Leap the first frontier: Connect early with your audience

by Peter Watts

To make an audience like and trust you early in a presentation is a holy grail. The new Star Trek movie shows us how.

How many times have you been to the movies and almost trampled as everybody rushes to be first out of the theatre the moment that the end credits roll? Few of us stick around to watch those final frames, hence the number of films where all the important names now appear at the beginning of the movie and not the end.

What we’re seeing is the behaviour of an audience who have just sat through the shared experience of a presentation (or film), and remained nicely isolated as solitary individuals. Nothing has touched them as a group to produce a shared action other than dash-for-the-exit. If this movie had been a sales presentation, then it’s outcome would have been polite handshakes and “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Star Trek produces a different outcome, and I saw that  that actively demonstrated as the end-credits rolled. As the original 1960’s Star Trek theme music pumped 1960’s sci-fi Americana out of the Dolby surround-sound, not a single audience member moved so much as an inch from their seat.

The music is re-mastered, but unmistakeable. Audience: spellbound. By the time the first person stood-up to leave, the popcorn cleanup-crew were standing at the front and brandishing brooms like cattle-prods.

Whether it’s a movie or a presentation, every audience has invisible bonds that connect them together as a group. Glancing around the Thursday night movie crowd, the common bond appeared to be age. We were almost all old enough to remember from childhood the original TV Star Trek, and that theme music was reaching out and holding us.

When you link to a common value, you build trust and rapport with an audience. That link then provides the vital connection that bonds you to that audience as a credible presenter.

The concept is called ethos, and amongst its various components such as knowledge, reputation, and integrity, is the aspect of similarity. How similar are you to your audience, and can you link with them by slipping in amongst the common connections that hold them together as a group.

Some similarities are visual and obvious, such as how the audience dress and behave amongst themselves. Are they formal or informal? Outgoing or reserved? The NLP technique of mirroring tells us to establish rapport by consciously reflecting those factors back at the audience, thus projecting an image and behaviour pattern that is reassuringly familiar.

Other links are more subtle. The questions you are looking to answer are:

  • How does my message or product relate to the audience
  • How do I relate to my audience
  • How do my audience relate to each other

The more answers that you can identify, and the more that you can weave strands of similarity into your presentation, the more the audience will see you as being “one of us”.

Find ways as part of your planning process to speak with prospective audience members beforehand, or speak to others who have presented to this audience in the past. At the very least, Google for nuggets such as values, mission statements, or news articles that reflect the people that you’ll be presenting to.

It isn’t necessary to find common links that connect to all 100% of the audience in order for the magic to work. The teenage couple sitting immediately beside me, keys in hand and legs in athlete’s crouch starting-pose, clearly wanted to leave, but because the rest of the audience were transfixed, they too stayed in place. Clearly they were thinking that if everybody else was paying rapt attention, then they should too.

This is the beauty of ethos; connect with enough of the audience and even those outside the immediate chain will fall under its spell through the power of peer pressure.

If you can identify and merge with the common bonds that link a group together, then they will see you as being “one of us”. You will have met the audience where they’re at, and there can be no stronger place from which to boldly go, where no presenter has gone before.

Now why is my grammar-checker insisting that I have a split-infinitive?

 

Links:

For more inspiration on making an early connection to your audience, try these four ideas from Presentation Pro, Dr. Michelle Mazur

Auxesis and Meiosis. Because size matters

Presentation word choice impacts how customers perceive scale.

by Peter Watts

Will your customer be satisfied with the solution, happy with the solution, or delighted with the solution?

Is the cost involved for the project significant, reasonable, or modest?

We are creatures of size. Whenever something is described, our minds apply a level of scale, from small to large and onwards to gargantuan.

Effective sales presenters take control of that sizing process through their choice of words.

It’s all about your adjectives; the descriptive flavours in your speech.

Let’s take an example. Having had an accident slicing onions for the previous evening’s meal, you walk into the office with a dressing on your hand. A colleague asks you what happened. How do you describe the onion-slicing accident: Was it a nick? Was it a cut? Or was it a gash?

If you chose to use the word “nick” then you are making your injury appear smaller. The technical terms is meiosis. You are using smaller, less punchy words in order to intentionally downplay the significance. Your colleague smiles at you, and walks away.

If you choose the word “gash” however, then you are using the technique of auxesis. Dramatic adjectives make things appear bigger. Your colleague looks horrified and enquires about stitches and hospital visits.

Same injury, different descriptive terms, different audience reaction.

This process of scaling goes on in every human interaction. When presenting, there will be times that you consciously want to influence the direction of that scaling, towards either smaller or larger.

Next time you plan a sales presentation, take a moment to experiment with one or two new adjectives. When you want to make something stand-out in lights, look for a bigger, bolder adjective to do it with. When you want something to recede and appear smaller, use a quieter and more mouse-like adjective.

If you’re stuck for ideas, do a Google search for “adjectives”. There are endless lists out there on the web. Here’s two that I found:

Keep and Share

A good basic list of adjectives that has been divided into topics.

Daily Writing Tips

This website for writers has flashier options, including the fabulous “crapulous” (which contrary to my first instinct appears to mean “immoderate in appetite”). Be a little careful with some of the more unusual adjectives.

You want the audience seamlessly scaling, not reaching for a dictionary.

Review: “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations” by Nancy Duarte

nancy

Precision coaching for all presenters

By Peter Watts

Nancy Duarte’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a concise primer to the skills of presenting, from planning your pitch through to polished delivery.

Of particular value are the sections on how to put together high quality visuals. Some of the book’s best sound-bites are found when Duarte discusses how to create slides that work for an audience, and since reading that section I’ve found myself looking out far more in my own work for the “visual cliches” that Duarte warns about.

This focus on visual layout gives the book a cross-over to the world of blogging because if you are a presenter who also blogs, you’ll find ideas about the use of layouts, diagrams, and imagery. All valuable for an appealing web-page.

This brings us neatly to the topic of social media, and another strength of the HBR Guide. The book brings presenting right into the present day with topics about how you can blend social media resources such as Twitter into presentations, and how to make the maximum use of web-based backchannel communications.

Nancy Duarte is incredibly generous with how she shares the stage. Every chapter contains references to subject matter experts from multiple fields, and advises different books you might like to try out. Backchannel communications for example, is a relatively new topic for me, and right there on the same page that Duarte introduces the topic, she accompanies it with a recommended author from whom you can find out more.

Now for the confession: This wasn’t the Nancy Duarte book that I initially wanted to review. My target was her recent and much-discussed book “Resonate”, but sitting at London’s Heathrow Airport and trying to buy a copy for my Nook e-reader, I discovered that Duarte’s electronic coverage is surprisingly patchy.

The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is the only Duarte title Barnes & Noble have in e-book format, while Amazon do slightly better; they have the HBR guide and “Slideology” available for Kindle. No trace of Resonate at this stage however.

Still, having chosen to go with the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations as my first trip into the writing of Nancy Duarte, I’m pleased that I did. The guide gets full marks as an all round primer, with specific focus on presentation visuals. It also deserves a place on a virtual bookshelf due to it’s generosity as a resource guide to additional subject matter experts. Finally, it gets fullest marks for it’s brevity. Brilliantly concise.

Now on the look-out for “Resonate” as an e-book!

UPDATE: March 26th

Resonate on the iPad

It turns out that Resonate is available on the iPad. Thank you Nancy for dropping by the blog to share. First look is deeply impressive, and a full review will be coming shortly.

Romney tax trap: The power and the pitfalls of tropes

Don’t trip over your tropes when presenting. Use them instead

by Peter Watts

Tropes are powerful magic. Think of them as cultural storylines with entire value sets and back-stories ready-made for easy access. Taking advantage of a trope allows us to cast ourselves heroic, or patriotic, or wise, or kind, or any other persona we choose.

When we work within a trope, our words and actions are re-interpreted through the lens of the trope. When deployed well, they attach glory. When tripped over, a trope can turn the noblest intentions on their heads.

Tropes can be long established. For example, Robin Hood has become a trope. Invoke Robin Hood and your audience interpret your message through the age-old context of the noble renegade, who takes from the rich to give to the poor.

At the same time a smaller portion of your audience might start to think of men in tights! For this we can thank Mel Brookes. A trope hijacked with sufficient force will morph into something new. In the case of the Robin Hood trope it has started to symbolize vaguely cross-dressed humor.

Tropes can be tricky affairs. I’m fascinated by their diversity and potential. As a child growing up in the UK, I used to watch a lunchtime children’s program called Mr Ben. In it, the hero, a respectable British gentleman, in plain dark suit and bowler hat (spot the trope!), would visit a magical costume store. He would change into a costume, and the whole world would change around him to match the costume, complete with ensuing adventure. Tropes provide the Mr Ben costume changes of the presenter’s world.

Take a look at some of the wonderfully diverse cast of trope characters available. Feel like slipping into one of them?

Good speech-writers, speakers, and image makers will all be aware of the terrific power of tropes. They script from within narratives that work for their candidates, while attempting to trip opposing candidates into tropes that are damaging.

Sometimes, the speechwriter doesn’t need to do anything at all, because sometimes the inept opponent can be relied on to do all the hard work for them.

That’s what is happening to Mitt Romney through his self-inflicted tax disclosure wounds, or rather, lack of disclosure. Romney has placed himself firmly into the grip of a trope trap of his own making.

Allow me to explain:

By way of background to the trap, Mitt Romney has spent the last few weeks fighting off requests that he release income tax records, a fairly standard part of an election process, and one in which all potential Presidents participate, most of them willingly and generously. Romney’s refusal to divulge anything except the barest minimum of information is now feeding speculation about what he’s trying to hide.

This is an election season, and it’s a part of the political cycle when political tropes surge to the foreground. Few of them are good. Check out, for example, this trope definition of the sleazy politician.

For any politician with even the tiniest hint of tarnish attached to them, a large section of the viewing audience start to suspiciously view that politician’s every move through that tarnished trope.

In the case of Romney’s self-inflicted tax issues, they can now add “evasiveness” to the trope….

And they can follow it up with “money”……

And finally, for good measure, it’s “tax money”!

Suddenly that tarnished trope takes a turn for the tricky. It wraps itself around it’s victim. It squeezes, and the harder the victim struggles, the tighter that squeeze becomes.

That squeeze showed itself this week during Romney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a key electoral group.

Here is the line from the speech that came to dominate media attention. It’s a section where Romney demands the White House investigate accusations of classified information being leaked. He is picking up on a theme introduced by Senator John McCain several weeks ago.

“…….it is unacceptable to say, ‘We’ll report our findings after Election Day.’ These are things that Americans are entitled to know – and they are entitled to know right now. The President owes all Americans a full and prompt accounting of the facts.”

Romney wanted to sow seeds of doubt about White House leaks, but instead, with the trope trap in place, the line rebounds back on him like a evil spell cast into a mirror.

“tax records…. Americans are entitled to know….. full and prompt accounting of the facts please…after the election it’s too late……tax records…..Now!”

Tropes are wonderful, playful, and powerful elements of storytelling and whether we are delivering a speech or building an image, storytelling is the all important art form.

Here’s the thing though. Tropes work best when used to build and guild from a well defined foundation. When applied to obfuscation and evasiveness however, they morph, and once in process, that morphing becomes unpredictable.

Romney is still to find his dominant narrative. Further trope traps await.

7 steps to beating presentation procrastination

Seven simple ideas to beat procrastination. Don’t read later. Read now!

by Peter Watts

Procrastination is putting off a task we don’t want to do today, so that it can become a task we want to do even less tomorrow. Creating the opportunity to speak in public for example.

Ask any accomplished presenter and they will say that the sure-fire way to becoming accomplished is to get out there and practice, as often as possible. Presentations seldom seek us out.  To win those opportunities we have to create them, and that’s often a task we feel we can safely shelve for another day.

The first step to beating procrastination is to recognize that WE are the only people standing in the way of making the future happen.

Once that step is taken, here is the plan for beating the procrastination cycle:

  • Break the challenge down into logical tasks; Task one, task two, task three, and so forth. Task one for example, might be creating a list of your possible opportunities to speak. Task two might be building a list of the people you need to contact. Create a road map of those steps, and set out on them one by one. Assign deadlines for when tasks will be accomplished.
  • Starting out on the task can feel like the hardest part. As the Chinese saying goes: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  Take that first foot-step and you’ll find that the second becomes easier. Movement builds momentum.
  • Seek out a mentor, someone who understands your goals and would be willing to nudge and nag you towards success.
  • Schedule tasks for appropriate times of the day. For example, gathering materials or contact names might be something you can do in low-energy moments after lunch, while creative work is better done while you are fresh in the morning.
  • Set out the tools. I personally procrastinate about building PowerPoint presentations, but if a client wants me to supply one, then my first step is to simply open PowerPoint on my laptop. If I don’t do this, it’s amazing how many other things I’ll be able to find to do instead, such as checking email. Once PowerPoint is open though, I’ve started the task, and design time is more likely to follow.
  • Celebrate your successes along each step. Rewards are a great way to get yourself doing something you don’t want to do. What can you treat yourself to as a reward for getting each task done?

Procrastination is the force that holds us back. Beat procrastination, and wonderful things are free to happen.

8 Points for Presentation Structure

by Peter Watts

Preparation is everything.

While we focus on our content, and sometimes fuss about our slides, it’s essential we never forget about the framework holding everything together.

  • How will we introduce and conclude?
  • How should we segment the content into logical bite-sized pieces?
  • How do we pull together our fundamental arguments?
  • How can we handle the questions at the end?

That’s why I’ve put together this page with links to the various Presenters’ Blog topics on the subject of presentation structure.

Behind each of the following links, you’ll find ideas and tips for successfully navigating the stages of successful presentations:

Introductions
The skills you need to find your feet during the crucial opening moments.

The Main Message
Identifying the key themes you want your audience to walk away with.

The Argument
Presentation protein is held in the sinews of your argument. Here’s how to make it compelling, relevant, and nutritious.

Divide and Conquer
Lessons from the actress Carrie Fisher as she controls content by dividing it into manageable stepping stones within her one-woman show.

Be Competitive, But Don’t Present Your Competition
The best competitive pitching structures follow the golden guideline: “Counter competitors, but avoid attacking them”.

Concluding Your Presentation
How to ensure your final words, are memorable words.

Handling the Questions At The End
Audience members ask questions for a whole variety of reasons. Step-by-step ideas for how to handle those different types of question.

Handling The Question That Mustn’t Be Answered
Occasionally we are asked a special type of question: The hostile question. What to do on the rare occasions when an audience member lobs a curve-ball.

If there are additional structural topics that you’d like to hear about, do let me know in the comments box.

Ancient Danish monarch: Alive and well in French election

by Peter Watts

Paris is becoming politically plastered. Last-minute election posters are popping up everywhere.

One of them has particularly caught my attention:

“La France Forte Avec Nicolas Sarkozy”
“A strong France with Nicolas Sarkozy”

Sarkozy’s choice of visual metaphor for these closing stages of the campaign has him standing against a backdrop of the ocean; He is the valiant protector, guarding the virtue of the nation. But guarding it against what exactly? With France’s two coastlines being south and west, the threat indicated must lie in one or both of these directions.

The two most likely suspects hinted at must therefore be the economic migrants who cross into France from North Africa, and the “Anglo-Saxon” economic models perceived as crossing from the U.K. and America.

Neither are electorally popular, and to put Sarkozy’s election into context, he faces one election challenger who touts state-sanctioned xenophobia, while the other supports generously old-fashioned state funding for absolutely everything.

These posters suggest Sarkozy is attempting to align himself with both opponents. By representing himself as a stern bastion against the evils from over the waves, he has dived for the basest instincts of the electoral base.

In creating this visual metaphor however, the President’s team have missed it’s most obvious symbolism; King Canute.

Depending on your reading of the legend, King Canute either sought to demonstrate the limits of Kingly power to his awestruck subjects, or truly believed he could command the waves to stop.

In either interpretation, the story didn’t end well.

Does this poster indicate that President Sarkozy is about to get his feet wet?

When choosing visuals, beware the unintended message.

Retiring the retirement speech

How do you formulate a great send-off speech?

by Peter Watts

Retirement speeches are due for retirement. A blend of good luck and bad means that retirement is becoming a thing of the past. The good luck is that we live longer, fitter lives. The bad luck is that retirement funds haven’t kept up with us.

Today we more often work a series of downsize careers before finally retiring after a period of part-time employment.

With classical retirement on the way out, the appropriate speech therefore needs rewriting. Most examples found on the internet will either insult someone who sees themselves as having working years to give, or depress someone who wishes they were heading for a classic golf-course retirement but frankly can’t afford it.

Even if those two points don’t dissuade you from a “retirement speech”, just put yourself in the place of the average recipient of one of these dreadful things. The poor old codger, off to pasture while the bright young things look on in patronizing pity. Painful.

A solution is at hand in a speech type called an Encomium. It’s a tribute speech that’s suitable for seeing people on the next stage of their life journey, and works well for any type of leaving speech. Here is a step-by-step guide to a 21st century encomium that will make your leaver wish they weren’t leaving.

An encomium presents someone’s story as a heroic journey. As with all good stories, there is a narrative structure that can be thought of as:

  • Step One: Their origin
  • Step Two: Their traits
  • Step Three: Their deeds
  • Step Four: Their legacy

The vital ingredient: A character trait

The speech hinges on a specific personality trait of the individual being praised, and demonstrating how through that trait, the person leaving has contributed to the achievements of either the team or organization. You then conclude the speech by encouraging others to emulate that trait, thereby continuing the individual’s legacy. Here are the stages for putting your encomium together:

Step One: How they joined us

Begin with a brief description of how the individual came to be in their current position. Some basic facts to include are:

  • What they did before joining your team or company
  • The position they joined in
  • The situation of the team at the time they joined

During an encomium you magnify the individual’s achievements. For this reason, the task is easier if you start low! If you include too much greatness in the early stages, then the best you achieve by the end is to show how the individual merely maintained that greatness. In other words, you show how they flat-lined!

Some examples of starting low might include how it was a tough time for the company when they joined. Their career and attributes can then be mapped onto how they helped the company/team pull through those times.

Alternately, you might focus on how the individual joined the team as a novice or apprentice, and has delivered great things throughout their growth..

Step Two: Their Traits

Here you lay out that essential personality trait.

This is important for the narrative in two ways:

  • during the next stage you will detail a major contribution that person makes to the organization and why they will be missed. The aspect of their nature you highlight here, will be the logical foundation for the achievement that is to come.
  • at the end of the speech you will exhort everyone else to fill the gap this individual leaves by emulating that trait. So, make sure its a trait you would encourage in others!

For example, if the individual is recognized as being a great salesperson, you will praise a personality aspect that supports this. It could be their persistence, their integrity, or their thirst for success.

Step Three: Their Deeds

The creators of the encomium, the ancient Greeks and Romans, believed this section should contain “the three Excellences”, and these were detailed to be the excellences of mind, body, and fortune. When we understand what would have been included under these headings, it gives an indication of the tone we’re aiming to achieve.

Under the excellence of the mind, classical speakers would share examples that demonstrated fortitude, stamina, and prudence. For the excellence of the body, they would talk about the individuals grace and style. Finally for the excellence of fortune, the speaker would talk about the position, wealth, or high connections that someone had achieved.

Try to hit some of those excellences in telling the story. Where did the leaver demonstrate stamina in achieving results? How did their unique personal style contribute to success? What fortune came to the team or organization as a result?

A classical encomium might list multiple deeds; the higher the individual, the more deeds would be detailed! For this speech however, limit yourself to just one or two.

Step Four: Their Legacy

This final stage wishes the leaver well on the next stage of their journey, and interestingly swings the speech away from the recipient, and onto the audience.

Ask those who are being left behind to reflect on the unique personality trait of the person leaving, and encourage them to emulate it. Each individual must rise up to fill the gap this departure is going to create. Encourage the audience to perpetuate that positive behavior.

Bring your attention back to the leaver. Simply and cleanly thank them for their service, and wish them well on the next stage of their journey.

This concludes your speech. As with all good speaking, draft it in advance and practice before delivery. Do everything you can to keep the speech brief, and if possible, try to deliver it from memory.

You might also want to have some tissues handy. People have been known to become a little teary-eyed at this point, but when they do, you’ll know that it’s for all the right reasons!

K.I.S.S.’ing-off complexity

Keeping it short and simple is never stupid

by Peter Watts

This week finds me in Dubai with a balcony view of Burj Khalifa, the 163 storey spike of glass and light that is the world’s tallest building.

We erroneously associate size with status. Whatever you build, I can build bigger. The Burj might be the world’s tallest building today, but cities suffer acute architectural envy and before long it will be overtaken, becoming the world’s second tallest building.

Why do nations keep on building them bigger? Because advances in architecture mean that they can!

As architects enable more floors on towers, so PowerPoint enables more flaws in presentations:

  • The more slides the better
  • The more information the better
  • The more effects the better

We see other presenters doing flashy things and find ourselves tempted. Your colleague presents 15 slides, you present 20. You add audio, they add video. Presentation inflation sets in. The victim is clarity.

This is nothing new. A Roman orator, having tweaked a speech in order to outdo his rival was heard to admire his new prose with the words “Ah, so much the better. I can barely understand it myself!”

Message clarity is lost when it’s blurred by bling.

In Forbes magazine, the venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, describes his five second solution to this problem:

Review your presentation with a colleague. Let each slide stay up for just five seconds. If your reviewer proves unable to grasp your message in that short time, simplify the slides.

Sometimes we accidentally create the Burj Khalifa when more modest structures would prove more elegant.

Unaccustomed as I ham

Rejoice, for the season of the office party is upon us

by Peter Watts

You’re used to presenting right? These are folks you work with every day right? What can go wrong when it comes time for you to stand up and….. “say a few words”?

Lots!

Informal social speeches can prove slippery beasts. Unaccustomed, we attempt light-hearted, delivered under the influence of alcohol. A cringe-inducing serving of Christmas ham is the unintended result.

The Holidays are memorable, staff parties are memorable, and your speech is the keynote party address. It needs to be memorable too, and for the right reasons.

Here’s the instant guide to the perfect four-minute ham-free party speech.

  • Control for your comfort zone. Speak early, before noise or alcohol levels have the chance to rise
  • Keep it short
  • Please, no PowerPoint
  • If joke-telling is not what you’re known for, avoid!
  • Plan, practice, & memorise

The Perfect Office Party Speech:

The goal:

  • Generate team-wide feel-good about success achieved in the past year
  • Spread the love, showing how everyone contributed to that success
  • Project success forward into the year to come

Ingredients:

One team triumph from the year just passed. Of the achievements your team produced, which are you proudest of? It could be new contract, a product launch, a project completed, or a challenge met.

The chosen triumph must allow glory to be spread. Make sure it involved teamwork. Remember: spread the love!

Process and Timings:


Step One:
Open with the significance of your chosen triumph. Why are you proud of it?
60 seconds

Step Two:
Detail three examples of how everyone worked together to achieve that triumph. If your party includes staff family members, be sure to include them too.
Keep it short and punchy.
90 seconds

Step Three:
Conclude by projecting forward into next year. Talk about the next challenge on the horizon and how this year’s triumph is a perfect spring-board.
60 seconds

Step Four:
The call-to-action: “Ladies and Gentlemen…. the bar is open. Enjoy!”
30 seconds

Receive applause. Bask in goodwill. You just made a highly effective holiday-season speech!

It was a speech about teamwork. A speech that acknowledged and valued people, and that pointed-up the values of endeavour, persistence, and hard work. A speech that issued the first battle cry of the year to come and set your team looking forward to challenges ahead.

It was a speech in under four minutes flat!

It was a holiday speech they’ll remember, and for all the right reasons.

More Sources:

Office party speaking appears to be something a lot of people  are interested in, especially come the Holidays. Here are a few additional resources from around the web:

Max Atkinson’s Blog

Max is a leading UK blogger about speaking and communication. Here is his guidance for Holiday speaking: The Office Christmas Party Speech: roads to failure and success

And for ideas about what to put into the script, try write-out-loud.com’s Christmas Speeches: Short, Simple, and Sincere

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