Archives for August 2011

The 5 Bad Habits of Experienced Speakers

By Olivia Mitchell

I’ve been through a long journey (25 years) of developing as a speaker. I started off shy, nervous and tentative. Now I’m a high energy, animated speaker and I love connecting, laughing and riffing with an audience. But along the way I’ve picked up some bad habits. Attending Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Retreat helped me identify some of these habits. So I’m starting off this list with my bad habits and then I’ll go onto list habits I’ve observed amongst other experienced speakers.

1. The Plastered-On Smile

At the Story Theater retreat, I discovered that I smile most of the time when I’m speaking. Start talking – smile, that was my pattern. This was a cringe-making discovery. I’ve observed other speakers with this habit and internally mocked them – without realising that I too, suffered from this problem.

For me the habit probably started from wanting to portray myself as warm and friendly to my audiences, but it had become so ubiquitous that I was smiling even when I was describing unpleasant events.

I broke the habit by identifying the segments of my presentation when I shouldn’t smile, and then rehearsing those segments consciously keeping my face relaxed. Just before starting my presentation, I would remind myself again of the segments when I didn’t want to smile. Now that I’ve broken the habit, I just remind myself to ‘live my content’, to be in touch with the feelings behind what I’m saying and live those feelings in my speaking.

2. Relying on memory

As a beginner speaker, I scripted all my presentations word for word. As I became more comfortable and more experienced, I let go of the need for a script and trusted myself to say what needed to be said. I took on the concept that I was communicating ideas, not sentences. And that’s what I teach to most of my clients who are beginner and intermediate speakers.

Doug Stevenson advocates scripting your stories. Having eschewed a script for so long this took me a while to grasp. But here’s the paradox. At some point in your speaking career, you will reach a point where you can’t improve without going back to scripting again. That’s because you should be fine-tuning and replicating your best lines. You can’t do that consistently unless you write those lines down.

I’m lucky in that I work most of my time with my partner Tony and we listen to each other speaking and write down the great lines. They then go into our notes so that we can use them again. If you don’t have a partner to do this for you, record your speeches (it doesn’t have to be a camera, it could just be a sound recording) and then listen back noting your best lines. Now you can consistently replicate them.

3. Hamming it up

As you get more experienced and start to get in the swing of telling stories and acting them out, it gets tempting to ham it up. For example, in one of my presentations I act out the drama I have in my head about people being able to see that I’m nervous as I’m giving a presentation. The more I ham it up, the more people laugh. But there are other situations where hamming it up has no effect at all on the audience. The distinction between these two situations had eluded me. Doug Stevenson had the answer:

Humor is big, drama is small

When you want people to laugh exaggerate. But when you want to portray emotion, think Colin Firth – be subtle.

For more on Doug’s take on humor see: How to be Funnier.

4. Power corrupts

Speaking can be like a drug. Being at one with the audience, riding a wave of interaction and laughter, is a great feeling. You feel on top of the world, with this audience in the palm of your hand. You are all-powerful… and yes, power corrupts!

You start improvising, riffing, you get hyper! Most people in the audience appear to be having a great time. Problem is these manic offshoots don’t take the presentation anywhere.

Sure, play with your audience – but don’t forget the point of your presentation.

5. Throwing out random questions

And then there’s the opposite situation where you just can’t seem to make it with a particular audience. Your best lines are falling flat, you’re facing a sea of unresponsive faces.

Some speakers in this situation get desperate. They depart from their plan and start throwing out random, clichéd questions hoping for just a breadcrumb of interaction from someone… anyone in the audience.

Don’t let it happen to you. Audiences are different. Some will show their delight in the ride overtly. Others may be quieter in their appreciation.

Asking questions of the audience can  be an excellent interactive technique. But your questions should be carefully planned – in their placement, wording and implementation. For more on asking questions check out this post: The 10 steps to asking questions so you get an answer every time.

About the Author:

Olivia Mitchell is a presentation skills trainer and blogger. Visit her blog Speaking about Presenting for many more presentation tips.

3 Common Presentation Pitfalls and How to Fix Them

By Mike Parkinson

There are three critical errors to which most presentations fall prey. Here are the culprits and some proven ways to fix them to create more impactful presentations:

1.  Razzle Dazzle. A presentation that relies too much on “razzle dazzle” techniques fails to positively connect with its audience, because the slides are too complex to understand and remember. The presentation lacks clear explanation.

“Razzle-dazzle” presentations confuse the audience with fancy pictures, mountains of data, and overly technical slides. By using so many elements, the presenter hopes that something influences the audience. Presenters often use this trick to “dazzle” the audience into believing their solution is complex; therefore, it must be better than other simpler solutions. Fortunately, this approach often backfires, as the slide below demonstrates.

2. The “Me” Disease.
The story, slides, and presentation are not customer-focused. The presenter explains why his information, company, and solution are wonderful but fails to show his audience how it will benefit. Presentations fall flat if it is not clear how the audience will benefit.

3. Fact-itis. The presenter assumes sharing facts alone is the best approach. The slides are word and data heavy with few, if any, stories and graphics. Humans are not robots. We cannot sift through and disseminate columns of data in seconds.

We make decisions based on cognitive and emotional factors. Data has the greatest impact on a cognitive level. Slides of numbers and text are rarely emotionally stimulating—and every decision humans make is guided by an emotional response (according to countless studies—Google it). If you don’t tell a story with your data or display it in a compelling, memorable way, then you will experience low win rates. Empathize with your audience. In turn, they will empathize with your solution.

So how can you avoid these three pitfalls? The following are three steps that eliminate Razzle Dazzle, the “Me” Disease, and Fact-itis.

Step One: Simplify Your Information

Get to the point. Know what you want to say before you say it. Summarize your story/slide/section in one sentence then walk your audience toward that conclusion.

I recently asked Rick Altman, author of Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better, about a common mistake presenters make when designing their presentations. He replied simply, “Too much crap.”

Altman is right. Many times presenters believe in the adage that more is better. Too much may be good when enjoying a piece of homemade apple pie, but in designing slides, the opposite is true. If your audience is too distracted with your vibrant color scheme, opposing graphic styles, long bulleted lists, and complex graphics, then they will miss your message.

Connie Malamed, author of Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, found research that proved we can only process around four bits of visual information at one time. Clean, clear, and easy-to-understand graphics create a visual hierarchy and allows viewers to focus on the most important information.

Step Two: Affect Emotions

PowerPoint and other presentation tools help distill information into the most salient points, thereby connecting content to our audience’s goals—that which they care most about. Great communicators know this leads to a critical second step—affecting emotions. Independent research shows that people care if the information shared can benefit them. Legendary philosopher Harry Overstreet  wrote in Influencing Human Behavior, “Action springs out of what we fundamentally desire.” When we show how we can help our audience, people become cognitively and emotionally invested in the presentation. Ultimately, it is the emotional element that carries the greatest weight. Emotions are a driver in every decision.

But how exactly can you affect the emotions of your audience and motivate them to choose your solution? There are several ways to affect emotions within a presentation.

a. Reflect your audience. Your words and images should reflect your audience’s goals and challenges. Connect your information or solution to your audience’s needs.

b. Facts tell and stories sell. Tell a story that clearly shows how your solution will (or has) achieved the customer’s goals.

c. People buy people. When we can put a face to a corporation or a product or a solution, then it becomes personal to us. Presentations allow the presenter to speak to and connect with their audience on a personal level—sometimes face-to-face and sometimes via conversations in a webinar. Either way, the audience can interact with the presenter and have its questions answered almost immediately. They are more likely to buy into a solution or an idea if they know the person behind it.

I agree with Altman when he told me, “People come to a room to hear what you have to say.” Many presenters forget that they are a major component of the presentation. Their ideas and words are more important than the slides. Slides, when used correctly, aid and empower the presenter. When used the incorrectly, the presenter reduces the benefits the slides offer.

d. Communicate with all visual elements. What we see quickly affects our emotions. Color is the first thing that makes an impression and the rest of what we see soon follows. Carefully consider your template, colors, fonts, styles, and so on. Use graphics to connect benefits to your audience’s needs (help them care) and provide them with clean visuals, which causes them to feel positive about you and your solution. That leads directly to the last step …

Step Three: Use Graphics

Presentations are intended to be a visual medium. Using effective visuals helps you better communicate with your audience by simplifying the most complex content and sharing it in a memorable way. For example, what was the first word in step two’s explanation? You have to look back, right? But do you remember the first graphic in this article? Good graphics are stored in long-term memory, whereas text and words are decoded linearly and must pass through short-term memory to be stored forever.

Besides making your solution more memorable to your audience, another byproduct of a clear visual—which Malamed uncovered in her research—is that the easier it is for your audience to processes your information, the more positive they feel about it (refer to “d” in step two).

Still wondering how distilling your information into visuals can help you? Consider the following research when creating your next PowerPoint presentation. Using graphics in presentation, educational, and marketing materials:

• Improves learning 200%—University of Wisconsin
• Takes 40% less time to explain complex ideas—Wharton School
• Improves retention 38%—Harvard University
• Increases your likelihood of success by 43%—3M and University of Minnesota School of Management

Sadly, most people shy away from graphics or choose the wrong graphic due to time constraints, lack of resources, or inexperience. Visit my Graphics Cheat Sheet (example below, PDF available in the link) to choose the best graphic for your next presentation and get graphic ideas from websites like BizGraphics On Demand, Google Images, the Graphic Periodic Table, and the Business Graphics Library.

About the Author:

Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication expert and multi-published author. Visit Billion Dollar Graphics ( and BizGraphics On Demand ( for more helpful presentation tools. Contact Mike at or call 703-608-9568 for exclusive graphics training. Mike is a partner at 24 Hour Company (, a premier proposal and presentation graphics firm.

6 Tips for Presenting With a Team, As A Team

By Lisa B. Marshall

Presenting in a team may seem like a daunting task, but there are benefits too. You’re not alone! Someone can come to your rescue, if you need it. Teammates also can contribute their unique perspectives and experiences which adds dimension to a presentation.

For your next team assignment, try incorporating these tips and techniques to deliver an unforgettable presentation:

1) Mutual Understanding

Often when working in teams, the presentation material is divided into small sections and distributed among members. Then everyone runs off and only learns their required area.

For a presentation to be really professional, everyone should understand all of the material, possibly even be able to present all of the material. Take the time to make sure each group member has a solid grasp of the subject and material.

2) Use the PEP Model

The PEP model (Point, Evidence, Point) teaches speakers how to support their ideas and make their points interesting and credible. Whenever you make a point, you should also provide evidence (such as an analogy, story, comparison or example) for that point. Then make the point again, but using different words.

To use the PEP model in a team presentation you divide the P-E-P. The first (or main) speaker makes a point, a different speaker provides evidence, and the first speaker summarizes the point again.

3) Know your Role

Before you present, make sure everyone is clear about their role. Will you present together? Will you take turns as lead speaker? How will you transition from speaker to speaker?

It doesn’t matter what you decide, but you need to decide ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to mark who is supported to be speaking in your presentation notes.

4) Practice…and Practice Again.

Practice early and practice a lot! You’ll want to practice two, maybe even three times more than you would if you were giving a presentation alone. Every member should at least understand all of the material – and that takes time!

5) Be Supportive

Remember, you’re in this as a team, as equals. This is not a competition between you and your co-presenter, it’s a collaboration. When your partner is speaking you should give him or her your full attention. Listen actively to what is being said. If they say something funny, then laugh; in fact, laugh generously. And if a teammate makes an important point, you can nod your head slightly in agreement.

6) Tackling the Q&A – Together

Try to distribute the questions evenly so all presenters have an opportunity to provide an answer. If the audience is favoring one person, the favored partner should include the others by redirecting questions. “Tim, what you do think about that?”

The opposite also needs to be considered. If one member of the team is having difficulty providing an answer, the other team members should lend a hand – or in this case, a voice.

About the Author:

Lisa B. Marshall has been sharing her enthusiasm for communication for over 12 years. Her web site,  The Public Speaker, provides free and fun practical tips to improve your personal and professional success. Lisa is also the author of Ace Your Interview [Macmillan Audio], and is currently working on her second book, coming to bookstores everywhere in 2011. For more tips about team presentations visit

How to Avoid Stunningly Awful SaaS Sales Demos

By Peter Cohan

What are the challenges of presenting SaaS (software-as-a-service) offerings vs. “traditional” or “on-premise” software products? SaaS demos present specific opportunities for disaster – several of which are outlined in this latest installment of Stunningly Awful Demos…

It’s the Same, Only Better – Let Me Show You

Many vendors work to differentiate SaaS from traditional offerings, in spite of often positioning SaaS offerings as providing the same functionality as their traditional behind-the-firewall counterparts. Many demos attempt to show these 1:1 comparisons in gory, boring, painful detail – with negative results (including but not limited to):

–Way too long, way too boring, ran into bugs, made the simple look complicated, opened the opportunity for damaging questions, key players left early, and on and on.

It’s Slow Today Because

How often have you heard this phrase? Customers assume that whatever environment you use for your demos is better than their infrastructure (have you ever heard a customer say, “Our network is blisteringly fast?”). What they see in a demo is the best they typically expect the offering will perform in their own hands.

To add to this, customers are already concerned about performance when operating SaaS products over the web. Demos need to take this rather strongly into account to minimize clicks and other performance-related challenges.

No Plan “B”

And, of course, demos don’t capture screen shots of your key screens so that if you have no Internet connection you are unable to show anything…! God forbid you’d have these stored in PowerPoint or Keynote as a backup plan…

iPhone, iPad, iCloud, iAndroid, iBlackberry, iSmart…

Customers expect to see a broad range of devices supported by SaaS product vendors, including “traditional” PC’s and Macs, iPads and other tablets, and a range of smart phones. New practices need to adjust and reframe demos to address this.

Demos done solely on a laptop may lack sufficient depth of proof for many customers – and emulators are OK, but they miss opportunities to use iPhones and iPads (etc.) as props and to put the product in customers’ hands (changing, wonderfully, the whole demo dynamic).

Getting “Social”

“Social” is an additional challenge for some SaaS demos…Customers may want SaaS offerings to integrate with and/or feed a range of “social” tools (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). This adds more complexity in demo preparation and delivery. There is even an entire cadre of “social aggregator” tools designed to help address these efforts, including EventBox, twentyfeet, Flock, friendfeed, youmeo, ping and a pile of others.

Vendors that offer these capabilities are often only too happy to show them in their standard demos – is this a good thing? Perhaps – but only if the customer views them as Specific Capabilities they need to address their problems.

Vendor Vocab

If you want to confuse your customers, try verbalizing a variety of vendor vocabulary terms. Here is a set to draw from, as a start – be sure to add your own company-specific terms and acronyms to further increase the perceived complexity:

– Cloud, cloud-based, in-the-cloud, cloud-burst
– On-premise, traditional, installed, behind-the-firewall
– On-demand, hosted, ASP, multiple-tenant
– SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, AaaS

Ignore F11

Most SaaS software is accessed (and demonstrated) via web browsers. In day-to-day use of browsers, many demonstrators use a range of toolbars (Google, Bing, Favorites, Command Bar, etc.) to provide them with quick access to a range of capabilities. These toolbars, however, consume screen real estate and may confuse audiences. Stunningly Awful SaaS Demos ignore this…

Tapping F11 (in many browsers) hides these toolbars, devoting the maximum possible screen real estate to your application and reducing apparent complexity. Simple and effective!

The Latest (And Greatest)?

One advantage of SaaS offerings is the ability to deliver releases nearly continuously, as opposed to traditional processes of large, comparatively infrequent releases (often followed by “X.01” releases that address problems found with the last large release!).

The corresponding disadvantage for presales and sales teams is staying on top of this release flow. SaaS demos often show the latest, greatest releases and functionality – which increase the risk of encountering bugs, surprise when the “old” workflow has been changed, and confusion when capabilities have changed.

Stunningly Awful SaaS Demos ignore testing the latest release environments or doing a dry-run of the demo ahead of time. Feeling lucky?

Wait – Don’t Buy This Yet!

A dangerous corollary of the above is the knowledge or expectation that capabilities not yet released will be available shortly. How often have you seen a purchase delayed by a misspoken comment or promise along the lines of, “Oh, that capability will be in the March release…” – to which the customer responds, “Terrific, then I’ll hold off buying until March…!”

Mismanaged Migration

What about upgrading existing on-premise customers to SaaS versions?
Many sales teams assume that customers will want to make those migrations right away (and pay for the “added value” of SaaS). Stunningly Awful SaaS Demos occur when it turns out that the customer is perfectly happy with their current on-premise implementation and do not perceive a sufficient driving force to move to the SaaS offering – there is no compelling reason to change.

This is exacerbated when demos delivered after insufficient discovery show that key functionality, in heavy use today by the customer, is not available or is insufficiently implemented in the SaaS version. Ick.

Interestingly (and especially sadly), some of the key capabilities lacking in the new SaaS versions are often amongst the most important for customers – reporting tools and other output capabilities, for example. These are (sadly again) often the last capabilities to be implemented in SaaS release rollout. Double ick.

Configure, Not Customize”

Have you ever heard this mantra chanted by sales teams? “Our offering is configurable and doesn’t require custom development to implement customer-specific needs.” That’s great.

However, vendors often spend the first 10 minutes of Stunningly Awful SaaS Demos showing the broad range of configuration options – well before getting to the end deliverables desired by the customer. Bear in mind that many (most?) customers configure the offering only once, when it is first implemented!

Hijacked By IT

The demo was going great… and then an IT person asked, “What browsers do you support?” The answer to that question prompted the IT person to follow-up with, “And Java? What level of Java is needed? Flash? CCS? HTTPS? SOAP? REST? Multiple tenant…?”

Instead of “parking” the question for later, the presenter answered each question in detail, getting dragged deeper into a hole and moving farther from the main issues that the key customer players were interested in – and then they left the meeting room…!

Input – But No Outgo?

Many new SaaS offerings focus on the operations a customer can apply to their data or the associated workflows. A typical weakness for newly released SaaS offerings is the lack of sufficient capabilities for reporting or exporting the results.

To paraphrase a terrible old TV commercial, “You can check the data in, but it can’t get out…”

Login Logorrhea

Many customers have concerns about the security of their proprietary information in vendor SaaS applications. Rather than address this as a part of Q&A (where it typically belongs), Stunningly Awful SaaS Demos consume the first few (key) minutes of a demo detailing the login process, security arrangements, and customer data protection provisions.

This is a great approach if the team is presenting to IT (alone), but bores the heck out of business users – and consumes the few minutes that high-level executives are willing to invest in a demo meeting. Unless it has been identified as a key issue by customer management, save it for later in the meeting.

About the Author:

For more on sales demonstration effectiveness skills and methods that help your cause, visit Peter Cohan’s company website at For demo tips, best practices, tools and techniques, join the DemoGurus Community Website at or explore the  blog at

Pin It on Pinterest