London 2012. Olympic Opening Ceremony. 7 points for presenters

by Peter Watts

What a show! London 2012 delivered the opening of the 30th Olympic Games, and with it’s magnificent Opening Ceremony, also demonstrated seven olympic sized ideas for building presentations:

1. Appeal to history

At the heart of history, lies the art of telling a story. As soon as you go historical, you go narrative, and you do it in a way that naturally structures into a beginning, a middle, and an end.

  • Here’s where you’ve come from
  • Here’s where you are
  • Here’s where you’re going (with our help ofcourse!)

2. Put your strongest assets front and rear

Hit the audience hardest with your hottest assets. Take a look at last night; Paul McCartney, David Beckham, Rowan Atkinson, and James Bond parachuting in with the Queen (was it just me or did her Majesty look a tiny bit unamused at being flung in effigy out of a helicopter?).

Put heavy hitters first and last to create a powerful opening and a memorable conclusion.

Anything likely to puzzle, put it in the middle. (Mary Poppins v. Lord Voldemort. Really?)

3. Beware the moaning Minnie

Or in this case, it was a moaning Mitt during the #RomneyShambles! Whenever you attempt something new, grand, or adventurous, there will always be at least one whinging voice off-stage warning about what went wrong when they tried to do the same thing years ago.

Whenever you hear Moaning Mitt, do as David Cameron and Boris Johnson did; give them a slap, and ignore them.

4. And by the way, comparisons don’t count

How will the London Olympics compare to Beijing in 2008, or to Sydney in 2000?

Who cares!

Never worry about how you will appear when compared to someone else. They will have had their strengths, you will have your strengths. They are going to be different.

Comparisons are bogus. Never let them worry you.

5. Keep the visuals iconic

Good visuals carry instant meaning. If they need to be explained, they failed.

I was watching the show sitting in a restaurant in Connecticut, where the inevitable ceiling mounted TV peered down at us from behind the bar. The sound was off yet whenever someone glanced upwards to see what was happening, they could understand the visual narratives instantly.

In fact, the only bit that did have them scratching their heads was Mary Poppins v. Voldemort, but as we’ve already said; that was in the middle!

6. Sometimes be ironic

Throughout the pageantry, I did detect the slightest undercurrent of an ironic British raspberry being blown at the fat-cats and sponsors. The people celebrated throughout the pageantry weren’t the well heeled sponsors limo-whisked down express traffic lanes to private entrances and VIP seating.

The people celebrated were villagers, workers, and protestors. There was almost a tone of Occupy Wall Street, with the 99% represented by tableaux. Even socialized medicine was celebrated in a paean to the National Health Service. It was all beautifully below the radar; just a little bit tongue in cheek and leading directly to point number seven:

7. Know who hands out the medals

Who is going to judge you afterwards and hand out the medals? In the case of the Brits, is it the IOC or the sponsors? No it most certainly isn’t. It’s the viewing audience, and in particular for the UK government, it’s all those people who have paid for the event out of their tax money and get to vote again in two years time (or maybe even sooner!)

That’s why the opening appeared to some commentators to be “quirky and odd”. Brits ARE quirky and odd. If you’re trying to appeal to quirky and odd British voters then quirky and odd wins hands down.

Who else might the host country be looking to for a gold? How about the world’s tourists. Quirky and odd, tea and the Queen, are the comfortingly cozy metaphors that sell-out Japanese package-tours to the British Isles.

Quirky and odd demonstrated superb understanding of the UK’s true target market, and of who will be handing out the real prizes later.

A pageant, with a point, that persuaded the audience to stay tuned, and that will deliver long-term advantages.

What more could you want in a successful presentation, or Olympic Ceremony!

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.

Stories, anecdotes, and diversions

by Peter Watts

Anecdotes, stories, and diversions bring a presentation to life.

When we add something personal to a presentation, it is a gift from ourselves to the audience. It paints colour into our words, sharing our passion for the subject.

The secret is to not leave the anecdote to chance. Plan it carefully. Know at what point you are going to introduce it, and most importantly, ensure you know how to link back into the presentation afterwards.

This week I have had the privilege of working in Istanbul, and the even greater privilege of having a small portion of leisure time. During that day off, I found myself walking down one of the city’s principal streets.

All the usual suspects were there. Well known designer brands sat beside Starbucks outlets. Recognition of familiar branding gave me a feeling of being somewhere I knew. Rather like the main theme of a presentation it was easy to navigate.

Numerous smaller streets sat between the western chains. I took a diversion, and headed down one.

Familiar stores were replaced by street markets. The area around me had come to life. THIS was Istanbul. Like a good story or anecdote, my diversion bought me not just the colors of Istanbul, but it’s sounds, and smells, and textures, and tastes. All the senses engaged at once in a full memory locking experience.

I so much enjoyed my diversion, that I wandered further, following the twists and turns. My initial experience so pleasant that I was encouraged to wander deeper.

When we tell a story, the audience sits forward. Interest peeks. We are encouraged to keep going.

Before long, I became aware that the streets were becoming distinctly narrower and more neglected. Time to go back. The problem was that as I traced what I thought was my route back to the street, I realized that I was going in circles. I had passed the same fabric store three times. The store keeper was starting to recognize me. Hopelessly “lost tourist” had to be scrawled all over me.

If we haven’t planned a story thoroughly, before we know it, the walls can start closing in, and we struggle to find our way back to the main theme in a way that the audience start to recognize as a “lost presenter”!

I made it back to that main thoroughfare, and resumed my walk. But I was so disoriented by this point that I started walking in the wrong direction, and five minutes later found myself back-tracking in the heat over places I had already been.

If we become lost in an anecdote, we are so relieved to rejoin our main thread that we then become lost all over again.

My detour into the backstreets of Istanbul was the most memorable part of my day, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In just the same way, a well placed story will be the most memorable part of your presentation.

For it to be a success though, make sure that you know how far into it you want to go, and have a clear idea of how to find your way back out.

How many PowerPoint slides should I have?

by Peter Watts

When people feel they need something to be really big, you have to wonder if they’re compensating for something.

Let’s take super-sized slide-decks for example. What hidden inadequacies might all that PowerPoint be trying to hide?

If your megabytes are bulking into gigabytes, take a moment to check that you’re not compensating for something:

Inadequate preparation?
Presenting direct from an unmodified standard slide-deck of a couple of hundred catch-all slides is a sure-fire sign of a presenter who did no more preparation beyond bringing their power chord.

Inadequate confidence?
When in doubt, leave nothing out! Going into battle armed with every single slide you can possibly find is a frequent clue that you don’t know your message.

Inadequate audience understanding?
If you don’t understand the audience, it’s awful hard to meet their needs. The one-size-fits-all maxi-presentation is the inevitable response.

Inadequate product knowledge?
When you don’t know your product, the slides have to do the work for you; after all, you’re relying on them for all the information.

Inadequate skills?
Giant-sized PowerPoints are no compensation for mini-sized skills. Competent presenters tame slide-decks down to manageable proportions. Really skilled presenters hardly use slide-decks at all.

Consistently strip your slide decks down to reveal their messages, or audiences might start stripping you down to reveal what you’re hiding.

Check the amount of talk-time that each slide is giving you. Good working slides will sustain you for at least three minutes of talk-time. As you grow in experience, each slide should be capable of sustaining you for ever longer periods:

  • Beginner: Three minutes
  • Intermediate: Five minutes
  • Pro: Seven minutes
  • Über-Pro: Who needs slides?

As your confidence levels develop, try having sections of your presentation where you switch off the slides altogether and talk directly to your audience.

How many PowerPoint slides should you have? As few as possible.

The presentation came out of nowhere. What to do?

by Peter Watts

Presentations can strike without notice. A colleague gets hit by ill health and you get hit by their presentation.

How to avoid that deer-in-the-headlights moment?

The key to success is your ability to rapidly master your colleague’s presentation so that it works for you as smoothly as it was about to work for them. Get the content right, and all else will follow.

Organize the slides to work for you

The biggest mistake you could make would be attempting to deliver your colleagues’ PowerPoints unmodified. That was their presentation. It made sense to them. You need something that makes sense for you.

First make a copy of the slides. You’re about to perform high-speed field surgery and you’ll cut deeper if you know a backup is saved elsewhere.

Find out about the audience. What do they need to know, and where does that intersect with what you know. Edit the slide deck to focus in on those happy intersections.

If there are any essential slides that you’re unsure about, have a colleague talk you through the salient points and help you put them into a context.

Where there are slides you don’t understand but that aren’t connected to the main purpose, delete them. Make that slide deck as compact as possible.

Similarly, delete any superfluous bullet-points that might be hanging around. Make your  slides as clean as possible to minimise the chance of audience questions being prompted by stray bullets.

Eliminate anything that might leave you staring at the screen mumbling “Well, I think that point is self-explanatory”. No-one is fooled. You are clueless in public. Zap any such slides or slide content before you present.

Structure

Put the content you are least confident of into the least memorable part of the presentation: the middle. Place strong content at the beginning and end of the presentation. Don’t worry if your colleague’s 90 minute presentation is now your 30 minute one. Brevity is an art form.

When it comes to any content that you are not comfortable with however, do keep challenging yourself: “Does this really have to be in the presentation?” If in doubt, then either delete, or remember the option of “Hide Slide”.

Questions

Before starting the presentation, plan for how to handle questions. It’s quite possible that the person you are replacing had knowledge of specialist topics that you don’t, and that there might be audience questions about those topics.

Remember as a first-base, that you are stepping in at short notice. Without you, there would be no presentation, and even though you can’t actually see it, the super-hero cape is already fluttering from your shoulders. Being unable answer specialist questions about someone else’s specialism is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.

Perhaps subject matter experts are available who while not wishing to present, would be happy to take questions for you.

If such an individual isn’t available, never be tempted to bluff your answers. Resolve that for any questions you can’t answer, you will make a note of them and get back to the audience members after the presentation.

This approach upholds your credibility and ensures people get the right answers. It also creates a reason for you or a colleague to talk to the audience beyond the presentation and thereby further develop the relationship.

What experiences of impromptu presentations have you had, or are maybe having?

What are your tips for turning unexpected pitch into richly deserved triumph?

Hear the sound of your self-esteem. Coach accordingly

by Peter Watts

I became aware of a damp patch.

Inevitable with a Victorian cottage. Moisture slowly creeping up an outside wall. Tell-tale watermarks on plaster in the hall.

Months of contractor confusion led to my hiring an independent surveyor to take charge. He promptly nailed the source of all my problems as being a tiny pipe, steadily and slowly dip drip dripping beneath a floor.

Seemingly tiny little leaks of self-esteem can have exactly the same effect on our confidence.

The most damaging are those hidden beneath the floor-boards of our bravado; the inner comments we make to ourselves when offered the chance to take on new challenges.

  • “I’m no good at x”
  • “I’ll screw it up if I dare to have a go at y”
  • “I’ve not got what it takes for z”

Over months and years, those drips become a damp-spreading mantra, soaking foundations. Our confidence water-logs from within.

My surveyor told me that to identify a hidden leak it’s important to listen both to what you can hear, and to what you can’t.

Listen for noises that shouldn’t be there (in my watery case, an almost inaudible hissing sound), and then listen for the sounds that are missing, such as the high pressure surge of water rushing through a healthy system.

  • As a presenter, do you suffer a low level hiss of negative internal criticism?
  • After speaking, how clearly can you hear your that healthy surge of success?

Maintaining a constructive inner-dialogue is essential presenter care-and-maintenance. Self-coaching can be one way to do this, but sometimes problems require the help of an external expert for true diagnosis.

Professional coaching assists presenters at all stages of their careers, in the same way that my professional surveyor was able to help me.

It’s well worth taking the time to fix those little leaks.

At the end of the day, nobody enjoys a presentation from a damp-patch.

French students are revolting

by Peter Watts

Sarkozy supporting students are on the street, leafleting anybody within 20 paces.

Every fifteen minutes another bus load leap to the pavement, eager for instructions and a hand-full of leaflets. They rush off as excited as if heading for a rock concert.

Such activism plays like a counter-cultural revolt when compared to the political apathy that cedes political influence to lobbyists, SuperPACs, and media moguls.

Vibrant societies need public discourse, mobilised from the roots. An under-educated and uninvolved youth, numbed by television, is a dampener on democracy.

What I’m witnessing this morning is the passionate opposite. When you stop and talk with these young people about “Why Sarkozy?”, they don’t parrot a party line. They have specific reasons, to do with maintaining a vibrant France, where there will be both a jobs market and a sense of society for them to join as adults.

Only just old enough to vote, and passionately politically involved.

When someone learns to speak in public, it isn’t just about body language. It’s learning to have that unique voice, to be a participant, and connect with passion.

It’s being like the young people I’m seeing out on the streets of pre-election Paris.

Vive la revolution!

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Think free or die

by Peter Watts

Because presenting is inventing, constantly check yourself for dogma.

Dogma sets up unchallengeable absolutes, and has a simple purpose: to castrate.

By castrating the ability to question, it shuts down the chance to innovate. Public speaking without innovation becomes mere preaching by rote, the same cold meat served day after day until the intellectual hunger of the speaker becomes numb.

The people of the state of New Hampshire live by the state motto “Live free or die”. To be effective as presenters we guard and nurture that same freedom.

In her book “How to live a life of Montaigne“, Sarah Bakewell describes how the French philosopher lived by a simple credo:

“All I know is that I know nothing, and I’m not even sure about that.”

It is hard to be a know-it-all when your world view is “I know nothing”, and nothing captures the love of an audience quite like humility. Freshness and humility. What a killer combination on stage.

Genuinely free thinkers are few and far between, and that makes them memorable.

We walk amongst those thinkers whenever we cut free from the dogmas and orthodoxies that seek to hold us down.

Santorum out. But can Romney learn to like himself?

by Peter Watts

The personal characteristics that enable others to believe in us the most, are often the ones coached out of us as being most likely to frighten the horses.

The Republican nomination process for the candidate to face President Obama this November, has demonstrated this supremely.

Candidate Rick Santorum spoke from the tightly constructed belief system of a 17th century religious fundamentalist. He knew what he stood for, and had that stand consistent. He knew his social views made him unacceptable, yet he trumpeted them through all pronouncements. The interesting result was that while we might have abhored his policies, we couldn’t help but believe the man. When Santorum spoke, we believed him. When his opponent, Mitt Romney speaks, we don’t.

Romney appears insincere. His character appears disparate and dislocated. We are shown the urban sprawl, while denied even a glimpse of the central city. What is so awful that Mitt Romney hides it from view?

The problem is that Romney has been told his wealth does not play well with the electorate. He’s been told the same thing about his Mormonism. The result is a candidate hobbled by the two defining characteristics that should be surging a Republican candidate to victory; red-blooded business success and missionary-grade religious ardour.

Romney struggles to portray himself as something he’s not, or to put it more precisely, he struggles not to portray himself as what he truly is.

We should have been hearing about Mitt-the-Merciless. Instead we get Mitt the Etch-A-Sketch; one quick shake and the policies dissolve.

While Romney flustered, Santorum flew. Santorum flew despite the fact that he knew he would never become the nominee, but still consistently put his own true self out onto the stage. Result: respect.

Mitt Romney came into the campaign as Republican heir apparent. He came into the campaign as the candidate the White House feared. And yet, while he will indeed leave the campaign as nominee, he will also leave it weakened by evasiveness and flip-flopping.

Mitt Romney is no longer a candidate the White House fears.

To speak in public with passion and integrity, your own personality attributes must lock together into a convincing narrative. Try to run away from your own true self and you’ll find your audience can run even faster! This was the strength behind Rick Santorum, and the weakness behind Mitt Romney.

Problematically for Romney, it is also the strength behind Barack Obama.

Steeplechase presenting? Try trick-jumps

by Peter Watts

Easter Sunday at our local church started with a 7:00 a.m. service; the first of five Easter services for the Reverend Louise; three in the morning, and two in the afternoon.

For a busy Vicar, Easter Sunday must feel like a steeplechase. One service falls directly after another, and each congregation, whether the first or the last, regards it as a special time they have cleared in their day just to come and hear the Vicar’s message.

As presenters, our world is sometimes the same. It might be the third, fourth, fifth,tenth or twentieth time we have delivered our presentation, but for the audience, it is always the first.

To join with that audience, we must approach with the same freshness, the same beginners mind as the people in front of us. By approaching something with a beginners mind, we keep it alive.

Try adding new twists to your content. Maybe a new perspective, a new anecdote, or a slightly different sequence of topics. Perhaps take advantage of your comfort level with the topic to take a little risk, and experiment with a new technique you have’t tried before. If we continually ski the same old slope to the point where we individually recognise each and every pine tree along the way, it leads to boredom with the message and neglect of our audience.

By slipping in the occasional trick-jump, we keep things fresh.

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