Controlling flashy graphics

by Peter Watts

I recently observed an exciting approach to presenting a boring subject. The type of subject that is entirely fact driven, very technical, and needs a lot of slides!

This approach held an auditorium of 200 people in rapt attention for just under two hours. How? The entire presentation had been professionally animated!

The basic animation scheme was simple. As each slide appeared, with data points all grouped neatly down the left-hand side, a filmed human hand holding a pencil would appear on the right hand side and rapidly dash off doodle-style illustrations appropriate to the content.

It must have been expensive to produce, and the audience, anticipating deathly dullness, were visibly delighted at the approach.

There were however, two snags:

A little over half way into the presentation, I realized that in my fascination at watching the furiously doodling antics of the hand, I was failing to pay attention to what the presenter was actually saying. My recall of the previous 45 minutes was limited to cutely cartoony houses, and people, and various bits of computer. It had been tremendously enjoyable watching the art of the presentation, but had failed the art of presenting. The visuals had swamped the message.

The second snag started to show up in the second half of the presentation, as the presenter began to tire.

All the visuals were running in a form rather like a movie. The presenter was in effect delivering a precisely timed live voice-over to what was appearing on the screen. For the first half of the presentation, this worked just fine. One had to admire the hours of rehearsal necessary. In the second half however, the video started to run away with the presenter. As he tired he would start to trip over his words or forget the odd passage here and there. The result was embarrassing periods of presenter staring at screen and trying to catch-up with the action.

The visuals were now swamping both message and messenger.

In commenting on this presenter’s approach we can draw two conclusions:

Firstly, full marks for imagination, preparation, and rehearsal. The subject being delivered, while innately uninspiring, was one that was vital to this particular organization. The effort to produce an eye-catching presentation was therefore valid, and in terms of fascinating the audience, delivered powerfully.

If the budget and skill-set are available to other presenters, I would encourage the same approach.

The second conclusion is that when you are using such an approach, as with all things presentation, keep it simple:

Don’t let the onscreen action be continuous. Have sections where nothing is happening behind you so that you can recapture the audience’s full attention and emphasize key points.

Use those gaps to create fire-breaks in the presentation where you have to manually advance the presentation to the next stage. This ensures that things can’t run away from you.

High-end graphics can be great, just keep them in control!

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!

Iowa Caucuses: Battles won, Wars lost

by Peter Watts

Here come the caucuses, and I don’t mean the mountain range between Europe and Asia. This is the process by which the US Republican Party will choose the individual who faces-off against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

The past months have seen candidates spreading their message like farmers spreading silage in the Fall; generously, fragrantly, and in every direction. Wednesday January 3rd will yield the first results in the form of the Iowa caucus.

For the Presenters’ Blog, it’s too much of an opportunity to pass-up. Every so often between now and November, when the whole process crescendos to a conclusion, we’ll drop in to see what learning points the participants have laid out for presenters.

For this first visit, I’d like to focus on two particular candidates while they are still in the race: Mr. Rick Santorum and Mrs. Michele Bachmann.

Santorum and Bachmann are hard-right social conservatives. Their demongraphic, and yes I did mean to spell it that way,  is the hardcore religious-right, an audience motivated by purity to a bible-based value set. Santorum and Bachmann have therefore competed to out-do each other in condemning everything and everyone that isn’t in straight agreement with the bible. For that matter, they’ve spent most of their time simply condemning anyone who isn’t straight.

Their focus has been to pursue a niche in the market, and make it their own. From a public speaking point-of-view they win full-marks for “know thy audience”. Here’s the danger though: In seeking to appeal specifically to one audience segment, both have lost sight of the bigger picture. They have made themselves highly electable to a specific group, while making themselves unelectable to the wider population.

Furthermore it’s possible that in future primaries such as New Hampshire, electorates could respond with a backlash specifically against these two candidates. If we reach a point where even other Republicans are motivated to go to the polls simply to reject Santorum and Bachmann, then the size of the challenge facing them in the November election becomes fully apparent.

Let’s compare their approach to that taken by two other candidates, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Both these candidates, while having ticked the “faith” box, have avoided elevating social values as their number one topic. Instead they have sought to merely avoid offending the values voter. By this means they remain viable to the wider electorate without unnecessarily creating opponents to their right.

So, for the first Presenters’ Blog talking point of Election 2012 I’d like to propose:

Know your audience and seek its support, but don’t do so in such a way that you create passionate opponents where they needn’t have otherwise existed

New year, new clothes

Image

by Peter Watts

Guess what happens when old clothes are within easy reach.

We wear them.

Old clothes don’t look good on stage unless retro fundamentally links with our image, and then the clothes had better be retro, not merely old!

New Year pre-disposes us toward clearing stuff out. Out go the decorations. Out go those special holiday food items that yet again we bought and that yet again no one consumed. De-cluttering everything from the rooms to the refrigerator puts us into a new-broom mindset. De-cluttering invigorates. It releases space and energy for other things.

Carry the process right through to the closets and get rid of old clothes. If you haven’t worn an item for over a year then send it to the thrift store and take advantage of the new year sales to find a replacement.

When we are presenting it’s essential that we look the part. Before we have the chance to launch our opening line, the audience has already made their initial assessment based on how we look. This is where those old favorites hanging in the closet can become a danger.

Start the new year with an upgraded look and by donating those old clothes to charity.

Enjoying the Journey

by Peter Watts

There is a parallel between enjoying presenting and enjoying the Holidays.

Every Christmas I have a melt-down. I enter the festive season resolving “This time I will not be a stress-demon by Christmas Eve.” Unfortunately though, year after year, I find a certain amount of difficulty in measuring up to the goal, and I know I’m not alone!

Why is it so many of us go nuclear the night before Christmas, and why is there a parallel to the world of presenting?

There comes a time when we become responsible for delivering The Holidays. Be it Hanukkah, Christmas, or Eid, we wind-up in that festive hot-seat, and if we’ve been fortunate in life, we’ve been set some pretty high benchmarks by parents and grandparents before us.

Now it’s our turn to create those traditions for new generations, and to honor the examples of the generations who have gone before. It’s a lot to live up to. No wonder we get just that tiny bit stressed!

My partner and I had the baton passed to us some eight years ago, and we’ve had some real festive disasters since! There was the year the tree fell-over during the gift-giving, glass baubles exploding in amongst the presents. And then of course the year that the incredibly elaborate French-inspired Christmas-meal arrived to the table not only cold, but congealed.

Oddly though, our guests keep coming back for Christmas Day, and not just for the comedy value. It would seem that despite our worries to the contrary, we’re doing a pretty good job of hosting the Holidays.

Those examples that we fixate on emulating? Those are examples set by parents who had a good forty years of practice before we took over the traditions. Compared to them, we are of the lowliest novice grade, and while it’s great to have high benchmarks to aspire to, we only get there by experience.

Presenting and the Holidays improve with practice. Every time out, we get that little bit better. The secret is to give ourselves permission to enjoy the journey, and that way, those who accompany us, be they family, friends, or audience, get to enjoy it too!

This Christmas, give yourself permission to “be in the moment”. Enjoy all the wonderful kitsch Holiday chaos that swirls around, and above all, enjoy those with whom you share it.

Wishing you Happy Holidays from The Presenters’ Blog

Performing Arts Perform Inspiration

by Peter Watts

It might feel a little early for New Year resolutions, but here’s one I want to suggest right now:

During 2012, go enjoy one live performance arts event every month

This past weekend I attended the annual Hartford Symphony Christmas Pops concert, led for the first year by new conductor, Carolyn Kuan

While a small number of classical Christmas pieces were included, the majority of Kuan’s program choices were non-traditional. Hanukkah rhythms. Tchaikovsky re-arranged as big-band jazz. Choruses in Cantonese. A Rodetzky clapping frenzy personally conducted by the conductor herself. From beginning to end, it was an explosion of the seasonally unexpected. Kuan radically reengineered her audience’s expectations of a Christmas concert.

Shunning the formulaic produces magical results. When we break new ground there is an edge of risk that summons our full spirit to the task, and that spirit manifests as passion.

Don’t play it safe. Play it with passion.

In her book “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron suggests we each have a well of creativity. We dip metaphorical buckets whenever we want to pull up creative ideas and unless we take time to re-fill the well, we will one day dip the bucket only to have it come back up empty.

Cameron therefore recommends a regular treat called an “Artist’s Date” where you replenish that creativity. For presenters there can be no finer Artist’s Date than the performing arts.

Why wait till the New Year to start this particular resolution. December is a time when the arts come gloriously alive. Whether it be a play, a concert,  a night at the ballet, or a choir singing on a street corner, there is inspiration to be found all around us

As presenters we are members of many communities, and one of those is the community of the arts. Let’s make 2012 a year to enjoy our membership.

Further Ideas:
Now that my night at the Symphony has tuned me into the connections between the performing arts and presenting, I’ve noticed that a couple of my blogging friends are also thinking in the same direction:
Laura Camacho shows five ways to bring the joy of art to the art of your work, and Nick Morgan shares the insights that jazz can hold for public speakers.

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

Does my but sound big in this?

by Peter Watts

Using “but” in business presentations reduces your influence.

    • It raises defensiveness in others by implying disagreement or excuses
    • The word sounds dull; consider it’s phonic counterparts: gut, cut, hut, shut

In business presentations, it’s fundamentally a defensive, whiney word to avoid

Wherever you use “but”, the word “and” can usually be deployed instead. As a tool “and” is a constructive joining word, as opposed to the wet blanket “but”.

Consider these examples to see how the deployment of one or the other changes the tone:

“We want to expand but competition is increasing. How do we do it?”

The use of “but” depresses the call to action: “How do we do it?”

Instead try:

“We want to expand and competition is increasing. How do we do it?”

Replacing “but” with “and” shifts focus from let’s whinge, to let’s win

Now consider these two:

“Our community is growing but our infrastructure can’t keep up” = Whinge

“Our community is growing and our infrastructure can’t keep up” = Call to Action

“Climate change is a threat but we need fossil fuels” = Whinge

“Climate change is a threat and we need fossil fuels” = Call to Action

While the b-word does have it’s uses when consciously deployed in speech-writing, it’s the unconscious usages that we aim to zap.

Try recording your next piece of public speaking. When you play it back, count how many instances of “but” that you bought into your speech, especially during Q&A sessions. If there are more than five, then your influence level will be improved with a but-reduction.

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