In an interview, I remember hearing Phil McGraw say something that really struck a chord. The interviewer asked Dr. Phil if it bothered him that so many critics accused him of oversimplification.
He responded that it didn’t bother him at all. He even volunteered that he’d been accused him of saying things that were really nothing more than common sense — to which Dr. Phil responded, “Golly, that’s great. Do you mind if I use it as a testimonial?”
The greatest teachers and leaders have a knack for demystifying complex issues; for making issues simple, clear and relevant to the audience. So many presenters seem to think they have to have a detailed, complex, drawn-out argument to show they have worked hard, or that they are intelligent. These presentations rarely, if ever, sway an audience. Less is more.
Two of my favorite quotes (or paraphrases) in this area are from Einstein:
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” and
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
I think we all have had experience with the latter – and have obfuscated our way around our misunderstanding.
Bottom-line: When forming your presentation, keep clarity and simplicity utmost in your mind!
While every human interaction is a type of presentation, speaking in public is different from any other type of communication. Our normal, everyday conversation skills – which may serve very effectively in small groups or meetings – seem to fail us, and we don’t know why.
As humans, we are expert conversationalists. We learn this skill as infants, and hone it quickly as we grow. In 1:1 conversations, or in small groups, we listen, and we reply, and we do it naturally, without thought. We are unconsciously competent conversationalists.
So, why is speaking to a larger group so difficult? Do the rules change? Given the preponderance of mind-numbingly boring, slide-driven presentations given daily in corporations, the answer would seem to be a resounding ‘yes’! The rules must differ in some respects. One thing is clear, unlike conversations, as humans we are NOT expert public speakers naturally. It’s not innate; people have not been standing up and giving talks for millennia. And, the people who understand how the rules differ, and adapt their speech, are viewed as professionals – and compensated accordingly. Let’s explore some of the differences between public speaking and conversation.
Turn-taking: Give me my say
The basic rule of conversation is that one speaker talks at a time, and we take turns. Consider a dinner time conversation. When a speaker is finished, you may speak, if you have the right ‘space’ and something relevant to say. You come in on cue. Note also this turn-taking means you must be ready to speak, to add value to the conversation, lest the others know you have not been paying attention. Any indication of lack of attention means you really haven’t been listening, and you may be labelled as rude. Many arguments between spouses start this way!
So, we must listen closely enough to not interrupt, but also to ‘fill the gap’ – relevantly – when it’s our turn. The rules in presentations differ.
A long time
While a conversational presentation may be a few seconds, or at most a minute (longer may be considered rude or boring), presentations often run 30 minutes or more. It’s daunting to consider working to pay attention for this length of time. Recent research shows that adult attention spans (when not bored with Powerpoint or distracted with BlackBerry) are about 10 minutes. The audience members know they won’t have to speak for a long time;. therefore, they have much more ‘permission’ to have wandering minds (and bodies)than during a conversation.
Another challenge for speakers is the lack of two-way verbal communication. If we are confused or uncertain during a conversation, we can ask a question, or show in other ways that we don’t follow. This is much less likely to occur in a larger group. For both social and practical reasons we don’t interrupt the speaker. If we get confused, we may spend time in retrospective thinking, becoming lost further as the speaker continues on to new topics. A downward spiral of lost communication ensues. Often, we simply will then ‘turn off’, and fall mentally – and, sometimes physically – asleep. Maintaining understanding, therefore, should be a primary concern of all public speakers. A clear structure, flow, and signposts along the way are fundamental tools which aid understanding. Unfortunately, speakers far too often underuse these structural techniques.
Of course, connecting with the audience using proper eye contact will greatly improve two-way nonverbal communication. The astute speaker will gauge the audience’s attention and interest visually.
What about gap fillers?
Linguistics experts refer to ums and ahs as ‘voiced pauses’. These are gap fillers – breaks between words we fill with sounds. Sometimes these fillers take the form of like, you know, and right, and many others. They come about because silence is not generally acceptable in conversations – or you can lose your turn. We all use these noises in conversations to 1: show we heard the other and are starting to speak, or 2: in the middle of our discussion, to show we are continuing, and not yet finished. For example, “..um, I think that’s a good idea, and …ah…let’s discuss the timing…”. These voiced pauses fill a need in conversations – a need to show the other we are engaged and thinking, and that we have more to say.
The reason these gap fillers are so annoying in public speaking is that the problems they solve in conversations simply don’t exist when presenting to a larger group. There is no need to indicate with such noises we have begun to speak, and we don’t need to worry about filling silence in presentations. Nobody is likely to hijack the presentation during a speaker’s pause. In fact, the opposite is the case. Skilled presenters use pause to allow the audience time to think – to digest the words spoken.
As skilled conversationalists, we avoid the pause. As skilled presenters, we embrace the pause. Skilful use of pause allows the audience time to think, to react, and allows much more engagement than the usual monotone of one-way sentences, unremarkable one from the other. Pausing allows us to change the meaning and the mood, and allows us to readily modify our pace – keeping the presentation lively and dynamic. In addition, a pause allows the speaker time – time to judge the audience’s reaction, to look down at notes, and to think through the next topic.
Most speakers don’t realize there is a need to change their conversational style when talking to a larger group. Conversational talk will come across as flat, full of filler words, rambling, and difficult to follow. It must be modified for larger groups. Understanding the differences, structuring your message and using transitions, eliminating ‘gap-fillers’, and using planned pauses for emphasis and mood changes will move you in the right direction.
Today, it seems fitting to discuss something a bit different…gratitude…always worthy of thinking about.
Sir John Templeton in a speech delivered 1984
“What is the shape of the future? As long as freedom lives, the future is glorious.
When I was born in Franklin County, Tenn., the uniform wage for unskilled men was 10 cents an hour. Now the average for factory workers is $9. Even after adjusting for inflation, the increase is more than tenfold. The federal budget in nominal dollars is now almost 300 times as great as the peak of prosperity in 1929. In my lifetime, real consumption per person worldwide – that is, the standard of living in real goods – has more than quadrupled.
A landmark for freedom was the publication 208 years ago of Adam Smith’s great work called An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The necktie I wear today, bearing the likeness of Adam Smith, is supplied by the Philadelphia Society to commemorate that great liberation. In 208 years of relative freedom, the yearly output of goods and services worldwide has increased more than a hundredfold. This is a hundredfold increase in real goods and services consumed, net after eliminating inflation.
Before Adam Smith, less than 1,000 corporations existed on earth, but now corporations are being created at the rate of 4,000 every business day. In the days of Adam Smith, 85 percent of the people were needed on the farm.
We now enjoy prosperity greater than ever dreamed of before this century. Will this level of progress continue in the future? If we are able to preserve and enhance freedom, these trends may continue and accelerate. We may expect more rapid change and wider fluctuations. Life will be full of adventure and opportunity and never be dull or routine.
In America alone this year, over $100 billion will be dedicated to research and development – more in one year in one nation than the total research for all the world’s history before I was born. Awesome new blessings are visible also in health, entertainment, spiritual growth and charity. In America alone, over $50 billion will be donated to churches and charities this year. Each year the generous and voluntary giving by Americans alone exceeds the total income of all the world’s people in any year before Adam Smith.
We should be overwhelmingly grateful to have been born in this century. The slow progress of prehistoric ages is over, and centuries of human enterprise are now miraculously bursting forth into flower. The evolution of human knowledge is accelerating, and we are reaping the fruits of generations of scientific thought: Only 60 years ago, astronomers became convinced that the universe is 100 billion times larger than previously thought.
More than half of the scientists who ever lived are alive today. More than half of the discoveries in the natural sciences have been made in this century. More than half of the goods produced since the earth was born have been produced in the two centuries since Adam Smith. Over half the books ever written were written in the last half-century. More new books are published each month than were written in the entire historical period before the birth of Columbus.
Discovery and invention have not stopped or even slowed down. Who can imagine what will be discovered if research continues to accelerate? Each discovery reveals new mysteries. The more we learn, the more we realize how ignorant we were in the past and how much more there is still to discover.
If you do not fall down on your knees each day with overwhelming gratitude for your blessings – your multiplying multitudes of blessings – then you just have not yet seen the big picture.”
You’re about to make a presentation, when suddenly you realize your stomach is doing cartwheels, your palms are sweaty…and is that perspiration running down from your armpits? Not only that, but you sense your mind is rapidly going blank. “How do I handle presentation nerves during this critical time period?” – “How do I deal with the ‘jitters’?”
People ask me this question often in my coaching sessions and classes. The simple answer is ‘prepare’. You need to take unknowns and turn them into knowns, by preparing mentally and physically. But there is no single answer for every situation.
You will spend much more time preparing than you will speaking. Depending on the situation, the audience, and your objectives, people will spend ten to twenty times as much time in preparation as they do actually presenting. Sometimes this preparation is much less, but all preparation will help you overcome the presentation nerves.
People will decide whether you are credible very quickly – within the first minute; therefore, it’s critical to get the opening right. “Nail the opening!” But this is generally the most difficult part of a presentation – and it’s often where people fumble. The best way to start well is to memorize your opening and closing. Just three or four sentences of each. This allows you to get over the prime ‘presentation nerves’ time. Then you can refer to notes if needed. Memorizing your opening and closing lets you start credibly, and end fluently, allowing you to connect with your audience when you are most nervous.
In all cases, visit the venue well before your talk. Walk around the room; get a feel for the acoustics, the lighting, the ‘energy’, and any possible distractions (such as a loud air conditioner, windows to outside, etc.) You must get comfortable in the environment. If you will be speaking from a stage, go early and walk the stage. Try out your voice and ‘feel’ the environment. Then, during your presentation, you can concentrate on your audience, and not your environment.
Before small meetings, go around shaking hands and making eye contact with everybody. For larger meetings, meet and shake hands with whomever you can – people at the coffee bar, coming in the front door, etc. Most people want you to succeed. When you connect with them personally they’ll be even more likely to support your success. Speakers are rarely nervous about individuals, only the mass called ‘an audience’. Once you’ve met the audience or at least some of them, they become much less intimidating.
It’s totally natural to be nervous. Try this acting technique. Find a private spot, and wave your hands in the air. Relax and massage your jaw – a place tension accumulates, and shake your head from side to side. Then shake your legs one at a time. Physically shake the tension out of your body.
Now breathe. Really breathe with your diaphragm. This is how babies breathe. Place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach. Take a breath and let your stomach swell like a balloon as you breathe in, and fall back gently as you breathe out. Try to get a steady rhythm going, take the same depth of breath each time. Your hand on your chest should have little or no movement. When you feel comfortable with this technique, try to slow your breathing rate down by putting a short pause after you have breathed out and before you breathe in again. Initially, it may feel as though you are not getting enough air in, but with regular practice this slower rate will soon start to feel comfortable.
Try not to sit down too much while you’re waiting to speak. If you’re scheduled to go one an hour into the program, try to sit in the back of the room so that you can stand up occasionally. It is hard to jump up and be dynamic when you’ve been relaxed in a chair for hour. (Comedian Robin Williams is well known for doing “jumping jacks” before going on stage to raise his energy level.) Sitting in the back also gives you easy access to the bathroom and drinking fountain. There’s nothing worse than being stuck down front and being distracted by urgent bodily sensations.
Remember those ‘jitters’ are your friend. Handle nerves well, and they will add energy. These presentation nerves sharpen your reflexes; they get your energy level up. You become more conscious of yourself and your breathing. One of my students came up with the analogy of a swimmer. When a competitive swimmer is on the blocks, his or her pulse is racing. Major presentation nerves. And that’s good. When that swimmer hits the water, he’s immediately into the flow of the race. No need to ‘ramp up’. In fact, if he had to, he’d be behind the others who had the case of nerves!
Now, direct that energy into your talk and into the audience and you will be a more dynamic, engaging speaker!
How you can help yourself and others.
Employees now spend over 40% of their workday on e-mail—and they consider more than a third of that time a waste, according to a new survey on e-mail issues and trends from Cohesive Knowledge Solutions. I personally know some companies that would consider 40% a very low number!
We’ve all been guilty of clogging the inbox. So, to create change in your workplace, start with yourself. Here are some tried-and-true tips:
1. Stop the boomerang. Send five e-mails, and you get three or more replies—even if most of those replies aren’t necessary. Stop this “boomerang effect”—and instantly shrink your volume 10% or more—by eliminating just one out of five outgoing e-mails. Send less – get less.
2. Stop—then send. Before sending every e-mail, stop and ask yourself if it really is needed—timely, topical, and targeted.
§ Consider the recipient reading dozens of emails each day. Does it help him or her? Does it enhance communication on the topic? Or are you just pushing out your own agenda items.
§ Is it appropriate and inoffensive? Does it set the tone and image you wish to be known by? How would you feel if you received it? Is it professional?
§ Target your email to the proper audience. Ask if Reply-to-All is needed, or if you should just reply to sender. Are you using the Cc: to inform those who really need to know, or are you really Cc’ing for:
§ Self-Promotion: Copying the boss to show how hard or late you’re working
§ Humiliation: Copying someone or a group who is criticized
§ Manipulation: Copying a colleague for political reasons.
- Is it complete? In this PDA era, it’s easy to shoot out a short but incomplete reply. Often we read quickly, and answer only the last question. Then we end up going another round, adding confusion and email volume.
3. Schedule live conversations. Just because e-mail is the easiest channel doesn’t mean it’s the best channel. Before sending a message that invites a long back-and-forth discussion, consider scheduling a live conversation instead. And, for critical conversations, use the phone or face-to-face. Be sensitive. Nobody wants to hear personal or career-affecting news in an email.
4. Advance your image. E-mail can help—or hinder—your professional image. Place a high priority on spelling and grammar—and be careful about things such as all caps, abbreviations, acronyms, exclamation points, and emoticons.
5. Use the Subject: line. Never send an email without a subject! Do the recipient a favor: be specific and informative. Rather than “Meeting”, how about “Staff Meeting Agenda, Tue 21 May”? Another tip we use for groups is to set up a code in the subject line to show importance of the email. For example, Pls Reply, NRN (No Reply Needed), FYI, Action Needed. Also, for very short messages, simply give the message in the Subject: line, and end it with eom (end of message). No need to even open it!
6. Structure it! After a brief greeting, use the “ABC” method to ensure the body of the e-mail is clear to the reader.
A= answers & action; accurate, articulate. Give the reader actions and answers up front. Ensure your statements are accurate and articulate.
B = benefits; brief. Give the reader a benefit of reading your email – let them know why it’s important – and the reader will read more, and more carefully. Be brief! Long emails don’t get read today. Anything over a screen is too long in this PDA age. If your message needs more, use a different channel.
C = close; clear. Make sure follow up action items and next steps are plainly stated. Make your message clear, and come to a strong close.
7. Follow the 24-hour rule. Most everyone has sent an angry e-mail in the heat of the moment—only to regret it later. Prevent “sender’s remorse” by following the 24-hour rule: Write the e-mail if you must, but wait a day to send it—giving you time to cool down and create a new, no-regrets message.
8. Mind your time. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of reading and responding to e-mails right as they come in. Put a stop to these endless interruptions that keep you from doing your “real job.” Try blocking out e-mail time each day (I recommend a minimum session time of 15-minutes) to check your e-mail. Then don’t touch it for at least an hour, or more. In addition, disconnect your “ding”—the sound or symbol that alerts you to new messages—and program your e-mail to synchronize every hour instead of every few minutes. Be brave! You can do this.
9. Use the Signature. Don’t make the egregious error of forcing your recipient to search elsewhere if he needs to call you. Signatures on emails should include, at a minimum:
§ Preferred name
You can add additional information, such as a title, a physical address, and fax number. A sign-off is optional, but is polite. Samples include: Cordially, Sincerely, With Regards, Thanks. A dividing line or other break above the signature can make the email more readable.
10. Use Rules or Filters. Modern email clients have filters of all types, but I find many people don’t know how to use them. In Outlook, a rule is a set of conditions, actions, and exceptions that processes and organizes messages automatically. A filter can be thought of as a personal “valet” or “butler” that takes your mail and does certain things to it that you specify. One kind of valet might watch for particular mail from a mailing list and move it into a mailbox, open the message, and play a sound. Another might look for other kinds of mail and give it a label color, a high priority, and a new subject line. With rules, you can automatically:
§ Move messages to a particular folder based on who sent them.
§ Move certain kinds of messages, such as Out of Office messages, to another folder.
§ Delete messages in a conversation.
§ Flag messages from a particular person.
§ Set up a notification, such as a message or a sound, when important messages arrive.
§ Redirect a message to a person or to a distribution list.
§ Ask the server to automatically reply to a certain type of message by using a message you’ve created.
§ Assign categories to messages you send based on the contents of the messages.
§ Delay delivery of messages by a specified amount of time.
§ Start a program.
Learn how to use the filters or rules in your program, and improve your efficiency by 10% immediately.
Succeeding in the information age requires smart solutions to managing information. Start with e-mail. Set a great example for your colleagues and offer your frequent senders a few valuable tips. Then, take the extra time to work on your next promotion.
What, exactly, are persuasive presentation skills?
Is a persuasive presentation defined by the size of the room or the group, or is it defined by your – and the audience’s – objectives? Think about this. Isn’t it really much broader than the traditional view of ‘presentation’ – with its focus on a group, an (often boring) speaker, and the ever-present slides? Doesn’t a ‘presentation’ occur every time you interact – and attempt to persuade or change – people?
I submit that anytime – anytime – we discuss a project, a budget, talk with our supervisors, customers, or peers – that’s a persuasive presentation. When we talk with our spouse or children – that’s a persuasive presentation. Anytime we attempt to convince, inform, or evoke a response, to ‘get something across’, we are making a presentation – and we need persuasive presentation skills to succeed. One-on-one, or in groups. In fact, anytime we send an email, answer a phone call, talk to the staff, make a sales or board presentation…we are ‘presenting’. Presenting ourselves, our ideas, and – in at least some cases – our innermost drives. In most cases, we find people make 5-6 different types of presentations in a normal week; as much as 15 types of persuasive presentations or more in a year.
We are where we are in life because of the choices we have made, from the universe of opportunities we have before us. Every minute, every day, we are making conscious and unconscious choices. Do I allow the news today to affect my mood, causing me to snap at my spouse, kick the dog, criticize the kids, and therefore start the day off badly? Or do I choose to focus on the things I can affect, and begin on a positive note – in my attitude and in my communication?
Your chance to make an impact upon the people who affect your life is an opportunity which frequently presents itself. What choices are you making here? Have you thought through the impact of your presentation skills and strategy on these important people? What opportunities are you missing in this critical area – in money, job success, personal success and fulfillment?
Would you be just a bit more successful in your marriage if you could better convince your spouse to your point of view? How about on the job – working better with the guy in the cubicle next to you – who controls the resources for that upcoming project? Well, what about your children? When your 16-year-old daughter comes down the stairs with burgundy hair, a bare midriff, and a short short skirt, ready to go out, do you believe demanding will really convince her to change? That is an important opportunity for a presentation! Will your really communicate? What choice will you make? Will you be prepared?
Improving persuasive presentation skills is a critical component of our ability to improve our lives. Yet, how much time is given to this area in our schools? The fact is that our education systems lack any instruction in most of the practical skills of life! Most people reading this will have at least a Bachelor’s degree – meaning a minimum of 16 years of formal schooling. How many courses have you taken – or ever seen offered – on handling money, relationship skills, presenting, raising children, or marriage skills? Isn’t the skill of presenting at least as important as that of math or reading?
Do you epitomize the following definition? Conversation: a vocal competition in which the one who is catching his breath is called the listener.
As American Businessman Lee Iacocca said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”