Presentation structure: Introductions that win you control

by Peter Watts

“Who is this person, what do they want from me, and how long have I got to sit here?”

Welcome to the internal dialogue of someone about to hear a presentation. The introduction’s goal is to answer those questions, creating an audience ready and willing to listen.

Who is this person?

Who you are and who you represent are foremost with any new audience. Even with groups already familiar to you, if there is just one new face at the table, include a personal introduction.

Briefly include what qualifies you to be speaking. Does your current sphere of responsibility or qualifications make you a specifically credible source on this subject? If so, include it within your introduction. State it succinctly, avoiding any appearance of self-importance.

What do they want from me?

Align your presentation to the objectives of the audience. Intrigue them with how your product / service / idea will help them. This audience is about to give you the investment of their time. State what their return will be on that investment.

Share up-front the objective of the presentation so the audience understand the destination you are heading for.

How long have I got to sit here?

Map the structure of your presentation onto a slide or flip-chart that shows what will be covered and when. Similar to horses that becomes jittery when they sense a rider is not secure with the reigns, audiences need to know you have a clear plan of action. 

Within your agenda include how long the presentation is to last, and how you would like to handle questions: as they arise or during a Q&A session at the end.

Earning control

For the duration of your time at the front of a room, you must be in control, and that control can only be exercised with the willing compliance of the audience. Keystone behaviors for the introduction are therefore humility, warmth, and confidence. Think about the qualities you like presenters to project. Reflect those qualities, answer the audience’s early unspoken questions, and you will have successfully launched your presentation with the strongest of possible starts.



Presentation structure

by Peter Watts

Effective presentations have an architecture that makes them into identifiable structures, and without which they are little more than jumbles of random facts and anecdotes.

When presenting, our message must be mounted into an organizing framework that places its content squarely before the audience. Our tool for making that happen is structure.

At it’s simplest, structure is defined as being “The Three Tell ‘Ems”:

  • Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em
  • Tell ‘em
  • Tell ‘em what you told ‘em

This is achieved by:

An introduction that provides a clear skeleton of the presentation:

  • what you are going to say
  • the sequence in which you are going to say it
  • why you are going to say it
  • how long it’s going to take you

A middle section that puts flesh on that skeleton while delivering the information you promised to deliver and in the sequence in which you promised to deliver it.

A conclusion re-emphasizing the key points that have shaped your argument.

Each of these three phases of structure has it’s own subtleties, not just in terms of the information to be included, but also the best way in which to express that information. Over the next three weeks, we’ll examine each of these three phases in turn, establishing how to create presentation structures that clearly communicate what you want to say.

Next Week: Introductions

Presentation structure: Your main message

sign

 

by Peter Watts

The most valuable asset a presenter can have is knowing exactly what their presentation is about.

Thinking about a forthcoming presentation, can you answer, in one short sentence, the following question:

What is the one thing you want everyone to be saying as they leave the room?

  • In a recruitment interview it might be “This person is the best choice for the job
  • In a sales situation it might be “That product is the most reliable
  • Bidding for a budget, it could be “This project delivers return on investment

Encapsulating your presentation down to one succinct message can be surprisingly difficult. The different pieces of information which you want to include can compete with each other for air-time in a noisy log-jam of presentation possibilities! Remember that if you find it difficult to identify that one main theme within your presentation, then your audience will find it impossible!

Simplicity is a priority. The simpler, stronger, and shorter your message, the better. Your goal is to deny the audience the opportunity to do anything other than get your meaning, loudly and clearly.

Imagine your message as the central pole of a huge canvas umbrella, the type you might sit under for an al-fresco meal on a hot day.  You want people to feel comfortable and secure under the umbrella of your presentation, and that pole, your message, is it’s central support.

See the message clearly written down the side of the pole. Every point you make in the presentation must stem directly from it. Just as the individual struts of the umbrella all connect to the pole and support the canvas, anything that isn’t firmly attached, is going to flap around, distracting the audience.

If you need convoluted connections to get points to stay in place, then they don’t belong in the presentation. Leave them out! Keep it simple! Don’t put in extraneous details that will only cause people to become confused.

In a later blog, we’ll discuss how to handle objections in presentations. For now it’s worth noting that many objections are caused by these lose flapping features that make the customer challenge “What’s with that bit, I don’t see where it fits”. Eliminating the extraneous, leads to less objections.

Having a clear and overt main message in your presentation makes things easier for both you and your audience.

Presentation body language: Hands and open posture

by Peter Watts

There are three things your hands should avoid touching during a presentation; your chest, your hips, and each other!

When we feel insecure, we use defensive body postures. Our hands might clutch before us, interlocked fingers flexing in angst, or alternately they might find a convenient object and start to fidget compulsively with it. All such gestures are unconscious and it’s only when we see ourselves on video that we discover what distracting gestures our hands get up to while we are speaking!

The optimal posture for presenters is to keep the upper body “open”; free from defensive body postures. This leaves the question of what to do with those flapping, fidgeting hands, and is why many presenters use props to anchor their hands, the two most popular being pens and notes:

Pens

Hold a pen with it’s right end in your right hand, and it’s left end in your left. Your hands are now occupied, while being physically prevented from meeting by the pen between them. If you need to gesture to something on the slide, the pen becomes a convenient pointer.

Make sure the pen you use isn’t the type with a clicker to extend and retract the nib, or you might subconsciously click your way through the presentation instead!

Notes

As with the pen, notes can also be an anchor. Hold them by their two bottom corners and, once again, you are securely in the open body position. If you want to gesture or point then you can do so, before returning your hand to it’s note-holding position.

Carry a minimum of ten sheets even if your notes only cover the top page. Ten pages have a rigidity that a single page does not. If you have the slightest hand-tremble, a single page will amplify it, whereas ten pages will absorb and mask it.

Over time you will become used to working in the open posture and can free your hands  to use as tools for adding emphasis and style. Initially though, it can feel more comfortable, as many presenters do, to use well chosen props to keep that posture open.

Presentation body language: Eye contact

by Peter Watts

Staring at the ceiling, the back wall, or our notes while presenting can sometimes feel more comfortable than looking at the audience. By concentrating on something other than the people in front of us, we effectively find a handy blindfold. Like poor unfortunates before a firing squad, we spare ourselves the view of the guns!

This is why it can be so hard to maintain eye contact while presenting. We avoid looking at our audience because we are afraid of what we might see; the blank expressions staring back at us. We are afraid we are going to see bored people, and to believe it is we who have bored them. Rather than risk such negative feedback, it’s easier not to look!

People listen in different ways depending on their learning style. For many, the more they focus on your message, the more their facial expression can become the blank mask misinterpreted as boredom. Frequently, the blanker someone may look during a presentation, the more focussed they are on what you’re saying!

The rewards of maintaining eye contact with an audience are great:

  • Stronger connection to those in the room
  • Greater concentration from those listening to you
  • Visual feedback on how well the audience is reacting to your message
  • A tremendous statement of your own confidence and control

The structure of your presentation, and how you use notes can help you in maintaining eye contact. Keep your presentation and any slides you are using as simple as possible. The more complicated your slides, the more you are forced to look at the screen behind you, and turning your back on the audience while speaking is one of the cardinal sins of presenting.

For presentation notes, use bullet points to help you remember the flow of your presentation. Avoid long-hand scripts; they compel you to look at the script and not at the audience. Effective bullet-point notes allow you to pause, glance at the notes, and then bring your eyes back to the audience before continuing.

Audience eye contact becomes easier as you overcome your initial discomfort. Discover how it increases your power as a presenter. You will soon find that you would no more give a presentation without eye-contact than you would drive a car wearing a blindfold.

Presentation body language: Smile

by Peter Watts

Droopy, the clinically depressed puppy with the crop of red hair, looks at us from the TV screen and in mogadon monotone, with eyes full of sadness, deadpans the phrase: “You know what folks, I’m very, very happy.”

 

It’s only funny because the message, the voice tone, and the facial expression are all hopelessly out of synch with each other. It’s also a valid observation about the way many public speakers address their audiences.

 

When presenting, our faces tend to fall into a stern, serious expression. The mouth forms a straight line, and stays that way! Because the expression on the lower half of the face has locked, it means the upper half of the face also becomes locked, robbing the eyes of expression. The voice meanwhile, becomes the same monotone we hear from Droopy.

 

This reaction is natural. There are so many other things for us to be thinking about that we forget to attend to our facial expression and the most important thing we can do with it; SMILE!

 

When we smile during a presentation, we communicate three points:

  • We are confident and comfortable in front of the audience
  • We are happy, welcoming, and grateful for the opportunity to speak
  • We know we are explaining something positive that will benefit those hearing us

As part of your preparation, be aware of where you have good news to give. On your notes, draw a smiley face beside each positive point, and then, as you refer to those notes during your presentation, let that smiley face remind you to emphasize the point by smiling!

It’s important that your smile is natural. Don’t just pause and bare your teeth! Try practicing your presentation in front of a mirror and let your expression follow the natural  upswings and highlights of your presentation.

 

Your public speaking will at once become more interesting, warmer, and natural.

Beating presentation nerves: Make it happen

by Peter Watts

“Apprenticeship should not be put off, for fear grows upon us day by day. What we must attempt appears continually more alarming, and while we are deliberating when we will begin, we find that the time for beginning is past.”

These words were written 2000 years ago as guidance for young Romans starting out on their careers as public speakers. They remain true for us today. Whether your challenge is to speak to a more senior audience, or is simply to speak at all, the time for doing it is now!

Public speaking is often like jumping into the sea during that first day at the beach. You have to nerve yourself for the shock of the cold, but once in the water, you find it’s not as freezing as you feared. The quotation reminds us that the longer we hesitate, the harder it becomes to make that plunge. We must break the shock barrier, and enter the water.

The entry is sometimes forced upon us. For example, the boss may tell us we have to make a presentation next week. If no such catalyst occurs, we have to find that starting point for ourselves and create our own opportunity:

  • offer to make a presentation to your colleagues or team
  • present new products or services to an existing customer
  • offer to take part in a presentation to a new customer
  • give a talk in a social, political, or church group to which you belong
  • join the Toastmasters organization which develops speakers around the world

The cultures of the world offer maxims such as “a journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single foot-step”. These all tell us the same thing; “take the plunge, make it happen”.

You are a confident presenter. You need to give yourself the chance to find that out!

Come on in, the water’s lovely!

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

Dealing With Dry-Mouth: Part of Presentation Nerves

by Peter Watts

Something peculiar happens to the throat while public speaking; its moist lining is replaced by sandpaper, and the voice, that essential presentation tool, asphyxiates to a rasp.

In the same way that it’s important for presenters to manage food intake, it’s also important to be aware of water intake, while avoiding caffeinated drinks such as coffee, which actually inhibit the ability to speak clearly. It’s a cruel twist that even though presentation nerves suppress our appetite for food, our appetites for caffeine become unquenchable. Even light coffee drinkers develop a conjoined relationship with the nearest coffee cup!

As well as acting as vocal lubricants, liquids swiftly enter our blood stream, so it’s important to be aware of what they do for us and to us during presentations:

Water

A dry throat caused by tension needs to be relieved by sipping water. Have your water close at hand during your presentation and always carry your own small bottle with you, just in case water isn’t provided.

You’ll find the reassurance of simply knowing you have a source of water nearby reduces the risk of your voice drying out.

Hot Drinks

Hot drinks are frequently offered to us pre-presentation, and, as we’ll see in a later blog, can be very calming. Caffeinated drinks however should be avoided for three reasons:

  1. Caffeine is a stimulant and more stimulant to top up your adrenalin is the last thing you need
  2. Caffeine tenses the vocal chords so the voice tires more rapidly
  3. Caffeine is diuretic. You may feel like you’re taking in liquid, but it’s actually making you expel far more than you retain

 De-caffeinated drinks are fine, and many presenters drink plain hot water if it’s easily available.

Energy Drinks and Sodas

AVOID! Soda is gassy, and when presenting, gassy is never good. I once discovered this for myself when attached to a radio microphone in front of 300 people at a trade show!

Energy drinks meanwhile contain enough caffeine to wide-eye a stallion. They might be promoted as “natural stimulants”, but so are many class A drugs, and those aren’t recommended either! Remember the balance of stimulants already racing round your body. Avoid adding others to the mix.

Alcohol

Sadly, alcohol is in the never-before-a-presentation category. Even a single glass of wine will interfere with your judgment. This needs to be kept in mind especially for anyone who is after-dinner speaking.

That rosy glow of contentment is best experienced after your presentation, not during!

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

Beating Back Butterflies – Part of “Presentation Nerves”

Lepidoptera Stomachus

Lepidoptera Stomachus

by Peter Watts

Lepidoptera Stomachus, or “Butterflies in the Tummy” can invest our stomachs with a fluttering, pulsing, almost electrical life of their own.

Frequent presenting is a great way to lose weight. The person scheduled to speak after lunch can be easily spotted – they’re the one not eating at the buffet as their blood sugars, essential for concentration, plummet down to their socks.

In a previous blog we discussed the importance of oxygen to the presenter. In this one, we’ll consider the role of calories.

During Fight or Flight our appetite is suppressed. After all, if you’re nose-to-nose with a predator, then now isn’t the time for a light snack; not unless you want to be the light snack! If you’ve been stressed about presenting for the past few hours (days?) then you haven’t been eating.

Our bodies and brains need calories to function. Even if we’d like to lose weight and are tempted to regard loss of interest in food as a good thing, not eating will sap energy, reduce concentration, and contribute to tension headaches and trembling limbs.

Eat within two hours of your presentation. You may not feel hungry, but you must maintain the body’s fuel supply. If it’s only 30 minutes till show-time then the emergency food of choice is the banana. Bananas, as any athlete will tell you, are power food. High in natural sugars, they quickly digest for an ideal pre-presentation snack.

Avoid the following:

  • Dairy products (They stimulate mucus and congest the voice)

  • Red meat (Hard to digest and energy sapping)

  • Citrus (Acidity when you’re stressed upsets the stomach)

  • Beans (You figure it out!)

While it would be a mistake to eat a heavy meal immediately before a presentation, it’s equally wrong to starve yourself. When stressed, your body’s natural hunger signals are shut-down. Maintaining calorie intake therefore becomes a rational process, consciously taking care of your physical need for sustenance.

“Have I eaten today?” If the answer is no, then ensure that you do. You’ll find that miraculously, you feel better prepared for the challenge ahead.

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:


Breathe Yourself Calm – Part of “Presentation Nerves”

by Peter Watts

Presentation nerves are a form of panic attack known as “Fight or Flight”. Evolved to keep our ancestors safe in their prehistoric world, it now generates the unpleasant sensations we suffer when faced not with predators, but presentations.

People report a standard palette of reactions, some of which you will share:

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Cold, clammy hands
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Light-headedness
  • Trembling and loss of concentration
To manage nerves, it helps to understand their mechanics. Click on this link for an explanation of Fight or Flight on StressStop.com.

We can control nerves rather than be controlled by them. The most effective way to do this is through managing our breathing so that we help the heart to maintain its normal speed rather than hurtling off in a presentation rush.

During Fight or Flight, the heart accelerates to pump more oxygen around the body. Breathing meanwhile moves from stomach based, to chest based, becoming shallower in the process. So, just as the heart races to pump more oxygen, the lungs bring in less, making the heart beat faster to oxygenate vital muscles. As the heart’s oxygen demand outpaces supply, blood pressure increases. Sweating and looking flushed are common responses.

Slow the heart and those other reactions slow down with it; sweating stops and tell-tale blushing reduces. Cool the demand for oxygen and you cool overheating. The solution therefore; take a big deep breath.

Focus attention onto breathing out, completely emptying your lungs of stale air and creating capacity for deeper breaths in response.

Here is the process:

  • Slowly breath out for as long as you can
  • When you can breath out no more, push out three extra puffs, totally emptying the lungs
  • Roll back your shoulders, opening the chest cavity as wide as possible

…and…

  • Relax! Let your body naturally pull in the deepest breathe you’ve inhaled in weeks!

Two more like this, and you will be fully oxygenated. You might even notice a mild dizziness. Our brains burn oxygen, and you’ve hit yours with more oxygen than it’s had in months. Net result, head-rush!

Your heart meanwhile slows down, and as the heart relaxes, you relax.

You are back in control. This is how professional presenters remain calm in front of the biggest audiences.

Control your breathing, and presenting becomes significantly easier.

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

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