Posts Tagged ‘presentations’

‘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.

A DISCIPLINED PROCESS

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.

BEWARE THE SHORTER IS EASIER MYTH

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.”

REDUCE NERVOUSNESS

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

‘Beat the Clock!’ AKA The Presenter ‘Plan B’

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Speaker _Beat the ClockIf you do presentations on a regular basis then you have surely had this experience.  You are the last speaker of the day and every other presenter has gone overtime. By the way, this is a heinous crime in the public speaking world. Out of the corner of your eye you see the organizer approaching with a stealth-like stride. Your inner voice shouts, “Oh No!”, 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 slide deck flashes before your eyes. What slides should I cut?  What stories should I keep? Shall I speak double time?

Spare yourself this anxiety and prepare a Plan B and possibly Plan C.  Practice these abbreviated versions as you would your full presentation.  You can help the situation by limiting 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.

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.)

Wall of Fatal Words

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Wall of Fatal WordsRecently I introduced a slide to my communication presentation called, ‘The Wall of Fatal Words.’ I was pleasantly surprised by its popularity. The initial response is laughter because the words and phrases are so familiar. What are the fatal words on the wall? These are words and phrases that halt dialogue.  These are words and phrases that come trippingly off the tongue without thought to their negative impact.  These are words and phrases that are reactive versus productive.  Why do we use them? Because we do not take the time to process what we say.  We think them harmless.  These words pack a punch – and not in a good way!  If you want to be an open and honest communicator then consider the implications of the words you choose.

Listen carefully the next time you engage in a conversation or participate in collaborative meetings. You may be astonished to hear the frequent use of these or similar words and phrases.  Pause before you speak. Reframe your thoughts from negative to positive language.

Words spoken in haste can cause long-term damage.


Why Audiences Tune Out

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

sleeping-businessman

I have written articles and best practices on how to engage audiences of all sizes. This entry addresses factors that can alienate the audience and cause them to tune out the speaker or presenter.  Whether I am coaching emerging speakers, or watching a more seasoned presenter there are recurring actions which contribute to  audience detachment.Many of these are simply due to lack of preparation. Most people know that being prepared is fundamental to the success of their speech or presentation yet  all too often it is ignored. If you are fortunate to be given a platform to share your ideas then you  have a responsibility to respect the time and attention of the audience.

TURN OFFS THAT CAUSE THE TUNE OUTS

1. Reading your notes rather than connecting with the audience.  I don’t mean referring, I mean reading. There is a recognizable difference. How can you make a connection if your focus is on your paper?   Reading verbatim is also one of the primary signals that you have not made an effort to learn your material. It also begs the question, ” If you are an expert on the topic, why are you reading?”.

2. Over used and overwritten slides. This is a similar crutch to notes. Instead of actually taking the time to learn the key messages and flow of your content you let the slides do the work for you.  Audience immediately respond to this dependency as weak and uninteresting. Particularly if your slides do not offer compelling and unique visuals. We are all familiar with the term ‘Death by PowerPoint’ – specifically by the bullets!

4. Using larger words when smaller ones will do.  No need to impress the audience with your cleverness. Obviously you are an expert in your field or you would not be invited to speak.  Words that require  a dictionary can be patronizing and off-putting. Be selective, limit technical jargon. Speak conversationally not academically.

5.  Rushing through your content.  Trying to keep up with the rapid pace of the speaker is extremely frustrating. You send the message that you are in a rush and want the experience to be over with ASAP.   It also appears that you really don’t care if the audience is able to keep up with what you are saying.  Audiences shouldn’t have to catch their breath to catch up with the speaker.

6. More bells and whistles than content. Video clips, photos, music can all add dimension and engagement to the presentation if used strategically and sparingly. However, if  used in excess it looks like you have padded your presentation with filler rather than quality content. People are there to hear your ideas not watch a mult-media show.

7. Lack of customization. If you have delivered a presentation you are likely aware of how important it is to  ‘know your audience’.  A little customization goes a long way to making the connection and building credibility. Show the audience that you have cared enough to learn about them and their specific needs and environment.