Posts Tagged ‘communication’

‘Winging it’ is for the Birds.

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Colorful silhouettes of flying birds.THE PRESENTER TRAP

The four deadliest words a prospective presenter can say are, “I’ll just wing it.”

When it comes to presentation excellence, professionalism is synonymous with preparation. Audiences may forgive initial jitters but they will rarely forgive an unpolished performance. In a highly competitive business world ‘winging it’ is risky business. Be prepared. Be professional. You may be a subject expert however this alone does not ensure that you can effectively communicate your knowledge to an audience.

You may argue, “I know someone who is a great presenter and she tells me she wings it all the time.” I would receive the proclamation with caution and skepticism.  You may recall the student who told you she only starts studying the night before exams and always gets an ‘A’.  Believing this to be true, the next time you have an exam you cram the night before only to be shocked when you receive an ‘F’.  I’m not so cynical to think that the ‘A’ student was leading you to fail, but rather, she likely wanted to impress you with her scholastic expertise. Having said that, there are those amazing few presenters who have the innate talent to deliver presentations with limited preparation.  The rest of we mortals need to plan and practice.

Audiences know when you lack preparation and they don’t like it. It makes them feel that you didn’t think they were worth the time. They attend presentations with high expectations and low attention spans. To keep people engaged requires substantive content and dynamic delivery. A sign that you have successfully engaged your audience is when you are able to stop them from reaching for their smartphones while you speak.


One of the first questions I ask when coaching a client is, “What’s your process? The common response is, “I build a deck and put speaker notes below the slides.” A good start but that is only about 50% of the equation. Your road to success begins with a disciplined process which is a combination of efficient planning and diligent practice.  As one of my acting instructors once said, “It is not how many hours you practice, but rather how you practice in those hours.”

I have my clients deliver their presentations twice in a row to see if they are able to repeat the presentation with consistent content and delivery.  You don’t want to be a ‘one hit wonder’ who presents on a wing and a prayer.  The high standard of delivery and messaging needs to be repeatable. Imagine if you attended a theatre production on a night when the cast was performing erratically – lines missed, sloppy staging, and lack of enthusiasm. You would feel cheated by the experience and the ticket price.


There is a popular misconception that a shorter presentation is easier to prepare.

A shorter presentation doesn’t mean you can take shortcuts. It is known among professional speakers that the less time you are given to speak, the greater the challenge. Short presentations can actually require more preparation than a lengthier one. Why?  You have limited time to engage your audience and communicate your ideas.  The messages need to be delivered with precision. Economy of words is critical.  This notable saying underscores the point, “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”


The more you practice the less nervous you will be.  If you have anxiety when you speak, particularly when stakes are high, why sabotage yourself by not being properly prepared?  Some people think they need oxygen and medication to make it through their presentation. What they really need is to prepare and practice to build their confidence.

Here is a list of suggestions to practice properly:

  1. Deliver at performance level.
  2. Time your presentation for repeatable consistency and continuity.
  3. Visualize a positive response.
  4. Practice advancing slides along with verbal transitions.
  5. Tape record your presentation to evaluate your delivery and refine content.
  6. Repeat process and refine content and delivery until you feel confident.

Laughing and Learning: A Perfect Pairing

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Group of Multiethnic Cheerful People ApplaudingWhy pair laughing and learning?  Because it works.  Humour is one of the best ways to get your messages across, particularly if your audiences can identify with the stories you tell.   This also means that it is important to know your audience.

I use humour throughout my speeches and workshops and close my presentations with material that leaves my audiences laughing. Why is it important to do so? Because I believe the joyful memory will stay with them for the rest of the meeting and beyond.  If that memory is retained, then chances are, so will my messages.

Recall some of your favourite leaders, colleagues, trainers, and speakers.  The memorable ones are those who use a combination of compelling stories and humour to effectively communicate their messages. Of course we need substance –  proof points and concrete information to support what we are saying.  However, we also need to create balance with a lighter outlook.

Even Shakespeare knew the necessity of comic relief.  In his most tragic plays like, King Lear and Hamlet, he gave the audience a break from the intensity of the action by introducing a comedic scene.  There is a reason this interlude is called ‘comic relief ’.

Incorporating humour does not mean you have to be a comedian or joke teller.  It is about approaching your audience with a lightness of being.  It is about using humourous stories to encourage others to see solutions and possibilities, and to generate a collective positive experience.  People who share a healthy sense of humour tend to energize a room and engage colleagues and clients.

The next time you lead a meeting or deliver a presentation, consider ways to include humour – a lightness of being.  Your audiences will be attentive and grateful.

This May Obvious But…

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Man on smartphone 2I usually only blog when I feel the need to share something of interest to my readers.  I feel the need.  I am certainly not the first to blog about this and I am sure I will not be the last.

This is not a rant but a sincere piece of professional advice for other professionals to protect the privacy and reputations of their companies and colleagues.  As obvious as this information may be, it is often ignored.

Like thousands of  daily commuters I am confined on a train with people talking loudly on cell phones and am involuntarily exposed to, what should be, private conversations.  Why people speak louder on their cell phones than they do talking to a person next to them is one of life’s little mysteries. I often wear headphones but sometimes they are not enough.

There is a designated quiet zone during rush hours on the commuter train but seats are not always available. Being in the non-designated zone, however, should not give passengers carte blanche to speak at the top of their voices for the entire one-hour journey in which there is no escape.  I think it is fair to say, when a person speaks with a booming voice in public places then their conversation is now public knowledge and confidentiality is forfeited.  Recently, I learned a lot from an oblivious caller, and the unsuspecting person at the other end of the phone.

The longer the caller spoke the more the passengers became privy to sensitive information.  I remarked to a fellow passenger that it was lucky the caller did not reveal the name of his company, to which the passenger replied, “I am sure we will know eventually.”  And she was right. It didn’t take long to determine who he worked for and who he was talking to, particularly as the organization had recently made headline news. The person to whom he was speaking, who I will refer to as ‘J’, was having a problem with a colleague, who I will refer to as ‘D’.   As a leader of a department  ‘D’ apparently is crossing lots of boundaries and is harassing colleagues with too many calls. No matter how much the caller tried to convince ‘J’ that ‘D’ was actually a good guy and an asset to the team, ‘J  simply was, “not going to take it any more!”  We also learned that ‘J’  is doing a major house renovation on his 2,600 square foot home.  I could reveal many more details but  it is not my intention to expose anyone.  Rather it is my intention to remind you of the obvious –  be careful when having public cell phone conversations, or any public conversations for that matter.  Not only could the people next to you be listening, they could be recording you as well.  I’m sure you don’t want to end up on Your Tube (see link below).

people talking loudly on cell phones’

Presentations: Always have plans B and C

Thursday, 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

Presentation Logistics: Be Your Own Stage Manager

Friday, 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.


  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

Wednesday, 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.

Monday, 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

Wednesday, 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.”

Maximize Speaker Value

Tuesday, 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.

Busy Busy Busy

Sunday, August 28th, 2011


“Sorry I didn’t get back to you. I have been so busy.”

“Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I have been so busy”

“Sorry I’m late. I am so busy.

These are not endearing communication openers whether they are expressed in person, by email, or voice message. If you live and breathe in the working world you are ipso facto, busy. If you aren’t busy, something is awry.

No doubt, I too have slipped the “busyness” phrase into my own communication – it is usually followed with immediate regret.  When someone says, “I am so busy”, the unsaid inference is,“ and I have been too busy to include you.” Now this may not be true, but that’s how it sounds and feels.

To add to the drama the latecomer may rush in to a meeting juggling binders, iPads, Smartphones, and a Starbucks coffee as they breathlessly deliver their apology. The recipient of the greeting responds with a polite, “No problem”, however their inside voice is saying, “So what, I’m busy too but I left my busyness outside the door so that I can be focused and ready for you.”

We DO get overwhelmed with work and personal responsibilities.  We DO run late for meetings or forget or postpone replies to our messages. Apologies are always appropriated.  What is unnecessary is the preface along with a litany your busyness agenda.  If you are late for a meeting or phone call simply say, “ I sorry I am late because, (insert ONE reason).  If you are late in replying to an email or voicemail,  “My sincere apologies for this late reply”, is sufficient.  Already disgruntled because of the delay, why add to the aggravation by making people read, or listen to lengthy excuses?

In summary:

  1. Open with “ I am sorry for being late”
  2. Give one specific reason
  3. Get on with the meeting or message.