“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”.

Positive word of mouth spreads your presentation message

by Peter Watts

The movie “Avatar” is well on it’s way to becoming one of this highest grossing movies of all time.

Avatar absorbs its audience into a wrap-around world of story-telling and imagery. When director James Cameron set out to create Avatar, his mission was to change the way that movies are made, and he succeeded.

What has been peculiar about the Avatar success however is the relatively low-key marketing that went ahead of it. Compare it to the pre-launch hype of a “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” for example, and Avatar’s marketing machine seemed almost silent. So what is that has propelled the crowds at the box-office?

The answer is “word-of-mouth”. The film, with its compelling story-line, has launched a chain-reaction of positive commentary. It is almost impossible to see Avatar without then telling as many of your friends and family as possible that they too have to be a part of the experience, one that is encapsulated by the fact that this is the first movie in a longtime where as the closing credits roll, the audience are on their feet applauding!

So what does the Avatar experience have to do with the activity of presenting?

Avatar reminds us of how powerful word-of-mouth can be. A simple message, when passed from person to person, will spread like wildfire. As presenters, we need to ensure we are crafting a message clear enough, and simple enough to spread in the same way.

For a message to spread it has to be short and to the point. It can feel a little daunting to continuously edit and refine your slides and words, pursuing a simple headline that your audience will grasp, believe, and then spread. We take security from the weight of the information we bring to a presentation but frequently it is this very weight that drags our presentations down.

Beware of facts and figures. Quite rightly we include them to back-up our case, but at the risk of losing sight of the case itself. The denser your “evidence”, and the more packed into the presentation it is, the more your audience will drift away from the point.

To have an Avatar experience, with your message spreading out like a fire across a savannah, challenge yourself to say less, not more, and let that message surge through loud and clear.

And go see “Avatar”. You’ll be amazed!

With all due respect, some irritating phrases will annoy your audience!

Certain phrases are guaranteed to turn-off an audience

by Peter Watts

“With all due respect……”

“I’m sorry, but…….”

“Look, I just want to say…….”

These are the phrases that when we hear them spoken, make us want to lovingly reach through our television screens and strangle whoever it is that has just uttered them!

I have a word for these phrases. Collectively I call them “winders” in that whenever they are used, someone is going to wind up becoming distinctly wound up!

A winder can be defined as any phrase that belittles the person against whom it is aimed. It suggests an air of smug superiority on the part of the individual who has used it, and if you listen carefully as the winder is delivered, you will hear that is accompanied by a slight sigh, as the deliverer condescends to be involved with such a lesser mortal.

Winders, in presentations, are bad news! There can be no quicker way to completely lose the support of your audience than to irritate them. So, how to avoid such a mistake?

First, know what are the phrases that act as winders on you! If they annoy you, there is a strong chance that they annoy others. Try listening to politicians being interviewed on the radio for an endless supply! The time that you are most likely to hear them is if the interview is not going well, and the politician suddenly feels the need to defend themselves. It is in this heat of battle context that the winders come exploding forth!

Secondly, approach audiences or interviewers with a sense of humility. If the audience feels that you respect them, then there is a significantly lower chance that they in turn, will do anything to provoke you. With fewer provocations, come fewer winders!

In this final point we can see something ironic within the nature of the winder. We use them when someone else has already provoked us into doing so. Frequently, the intended victim well and truly asked for it, deserved it, and got it….. right between the eyes! It is not however, from this deserving victim that the presenter will them find themselves damned; it is from the wider audience! Like the sound of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard, winders not only affect those at whom they are aimed, but also affect everyone within hearing distance.

Verbally, they are weapons of mass destruction, and as with all WMD’s, they are best kept out of commission!

Time waits for no man, and in controlling presentation timings, neither should you!

by Peter Watts

Presenting involves a contract between audience and presenter, and clearly stated starting and ending times are a key part of that contract. Compliance with these requirements is an important indicator of the health of that contract and the respect that both sides have for each other.

Start on Time

As presenter you control the room. You are going to be that group’s leader for however long you keep the stage. As with all groups, there is an initial period of gentle testing where the group explores the behavioral boundaries around them. “How firm is the leader going to be?” “Do they stick to their promises?” “Who is in charge?”

Although frequently sub-conscious, these questions are all hanging around the room, and there is no truer way of testing out the answers than by testing the area of time! If members of the audience are late, and you wait for them, then you allow power to transfer from yourself, to them. If you stick to your guns however and start regardless, then you retain the power balance for yourself, and late-comers become merely that; late!

Courtesy

If you hold up proceedings till all the laggards have assembled then the individuals who did extend you the courtesy of an on-time arrival rapidly learn that there is no reward for being on schedule. Your priority is to those who were on time. Don’t keep them waiting for others.

Finish on time

As important as starting on time, is finishing on time. While the start time is all about the audience extending courtesy to the presenter, it is by respecting the stated finish time that the presenter repays that respect. If the presentation is to last 30 minutes, then keep it to 30 minutes! Presenters who over-run are rewarded with seat-shuffling and increasingly exaggerated watch-checking.

What about the VIP?

I started out this blog by talking about power, and how within the presentation environment you are the leader. Where does this leave VIP members of the audience and what to do if it’s the head-honcho who is the tardy one?

The subject of the power dynamic between presenters and VIP’s would take up a whole extra blog, so I will restrict this point purely to the area of time-keeping.

If you are presenting, and you know that there is an especially important person in the room who must be there to hear what you have to say, then it would be foolish to start without them. The mere fact that someone in authority is abusing that position by being late rather than setting a positive example by being on time already indicates that they have a powerful sense of ego, so it would be a mistake to deliberately attempt to deflate that ego, tempting as it might be.

There is however, a half-way house that will allow you to start on time, while still waiting for the late VIP. The technique is to start a discussion with your audience while you are waiting so that the awkward gap becomes productively filled.

  • Welcome your audience as you would normally, thanking them for attending, and briefly outlining the presentation agenda and objectives.
  • State that you are going to wait a few more moments for Mr or Ms X to arrive, and then immediately tell the audience that in order to use this time productively, you would like to go around the table and find something out from them.
  • Use the ensuing discussion time to find out something relevant to your presentation. You have full control of what this subject will be; It could be their past experience with a product or process, their key objectives for the presentation, or their opinions about key challenges and opportunities faced.
  • Select a subject area that supports the thrust of your presentation, and avoid contentious areas that might detract from your message.
  • As you facilitate the discussion, capture key points onto a flip-chart so that they then remain visible for the rest of the session.

When the late VIP does then arrive, you can welcome them cordially, gently close down the discussion, and move into the planned body of your presentation. What has happened though is that you are now starting from a position of vastly increased strength. By being late, the VIP has given you the chance to work the room and develop a rapport with their team. You now have comments and people that you can refer back to for support as you present.

Above all, you kept control of the process, and without inflaming anyone’s egos, remained in charge of the room!


Watch and learn for how to improve your presentation skills

Watching other people presenting is a great way to improve your own presentation style

by Peter Watts

Frequently when we find ourselves sitting in meetings and watching presentations, we regard it as something of a chore, quietly checking our watches to see how long it is to the next break. Instead, every time we are sitting in an audience it is an opportunity to observe the presenter, build up ideas about what works and what doesn’t work, and then apply that to our own style when it comes to being at the front of the room.

The next time you attend a presentation try to analyze how the presenter is conveying, or not conveying, their message. Pay close attention to:

The structure

Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end to the presentation? As an audience member, do you feel comfortable that the presenter has provided you with a clear route-map of their goals and objectives?

The message

Is there a consistent message running through the presentation so that the content all hangs together logically?

The style

Does the presenter have body language and voice control that serves to underline the message and bring emphasis to key points, as well as making the presentation vivid and easy to listen to?

When you see something that you admire, make a note of it and try to model it in your own  sessions. The very fact that you admire it indicates that it is something of which you yourself are fully capable. At the same time, if there is something you don’t like, or that you find confusing, you are seeing something that you should be working to avoid.

In this way, presentations in which we sit in the audience, be they in business, at PTA meetings, or even in places of worship, all become informal training opportunities. Every presenter has their strengths, and indeed, their weaknesses. Observing these strengths and weaknesses with our full attention is a great way to literally, watch and learn!

In large audience presentations, a microphone lets your voice be heard

by Peter Watts

When speaking to an audience, it’s not only important that the people at the back of the room can hear our words, they need to be able to hear our voice as well.

It might sound like these two elements are one and the same thing, but they are actually different.

Our voices convey our message with a variety of nuances. There is the light and shade of our tone, the emphasis of our volume, and the indicators of our pitch. All of these attributes combine to make the voice into a rich and infinitely varied tool.

When speaking to a moderately sized group of up to 30 people, then it’s within the power of most of us to project the voice while maintaining it’s quality. As groups and rooms become larger however, that ability starts to break down.

If the opportunity arises, stand at the back of a large group of people and listen to the voice of someone presenting to them. You’ll notice that although you can probably hear what they are saying, the distance involved means the voice has become thin and drawn out, with a slightly uncomfortable echo as the speaker tries to force up the volume and reach the back of the room. All the bass notes have become lost along the way, and it’s difficult to feel any connection to the person delivering them.

At the same time, for the poor speaker, the effort of speaking at full volume is tiring them, making the voice become ever more difficult to hear.

If these presenters had the opportunity to go back in time and plan their sessions again, they would have requested a microphone. It’s a remarkably simple thing to overlook and many of us, never having heard ourselves from the back of the room, wouldn’t realize how much a large group of people can dissipate sound.

If you are being asked to speak at a venue that can hold more than thirty people, then the chances are that they will also have a sound system available. If you have a choice, use a radio microphone rather than a handheld or fixed version that will interfere with your freedom of movement. As with all aspects presentational, it’s a good idea to arrive at the venue early and have a sound check first, so that from your first words the volume is correctly set.

Many presenters are accustomed to spending time ensuring that their slides are going to be clear and visible at the back of the room. It’s equally important to ensure that our voices are too.


Presentation mission + belief = PASSION

by Peter Watts

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…..”

These words launch many a spy story. The key elements I would like to pick out for your consideration are:

“Your mission”

and

“Choose to accept it”

Every presentation is a mission, and for that mission to succeed you must bring your total commitment to it.  We want audiences to believe in us and the case we are making. For this to happen, we need to do two things:

  • Know what our mission is
  • Choose to both fully accept it, and own it

Your mission

The word “mission” sounds similar to “envision”, and we want audiences to be able to clearly envision the positive outcomes that our recommended course of action will produce.

In doing this, we can sometimes be tempted to believe we can let “the facts speak for themselves”, but this is a mistake. Facts and figures are merely secondary indicators of something else; they are evidence that we have achieved a mission, but are seldom the mission itself. For example, achieving a 100% customer satisfaction rate is a great metric, but why? What does that gain? A 50% increase in sales is very worthy, but why? How does that help the business?

Supporters rally to a flag, never to a number. What is the mission you are waving before them?

Choose to accept it

The mission must be whole-heartedly embraced. Where does this mission connect with either our organization, department, or with ourselves as unique individuals? If you share that connection with the audience then you reveal a part of your own belief system that adds tremendous weight to your message. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner state in their book “The Leadership Challenge”:

“You can’t believe the messenger if you don’t know what the messenger believes.”

The best public speaking is always accompanied by passion; and passion is conjured from mission and belief as surely as the name Martin Luther King conjures the words “I have a dream”

Presentation words: Using the power of repetition

by Peter Watts

Repetition is a simple and highly effective public speaking technique. Take the time to listen to recordings of any accomplished speaker. You are bound to hear it.

For example, in this wartime speech of Sir Winston Churchill:

“We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall fight them in the fields and streets; we shall never surrender.”

Or in this more recent example from President Obama:

“For us, they packed their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.”

The technique being used here is called Anaphora and involves the repetition of the opening words of a clause to generate emphasis and power. It can be used in all presentations and doesn’t need the occasion of an attacking army or a Presidential Inauguration to be effective. For example, if you want to convince a customer of the simplicity of your product solution, you could try a sentence such as:

“Simplicity is a key advantage of our product. Simplicity for your staff, simplicity for your customers.”

Or, if presenting to your sales team about the importance of sales activity, you could try something like:

“Activity is the basis of success; Activity in prospecting, activity in sales follow-up, and activity in customer service.”

The repetition serves to drive your point firmly home. No-one can miss what you are talking about.

If as a speaker you are not used to using techniques such as anaphora, then start cautiously. Identify your key message and incorporate a repetition of it within the body of your presentation. Deliver it conversationally and without fanfare. Don’t pause for effect; just continue with the presentation. If done well, you should be able to detect a small ripple of response from the audience; anything greater and you over-cooked it!

As with all techniques of rhetoric, anaphora is at it’s most powerful when used subtly, with just one occurrence per presentation being the best strategy..

With practice, dare I say…”repetition”, you’ll find that the approach becomes more natural and you are able to deploy it to different parts of the presentation, incorporating it into your introduction for early emphasis, or even using repetition as part of your summary to generate a powerful ending that brings an audience to their feet.


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