Changing minds, when minds are set

Don’t give battle in vain. When audiences hold entrenched views, full frontal assaults only deepen the entrenchment.

by Peter Watts

King Richard III causes just such entrenched reactions here in the UK, and it looks like we’ve just dug him up from his resting place of 500 years beneath a public car-park in the northern English city of Leicester.

When “bad King Richard” was originally interred, the poor chap had just suffered a particularly fatal piece of Tudor military hardware to the back of the head before being tied naked to a horse and put on public display for 48 hours. By that time very dead, the ex-King had been buried in what was then a Priory.

The rule of the Tudor Dynasty saw Richard III’s reputation buried along with him. Chief among the cultural stars of the period was William Shakespeare, and when he wrote his play, Richard III, it was with both eyes firmly set on pleasing his Tudor sponsors.

Shakespeare’s Richard was penned as as a dwarf and hunchback, with one arm shriveled to a stump. In the cultural shorthand of Tudor England, all three conditions were cruelly synonymous with evil.

The image stuck, and came to be regarded as fact. A neat demonstration that it is always the victor who gets to write history. Despite this however, a tiny minority have always continued to claim that Richard III was a good, if short-lived monarch. That he passed laws to protect the poor, and made early moves toward enshrining freedom of speech. The cult of good King Richard has always been regarded as a perverse, minority view.

If you wanted to stand up and present that minority argument for good King Richard though, how would you go about it when audiences have been conditioned to have closed minds?

Hyperbole will fail. Force will fail. Every blow you make will be met by an equal and opposite counter-blow.

Gentleness is the only solution, along with structural use of facts in such a way that they can create doubt.

For example, let’s take that skeleton of Richard III. If it turns out to be consistent with the physical descriptions of Shakespeare, then the Shakespearean portrayal may be true, but if the skeleton is that of a strapping man, then the Shakespearean version must be questioned.

We can express this with the rhetorical form if A equals B, then C. If skeleton equals twisted, then Shakespeare equals true (or at least more likely to be so).

If B however can be proved invalid, so that A no longer equals B, then the preposition C must also fall, and Shakespeare’s Richard III along with it.

There is a saying “tread lightly on my dreams, for they are my own”. The same logic applies to people’s deeply held opinions.

When you need to challenge those opinions, do not, as Richard III is said to have done, do battle in vain.

Tread lightly, carefully position new facts, and whereas it would be too much to expect to effect change in one blow, know that you may have opened up cracks that allow new insights to shine through.

PS: That skeleton? It turned out to be a tall, muscular man, with both arms very much functional, and only a slight deformation of the left shoulder, causing it to appear slightly higher than the right. Maybe that perverse minority were right, all along.

8 Points for Presentation Structure

by Peter Watts

Preparation is everything.

While we focus on our content, and sometimes fuss about our slides, it’s essential we never forget about the framework holding everything together.

  • How will we introduce and conclude?
  • How should we segment the content into logical bite-sized pieces?
  • How do we pull together our fundamental arguments?
  • How can we handle the questions at the end?

That’s why I’ve put together this page with links to the various Presenters’ Blog topics on the subject of presentation structure.

Behind each of the following links, you’ll find ideas and tips for successfully navigating the stages of successful presentations:

Introductions
The skills you need to find your feet during the crucial opening moments.

The Main Message
Identifying the key themes you want your audience to walk away with.

The Argument
Presentation protein is held in the sinews of your argument. Here’s how to make it compelling, relevant, and nutritious.

Divide and Conquer
Lessons from the actress Carrie Fisher as she controls content by dividing it into manageable stepping stones within her one-woman show.

Be Competitive, But Don’t Present Your Competition
The best competitive pitching structures follow the golden guideline: “Counter competitors, but avoid attacking them”.

Concluding Your Presentation
How to ensure your final words, are memorable words.

Handling the Questions At The End
Audience members ask questions for a whole variety of reasons. Step-by-step ideas for how to handle those different types of question.

Handling The Question That Mustn’t Be Answered
Occasionally we are asked a special type of question: The hostile question. What to do on the rare occasions when an audience member lobs a curve-ball.

If there are additional structural topics that you’d like to hear about, do let me know in the comments box.

Guest post: “Five key mistakes and three golden rules”

by Peter Watts

In the first guest-blog to appear on The Presenters’ Blog, it is my great pleasure to introduce Bill Grist, from Grist Communications.

Bill’s blog and Twitter feed flashes out bid-support guidance for those engaged in major sales, especially in the worlds of architecture and construction. Last week his blog featured a post called “Presentation Tips for Architects”

Bill’s article impressed on me that no matter how big, how small, how complex, or how simple your subject might be, the rules for effective public speaking are always the same.

Thank you Bill for allowing me to reproduce your post.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with great pleasure I give you:

Presentation Tips for Architects:
Five key mistakes, and three golden rules

Why you will fail to have a great career

by Peter Watts

Universities can scrap the scheduled speakers for this year’s graduation ceremonies. They can whack up a  screen and speakers, and play their students this TedX jewel instead.

Professor Larry Smith of the University of Waterloo, berating students about “Why you are going to fail to have a great career”.

The Professor enumerates for his audience the reasons for failure, pick-axing one after another the self-destructive excuses we feed ourselves for not reaching our dreams.

“I’m an economist, I do dismal.”

Not only does he do dismal (inspiringly), he does manic, funny, and spit-flecked passion. He does logic, structure, and crafted balancing of speech techniques. He offers a 15 minute alternate take on the tired old formula of the Commencement Address, and delivers memorable and stand-out thought provoking.

The talk veers through life stages from birth to death. From a digression on how not to propose marriage through to what your gravestone epitaph will say compared to what it could have said.

No punches are pulled in highlighting the self-destructive tropes we feed ourselves for why we can’t stand-up to achieve greatness……

Unless…….

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!

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.

Message for today, objective for tomorrow

by Peter Watts

“Tonight, I can report to the American people, and to the world…..”

To understand the mechanics of any successful speech, you must always read it. By reviewing the printed page, you see the ingenious word workings that give the speech its power.

“Tonight, I can report to the American people….”

These opening words announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. They initially slip past you until you read the script.

President Obama deliberately chose to approach his audience with the simplest humility; when we “report to” someone, we work for them. When we “report for duty”, we present our service. Contrast this opening to a flight-suit clad George W. Bush astride a battle-cruiser with a banner screaming “Mission Accomplished”, and the full style difference will become all the more apparent.

Your opening words in any speech or presentation will set the tone for everything that is to follow. They will provide the springboard for your key message, and in Obama’s presentation, that key message was not “victory over terror” as might have been expected, but “unity in the face of terror”.

In the first two minutes of the speech, the word unity, or synonyms for unity were mentioned 20 times. In the final two minutes, again, there were a further 20 repetitions.

Unity synonyms are used for pathos: “3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

Unity synonyms are used for society and community: “In our time of grief…. we offered  our neighbors a hand, we offered the wounded our blood, we reaffirmed our ties for each other”

And the word unity itself is used as a vital pivot-point to turn the speech from the retrospective trauma of 9/11, to the 10 year hunt for Bin Laden: “We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.”

Within every great speech, there is a key message, and that key message must be carefully chosen with the audience in mind. For Obama’s audiences, both domestic and global, in the defining moment of Sunday May 1st, 2011, no finer message could have been chosen than that of “unity”.

The Roman orator Quintilian, once wrote that great speeches place a “hidden dart” into the mind of the audience, and that the message encoded in that dart will remain long after the speech itself may have been forgotten.

In his speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, President Barack Obama sought to use the power of oratory to not only announce the death of a terrorist, but to use that power to further advance the death of the terrorist’s cause.

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!

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!

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”

%d bloggers like this: