Virgin peeps in at party. Slowly gets turned-on

by Peter Watts

My first Twitter attempt occurred a year ago. All dressed-up, I entered the Twittersphere to join the party.

One weekend of searchings and followings accessed such a deluge of comedians, politicians, business-people and journalists, all careening in a tweet-out riot that it left me clear of the dance-floor and glued to the wall. It was all one way, over-whelming, and confusing. Flashbacks to nightclub nights in the 90’s. All reminiscently shallow, and what was more, no-one was talking to me! (Sadly, that bit too was reminiscent).

I retreated.

Twelve months later and there on my iPhone the blue birdie still beckoned. Maybe have another go, and this time, be more selective.

An initial 25. A comfortable number. Off starts the conversation again. I limit my followings. Still though, no-one appears to be talking to me.

I make my first few cautious re-tweets to see if that stirs anything. Zilch! Don’t give up. Try posting a few comments. Nope, still zilch. My eyes drift back toward the exit.

I get a message! Someone liked a post! Huge and joyous celebrations. I exist after all!  I have my first new follower who I swiftly follow back, sharing connections. We have similar tastes, many of whom I decide to follow in turn. Brand new connections tweet lines of thought I haven’t played with before. The riot seems to be breaking-up a little. Rather than a writhing mass it now resembles multi-branching conga lines dancing to their own mysterious rules.

One month in and I no longer feel glued to the wall. Inspiring people appear and new conga-lines of ideas open up. New opinions, new topics, new thoughts.

For a presenter, the ability to surprise an audience with novel thinking creates a memorable presentation. In order to surprise others, you must first embrace the chance to be surprised yourself.

It’s early days, and I’m still figuring out the moves, but I now see that the information orgy of Twitter rewards curiosity with new ideas, and new ideas are always worth turning on.

Resources:

For a useful guide to starting out with Twitter, try “The Bare Bones Guide to Twitter” published by Adam Werbach in The Atlantic.

For comfort in those early weeks, this wonderful blog post by Annie Andre. As newbies, we are not alone!

And for a cautionary tale of Twit-Addiction, Larry Carlat’s “Confessions of a Tweeter” from the NY Times

“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”.

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”

by Peter Watts

What would you do if you could “hold the internet in your hand”?”

This was the question posed by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs at the San Francisco launch of the Apple iPhone. Within hours, the catchphrase “the internet in your hand” had telegraphed around the globe. I heard it that same evening, on the radio of a London taxi, prompting my driver to comment: “You couldn’t pay for publicity like that could you?”

Was it the product that had made the news, or was it the presentation abilities of Steve Jobs? A new book by Businessweek columnist, Carmine Gallo, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” has taken the famous Jobs style and laid it out as a how-to guide, promising the secrets of “How to be insanely great in front of any audience.”

The art of public speaking is governed by rules existing since the time of the ancient Greeks. It’s a challenge to find new things to say that haven’t, at some point in the past 2,000 years, been said before!

To be original, an author must either create a whole new lexicon on presenting (unlikely!) or stick to the proven formula. Repetition of the same ideas is a common blight. This is where Carmine Gallo’s book surprises. It re-visits the tried and tested rules of public speaking that every presenter needs to understand, while presenting those concepts by analyzing them through the style of a modern master.

The result is an example-packed guide with ideas taken from the Web 2.0 world. Gallo demonstrates how Steve Jobs crafts messages that spread from audience to audience; hence what Jobs says at 10 am in San Francisco, is repeated in the back of a cab by 7pm in London!

While many guides focus on what happens during the presentation, Gallo’s book has a focus on what we should be doing before the presentation. Four fifths of effective presenting lies not in the delivery, but in the preparation, and Carmine Gallo demonstrates this by showing how groundwork and rehearsal is a clear factor in Steve Jobs’ success.

During February, I’ll review three of the ideas demonstrated in “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”:

February 8th: “The one question that matters most”

February 15th: “Create Twitter-like headlines”

February 22nd: “Introduce the antagonist”

The book itself contains a great deal more.

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” by Carmine Gallo

Published by: McGraw Hill

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!


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 mistakes and recoveries

by Peter Watts

The testimony of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor teaches both how to avoid a self-inflicted presentation pitfall, and also how to escape it.

 

During a week of intense congressional cross-examination, Sotomayor demonstrated herself a model of calm, intelligence, and perceptiveness. Allies who sought to aid her were nurtured, while those who sought to provoke her were defused. 

 

One particular area of the hearings came to dominate media coverage, and at one stage did become a problem for the unflappable nominee, and that was the much covered “Wise Latina” quote.

 

The “Wise Latina” phrase that caused consternation amongst Sotomayor’s adversaries, had its origins in a speech the nominee had made some years earlier to a group of students. When viewed in the context of the audience addressed, it made perfect sense; a clever, humorous phrase that both flattered and encouraged. When taken out of context however, and viewed in isolation, it implied that one group, defined along racial lines, was inherently capable of better judgement than another.

 

The phrase was too narrowly defined, taking a point and stretching it into the realm of hyperbole. It would inevitably return to publicly haunt its creator.

 

When adding rhetorical flourishes to presentations, especially ones that flatter one  group through comparison to another, always ask yourself the question “How would it sound if this was later quoted in isolation, away from the group for which it was intended?”

 

If the quote suddenly sounds clumsy, or even worse, prejudiced, be sure to leave it out.

 

Having fallen into her own rhetorical pit, Sotomayor then elegantly demonstrated how to escape it; she apologized.

 

Many of us would have attempted to explain the phrase and then defend it. We would not have wanted to so publicly admit we were wrong. Sotomayor did the exact opposite. Having explained the origin of the “Wise Latina” comment and placed it into context, she  made a modest statement that she had got it wrong. The phrase had been clumsy, and she regretted using it.

 

Having made such a concession, Sotomayor’s adversaries in the hearings now had nowhere to go. To have kept attacking post-apology would have made them appear petty. Even dedicated detractors are disarmed by a well placed acknowledgement of “I was wrong”.

 

Sotomayor, now secure in her path to the Supreme Court, not only proved to us all the wisdom of the phrase “When in a hole, quit digging”, but also demonstrated that sometimes apology can be more deadly to an opponent than defense.

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