Chicken soup for the Presenters’ soul (without harming chicken)

by Peter Watts

There is a New York Times article that will inspire you.

It’s short. It’s morning-air crisp, and in one brief column will transport you to a place you can scratch.

It’s a place full of chickens. And the daily life of chickens. And I never before appreciated quite how much inspiration your average chicken has to offer to a presenter.

Chickens, it would seem, appreciate more than any other creature, how even the most raked-over ground can offer surprises to those who come to it with fresh eyes and persistence.

There is always something new to be found, and we feed ourselves and our audiences by being constantly alive to the possibility of the angle undiscovered.

Here’s the article. Go on, be a chicken…… I dare you!

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

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.

Knowledge is power when presenting

by Peter Watts

When we make a presentation we occupy the space defined by Peter Drucker as that of a “Knowledge Worker”, someone who “works primarily with information”.

Our goal is to inform and persuade. Information is the bedrock of our ability to do that. It’s essential that as presenters we continually feed the mind in the same way we would feed the body.

We need to achieve three goals when delivering knowledge to an audience. We must enable them to: understand, remember, and believe

To achieve this requires a broader awareness of our subject than merely the facts behind the case. Although important foundations, facts alone seldom achieve a winning presentation.

The important knowledge, that is often neglected, is about the wider world around the product or cause; information that brings color and interest. Mainstream media once provided a rich source but today, chasing the quickest buck at the lowest cost, most media outlets offer a diet of celebrity-drenched trivia.

To be a successful presenter requires us to take control of knowledge-gathering to maintain our information libraries. What outlets do you actively follow in order to keep your mind fed?

The internet, and the fast developing channels of Social Media, are the most incredible source of quality information if you seek it out. Whatever your subject might be, there will be specialist news outlets, e-zines, interest groups, bloggers, and information aggregators. Let’s not forget Twitter. It can take a while to master, but well managed Twitter lists of quality Tweeters can rapidly become an incredible data source.

Make it your mission to find new quality information sources every month and then follow those sources to see where they lead you.

Knowledge is power. It’s also depth, color, interest, and background, all of which we need to be able to call upon if we are to inspire our audiences.

“understand, remember, and believe.”

Competitive Presentations That Don’t Present The Competition

by Peter Watts

I want to emphasize that while negative advertising works in politics, it seldom works in product sales

In his copywriting and direct marketing blog, Dien Rieck points out an important point to keep in mind when presenting.

Don’t knock the competition!

Customers are there to hear you present about your product, not about someone else’s. Attacking competitors comes across as arrogant and unethical, and frequently leads to bite-backs from the audience.

So, how to bring across your product’s advantages over “Brand X” if you can’t mention them by name?

Where you have a strong competitor that you want to position your product favorably against, have the habit of thinking about your presentation from two dimensions:

Strengths

  • How is my product better than the competitor?

Weaknesses

  • Where is the competitor better than me?

Ensure that every point within the presentation points to your strengths in ways that make them truly standout for the audience. Link the strengths to the customer’s needs and demonstrate them clearly. If that strength also happens to be one of your differential advantages, put it front and center of the presentation.

How about the weaknesses?

If there are known weaknesses in your product that you feel your competitor might seek to exploit, then your task is to counter-balance them. Let’s take a mobile phone as an example. Maybe your competitor has a significantly bigger screen than you do, and you believe that this might be where they pitch their presentation; all the lovely apps and toys that the customer could run.

What are the counter-measures for this? One could be the ungainly weight and size of their product due to that larger screen. The competitor will also most probably suffer from a reduced battery life, unless of course the bigger panel is accompanied by a bigger battery, which equals even more bulk and weight! If this is the case, make sure you have sections in your presentation that deal with how essential a long battery life is for the mobile user. Without long-battery life you are forced to carry extra power chords or batteries, adding even more to size and weight.

Paint a vivid picture of how your product allows the mobile user to have an easy life on the road, not having to worry about re-charging and with a product perfectly designed to sit easily in the pocket.

Do a good job, and the customer will value your benefit of long battery life and easy mobility, thereby discounting the advantage of your competitor.

By using powerful positives to position your products strengths, and then well chosen counter-measures to offset it’s weaknesses, you can create a highly targeted competitive presentation, without once mentioning the competition!

Using song lyrics for pleasure, polish, and presentation performance

by Peter Watts

Bob Dylan will help your presentations come to life. In fact not just Dylan; whether your genre is rock, soul, country, or blues, you can have fun with a presentation by slipping in the odd line of lyrics from your favorite song.

Why would you do this? Three reasons:

Firstly, to bring personal pleasure to your presentation. If you’re enjoying the session, then your audience will enjoy it too. Embedding the occasional song lyric, an aside that is meant for you alone, will quietly spike your energy and keep you upbeat.

Secondly, it helps with nerves. The pre-planned song lyric, chosen because you like it and can fit it into your narrative, acts like a pin to pop the bubble of any internal tension that has built up while you are talking.

Finally, in terms of their prose quality, song lyrics represent a highway of diamonds we can borrow at leisure, adding dimensions of rhetoric to presentations. They are a ready-made source of inspiration.

In the classroom, I suggest to teams that they incorporate such lyrics into their presentations. Despite initially believing that the trainer has lost his mind, everyone soon discovers what an effective technique this is to bring pleasure to presenting.

The steps to follow are simple:

  • What is my key message?
  • What song title or lyric do I want to include?
  • How can I drop that lyric seamlessly into my presentation in such a way that it fits with the message without drawing attention to itself?

Surprisingly high-calibre speakers often practice this art; Supreme Court Justices for example! According to a recent article on the NPR show “All Things Considered”, Dylan lyrics have found their way into no less than 186 court rulings. Even the supremely straight-laced Antonin Scalia has been known to drop the occasional Dylanism!

You can find the full NPR article by following this link, and maybe also, somewhere in this blog, you might even find my own gem of Dylan.

Presenting ideas, or inspiring confusion?

by Peter Watts

I opened a Twitter account in order to have access to the random thoughts of one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore. His humor makes the dullest journeys enjoyable, and if you find yourself in a bookstore pre-flight I would especially recommend “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” to all business travellers.

Moore is a great communicator not just on the printed page, but with his fans, and I recently saw a Tweet concerning an interview Moore gave to the “Ink and Page” blog.

In response to a question about his use of social media, Moore suggests a new test that I think should be applied to all presentations. We’ll call it “Moore’s Law of Attention Deficit Disorder”.

 Is your presentation constructed to “promote ADD, rather than an exchange of ideas”?

Within training classes I talk about the guiding principal of “Never under-estimate the ability of your audience to completely miss the point.” Moore’s Law of Attention Deficit Disorder describes perfectly what causes the phenomena; we hit audiences with way too much information!

Every presentation should contain a key message; a single idea that holds everything together and provides narrative structure. If the audience is not to become the victim of an acute ADD, it’s essential to prune the presentation. Cut, cut, cut, and then cut some more. Anything not directly connected to the key message has got to go!

At the end of the interview Moore provides golden guidance for all presenters. It’s contained in the penultimate line, in speech marks. I’ll leave you to read it for yourself, along with hopefully that excellent novel about the Lust Lizard.

“The Adversary”: A powerful presentation technique

In every classic story, the hero fights the villain

by Peter Watts

In a key section of his book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”, Carmine Gallo invokes the plot-line of every childhood story we grew up with, in order to reveal a powerful device for mobilizing an audience: the Adversary.

A clear presentation tells a story. It should be stirring, clear, and memorable. It should contain qualities that stand out in clear black and white rather than in obscuring shades of grey.

This binary arrangement requires two fundamental roles to be to the fore. There is firstly the Hero, who appeals to all the best qualities of the audience, and in order for that character to stand out clearly, there must also be the Adversary, representing the opposing force that the audience are being asked to stand against.

Gallo reminds us of how Jobs himself used this arrangement in the 1984 Super Bowl advert that launched the Apple Macintosh. Inspired by George Orwell’s fiction masterwork, this stunning advert portrays Apple as the brave and feisty insurgent rebelling against the tyranny of IBM, symbolized by the tyrannical “Big Brother”.

In almost every presentation, it is likewise possible to identify your binary opposite, and use that opposite to stir the emotions of an audience.

This approach has many times been used to sow division in the world. We have only to listen to talk-radio shock-jocks or watch partisan news networks in order to see the technique in action as one group, frequently a minority, is pilloried in order to boost ratings amongst the network’s core demographic. Such realities might make us justifiably queasy with so tabloid a technique. It’s important therefore to use the approach responsibly. The Adversary should be targeted against ideas, not individuals.

In the corporate world, there are countless examples of where this can be legitimately done. For example, we already have Steve Jobs’ approach, targeting an over-mighty competitor.

For myself, I can think of no stronger use than in the charity sector. Hunger becomes the adversary in famine fund-raising. Pollution becomes the adversary in environmental awareness. Ignorance becomes the adversary in Civil Rights.

A cook will tell you that when creating a sweet dish, the modest introduction of a bitter flavor can actually bring-forward and enhance the sweetness. Too much however, and the sweet quality is not enhanced, it is overwhelmed, and the sweet gives way completely to the bitter.

The same concept applies to the presentation usage of the Adversary. Without an adversary for juxtaposition, the heroic qualities you seek to bring forward in your audience will remain two-dimensional. Add in that little touch of the bitter, and the Hero stands out in clear relief. Add in too much however, and your presentation topples over into a shrill tabloid rant. As with so many techniques of public speaking, subtlety always trumps hyperbole.

This blog, looking at the role of the Adversary, completes my series reviewing Carmine Gallo’s “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”. By focussing on a modern master, the book brings forward powerful and rarely discussed techniques, such as this week’s concept of the Adversary.. I can happily recommend this book to all Steve Jobs fans, to all Apple fans, and of course, to all who want to develop skills in the world of public speaking!

Twitter headlines create compelling presentations

by Peter Watts

In last week’s blog, we reviewed the advice that Carmine Gallo, in his book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” offers in respect of constructing a key message that speaks directly to your audience. This week we’ll look at the second part of his guidance: “Create Twitter-style headlines”.

The whole essence of the internet phenomena “Twitter” is being able to create and deliver a message in 140 characters or less. The resulting sound-bites of information are quick to read, easy to remember, and very easy to transmit from person to person. We even have a new term, the “Twitter-Storm”, describing what happens when a message is so compelling that it surges the internet like an information tsunami.

The power of Twitter is that, as Gallo points out, it prompts us to write and to think concisely. Steve Jobs is a master at the Twitter headline. For example, in the sound bite that accompanied the 2008 MacWorld launch of the MacBook Air, Jobs simply described his new computer as “The world’s thinnest notebook”. Another example, came during the 2001 launch of the Apple iPod when Jobs announced “One thousand songs in your pocket.”

Short, snappy, and to the point, these Twitter headlines are a newspaper editors dream. They are insta-copy, ready phrased and trimmed to perfection for the next edition. This explains why a Steve Jobs headline almost always makes the news.

Yours can too!

Having identified the key message for your presentation, basing it carefully upon the needs and interests of the target audience, your goal is to encapsulate that message down to one short, punchy phrase. The shorter, the better. Use everyday language that paints a clear picture for your audience to visualize. A useful piece of guidance to keep in mind is the old advertising slogan “It does what it says on the tin”. Your twitter headline should tell the audience exactly what your product will do for them.

Such messages, in addition to forming a key part of your verbal delivery, also make excellent additions to all your presentation materials. A strong Twitter headline, such as “The world’s thinnest notebook” can appear on your slides and handouts, re-enforcing  the promise of your presentation.

Next week, in the last of my blogs reviewing “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”, we’ll re-discover the story-telling technique that was essential to all our favorite childhood tales, and that is equally essential to our public speaking activities as adults; we will identify the Wicked Step-Mother to our Cinderella, the Cruella de Ville to our Dalmations!

Next week, we consider the essential contextual role played by the character of “The Adversary”.

Always ask “Why should my audience care?”

by Peter Watts

“Why should my listener care about this idea?” is a challenge that Carmine Gallo asks us to consider in his new book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”.

All audiences, even the most apparently attentive, will observe a presenter and silently puzzle “What does this message have to do with me?” The more rapidly we answer that question as presenters, the more rapidly we seize the attention of the audience.

Gallo demonstrates how Steve Jobs consistently sells his products in terms of benefits. For example:

“Just one year after launching the iPhone, we’re launching the new iPhone 3G. It’s twice as fast at half the price.”

Audiences are like horses. If they are at all unsure of the person holding the reins, they become skittish and restless, refusing to settle into attentive compliance. By clearly stating audience benefits, we not only exercise that firm hand of control, but slip the horse a favor winning sugar-cube in the process.

The secret lies in identifying the utility of your message. It is a trap we fall into as presenters that we formulate an excellent presentation, with a clear benefit statement, and then repeatedly trot that same statement out time after time. Not every audience is the same, and therefore the same benefit statements won’t work for every audience.

Always ask yourself what the gain is going to be for this unique group of people. The more specific you are, the more compelling your presentation will be.

Gallo goes on to make the point that we must constantly hammer that benefit home, reminding listeners of it throughout the presentation.

A piece of advise that I often give to presenters is “Never under-estimate the ability of an audience to completely miss the point!”, and for that reason, repetition of the benefit statement will help those listening to maintain focus. To us as the presenter, it can sometimes even feel like we are excessively laboring the point, but this is the only sure-fire way to make sure your key message comes across cleanly and precisely. It’s also another reason why we should always strive to keep our presentations short. The more information we pack into them, the greater the chance of our key message becoming buried beneath the excess.

A successful, Steve Jobs-style presentation will directly impress on the audience exactly why it is that your idea is right for them. Next week, we’ll look at the next stage of Carmine Gallo’s advice: “Create Twitter-style headlines”.

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