Visited by Captain Chaos? Resistance is futile

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Dealing with the Unexpected? Go with the flow

By Peter Watts

Shit happens.

Two little words that while vaguely profane, sum up most of the misfortunes that befall and befuddle presenters.

I don’t normally advocate dwelling on the nature of what can go wrong, but for the purposes of this post, it would be helpful.

  • The audience could be scarily bigger or depressingly smaller than expected
  • The venue could have a sub-optimal or non-negotiable room layout
  • The main target for your presentation could walk in 15 minutes late or have to leave 15 minutes early
  • And don’t even get me started on what can go wrong with the technology!

Thoroughly plan and prepare your presentation by all means. It’s essential. Only a fool walks onto a stage unprepared. At the same time though, when the circumstances around you unexpectedly change and Captain Chaos flies across the room, be ready to embrace your own inner Captain Chaos and improvise like a pro.

Planning and preparation is a life-jacket not a strait-jacket. When your presentation has to make an emergency landing on water, that life-jacket of preparation acts purely as a buoyancy aid to keep you afloat. You then have a choice; lamely bob up and down in the tide or use the power of free will to pick a new direction in which to paddle.

Stay loose and start paddling and you’ll survive.

One of the best presentations I ever had the privilege to witness was from the Chief Operating Officer of a major multinational brand. Known for his clinically organised and analytically thorough presentations, precision and planning were his watchwords.  And then one day, a minute into a critical presentation, the bulb in the projector popped.

Hotel staff scurried in every direction, but a replacement bulb was nowhere to hand.

The presenter looked at the audience and uttered the same opening words that I used to open this blog. He then delivered one of the best presentations I have ever heard.

This incredibly senior, and incredibly organised gentleman had not been thrown off balance by Captain Chaos, but instead had cheerfully embraced him.

Control-freakery is a form of perfectionism, and perfectionism doesn’t belong in the realm of the presenter. Audiences are human and they respond to human and as we all know, humans are seldom perfect.

When Captain Chaos strikes, it’s your heaven-sent opportunity to shine.

Shit happens. Stay loose. Set a direction and start paddling.

The audience will love you for it.

When your first public speech is in the service of others

spotlight

A first presentation can lead to profound opportunity

by Peter Watts

Many presenters find they are first moved to speak in public not by professional or business requirements, but because somebody needs to stand-up for their community. A local need or a perceived injustice means that somebody needs to step up to the plate.

If you need to speak before the Town Council or the School Board or the PTA or any similar group of elected or non-elected bureaucrats, it can be helpful to your cause if you can move their hearts as well as their minds.

Appealing to logic will get you nowhere. You need emotion.

In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama had to make just such an appeal. It was an appeal for legislator’s to allow a vote on gun control. What techniques did he use in order to achieve it?

Here are the words themselves:

“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

Powerful in impact, the President’s words were surprisingly simple in construction, and you can use the same techniques.

The power of his appeal came from the combination of four techniques.

Technique 1: Pathos

Pathos tugs directly at emotions and makes any speech intensely personal. This isn’t a speech about abstract victims of gun-crime but a speech about victims of gun-crime who are right here in the room. They are named individuals known to the audience. When an appeal is based upon a group who are either known to the audience or in close proximity to them, the emotional intensity becomes hard to resist.

Technique 2: Repetition

The passage is comprised of five phrases, each of which ends with the words “deserve a vote.”  This is Epistrophe; a repetition pattern that concludes adjacent phrases with the same words. That repetition becomes a drum-beat, that progressively increases the speaker’s intensity with each occurrence.

Technique 3: Mass Conjunctions

Entering into the final phrase, the power of Epistrophe is joined by a deliberate over-use of the conjunction “and”:

“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

This is Polysyndeton. Conjunctions bring more weight to a list than a silent comma ever can, and raises the drum-beat rhythm to an even higher pitch.

Technique 4: Diminution

Suddenly, that drum-beat crescendo is cancelled. Take a look at the final repetition. It’s been modified. Rather than “deserve a vote”, the President now uses the phrase “deserve a simple vote.”

This is Diminution. After building the juggernaut, Barack Obama has introduced the word “simple”. How tiny and miniature that word seems when compared against a catalogue of horrors. After such a list of tragedy, what person could possibly deny the bereaved a “simple vote”.

Take the challenge

If you ever find yourself undertaking your first piece of public speaking in order to do good for others, that challenge can appear daunting.

Accept the challenge. This is what public speaking is all about. It’s all about finding your voice and the power that goes with it.

Don’t be afraid to use emotion. Don’t be afraid to try out techniques. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

A good friend of mine found herself in just such a position, and since that first appearance she’s gone on to be elected as Deputy Mayor of our town.

When you find your voice in the service of helping others, and rise to the occasion, you never know to what other successes it will lead you.

Our first PodCast! The Jason Womack Interview

An interview with the author of “Your Best Just Got Better”

by Peter Watts

I recently wrote a blog about a productivity book called “Your Best Just Got Better”  It’s a book that has made a huge personal difference to how I work, where I set my priorities, and how I go about defining those priorities.

jason_stage_mustard2

As a follow-up to that review, it’s my pleasure this week to be able to welcome to The Presenters’ Blog the author himself, Jason Womack.

Jason has conducted over 1,500 seminars. To each audience he brings not just knowledge, but energy, experience, and passion.

1,500 audiences! How does he do it?

During this podcast, you’ll find out how the personal performance ideas that Jason shares in “Your Best Just Got Better” can be applied to the world of the presenter:

  • Overcoming barriers that might be holding you back, such as nervousness
  • Why it’s essential to know, and to believe, that your ideas truly matter. That you have something to say!
  • How to identify your key message: the one thing that you want everybody in the room to have heard and understood during your presentation
  • The role that dissonance plays in the hard-wiring of our brains, and why it’s essential to proactively take charge of our own post-presentation coaching
  • Why it’s important to keep every presentation delivery as fresh as the first, thereby honoring your responsibility, as a presenter, to your audience

This podcast is packed with ideas and tips from Jason. Listen to it by clicking this link for the Jason & Peter PodCast, or if you’d rather read the conversation, we’ve included this transcript as well.

In addition, Jason and I have also put together ideas to boost your presenting; how you can identify your own unique knowledge, craft your message, and then take that to the stage…. this week! It’s combined with a very short  video message.

Enjoy the Jason & Peter PodCast, and do please leave any comments that you might have.

It would be great to hear from you.

Maria Miller and the jewel of Epanodos

trilliant diamond cut

A polished performance with a cut-jewel of rhetoric

by Peter Watts

Maria Miller, the UK Minister for Culture, used a figure of speech so rare and beautifully powerful that it is seldom encountered outside the Old Testament. To speak directly into the minds of her opponents she used Epanodos; blending logic and emotion in a way guaranteed to be heard and heeded across the most passionate of debates.

The Roman writer Quintilian described figures of speech as being like jewels. We place them within our speaking so that important ideas will catch the ear as fine gems catch the eye.

Figures are word patterns that vary in some way from standard spoken language. Quintilian thought of them as jewels in a treasure chest. I think of them as spells in a book of magic. They do, after all, rely on knowing just the right patterns of words. And when the correct spell is used, the audience is moved. Sometimes magically.

This week the British Parliament passed new laws to bring full marriage equality to the United Kingdom. While the vote was overwhelmingly approved, a small minority of lawmakers had strong reservations, and the pre-vote debate, led by Ms. Miller, was heated.

As I listened to the debate, the following phrase from Ms. Miller’s speech leapt out at me.

“Equal marriage should not come at the cost of freedom of faith, nor freedom of faith come at the cost of equal marriage.

We are capable of accommodating both.”

This is Epanodos, and it is so rare that there are few quoted examples to be found outside the bible or the most classical of poetry. For example, this piece written by the poet John Milton:

“O more exceeding love, or law more just? Just law, indeed, but more exceeding love!”

Epanodos involves elements of a sentence being repeated, but in reverse order. The second half of the sentence will be almost a mirror image of the first, and as with all things seen in a looking glass, that second portion will appear magically reversed.

Listening to the debate news coverage throughout the day, I heard that phrase repeated time after time across multiple news networks. Like one of Quintilian’s jewels, this one phrase had become the single most glittering section of the debate, and had caught the ear of every professional commentator.

The key to using figures successfully is to choose the right spell for the right occasion. So why would the Minister have chosen this one?

Epanodos stands out, whereas as most figures are far less showy. It is also incredibly rare in political speeches, but vaguely familiar to those who know their bibles.

This figure therefore takes the Minister’s key message about marriage equality, and codes that message to chime particularly 220px-Maria_Miller_Officialstrongly for lawmakers familiar with bible passages. In other words, the exact same lawmakers who needed special reassurance during the debate.

The Minister’s choice of the rare Epanodos figure couldn’t have been better.

You can use Epanodos in your own presentations.

The trick is to use it very sparingly. Just once. This is a figure that stands out, and if overused will look as garish as a bling bracelet packed with paste jewels. Used just once though, it will shine like a cut diamond.

What you need to do is to identify a section of your presentation that can use a neither / nor combination. It’s for when you want to say something to the effect of;

“Proposition A, does not come at the expense of proposition B. We can do both.”

Here are two very simple examples:

“Quality does not need to come at the expense of productivity, nor productivity at the expense of quality. We can achieve both.”

“The environment need not be sacrificed in the name of growth, nor growth sacrificed in the name of the environment. Both can be sustained.”

Enjoy playing with Epanodos. With the combined qualities of logic and poetic elegance, it will make your key message leap out from your presentation.

And thank you to Ms. Miller, not just for championing equality, but also for your powerful choice of words.

Book review: Your Best Just Got Better

YBJGB

Why this is a must-read productivity guide

by Peter Watts

It’s a pleasure to review a book that has changed not only how I achieve results, but most importantly has affected the results that I choose to achieve.

This is a book that you can immediately gain from.

Training to give presentations that make a powerful impact on audiences is akin to training as an athlete. It takes dedication, practice, the ability to execute on that practice, and above all it requires the drive to push beyond your comfort levels. It’s an iterative process of strengthening skills and reaching for the next stage. If every presentation is just 1% better than the last, then you know you are improving as a speaker.

This is the approach that Jason Womack takes in his personal productivity guide “Your Best Just Got Better”. I’ve read many such books, and this is the first one that has made a permanent change to the way that I work.

The story starts with what Jason calls “MITs”. MITs are your Most Important Things. Across the course of “Your Best Just Got Better” he urges you to consider these areas in close-up. What are they? Why are they important? To what outcomes are they leading you?

He then sets out a number of ways to keep you on track (or in my case: get yourself back on track) towards hitting those goals.

Here are just a few of the things that I do differently, every day, as a result of reading “You’re Best Just Got Better”.

15 minutes: Set a timer

I now set a timer for work activities. I decide upfront how long I’m going to spend on a task, set the timer on my phone, and then concentrate completely for that allotted period. There’s a timer running right now for example. 30 minutes to complete the first draft of this blog.

Jason encourages you to work in 15 minutes blocks, so this is a two-block activity.

The running timer enables you to establish what your daily productive base-line looks like. From that point of awareness you can then find ways day-by-day to increase the number of 15-minute blocks that are truly productive for you. Each day you get to see how your best just became that little bit better.

Team You

Another idea from the book is to be highly aware of the people in your network that you rely on in order to do your job effectively, and to help you move to the next stages in your career. Those networks are wider and richer than we might initially realize. I now consciously schedule “Team Peter” time to make sure I’m identifying and building those relationships. This one exercise alone has already made my life as a travelling presenter into an easier and more emotionally rewarding experience

ABR – Always Be Ready

A great deal can be achieved with those little 15 minute Lego-blocks of time, so long as you can utilize them when unexpected delays such as late flights or late meetings disrupt your schedule. One simple idea in the book is to carry in your bag a small number of ready to mail Thank You cards. Having those cards at the ready, means that when delays hit, you can use the time to send a hand-written thank you to somebody in your network. Foot-tapping time becomes team-building time.

Know Your Tools

This was another one that has really helped me. I’m notorious for buying software and learning just enough functionality to get me out on the road. At that point my learning stops, and I limp along with the product as best I can.

I now use another of those 15-minute blocks, just once per week, to learn something new about my software tools. Gradually. Iteratively. Week-by-week. Take Scrivener for example, the professional writing software that I treated myself to last year. Just one 15-minute block per week to learn new Scrivener skills has made a huge difference to my productivity.

Jason Womack Blog-Headshot-Jason-womack-96

Finally we have the author himself. Jason Womack gets very involved with his readers. He has a formidably active blog, twitter presence, and a weekly podcast. There is a lot of information out there to support you as you read the book, and if you fire Jason a question, he’ll send you back an answer.

My timer tells me that I’ve now been writing for 29 minutes and 15 seconds. Time to sign-off, other than to say:

Presenting is a rewarding and challenging skill, and it takes a focus that “Your Best Just Got Better” can prime you to achieve.

“Your Best Just Got Better” is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is published by Wiley and available in a variety of formats including e-books and audio

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