.

Preparation is synonymous with professionalism.

All is ‘com’, all is bright.

December 17th, 2012
(c) Photograph by Lorraine Behnan

(c) Photograph by Lorraine Behnan

At this time of year we celebrate many holidays and revel in the festivities of the season.  Another year has quickly passed with the inevitable peaks and valleys of life’s landscape.  We continue to make memories.

I started to reflect on my own year and one thought lead to another.  These thoughts lead to my blog.

We are in a world in which technology is a huge part of our lives, and we spend a lot of time in the .com universe.   However, there are many other kinds of ‘com’ assets that elevate our quality of life.  The preface for ‘com’ means: with; altogether; jointly.

Here are my favourites:

Combine – Sharing your ideas or talents with colleagues and friends increases opportunities and the possibility to succeed.

Comedy – Laughter and humour infuse energy, camaraderie, and productivity. A lightness of being gets us through those particularly stressful days.

Comfort – Each of us has challenging days, be they emotional or physical. The comfort of others helps lessen the burden. Be aware of those in need and reach out.

Commend – There are certain actions taken which require a degree of risk and bravery for the benefit of others. Find ways to earn the commendation, and be quick to commend those who make the effort.

Commit – When we believe in an idea, person, or project we can demonstrate our support through firm commitment.

Communicate – The art of conversation is timeless.  We have many vehicles in which to communicate.  Before you write that lengthy email, consider picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face.  Continually hone your skills.

Compliment – We love to be recognized for our contributions and achievements no matter how small or great.  One compliment can go a long way to motivate an individual or group, and to strengthen a relationship.

I am sure you have a favourite com of your own.

Wishing you peace and joy for 2013.

The Upside of Uncertainty

July 11th, 2012
Lorraine Greek sunset

Photograph ©Lorraine Behnan

Life is uncertain. Uncertainty is life. That’s the appeal of living. So why then is uncertainty often depicted or perceived in a negative context – like it is a bad thing?

References to uncertainty are cited daily in a variety of scenarios and through multiple forms of media and communication. What is certain is that every day the sun will rise and the sun will set, and between dawn and dusk there will be uncertainty.

Humanity is resilient in uncertainty. Resiliency drives us to see what tomorrow brings, and even more importantly, what we can bring to tomorrow.

Sometimes people confuse uncertainty with security. Uncertainty is not being able to read the future.  Well, that’s normal unless you are psychic.  Security is providing a safe environment. This too is normal, however it is practical and achievable.

Arguably some people do better than others in times of change and uncertainty, but generally we have the ability to bounce back. Beware the ‘Chicken Littles’ who squawk loudly to keep us in fear because they may have a hidden agenda for their own gain: power, control, manipulation, and dependency.  These are obstacles that can crack our confidence and derail our personal goals and beliefs.  Amid the noise of uncertainty it is hard to keep one’s focus, and easy to be drawn into the abyss.

Before you go down the  rabbit hole of anxiety and fear look at the upside of uncertainty: the joy of wonder, the element of surprise, fuel for curiosity, antidote to complacency.

This quote by the late Gilda Radner beautifully captures her inspiring perspective on uncertainty.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

Customer Service. It’s simple really.

January 12th, 2012

Customer serviceDuring a recent meeting with a client we found ourselves exchanging customer service stories. Client opinion on exceptional service is valuable knowledge. I am always surprised by the simple things that make a lasting impression.  Ultimately, those simple things can encourage retention of a special supplier or a valued customer.

This is a true story, as told by my client.

The story is about Joseph, a taxi driver.  Like many business people, my client travels frequently to airports.  One afternoon she just happened to hail a taxi rather than call for her car service. Joseph happened to be the taxi driver on this particular day.  Upon stopping, he promptly jumped out of his taxi and opened the car door and welcomed my client with a warm and friendly greeting.  Once she was settled in the cab Joseph asked what kind of music she liked. Jazz. Straightaway, he popped a jazz CD into the player.  In an otherwise stressful day, Joseph made my client feel relaxed.  As they approached the airport, she asked for his card. The next time she needed a ride she called Joseph.  He asked what kind of beverage was her preference. Coffee. When Joseph arrived a hot cup of coffee and a warm coissant were waiting for her in the taxi.  To this day Joseph always provides her with a coffee, a pastry, jazz music, and easy conversation with every ride. A long-term business relationship was built.

Joseph has over 400 clients. He gives each of his clients customized and personable service. He is always on time, always upbeat, and always promises a positive experience.

It’s simple really.  Know your client.  Deliver.

I shared my own story  with my client about a recent stay in a hotel. The bellman helped me get settled into my room by carefully introducing me to all of the special features and amenities. That’s the usual service you expect from a bellman, but it was his exit line that made an impression and made my day.  He said, “If you need anything at all please ask for me, My name is Roman. I can promise solutions in minutes, but miracles take three hours.”  He flashed a broad smile and bowed ever so slightly as he gently backed away on his way out the door.

It’s simple really. Be attentive. Find a way to make the customer’s day.

I am sure you have many stories of your own.  These would be helpful to share with your own clients or suppliers, just to demonstrate that it does not take monumental steps to capture someone’s attention and to offer exceptional service. It can be those small acts or consideration and care.  Of course I would love to know about your stories too.

It’s simple really.

- Start with a smile

- Provide consistent quality

- Listen and actively respond

- Be accountable when things go wrong

- Act with sense of urgency to make things right

‘Tis The Season

December 14th, 2011

Photo by Lorraine Behnan

Photo by Lorraine Behnan


The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.

- Helen Keller


Heartfelt wishes for a most joyous and healthy holiday with family and friends.

May your days be filled with wonderful stories, laughter, and love.

Perhaps you will get a chance to view some of these Holiday classics. If you don’t have time to watch the movies in their entirety, here are their links to excerpts on You Tube:

It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Carol

Miracle on 34th Street

Maximize Speaker Value

November 22nd, 2011

Woman presenter with WhiteboardOrganizations and companies continually look for new ways to create memorable and valuable meetings. One of the most popular practices is to engage a dynamic Keynote Speaker whose role is to set the tone for the day, introduce the theme, and infuse excitement and energy that can be sustained for the duration of the event.

A great keynote speech inspires the audience, encourages a call-to-action, and generates interest to explore the topic further. A memorable keynote adds value to your meeting or event. Many speeches are independent, however, others can be great springboards for workshops.

You can maximize the value of a speech and increase the longevity of its impact by engaging the same speaker to deliver both the keynote speech and lead or facilitate a workshop on the same day. This is an option that is becoming more in demand to increase the sustainability of an event.

Here’s how the  combined offering of Keynote Speaker and Workshop Leader maximizes the value:

  1. Having the same speaker deliver the keynote and lead or facilitate a workshop provides continuity and boosts retention of key messages and best practices.
  2. The keynote followed by a workshop creates an immediate opportunity to put theory into practice. Participants can dive deeper into the learning and development process while the keynote ideas are still fresh.
  3. The workshop setting allows the participants to build a deeper relationship with the speaker thereby increasing their willingness to embrace and implement ideas.

Steve Jobs: In his own wise words

October 8th, 2011

Steve JobsFrom Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Steve Jobs February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011