When Your Mariah Moment Happens


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.

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.

Infographic Resources Can Help Your Audiences Visualize Data

Most presentations are filled with truckloads of data, communicated through slide after slide of mind-numbing bullet points. The likelihood of your audience extracting the significant facts from this data dump is low.

Data is dry and lifeless until you make it come alive. Enter the infographic.

Wikipedia defines infographics as “graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly.” Infographics help an audience better understand complicated data and see patterns and trends. These graphic pictures provide context and tell a story which makes it easier for the audience to find relevance in the information.

The concept of graphically representing complicated information has been around for ages, but infographics are currently popular partly perhaps as an antidote to those bullet point-laden slides and partly because of new tools which make them easier than ever to produce.

Here are a few of the tools that will help you create infographics to make your presentations clearer and more memorable:

Easel.ly: This is a free, web-based app that creates professional-looking graphics. There are a variety of pre-existing themes where you can insert your own text and customize background colors, icons and fonts by dragging and dropping. The tool is easy to use and your infographic can be downloaded as a jpeg or png for your presentation.

Venngage: Another drag and drop tool with many templates, themes, charts, and icons. You can upload data as a CSV to create your chart. The free option only allows for online viewing and sharing while the premium option [currently $19/month] enables you to export as a pdf or png.

Charteo: This takes the concept of PowerPoint templates to a whole new level. There are over 15,000 slides in this PowerPoint library in a wide variety of charts, graphs, diagrams and tables as well as background images, graphic metaphors, icons, and symbols. The slides are 100% editable, including color, and can be downloaded for either Mac or PC. You can purchase an individual slide, an entire presentation or a subscription service.

With any of these tools, it’s easy to be seduced with the clever designs and cool bells and whistles. But remember that your primary job is to decide what message, story or pattern you want to communicate with your data and then…and only then…choose the appropriate tool to visualize that data for your audience.

About the Author:

Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington DC-area business communications training firm, which 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 speaking in public that are engaging, sometimes irreverent and always practical.

The Specific is Universal

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi!
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

What’s the best way to reach the widest possible audience with your words?

Most speakers seem to assume that casting a wider net will increase their catch. They speak in generalities and abstractions so the audience can take the ideas and apply them to their own specific cases.

They speak of committed monogamous relationships, instead of telling us a tale of two lovers. They describe methods of maximizing production efficiency, instead of telling us specifically how we can work smarter. They announce the necessity of off-shoring certain administrative management tasks, instead telling us who, exactly, is going to be let go.

Sometimes, of course, they are using euphemisms to avoid taking responsibility for saying what they really mean. Sometimes, their purpose is to cover their own a—-, by trotting out every possible argument or forecast.

Often though, I think they speak in generalities out of a well-meaning, but misguided, fear that the more specific they are, the more of their audience they will exclude.

They’re afraid if they speak of one specific industry, those in other industries won’t find it relevant. They’re afraid if they outline one specific problem, some who don’t suffer from that will tune them out. They’re afraid that describing a limited and specific situation won’t interest the vast majority of the audience, who may not have experienced that situation and probably never will.

In fact, the opposite is true. The more specific and concrete you are with your words and examples, the more relatable your message will be to your audience.

A single case study will often illuminate the solution to a problem better than reams of business school theories. A single personal story is often more convincing than the most logical and well-supported, but abstract, argument. A single clear example will often stick better in your audience’s minds than a dozen that cover every possible permutation of the issue.

The specifics of the case are generally not the point of what you are saying. It is the more general principles and practices that those specifics illustrate that are the message of your speech or presentation. The more specific and concrete your examples are, the better your audience will understand, relate to and remember that message.

Of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t saying that freedom should only ring from Colorado’s Rockies or California’s slopes. He wasn’t saying that freedom should only ring from Stone Mountain or Lookout Mountain. He wasn’t saying that freedom should only ring from the hills and molehills of Mississippi, or even just from the mountains.

He was using those specific locations, each with its own historic and cultural overtones, to say that freedom should ring everywhere.

The message is universal, but it’s the specifics that make it concrete and relatable.

About the Author:

R.L. Howser  is a speaker, writer, university professor and journalist with more than 30 years of experience as a professional communicator. He teaches presentation and communications skills at Tokyo University of Science (Tokyo Rika Daigakku), Hosei University and the Kenichi Ohmae Graduate School of Business. R.L. also was the 2010 Toastmasters Japan Champion of Public Speaking. For more from his blog, Presentation Dynamics, visit www.presentationdynamics.org

10 Dynamics for Dealing with Disruptive Audience Members

By Dianna Booher

No matter how eloquent your delivery or how riveting your content, from time to time you will have to deal with disruptive audience members—those who arrive late, leave early, carry on side conversations with their teammates or disagree wholeheartedly. When that’s the case, try these tips and techniques for crowd control.

Side Conversations

Members of your audience may talk to each other for any number of reasons. Someone arrives late and asks a colleague for an update. Perhaps the customer’s technical representative wants to know where to find your diagrams in the printout. Or someone complains to a colleague that the room is too hot or cold.

If audience members’ energy is flagging, maybe they need a break. Or the person talking disagrees with you and wants others to know it. If you can determine the reason for a side conversation, you can handle it more appropriately.

Dynamic #1: Ignore Helpful Distractions

If someone explains something to a peer or “catches up” a late arriver and the conversation gives signs of coming to an end, try to ignore the distraction. In fact, the person engaged may be saving the larger group the distraction of a “replay” should the confused person ask you questions personally.

Dynamic #2: Acknowledge the Body Language of Those Who Disagree

Many side conversations erupt from disagreement left to smolder under the surface. If audience members make it a point with their body language to tell you they disagree–obvious head wagging, disgusted shuffling in their seats, glancing around the room trying to catch others’ eyes–they are dangerously close to exploding verbally.

If the talker wants to express an opposing view, offer that opportunity or at least acknowledge that position: “I know that some of you have experiences and ideas to the contrary, and you’ll be welcome to express those at the end of the presentation.” Such comments remove the urge for these naysayers to begin their comments too early to those seated nearby.

Dynamic #3: Stroll Closer to the Talkers Without Looking at Them

If you can tell two people are simply catching up on corporate gossip or chatting about personal issues, stroll in their direction as you speak–but without looking at them specifically. As all eyes follow your movement and as your voice grows louder and louder in their ears, the talkers will soon feel all attention focused on them, a pressure tactic that usually stops such conversations.

Dynamic #4: Call for More Audience Involvement

If you suspect that your talkers have lost interest in your presentation, change your game plan and call for more audience involvement. Take an opinion poll on your current point and reflect on the results. A moment for input and open discussion from everyone generally will break up the small pockets of side conversations as they tune in to see what they are missing from their colleagues.


Never hold or stop your presentation to accommodate them or you will lose the rest of your group. Always start on time, letting latecomers ask others what they missed later. Otherwise, you will “train” your attendees that you do not mean what you say about the stop and start times. In fact, some organizations have “trained” their entire employee population not to take meeting start times or training class times seriously.

Dynamic #5: Use a Buffer If You Must

On certain occasions, you may decide to deviate from the start-on-time rule so that a key decision maker who is still out of the room does not miss an important point. A good technique for “having it both ways” is to begin the session on time but start with a buffer (such as cartoons or a humorous anecdote related to your point) so that the latecomer arrives in time to hear your “real” topic opening.

Dynamic #6: Use a Common Clock

When announcing a break, clearly state the restart time and point to the wall clock; this helps attendees remember the time better. Or rather than giving an exact time to return and confuse everyone whose watch is not synched with yours, state: “Please look at your watches. We’ll start the presentation again in 12 minutes.”

Dynamic #7: Remove the Dropout Zone

Having extra empty chairs at the back of the room for latecomers solves the distraction problem for the short term but prolongs it for the long term. Those who arrive late at the beginning or late after breaks can sit there and not traipse down front, distracting everyone in the middle of your presentation.

On the other hand, in the long run, others observe that latecomers are accommodated–that these extra chairs remain at the back and allow attendees to arrive late and leave early with minimal (they think) distraction. So as the session drags on, more and more people do just that–arrive late and take a seat in the dropout zone.

Hecklers in the Cheap Seats

Generally, hecklers who create a real distraction gain the hostility of the group and provoke sympathy for you.

Dynamic #8: Move Physically Closer to Them Before Your Session Begins

Your tendency may be to do the opposite. Making direct eye contact, approaching them, and courteously asking why they are protesting your presentation may defuse their hostility. At the least, your sincere approach will decrease the probability that they will be rude to you personally–even if they never consider changing their views.

Dynamic #9: Move Away from Them After Your Session Begins

If the hecklers are to the side or otherwise visible to the audience, casually move in the opposite direction so that the eyes of the audience members will follow you, and the hecklers will drop out of their line of vision.

Dynamic #10: Unmask Them

If you are expecting a hostile audience and protocol dictates that you must allow them the floor, you can always ask attendees for their names, titles, and organizational affiliations at the beginning of the presentation. Having lost their anonymity and chancing repercussions from their organization or embarrassment for their family, they are often hesitant to express their hostility openly.

You typically can end any dialogue with disruptive audience members with this comment: “There are individuals and groups who may see things very differently. I can accept that. I hope they can.” Then move on with your presentation in a dynamic way.

Never ask hecklers a question and give them the opportunity to state their views to the group or put you on the defensive.

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

Spark a Fire: 5 Tips to Grab and Hold Audience Attention

Yaaaawn. Even the best presentations lose your attention. Why? Because your brain is fast. Your mind drifts once you decide the information presented is unimportant or uninteresting; therefore, it is unnecessary to pay attention. You need to be engaged to stay focused. Your audience is exactly the same.

The following are five techniques to capture and hold your audience’s attention throughout your presentation.

1. Surprise. Say, show or do something that is shocking or unexpected. It can be as simple as a loud noise (a clap or a few notes of music) or an odd picture added to the slide deck. The purpose is to reengage the audience’s brain. Being unpredictable or incongruent snaps the mind to attention.

For example, I attended a presentation where a hidden presenter “typed” sentences on the screen instead of speaking. The audience was dead silent and engaged the entire time.

2. Cognitive Dissonance. Keep your audience guessing. Hold their brains off balance by feeding bits of information as opposed to revealing your point early. Build a graphic slide by slide like assembling a puzzle. Slowly reveal parts of your graphic, briefly speak to each part and build your graphic so your point is revealed in the end.

3. Storytelling. Tell an interesting story that complements your presentation. Remember the saying, “Facts tell and stories sell.” Stories hook audiences from the start. Share a unique story to hold their attention and make sure to tie it into your presentation.

4. Involve. Ask your audience to participate. Play a game, pose a question, solve a puzzle, or perform an exercise. For example, avoid telling your audience everything. Let them learn through trial and error. Give your group an exercise and ask what worked and what did not.

5. Senses. The more senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch) you engage, the stronger the interest. For example, play sad music, show images of neglected animals and give your audience a cuddly puppy toy to pet while telling a moving story about animal rescue.

Combine these techniques for a winning presentation. During my graphic training sessions, I show the following symbol (allegedly created for the United States Department of Homeland Defense for use during disasters) and ask, “What does this mean?”

By doing so, I use two of the techniques listed above to capture my audience’s attention (“Cognitive Dissonance” and “Involve”).

Know your audience. If your audience feels manipulated and your approach using these tactics held little relevance to the topic, you will lose their attention—and trust.

In the end, your goal is to affect your audience emotionally. Use these five techniques to spark a fire within your audience. Give them a reason care. Get them excited or concerned to engage their hearts and minds during and after your presentation.

About the Author:

Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication expert, presenter and multi-published author. Visit Billion Dollar Graphics (http://www.BillionDollarGraphics.com) and BizGraphics On Demand (http://www.BizGraphicsOnDemand.com) for helpful presentation tools. Mike is also a partner at 24 Hour Company (http://www.24hrco.com), a premier proposal and presentation graphics firm.

Audience Trust: It’s Your to Lose

By Greg Owen-Boger

Earlier this week I was coaching a senior executive on a very high-stakes presentation. He told me he wanted to be perceived as trustworthy. Setting trustworthiness as a goal is common among our clients, so there was nothing new about it in this situation.

But as the discussion went on, he asked me what he could do to ensure that his audience saw him as worthy of its trust.

How to Build Trust

His question had me stumped for a bit. Just what exactly CAN someone do to be perceived as trustworthy? Words won’t do it. Saying “trust me” is an engraved invitation NOT to. You can’t stand a certain way, or gesture or smile in a way that would build trust. Presenting solid data is certainly a good and necessary thing to do, but it alone won’t build trust.

Then it occurred to me.

“Their trust is yours to lose,” I said.

I went on to explain that this particular audience is there because they already trust him. They wouldn’t bother if that weren’t true.

So rather than thinking about ways to build trust we should think of ways to maintain the trust we already have. We do that by being truthful, genuine, smart, and attentive to an audience’s needs and views.

We do it by looking them in the eye and really seeing them. We do it by creating excellent visual aids with accurate data. We do it by answering their questions and concerns with complete transparency, even when the data isn’t in our favor.

Finally, we do it by putting their needs ahead of our own.

And the nice thing is, when we do these things, the trust they already have in us grows.

About the Author:

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995 as a camera man, trainer, project manager and now as an account manager. Trained in management and the performing arts, he brings a diverse set of skills and experience to the organization. He also manages the technology behind Turpin’s eLearning courses.

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