Where Do You Rate On 5 Presenter Success Factors?

It’s usual in the world of psychology to refer to five personality traits as determining most of the differences among our fellow human beings: Openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism

If you imagine each of these as a continuum and place yourself on it, you’ll quickly get an idea of how you shape up as a human – and as a speaker too. The list is useful for the insights it gives us into what makes for a successful public speaker.

1.  A speaker should be highly open to experience.  If you’re open to experience, you’re flexible in the face of change, and ready to cope with people and circumstances you weren’t expecting. That happens at least once a speech.  I showed up to a speech once expecting 100 people; there were 600 hundred in the room, and another 200 very cranky individuals in the overflow room where I was on speakerphone.

It was a test of my openness to experience, and I admit to being rattled. I got through it, but not gloriously.

2.  A speaker should be highly conscientious.  Back in the 90s, I gave my first overseas speech.  This was the era of VHS tape, and I had video clips all cued up and ready to go.  Imagine my surprise when I found that my VHS tapes didn’t play outside of North America!  No videos.  I had to give the speech cold and without the examples and comic relief I had prepared.

And the audience, a roomful of engineers, had a hard time believing that I didn’t know the difference between PAL and NTSC.  I learned from that to focus relentlessly on the details in speaking.

3.  A speaker should be highly extroverted.  Of course introverts can be great speakers, and many are.  But it costs them much more than an extrovert, because they are depleted by human interaction instead of energized.  If you only give the occasional speech, you’ll do fine.  But if you’re a professional speaking once a week or more, you’re going to be very, very tired if you’re introverted.

At the close of a speech, an introvert only wants to get to the hotel room – or the bar – and relax.  An extrovert can handle – even enjoy – the stream of people that come up to the speaker and want to relate their impressions, ideas, pet concerns, and peeves.  It’s often extremely valuable information.  So you should still be on your best game while it’s happening.

4.  A speaker should be highly agreeable.  Too many successful speakers become prima donnas requiring certain kinds – and temperatures – of bottled water, hotel suites of a certain size, and other amenities. Otherwise, they’ll throw a hissy fit and make everyone miserable – and greatly reduce the chance that they’ll be rehired. Dick Cheney purportedly had to have a minimum of three TVs, all tuned to Fox News, the room set a certain (chilly) temperature, and Cold War bottled water. I’m making the last one up.

I once worked with a well-known speaker whose expertise was in interpersonal dynamics.  Yet he left a trail of angry support staff in his wake wherever he went.  The hypocrisy was not lost on anyone, and his bookings suffered accordingly.

5.  A speaker should be minimally neurotic. Speakers need to be resilient and thick-skinned. They need to be able to take criticism easily and hear it dispassionately. They need to be clear about their own faults and tolerant of others’.  They need to be patient and quick to forgive.  And they need to be highly resistant to road rage, air rage, and TSA rage – indeed, of rage of any kind.

That’s what it takes.  Where do you rate yourself?

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and presentation skill coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication and the good and bad speakers of the day.  For more information on his company, visit www.publicwords.com

5 Stupid Presenter Tricks to Avoid

By Nick Morgan

Speakers do stupid things, like any other group of people. The problem is that they subject whole audiences to boredom and, yes, pain as a result. So it’s not only the speakers themselves who suffer. In an effort to mitigate the suffering, here are five of the most egregious stupid speaker moves.  If you know someone who perpetrates these, tell them! Stop them!

You’ll be doing the windowless meeting room world a huge favor.

1.  You Can’t Read This, But…..

As regular readers you will know one of my particular pet peeves is badly done Power Point.  Well, the worst offense is all too common. The speaker throws up a slide (I choose the phrase deliberately) and it contains a dozen lines of text, or a chart that has dozens of boxes, labels, and tiny data points.  Then the speaker says, “You can’t read this, but what it’s saying is…..”

If you know we can’t read it, why are you showing it to us?

2.  ‘Guess What’s In My Head’ Questions

There’s a truism in the legal world that you should never ask a witness a question to which you don’t know the answer.  I’m sure that’s good advice, but when you’re working with audiences, you should never ask a class of questions that involve haranguing the audience about things that you know better than they do. “Why isn’t it a good idea to choose the red ones over the green ones?”  Questions of that sort are “gotcha” questions and they kill audience enthusiasm and participation.

Instead, ask open-ended questions about the audience’s experience.  “Which have you found work better in your life, the red ones or the green ones?”

3.  ‘It’s All About Me’ Introductions 

I have seen an astonishing number of speeches start with the speaker going into a 5 – 10 (15!) minute description of himself and his company. That’s not only boring, it’s rude. It’s bad enough in a conversation when someone you’ve just met insists on talking only about himself, but in front of an audience the offense is compounded because the audience has no escape options.

If you’re not going to be introduced by someone else, then begin the talk with a brief frame for why the topic is important to the audience.  Then, once you’ve established what’s in it for them, spend one or two minutes – no more – telling the audience very briefly why you’re passionate about the subject.

4.  Sales Pitches Disguised as Presentations  

I was at a conference recently where one of my competitors was presenting the afternoon before I had the keynote address. Naturally, I attended his talk, curious as to what he would talk about, and anxious not to repeat advice if he had already given it.

I was appalled to discover that all he talked about was advertising his business and what clients would get out of working with him. “This is how our patented method for improving your company’s communications works….” Once again, this is a rude and thoughtless way to proceed with a captive audience.

5.  Not Waiting for the Audience

How many times have you sat in an audience and watched a speaker ask a question, only to answer it himself after waiting a nanosecond or two for a response. Getting none, the speaker plows ahead, creating a perfect feedback loop that entirely eliminates the need for the audience.

Why ask questions if you’re not interested in what the audience thinks? People often ask me how long they should wait, and the answer is 6 full seconds.  If you count 6 seconds out in your head, by the time you get to the end of that seemingly interminable sequence, someone will speak.  Promise. Don’t answer your own questions. You’re just telling the audience it doesn’t need to be there.

That’s my list for today.  I confess to having committed one or two of these myself, partly why I know them so well.  What stupid speaker tricks have you, ahem, witnessed?  Friends don’t let friends make these mistakes!

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication, and the good and bad speakers of the day. His passion is to connect the latest brain research with timeless insights into persuasive speaking in order to further our understanding of how people connect with one another. For more information on his company, visit www.publicwords.com


7 Tips for Powerful Sit-Down Presentations

By Dianna Booher

Whether it’s answering an offhanded query, “How’s the project going?” or selling your ideas for conducting a new employee survey, every presentation you make is an opportunity to establish an executive presence and move up in your organization. Consider these tips for improving both the substance and style of your next presentation so that you can speak up with confidence and authority.

Don’t “Let Down” for Sit-Down Presentations

In a business setting, you may make presentations to only a few people seated around a conference table or desk. Although there is no correlation between audience size and importance of the outcome, consider several issues in light of the informal setting.

First, consider the group’s expectations. Do not assume that because the audience is small, its members do not expect a formal presentation—visuals and the works.

Second, because you are seated around a desk or table—at eye level with the group—you must convey your enthusiasm, assertiveness and authority at “half mast,” through your facial expressions, posture, and voice. Sitting down may tempt you to slouch, but don’t. Sit comfortably erect, leaning slightly forward in your chair to show attentiveness and enthusiasm for your subject. Sit back in your chair to convey openness to questions.

Position yourself to maintain eye contact with everyone in the room. Do not get stuck between two listeners so that you have to turn your head back and forth with each point, as though you are watching a game of table tennis. If possible, remove any physical obstacles that block vision or create “distance” between you and your audience.

Sitting down or standing up—decisions count either way.

Never Let Facts Speak for Themselves

Facts need interpretation. According to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If you don’t believe this, tune in to the next political campaign. People can make facts and numbers mean almost anything. Interpret yours so that your listeners draw the same conclusions you intend.

Make Statistics Experiential

People digest numbers with great difficulty. Graphs and charts help. But if you can go beyond these common visuals, do so. For example, one manager speaking before his peers at IBM about his budget being cut dramatically yanked off his jacket to reveal his white shirt—with great big holes cut out of the sides and back. Amid the laughter, he made his point dramatically and memorably.

To demonstrate the cost of absenteeism to your organization, have your group complete a worksheet on “Employee Ed” who misses six days a month three times a year. Then increase those absences per warehouse in each division as the audience calculates on their worksheets. The numbers will come alive as they themselves work with the changing results.

Use Metaphors, Similes, and Other Analogies to Clarify and Aid Retention

A metaphor is a word or phrase substituted for another to suggest similarity. For example: “My friend is my Rock of Gibraltar,” “Time is money,” “Kill that idea,” “That question will be the litmus test,” “This new product line will be our insurance policy against obsolescence.”

A simile compares two things with the actual words like or as in the analogy. Recently, I’ve heard business presenters use examples such as these:

“Trying to process these data with your computers is like trying to mow your lawn with a pair of scissors.”

“Your files are like athletic socks and dress socks; you don’t need both every day. Access should determine how you should store them.”

“This new legislation before Congress is like throwing a nuclear bomb at an ant hill—and missing the ant hill.”

The more complex the idea, the more important it is to simplify and illustrate by comparison.

Use Analogies to Provide a Consistent Framework

Think how many times you have heard the functioning of the human eye and its parts compared to the working of a camera—an excellent analogy for clarifying a complex process. Or how often have you heard complex routers referred to as a telephone switchboard—with each part of the equipment explained as it compares to a small telephone system?

Probably the best-known analogies and allegories are Biblical parables and Aesop’s fables. “Concern over the unrepentant means leaving the 99 sheep to look for the lost one.” “The tortoise runs a slow but steady pace and crosses the finish line a winner.”

Such visual or emotional analogies help audiences follow a lengthy presentation step by step.

Remember that Timing Indicates Emphasis

In general, a good rule of thumb for allocation of your overall time is to spend 10 to 15 percent of your time on the opening, 70 to 85 percent on the body, and 5 to 10 percent on the closing. This allows slightly more time up front in the introduction to grab attention, “win over” a hostile or uninterested group, and establish credibility than to close the presentation.

If your presentation includes an involved action plan, that section most likely should be part of the body of your presentation, and your close should focus on the final persuasive push toward the decision to act.

On the other hand, you may discover that you need to cut. In doing so, always keep the audience’s preferences in mind. Think of your presentation as a roadmap. If your audience wants to take only interstate highways to their destination, do not pencil in all the farm-to-market roads along the way. This merely clutters the map.

With regard to information overload, as John Brockmann so aptly put it, “Most houseplants in the U.S. are killed by over-watering.”

Never Ramble on Past the Point of High Impact

Anything you say after your polished point of close dilutes your impact. Do not ramble on with anticlimactic drivel. Say it and stop.

About the Author: 

Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase their productivity and effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and cross-functional communicationClients of her communication skills training firm, Booher Consultants, include IBM, Northwestern Mutual and Lockheed Martin, among many others.  For more information, visit www.booher.com

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