Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brevity in Your Presentations

Years ago the first cave people sat around a fire and told their friends stories. Their audience fell asleep, threw a rock at him or her, or listened attentively. The objective then and today is to get people to pay attention to what you are saying or be able to adroitly dodge slings and arrows. Care about your audience, be sincere but be brief.

Audiences want to hear your points and leave. Regardless of how fascinated you are with your subject, or consider your message absolutely critical, most people get bored very quickly and want to get on with other things.

You can condense your thoughts into a meaningful presentation. Consider that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a scant 269 words in length. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is 1,337 words. It's more difficult to be simple but wisdom is often found in simplicity.

Your audiences are used to short sound bites of information. The younger the audience, the more impatient they are. Teens participating in a focus group said email is “something used to talk to ‘old people’ and is, like, so yesterday." They favor exchanging short, rapid dialogue with instantly updated messages or 140-character Tweets. Your listeners may range from young to old, but no one wants to sit through irrelevant information or slide after slide of confusing text. Prune your ideas like you would prune a rosebush. You'll end up with a more beautiful rose and more powerful impact in your speech.

Twenty per cent of what you say makes eighty per cent of the impact. Can you figure out that twenty percent and aim for the bull’s eye? State a context, your objective and get to the punch line. What do you REALLY think about this subject? What relevant evidence backs up your belief?

What does your audience need to know to do a job, increase their knowledge or efficiency, save them time or money, boost their morale, solve a problem, make a decision or take action? If you aren’t sure of your thoughts on a subject, you're apt to ramble expressing them to others. Take a break and let those thoughts germinate. Clarity of thoughts will bring about clarity in your speech. If there are addditional statistics, legal details, or facts your listeners need to reference, distribute handouts and documentation or publish them online. Avoid getting bogged down in details that your listeners will forget five minutes after they exit the room.
Phoenix speech writer Phil Theibert says “Keep it simple, keep it plain, tell them the truth and get the hell out of there.”

Your next audience will sigh in relief if you are clear and succinct and you won’t end up being a target!
“If you would be pungent,
be brief;
for it is with words as with sunbeams –
the more they are condensed,
the deeper they burn."
...Robert Southey
Jan D'Arcy
Resources: Check out my website for podcasts on various presentation subjects. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions -- and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Managing Fears and Anxieties

Feeling some pangs of anxiety? It’s helpful to understand how fear affects us physically. Derived from the Greek word for almond, the amygdala sits in the brain's medial temporal lobe, a few inches from either ear. The amydgala fires off circuits when it senses you are in danger and alerts the body to flee, fight or freeze. Physical reactions may range from an accelerated heart-beat to shaky knees or a dry mouth. These are natural and involuntary reactions that are wired into our animal brain.

After the first involuntary response, you can effectively manage and minimize nervousness by your expectations of the situation, your self-image (self-appreciation) and your self-talk. Interpret any physical discomfort as normal. Do not exaggerate by saying to yourself, “I’ll never live through this.” Chill out for 10-15 seconds allowing signals from the amydagala to reach the cortex where you can make a rational decision instead of an emotional one to the current situation. Fear will diminish as you objectively observe what is going on in your body such as increased pulse or perspiration.

You may instinctively react by taking shallow, frequent breaths. This creates tension in the muscles in your upper gastrointestinal tract, which can irritate your stomach. If you are truly upset, those muscles start to “flutter” – hence the expression – butterflies in your stomach - making you feel queasy.

Begin slow deep breathing. Normally, the brain uses one-fourth of the blood supply. In stressful situations, the blood rushes to our muscles and the brain is shortchanged. We can’t think well, ad-lib, be funny or creative. A conscious choice of “circle breathing” or “heart breathing” is a great way to switch off the stress hormones and get back to normal. Just before you’re introduced, practice deep breathing and see the calming breath going to any parts of the body that feel tense – neck, back, jaws, etc.

Be relaxed but stay alert. We’re not trying to achieve total relaxation. We would be devoid of energy; you want some adrenaline flowing. You're working for relaxed alertness, ready to respond and adapt to the audience.

Get more sleep. The amydgala are triggered more frequently and react in a stronger fashion when we are fragmented or fatigued, especially if you fly to a different time-zone. Your body will be more responsive if you schedule a massage and relax instead of last minute cramming.

Focus on the audience and your objective. John Aylward, veteran stage and television actor, says that he doesn’t experience stage fright as he is concentrating on the task at hand. He doesn’t have time to allow negative thoughts to intrude. Think about creative ways of calling up images in the audience’s mind and your mind won’t be capable of indulging in past negative memories or predicting future failures.

Your biggest fear should be of boring the audience. Would you like to hear yourself speak? Are you fun to watch? Do you entertain as well as inform your audience? Is your information useful? Say to yourself, “I’ll never bore my audience again!” Get your audience involved, discovering, laughing, thinking, and understanding. You will be so centered on your goal and enjoying yourself, your fears will diminish and your self- confidence increase.

"I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I have never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do" … Georgia O'Keefe, artist

Books: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine Gallo. Learn how Steve Jobs electrifies his audiences with his incomparable style and showmanship. He tells a story, paints a picture and shares a vision. You will find lots of ideas to apply to your next presentation.

Website: This is the best site on the web to watch the best and brightest speakers in the world. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Speakers are usually limited to 18 minutes and many break every speaking rule you’ve learned. But their information is so compelling and they are so charismatic, you will be mesmerized. Do keep going back to analyze their styles of delivery and see what you can adapt to your presentation style.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Facing Your Public Speaking Fears

An executive client called to say, “I’m so nervous about my upcoming presentation. I’m afraid I’ll shake or do something embarrassing. I don’t want to make a fool of myself by forgetting what I intend to say. What if the audience thinks I’m incompetent or it’s a waste of their time?” He paused, and said almost to himself,” My job may be in jeopardy.”

The phone caller expressed a common concern. Sometimes my prospective clients are disappointed I’ve no magic wand. There are times when a presenter will be uncomfortable or even rejected when speaking in public. Your slides may be mixed up or the computer could shut down. You can have a humiliating introduction like the emcee who said my client had achieved a lot considering she was going through her second divorce. It took discipline to smile and stand up to speak after that.

Embarrassment did not stop General David Petraeus when he collapsed during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and his head fell forward on the table. His aides quickly escorted him from the room. Twenty-five minutes later the General returned, grinning sheepishly, and told the committee that he "got a little bit lightheaded there.” He even interjected some humor, adding, “It wasn't Senator McCain's question." He said he was prepared to continue. However, the meeting was adjourned and the General walked briskly from the room. Who knows if it was fatigue, not eating, or the stress of the tough questioning from Congress on the drawdown of Afghanistan forces? Was it an embarrassing, uncomfortable situation with videos replaying his fainting again and again? You bet. It comes with the territory. You get up and go forward.

Hopefully, you will never experience something as extreme as General Petraeus’ collapse in front of the world but things happen. People will text in your audience or take mental vacations. Being embarrassed or nervous, even when your job is in the balance, shouldn’t prevent you from being a compelling communicator unless you fall prey to the Critic and Doubter in your head. When the thought comes that maybe you can’t pull off the presentation, renew your determination to connect with the audience and get your message across. Believe in yourself and the worth of your ideas. Be confident that if you keep going, the nervousness will subside and you will feel more comfortable.

Gradually, you'll be able to be more objective and even have a sense of humor about the faux pas, like the General. Besides, such situations always make for great stories in the future.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Welcome to the Pocket Presentation Coach Blog

Thank you for subscribing to my blog. I realize that you, as a presenter, face audiences that are overloaded with information, have nanosecond attention spans, insist on interaction and expect to be entertained. The purpose of this blog is to help you manage public speaking fears and enhance your delivery so that you connect and resonate with today’s demanding audiences. You’ll receive up-to-date strategies to enable you to sell yourself and your ideas. Each month, I’ll blog on a specific topic such as Using Humor, Theatrical Techniques, Creating the “New Style” of Visuals, How Nutrition Affects Delivery, or Persuasion Through Storytelling. I hope to encourage you to reach beyond yourself and become a model communicator. I look forward to your feedback and dialogue!

Jan D'Arcy

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Make Your Presentations On-Target

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes interviewed Mikhail Prokhorov, the richest man in Russia, and expressed amazement there was no computer on his desk. “We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it,” Mr. Prokhorov replied. Individuals presenting to him are expected to research, succinctly synthesize and edit their ideas.

It’s ironic that Steve Balmer, President of Microsoft, said, “I get impatient. So most meetings nowadays, you send me the materials and I read them in advance. And I can come in and say: ‘I’ve got the following four questions. Please don’t present the deck.”

Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and our daily hours are not. Audiences become anesthetized when verbally and visually overloaded. A confused mind will say, “No!” The presenter who extracts only the essential information from the vast amounts of available complex data and communicates this in an understandable and useful way will bring sighs of relief from the audience.

I recently coached a client who was going to be one of the last speakers during a day-long conference of 500 people. He called to tell me the prior speeches had been so boring and technical that over 380 people walked out. It was disconcerting to watch the audience disappearing but he was eager to get on stage. He was pleased to have an excellent reception for his practical, tailored message.

It’s imperative to conduct an audience analysis before you even begin writing your material. What is their level of knowledge? What are their goals? What is useful to them right now? How can I get immediately to the punch line and get their attention? And when you think you’re finished, ask what material/slides should I leave out? Presenting isn’t a time to display every idea you’ve picked up in your career. Sometimes a person drops loads of data to prove they’re an expert or to validate their own self-worth.

If it’s impossible to get prior information on your audience, ask a few basic questions before you begin speaking. You’ll discover you need to give more background or skip five slides in the middle or even talk about something different than you planned. It takes time to wade through reams of material, consolidate relevant ideas and filter out extraneous information. But you’ll be in demand and elicit applause if you adapt your material to your audience.

The way to be a bore is to say everything.” …Voltaire

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The movie Alive in the news again

The Uruguayan rugby players whose plane crashed in the Andes Mountains 38 years ago inspired the book and movie "Alive." On Saturday, four of them shared a message with the 33 miners who have been trapped underground in Chile for a month.

"Don't give up," former rugby player Moncho Sabella said. "You have a marvelous team working for you."

It was my amazing fortune to be chosen for the role of the mother of Nando Parrado in the movie "Alive." I spent 5 weeks in Canada on location, three weeks 14,000 feet up on a mountain, replicating the location of the plane crash. Four of the surviving rugby players were consultants on the movie. I'll never forget listening to their memories of the accident and how they were starving. They faced incredible adversity and finally decided to eat the bodies of the dead. They were in frigid temperatures at a high altitude for 72 days before two of the young men walked for 10 days to get help.

I am glad to hear they are reaching out and talking to the miners to give them some hope during their ordeal.
10/15/2010 How wonderful they all survived!

Nando's movie, "I Am Alive" is currently being shown on the History Channel. I spoke with him recently. He is in great demand as a professional speaker on Leadership, Crisis Management, and the power of love and the human spirit.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Create Audience-centered Presentations

Styles of public speaking have changed over the years. The Romans and Greeks set out principals that we still practice today. Aristotle said pathos (emotion), logos (logic), and ethos (character)were critical elements we need to consider in our presentations. The orator Cicero and famous speakers like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delanor Roosevelt followed this monologue style. And although speakers in the past were mindful of their listeners,they spoke and the audience listened.

In this century, viewgraphs and slides were introduced. Speakers relied on images and volumes of text projected on screens to tell their story. Then Dennis Austin and Thomas Rudkin of Forethought, Inc, created The Presenter for the Macintosh computer. Microsoft bought their program in 1987, integrated it into their Office software and a new era of "the deck" began. Speakers were known to hide behind their "deck" and use it as a prompt sheet. Audiences were subjected to countless text slides, unsettling transitions of flying images and builds or erroneous simplification of complex subjects. Powerpoint has been accused of dumbing down information and boring audiences. Audiences often became secondary to the show on the screen.

Now speakers integrate video, special effects and the internet into their speeches. Information can be distributed on life-size telepresence or 3-inch cell-phones. Steve Jobs introduced us to slides with few words but lots of high-definition photos. He eliminated all bullet points. Jobs definitely connects with his audience but remember he's a salesman for Apple. His stylish visuals may not be appropriate for scientists and engineers who are conveying exacting complex information that must be implemented by their audiences.

I recently attended a 3-day seminar and almost every presentation used slides with a title statement followed by photos as evidence. No one used a standard template. Success depended upon the skill of the presenter, how they used the visuals, and if they involved the audience.

Your visuals need to be customized to Your objective, Your message, and Your audience. There are many excellent ideas you can adapt from presenters in the past and present. However, be aware the audiences of today have nanosecond attention spans and want you to become their Facebook friend. They expect/demand to put comments on your wall immediately and broadcast it to the world!

I've always coached my clients to involve their audiences in the first 90 seconds before they turn their slides on. Expect interruptions and questions during the presentations but maintain control. Public speaking means most presentations are dialogues, not monologues. It does take more research. You'll be expected to do improvised speaking in response to the audience's participation in your speech. This audience-centered approach has to be considered in your preparation and delivery. More later.