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Friday, April 30, 2010
  I moved this blog.

I moved this blog to http://maniactive.com/blog

I started this blog on the Blogger platform in 2003. It's time for a change. (It was actually time for a change in 2004, but I procrastinated.)

The new blog home is on the Wordpress platform. Hope you like it!

Here's a partial list of places you can follow me:

Blog: http://maniactive.com/blog

FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/laurabergells

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/maniactive

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/maniactive

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/maniactive

Lifestream: http://bergells.com

I hope to see you online!



Friday, March 12, 2010
  Be yourself? Why not be someone else?

Say you're giving a live presentation to a large audience. And let's say this is not something you do on a regular basis.

You might be a little nervous about your presentation, so you turn to friends or the internet for some public speaking advice. As you do, you'll undoubtedly hear or read this strange bit of folkloric wisdom:

Just Be Yourself! Act Natural!


The problem with this advice is that you'll find yourself in a completely unnatural environment -- alone in front of a large group of people, lights shining in your face, a mike wire dangling from your lapel to your fanny, monster visual displays behind your back -- just exactly how do you go about acting "naturally" in such an unnatural situation?

And suppose your "natural" self is rather shy, nervous, or introverted? How does that help?

Telling a nervous neophyte speaker to "act naturally" on stage sets them up to flop. Rather than trying to "act naturally" -- whatever that is -- why not try one of these three more specific courses of action?

1. You can make the environment seem more natural. Nothing takes the jitters out of a presentation like a real, live, full dress rehearsal. Get lots of practice! Physically walk on the stage. Feel the lights on your face, the fanny pack on your belt, the video remote in your hand. Once you've experienced your surroundings, the stage environment is going to seem more natural -- so there's a better chance that you can act naturally, too.

2. If you're going to be yourself, be your best self. There's really no point in being yourself if you're naturally dull. Getting up on stage will only amplify your natural witlessness and bore your audience. Instead, natural dullards would do well to work with professional speech writers and coaches. Professionals can help buff a dull personality or presentation so that it shines on stage. If it's an important presentation, don't mess around -- hire a pro.

3. You can be someone else.
OK, you can't really BE someone else. But you can channel the spirit of someone you admire, and project their personality when you speak. This actually takes a speech out of the realm of "presentation" and into the realm of "performance." It's called "acting" -- and you may have heard that many audiences find a good performance highly entertaining and enriching.

If you know who you are and are completely comfortable with the stage -- you might do well to act naturally. You might do even better to act appropriately for the audience and the situation.

And hey -- what exactly does it mean to "be yourself?"

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Friday, February 12, 2010
  What's your trademarked hand gesture?

Sarah Palin writes notes on hers. Bill Clinton is famous for the modified fist with the softened thumbs up gesture. TV pundits vary their hand gestures for emphasis and interest.

hand gestures in presentationsWhat do you do with your hands during a presentation?

For the past year, I've seen an alarming trend in presentation hand-gestures -- especially by young men during technical presentations.

It's the lackluster "hands in pockets" gesture made popular by the slacker dufus in those "I'm a PC" commercials. He's the guy whose posture represents disinterest. He has nothing to do, so he stands with his hands in his pockets, listening to what the more entertaining fellow has to say.

"Hands in Pockets" might be appropriate during the "Q" part of "Q and A". It can signal, "I'm open to listening to you".

But it's not a polite posture to adopt while speaking.

Worse, I frequently see the "hands in pocket" presenter fidget on stage. The hands start to dig deeper into the pockets. Fiddling commences.

I like to imagine the presenter is toying with his keys or a thumb drive, but I'm not entirely sure what he's playing with down there. It makes me uncomfortable. I tend to lose focus on the presentation, worrying about what he might pull out of his pocket. Curiously, I seldom see women thrust their hands in their trousers while presenting. It seems to be a guy's gesture.

What do you do with your hands? During your next presentation -- watch what you do with your hands. Avoid inadvertently rude gestures. Vary the gestures throughout your speech.

And what's your "trademark" gesture -- the one gesture you can become famous for?
Just keep your hands where the audience can see 'em, please!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
  Why You Should Never, Ever Crowdsource Your Presentation Title

Ugh.

What presentation titles could possibly be more overused? If you're going to a presentation with one of these titles, you can be almost certain that the presentation is going to be every bit as boring and cliched as its headline. These kinds of titles are a red flag that show a lack of creativity and imagination on the part of the presenter.

In his hilarious + helpful book Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun states very clearly that taking a strong position in your title is utterly essential. In his chapter titled "Eating the Mike", Mr.Berkum states that with a weak position, your talk may become...

"Here is everything I know I could cram into the time I have, but since I have no idea if you care, or what I would say if I had less time to talk, you get a half-baked, hard to follow, hard to present, pile of trash."

No kidding!Presentation Title Do
I've had to fight these "Naming the Presentation" battles over the past decade. I'll come up with a wonderfully effective and entertaining title, and the conference organizer will bill it as "X for Beginners".

I hate it when my name and face gets positioned next to that turd of a title. I sometimes fantasize about clearing things up with the audience:
"I know you think the title of this session is "Introduction to Social Media for Conference Planners 101", but that's a misprint. That was just a description of the TOPIC and AUDIENCE PROFILE that I discussed with the organizers so that I could build a relevant presentation for you. The actual TITLE of my presentation is "The Top 5 Most Horrifying Mistakes Conference Organizers Make and How to Fix Them Fast."
Yeah, I don't say anything like that.

What I do instead: Happily, I learned an important lesson from Mr. Berkun's book. I've been enjoying frank conversations with event planners about the importance of the title of the talk. I've made it clear that the topic, difficulty level, and audience profile may not have anything to do with the title we choose for the presentation. (They might, but they might not.)

For the moment, this approach seems to be working. Fancy that! Conference planners seem delighted to hear that the person they've hired is thinking about the audience, presentation content, marketing viability and title.

It seems that they're a smart bunch that values professionalism and creativity.

What doesn't work? Lately, I've actually seen speakers try to crowdsource their presentation titles on Twitter! How much of a bad idea is it to tweet:

"I'm giving a 101 presentation to a group of widget manufacturers. What should I call it?"

Honestly. Think about it. How the heck should someone who hasn't seen the content know what to name the presentation?

I suspect that presenters who crowdsource their titles have constructed a presentation so generic and half-baked that it could actually be named...

...anything.

How about:

"Here's some crap I know a little bit more about that you..."

Make no mistake: Cliched titles and crowdsourced titles are huge red flags that the presentation is a stinker. Don't crowdsource a title. Don't go to a presentation with a crowdsourced or cliched title.

Instead, take great care to construct your presentation content carefully -- and name your presentation effectively. If you don't know how, read Mr.Berkun's book. It's a very entertaining read -- but imparts helpful and practical advice along the way.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
  How Twitter is Like Public Speaking

Speechwriters and presentation coaches often hear these three objections from new clients.

Today, I hear the same objections from clients when they talk about approaching Twitter.

Stage fright is being replaced with Twitter fright.

Twitter Stage Fright
It makes sense, in an odd way. Twitter, in part, is a public speaking platform. It's much more, of course: it's a public listening platform as well. And it's much less, of course: each Twitter utterance is limited to 140 characters.

But more fundamentally, Twitter is a new and growing communication platform. Learning to communicate well on Twitter may be every bit as essential as polishing and honing your public speaking and presentation skills.

When I hear someone who has yet to try Twitter say,

"I just don't know what I would say..." -- I often ask them to listen first, before talking. Use Twitter Search to find people who are Tweeting about topics that interest you. Or use Twitter Search advanced to find people in your local community who are tweeting about local events and issues. It's easier to enter a conversation that's already in progress about something that's inherently interesting to you -- than it is to be the one to start the conversational ball rolling. Eavesdrop on an interesting conversation already in progress -- and ask a question or show support. Later, when you've developed some rapport, you might find that you have plenty to say -- and you've got an audience that's more predisposed to listen.

"I can't believe anybody would care..."
-- Why is this so hard to believe? Here's a timeless truth: people care about people they know, like, and trust. And people care about their communities. And ideas they find interesting. And most people like to discuss topics of interest with other people. And yes, it sometimes includes recipes and food and music. Sometimes it includes humor, jokes, and talk about the weather. Oh, and from time to time, the conversation turns to talk about business. If you really "can't believe anybody would care..." -- make them care. Get to know them first. Get to like them. Get to understand them. Be a mensch. Get personally involved. Chances are, if you genuinely care about people and let them know it with a few minutes of chat or a link to an interesting idea, they will come to care about what you say.

"I think I'll make a fool out of myself..."
-- Don't worry. You'll make a fool of yourself at some point or another in your life. No one's immune from foolishness -- it's an essential part of the human condition. But the people who look like the biggest fools are people who claim knowledge -- without experience. As in the people who routinely say, "I think Twitter is stupid. It's a waste of time, so I'm not getting involved. But I will keep telling everyone I know how stupid I think it is..." Man, it's hard to convince me that Twitter is stupid when millions of people use it to a) find real-world friends b) get breaking news c) brainstorm great ideas d) build relationships that lead to new opportunities e) spread news about great causes and ideas... and a whole bunch more.

You're a social human being that longs to connect with other people. Twitter is an amazing communication platform that can help you do just that. Don't be scared or intimidated -- you'll find the people and ideas you care about being discussed on Twitter. Join the conversation, develop rapport, and start building relationships today!

ps -- if you have questions or comments, feel free to connect with me on Twitter. I tweet under the handle of @maniactive.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009
  PowerPoint Deaths Climb in 2009: But at Slower Rate

Every year, I Google the phrase "Death by PowerPoint" (without quotes).

Exactly one year ago today, this "Death by PowerPoint" inquiry yielded 366,000 search results - over 4 times as many results as 2007.

Today, if you Google "Death by PowerPoint", you'll see 980,000 results -- only about 2.7 times as much as 2008. The year-to-year death rate appears to be dropping.

The PowerPoint death rate keeps climbing -- but at a much slower pace than 2007-2008.

Why do you reckon the rate of death mentions is slowing? With more people participating in social media channels, the opportunity to mention this oft-parroted phrase is increasing. Could it be that the phrase itself is becoming passe?

Yet why are overall mentions still increasing? Almost a million search returns - goodness! What will 2010 yield? And what will finally put an end to the carnage? :)

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Friday, November 20, 2009
  Presenting with Twitter - Free Ebook

The Twitter backchannel is changing the way speakers deliver presentations. Twitter is also changing the way conference planners promote and manage events.

What do teachers, trainers, speakers, and conference planners need to know to keep up with these fast-breaking changes?

You can find out in a wonderfully written (and totally free!) ebook written by "Speaking About Presenting" blogger Olivia Mitchell. The comprehensive ebook, How to present with Twitter (and other backchannels) is available today for free download.

Presenting with Twitter ebook by Olivia Mitchell
My one-word review of this e-book?

"Wow!"

Olivia gave me the opportunity to review her ebook earlier this month. I was absolutely blown away by how thorough, enjoyable, and helpful her book is as a guide for preparing a presentation or event. Chocked with great tips, if you are planning a presentation, speech, or conference at the moment, here is my 4-step advice:
  1. Drop what you're doing.
  2. Visit Olivia's blog.
  3. Download & read this amazing 62-page book.
  4. Discuss -- how will the Twitter backchannel change the way you plan & present today?
PS - Be sure to follow Olivia Mitchell on Twitter @OliviaMitchell -- she's the engaging lady in New Zealand who frequently shares great ideas about presentation and speaking best practices.

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