10 Ways Leaders Use Fear to Enhance Presentations

You’ve read about the survey that reports people fear speaking in public more than death, along with all the advice about how to overcome nervousness. But if you’re a leader, a healthy dose of fear can be a good thing. In fact, if fear doesn’t propel you to a top performance, you may hit rock bottom in your career.

Speaking before clients, peers, or the public is a high-stakes proposition in the age of MTV, Instagram and live Twitter feeds from your audience members out to the world. Audience members do not expect an unprepared rambler to waste their time postulating on topics that don’t interest them.

The secret to delivering a top performance in such an environment is understanding that fear can either motivate you or paralyze you. So let’s assume you want to use fear as a motivator to perform at your best. Here’s what today’s audiences are expecting, and what you’ll need to do to rise to the occasion as a leader:

  • Fact-check before they do. Assume that every member of your audience has a cell phone in hand or at least nearby as you speak. When you toss out controversial or shocking data, assume that will motivate them to fact-check you while you’re speaking. Depending on whether they find you right or wrong, they’ll either tune out the rest of what you say, send your error out on the Twitter feed, or ask for your source in the Q&A period. Better to correct before you open your mouth.
  • Substitute specifics for platitudes. Today’s audiences know how to search the Internet, and they’ll find general information on just about every subject imaginable. They’re expecting leaders in the field—real experts—to provide specifics relevant to their needs and objectives. (See the next point.)
  • Dig for audience information. The more you know about your audience and how they’ll likely use your information, the greater chance you’ll have to make what you know relevant and specific to them.
  • Avoid the “all-nighter” cram session. Remember the old college days when the weekend trip, the sports tournament, or the lovers’ spat necessitated your putting off studying until the last minute? Then you were forced to stay up all night to prepare for the big exam the following day. Not your best effort. A healthy dose of fear about the expectations of your audience and your discomfort in standing before them unprepared can nudge you to start solid preparation early.
  • Know your content cold. This doesn’t mean running through your slideshow multiple times in your head. Not just writing out an outline.  Nor just writing out a script. Knowing your content means that you thoroughly understand your topic—where the stats came from, what they mean, what action they suggest for your audience or organization. Knowing your content cold also means understanding the cause-and-effect relationships among all the various details in your talk.
  • Understand the “why” behind the structure. In your calm moments of preparation, you (or someone on your team) have structured your presentation or talk in a particular way. Why?  Identify the specific reason the “C” section follows the “B” section. Then if the time for your talk gets cut short at the last moment, you’ll understand what can be cut, what has to stay, and what order has to remain intact.
  • Practice your delivery. Pay as much attention to how you’ll deliver your presentation as to what you’ll say. Do a walk-through. Yes, talk the entire presentation through.  Aloud. From beginning to end. That’s the absolute best way to discover the rough spots: missing or awkward transitions, odd phrasing, wordy overview statements, wimpy wrap-ups on key points, and a lackluster close.
  • Polish your phrasing. Words matter. You can introduce your point with this statement: “Our costs have been contained this quarter across the board.”  Or you could introduce the point this way:  “You’ve tweaked your budgets from T-bone steaks down to gourmet burgers this quarter. Nice job in controlling costs!”  The most noticeable spots for humor, metaphors, analogies, or punchy phrases will be your lead-ins or wrap-ups to key points.
  • Anticipate questions. Today’s audiences consider time to ask questions as their God-given right. So whether you take questions throughout your talk, stop at various spots throughout your talk for questions, or allow time at the end, be prepared to showcase your expertise by upfront preparation. Make a list of likely questions you’ll receive, and prepare your answers before you ever take the stage. Plan your opening overview statement, your elaboration to support that overview, and any stats, illustrations, or examples to clarify your answer.
  • Remember why you’re a leader. You like challenges. You set the standard. People look to you for the model of “how things should be done.”

Many of the greatest movie stars confess that they fear standing before the public—but they do it anyway and earn Oscars for their performance. As others have said before, courage means acting in the face of fear.   

So go ahead, feel the fear, and take the stage. You are prepared to succeed.

About the Author:

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of more than 46 books, published in 26 languages. She consults, writes, and speaks on leadership communication, executive presence, productivity, and faith. Her latest books include What MORE Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About ItCreating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate With Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, and Bloomberg have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. For more information, visit www.BooherResearch.com

Searching for Free PowerPoint Photos? Try These Resources

As you’ve no doubt noticed, Microsoft stopped offering free photographs via Office.com. Now, when you select Insert/Online Pictures you are faced with a Bing search engine. Which is great if you’re looking for photographs that may or may not be legal for you to use in your presentation.

Microsoft plays it safe by telling us that the image results are licensed under Creative Commons and that we need to review the specific license for any image to ensure we can comply with it. The trouble is, it’s a real “time sink” tracking down these licenses because the results are from all over the place: blogs, commercial websites, error 404 pages, etc. To paraphrase a famous 2014 meme, “Nobody has time for that.”

Ignore Bing

My advice to you is to forget the Bing search engine altogether and stick with the sites that legitimately offer free and copyyright free images. This helps you if, for instance, you’re creating a presentation for your company that will be distributed to people all over the world. The last thing you need is a copyright infringement lawsuit!

The other problem, as I mentioned, is the time you waste tracking down the licensing information. Using the Bing search engine to insert pictures into PowerPoint, I spend at least five minutes per image looking for the license. The presentations I create tend to use a lot of photographs, so that’s a lot of time spent in admistrivia. No thanks.

Where to Find Images with Easy-to-Find Licenses

I have a number of go-to websites that clearly state the licensing terms for their images:

Flickr. Before Instagram made everyone a “photojournalist,” Flickr was the go-to website for people to post images they shot themselves. Guess what…it still is!

The image licensing ranges from public domain to usable with restrictions to all rights reserved, but fortunately it’s easy to filter out the results you can’t use. Just enter your search term in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen and click the magnifying glass. Then when you get your results, select the license you want:

Flickr license filter

“Commercial use allowed” and “modifications allowed” give you the most flexibility, so I always select one of these.

FreeDigitalPhotos.net This a great site for finding low-cost and free images. The prices vary, but the images with the smallest file size are always free with attribution. The resolution of these images is just fine for PowerPoint.

FreerangeStock The topmost images that come up in the results page are from a commercial royalty-free image vendor. The free stuff is right below that. FreerangeStock asks for author attributions as a courtesy, but their terms dictate that it’s not mandatory.

Where to Find Images in the Public Domain

Public domain images can be used by anybody, for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without attribution or compensation. In other words, they’re totally free. The downside is that you need to use broad search terms and be willing to settle. For instance, search for “lab technician mixing chemicals under a fume hood” and you’re likely to come up empty. Look for “scientist” and you’ll see better results.

Here are my favorite websites for finding professional looking images in the public domain:

LifeOfPix. The images here are just gorgeous!

SplitShire. See above note. Stunning!

Death to the Stock Photo. Sign up for a free monthly email containing beautifully shot images.

Morguefile. This site tends to have images of varying quality, but there is enough of a range to satisfy most needs. Plus, the images tend to be high-resolution, which is nice.

How Do You Attribute Photographs Correctly?

Now that you’ve taken the high road and legally obtained images you can use, it’s time to tell the world where you got them and under what terms. There’s a lot to it, so click here to read another article about how it’s done.

About the Author:

Laura Foley helps people become more fluent in PowerPoint through workshops, consulting, and presentation design services. She has developed presentations and provided training for clients such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions/General Dynamics, Juniper Networks and the Harvard Business School. Her Cheating Death by PowerPoint training has been featured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Simmons College and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.  For more information, visit her website at www.lauramfoley.com

3 Minutes That Can Save You Hours in PowerPoint Design

Investing three minutes in PowerPoint to save 60? Not a bad return on your time, especially when you realize it will pay dividends for years to come when working in the program.

You might do a double take when I say the key is the alignment tool (which doesn’t sound very exciting), because in true Nuts & Bolts fashion, I’m going to show you how to fast track the heck out of it. The set up will take you about 3 minutes.

That will allow you to whip through some of your most repetitive PowerPoint tasks…saving you at least 60 minutes a week.

The Importance of the Alignment Tool

In my mind, the alignment tool is arguably the most important command in all of PowerPoint for two reasons.

Reason #1: It’s one of the most repetitive actions you perform in PowerPoint day-in and day-out, aligning and positioning your objects.

Reason #2: It helps to dramatically improve the professionalism of your slides. Unaligned objects stick out like a sore thumb and often detract from whatever you are saying.

As such, getting a good grip on the alignment tool will not only radically improve your speed and productivity in the program, it will also improve the professionalism of all your presentations.

Investing 3 Minutes to Save 60

To see how to set this up and for a quick demonstration, you can either scroll down the page to see the written tutorial or watch the video at the end of the article.

To learn more about the QAT and why it’s the equivalent of having clap-on business cards, see our post on PowerPoint Best Practices, Customizing Your QAT.

Step #1: Add the Alignment Tool to Your QAT

From the Home tab, open the Arrange Tool drop down, right-click the Alignment Tool and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar.


Step #2: Navigate to More Options

Click the downward facing arrow at the end of your QAT and select More Commands to open the More Commands dialog box.


Step #3: Remove the Default QAT Commands

Within the dialog box, select the default commands on the right side of the dialog box and click remove until only the Align Objects command is there.

If you already have a number of commands on your QAT, you can alternatively just use the up arrow to move the Align Objects (the Alignment Tool) into the first position on your QAT.


With the QAT in position, click OK at the bottom of the dialog box to return to the normal view of your presentation.


Step #4: Navigate the Alignment Tool From Your Keyboard

With the Alignment Tool set, if you now select two or more objects (I’ve selected three rectangles that I want to align to the top), hit and then let go of the ALT key on your keyboard and then Hit 1…you get an alphabetical list of shortcuts for the different alignment tool options, now all conveniently accessible directly from your keyboard.


Using these commands you can:

 Atl, 1, L – Align Left

 Alt, 1, C – Align Center

 Alt, 1, R – Align Right

 Alt, 1, T – Align Top

 Alt, 1, M – Align Middle

 Alt, 1, B – Align Bottom

 Alt, 1, H – Distribute Horizontally

 Alt, 1, V – Distribute Vertically

In my case I will hit T for Top. Hitting ‘T’ the three grey boxes I selected snap into top alignment within my layout.


Watch the Video

So that’s how to set the Alignment Tool on your QAT for rapid fire alignments. To see my YouTube video detailing these steps, click here

About the Author:

Taylor Croonquist is a co-founder of Nuts & Bolts Speed Training, which aims to make working professionals at least 3x faster in PowerPoint. For more information, visit the Nuts and Bolts website

How to Create Great Handouts for Data-Heavy Presentations

Not all presentations can be full of thought-provoking photos. Many times you need to present data — lots of it. While I do think that presenters sometimes dump more than necessary on audiences, consider this scenario that demonstrates how good handouts can save the day.

The Setting

You’re a market research associate. A product marketing manager asks you to research demographics for people in the United States who read email on their phone, tablet, PC and anything else. In other words, something like this:

In the Northeast, how many boys aged 13-17 read email on their phone, tablet, PC other? How many girls? And the same for 18-24, 25-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and so on? Similar data must be gathered for other areas of the country.

Let’s say the company wants to create different ads in different markets showing people using their email software. They want models in the ads to be using the device that’s most prevalent for that market. So ads directed towards women in the South who are 30-39 might be different from ads directed towards men on the West coast who are 18-24.

The product marketing manager wants the data, but she also wants you to present it, explain what it means and describe how you gathered it. Several other people from the product group will be there, so it’s a meeting, not just a one-on-one discussion.

The Data

The data is just a big spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is too big to fit on a slide that will be projected on a wall and still be readable. But you want to create slides because you have some conclusions and thoughts to add, and the manager expects you to have those slides for the meeting.

You’re going to have to create printed handouts or electronic handouts that people can view on their own devices, close up. Yes, you’ll have slides, but you’ll supplement them with handouts.

Solution 1: Use Notes pages

You can put some of the data in the Notes pane. (Click the Notes button if you don’t see the pane.) Then you can print the Notes pages either to paper or to a PDF file.

You can put any text you want in the Notes pane, but formatting data is difficult. Using tabs, you can create a table. You can also copy data from Excel and paste it into the Notes pane. Use the Text paste option to keep the table properly formatted.


You can’t put a chart or image in the Notes pane — just text.

Solution 2: Send to Word

For more flexibility, you can create your handout by sending the presentation to Microsoft Word. Follow these steps:

  1. In PowerPoint 2013, choose File, Export, Create Handouts and click the Create Handouts button. In 2010, choose File> Save & Send> Create Handouts> Create Handouts.  In PowerPoint 2007, choose Application button> Publish> Create Handouts in Microsoft Office Word.
  2. In the Send to Microsoft Word dialog box, choose Notes below Slides. That gives you the most room for your data.
  3. Click OK


You can now copy and paste data easily from Excel to Word. The result is a table that you can format as you want. Here I left the default formatting.


Solution 3: Use letter-sized slides

Another solution — one that many people don’t think of — is best for when you won’t be projecting slides at all. It isn’t uncommon for slides to be printed only, never projected. If this situation applies to you, you’ll love this solution — use a letter-sized slide. You’ll get the best results if you don’t change slide size midstream and start with the desired size — but if you already have your smaller slides, go ahead and give it a try.

I wrote about this in another post, “Do you present with printed slides?”

When you are printing your slides, you can make the text smaller, since people are looking at the slides close up. Even so, don’t squeeze too much on a slide; you want people to get your point quickly.

To set the slide size, click the Design tab. In PowerPoint 2013, choose Slide Size, Custom Slide Size. In PowerPoint 2007 or PowerPoint 2010, in the Page Setup group on the left, click Page Setup.

In the Slide Size or Page Setup dialog box, choose Letter Paper from the drop-down list. Then under Orientation, you would usually choose Portrait for the slides. Click OK.


In PowerPoint 2013, if you aren’t starting from scratch, you’ll get an option for how to resize existing content:

  • Maximize: Keeps your content the maximum possible size. In case you’re making your slides smaller, this ensures that they don’t get squished.
  • Ensure Fit: Resizes objects if necessary to fit them on a slide.


When you have a larger slide, you can easily fit more on it — using PowerPoint’s charting tools, table tools, etc.  — without crowding.

About the Author:

Ellen Finkelstein is a PowerPoint MVP who can train you or the presenters in your organization to create high-impact, engaging, professional presentations for training, sales, business, or education. For more information visit her website, www.ellenfinkelstein.com


Checking Your Watch Too Often? Add a Countdown Timer to Your Slides

Time is a precious commodity for presenters. But even more precious is the time of your audience, especially when you show them slide after slide beyond your allotted time.

Audiences respect presenters who worry about their time – and there’s every reason for you as a presenter to stay in sync with their time schedules.

That’s not always an easy task. No one likes a presenter who looks at his or her watch frequently. Fortunately presenters are allowed to look at their slides more often than a watch. So why not add some sort of countdown to your slides?

This sort of countdown can be easily created in PowerPoint – but you also can use a video countdown timer that spans across slides. For that reason, your countdown timer needs to be inserted on the first slide.

(Editor’s Note: You also can get countdown timers for 10 and 15 minutes from Indezine.com. The timers you need are video files with the MP4 file extension – you’ll find them in the Samples folder of a ZIP file you download. Indezine is giving away one free video countdown timer to PresentationXpert readers so that you can follow the rest of this tutorial – please download from this page.)

These steps work for both PowerPoint 2010 and 2013 for Windows:

1. Open your existing presentation (or create a new one) and navigate to the first slide of your presentation.

2. Now choose the Insert tab of the Ribbon — then click the Video button, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 1. From the drop-down menu that appears, select the Video on my PC in PowerPoint 2013 (or Video from File in PowerPoint 2010) option, as shown highlighted in blue within Figure 1.


Figure 1: Insert the video countdown

3. Within the resultant dialog box, browse to the location where you have the countdown timer video saved, and insert it on the slide. Remember that you can download a free video countdown timer from this page

4. PowerPoint will embed the video within your first slide. Now drag the countdown timer video to a corner so that it doesn’t hide your slide content, and resize the video so that it only shows what you need to see, as shown in Figure 2, below.


Figure 2: Resize and reposition your video countdown

5. Now, select the video so that you can see the contextual Video Tools Playback tab on the Ribbon (see Figure 2, above). Within the Start drop-down list, choose the Automatically option, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 3, below.


Figure 3: Set your video countdown to play automatically

6. Now access the Animations tab of the Ribbon – then click the Animation Pane button, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 4, below.


Figure 4: Bring up the Animations pane

7. Within the resultant Animation Pane that shows up, double-click the first animation; this will bring up the Play Video dialog box as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 5:  The Play Video dialog box

8. Within the Play Video dialog box make sure that the Effect tab is selected. Within this tab, locate the Stop Playing section and select the After ____Slides radio button and set the value to 999, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 6.


Figure 6: Set to Play the video across 999 Slides

9. Once done click the OK button

10. Save your presentation and preview it in Slide Show view. Your countdown timer will continue showing a reduced amount of time as you progress from slide to slide.

About the Author:

Geetesh Bajaj has been designing and training with PowerPoint for years and is a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional.) He heads Indezine (www.indezine.com)  a presentation design studio and content development organization based in Hyderabad, India. The site attracts more than a million page views each month and has thousands of free PowerPoint templates and other goodies for visitors to download. He also runs another PowerPoint-related site (http://www.ppted.com) that provides designer PowerPoint templates.

Three New Guiding Principles for Business Presenters

Think back to the most recent meeting or presentation that you led or participated in. Was it effective? Was it efficient?

If you’re like most business people I’ve asked, your response is a resounding “no.”

Imagine how much time, energy, money, and good will are squandered during inefficient meetings every day in conference rooms across the world. I’m not sure what kind of number to put on it, but I’m sure it would be a staggering amount.

If any other business process were this inefficient, we’d do anything in our power to fix it. But communication? Eh. It seems we’ve grown so accustomed to ineffective, time-wasting meetings and presentations that we simply allow them to happen.

It’s as if their inefficiency is simply the cost of doing business.

My colleagues and I think that the business world deserves something better. In our research and work with presenters at all levels across a broad range of industries, we’ve found that the root of the issue is with the types of presentations we’ve been taught to deliver. The format we follow, the preparation we go through, even the assumptions we make don’t fit the needs of a business meeting.

It’s as if an athlete worked hard and trained for the 50-yard dash only to arrive at the starting line to learn that the race is taking place on an obstacle course. The training is good, just not right for the job.

What we find with business presenters is that they go into their presentations having prepared to deliver a speech; the same type of speech they delivered in Public Speaking 101. Even if they didn’t take that course, there are plenty of corporate presentation training classes around that teach the same approach.

At the heart of this approach is the three-step “tell them” strategy (tell them what we’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what we told them.)

Problem is: in business presentations we need to do more than just tell. We also need to listen. We need to be nimble and address listener concerns as they happen. This can alter the presentation or change it entirely. In any case, it’s always more than just a one-way communication event.

What actually happens during a presentation is a conversation. These conversations are planned and organized (like speeches), but they’re also unpredictable (like conversations) because other people contribute to them. Sometimes audience members play along nicely, other times they offer pushback. Sometimes the conversation moves in an unintended direction,only to loop back on itself later. In every situation, regardless of how things play out, the presentation ought to move a certain piece of business forward.

So, if the old-school approach doesn’t work, we need to replace it with something more in line with how business actually gets done. Here are three new guiding principles.

1) Business presentations are Orderly Conversations designed to get business done.

A presentation isn’t a speech that is judged by how well the presenter performs for the audience. Instead, the success of a presentation is judged by whether or not the presenter created the conditions for open dialogue that moves business forward.

The preparation process, then, needs to look forward to the uncertainties of the conversation, and visuals should be created to guide the conversation along a clear, but flexible, path. Then once the conversation starts, the presenter needs to adapt what was planned to what’s happening in the moment. This is a skill much more closely aligned with facilitating than with speechmaking.



2) To be an effective presenter, you need to: Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.

Genuine communication cannot happen when presenters attempt to imitate others. People often tell us they want to speak like Oprah, their boss, or a newscaster. It’s better to start with your own personality and build on it. This process is different for everyone, but here’s how it breaks down:

Find your focus

Finding your focus means knowing what to do to get your head in the game and engage people in the conversation. For most people it comes down to two skills: eye contact or pausing (or a combination of the two). These skills work differently for everyone, so your job is to experiment and discover what works best for you.

Be yourself

Once you are engaged, you’ll feel comfortable in the conversation. You’ll be aware of your listeners, but not distracted by them. Your thoughts will settle down, and you’ll be able to think on your feet. When this happens, your personality and natural communication skills will emerge, just as they do in everyday conversation.

Only better

When you’re comfortable and engaged, you’re able to respond appropriately to the presentation environment. You’re aware of your position in the room and are free to move about comfortably. You’re free to focus on listeners, slides, and your message. And perhaps most importantly, you’re able to eliminate any bad habits or delivery distractions that may have plagued you in the past.

In other words, you’re self-aware, externally focused, and able to adapt to the environment that you’re in.

3) Business presentations succeed on two levels.

Finally, it’s important to remember that business presentations succeed on two levels. The first level has to do with the goal of the presentation. Was the deal closed, did the team agree, are they aligned, or did they learn the new skill? The second level involves creating the conditions for a fruitful conversation. This requires earning trust, making the process easy for everyone, and managing the give and take of the conversation.

So here are three new guiding principles for business presentations. Repositioning your thinking in this way will relieve you of the pressure to be perfect and place your emphasis where it needs be: on achieving business results.

About the Author:

Greg Owen-Boger is vice president of Turpin Communication, a presentation skills consulting firm based in Chicago. He also is co-author of the new book, The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. For more information about the book or the company, visit www.turpincommunication.com

The Presenter’s Dilemma: How Many Slides Do I Need?

Do these quotes sound familiar?

“I only want to see three slides.”
“My boss says we get one slide per presenter.”
“We don’t want to go over 20 slides for this presentation.”

It’s very common to be restricted to a certain number of slides in a presentation. And it’s a very silly way to do things.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Just as the stating the ability to do the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs (You’re welcome, nerds!) is a nonsensical description of speed, specifying the number of slides in a presentation in order to limit its duration is meaningless. The number of slides in your presentation actually can have very little to do with how long your presentation lasts.

I once saw a 45-minute presentation that consisted of just one slide. Conversely, I usually develop about 60–75 slides for a 45-minute presentation.

The right question isn’t “How many slides should my presentation have?” it’s “How long does this presentation need to be?” Then you match that time to your presentation style and use that as a guide for how many slides you’ll need to create.

How Can a Presentation Have Just One Slide?

The one-slide presenter worked the room like a master. He spoke to us like he was addressing a roomful of friends. He was animated and enthusiastic, moving back and forth to engage the whole audience. He wove in stories based on his own personal experience. The funny thing was that his subject matter—a specific type of industrial machine—could have been as boring as dirt, yet he made it seem like the coolest thing ever.

What was on his slide? His company’s name, his name, and his contact information.

Why Would a 45-Minute Presentation Need 60-75 Slides?

So if this guy can get away with one slide, why do I need so many for my own presentation that lasts the same amount of time? Well, since I teach people how to get the most out of PowerPoint, my presentations tend to contain a lot of animation, slides with very few words, and slides that illustrate only one idea apiece.

The effect for the audience is seamless: everything flows much like a film. But this style tends to require a lot more slides than a more static presentation style.

The next time somebody tells you to limit your presentation to a certain number of slides, push back diplomatically and ask for more information about how long you have to present.

About the Author:

Laura Foley helps people become more fluent in PowerPoint through workshops, consulting, and presentation design services. She has developed presentations and provided training for clients such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions/General Dynamics, Juniper Networks and the Harvard Business School. Her Cheating Death by PowerPoint training has been featured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Simmons College and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.  For more information, visit her website at www.lauramfoley.com

Are You Telling Stories or Anecdotes? Here’s Why It Matters

The president wanted to hit a grand slam at his first all-hands meeting with employees watching the broadcast from around the world. Obviously, engaging those seated in the large auditorium in front of him would be easier. But he didn’t want to miss this first opportunity to win their confidence and trust that he could handle the job left vacant by his predecessor.

“So you said you plan to open with a story about your time in Germany as a young sales manager and what you learned from failure with a client there. Let’s hear it,” I said in our coaching session together. He took his place at the front of the room.  I flipped on the video to record, and he began.

“So what do you think?” he asked after finishing.

“Good energy. Passionate delivery,” I said.  “But it’s not exactly a story.”

He looked dumbfounded.

I went on to explain the difference between an anecdote and a story.

His face turned red. Sheepishly, he asked, “Am I the only executive who has missed that difference during their entire career?”

I assured him that he was not.  A quick-study, he took the situation from his experience in Germany, and we shaped it into a great story to use in his “debut” speech.  And I heard from several sources on my return trips to the company that he won their allegiance that day because it illustrated his humility and willingness to take a risk—and that he’d become an outstanding storyteller.

What you’ve just read above is an anecdote—not a story.

The Difference Between Anecdotes and Stories

An anecdote is an incident that’s usually amusing, odd, sad, or tragic.  Typically, they illustrate a point. Other anecdotes that are biographical or autobiographical often serve to reflect someone’s personality, attitude, or philosophy.

Stories, on the other hand, have an “official” literary definition that you may recall from English class:  A hero or heroine struggles to overcome obstacles to reach an important goal.  (Of course, that “hero” might be an organization struggling to stay afloat and avoid bankruptcy. Or the “hero” might be a new product developed on a shoe-string budget struggling to become number one in the market. Or the “hero” might be a team fighting to prove its worth and avoid being laid off during a merger.)  You get the idea.

So why should you care?  As a leader, CEO, politician, coach, speaker, entrepreneur—why nit-pick about this issue?

4 Persuasive Pluses for the Story

Stories involve the listener in the struggle. As the hero overcomes this and that setback, the listener identifies with similar problems—or at least the frustrations and disappointment such problems cause. Empathy sets in. Listeners (employees, spouse, coworkers, suppliers) can begin to identify with the hero in the story, trying to solve the problem and reach the goal.

Stories forge a deeper involvement and engage emotions on many levels. The details necessary to set the scene and structure the story involve multiple senses:  The physical scene. The appearance of people, things, or places. Fear. Beauty. Starkness. Hearing—conversations, disturbances, arguments, laughter. Withdrawal. Shyness. Mockery.

Stories bring closure on a significant goal.  Listeners actually feel a sense of closure and satisfaction after the story “ends” in much the same way they feel at the end of a movie. Whether the movie or story ends “happily ever after” or butts up against some harsh reality, still there is closure—a truth to be processed and internalized.

Stories are memorable because they have structure. Although good speakers know how to tell even an anecdote well, a story stays in the psyche because it has a definite arch that is always the same: Beginning, middle, end. Not so with an anecdote.  Anecdotes can simply be a slice of life.

Steve Jobs told stories to launch his Apple products successfully. Warren Buffet tells stories about his investment strategies and philosophies.  Presidents and world leaders tell stories about what they’ve achieved while in office and where they want to take the country in the future.

The next time you need to inspire your team, launch a new vision, or motivate people as a leader, perfect great stories.

About the Author:

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of more than 46 books, published in 26 languages. She consults, writes, and speaks on leadership communication, executive presence, productivity, and faith. Her latest books include What MORE Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About ItCreating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate With Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, and Bloomberg have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. For more information, visit www.BooherResearch.com

3 Places to Use a Neutral Face in Presentations

Since the days when we were mere babes in arms we have used facial expressions to convey what we feel, what we want, what we think. It has been such a successful way of communicating our emotions over the evolutionary years it’s not surprising that we’ve never put much emphasis on cultivating a neutral expression [except perhaps for poker enthusiasts], one that doesn’t convey any particular emotion.

Not showing emotion and having varied facial expressions when we deliver our presentations is a great way to keep our audience engaged and communicate that we are fully present and involved. But there are times, both when delivering a presentation and when watching one, that a neutral face is a very useful technique.

What Exactly Is a Neutral Face?

In the context of presentations I describe a neutral face as one that has an unbiased, impartial expression. It’s not an “open book.” With a neutral face the audience shouldn’t be able to discern your opinion about something that’s been said — either by you or by someone in the audience.

Not for a moment, however, do I mean to suggest that a neutral face is somehow blank, disengaged or unfriendly. It is just not guiding the audience to a particular conclusion or biasing them in any way.


The neutral face is pleasant and attentive with strong eye contact and relaxed facial muscles.

Where Would You Use a Neutral Face in a Presentation?

There are several key places in any presentation where a neutral face is one of your best tools:

1. When you’re answering a question that is confrontational or argumentative. Under these circumstances you want to maintain your cool and your facial expression is key to communicating to the audience…and the questioner…that you’re in control of your emotions. Your neutral face in this situation enhances your credibility, professionalism and maturity far more than a frown, look of disgust or rolling eyes.

2. When you ask a question of the audience and someone gives you a wrong answer. Maintaining a neutral expression assures you won’t embarrass the responder by overtly signifying that the answer is wrong (or dumb or stupid). You can then elicit responses from other audience members and reinforce the correct answer once someone offers it so the audience is left with the accurate information.

3. When you want to encourage the audience to express different perspectives. By remaining neutral during a dialogue you will encourage more audience members to share ideas. Knowing that you hold certain opinions because your facial expressions have communicated them can shut down opposite points of view.

About the Author:

Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington D.C.-area business communications training firm that offers a suite of public speaking and presentation skills programs geared to creating confident, persuasive speakers. Visit Kathy’s website at www.andnowpresenting.com to subscribe to her bi-weekly presentation tips or her blog where you’ll find fresh insights on public speaking.


‘We Are Not the PowerPoint Police’

People often ask us about the rules for PowerPoint. Some examples include, “What’s the rule for…

  • The number of bullets on a slide?”
  • The number of words per bullet?”
  • The number of slides a presentation should have?”
  • The right font to use?”
  • The right size font to use?”

We also hear apologies like these:

  • “I know this is a lousy slide, but I didn’t have time to fix it.”
  • “You’re going to hate this slide, but my manager requires this format.”
  • “Sorry this is such a busy slide, but …”

Our response is always this: Relax. We’re Not the PowerPoint Police.

When we say this in our presentation skills workshops, there are two typical responses.

  1. Puzzlement. It’s as if we can hear the person thinking, “Come on. You’re the presentation expert. You should have rules about PowerPoint!”
  2. Relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Those rules about PowerPoint never made any sense to me.”

It’s true we’re presentation experts; and it’s also true that many of the rules out there don’t make any sense.

We’re not saying that there aren’t basic design guidelines that can enhance the design of a slide. What we are saying is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that must always be followed.


Because life isn’t that simple.

Imagine Walt Disney in a meeting where he had to present the 7 Dwarfs concept via PowerPoint. Unfortunately for Walt, some trainer had told him years ago that he could never have more than 6 bullets per slide. What’s he to do? Split them up onto separate slides? That doesn’t make any sense.

Instead, he needs to be a pragmatist, ignore the rule, and list all 7 dwarfs together on one slide. (He could use just their pictures, but that assumes he’d remember their names. That’s a dangerous assumption if Walt’s experiencing nervousness that day.)

But, less is more, right?

Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to PowerPoint, but if following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule and must be set aside.

We like to think of PowerPoint as a tool to provide structure and to trigger the presenter’s thoughts. You are your presentation, not the slides. Use them to guide you through the presentation, rather than being the presentation. It will make your life easier. It will make the task of following you easier as well.

About the Author:

Greg Owen-Boger is vice president of Turpin Communication, a presentation skills consulting company based in Chicago. He also is co-author of the compelling new book, The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. For more information about the book or the company, visit www.turpincommunication.com

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