Last friday I went to an interesting event for speakers. I listened to 3 presentations, all of them experienced speakers. On my way home I thought of these presentations and I specifically thought of what I remembered from them. Because ultimately this is the effect you want with a presentation, that the audience remembers your main message. And it struck me that it was not that easy for me to remember what they had said although I clearly remembered more of the third presentation. How come ? All three of them spoke with enthusiasm, they all had a great eyecontact, they all used examples and anecdotes, they all came close to the audience. Two of them had used a PowerPoint and the slides that they had shown were just excellent. But only one of the speakers had clarity and used a real structure in the presentation and in the end…it made all the difference to me !
This is the interesting questions I just discoverd on the internet. Three top speakers and presentation coaches were interviewd : Jim Endicott, Julie Terberg and Nancy Duarte. All three of them known in the States as giants in the field of creating effective and compelling presentations. Nancy Duarte and her team designed the slides for Oscar winning ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ of Al Gore. I have summarized what intrigued me most and that is this : there is hope for boring presentations ! Why ? Well, first of all, these past few months they have experienced that more and more people are willing to use more visual slides in stead of bullits or text slides. People they have coached experience, as I have experienced with people I have coached, that it is so much more fun to present with these simple slides. You feel free and not forced at all to use all these words on the slide. Not only these people have experienced that, I have experienced it myself, and so have these three ‘giants’ apparently. Because they are keynote speakers as well who walk their talk.
On top of that a new generation is slowly entering businesses. A generation that was raised with computers. Even my 5 year old can work with a computer already as he works with it at school ! These people have been using PowerPoint for presentations at school. And when they join a business they will probably not want to change their presentations into the well known text presentations. So I’m an optimist and I truly believe that there is actually hope and we can stop writing protests like ‘Death by PowerPoint’ (which is great by the way…)
You can listen to the whole interview at www.talk.presentationsroundtable.com
Last wednesday I gave a training to a company and one of the participants struggeld with his eye contact. In his first excercise he looked at only 1 or 2 people in the audience and the rest was ‘neglected’. In his second exercise I asked him to lean against a table so he did not have to worry about how he ‘stood’ in front of the audience. And I asked him to focus on eye contact and to look at everyone even without speaking. Again this was very difficult for him and he kept on focussing on some people. He mainly looked at me, probably because I was the one filming him…In the next exercise we did not focus on eyecontact anymore. It was all about how to introduce your topic in an interesting way and this time he chose to walk around. He came very close to the audience, he moved from one side to another…and automatically his eyecontact followed and he actually looked at everyone in a very natural way. So in fact, the closer you come to the audience, the easier it is to have REAL contact with the audience and the easier it will be to grab their attention.
This morning I heard something great on the radio. Two women were interviewed who were training to be in the next winter olympics in 2010 with the for us fairly unknown discipline bobsleighing. Their current top speed was 130 km per hour. The interviewer asked whether they were ever scared racing at this high speed. And one of the girls answered ‘just before the race I am scared but once I’m in that sleigh I just don’t have the time to be afraid, i have to focus’. Take this advise and use it for your presentations as well. The only reason why you are nervous is because you have the time to worry and the time to focus on yourself. There are different ways to change that focus like meditation (which actually needs a lot of practise) but you can just talk to people in the audience just before your presentation as well. In fact anything will work that prevents you from thinking and worrying. Make sure you don’t have time to worry !
Last thursday I was at the HR award of Schelstraete & Desmedt (being an ex employee of the executive search office). At the reception I spoke with two professors of Ehsal who told me that they too used PowerPoint everyday when teaching at university. One of them told me this however : a while ago there was a technical problem and he could not use the PowerPoint he had prepared. And this is what he said ‘I think it was one of my best lectures. I was not looking at a screen because there was nothing to see. I really spoke to my students and they listened to me and it was just great…’
…this is what a participant told me last friday during a training. It was his conclusion on the tips and tricks I had just given. And in fact he’s right. Getting the attention of the audience is not something that happens just like that. If you want attention of the audience, you have to give it to the audience yourself ! Give them your full attention, look at them, go as close to them as you possibly can, be and feel one with them. And the best way to do that is to make sure you have no slides to begin your presentation. Let the audience focus on you so you can focus on them. No distractions, just you and your story. Experiment with it…
Today I interviewed Els Demeester, head of Tech Data in Belgium and the only woman in the board of directors at the European level of the company. Why is this of any importance ? Because I am interviewing women in top positions in Belgium to see how important their presentation skills have been in their career as research for my book on this topic. And she had something extremely important to say. The last question I ask these women is what advice they would give to ambitious young women at the beginning of their career. The first thing she answered was : I have followed a training on presentation skills and (smiling she added you’re going to like what I’m going to say…) if I would have known, I would have followed this training much sooner in my career. So my advice to young women is to follow a training on presentation skills as soon as possible…In the beginning of your career the way you talk to an audience is even more important than the content. When you move up the ladder, the content has most importance !
I just did a half an hour telephone coaching with someone who has to do a presentation for a very big audience end of January, and in the end what it all comes down to is ‘being authentic’. And this is not the first time I come to this conclusion. I am interviewing women in top positions in Belgium to see how important their presenation skills have been to get that position in their career. I have interviewed 22 women now and what they nearly all say is how important it is, not just in presentations, to be authentic. Now what does that mean for me in presentations ? I always stress that of all the techniques I advice, you can experiment with that, but it is so very important that it feels good to you. Because if it doesn’t feel good, it won’t sound good. I like people to start their presentations with a personal (not necessarily funny) story but if that feels very unnatural to you, please don’t do that. Look for something that feels good to you. In preparing a presentation ‘feeling your words’ is crucial. I have coached some beginning news presenters and very often the first time when they read from an autocue I can’t feel what they say. They pronounce everything right but it is a though they don’t hear what they say themselves, that it is just words. The more I coach them to ‘feel’ the words they say, the better they read from the autocue. And that is exactly so for presenters. And it begins with your ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’. Really welcome yur audience, welcome them in a smiling way. Don’t make your welcome sound as the obligated first sentence. Feel it when you say it. Whenver you can smile in a presentation, please do that. You don’t have to smile throughout the presentation though. Being authentic means being hones as well and sometimes you have bad messages as well. My mean message for you in this post is TO FEEL YOUR WORDS when you speak them in a presentation.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with one of my clients. Last year the company orgnanised for the first time a 3 day conference on a European level where the country managers and team leaders could explain about their accomplishments of that year and the objectives for the next year. Of course they explained that giving a presentation. However, this year quite some months before the next event, the company asked me to help the speakers prepare their presentations because their first event had been very successful although the presentations could have been a lot better. One of the managers told me yesterday that he had done some research on the effectiveness of the presentations of last year. He asked quite a number of people what they remembered from these presentations and nearly everyone remebered ‘the coffe machine’…Now what is the coffee machine all about you might wonder ? One of the presenters of last year, Andy, was in my workshop. During the exercices I noticed that he alreday had great qualities as a presenter and I very much liked his style. Before the workshop , I had received the PowerPoint presentations they had made last year and of the 20 presentations there was only one that I liked, Andy’s…Why was his presentation so memorable ? Because he had explained a new machine and while preparing his presentation he noticed how much this new machine resembled an espresso machine. You just press the button and the machine does all the rest the result being a nice coffee. This was just so with the new machine. So he explained that talking about an espresso machine. Now this is very important information because it illustrates an important point I want to make how you can make your presentation memorbale : use comparisons. People remember new information much better when you compare it with something they know ! And why was his PowerPoint the only one I liked ? Because he had few slides and the slides he did show were either pictures (now I come to think of it, there was actually a picture of an espresso machine), or very simple word or figure slides. Words in a very big font and only some 2 to 3 figures on a slide, not a whole table…
I joined a toastmasters meeting yesterday evening and it was a great experience. For those who are not familiar with it, some explanations. Toastmasters is a club that exists worldwide where people meet to improve their presentation skills. Some clubs meet twice a month, others more often. Yesterday I was a guest in the Brussels club and I was really amazed how effective these meeting was. Being a presentation coach I can not stress enough how important it is to exercise. You can follow a training course but the most important thing is what you do with it afterwards. Suppose you want to exercise your presentation skills but you don’t have the opportunity to present that much in your company…then toastmasters is the answer. In an extremely warm and welcoming environment you can exercise prepared presentations and impromptu speech, and on top of that you receive great and useful feedback from your fellow toastmasters. Highly recommended, especially for people who feel intimidated getting on stage !