Archives for September 2012

Are You a Communicator or a Public Speaker?

By Nancy Duarte

It’s rare for me to read a book on presentations and learn something but I did in the book, Habitudes for Communicators: The Art of Engaging Communication from Tim Elmore. Elmore uses sticky metaphors that help you remember his concepts. His chapter heads are metaphorical like “Windows and Mirrors”, “the Faded Flag” and “The Thomas Nast Principle.”

He has great insights throughout the book. For example, in “Windows and Mirrors” he proposes that there’s a gap between communicators and public speakers:

A Public Speaker:                                                                                                                

1) Puts the Message Before the People

2) Asks: What Do I Have?

3) Emphasizes Techniques

4) Focus is on Content of the Words

5) Polished (Image Conscious)

6) Goal: Complete the Message

Communicator:

1) Puts the People Before the Message

2) Asks: What Do They Need?

3) Emphasizes Atmosphere

4) Focus is Change in the Listeners

5) Personal (Impact Conscious)

6) Goal: Complete the People

At the end of each chapter is a quiz, but Elmore’s also put those questions into an online assessment to rank yourself to see how you’re doing as a communicator. He asks questions like “I tend to focus on being simple more than comprehensive.” It shoots out a score when you’re done. This book is full of fresh insights that I haven’t seen in any other presentation book, so it’s worth picking up.

About the Author:

Nancy Duarte is the CEO of presentations firm Duarte Design, whose clients include many innovative Fortune 1000 companies in diverse industries. Duarte worked with Al Gore to develop the presentation that became the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and supports many conferences, including TED and PopTech. For more information about her company, visit www.duarte.com

Presenting Financial Data: Put Your Numbers on a Diet

By Dave Paradi

You are a presenter who deals with a lot of numbers. Maybe they are financial results, operational analysis, or market research. You live in Excel and love spreadsheets. So, naturally, when you have to present to others, you include almost every number you have. Doesn’t everyone love numbers the way you do?

Unfortunately, no.

I want to suggest what you should present instead of all the numbers. Let’s start with why presenters feel like they have to include all the numbers they’ve calculated. First, they believe that if they include everything, the audience will better understand what they are trying to say. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

A slide full of numbers makes most people mentally check out. The second reason presenters include all the numbers is that they feel that they have to show how much work was done. If they don’t show a lot of numbers, the audience won’t think they worked hard doing the analysis. Trust me, they will be able to tell whether you worked hard or not in ways other than how many numbers are in your presentation.

I believe that the presenter has the responsibility to figure out what the numbers mean to the audience and only present that information. It may require a few numbers, but certainly not all the numbers in the analysis. As a presenter, look for a change between time periods and draw a conclusion on whether that is a positive or negative change. Look at the trend over a longer period of time and determine if that trend needs to change in order for the organization to succeed. Look at the differences in results between different regions or products to conclude where future efforts should be directed.

Your audience wants to know what the numbers mean to them.

When designing  slides to present your analysis, start by writing a headline that summarizes the one point that you want to communicate. If you have more than one key point, create more than one slide. This headline drives what visual you will put on the slide. Sketch the visuals, which may be a small summary table of numbers with indicators to show whether the numbers are good or bad, a graph showing a trend or relative results, or a diagram illustrating results through a process.

Whatever visual you select, it will support the headline that you wrote. And it won’t be a slide with a spreadsheet full of numbers.

Most professionals are passionate about their work and have an emotional attachment to it. That is what makes my suggestions even harder to implement. When I suggest only including a few of the numbers or a summary graph, it is natural to have an emotional reaction: “What do you mean I can’t show everything I did? Don’t you know how much work I put into this?”

I do know how much work you put in. And the audience will see your effort when you provide an insight that makes their decisions and work easier.

In a recent workshop I showed how an organization could take a slide with 600 numbers on it (I am not exaggerating, I counted), and reduce it to the ten numbers that the executives really needed to know. The improvement in clarity was amazing. You can achieve the same clarity by focusing on what the audience really needs to know.

If you present financial information with spreadsheets, you may be interested in the webinar I did on presenting financial information effectively using PowerPoint; you can read more and get the recording here.

About the Author:

Dave Paradi is the author of “The Visual Slide Revolution” and “102 Tips to Communicate More Effectively Using PowerPoint.” He is an expert at helping presenters communicate more effectively using persuasive PowerPoint presentations. For more information, visit his web site at www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com/

Stand Out By Using These Visual Alternatives to PowerPoint

By Angela DeFinis

When it comes to visual aids for a presentation, what’s the first thing you think of? If you said “PowerPoint™” or “slideware,” you’re in the majority. That’s the default most presenters rely on. But the answers about visual aids that I’ve been getting from my clients recently (and what I’ve seen at their locations) have surprised even me.

For example, I was working with a client in June and walked into the training room to find a chalkboard and box of chalk greeting me.

A few weeks later I walked into a client’s conference room to find an overhead projector.

Last week I was walking down the halls of a large tech company and peered into a conference room. I saw two walls of whiteboard covered with neatly drawn flow charts, bullet charts, and various other schematics—in bright colors.

A few days ago I was working with a client who used colorful 3×5 index cards to organize his key points and deliver his presentation. He rarely uses slideware but relies instead on his conversational style and deep subject knowledge.

And just yesterday I watched a presentation where the presenter used a flipchart.

Thriving Without PowerPoint

So, when was the last time you used a chalkboard, an overhead projector, a whiteboard, a flipchart, or even no visuals at all?

These clients I visited from various industries and organizations—a dental school, a utility company, a software company, a transportation company, and a non-profit organization—all taught me a lesson.

It’s easy to become complacent and narrow-minded about the types of visual aids we use—or don’t use. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking that to be effective, a visual needs to be cutting edge and show off the latest visual gymnastics that PowerPoint can produce. And while I was at each location to share “best practices” and reveal the top design tips and staging usage, I learned that every one of these places and people were effective and had an impact because they knew their audience and used visual tools that they could relate to.

So when it comes to visual aid selection, here’s my best advice: Analyze your audience so you know what they expect and what will work for them. Then, understand the options available to you. Know what you are comfortable with and what will help you do your best to meet your audience’s expectations.

When you follow that guidance, you’ll be able to produce visual aids that help both you and your message come alive and connect to the heart and mind of every audience member.

About the Author:

Angela DeFinis is an industry expert in professional public speaking. As an author, speaker, consultant, and founder of DeFinis Communications, she has spent over twenty years helping business professionals communicate with greater poise, power, and passion. For more information, visit http://www.definiscommunications.com/

How to Recover When You Lose Your Train of Thought

By The Speaking Sherpa

At the 2012 Toastmasters International Convention, I had the great fortune to attend Jock Elliot’s educational session. Jock, the 2011 World Champion of Public Speaking, described his 35 year competitive speaking journey masterfully weaving storytelling and presentation tips.

Perhaps the most interesting insight I gleaned came while watching Jock when he lost his train of thought. There is actually something heartening about the fact that even world champions suffer the occasional memory lapse on stage. When he realized what was happening, Jock paused and said “This next part is so important that I need to read it to you.”

He then calmly strolled back the the lectern to glance at his notes making an intentionally audible “hmmm…. yes…” as he did so. He then took back center stage and continued enthralling his audience.

Although I was very impressed by Jock’s recovery technique, I was on the fence about adopting it for myself. The issue troubling me was whether or not it had crossed the authenticity line. Everyone forgets, but you should strive to recover authentically. Surely, I was not the only one to notice it was a well-rehearsed technique.

We have all seen what not to do when speakers lose their train of thought – “I… ummm… forgot what I was about to say… ummm…” In addition to Jock’s technique, are there other ways to recover?

As fate would have it, my fellow District 53 Toastmasters and I quite randomly shared a cab to Downtown Disney with Matt Abrahams.  Without knowing who Matt was, we invited him to dinner with us. It turns out that Matt was leading an educational session the next day on how to overcome your fear of public speaking. In fact, he wrote the book on the subject – “Speaking Up Without Freaking Out.”

Based on my observation of Jock, my conversation with Matt, and excerpts from Matt’s book, here is how to recover gracefully:

Method 1:  Make It Look Planned

This is what Jock Elliot did by pausing, saying “This next part is so important that I need to read it to you,” consulting his notes, then starting up again. One key lesson here is that you should always have your notes easily accessible.  I keep mine in my pocket as a safety blanket; I rarely need them, but having them there sure makes me feel good.

Method 2: Paraphrase Your Previous Content

From Matt’s book: “You will have to excuse me, but I am so passionate about my topic that I sometimes get ahead of myself.  Allow me to review my previous point.” Nine times out of ten, retracing your steps will help you find the path forward.

Method 3: Ask Your Audience A Thought Provoking Question

Matt’s recommendation is “What seems to be the most important point so far?” I feel that this technique would work better in presentation that is highly interactive to begin with. However you can use this as a rhetorical question to either buy time with a long pause or to precede a review of your previous content (i.e. a lead-in to Method #2).

Method 4: Review Your Overall Speaking Purpose

Every speech should have a central theme – preferably encapsulated in a three to twelve word catchphrase.  Repeating your theme is always welcome by your audience so a memory lapse is a reasonable time to throw it back out there.

Try It Out!

Unfortunately, you are going to experience a memory lapse at some time. In fact, the older you get, the more frequently it is going to happen. However, fear of memory lapses should not prevent you from sharing your ideas with the world.  If Jock Elliot can lose his train of thought, then so can I. Pick one, just one, of these methods and have it in your back pocket the next time you need it.

Audiences Need to Trust You Before They Trust Your Message

By Jim Endicott

PolitiFact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website, is one of several that are prominent in our daily newspapers these days. What I happen to like is the little meter at the top of the column that rates a recent statement from a politician from True (a rating seldom seen) to Pants on Fire.

No matter what your political persuasion, on any given day you’re likely to find some politician skirting the edge of accuracy if not downright misleading the American people with facts and figures.

I’m not sure if we ever really take all the shock-and-awe statistics thrown at us as gospel (unless it happens to be your favorite candidate), but what we’ve unfortunately come to accept is that ”white lies,” statistical slight-of-hand, half-truths and outright deception using data are too often the norm. And people can screw with numbers to make just about any case.

So how do those perceptions rub off on us as presenters? Whether we like it or not, our audiences have been tainted with a general skepticism towards communicated data. Remember when we were encouraged to start a presentation with “an interesting fact or statistic”?  Now research suggests we might be better off finding a new opener.

You see, audiences need to trust you before they trust your message. And statistics don’t automatically equal trust any more. So maybe it’s time to start earning audiences trust the old fashioned way – by building relationships. And that brand of audience engagement always seems to have pieces of these elements: a healthy dose of personal transparency, the ability to communicate shared experiences effectively and a vulnerability that can admit when you don’t have all the answers. That’s refreshing…and compelling.

You see first and foremost, the art of presenting is a relational skill, not a technical one.

And the most riveting and “astounding” statistic won’t do you much good if people resist taking it at face value. There’s a simple truth about human relationships – trust always comes before belief – a lesson politicians of all stripes need to learn, and soon.

About the Author:

Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching. For more information about his firm’s services, visit www.distinction-services.com

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