Archive for the ‘Presentation Skills’ Category
What makes an outstanding technical presentation versus a mediocre one? Chris Van Buiten, VP of Innovation at Sikrosky Aircraft Corporation, has a definite opinion on that subject. Chris was the guest speaker at a two-day presentation skills training workshop for technical professionals that I facilitated for Sikorsky engineers. My goal with this training was to help wean them off of their technical crutches and reduce their PowerPoint clutter so that they could become high engagement presenters able to inform and motivate their audiences to action.
Chris is considered by many in his industry to a best-in-class example of an outstanding technical presenter. See if you agree by watching his video from his 2010 Heli-Expo presentation in Houston, Texas.
Communication is an enormous differentiator in your career
I invited Chris to join us during lunch on the first day of the workshop and to share his insights on the do’s and don’ts of presenting. While he spoke, I took copious notes and marveled at his authentic presentation mastery.
Chris’ opening remarks were to congratulate the engineers on taking the time to take this training workshop. He said emphatically that “your ability to communicate is an enormous differentiator in your career.” It’s not enough just to be a technical subject matter expert; you must be able to effectively communication your ideas to many different kinds of people and audiences.
“To distill the complex data into nuggets of relevance, that’s your job; that’s why you get paid.” With that comment, Chris had our full attention.
“Showing a structured thought process and empathy for your audience is what a presenter must do. You must care about what they care about and give them what they need.”
How dare you show me that slide
Chris shared a memory of a presentation that a colleague made to one of the top brass at Sikorsky some four years ago. The presenter had shown a PowerPoint slide that was so cluttered with data and hard to understand, the decision maker said “How dare you show me that slide.” Chris explained that the slide demonstrated that the presenter had not taken the time to think through the meaning of the information and left that work for his audience to do. Not acceptable.
To extract the essence of the data
Chris repeatedly used the word “distill” throughout his talk with us. That led me to look up the definition of this commonly used verb. Here is what Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary has to say about the word distill:
Definition of dis-till
[transitive verb - a verb that requires both a direct subject and one or
to extract the essence of
When I think of distilling, I remember a tour of a maple sugar house in Vermont some years ago. The distillation process is what takes tree sap and turns into the delicious “liquid gold” that goes on pancakes. I certainly would not want to do all the work required to convert that raw material into the finished product. That is the job of the sugarmaker, the title of the person who makes the maple syrup. The same applies to the presenter. It is our job to distill all the raw data and convert it into something the audience can use and enjoy if possible.
Don’t make your audience word so hard
Chris advised his engineering colleagues to make their briefings (their term for presentation) more about you, the presenter, than about your slides. “Don’t make the audience work so hard. Shift the focus to you and your message.”
Here are 10 tips from Chris to help you learn how to do become a more effective presenter:
- Tell the story. Most presenters get so tangled up in their content and the design of their charts, graphs and slides that they miss what is really important. Get to the story – the meaning of your data.
- Give the answer upfront. Don’t make them wait until the end of your presentation to hear your key message. Say it in the first few minutes.
- Prioritize your slides. Your first 4 slides should deliver 80% of your punch. Know which slide is the most important of all. Be able to get to it quickly.
- Simplify your charts. Don’t confuse them with quad charts (4 in 1 charts) or other overwhelming visual aids. Use pictures/images and a few words to support the points that you will make verbally as the speaker.
- Create an effective handout. Remember your PowerPoint presentation should never used as your handout. Never distribute them before your presentation. Why not save paper, time and effort and create greater value for your audience by creating a leave-behind that includes more detail than you were able to cover in your presentation. Think report, not slideument.
- Preparation is a big deal. Rehearsal will give you confidence. Prepare your opening and closing remarks. Practice saying them out loud, standing up (not just in quietly in your head or flipping through your slides/notes).
- Deliver the heat. Know when to turn on the passion and put more energy into your presentation delivery. That’s how you will capture and hold their attention.
- Focus on 2-3 take-away points. That’s as much as your audience can handle.
- Choose your delivery approach. You need to factor in the density of your message with your presentation approach. If you are presentation to your board of directors, every word matters. You might consider scripting your message and reading from your script. Of course, your delivery must be passionate and not robotic. Your audience sees you reading from your notes, but they must feel your message.
- Editor’s comment: a great example of this can be seen in a TED.com video of Eve Ensler “Suddenly My Body.” She speaks from the podium, and has pages of scripted narrative, but her delivery is extraordinary. Do you think she practiced and rehearsed? You bet she did. Her performance shows!
Persuasion is inserting your ideas into their brains willingly
“The ultimate in communication is having your customer tell your story. If they can repeat it, adopt it and own it, then it becomes their idea. That’s when you win as a presenter!”
“Presentation is synthesis: actionable nuggets, things that our clients and customers can understand and act upon.”
Chris Van Buiten concluded his motivating talk with us with the following wake-up call:
“What’s the value of a good idea if you cannot communicate it?”
L. Kay Wilson possesses this valuable professional skill. She is a masterful panel moderator, a dynamic motivational speaker, employment attorney, and a pretty fantastic writer as well. She is also a certified practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).
I asked Kay to give her me thoughts on what it takes to be an effective facilitator.
Please enjoy these insights from Kay on the art of facilitation. Put them into practice so that you too can become a skillful facilitator.
“Facilitation requires us to get out of ourselves, and delve into the thoughts and feelings of others.
It takes a light touch and a balance of prodding and provoking.
Gifted facilitators are able to elicit from people their best thinking and motivation, and are not afraid of the silences that may come after provocative questions.
Pure facilitation is not about injecting yourself, your agenda or your opinions into the mix.
It is about being a catalyst for people to authentically express themselves in an environment that is safe and fair.
Facilitators help enforce the ground rules, after having drawn them out of participants.”
About L. Kay Wilson: Kay is an employment attorney, executive coach, facilitator and motivational speaker whose expertise is in the areas of communications, persuasion, intentional leadership and professional development. She is also a thought leader on issues surrounding workplace environment improvement and has designed numerous training interventions for the prevention of litigation.
Her most recent innovation is a coaching process for people with powerful personalities, called Charm School for Mavericks. You can reach Kay at email@example.com or direct dial, 860-559-3733.
I attended an awards banquet recently that prompted this article. Many of the presenters were highly engaging and I took copious notes on their inspiring ideas and remarks.
There were a few speakers who were painful to watch and listen to. They practically self-imploded on stage with their robotic script-reading and weak verbal /vocal delivery.
I know that many people dislike public speaking, but that’s no excuse for diminishing your own professional credibility at the podium. With a little practice, some professional feedback and presentation coaching/training, you could make things much better for yourself and your audience.
As I drove home from the event, the expression Hold Your Tongue popped into my mind. Hold Your Tongue is an idiom or expression that commonly means you have said enough and that you should stop talking…now.
- How often do you wish that had remembered this good advice when speaking or presenting?
- What should you have NOT said out loud in the presentation?
- Did you feel badly for presenter(s) who said unfiltered things that diminished his/her credibility?
Presentation calamities are so unnecessary. They can be prevented.
This blog article was written to remind us of what we should NOT be saying out loud during our presentations. I write this article as much for me, as I do for you, my client, readers and web visitors.
Here’s what you need to watch out for during your next presentation. Make a conscious and deliberate effort to weed this stuff OUT from your speech delivery and communication style.
Apologies and Excuses
- “I was just asked to give this presentation, so I’m really not prepared…”
- “I didn’t know that I had to give a speech today, but here it goes…”
- “I really hate giving presentations, but..”
- “I don’t want to take too much of your time, but…”
- “I really don’t know much about this (issue/subject/topic), but …”
- “I don’t know why they asked me to talk about this, but…”
- (misuse of the word like.)” like, I don’t know what I’m talking about…”
- sort of….
- kind of…
- I think…
- you know…
- …right? …right?…right?
- “as she mentioned before…”
- “as you can see…”
- “we all know that…”
Too Much Information
- telling your whole life story
- telling stories that don’t make a point or seem to go on forever…
- giving way too much detail
As I bring this blog article (or rant) to a close, I reflect upon the irony of the title “Hold Your Tongue.” Perhaps I should have held my tongue and kept this critical feedback to myself? Perhaps I should appreciate how hard it is for some people to get up the courage to speak in public? Speaking/Presenting is not everyone’s natural gift or passion. Yet, I am compelled to speak up and share my professional observations and suggestions with you via this forum. As with all professional skills, you can get better with practice, feedback, self awareness and experimentation. And yes, a little restraint.
Recently I had lunch with new networking contact named Patrick, who holds a senior corporate communications position with a large financial services company. Patrick, an accomplished speaker himself, now writes speeches and coaches and support top executives in their external communications.
Patrick shared with me what he believed to be a very simple formula for presentation success:
I came away from lunch feeling as if Patrick and I were kindred spirits. We share the same passion and commitment for striving for excellence in public speaking. We both feel that mastering the art of presentation and speaking is an excellent way to distinguish one’s company brand and one’s career reputation.
Now Patrick also told me that he has observed that may professionals are unwilling to put in the time and effort in the preparation process. They prefer to “wing it” – hoping that their natural talent will come through in the moment of truth. I have observed the same thing in my past corporate life. Patrick used the phrase “professional myth” in our conversation, which gave me the idea and motivation for this spirited article.
Are you you limiting your career potential by giving haphazard presentations?
Have you ever said this, thought this or heard this come out of your mouth?
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks. I’m good on my feet. I’m come through when it really counts.” – Overconfident Executive
“I don’t have time to practice and rehearse. I’m too busy. Just give me the PowerPoint presentation and I’ll be fine.” – Stressed out Executive
“Look! I’m a real presenter!” – Executive suffering from Pinocchio syndrome
- Scenario #1 – Professional athletes allowed themselves to skip practice session, didn’t have time for the drills (in fact, found they them somewhat boring and intolerable)…or perhaps they are just too busy with PR to take time out for daily practice. “My fans await me. What new tattoo should I get? What brand sponsorships do you think are possible? How much are they worth?”
- Scenario #2 -Professional dancers adopted this high risk strategy. “Show me the routine. What music? Who am I dancing with? What will I be wearing? Do these tights make me look fat? What time do you need me to show up? Note to self: don’t forget to stretch before I go out there…”
- Scenario #3 -Professional musicians knocked out a tune now and then, but only dressed up on concert day. “I hear this music in my dreams. I was born with talent. Magical fingers do your thing!”
The realities created from any these scenarios would be nothing short of unimpressive performance, injuries and total embarrassments. This is not the stuff that true professionals strive for. So why do so many business professionals allow themselves to “wing it” when giving presentations?
A man is walking in New York City and stops a stranger to ask for directions.
He asks “How do you get to Carnegie Hall??
The stranger answers “Practice-practic-practice!”
The truth is how you practice is how you’ll play the game! There is no substitution for preparation and practice when giving professional presentations. Practice (plus courage and commitment) make perfect.
Suggestions & Useful Tools:
Here’s my ritual for preparing and practicing prior to giving a presentation:
- I always complete a Clean Sheet Thinking™ pre-planning sheet. Takes less than 30 minutes and gets my head in the game. I do this BEFORE I create any slides or content for the presentation.
- I outline the core content of my talk that supports my key message. I begin to identify themes and structure. I research for the best supportive data. I develop my own original ideas.
- Since I usually end up with too much content, I make a concerted effort to reduce it. Less is more in presentation. Mantra: Always leave them wanting more..
- I chunk it out into sections – and identify what I call the “choreography” of the talk.
- I then audio record the talk using free Audacity recording software. I speak my presentation right into my computer using inexpensive $40 headphones. This way I can time the length of the talk and listen back to it for needed improvement and sections to shorten or expand.
- When I’m satisfied, I burn an audio CD and then listen to it while driving. This helps me get more familiar and comfortable with the content so I can deliver it live without notes, slides or other crutches.
- If the audio recording is good enough, I may have a product that I can sell or give-away during or after the talk. Think MP3 content creation – all archived on the web site – creating more value for your visitors.
- For larger events, I will make an effort to visit the venue to check out the room & discuss A/V with the technical team. I don’t want any surprises the day of.
- Live rehearsal in the actual room PRIOR to the event is best practice. If I can’t get to the actual site, I will do a mock stand up presentation rehearsal with a trusted friend for critique and feedback.
- For high stakes presentations, I will use video taped rehearsal and take time to critically review and try changes to my delivery.
Who has time for all this?
You do; I do; we all do – if we want to be at the top of our game. We are paid professionals, after all. Business professionals. It’s time we start practicing like one!