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.
What 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?
Why You Should Never, Ever Crowdsource Your Presentation Title
Intro to X
X for Beginners
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! 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...
"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.
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.
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.
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:
When I'm presenting live, I look for a friendly face in the audience. I like to focus on attentive, smiling, thoughtful faces. They give out a good energy that I respond to as a presenter.
Often, just one friendly audience member can make me a better, more confident presenter.
So when it's my turn to be an audience member, I try to pay the good audience vibe forward. I feel that a presenter will do a better job if someone in the audience gives the performer "good face". I try to radiate "positive face energy" to the performer. I make eye contact. I smile and nod at the presenter. If it's supposed to be funny, I'll laugh or giggle.
I like to believe that if I'm a positive audience member, my face and energy will encourage the presenter to give a more enthusiastic performance.
Think about this the next time you're in a deadly dull presentation. We often hear or read about improving our "presentation skills" -- but what are we doing to improve our "audience skills?" How are we helping to co-create the presentation experience with the person who's on stage?
What part can we play -- as audience members-- to improve the performance of any presenter?
As for me, I have trouble with another pervasive verbal tic.
I call it "The Trailing So."
You might hear "The Trailing So..." in interviews and Q&A sessions. Someone asks a question. The subject answers, but instead of ending the sentence in a period, he or she ends with "so..."
You can actually hear the ellipses after the trailing so! For example:
Question: "How did it feel to come back to Michigan after living in Hawaii?" Answer: "Hawaii is great - beautiful weather. I like the change of seasons in Michigan, though. So..."
The "trailing so" signals a weak answer, or that the interviewee is too bored to complete the thought to a satisfying conclusion. It's often a sign that the mouth has started chattering before the brain has had time to think through the answer!
How to cure the trailing so. The first step to finding a cure for the trailing so is to become aware of it. If you find yourself ending a sentence in a trailing so, there are two common situations for why you might have let this verbal tic slip.
1. Habitual Offender. If you find that you're a repeat "trailing so" offender, it's likely that you have become accustomed to hearing it, and unconsciously let this sloppy habit slip into your vernacular. You'll do well to take a moment or two to think through your answer to completion before activating your voice. Taking these silent moments can make you look more thoughtful and reflective. It sure beats babbling around in circles while you try to figure out how you're going to end your statement!
2. Bored or Tired. Let's say you're giving an answer, and find to your horror, that you've ended with a trailing so. This is so unlike you, and you're mortified! You may have done so because you lost interest in your own idea halfway through your statement. Or you may simply be exhausted. At this point, snap awake and firmly state this phrase "Let me summarize!" After you say, "Let me summarize" - quickly and strongly finish your statement as quickly as possible.
For example, "Hawaii is great - beautiful weather. I like the change of seasons in Michigan, though. So...Let me summarize! I'm enjoying the difference!"
The best cure, of course, is to be aware of the trailing so -- and to avoid it by thinking through your statement before speaking.
What's your cure for pervasive verbal tics you find annoying?
I ignore this insane outburst, of course. I'm an adult. So is the rest of the audience. I take notes on my notebook PC. If the guy has something pithy to say, I might even rock it out on Twitter, give him credit, and spread his idea further.
After his presentation, the fellow rebuked me for failing to follow his pre-presentation command. I was being rude by typing as he talked, he insisted.
On the contrary, I protested. I was there to learn from him, not to pacify his ego by staring adoringly at him while he ignored the needs of his audience.
In fact, I told him I glanced up from my computer numerous times. I looked at his PowerPoint slides, but the text was too small for me to read, so I looked at him. His body language -- back to the audience as he read the text from the slides -- didn't hold my visual interest, so my eyes went back to my computer screen. Because he was long-winded, he didn't give me any short concepts to Tweet, so his ideas didn't spread beyond the room.
I have an obligation to be a good audience member. It means that my mobile phone is silenced, so that I don't annoy others. It means that I give back energy to the presenter -- I laugh if something's funny, applaud if I am moved, nod quietly with agreement, raise my hand to ask questions, make eye contact at times, or participate in activities or discussions when I am asked courteously. Otherwise, I remain silent and take notes.
As a presenter, I note that my audience is often texting or typing while I talk. They might indeed be playing games or doing something non-work related. They also might be taking notes, learning, and sharing ideas.
It's not about me and my needs, it's about the audience. A modern audience uses modern tools. As a presenter, I need to learn to adapt my style to fit their needs. Why should the audience have to pacify my selfish needs for their attention? Why should I force my audience to stop using tools that let them learn and share information?
As a presenter, I need to EARN attention. If I'm interesting, the audience is more likely to be interested. They might express their interest in a different way: years back, they might have nodded and jotted down a note. Today, they might nod and type.
Get used to it. Don't churlishly tell your audience to PAY attention. Instead, be so phenomenally entertaining or interesting that they can't help but GIVE you their attention!
How do you EARN attention when presenting to a modern, tech-savvy audience?
You might find that you're rather complicated. You're a thoughtful, intelligent, caring person. You might also be a parent, a dog-lover, a teacher, a business person, a singer, a CEO of a thriving company, a practical jokester, a oenophile, a stamp collector, a martial arts expert, a gardener, a cook -- yes, indeed, you may be all this and more. Or you may be something else entirely...
"It is well known that people don't always 'speak their minds', and it is suspected that people don't always 'know their minds'." -Quote from the Harvard Implicit Association Test Home Page
So, here you are. You're this fascinating and multi-faceted character, and some vapid goofball thinks you can "just" be yourself, as if you were a bit of plankton or an amoeba.
You can do better. Instead of just being yourself, why not present your very best self to the audience at hand?
For example, let's say you are a fabulous parent to two toddlers. That's a big part of "who you are". When you're with your children, you take on a tone of voice and project an image that is appropriate for your tots.
Now take that same tone of voice and image that you present to your children and use it to give a business presentation to the board of directors. Or lecture to a class of college students. Or to talk to the guy who's fixing your car.
Probably not so effective to be your "exceptional-toddler-parent" self for those particular audiences!
If you think you know yourself, think again. So let's go back to the very essence of "who you are" -- who are you, exactly? (For an eye-opener, I recommend taking some of the online tests at the Harvard Implicit Association Test. You may find out that you know yourself very well -- or maybe not!)
Let's say, for example, that you are "a thoughtful, intelligent, caring person."
No matter which role you take on -- parent, martial artist, teacher, business person, dog lover -- these characteristics describe the essence of "who you are". You carry these characteristics with you, regardless of the audience in front of you.
And because you are intelligent and caring, you might decide that your audience will be more enthusiastic if you decide to act like someone else entirely! Someone smarter, funnier, braver, stronger, sillier, dopier, goofier, angrier, more confident...whatever.
"Pretending to be braver than you are" is also a bit of presentation advice you'll often hear -- almost as much as that crazy bit about "being yourself."
If you have to pick between these two bits of contrary advice -- which would you choose?
And "just" how well do you know yourself-- really?
Authoritative anchors reading dispassionately from teleprompters are out.
Teachers and professors lecturing from on high? Also on the way out.
Note your TV news shows asking, "What do you think? Talk back. Send us your video. Talk to us at Twitter. Comment on our blog...."
Walter Cronkite, bless his trusted soul, didn't ply his trade in an era of interactivity. He was a talking head, appropriate for the decades he served. A deep authoritative voice coupled with a kind-looking face served him well in his time.
What's Crowdsourcing? According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is outsourcing a task to a large group of people in an open call. For example, when I was asked to present on the topic of social media & reputation management to an audience of college students earlier this month, I turned to the community at Twitter as an exercise in presentation content crowdsourcing.
Using the medium to help create the message, I posed my situation and asked a question:
Within hours, I received a dozen or so intriguing replies. It struck me that many of the replies looked -- and read -- like fortune cookies. So I felt whimsically inspired to use a prophetic design treatment for some of the Twittered replies. Ergo,
In some cases, I worked the Tweet into the overall landscape of the Twittered prophecy.
Give credit where it's due. When I showed each of the crowdsource quotations, I gave verbal credit to the contributor, stating their name, city, and occupation. The Tweet itself shows each of their Twitter " handles="" or="" thanks="">LisaBraithwaite @JGaler @AnitaCochran) . The audience discussed the twittered advice. Each slide served as a backdrop for an interactive discussion. Why Crowdsource Content? Frankly, at the time I turned to Twitter for content ideas because it sounded like fun -- and because it would be very easy to do. I'm also acutely interested in what professionals who participate in social media circles might have to say on the subject -- and how they'd say it. Additionally, I thought that the students in my audience would also be interested in this very relevant perspective and voice, as well.
I also found four other reasons to crowdsource presentation content:
1. Introduce a fresh voice. As a speaker, you express your own point of view and personality. And you'll use your own pace, pitch, tone, and vernacular. A fresh, new voice can add both visual and auditory interest -- while supporting your key points.
2. Introduce fresh ideas. Through crowdsourcing, you may be exposed to new ideas that can enhance the content and tone of your presentation. The Twitter community gave me plenty of content to support my overall thesis -- but they also encouraged me to explore a new dynamic that may previously have gone uncovered.
3. Strengthen the audience connection to the content. Presenters often use a pithy quotation from a famous person to help convey a point. But why limit your quotations to famous people? Getting a quote from a respected professional with a unique point of view can be engaging for the audience. Using a quote from a "real" person can make the content more personal.
4. Why not? How hard is it to ask a question to a group of people? The worst that can happen is that no one responds, and you're out a few seconds of your time! Weigh that against the best that can happen - you gain new insights into your topic that you haven't realized before. You get smarter. You get to build and strengthen ideas. Your audience benefits from stronger, more personal content. And along the way, you meet interesting people who like to talk about ideas.
What other reasons might you decide to crowdsource a presentation? And what might hold you back from getting ideas from people in the crowd? :)
I get a little asparagus happy this time of year. Honestly, Michigan asparagus is at its absolute prime between Mother's Day and Father's Day. So for one month, I cannot seem to get enough of this fresh, local, delicious vegetable. I eat it at least once a day.
After Father's Day, I'm pretty much over it. Until next year, that is!
But between the Michigan asparagus seasons, I eat a much more varied diet. Unless it's the day of a major presentation -- then, I rely on a somewhat ritualized food quirk.
The Presentation Diet Plan. You see, I can't just eat ANYTHING on the day of a major presentation. I need to keep my energy up, so protein and carbs need to be on the menu. And I cannot afford a fit of, em, gastronomic distress during a presentation, so greasy, fatty, spicy, and carbonated items are definitely OFF the menu. And as much as I love a glass of wine with a big carby meal, that combo can leave me prone to sleepiness or drunken rambling -- both highly undesirable to audience members.
My presentation diet? An organic, no-sugar peanut butter sandwich. On whole grain bread. And water. That's it. That's my pre-presentation meal: and has been for years. It gives me energy. It sticks to my ribs. No blood sugar crashing -- and no burping. It also packs easily -- put a few peanut butter sandwiches in a zip lock bag, and they can survive a mean day of travel.
Diet...or Superstition? As much as I'd like to tell you that my presentation diet is a sensible solution to keeping my energy high while avoiding discourteous gastronomical fits and unpleasant metabolism side effects, I now have my suspicions. It seems that performers and presenters are a superstitious lot -- we get into habits that have nothing to do with reason.
Many actors say "break a leg" instead of "good luck" before a performance. Whistling behind the stage or uttering the name of a certain Shakespeare play? This is also supposed to bring bad luck. And let's not forget the good side of luck and performance: athletes and actors are famous for carrying good luck talismans or undergoing quirky little rituals before performing.
So...is my peanut butter sandwich + water pre-presentation diet plan practical and sensible -- or have I veered off into the land of the supernatural?
And what's your presentation diet plan? What foods do you avoid -- or are absolute musts on the day of a performance?
Even if it's not food-related -- what's the oddest ritual or habit you've heard of someone routinely undertaking before a performance?
In grad school, a marketing professor insisted on an oral report. One student in class did not speak English as her first language.
When she gave her report, she began talking about "The Most Important Elephants of International Marketing". We all thought, of course, that she mispronounced "elements". After the first time, most audience members, including myself, merely smiled.
But after a few minutes, it became clear that she was going to repeat the word "elephants" -- multiple times -- for the remainder of her presentation! So our professor interrupted the speaker.
"Excuse me," he said kindly. "I hate to interrupt you. Your speech content, so far, is very good. But one small thing is unclear."
He explained that an elephant was a huge animal with a trunk, tusks, and floppy ears. The speaker looked bewildered.
So the professor pantomimed the trunk and made a strange elephant noise. The professor suggested that perhaps the word she wanted was "element".
The speaker looked embarrassed. She blushed and stammered. Trying to recover, she asked the laughing audience:
"So elephants are very big, powerful animals, yes?"
Of course, we all agreed with her.
"My ideas are big, powerful ideas. Just like elephants. So please continue to think of my elements as elephants."
For the remainder of her report, she would say the word "elephant", then excuse herself and carefully say "element".
It became clear to me that she had rehearsed her report, and used the word "elephant" in rehearsal . For her speech, the wrong word was ingrained in her brain. It wasn't going away any time soon! Nonetheless, she recovered nicely. She delivered a wonderful presentation, elephants and all!
Mistakes can be endearing. No one thought the speaker was an idiot for making a mistake. The audience empathized with her, and found her mistake charming.
Preparation pays. Even though the speaker bobbled one word, it was clear she knew her material. She recovered, and delivered a report that likely earned her an "A".
The unexpected can rivet attention. Because of one mispronounced word, I remember a 15 minute speech -- 20 years later. Why not use a homophone -- or other unexpected technique! -- to make your next presentation more memorable?
What's your most important elephant when you deliver a presentation? Or rather, what unexpected technique do you like to employ to make your presentation content stick?
The passive voice is mushy and weaselly. It signals that the speaker is trying to hide something. When someone says, "Mistakes were made ," I instantly want to spring up and scream, "By whom?"
If one more benefit shakes out of using Twitter, let it be a giant reduction in people using the passive voice. Active voice is shorter, swifter, and more powerful. It takes responsibility. It's the stronger, nobler choice.
I have no idea why so many presenters use the passive voice. Do you?
And what are your grammatical presentation pet peeves?
(Of course, it might be a fun exercise to write your blog comments, exclusively using the passive voice. That might help me exorcise my peevishness!)
Much ado over a Twittering Congress. Last week during the President's address to the joint session of Congress, some members Twittered through the speech. Almost immediately, two basic attitude camps sprang up among pundits:
1. How dare they! Congress should be paying rapt attention, not providing color commentary. 2. Kudos! Now, the public gets to immediately know what's going on in the minds of elected officials.
How dare they! The "How dare they" camp comes across as quaint, old-fashioned. Traditional presenters bristled with comments like: "if someone is Twittering during a presentation, it means that the speaker is not keeping their interest and attention. They're failures as presenters!" Another "how dare they" comment reflected the cell phone disruptions from the 1990's - remember the days when presenters reminded everyone to turn off their cell phones and pagers?
The kudos camp. People who embrace the Congressional Tweetstream are facing the inevitable: more and more people WILL Tweet during your presentation. People have been making color commentary behind the speaker's back for ages -- with Twitter, it all becomes immediate and public. And it's not going to stop any time soon. In fact, Twitter backchannel behavior only going to grow and thrive. Instead of fighting it, learn to embrace it! Plan on it! Three Quick Ways to Harness the Power of Twitter to Enhance Your Presentation.
1. Think in terms of one-liners and sound bites. Unlike a cell phone ringing, Tweeting during a speech is not disruptive. It is akin to a laugh line or an applause line. Think of it this way: when a comedian drops a one-liner, he or she waits a beat for the audience to process the joke. After the beat, the audience bursts out in laughter. When you give a presentation to a Twittering audience, you'll want to think in terms of sound bites and one liners, too. Drop a few Twitter liners into your speech, then pause. Wait for the audience to process the thought. Then, resume speaking when the sounds of thumbs clattering away on mobile texting devices die down.
2. Plan for Tweeting audiences. Over at the Speaking About Presenting blog, Olivia Mitchell shares her experiences of presenting live to a Twittering audience. Ms. Mitchell outlines 8 key points she learned while presenting to a Twittering audience. Rather than reiterate them here, go read them! Olivia and other presenters are embracing Twitter, and inventing new methods to connect with a socially savvy audience. The advantages of connecting with your audience's preferred way of communication are clear. The bonus? You can spread your messages farther & faster when you communicate appropriately for a Tweeting audience!
3. Devise hashtags for your presentation. Hopefully, your conference or meeting organizer will assign a hashtag for the conference. If they haven't, make sure you come up with one that's short, memorable, and unique. Encourage your audience to tag their Tweets. When you later search for tagged Tweets , you'll get a stream of your backchannel commentary. You'll know which lines worked, which didn't, and which spread like wildfire. Hashtags let you more effectively spread your presentation to an audience beyond the room. Hashtags also let you critique your presentation, so that you can become a better speaker.
What other ways might you change your presentation style to more positively connect with a Twittering audience?
How Public Speaking Can Make You Richer, Thinner, and Better in Bed
Bill Gates released a container of mosquitoes as part of his presentation schtick at the exclusive TED conference last week. Apparently, his gimmick intended to teach a privileged TED audience that mosquitoes cause malaria.
However, what happens at TED doesn't stay at TED. Gates' stunt earned major media buzz. The worldwide backchannel chatter is that Microsoft unleashes bugs on unsuspecting people.
This gives us two public speaking lessons to think about.
Blowing Smoke: Outrageous acts and claims get attention.
The Larger Audience: The folks in front of you may not be your primary audience.
Blowing Smoke. Check your email inbox - especially the junk folder. Flip on a TV or glance at a magazine rack. How many outrageous headlines and claims do you see?
Many of us are bombarded daily with outrageous claims. A pervasive part of our daily landscape, we suck in outrage as if it were oxygen.
Details? Features? Specificity? Facts? Information? Not so much. Those tend to get buried.
Due to overexposure, are many of us becoming just a little immune to this approach? Or at least more weary? A wee bit more skeptical?
Or are we as happy as ever just to know we're going to be richer, thinner, and better in bed -- never mind the nagging details about how all of these benefits are going to come to fruition?
The answer, of course, is apparent. People talked about Gates' outrageous act -- they didn't chat about the facts and figures he presented to support his claims.
Are you with me, camera guy? Outrageous stunts and outrageous claims get attention. People talk about them. So they spread like malaria.
The Larger Audience. The live audience of rich people at TED wasn't Gates' primary audience. Gates got his message out to a much larger worldwide audience.
Similarly, the audience in front of you may not be your real target. How can you effectively combine outrage and social media to make sure people talk about your ideas -- so that you can gain a much larger audience?
Remember the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Stephen Colbert was the speaker -- and he gave a satirical presentation that did not, um, resonate comfortably with the live audience in front of him. However, Colbert's performance quickly went viral online. His message reached a much larger audience that seemed to cherish his performance.
By combining outrageous acts with the power of social media channels, your message can go out to a much bigger audience.
You, too, can use social media and public speaking to become richer, thinner, and better in bed.
(If you really want to help someone with malaria become better in bed, consider the Nothing But Nets program)
The marvelous social media sommelierGary Vaynerchuk gives us an excellent 3 minute video outlining the necessity of "working the room" versus "giving a presentation."
If you're still "giving presentations" -- note the distinction. For years, brands became accustomed to "giving presentations" and "controlling" the message. In the age of social media, with blogs and sites like Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube -- merely giving a presentation is less effective than "working the room".
The video you see above is also a fine example of how an audience can talk back. Note the comments that bubble up from the audience as you watch the video. Mr. Vaynerchuk puts himself out there -- inviting feedback and criticism. He's working the room.
How will social media change the way you present your brand?
"What would you like to see in PowerPoint design in 2009?"
That's what Olivia Mitchell, who writes the fantastic Speaking About Presenting blog, asked me last month. Now, Olivia didn't ask just me: she also acted as community organizer, posing the question to a plethora of presentation bloggers. She asked us to write one post on this topic.
Many have already posted replies at their blogs. (Olivia promises to organize these posts at her blog later this month, for your finding & reading enjoyment. When you visit her blog, subscribe, and you'll be alerted! Lots of great ideas!)
My PowerPoint design wishes for 2009?
The look and feel of social media techniques will transition into PowerPoint design.
Presentations will be designed with audience participation -- and push back -- in mind.
Yeah, I want design that stimulates thoughtful discussion. I prefer design that inspires action and meaningful audience participation. So what might this kind of PowerPoint design look like?
Twittery Design. I'm a big fan of Twitter. And many of my blogging colleagues are on Twitter, as well. Read this amazing Tweet from design virtuoso Tony Ramos:
Short, Simple, Tweet. The brevity of Twitter can make you a better designer. A better headline writer. A better presenter. Using and studying Twitter can be a powerful exercise in how to get your point across swiftly and succinctly. Twitter is enjoying phenomenal growth. The more people use Twitter, the more your audience will come to expect powerful brevity in all communication media. Start using this "short and sweet" writing technique in your 2009 PowerPoint design. (You can follow me at Twitter: I'll be honored!)
Meet Your Audience. Yes, you can often use various social media outlets -- Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, your own blog, YouTube, et. al. -- to meet your audience pre-presentation, to get a better feel for who they are and what some of their questions and concerns may be about your topic. Such a wonderful technique, to get to know a few audience members before you give a talk -- to tailor your speech, to use their names, to personalize the presentation!
More Heckling! Over five years ago, the engaging Joi Ito wrote of the heckle bot. Brilliant! While you're speaking, your audience can give you feedback on your performance. Today, the Twitter back channel is the new heckle bot, giving a speaker instant performance feedback. Of course, it's awfully hard to read Tweets while you're performing -- but you can review your back channel comments afterwards to continually improve your performance and design.
Grassroots, D-I-Y Design. I'm quite encouraged that people are using social media channels to talk back. I'm thrilled to see people challenge corporate, political, and thought leaders on these online, public platforms. So naturally, I'm pleased to see that, like social media, PowerPoint design still takes a (mostly) grassroots, bootstrapping, D-I-Y approach to design. They may not always be pretty, polished, or professional -- but I've seen many presenters persuade with their passion.
Less Propaganda. I use propaganda techniques in presentations. It can be effective for persuading. But persuading isn't the only purpose in giving a presentation. Sometimes, you'll want to spark an honest, intelligent, and interactive discussion. As a presenter, there are times when you'll want to learn from your audience. Social media can be an effective channel for encouraging lively dialog -- and so can a PowerPoint presentation that isn't overly focused on manipulating the audience into taking your side.
Willingness to be wrong or unpopular is a virtue. After all, how many of us are tired of the "If you're not with me, you're against me!" bandwagon approach? And how many people have been a little too frightened to do nothing but fawn and spray positive comments over popular presenters, speakers, bloggers, and leaders -- to disastrous global effect?
We need fewer "You're wrong / I'm right / Think my way / Because I'm popular, rich, and powerful" approaches. We need more intelligent dissenters.
PowerPoint to the People. Right On. OK. One more old-fashioned, light-hearted wish: if you're a PowerPoint Do-It-Yourselfer without a power base or budget, how will you ever get your message noticed if you look and sound exactly like everyone else? How appropriate is it for you to be overly stylized and design-conscious? Why not spurn design fashion altogether... and create your own passionate and persuasive storytelling style? Or why not steal the techniques of timeless publicity and propaganda hounds?
And as always, you're welcome to disagree with me or continue the discussion in the comments below!
What would YOU like to see in PowerPoint design in 2009?
Phenomenal Features. So why did I yearn for Jing Pro, when I currently enjoy using the free version?
Social Media Ready. One button lets you pump your Jing Pro video straight to your YouTube Channel. Or you can "save as" MP4 to your hard drive -- so that you can upload your video to your FaceBook page. You can also use Jing to capture an on-screen image, which you can upload directly to a Flickr set (or save on your hard drive.)
Logo Free. With Jing Free, you see the Jing logo at the beginning and end of each video. Not so with Jing Pro! The new Jing logo has been stripped for a 100% clean video. (Although when I previously sent Jing videos to clients, the logo was often a conversation starter! "What's this thing called Jing? It's neat: can I get it, too?")
Blazing Fast. All too frequently, I can record & post an online Jing video in less time than it takes for me to leave a voicemail for a client. By avoiding the "voicemail + return phone call maze", everyone saves time. I post the video, email a link, and ask clients to watch a video response. This improves productivity, while creating a better "Show & Tell" presentation experience.
Better for you than candy. You can get Jing Pro with a one year subscription. And get this -- it's currently only $14.95 for 12 months. The low price made it a better-than-candy impulse purchase -- but I rather expect this is a non-fattening purchase I will enjoy throughout 2009!
We are seduced by this type of headline. We click on 'em. We pick up magazines with "magic number" headlines on the cover, knowing full well they will lead us to an article filled with bullet points or a numbered list!
Bullet points and numbered list presentations are particularly popular this time of year. End-of-the-year countdowns and top predictions are usually cheap and easy to produce.
And people seem hypnotized by the magnetic "magic number" headline.
Many blog readers cannot help but click on these "Top 10" type headlines when they see them on Digg or on Twitter or in their favorite blog reader. TV viewers cannot seem to resist watching cheaply produced countdown shows on cable channels that begin "The Top 100 Name-Something-Here."
After reading the article or watching the TV show with a headline that promises a bullet point presentation of information, you might feel content or vaguely satisfied. The bullet-point article didn't make you think too much. It was fun & easy to digest. Maybe it confirmed something you already knew. Or maybe you learned some concept, so that you can share your new found knowledge with others.
So why do we love bullet point articles and clip TV shows -- while claiming to hate PowerPoint bullet points?
Open Source Webconferencing : Digging the DimDim Experience
Author Ellen Finkelstein and I were collaborating on a PowerPoint presentation design and script the other day. Ellen was in Iowa. I was in Michigan. We needed to show each other our work as we talked through our concepts. What to do?
We decided to give Dimdim a whirl. Dimdim is an open source webconferencing service that promises to host web meetings for up to 20 people -- for free. A number of other compelling features touted at the site convinced us to try Dimdim: we can share a desktop, show slides, collaborate, chat, talk, and even record our session. The site also promises that the service is easy to use -- and no downloads.
All that and free, too? Where do we sign up? :)
So Ellen and I both started accounts at Dimdim -- although I really didn't need to do so. Ellen started the meeting as the leader. As an audience member, I didn't need a Dimdim account -- just an invitation from the meeting leader. I love that Dimdim doesn't force audience members to become Dimdim members -- that's certainly a very courteous and confident feature.
Once in Dimdim, Ellen was presented with three options: Share Desktop Screen, Share Whiteboard, and Share Presentation.
Because we're both a little feature-geeky, Ellen and I got off to a slow start with Dimdim. We horsed around with features for a bit before we got down to business. I suppose that's only natural when you're testing out a new service a few days before a holiday. The first thing Ellen noticed was that she was frequently prompted to record the session -- a terrific feature, but we didn't need to record our meeting. (I'm itching to try that feature for another time, though.)
Attempts to "share the desktop" proved unsatisfying. At first, we experienced about a 19 second lag time -- which seemed to get longer after every passing moment. Frustrated, Ellen selected "Share Presentation" and uploaded her PowerPoint Presentation. This is where the service gets high marks -- we had no trouble viewing the presentation while chatting on a phone bridge. Dimdim will allow you to upload .ppt , .pptx, or .pdf files -- limited but lovely for a moderator-led web presentation.
Ellen also gave me tools to mark up the presentation as she talked -- completely unnecessary for our purposes, but I enjoyed stamping stars and circles and writing rude remarks on certain slides. This kind of activity is more appropriate for "Sharing a Whiteboard", but Ellen and I didn't have the opportunity to check this feature out.
The next day, I led my own meeting. I uploaded a PowerPoint presentation and called a less than tech-savvy friend. Sure, I thought Dimdim was divinely easy -- but what about someone who is relatively new to internet conferencing? My friend Kimberly Lewellyn was game. I sent her an invitation, she dialed the number, entered a unique code, and voila! Within minutes, we were talking on the phone bridge while viewing my PowerPoint presentation.
The process would have been even easier if I had known to let Kimberly into the meeting instantly instead of keeping her in a "waiting room". I changed this setting instantly within Dimdim. In a "gotta have it now" web world, why keep people waiting? (Thanks for being such a good sport, Kimberly!)
If you need to hold web meetings online, you'll like Dimdim. Very eary to use and you cannot beat the price. Skip the Desktop sharing for now, though -- it needs a little work. But if you're hanging out away from home this holiday season -- does Dimdim really need to be a business or training application? Why not get 20 of your globe-scattered friends on the phone at once -- to view slides of your family or other holiday shenanigans?
Here's another bit of (edited) push back: "What about improv comics? Everything they do on stage is spontaneous. Fresh. Unrehearsed."
Both objections are laughable. Laughable!
Do I rehearse conversations?
No. No, I don't.
You? Go out with a list of questions and topics on an index card when socializing, do you? ;)
If you have honed social skills, you probably don't rehearse conversations. You probably are filled with great ideas you'd like to share. And you're open to listening to the ideas of others.
photo credit: JoshMcConnell My preferred presentation style is largely conversational. This means I come prepared to lead a conversation. And it means that I'm open to hearing ideas from the audience.
Out of respect for my audience, I rehearse my presentations. I rehearse because the content of my presentation is often meant to be thought or action provoking. A conversation starter, if you will. Rehearse answers. Further, I think through questions the audience might ask, so that I am better prepared to answer them. I have rehearsed answers that I was never asked. And I have bumbled through answers that clever audience members were able to ask that I didn't have the imagination to rehearse!
As for those improv comics? Everyone can stand to become a much better presenter and conversationalist if they practice like an improv comic. (Yes, improv masters practice relentlessly. They make their performances look effortless after countless hours of practice.)
To experience the fun and work of improv, why not check out the comprehensive Encyclopedia of Improv Games? This is an extraordinary list of warm-ups, icebreakers, and improv exercises. It is a must-bookmark for anyone who presents -- or for parents who want to find new & amusing ways to discipline their children. (Instead of boring time-outs, why not make squabbling siblings play a rousing game of Three Noses? What other improv game can you inflict on whining, misbehaving children? ;)
Good conversations -- and good improv -- are filled with verve and fire. Ideas erupt from skilled people with great thoughts. Ideas themselves are nothing much -- until they are publicly unleashed, bettered and battered by conversational discourse.
Rehearse your conversations? Maybe not.
But consistently practice the art of conversation and improv -- so that you're prepared to test and grow ideas on any stage - social or formal?
“Content isn't king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you'd choose your friends - if you chose the movies, we'd call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” - Cory Doctorow | Boing Boing
The best part of attending conferences is the people you meet. And often, the most exciting content you experience at conferences is not delivered by the keynote speaker. And it's not presented by subject matter experts in the workshops.
The most exciting content is in the conference backchannels. Conference backchannels include conversations in the hallways. Chitchat over coffee in the morning or cocktails in the evenings. Backchannels also include gossip over lunch and deal-making on the golf courses.
In other words, you didn't really come to the conference to hear me deliver an exciting, information-packed keynote! You really came to meet and socialize with other people.
The conference content -- speeches and workshops -- give people something to talk about. And in the old days, people would talk with each other or go back to the office to spread the ideas generated at conferences. To a large extent, that still happens.
Presenting to the Social Media backchannel. But today, many conferences also use a Twitter backchannel to spread ideas and enhance relationships. I have to admit: there are quite a few conferences that I have NOT attended -- but I've followed the Twitter backchannel. It felt like I was there. I was able to glean enough nuance from the real-time conversations in the Twitter backchannel during a webcast presentation -- that I didn't need to actually watch the presenter! To double-check my intuitive abilities, only later did I watch the archived video presentation. No surprise --the presenter gave the speech I thought he did.
As a modern presenter, I learned two important lessons from listening to the backchannel:
You will be heckled. By listening to the backchannel, I knew when the presenter would overuse a cliche that didn't resonate with his audience. About 10 minutes into his speech, the conference attendees used Twitter to make fun of the speaker's poor word choice. As I watched the archived video, sure enough -- the presenter repeated a cliched phrase ad nauseum. By following the backchannel, I knew the exact phrase -- and how many times he would overstate it.
Your ideas will be praised. Conversely, the speaker provided many new ideas and action items for the audience. I knew exactly when he would talk about his great ideas, too -- because those in the Twitter backchannel had been taking notes, and prefacing them with words like "cool" and "great idea".
Twitter isn't the only conference backchannel. Audience members have been known to blog about conferences they're attending. But the Twitter conference backchannel use is exploding -- chiefly because it's incredibly easy to use. Audience members don't need to write a fully-formed blog post. They don't even need computer access. They can use their phones to simply post a 140 character or less missive on what they are thinking or experiencing -- and tag their Tweet with a predetermined "conference hashtag". Conferences planners must take the lead on Twitter use. If conference organizers don't lead -- someone else will! A conference planner "best backchannel practice" is to define and promote a short, unique, and memorable conference hashtag for the conference attendees.
Short - Twitter only has 140 characters. You don't want the hashtag taking up too much of the commenting space allowed.
Unique - People will be using Twitter Search to enter in the conference hashtag. If it's not unique, the search is going to generate an irrelevant stream of comments.
Memorable - I went to 2 conferences where splinter groups broke out over which Twitter hashtags to use. Nerdy, yes -- but the official conference hashtag wasn't memorable, and it splintered the backchannel spread of ideas.
Three Hashtag How-tos. So, let's say the conference planner is encouraging attendees to use the hashtag #NAR_midyear as the hashtag for the conference. It's a little long, but it is unique and memorable. What's next?
Use the pound sign. Conference hashtags are always preceded by a pound sign.
Promote the hashtag. Encourage conference attendees to use the hashtag in their conference-related Tweets.
Follow the backchannel at Twitter Search. To find out what others are saying at the conference, visit Twitter Search. Enter the hashtag -- in this example #NAR_midyear -- and see what those at the conference are Twittering.
By following the backchannel, you don't need to follow all the people at the conference -- you only need to scan their hashtagged posts at Twitter Search. These posts can be extremely helpful -- covering logistics like "where's the breakout room?" and "Snacks on 3rd floor now" to more meaningful comments about content and ideas.
As a presenter, I'm acutely interested in reviewing the Twitter backchannel. Yes, Twitter commenters can be snarky -- but what a great way to review what's NOT working in a presentation, as well as what IS. And what a great way to spread ideas!
Andy Warhol said "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." Today, I'm saying that in the future, every presenter will be heckled for at least 15 minutes!
How do you feel about being heckled on Twitter? And how will you use the Twitter backchannel commentary to improve your presentations and spread your ideas?
What about imperfect practice? If you practice badly, your performance will likely reflect your bad practices. So what components make for a better rehearsal for your next presentation?
The Great Big Technical Rehearsal Checklist. Many folks focus relentlessly on rehearsing what I'll call the technical aspects of the presentation: the room, the PowerPoint. the computer, the back-ups, the video display, the lighting, the remote, the microphone. Don't get me wrong: all of these technical details are crazy important to rehearse. But a technical rehearsal is not enough to deliver an outstanding presentation.
Sweat the Touchy-Feely Stuff. Don't forget to rehearse for humanity! Remember, you want to make an emotional connection with your audience. Here are six teeny tiny touchy-feely tips -- frequently overlooked -- that can enormously improve your rehearsals and your final presentation.
1. Strike the Pose. I once rehearsed a presentation standing up -- only to be given a chair. When I stood to present, the elderly board president waved me down, saying, "Please, sit. We don't want to have to look up at you." This might seem like nothing, but I lost an edge in my presentation that day. Had I known I was going to deliver a sitting presentation, I would have rehearsed seated. Find out if you'll be seated or standing -- and rehearse in the position you'll be assuming.
2. Wear Your Shoes. Oh, they don't call it "dress" rehearsal for nothing! Don't rehearse in your pajamas -- unless you intend to give your presentation in your jammies ! Instead, rehearse in the actual clothes you'll be wearing during your presentation -- right down to your shoes. You'll be amazed at how much better your performance will be just by understanding how your entire body feels in full "costume and makeup."
3. Get an Audience. When I watch video rehearsals of myself, alone in my office -- I'm often chagrined. Without the audience to buoy my energy, I can sound dull and lifeless. Ideally, rehearse your presentation with people. An audience gives you emotional energy. If you don't have people, hang pictures of friends, family, or colleagues. (I've taped faces over teddy bears, and set them up as an audience. But remember, I'm ridiculous.) Looking at faces of people you know & like gives your voice and body language more oomph and power. (Bonus points if you encourage your people to heckle you.)
4. Video V. Mirror. Yes, hang it, I video record all my presentation rehearsals. And oh, yes indeed, I loathe reviewing these videos! They're painful to watch. But I always find areas to improve or smooth. (In fact, I often long for a complete personality transplant.) Don't have a video recorder? As TJ Walker writes in his excellent presentation rehearsal post, "What year are we in, 1910?" Of course you have access to a video camera! It's 2008! So no excuses: a mirror is NOT an acceptable substitute. You're too accustomed to looking in a mirror, preening quickly, and mentally saying, "Good enough" -- before you walk out the door. A video is merciless: you won't be able to watch yourself and say, "good enough." A video, though horrifying, will truly help you see yourself as others do.
5. Audio Only. Record your presentation without video. Then,listen to it without watching the slides. I like putting my audio on my portable mp3 player -- and taking a walk. While listening to myself on the ellipse machine at the gym last week, I found an area of my presentation that dragged so dismally, I barely registered a heartbeat while chugging along at a high incline! I went back to the office for a rewrite and added more powerful visuals. Listening to "audio only" helps you spot pace and pitch problems -- but it also helps you later recall the words and inflections that work well.
6. Rehearse in Real Time. If you're giving a one-hour presentation: you need to record a one-hour video of yourself. Not 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Start at the beginning. Rehearse 'til the end. You don't have the opportunity to chop up your presentation in front of a live audience, so don't chop your video rehearsals into little segments, either. (Bonus points: if you're giving a 7am breakfast presentation, do a full dress rehearsal at 7am, too. Ditto for lunch or dinner presentations. My 7am energy level is quite different than my 12pm energy level. You?)
Those are my top six touchy feely tips. You can also read what other presentation bloggers recommend about rehearsing this month. Over at the "Fortify Your Oasis" blog, RowanManahan explains why he just about loses his mind if people tell him that they don't rehearse because they want to " sound fresh". At "Make Your Point with PowR", presenter William Botha silently seethed as an audience member who was subjected to an un-rehearsed presenter. Make an emotional connection. Angry? Bored? Frustrated? You certainly want to make an emotional connection with your audience: but not those emotions! A great rehearsal can lead to a great presentation. The technical stuff is important: but so is the emotional content of your presentation. Don't dismiss the value of a full presentation rehearsal!
If you have other rehearsal tips or links, please comment! Love to hear from you!