When Your Mariah Moment Happens

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Did you hear the one about how powerful Mariah Carey’s voice is? You can hear it even when her mouth is not open. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of jokes about the singer’s epic fail on New Year’s Eve. Several have no doubt graced your Facebook or Twitter feed, you’ve seen the memes, watched the late-night show snippets, and probably discussed it with your friends and colleagues. How could it have happened, you might ask? Here’s the question I would prefer to be asked of presentation professionals?

What should you do when it happens to you?
Let’s clean up the facts just a bit before we begin, because while I believe that Carey is deserving of plenty of criticism, I want to make sure that it is fair. First off, she did not get caught lip-syncing. Lip-syncing is like playing air guitar: you go through the motions while the sound is produced elsewhere. Most live performances, especially in difficult environments, include a vocal track, over which the singer sings. That is what Carey was intending to do, but when her in-ear monitor went out, she lost her composure. The second fact, for whatever it is worth, is that she and her team warned the producers and stage managers of the balky transmitter pack well ahead of time and they evidently did nothing. The third thing to keep in mind is what a crazy and dynamic environment Times Square must have been. This would have been challenging for even the most consummate of professionals.

It’s easy to wonder why she couldn’t just sing the song without the benefit of her in-ear monitor? Shouldn’t a professional be able to do that? After all, it was her song! We can debate how demanding the environment was and speculate on whether she could hear the music at all, but that misses the point and brings us to the criticism of Carey that is most relevant to the presentation community: her image as a professional. You see, Mariah Carey is perfect. Her wardrobe is always perfect. Her hair impeccably coiffed. Her choreography painstakingly staged. Her background vocals exquisitely integrated. I recall when she was a judge on American Idol, many of the camera cuts to the judges’ table caught her fiddling with her hair. Everything about Mariah Carey’s on-stage persona is about being perfect.

And that’s the problem.
What do you do when you are supposed to be perfect but circumstances out of your control prevent it? What do you fall back on? There are no degrees of perfection–either you are perfect or you’re flawed. And that’s a really tough place to be as a performer, because of three axioms of our profession, which hold up across all public performances:

  • Audiences don’t want perfect presenters. They want people whom they feel are just like them.
  • Audiences respond best to presenters whom they feel are genuine and passionate.
  • Audiences root for presenters to succeed.

From this perspective, Carey was doomed from the very beginning. If your whole thing is perfection, what does that say about your ability to roll with punches? And unless you really are perfect in real life, does that stage persona evoke feelings of authenticity. No, this was a technical problem for which Mariah Carey was uniquely ill-equipped to handle.

Here is a continuum of possible responses to the situation:

  1. You stop performing, become visibly upset and frustrated and blame everyone around you.
  2. You stop, wait for the technology to be fixed, and if it can’t be, you continue anyway.
  3. You pretend nothing has happened and you fake it in the hopes that you make it.
  4. You apologize to the audience and tell them you’re going to do the best you can.
  5. You rally the audience to your side, you turn it into an experience, you start a singalong, you lead rounds, you laugh at yourself as you do a goofy dance, and in the process, you prevail over the moment.

Why would anyone pay the outrageous sums of a live concert?
I would tell you it is for the chance at No. 5 moments. As I think about my own concert experiences, the ones that are indelible are when unexpected things happened. Like when Paul McCartney started a song by singing the wrong lyrics, made his band stop, and then wondering if he had just happened upon something cool, a capellad his way through the mashed-up arrangement for a few bars. We ate it up. Or the time when Mick Jagger ran the length of the Candlestick Park outfield in the middle of Satisfaction, and Keith Richards dared him to not sing out of breath. They both cracked up and we ate it up. Or the time when the conductor of the San Jose Symphony Orchestra invited a seven-year-old boy from the audience to take over for him, making his musicians promise that they would try to keep time according to his direction. The pace became so fast that they could not keep up. And we ate it up.

Mariah Carey did not get past No. 1 and she made it worse in the following days when, instead of letting the whole thing blow over, her team defended her, lashed out at Dick Clark Productions (isn’t that a bit like blaming God?), and went so far as to suggest self-fornication to the producers for refusing to pull the performance from the West Coast telecast, destined to air three hours after the incident.

Let’s compare two singers. Let’s compare Mariah Carey’s response to New Year’s Eve with how Adele handled a complete sound failure during a 2016 performance. While Carey had a vocal track and complete accompaniment behind her (even if it was noisy), Adele found herself with no accompaniment at all.

Click here to watch the video at YouTube — it happens at the 2:30 mark.

Why is Adele so popular?
By her own admission, she misses notes all the time. And her range is just average. Is it incredible songwriting? Perhaps, but that is rarely the basis of the praise she earns. And her wardrobes are nothing like Mariah’s; they’re usually semi-frumpy dresses with sequins. And that’s just it: Adele is real. She can do something that less than 1% of the population can and for it, she earns obscene amounts of money, but she gives her audiences the powerful impression that she is just like them. Watch the clip to the end and listen to how she schmoozes them about the moment they had. I’ll issue a modest profanity alert, but you know what, that actually makes her even more real.

Thanks to Mariah Carey, our industry has a perfectly gift-wrapped new year resolution. Do not practice your polish, do not work on your image, and do not try to be the best dresser you know. Your audiences do not care about those things. Instead, ask yourself who you truly are and whether your audiences could recognize your most genuine qualities and characteristics. Ask yourself how you can manage all of the demands of a public presenter — the technology, the slides, audience expectation, and your own nerves — and reach a place where you are showing the room your most authentic self.

Above all, your authenticity puts you in a position to be the very best storyteller you can be, and that is your No. 1 aim.
In addition, finding your real self gets your audiences to a place where they can root for you, where they might be endeared by you. And it gets you to a place where you can confidently deal with the most unexpected circumstances of all. Stuff happens to everyone so it’s no big deal if it also happens to you.

Mariah Carey has not shown herself to be capable of finding that quality within herself. Here’s hoping that you can.

Rick-AltmanAbout Rick Altman

He is one of the most prominent commentators in the presentation community today. Rick is the author of 15 books. He is the host of the Presentation Summit, the internationally-acclaimed learning event for presentation professionals.  An avid sportsman, he was not a good enough tennis player to make it onto the professional tour. All the rest of this has been his Plan B.

My 10 BEST Tips for Female Presenters to Rock It

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It has been my experience and observation that women presenters tend to be more reserved and self-conscious. Female presenters tend to overthink everything and strive for perfection, even when perfection doesn’t exist. It’s a combination of things that make it more difficult for female presenters to begin, much less finish, a presentation. I have put together my list of advice that female presenters need to know.

  • Don’t let self-doubt creep in.Women are infamous for self-doubting their capabilities and shrivel at the thought of stepping in front of other people to talk. This doubt leads to feelings of inability to perform and allows the mind to wonder how listeners will judge and criticize. Women can do everything that men can do, and sometimes better, you just have to trust yourself that you know your subject matter and are extremely qualified to give this presentation.
  • Overcome the fear of public speaking.The chronic thoughts of self-doubt generally morph into full blown presentation anxiety complete with sweating, nausea, tension, and sickness. Even if fearful presenters get enough courage to step in front of others, they usually cringe and fold into themselves and struggle to finish. The fear of public speaking is a perceived fear, where the brain has been trained to react in a way that demonstrates one is inferior, you can overcome it with a little effort. You can avoid not only the fear but all of the feelings that go along with it. (Check out my article 5 Quick Tips to Overcome Presentation Fear.)
  • Stop overthinking.Women are well known to change their mind a time or two, but they also tend to overthink the situation. The debate on what to talk about, can I afford to leave this out, how do I explain the situation and not babble on and on, can leave your mind in debate for extended periods of time with no resolve.
  • Stop the madness!All of this thinking, wandering, and debating can make you tired before you even get to the presentation site. Ladies, we have a big job to do, and nobody is more qualified than you to do it. Any presenter has a single obligation to fulfill, and that is to educate the audience and ensure that the listeners walk away with information that is helpful to them; ladies just do it with more grace and poise.

Here are my best tips for female presenters to let go of the self-doubt and overcome the fear of talking to other human beings.

  1. Prepare – Yes, you need to include the necessary points without any extra, and you can solve this with index cards. Writing one idea per card and laying them all out on a table can help the most indecisive presenter fully see what is necessary and what is not. Write it up in an outline and you have officially begun the presentation plan.
  2. Evaluate – Every presenter needs to take a step away and think for a minute to evaluate the plan. You are looking for reassurance that your presentation is not overflowing with content, that it includes stories and examples, and follows some logical order to ensure that you know where you are going, and your audience can easily follow along with little effort.
  3. Prep until comfortable – This advice is different for every person, so you will have to figure out what is the right amount of preparation for you to feel comfortable. You want to practice your presentation as many times as necessary that you can easily recall it without notes. Do not resort to memorization because this will cause many additional complications, trust me.
  4. While you are still in preparation mode, now is the perfect time to go to the restaurant or hotel where the event will take place and get a good look, maybe even take some pictures of your own to study back at the office. If you are preparing for an event out of town, ask your contact person to send you pictures of the room or at least a sketch of the setup. Knowing this information will allow you to visualize the situation in practices and strategize where is the best place to stand for maximum effectiveness.
  5. Dress for success – Plan out your wardrobe in advance, taking into consideration what the atmosphere of the presentation site will be like and if you’ll be wearing a mic. (It can get complicated running a lavaliere microphone cord through some outfits.) Take into account the decor of the room, and what you expect the audience to be wearing. Check my blog, What Do I Wear for My Presentation, where I go in depth on how to weigh your options.
  6. Arrive early – One of my personal anxieties is not the presentation itself, but the travel to get there. Regardless of whether the travel time includes a simple car trip or a plane ride, you want to make sure that you have arrived early. If you have confused the location, then you have time to fix it, otherwise knowing that you are where you are supposed to be is a relief in itself and now you are not out of breath from running and rushing.
  7. Meet the audience – Arriving early has its benefits because you have the time to take a few deep breaths and to meet new people. You are meeting the people that sacrificed their time away from work or family to see you present. You are meeting new friends that will be rooting you on and are excited to learn the new things that you have to teach. Most importantly, having the opportunity to meet the audience means you are no longer speaking to strangers; you are talking to new friends and knowing that tiny piece of information can turn your presentation from a lecture into a conversation just like speaking to any friend.
  8. Own the room – Imagining that you are wearing your power suit can make you feel powerful. According to a 2010 study, taking a high-power pose, one that takes up maximum space with your body can make stress hormones ineffective. Take a quickcapture potty break and psych yourself up, a one-person pep rally. You have done all of the necessary steps to make this happen; you are in control. Now is the time to own the room!
  9. Celebrate because you did it – You followed through on the commitment and not only did you fulfill your obligation, but it was much better than you thought it would be. Maybe you even had fun and would consider presenting again in the future. Revel in the lives that you have enriched with your message and how all of that stress was for nothing. Concentrate on how interested the audience was the entire time you spoke and that they had so many questions about applying the lesson to their individual situations. Remember that for at least this moment, you were the teacher, and you made a difference.
  10. Debrief & improve – After the celebration (maybe it even includes champagne) it’s time to think about the situation as a whole from an objective point of view and debrief with notes on what went well, and what can be improved. Consider any moments that you had to rephrase something because it wasn’t clear, or you had to add something that wasn’t supposed to be there but was, in fact, necessary. Remove any pieces that you initially thought were necessary, but weren’t. Now is the time to pull the index cards back out that weren’t incorporated into this presentation and think about how you can integrate them into a future presentation.

 

img_8893-682x1024Erica Olson, founder of Speak Simple, has delivered 1,000+ presentations, coached hundreds, and won her clients millions of dollars. She is an author, professional speaker, interpreter, and presentation coach that helps her clients become comfortable when presenting and relate with their audience. Erica specializes in helping with technical professionals to simplify their message to engage audiences and win new work and includes strategy, preparation process, learning styles, simplification, & delivery. Her book, Speak Simple – The Art of Simplifying Technical Presentations, and her self-guided presentation course, SpeakU, are great resources for her numerous clients, many of whom Erica has helped to win millions of dollars in new work via bid presentations, thought leadership presentations, and increased keynote speaker fees.

Pitch Perfect! How to Make Successful Sales Presentations!

BoringPresentation_WebMake winning sales presentations. Learn the tricks the pros use to get audience agreement and sell a product, solution or idea. Use the latest behavioral psychology and neuromarketing techniques. Use what you learn during this webinar to make a clear, compelling presentation that gets buy-in and improves your success rate. It’s easy—when you know how to do it.

  • Discover the three reasons people buy
  • Improve sales
  • Learn the latest behavioral psychology and neuro-marketing techniques
  • See how to get audience agreement
  • Get the recipe for persuasive presentations

This webinar with sales and presentation guru, Mike Parkinson, is recommended for those who develop or deliver sales presentations and presentations that are meant to persuade the audience to take a desired course of action.

About Mike Parkinson:

Mike2015_bigMike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication and presentation expert, solution and strategy expert, award-winning author, trainer, and popular public speaker. He is a key contributor on multi-billion dollar projects and helps Fortune 500 companies improve their success rates. Mike shares his expertise through books like Billion Dollar Graphics, articles, and online tools. He is also a partner at 24 Hour Company (www.24hrco.com), a premier creative services firm.

Marvelous Makeovers – Presentations Edition

youre-LATE-psd97874 …For the busy professional for whom everything is due yesterday.  

One of the objectives of design makeovers is to leave your audience members with their jaws on the floor, but we know that it is not entirely fair, showing you designs that you might not have the skills or the time to recreate. Besides, there is more to presentation design than creating pretty slides…much more. A good makeover takes into account the look and feel of the slides, the message being conveyed, and the reality of those in charge of the project. Taken directly from Rick Altman’s client files, these makeovers carry with them the hope that you will look at them and say, “Hey, I can do that.” As a special bonus, at no extra charge (i.e. you pay nothing more than the $0 that this webinar is costing you), Rick performs a makeover of our own webinar branding. Gulp…

  • Messages that are audience-centric, not presenter-centric
  • Surviving slides with too much junk on them
  • Content better left in handouts
  • When clean and consistent rule the day

ABOUT RICK ALTMAN: 

Rick-AltmanHe is one of the most prominent commentators in the presentation community today. Rick is the author of 15 books. He is the host of the Presentation Summit, the internationally-acclaimed learning event for presentation professionals.  An avid sportsman, he was not a good enough tennis player to make it onto the professional tour. All the rest of this has been his Plan B.

Handout – Marvelous Makeovers

 

Matching Medium to Message: Using Presentation Technologies to Wow Audiences

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Long gone are the days where the only option to give a presentation involved you standing before an audience with laptop and projector, presenting with PowerPoint.  With the emergence of new technologies, hardware and applications, presenters now have a choice for which tool they can use to deliver their presentation — whether it is online, in person or on a tablet.

In this webinar, author Simon Morton of Eyeful Presentations show us how to look at our technology optPicture1ions such as presenting on a tablet, PowerPoint and Prezi and then decide which one fits our message and gives us the “Wow” we’re looking to communicate. Using real-world business scenarios, Simon and Andrew shared their nsights into how to choose the right technology for different situations, whether it is a sales and marketing presentation, an internal presentation or to an executive team.

Using Eyeful Presentation’s critically-acclaimed methodology that is featured in his book, The Presentation Lab: Learn The Formula Behind Powerful Presentations , we learn how to:

  • Understand and analyze the evolving presentation lands cape
  • Approach typical business scenarios with different technologies, matching the medium to the message
  • Understand the power and effectiveness of each technology and where it fits in your presentation strategy
  • Be prepared for formal, informal or interactive presentations

 

About our presenters:

Picture4Simon Morton’s early career as an executive for an international technology company exposed him to more PowerPoint presentations than was good for him.  With his firm, Eyeful Presentations, based in the UK and with 6 international offices, Simon has been ridding the world of ‘Death by PowerPoint’ for over 10 years.  In his book, The Presentation Lab: Learn The Formula Behind Powerful Presentations, Simon shares the methodology and approach that has driven Eyeful’s success and that of its world-class clients.

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Joining Simon is Alex Warwick, Senior Designer of Eyeful Presentations. Alex has worked at Eyeful for 3 and a half years. During this time we have seen him training numerous Eyeful customer’s around PowerPoint Technical training, travelling to Dublin and Cork and various UK locations.  Alex was one of two lead creatives on the designs in The Presentation Lab book.  Alex finds creative inspiration anywhere and has a real passion PowerPoint.

 

For a Great Presentation, Practice the 10/20/30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki is a technology guru and venture capitalist who listens to a lot of presentations from entrepreneurs seeking money for start-up ventures.  The overwhelming majority of the presentations he hears are, as he says, “crap.”

And so he demands that all presentations at his business, Garage Technology Ventures, follow what he calls the “10/20/30 rule.”  It’s a rule that should be embraced by anyone  who wants to connect with audiences.

The rule states that all presentations should be limited to 10 slides, 20 minutes, and have no words on the slides smaller than 30-point type.  I love the rule because it keeps you out of the weeds by forcing you to keep your message focused on key issues.

1) Limit Your Presentation to 10 slides. Too many of us create presentations by opening up PowerPoint, picking a template, and typing. Before long, we have a “presentation” with 40 slides.

I was coaching an executive once as he prepared to speak at an industry event.  He arrived at our practice session with 60 slides for a 45-minute presentation.  Flipping through, I noted that every slide was loaded with bullet points.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Would you want to listen to this presentation?”

“Well . . . , ” he muttered, seeming startled. “I guess not.”

His presentation was packed with too much information.  Limiting your message to 10 slides forces you to answer the question “What do I really want to say?” PowerPoint has no template for that question.

2) Speak For No More Than 20 Minutes.  When Kawasaki listens to a pitch for start-up capital, he allocates an hour.  Limiting the pitch to 20 minutes allows for 40 minutes of Q&A. As Kawasaki knows, all presentations improve with lots of Q&A.

Last weekend I went fishing in Tampa with a guide named Rick. He told me that one way he markets his business is by giving presentations on how to catch fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I usually speak for about fifteen minutes and then take questions,” he said. “I’ve found that people have a lot more fun at my presentations when they get to ask questions.”

That’s a nice lesson in hooking an audience from a professional fisherman.

3) No Slides with Words Smaller than 30-Point Type.  For many people, this seems impossible. You can’t get more than five or six words on a line with 30-point type.

But all businesses should mandate this rule. Smaller type  is so hard to read that it becomes distracting.

To me, corporate America tolerates tiny type on slides in the same way that mill town residents tolerate the stench that fills their community.  It’s so prevalent that everyone just gets used to it and no one even notices anymore.

But your slides will be far more effective if you minimize your bullets and keep your type size big.

And if you follow the 10/20/30 rule, your presentations will be a breath of fresh air to all.

About the Author:

Joey Asher is president of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta.  His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations is available now. For more information, visit the Speechworks website.

Leaders: Use Story to Create the Future

Lou Gerstner, the IBM CEO who led Big Blue out of the wilderness, said, “I tell Wall Street stories about IBM’s future because facts about the future do not exist.” What sets competitors apart today are not the scientific skills of dueling algorithms, but the aesthetic talents of storytelling: imagination, insight and creativity. With enough data, any executive can read a cross-section of the now; only a few, like Lou Gerstner, can author the future.

Story is more than a communications tool, more than a sales tool; it is a decision-making tool. I mentor my clients in all three uses of story-in-business: to bond, to persuade, to envision. Each of the three has three dimensions.

TO BOND: Use story to:

1) Speak in a human voice that creates empathy between employer and employee, building engagement in the work.

2) Inspire teamwork within and across corporate divisions.

3) Enhance the flow of communication up, down and across the corporation’s pyramid of power.

TO PERSUADE: Use story to:

1) Create positive brand awareness in the public’s mind.

2) Forge new markets within that public.

3) Sell. The modern business wraps its identity in the meaningful emotional web of story to capture the customer’s awareness and persuade sales. Compare the engaged storytelling of Siemens’ highly effective branding campaign, Answers, with the syrupy, eye-fatiguing montages of Cisco’s failed and abandoned campaign, The Human Network.

TO ENVISION: Shape knowledge and feeling into the form of story to:

1) Broaden and deepen an executive’s wisdom,

2) So he or she can make effective decisions based on both hard and soft data, and

3) Lead implementation of this strategy the way a great author guides the reader through a novel. Executive genius is a kind of literary genius.

The story a leader tells becomes corporate strategy, a map to the future others can follow to a success-filled climax.

The higher up the pyramid of power an executive ascends, the broader and deeper her vision. The more distant her horizon, the more all-inclusive her wisdom. The more complete her story, the more impactful her decisions.

Reliance on data, coupled with an inability to express oneself in story leads to disengaged employees, bland marketing, failed deal making and, most critically, bad decisions. In 2013, Siemens fired its CEO Peter Loescher because, as the German press put it, “He had no story.” Imagining corporate life like an author actually makes decisions all the more logical, all the more insightful.

A leader sees possible futures; his decisions create the future. When you use your imagination to envision the world in story form, you can sense how your corporation’s desire will rub against the world’s antagonisms before this friction sets events on fire. Story gives you foresight to see the consequences of future events long before they happen. A leader prepares for change no matter how illogical its cause. In fact, sensitivity to irrational change is quintessentially rational … if you wish to lead.

Until recently we’ve only been able to speculate about persuasive effects of storytelling. But throughout the last decades, neuroscience has researched the relationship between story and the human mind, and results repeatedly show that our attitudes, hopes and values are story driven. Fiction changes beliefs far faster than logical argument. Lawyers understand this.

Evidence has its place, but a trial tells two stories—one of which the jury believes.

Therefore, this caveat: Although we tend to watch PowerPoint presentations with skepticism, when a story absorbs us, we drop our intellectual guard. The mind-molding power of story may blind us in ways only facts can prevent. Therefore, a business leader has an ethical obligation to only use story in service of what he deeply believes to be a positive, human value.

A powerfully told tale always seems like a gift. But a story is actually a delivery system for the teller’s theme and purpose. A story sneaks a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind and can be an instrument for good or ill. Like fire, it can warm a civilization or burn it down.

Story is morally neutral. It can express profound truth or propaganda. The two greatest political storytellers of the 20th Century were Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler. Because storytelling is a form of persuasive jujitsu, and because the world is full of black- belt storytellers, the corporate leader has to train both his offensive and defensive moves. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, storytellers use empathy and curiosity to distract critical thinking.

So while you work to master storytelling for the corporate good, it’s equally important that you learn to see the pitch coming so you steel yourself against the power of “Once upon a time …”

Want to find out more about why story works in business?

• Read Robert McKee’s FREE white paper on how to incorporate story into your business. Click here to access the full white paper.

• Join Robert McKee for his STORY-IN-BUSINESS seminar on September 26 in New York City. This exclusive, one-day event shows businesspeople how to create and use stories to persuade, inspire and engage employees and customers. As a PresentationXpert reader, save $50 when you use promo code SIB50Off to register!

About the Author:

Robert McKee is “the world’s best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturer,” according to the Harvard Business Review. He has been helping writers tell powerful stories for more than 25 years through his legendary STORY Seminar and his award-winning book, STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. More than 100,000 students have completed his courses, including numerous Academy Award, Emmy Award, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. Now Robert McKee is helping business leaders from companies like Microsoft, HP, Siemens, Mercedes-Benz, Time Warner, The Boldt Company and others use story to more effectively persuade and engage their various stakeholders. Find out more about Robert McKee, his STORY seminars and additional resources to support writers by visiting McKeeStory.com.

Visual Storytelling Goes Viral

While sifting through my Twitter feed I recently came upon a video about the distribution of wealth in the United States. I read and research various topics every day, but I have to admit, I’m more often reading about social media, advertising, design, storytelling and less often about finance and the economy (to my detriment—I only have so many hours in the day).

I didn’t know what to expect. The video was embedded on a site so I couldn’t see how popular it has truly become (over 4 million views). Within the first few seconds, I was hooked. The narrator tells a great story, and as a tax-paying citizen of the U.S., I was interested because I saw myself in the story.

Combine the story with beautiful and effective imagery (with little text), and it was a prime example of the power of effective visual storytelling.

Check out the video and I’ll discuss more following your viewing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oOwjN9qV2ls

Displaying Data Without The Dull

Every so often I receive emails that all ask a similar question: “I love the way you design PowerPoint presentations, but my presentations have a lot of data and don’t lend themselves well to full-bleed images. How can I effectively design my presentation without filling the screen with data?”

Effective PowerPoint presentation design isn’t just about slapping a full-bleed image on every slide. At its core, effective presentation design is about revealing the truth. It’s about utilizing visuals as a backdrop to your story in order to further engage the senses, turning your presentation into an experience.

Even if your presentation has loads of data that no photography could express, that doesn’t mean your presentation has to be boring. It just means you’ll have to commit to effective design and to think about your data not just as words and numbers, but as visual scenes.

The video in this story went viral, and for good reason. It proves that data CAN indeed be presented beautifully and effectively when told as a story and professionally designed with the audience in mind.

About the Author:

Jon Thomas is the founder of Presentation Advisors, a presentation design and training firm based in southern Connecticut. For more on the company’s services, visit http://www.presentationadvisors.com/

The Secret to Storytelling is in the Editing

Presentation lessons abound in the cinematic arts. Many producers and directors will tell you that what can really make or break a film is the editing. You have probably never heard the names of even some of the most prominent Hollywood editors, even though their work is absolutely crucial to the success of your favorite films.

This week I took some time to watch (twice) a documentary called The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Making. Although it is a film about the role of editing in filmmaking, the lessons and principles are applicable to other creative work such as writing, and storytelling of all kinds, including presentations. (Watch a short clip from The Cutting Edge .)

“Murder your darlings”

Arthur Quiller-Couch’s famous advice that we should “murder our darlings” suggests that we be very careful examining those bits of our story that we love the most. Our attachment to a line or a scene or a clever visual treatment may blind us to the fact that its inclusion, no matter how cool or impressive it may be, does not help the overall message.

Objectivity is key, and this is why it is useful to remind ourselves to think like an editor. Because a film editor is not usually involved in all the things that lead up to finally getting the footage in the can (casting, storyboards, weeks/months of shooting, etc.) she maintains the most objectivity and can focus on making the story flow and use her gut too to manipulate shots for emotional effects.

“You don’t need what you don’t need”

In his autobiography, Something Like An Autobiography, legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa spoke briefly on the editing process and the lessons from his mentor Kajirō Yamamoto.

“Yama-san in the editing room,” Kurosawa wrote, “was a bona-fide mass murderer.” It’s difficult for us to dispose of pieces that we worked so hard on, but the value of a bit’s worth—whether it’s in film or literature or multimedia presentations, or even writing software for that matter—should not be measured merely in terms of the labor we put into it. The only question in measuring its value is: from the point of view of the audience, does it work in support of the story?

Below is an excerpt from Kurosawa’s autobiography on the difficulty of cutting what you worked so hard to create:

I even thought on occasion if we were going to cut so much, why did we have to shoot it all in the first place? I, too, had labored painfully to shoot the film, so it was hard for me to scrap my own work.” Kurokawa goes on to say, “When you are shooting, of course, you film only what you believe is necessary. But very often you realize only after having shot it that you didn’t need it after all. You don’t need what you don’t need. Yet human nature wants to place value on things in direct proportion to the amount of labor that went into making them.

In film editing, this natural inclination is the most dangerous of all attitudes. The art of the cinema has been called an art of time, but time used to no purpose cannot be called anything but wasted time. The most important requirement for editing is objectivity. No matter how much difficulty you had in obtaining a particular shot, the audience will never know. If it is not interesting, it simply isn’t interesting. You may have been full of enthusiasm during the filming of a particular shot, but if that enthusiasm doesn’t show on the screen, you must be objective enough to cut it.”

It’s About the Story

“At the end of the day,” says Hollywood film editor Zach Staenberg, “all this stuff [filmmaking process/editing] has to work to tell a story. If you’re not telling a story, it doesn’t matter how much razzle dazzle there is. It’s not about the tools, it’s about the story.”

Every frame matters and the inclusion or exclusion of the little things makes a difference. “The difference between a few frames was a scary shark and a big floating turd,” says Steven Spielberg in The Cutting Edge documentary. Spielberg also admitted that it was very hard for him to let go of as many frames of the mechanical shark in the final cut of Jaws as he ultimately did because he had worked so hard to get the shots. Thankfully he listened to his editor, Verna Fields.

Editors are the unsung heros of film, but if we take a closer look even those of us outside of film can learn valuable lessons from their creative work. Whatever the medium, the key in storytelling is cutting the extraneous and the superfluous, keeping in only what helps tell your story.

About the Author:

Garr Reynolds is the author of Presentation Zen and other best-selling books related to presentation and presentation design. He is the former manager of the Worldwide User Group Relations at Apple Computer and is now an associate professor of management at Kansai Gaidai University, where he teaches marketing, global marketing and multimedia presentation design.

 

13 Ways to Communicate Effectively by Telling Good Anecdotes

By Dianna Booher

Stories grab attention the way no other technique can. Your anecdote may be serious, sad, humorous, enlightening, or inspiring. It may serve as proof that a situation exists in your organization, an example of what excellent organizations do to lead the industry, the epitome of innovation, a thought-provoking “war story” from one of your front-line employees, or merely a momentary inspiration.

Even with a serious point, humor generally helps. Your purpose is not to bring down the house with wildly funny stories; the audience does not expect Jay Leno or David Letterman. Humor, however, anchors key points and makes your message memorable.

Slanting your story to your audience—their point of view and their mood—adds to the impact. When done well, a humorous story adds an element of class and distinction. Stories pack power.

Know Your Reason for Using a Story

To illustrate a point, to entertain, or to build common ground with your audience––identifying your purpose will make your selection much easier. You also will understand the length of time you should devote to telling it and the effort that should go into telling it well. Never use a $100 story in a three-minute time slot to make a nickel point.

Set Up the Anecdote in an Intriguing Way

Not: “Let me tell you about a manager in our Miami office.” But: “Managers sometimes exhibit their greatest leadership skills when they make a mistake. This was the case in our Miami office last quarter when . . .”

Choose Relevant, Appropriate Details

It is tempting to talk while you think. Don’t. Either work out your story by talking it aloud until you perfect it, or write the story and then edit out the garbage. Ask yourself with each word, phrase, and sentence: Does it add to the mood? Does it create the scene? Is this detail necessary to move the story forward and make the point? Weed out trivial details that detract or add only length.

Prefer Scene to Narrative

Recreate the movie scene, add the dialogue, and step into the story as a character, if necessary, to breathe life into the telling.

Not this narrative: “I had a terrible experience the last time I visited my doctor’s office. The receptionist was surly and kept scolding me and other patients for “noise” as if we were children. Customer service certainly isn’t what it used to be.”

But this scene: “I’m not one easily persuaded to see a doctor. And I get particularly upset about the lack of customer service in most medical offices. But last fall when my fever reached 103 degrees, I finally stagger into my internist’s office, dehydrated, dizzy, and green from lunch. And the receptionist pushes a clipboard toward me and growls, ‘You’ll need to complete this.’ So I’m sitting there with all the paperwork piled in my lap, scrawling in the blanks: Name, rank, serial number, referring physician, address of hairdresser, IQ. And the clipboard breaks and shoots the spring in the handle across the room into the water cooler with a loud zing.

“Then this lady beside me starts to sneeze and wheeze so loud that it catches the attention of the toddler with measles next to her. So then the toddler starts to screech at his lung’s capacity, ‘Mommy, what’s she doing?’ About this time, the receptionist opens her cubicle window again and says, ‘Could I ask you people to keep down the noise please. There are sick people in here.’”

Ensure that Every Story Has a Beginning, a Middle, and an End

See the scene in the previous tip about the surly receptionist in the medical office. You will notice that although the story is less than 60 seconds long when delivered, it has a definite beginning, middle, and end. Without all three, your listeners feel as though you are leaving something incomplete. Granted, you do not have to complete the entire story at one time. You may move the story along during an entire presentation to make several key points during your presentation.

Perfect Facial Expression, Voice Tone, and Body Language to Be an Essential Part of the Story

In the same way that both content and delivery work together to make your entire presentation either dynamic or distasteful, a story and its delivery work together to create the total impact. A raised eyebrow, a haughty tone, or a shrug of the shoulders can carry—or reverse—your point.

Let the Punch Line Stand on Its Own

If you have to explain the punch line, it does not work. Play with it until it does. Sometimes the substitution of one key word will make the difference between a laugh and blank stare, between an “aaahhh-haaa” and a “huh?” Practice the punch line and the punch word until others understand it. If they do not, delete it rather than explain it.

Don’t Rush the Laugh Lines or the Pregnant Pauses

Standing silent while a group responds takes courage. Such pauses may be the longest of your career. However, if you rush through them, the audience will take their cue from you and assume that you did not want or intend for them to respond audibly. Their non-response then destroys your confidence to try additional stories in the remaining sections of your presentation.

As a result, your delivery gets dryer and dryer. The presentation spirals downward to disappointment.

Remember, the Longer the Story, the Funnier the Punch Line Needs to Be

Attention spans are short. Lengthy stories can lead to big expectations. They end in disappointment with a poorly delivered or less-than-hilarious punch line.

Avoid a Big Buildup That Sets Up Disappointment

Inexperienced speakers warn, “Here comes a joke,” with a lead-in like, “That reminds me of the story about . . .” or “I’ve got a great story that makes a point about X. It’s so funny. You’re not going to believe what this customer really said to me. But I want to tell you about this situation just to illustrate my point about the type of demands our customers are placing on us these days. It’s hilarious. I couldn’t believe he really did this. This guy was really crazy. Just irate. Cursing. Yelling. The whole thing was so ridiculous. Here’s what happened. This customer calls up on our support line and. . . .”

With such a long buildup, the typical group reaction after you tell the anecdote will be, “That wasn’t such a great story. And it wasn’t so funny.” Just get into the story and then make your point. The audience will let you know if it was funny or not.

Perfect Your Timing

One word botched, mumbled, or out of order can sink the ship. Practice your delivery.

Here’s an example from Rich’s Current Humor Newsletter: “Our After Dinner keynoter comes to us from a humble beginning. He started out as an After Snack speaker.”

Another example by Michael Iapoce: “Most of the speakers you’ll hear today constitute a sort of who’s who in the industry. I’m more in the category of who’s he.”

You’ll notice that one word makes or breaks the entire story. You can’t fumble that word or line in your story.

Rework Your Story Until Perfected

Changing a single word, adding one specific detail, or changing a person’s name can be the difference between confusion and clarity, a laugh and a ho-hum, retention and oblivion.

Rehearse Your Stories and One-Liners “Off Broadway”

Before you use an anecdote “live” in a session or presentation, make sure that it works. And the best way to do this is to see how others react as you tell it. Tell it to your family and friends. Tell it at a cocktail party. Tell it at work in the cafeteria. Where do people laugh? At what details do people’s expressions change? Where do their eyes grow larger? Where are they shocked? Amused? Appalled? On the next telling, play up those parts. Create more suspense. Add more dialogue, less narration.

You will generally improve your delivery with each telling. Sometimes people laugh at things you did not think were the funny part—and vice versa. It is better to know this before telling the story “for real” in your presentation to drive home a key point.

About the Author:

Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase productivity and effectiveness through better communication: oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational. Her latest book is Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader. For more information visit  www.booher.com

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