Halloween horrors of putrid PowerPoints

It’s the time of year for poltergeists, potions, and possession by the cadaverously candy-crazed.

But possession by PowerPoint??

‘Tis true. ‘Tis hideous true.

Forget Sleepy Hollow. Cast your gaze, and cast it nervously upon this creepy little Halloween number from my good fiend, errr.. friend, Gavin McMahon over at the Make a Powerful Point blog.

It’s cruel, AND unusual.

Playing with audience perceptions of size

by Peter Watts

Size is relative to the words you use. Those words will make your subject appear either dramatically bigger, or pathetically smaller.

Rhetoric works by using word patterns. Whether you intended to do it or not, if you trip one of those patterns during a sale or a presentation, then a sizing spell kicks in and you shrink your positives or enlarge your negatives.

Here’s an example of a recent conversation I had with the receptionist of a hotel that I was checking into:

“Good evening Mr Watts. Welcome to our hotel. We want you to be very comfortable, and it is our pleasure to offer you a complimentary upgrade. We will therefore be upgrading you to one of our Executive Rooms”

Delighted, I asked what made an Executive Room special, and received the deadpan answer:

“Fruit bowl”

My sense of privilege dropped lower than a dachshund’s belly. A fruit bowl? Really? This was their idea of an upgrade?

Now when you’ve come off an international flight, and it’s too late for dinner, then a complimentary fruit bowl sent to the room is a nice touch; something fresh and healthy to snack on. The receptionist however had unwittingly shrunk this gift by presenting it at the end of a series of upwards steps:

Be comfortable…. Complimentary upgrade…..  Executive Room…….

My imagination could then take over and continue climbing those steps:

Bigger room…. King size bed…. Club Floor…..

When he dropped the sucker-punch of “fruit bowl” it had the effect of bowling me right back down to the bottom again. By comparison to where my imagination had been a few moments before, that fruit-bowl now seemed almost humorously insignificant.

This is known as anti-climax. You build, build, build the power, and then drop it back down again. The effect makes your subject appear pathetically tiny. It invokes an almighty contrast between what could have been, and what actually is!

For a more subtle way to super-size either benefits or consequences, try this approach. It’s called a Step Augmentation. It follows the same path as anti-climax but without the deliberate crash at the end.

Examples of Step Augmentation:

“We have to recruit now because finding the right person could take us days, weeks, months!”

“With this infrastructure our network can extend into new districts, new cities, new states.”

“Consider how your needs will be change one year from now, five years from now, ten years from now.”

“The loss of opportunity would sad, it would be tragic, it would be heart-breaking.”

By arranging terms in a sequence of increasing strength, the audience finds themselves looking at the topic through a telescope; they put their eye to the small end and see the subject matter magnified out of the big end.

To shrink the apparent size of the subject, simply flip the telescope around. By starting with the most dramatic term and then running the sequence backwards you effectively place your audience’s eye to the big end of the telescope and have them perceive the subject radically reduced. Try looking through a toy telescope or binoculars backwards and you’ll see the effect for yourself.

When done this way, it’s called a Step Diminution. You lead your audience down the steps, instead of up them.

When building a case for something, we naturally string together little lists of adjectives and adverbs, causes and consequences, and then run them either in random pairs or groups of three. Listen to others presenting and you’ll hear how common it is.

The secret to size is to make this natural descriptive behavior into a conscious descriptive behavior. Arrange your terms from small to large if you want to enlarge your topic, and from large to small in order to shrink it.

Always be aware of which end of the telescope you’re asking your audience to look through.

For more ideas on shrinking and growing your audience’s sense of scale, check out this post: Because Size Matters

Sales presentation strategy

By Peter Watts

What is your primary goal in making a sales presentation? It’s to sell something.

So why do so many sales-presenters try to conceal the fact? You might be amongst them. Do your sales presentations open with phrases such as:

  • “Your success is important, and we’re going to look at how our products can help you be even more successful.”
  • “We’ve helped many organizations achieve benefits, and in this presentation we’ll explore how we could help you to do the same”
  • “The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate how our products offer you the best value solution.”

All commendable sentiments, but also great big honking fibs!

A lot of salespeople, especially the salespeople with the really big impressive job titles such as “Senior Strategic Account Director” or some other business-card hokum, have internalized the message that selling is just a little bit dirty. To be after the customer’s cash is sleazy and liable to make them doubt your credibility.

Actually no. If you want to make the audience doubt your credibility then attempting to conceal the primary purpose of your presentation is a far better place to start!

You’re there to sell and the customer is there to buy.

It’s actually two highly compatible agendas.

Within public speaking there is a topic called ethos, and this is all about credibility. As public speaking expert Andrew Dlugan explains, ethos is everything you include in a presentation to show that you are credible in your subject, trustworthy as a speaker, and compatible with the audience viewpoint.

There are things that you can do throughout the sections of a presentation to build-up your ethos as a speaker, but nowhere is ethos more important than the section right at the beginning. This is where the audience asks themselves: “Can we trust this person?”

If you’ve just started your presentation with a sweet sounding but rather transparent fib about your primary purpose, then what do you think you just did to your ethos level?

You avoided any words to do with sales because you didn’t want to sound sleazy, but instead you’ve made yourself sound evasive. And sleazy!

Here are some ideas for professional ways to tell the customer that you’re interested in the colour of their money:

  • “I would love to be able to welcome you as a customer.”
  • “I would be delighted to have your business.”
  • “I want to demonstrate how buying our product will meet your goals.”

All of these statements say “I want your business”, and all of these statements start with the first person “I”. This is important. It’s you that’s standing in front of the customer, and you that is asking them to believe the words that are about to come. Even if you are representing a larger organization, using the word “I” gives meat and ownership to those words.

Now for the little bit of blog-magic. Take any of those three phrases in red, and stick them in front of  any of the three earlier phrases in blue. The result sounds a lot stronger doesn’t it.

By being upfront, you create transparency. Transparency creates trust. Trust creates credibility.

Credibility creates a winning sales presentation.

PowerPoint slide synchronisation. My interview with Indezine

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 09.58.36

By Peter Watts

This week it’s been my great pleasure to be interviewed by Geetesh Bajaj at Indezine. We discussed the level of synchronization that should take place between a presenter and their slide deck.

What happens if a presenter becomes over-synchronized, and how can you avoid this risk as you plan and prepare for your presentation?

Indezine is packed with ideas and tips for anybody who finds themselves using PowerPoint. Recognized by Microsoft as an MVP, or “Most Valuable Professional”, Geetesh advises large corporate clients on how to get the best from this most ubiquitous of presentation graphics tools.

Our interview, and Indezine itself, can be found by clicking this link.

Please do take a moment to go and visit. If you’d like to join the discussion by leaving a comment, then Geetesh and I would love to hear from you.

When your first public speech is in the service of others

spotlight

A first presentation can lead to profound opportunity

by Peter Watts

Many presenters find they are first moved to speak in public not by professional or business requirements, but because somebody needs to stand-up for their community. A local need or a perceived injustice means that somebody needs to step up to the plate.

If you need to speak before the Town Council or the School Board or the PTA or any similar group of elected or non-elected bureaucrats, it can be helpful to your cause if you can move their hearts as well as their minds.

Appealing to logic will get you nowhere. You need emotion.

In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama had to make just such an appeal. It was an appeal for legislator’s to allow a vote on gun control. What techniques did he use in order to achieve it?

Here are the words themselves:

“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

Powerful in impact, the President’s words were surprisingly simple in construction, and you can use the same techniques.

The power of his appeal came from the combination of four techniques.

Technique 1: Pathos

Pathos tugs directly at emotions and makes any speech intensely personal. This isn’t a speech about abstract victims of gun-crime but a speech about victims of gun-crime who are right here in the room. They are named individuals known to the audience. When an appeal is based upon a group who are either known to the audience or in close proximity to them, the emotional intensity becomes hard to resist.

Technique 2: Repetition

The passage is comprised of five phrases, each of which ends with the words “deserve a vote.”  This is Epistrophe; a repetition pattern that concludes adjacent phrases with the same words. That repetition becomes a drum-beat, that progressively increases the speaker’s intensity with each occurrence.

Technique 3: Mass Conjunctions

Entering into the final phrase, the power of Epistrophe is joined by a deliberate over-use of the conjunction “and”:

“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

This is Polysyndeton. Conjunctions bring more weight to a list than a silent comma ever can, and raises the drum-beat rhythm to an even higher pitch.

Technique 4: Diminution

Suddenly, that drum-beat crescendo is cancelled. Take a look at the final repetition. It’s been modified. Rather than “deserve a vote”, the President now uses the phrase “deserve a simple vote.”

This is Diminution. After building the juggernaut, Barack Obama has introduced the word “simple”. How tiny and miniature that word seems when compared against a catalogue of horrors. After such a list of tragedy, what person could possibly deny the bereaved a “simple vote”.

Take the challenge

If you ever find yourself undertaking your first piece of public speaking in order to do good for others, that challenge can appear daunting.

Accept the challenge. This is what public speaking is all about. It’s all about finding your voice and the power that goes with it.

Don’t be afraid to use emotion. Don’t be afraid to try out techniques. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

A good friend of mine found herself in just such a position, and since that first appearance she’s gone on to be elected as Deputy Mayor of our town.

When you find your voice in the service of helping others, and rise to the occasion, you never know to what other successes it will lead you.

Maria Miller and the jewel of Epanodos

trilliant diamond cut

A polished performance with a cut-jewel of rhetoric

by Peter Watts

Maria Miller, the UK Minister for Culture, used a figure of speech so rare and beautifully powerful that it is seldom encountered outside the Old Testament. To speak directly into the minds of her opponents she used Epanodos; blending logic and emotion in a way guaranteed to be heard and heeded across the most passionate of debates.

The Roman writer Quintilian described figures of speech as being like jewels. We place them within our speaking so that important ideas will catch the ear as fine gems catch the eye.

Figures are word patterns that vary in some way from standard spoken language. Quintilian thought of them as jewels in a treasure chest. I think of them as spells in a book of magic. They do, after all, rely on knowing just the right patterns of words. And when the correct spell is used, the audience is moved. Sometimes magically.

This week the British Parliament passed new laws to bring full marriage equality to the United Kingdom. While the vote was overwhelmingly approved, a small minority of lawmakers had strong reservations, and the pre-vote debate, led by Ms. Miller, was heated.

As I listened to the debate, the following phrase from Ms. Miller’s speech leapt out at me.

“Equal marriage should not come at the cost of freedom of faith, nor freedom of faith come at the cost of equal marriage.

We are capable of accommodating both.”

This is Epanodos, and it is so rare that there are few quoted examples to be found outside the bible or the most classical of poetry. For example, this piece written by the poet John Milton:

“O more exceeding love, or law more just? Just law, indeed, but more exceeding love!”

Epanodos involves elements of a sentence being repeated, but in reverse order. The second half of the sentence will be almost a mirror image of the first, and as with all things seen in a looking glass, that second portion will appear magically reversed.

Listening to the debate news coverage throughout the day, I heard that phrase repeated time after time across multiple news networks. Like one of Quintilian’s jewels, this one phrase had become the single most glittering section of the debate, and had caught the ear of every professional commentator.

The key to using figures successfully is to choose the right spell for the right occasion. So why would the Minister have chosen this one?

Epanodos stands out, whereas as most figures are far less showy. It is also incredibly rare in political speeches, but vaguely familiar to those who know their bibles.

This figure therefore takes the Minister’s key message about marriage equality, and codes that message to chime particularly 220px-Maria_Miller_Officialstrongly for lawmakers familiar with bible passages. In other words, the exact same lawmakers who needed special reassurance during the debate.

The Minister’s choice of the rare Epanodos figure couldn’t have been better.

You can use Epanodos in your own presentations.

The trick is to use it very sparingly. Just once. This is a figure that stands out, and if overused will look as garish as a bling bracelet packed with paste jewels. Used just once though, it will shine like a cut diamond.

What you need to do is to identify a section of your presentation that can use a neither / nor combination. It’s for when you want to say something to the effect of;

“Proposition A, does not come at the expense of proposition B. We can do both.”

Here are two very simple examples:

“Quality does not need to come at the expense of productivity, nor productivity at the expense of quality. We can achieve both.”

“The environment need not be sacrificed in the name of growth, nor growth sacrificed in the name of the environment. Both can be sustained.”

Enjoy playing with Epanodos. With the combined qualities of logic and poetic elegance, it will make your key message leap out from your presentation.

And thank you to Ms. Miller, not just for championing equality, but also for your powerful choice of words.

7 business speaking tips from the Inaugural Address

ob2

A master  class in public speaking, from a public speaking master

by Peter Watts

By analysing speeches we gain access to the speech-writing knowledge and techniques of the people who wrote them, and of the leaders who delivered them.

When we take look under the hood of President Obama’s Inaugural Address, there are easy to replicate techniques for any business presentation.

Setting a key message

Every strong piece of presenting has a strong key message, and that message for President Obama’s Inaugural Address was equality of opportunity.

In the opening of his speech he quoted from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

By starting with this quotation, the President was using the technique of Anamnesis, where we quote an important past speaker or document in order to give external credibility to what we are going to say next.

Business Use: First make sure you have a strong key message. Then find a supporting quotation from either a recognized industry figure, or somebody that is relevant to your business case.

Framing your terms

What does the President means by “equality”?

 “We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skins or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.”

The President is using a public speaking tool called Apophasis. In this technique you can state what something is, by stating what it is not.

Business Use: While the President used three terms within his Apophasis, race, religion, and national origin, the technique can be used just as effectively with just two, or even one opposition, such as “Achieving value is not about sacrificing quality”.

Emphasizing your key message

Within any effective piece of public speaking, there is one element that you will always find present, and that is repetition.

  • Repetition of key phrases
  • Repetition of important themes
  • Repetition of what you most wish the audience to remember

The whole point is to make sure that the audience absolutely hears, and remembers what you want to say.

Let’s look at four easy to copy repetition forms that the President used in this address.

Conduplicatio

This is the most basic form of repetition, and it scatters one particular word and it’s synonyms throughout a presentation. This speech was about equality and inclusivity, so the President used inclusive pronouns to push that message. In particular:

  • “We”: 73 occurrences
  • “Our”: 80 occurrences
  • “Us: 22 occurrences

If we add it all together that makes one inclusive pronoun every six seconds of the speech.

Anaphora is a slightly more showy structure where the same words are used to open consecutive phrases. Here’s just one of the many examples President Obama used:

Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that that a free market only thrives where there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Epimone

Eipmone is where the same phrase or theme is repeated throughout a speech, although without the repetitions being in close proximity to each other as with Anaphora.

The President used the words “We, the people…”. This phrase saw five repetitions at various points, with the first taking the form of “We, the people, understand…”, and the next three taking the form of “We, the people, believe….”, before rounding off with “We the people declare”

Business Use: What is the key message of your next presentation? Look for as many ways as possible to repeat that message throughout the presentation, and try to vary the forms that the repetition takes. Remember: You can never over-emphasize your key point.

Build the power of your case

To make sure your message stands out in the mind of the audience, you amplify it:

“We must act knowing that today’s victories will only be partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirt once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia Hall”

This particular sentence contains a rhetorical double-whammy that can be used in any business presentation, either individually or together.

The first is the Amplification. Here a speaker amplifies something by one step increments: “Four years, 40 years, 400 years.”

Even though the orator has stopped speaking, half the audience is continuing onwards to 40,000, 400,000, to some incredibly distant point. The President is using time as the basis of his amplification, and while it’s only one of many ways to build a point, it is the simplest to deploy. It could be applied to any aspect of a presentation that is about numbers. Money for example, or numbers of employees, or volumes of web hits.

In this particular case though, the application to time introduces the technique of Metastasis. Here we ask an audience to think backward through time, or to project themselves into the future.

Business Use: In so many aspects of business presenting, we will want an audience to take a particular action in the present in order to gain benefits in the future. If you use the line: “Imagine your business one year from now”, then you too are using metastasis. If you extend that to “Imagine your business 1 year from now, 2 years from now, 3 years from now…..” then the amplification combined with metastasis will have customers visualizing all the benefits of taking long-term actions today.

Engage the emotions

Dry facts alone seldom achieve results in public speaking. You need to excite the emotions, either to a smile or to a tear. For this we use Pathos, a section of the presentation specifically designed to reach out and touch the audience:

“For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn”

 Business use: What emotional aspect of acting on your message can you describe for the audience?

 Handle objections

Heading into the environmental section of the speech, the President used these words:

 “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgement of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

Where we know an objection is likely to be raised against us, Prolepsis allows us to stick it out there in a statement as a part of the presentation, and then immediately shoot it down.

 Business use: It’s always a good idea to anticipate what objections are likely to be raised in a presentation, and then plan for how you will handle them. Including the answer to that objection within the presentation can prevent it from ever being raised.

Make it sound good

You take care to ensure that your visuals are pleasing to the eye, and it’s just as important to make sure your words are pleasing to the ear.

Try saying this next line out loud:

“So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools…..”

That repetition of all those words beginning with “re” is alliteration, where a stressed syllable is repeated to build emphasis and to make the speech sound almost poetic.

Another location where alliteration appears is in the President’s choice of three key civil rights movements: “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall”. All those “s” sounds are building rhythm for him.

Words that begin with “re”, such as re-build, will all work very well for alliteration, but there are many other combinations to play with. Words that begin with “ap” for example: apply, applaud, appeal, approve. Or with “un”: untangle, undo, uncover, unravel.

When we start to play with language in this way, the art of oratory becomes fun and we can use language to it’s fullest and most pleasing potential.

And that’s when presenting truly becomes powerful, and fun.

Snow day

Snow Day Stage

Powerful speeches evoke the simplicity of snowy days

by Peter Watts

Simplification creates clarity.

You see the proof on winter mornings: when you awake to snow covered everything, the world looks cleaner.

Details that we seldom notice, can suddenly leap out. Snow blots out the chaos of visual details that surround us every day. It imposes a stark simplicity that allows structural features to stand out.

Presentations benefit from the same treatment. We pack them with content, thinking it a virtue to give the audience everything but the kitchen sink. In the process however, the audience loses sight of our message amongst the clutter.

Simplicity is an absolute virtue.

Take a look at a winter tree with it’s limbs covered in snow. Through the power of contrast, the white snow makes the bark of the tree appear more sharply black. This in turn means that the structure of the tree leaps forward, especially on days like today when not only the snow is white, but the sky behind it as well. The more the clutter is pulled back, the more the structure stands out.

Imagine giving presentations that could stand out with the striking clarity of a winter tree. The problem is though, that clarity can be scary. Clutter is a comfort blanket and we worry that without it we’ll be alone in a big white canvass.

Clarity doesn’t need to mean stark. Ornamentation makes a presentation human, but just make sure your clear winter tree doesn’t morph back into the sentimental clutter of a Christmas Tree, because then you’re right back at square one again.

On those rare and beautiful days of snow, take time to notice how much clearer things can look when stripped to their essentials.

How can you bring that clarity to your next presentation?

For every risk, some praise

Image

When setting out as presenters, student need encouragement, not criticism

by Peter Watts

“a boy’s capacity may be dulled by too great strictness in correcting him. This, at first, gives him despondency, then pain, and at last aversion for study, and, which is worse of all, when he is afraid of everything, he attempts nothing; for, with his spirit, he loses all his power.”

These words were written 2000 years ago by the Roman orator and teacher, Quintilian. Requested by friends to write a training guide for young Roman noblemen, he commenced not by discussing rhetoric, but by examining the process of education itself.

Quintilian was not a fan of false praise. When a student failed, the master would let him know it. What strikes me in this passage however, is the awareness with which he also understood that hard criticism will, by stages, kill the desire to learn, and worst of all will kill the spirit that urges us to take risks and dare anything new in life.

He suggests that rather than criticise the student, it can be more useful to encourage the student to criticise someone else, by critiquing published speeches. Through picking out what was polished, beautiful, or powerful, they could find models of excellence with which to bolster their own speaking. By identifying what was verbose or ugly, the learner would see what should be avoided.

Through such a process of selection and rejection, along with time and application, the student would slowly develop a unique style of their own. This would only take place though, so long as overly harsh criticism hadn’t killed that spark of interest first.

Quintilian was writing specifically of the teacher/student relationship. I think we can also echo this to the relationship we have with ourselves. At whatever stage within a public speaking career we might be, we need to give ourselves permission to learn, and to experiment, and through that process to grow as presenters.

Overly harsh self-criticism shuts that process down and while keeping us safe from failure, also leads to decay, as skills decline through lack of challenge.

Give yourself permission to learn. Select a recent famous speech and study it. (There’s a fairly big one coming up next week that you might like to experiment on!) What do you admire? Choose something to emulate, and then try it out in your next presentation.

Having tried it out, review honestly how things went and then take time to praise yourself for trying something new.

Conjuring presentation magic for Halloween

Let the magic flow into your public speaking

by Peter Watts

Halloween. Time for stories, and for magic.

Let’s talk of magic, and illusion. This Halloween, as little witches and wizards bearing bags begging candy come up to your door, reflect on the thought that every time we take to the stage as presenters, we too join a world of magic and illusion.

As a presenters we perform magic not with objects, but ideas and information. Take a look at this list of some of the standard categories under which stage magicians file their acts:

  • Production: Making something that wasn’t there before, become suddenly apparent and obvious to all
  • Transformation: Transmuting one thing into another
  • Restoration: Reducing something to it’s atoms, and then restoring it to exactly as it was before
  • Teleportation: Something moves mysteriously from one location to another
  • Escape: From a seemingly inescapable position, the magician succeeds
  • Prediction: What is in the audience’s mind is mysteriously understood.

The categories of magic describe perfectly what presenters do with the base metal of information. Think of your next presentation. Will you be seeking to perform a production conjuring understanding where none existed, or a transformation, turning hesitancy to excitement, or maybe a prediction, where through the magical power of research and planning you demonstrate to an audience how much you understand them; that you know just what is in their minds at this moment.

You are a magician.

This Halloween, as our minds turn to magic, give a thought to some of the great magicians and illusionists. Either the living such as Lyn Dillies, past greats such as Harry Houdini, or even the mythical such as Merlin or Dumbledore. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from them as a presenter?”

Tennessee Williams spoke for audiences worldwide in “A Streetcar Named Desire” when he wrote the words:

“I don’t want realism. I want magic!”

May your Halloween be magical, and your public speaking spellbinding.

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