Presentation 2.0 – The New Art of Business Presenting

December 3, 2012

Presentation 2.0 Logo v1Most presentations suck. Ask most people to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the audience for a presentation, and they will break into a cold sweat. Presentation should rhyme with communication, inspiration and fascination – but all too often, it simply rhymes with boredom.

This means two important things for presenters. Firstly, if an audience is bored, they’re not interested, they’re not listening, and they’re not going to do what you want them to do. Secondly, if most presentations suck so badly, those presenters who make an effort can rise above the crowd, communicate better, and spread their ideas effectively.

So upgrade to Presentation 2.0, and make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. Here’s how – four disciplines which others ignore or suck at: preparation, storytelling, visual design, and delivery.

1. Preparation

Any great edifice needs a strong foundation. For a presentation, that foundation is the preparation. This is where you analyze your audience and their needs, set clear and concrete objectives, and choose a few key messages to help you achieve those objectives.

The audience might remember how you make them feel, they may remember some of what they see, but they will certainly forget most of what you say. They might recall three things. Don’t leave it to chance and hope they remember the right things – choose the three key messages you want them to remember.

Slide Fail to Prepare.027

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is the art of structuring your presentation to communicate messages effectively and interestingly; and using narrative techniques and devices to make them memorable.

When Steve Jobs pulled a Macbook Air out of an envelope, that was storytelling. It was a technique designed to communicate a key message – “The world’s thinnest notebook” – and make it stick.

I once sold a print services contract to a major Brazilian customer, but first I had to convince them they had a problem. So I demonstrated that each year, their printed pages laid end-to-end would stretch from the source of the Amazon all the way to the Atlantic (mouths gaped open) – and then back again (jaws hit floor). That’s storytelling.

If you think hard enough, you can find a way to make anything interesting and memorable.

3. Visual Design

Ever suffered “Death By PowerPoint”? Most businesspeople face it every day, so they dread the moment when someone asks to switch on the projector.

Most slides obstruct communication. They assume the audience can read and listen simultaneously, that bullet points are memorable, and that the audience doesn’t mind the presenter using slides as speaker notes. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. A deck of slides can assist communication and make your key messages memorable. It’s just a question of good design.

A typical useless slideument

4. Delivery

A great presenter can make anything fascinating. It’s about voice, speed, gestures, comfort, eye contact, movement, humor, charisma, and above all, preparation and rehearsal.

You can learn this. We’re not born orators. As Emerson said, “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

Slide Emerson Bad Speakers.003

Working hard at each of these four disciplines will make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. It’ll help you stand out from the crowd. If your audience sees four boring and forgettable 1.0 presentations, and one effective and memorable Presentation 2.0, it’s clear which presenter has the advantage. Make sure it’s you.

This article was first published in SOLD Magazine, the leading worldwide monthly for sales professionals, as part of Phil’s regular Presentation 2.0 column.


When Does Communication Become Manipulation?

June 29, 2012

 

One of my executive students at HEC Paris asked me this week at what point communication becomes manipulation. After all, many of the rhetorical devices and storytelling techniques used in speechwriting and presentation design are similar to those used by a hypnotist, advertiser or salesperson.

This assumes there is a continuum, with communication at one end, and manipulation at the other end – and the more devices of influence you use, the more you move towards the ‘manipulation’ end of the scale.

I disagree. Purely and simply, all communication is an attempt to influence the audience, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do so effectively. For me, the choice of how few or how many tools of influence you use is only part of the picture, and that scale is not between communication and manipulation, but between ineffective and effective communication.

An entrepreneur pitching an investor is aiming to influence that investor. Is that manipulation? The entrepreneur is doing everything possible to make an investor part with some cash, while at the beginning of the pitch the investor’s wallet is firmly closed.

A salesperson is always aiming to influence customers’ thoughts. Not only do they make you want their product or service where previously you perhaps didn’t want it (or didn’t realise you wanted it), but they also make you want their exact offering, and not those of your competitors. Is that manipulation? Or is it only manipulation if it is done well?

Let’s bring in a dictionary definition of manipulation. Dictionary.com defines ‘manipulate’ as:

to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.

My Chambers English Dictionary defines ‘manipulate’ as:

to turn to one’s own purpose or advantage

So the key factor is not the number of influence techniques used, but the intention of the speaker. Influencing the audience for your own selfish interests is considered manipulation, and has a negative connotation.

Political speeches are mostly about manipulation. Politicians try to influence voters, journalists and often each other, usually for their own selfish desires. (Sadly, selfless politicians like Vaclav Havel are the exception, not the rule.)

Advertising is all about manipulation, of course. Advertisers use every technique in the book to influence our thoughts, almost always for their own interests.

However, not everyone has selfish intentions. Take parents, for example.

Once, when I was a boy, I was flicking elastic bands around, and my father asked me to stop. He told me that once he had seen someone flick an elastic band which took someone’s eye out, i.e. it was very dangerous and I shouldn’t do it. The story was far stronger than just saying “stop doing that, son” – it certainly stopped me from flicking elastic bands, and I still remember the story over 30 years later. My father was using a storytelling technique to influence me – but for my benefit, so I would avoid a dangerous activity.

Now I am a father, and I use stories all the time to influence my children – for their benefit. This is far from new. Humans have been using stories for millennia to transfer knowledge and influence younger generations into avoiding the mistakes of their ancestors. The fable about the boy who cried ‘wolf’ is far more effective than just telling kids not to lie.

So while you can indeed have a continuum between ineffective and effective communication, there is another which is equally important: between altruism at one end of the scale – communicating purely for the audience’s benefit – and selfishness at the other end.

We can’t all be altruistic all the time. But we can at least aim for the middle of the scale: mutual interest.

Let’s take a look at what this means, in the Communication Influence Matrix above. In the bottom-left, you have ineffective and selfish communication – which is what poor salespeople dish out to long-suffering buyers. In the top-left, you have ineffective but altruistic communication, an example of which would be most teaching, which is for the benefit of the audience but far too often fails to be effective due to poor use of influencing techniques.

Then, in the bottom-right, you have effective and selfish communication – which could be good advertisements, or a powerful political speech for example. In the middle on the right, you have effective communication for mutual interest, which is what good salespeople will aim for. A good salesperson sincerely believes her customer will benefit from buying her product or service, and focuses on those benefits, while communicating effectively – and without forgetting her own company’s interests. Think of any Steve Jobs product launch.

And in the top-right, you have effective altruistic communication, and while I could have put public-service advertisements there, I’m proud to put my dad and his stories in that corner. One day, I hope my own children will put me there too.

Takeaways for presenters

As a presenter, work out how you can help your audience. If you are a salesperson, make your presentation not about your product or service, but about your customer’s problem and how it can be solved. You may succeed in making them want to buy your latest widget, but it will be in their interest to do so.

If you are an entrepreneur, talk about why your start-up offers a great opportunity for the investor. You’re not just going to them asking for money: you are offering them the chance to make a large pile of cash. You’re trying to influence them, of course, but in their interest as well as yours.

The trick is simply to ensure that their interests coincide with yours. If the customer is happy to solve their problem, that’s good for you because they’re using your widget to do so. If the investor is happy to invest because it’s a great opportunity, that’s also good for you because it means you have the cash to expand your company.

The audience’s own interest is the magical ingredient of any presentation. If you can always clearly act in the audience’s interest, you will never be accused of manipulation, no matter how many influence techniques you use. And if you can find a way to meet their needs while also meeting yours, then everybody wins.


Handle With CARE: 4 Keys To Convince Any Audience

May 29, 2012

I was exchanging recently with fellow presentation specialist Alex Rister, who was asking me how I go about convincing people to change. I had just given a Presentation 2.0 talk to a group of management consultants, who are usually among the worst offenders when it comes to Death by PowerPoint, and not only did they get it – they even asked me back for another session on storytelling.

Pleasantly surprised, Alex asked me for the magic keys to convince an audience to change. After some thought, this is my answer.

There are four keys to convince any audience to start, stop or continue doing something. They are all necessary. Together, they make the acronym CARE: Credibility, Action, Reason, and Empathy.

Credibility

If you have no credibility in your audience’s eyes, your message will (at best) go in one ear, and out the other.

Imagine you pass a shaggy smelly tramp in the street, who is shouting “The world will end tomorrow!” Do you pay much attention? No, because he has no credibility to deliver that message. Now imagine the US President making a televised address saying exactly the same thing. Now do you pay attention? The difference is not the message: it is the credibility of the person delivering it.

Imagine you are pregnant, and a friendly lady gazes at your tummy and exclaims “Ah, it must be a boy!” Do you believe her? Now imagine a gynecologist who, after performing an ultrasound scan, announces “Ah, it must be a boy!” Do you believe her? The difference: credibility. And not only does the gynecologist know what she is talking about: she also performed a credible check to draw her conclusion. She has evidence.

Credibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My Parisian consultants gave me credibility to talk about business communication because I have many years of management and sales experience, I’ve successfully sold major contracts up to $100M, and I teach at the world’s number one business school just down the road, quite apart from running one of Europe’s leading presentation firms.

All that was important in their eyes. Perhaps an audience in Latin America might never have heard of HEC Paris, so that wouldn’t lend me any credibility with them. Perhaps my business-to-business sales management experience wouldn’t be worth a lot when talking to a children’s charity. Perhaps my Executive MBA would actually count against me when speaking to some groups. So I don’t automatically have credibility with all audiences for all kinds of messages. But with this audience, my experience resonated with them, and they therefore listened seriously to what I had to say.

Sadly, if you are an intern with little or no experience, and you give exactly the same talk with the same slides to the same audience, you will probably fall at the first hurdle because of your lack of credibility. It doesn’t matter whether you are right. Nobody believed Ignaz Semmelweis when he suggested surgeons should wash their hands between patients in order to save lives, but he was right. Nobody believed Barry Marshall when he suggested stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, partly because the idea was ridiculous but particularly because he was just a simple unknown researcher in Western Australia of all places. He was right, but nobody listened.

The conclusion is simple. Without credibility, your audience will not accept your request to act. Speak about subjects where you are credible, and ensure that you establish credibility in your audience’s eyes right at the start of your talk. And if the message is important but you have little hope of being taken seriously, find somebody else whom the audience will listen to and believe.

Action

Now that you have credibility, you need to ask the audience to act. This could be to stop doing something, start doing something, continue doing something, or do something differently.

First, you need to be clear in your own mind about what action you want them to take. Complete this sentence:

“After my presentation, my audience will…”

Do you want them to buy something? Use a different piece of software? Try a different sales approach? Be careful about strange men offering to drive them home? Recycle their kitchen waste? Give to charity? Choose brands which are ecologically responsible? Reflect on how social media can drive sales? There has to be something. Find it and make this the foundation of your talk. (If you find nothing at all, cancel the presentation because it will be a waste of everyone’s time.)

Next, you need to make it clear what action you want the audience to take. Your talk should not be a cryptic crossword. Don’t leave them guessing what you expect them to do. Ask them clearly. If you want them to invest $200k in your start-up, say so. If you leave them to guess, they might guess wrong, or they might not bother guessing at all.

So you need a clear action which you are asking your audience to take afterwards, you need to spell it out clearly – and of course, you need to have credibility to ask them to take that action.

Reason

The next key is a Reason. No matter how much credibility you have, your audience will not do what you ask them to do unless they actually want to do so. The reason might be more stick than carrot – “If you don’t meet your sales quota this quarter, you’re fired!” may not be an effective motivation tool (cf Drive by Dan Pink), but it does at least give people a reason to want to sell more – but carrots usually work better, and social psychology is even more powerful. For example, the best way to get people to recycle more is to explain to them that their neighbours are recycling more than they are. (Thanks to the fantastic Olivier Oullier for this example – more of him on the blog soon.)

Whatever your reason, it will clearly need to resonate with the audience. Think carefully about what will work best for them. When selling print services, the usual pitch was an annual hard cost saving which would appeal to the CFO and usually to the CIO. One company’s CIO had a carbon reduction target. We showed him how he could save money AND save CO2 by optimizing his print environment. That was a much more powerful reason than cost savings alone, although it was specific to that CIO’s own context. What will work with your audience?

So you not only need to ask them to take an action: you also have to give them a reason for wanting to do so. A request for action without a strong reason leads to no action at all.

Empathy

The final part of CARE, then, is Empathy. In order to find an action which the audience will benefit from taking, a reason they will accept, and the necessary elements to convince them that you are a credible person to deliver this message, you first have to put yourself in their shoes, and get inside their heads.

What are their needs? Their desires? Their fears? Their concerns? Their problems? Their aspirations? Their objectives? How will they react to your request to act? What would make them listen to someone asking them to do it?

Think what reasons they might have to resist taking your desired action. There is always one huge one: doing nothing (or changing nothing) is always the easiest option, so beware of the principle of least effort. There may be many other reasons as well. Don’t dismiss or reject them, even if they are plain wrong. As we saw earlier, being right doesn’t actually help you to generate action. Right or wrong, your audience is emotionally attached to their reasons to resist, and if you tell them they are wrong, they will cling on to them even more strongly.

So for each reason for resistance, you need to show that you understand that reason, and that you respect it. (Never skip that step.) Then find a way to add new information which gets them to think that perhaps they didn’t have the whole picture before. And get them to realize that in fact their reason for resistance isn’t so valid after all. It has to be their realization, not your affirmation.

Here’s an example, again from my print services experience. Selling for HP meant trying to convince customers that they would be better off with a ‘balanced deployment’ of distributed printers with some multi-function print-copy-scan devices, whereas the many copier-vendor competitors were pushing a more centralized approach, getting rid of the distributed printers and keeping only a few of these big multi-function devices (e.g. one per floor). In terms of pure hard cost-per-page, the centralized approach was usually cheaper.

So when selling ‘balanced deployment’ to an IT or facilities manager who believed that a centralized approach was the cheapest, it usually didn’t help to claim that they were wrong. It was much more effective to give them ideas like this:

“It’s true that if you reduce your devices to the bare minimum, of course it will be cheaper in terms of hard cost. The cheapest of all would be to put one big multi-function device in the building reception, and have everyone walk to it and queue up. Is that what you were thinking of? No? Of course not – in fact we’ve seen plenty of situations where companies have consolidated too much, and it has a number of bad results. First, people waste more time walking to devices, and then queueing up. Meetings get delayed because just as someone wants to print a few one-page handouts before going into the meeting room, someone else starts making 250 copies of a training manual. People near the copier complain because there are always people queueing, chatting and complaining. And when it breaks down – let’s face it, all devices break down sometimes – the impact is huge because the nearest alternative device is on another floor or even in another building. That means huge waste and loss of productivity. But that’s not all. Then, managers get fed up, and decide to buy printers on their own budgets for their teams’ convenience. One company in Switzerland ended up with just as many printers as they had before the consolidation, but the IT department had much less control, less standardization, more printer drivers to manage, and – worst of all – it ended up costing more than before. So you see, in theory it’s quite right that the centralized approach looks cheaper, but in practice, it doesn’t usually work out that way.”

Convincing through empathy means not telling people they are wrong. It means stepping into their shoes, understanding their reasons and showing respect for them, and then metaphorically putting your arm around their shoulder and guiding them gently towards your desired action.

CARE

So that’s how to handle your audience with CARE. Establish your credibility in their eyes; ask them clearly to take an action; give them a reason to take the action; and use empathy to understand how best to influence your audience, and to take them respectfully towards your desired outcome. If you CARE for your audience, they’ll CARE for your message. And that’s something you should certainly CARE about.


Garr Reynolds: Great keynote at the Ideas on Stage Conference 2011

December 8, 2011

We were delighted to welcome so many amazing people – participants and speakers – to the Ideas on Stage Conference 2011 a few weeks ago in Paris.

Our aim with this conference was to inspire people to transform their businesses with the power of innovation, communication and entrepreneurship. So it was partly about great presentations on those themes, but it was also about networking, bringing people together and inspiring people to have their own great ideas. Judging by the feedback, and by the many connections people made, it was a real success.

We were particularly delighted to welcome the brilliant Garr Reynolds back to Paris, and honoured to have him as the keynote Communication speaker. So it’s only right that the first talk I share from this conference is Garr’s fantastic keynote about on-ko-chi-shin or learning presentation lessons from the past.

I’ll be sharing more talks from the Ideas on Stage Conference in the coming weeks. Big thanks to the guys at present.me for cutting this together and getting this online on their great site, so we can see the slides as well as the speaker; and thanks also to Buzdig for the filming.

Enjoy!

Direct web link: http://present.me/view/3642-garr-reynolds-presentation-zen


Two Great Reasons To Come To Paris

September 14, 2011

Last year, the fantastic Garr Reynolds came to France for a one-off Presentation Zen European Seminar. It sold out well in advance, and was a rousing success. People came from nine countries, including the USA, to learn from the world’s leading presentation expert. This year, he’s back for more.

On November 14th 2011, Garr will return to Paris to deliver his only public seminar in Europe this year. Tickets are now on sale exclusively at ideasonstage.com – so don’t miss your opportunity: sign up now.

But that’s not all. We are also delighted to announce the Ideas on Stage Conference 2011, which will be held on November 15th 2011. This is the first in what we hope will be a series of top-class social conferences, bringing together amazing speakers and leading innovators, entrepreneurs and communicators for an event which will be as memorable for its networking opportunities as for the top-quality speakers.

You could think of it as a ‘TED for business’. The focus is on innovation, communication and entrepreneurship:

  • Innovation, which is the lifeblood of any business, large or small;
  • Communication, without which even the best innovations get nowhere;
  • Entrepreneurship, which is vital for transforming great innovations into profitable, sustainable businesses – as much for big firms as for start-ups.

We’ll be announcing a line-up of top-quality speakers, and social tools to facilitate networking before, during and after the event. Garr Reynolds will be one of the keynote speakers (so that gives you an idea of the quality we’re aiming for) and we have many others who will leave your minds buzzing with creative business ideas.

Places are strictly limited for this first event in November, so get in early and take advantage of special Early Bird prices (valid until October 1st). You can also buy a combined ticket for the Presentation Zen European Seminar and the Ideas on Stage 2011 Conference, and save even more.

You don’t normally need excuses to come to the beautiful city of Paris. Here are two great ones – and we hope they will convince you to come to Paris, have a great time, and take home top-class presentation skills, brilliant business ideas, useful new contacts, and happy memories – as well as those little plastic Eiffel Towers.

Sign up now and we look forward to welcoming you to Paris!


First Impressions Last

May 3, 2011

My wife has an amazing ability to read people and judge them within seconds of meeting them. Over the years I have challenged her many times, telling her not to judge a book by its cover but to get to know someone properly first. Time has shown that her first impressions were always right.

We don’t all have that ability – I know I don’t – but we do tend to remember our first impressions of people most. Right or wrong, first impressions certainly do last – and sometimes, they are the only impressions you’ll have the chance to give. Your first impression is your business card, in effect, and it will determine whether a person calls you back, uses your services, or stays to listen to you.

This is just as important when you are presenting, even if your audience doesn’t have the ability to get up and leave before you have finished. There are two key reasons for this.

The first is that you need to give people a reason to want to listen to you. If you don’t make them want to listen right at the start, they probably won’t. If their first impression is that you are going to bore them senseless, their survival instinct will kick in and they will decide to do something less boring instead. Like doodling. Or email. Or tweeting. Or checking the cricket score. Or examining the inside of their eyelids.

The second is what’s known as the ‘primacy principle’. This states that people remember most what you say first. So if you have a particularly important message, you might want to say it right at the start, and then use the rest of the talk to explain why, rather than build up to it logically and methodically and then reveal your moment of wisdom at the end. A presentation is not a whodunnit. If the butler did it, say so at the start, then explain your reasoning.

So your introduction is extremely important. Here are five things you need to achieve in your first minute or so:

1. Connect with your audience. The best presentations are more about two-way communication than about simply broadcasting a message as if the audience were not there. Even if you as the presenter are doing almost all the talking, it is important to make the audience feel a part of what you are doing. For example, if you are going to present in a different country, pick up a local newspaper and find something interesting which you can mention at the start, or tell a story about what happened to you in the taxi from the airport, or last time you were there. Something like that will tell the audience that you’re not just going to give them exactly the same talk you have given ten times before to ten different audiences. It’s personal. It’s a talk specially created for them.

A few words in the local language can be powerful as well, as Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both memorably used in their Berlin speeches.

2. Establish your credibility. If your audience doesn’t respect you as an authority on your subject, they won’t listen properly. Being respected is one of the four aims of presentation, and it is one you need to achieve right at the start. Imagine an unknown presenter talks for an hour about how to become a great tennis player. Why would you listen? Then at the end, he reveals that he’s Roger Federer‘s coach. Suddenly he has immense credibility, but you can’t go back and be more attentive – it’s too late. Establish your credibility at the start (or even before you take the stage).

3. Explain the purpose. After your introduction, it should be clear to the audience what you are going to talk about, and why it is important for them. (Not for you – for them.)

4. Set expectations. This is where you make sure the audience knows what they can expect, and what they should not expect. If you’re going to talk about mobile app development but you are not going to cover Android, make that clear at the start – otherwise some people might wait and wait for you to cover Android, and then get disappointed when you don’t. You should set positive expectations – and then make sure you meet or exceed them.

5. Make them want to listen. Your introduction has to give the audience a reason to listen more. This could be because you are amazingly engaging or funny, or it could be because the problem you are talking about is relevant to them. If you are going to talk to a group of German engineers about the reproductive difficulties of Andean llamas, that could be tough, so choose your subject well, but if in fact there is a relevant engineering challenge in solving Andean llama reproduction problems, make sure that’s clear at the beginning.

CONCLUSION

First impressions aren’t always fair. If you walk into the room wet through because somebody took your umbrella, your first impression won’t be a good one. If you spend ten minutes trying to make your slides appear on the wall, that doesn’t look too good either. It’s not just about what you say.

So do everything you can to ensure that your first impressions are positive, in how you appear, what you do and what you say, and that will end up being a lasting positive impression.

Otherwise, you’ll just have to pray that my wife isn’t in the audience.


Show And Feel

March 28, 2011

American kids have a huge advantage in public speaking because from a young age, they have to “show and tell” – that is, they bring something to school, stand up in front of their class, show the object, and tell the class all about it. This should be mandatory in all schools, including high schools where many teenagers sadly unlearn the creativity and fearlessness of their childhood.

There’s another thing that presenters need to know, and that’s what I’m going to call “show and feel”. No, I am not suggesting you get tactile with your audience.

It’s quite simply that audiences will naturally tend to copy the presenter’s emotions. This is mainly down to the recently-discovered mirror neurons, which produce the same feeling when we see someone else experience something as we feel when we experience it ourselves.

I was reminded of this recently when I was at the Comédie Française watching Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. At one point Falstaff was about to take a swig of wine which he had previously found very unpleasant, and which he had doubtless forgotten. As he raised the bottle to his lips, I found that I was screwing up my eyes and nose, just like the lady in the picture above. I was feeling the disgust which Falstaff was feeling. My mirror neurons were in action.

Apply this to presenting. If you appear bored, your audience will feel bored. If you look like you really don’t want to be there, your audience won’t want to be there either.

If when you say “I’m excited about this” you sound more like Marvin the Paranoid Android than Steve Jobs, nobody will believe you are excited, and they won’t be excited either.

On the other hand, if you appear passionate about your idea, if you look like you are enjoying yourself and feeling comfortable, if you smile at appropriate times, then your audience will most likely mirror those positive emotions.

Yesterday a student in one of my classes gave a presentation where he was smiling almost all the time, laughing from time to time, and was clearly very enthusiastic about his subject. I just couldn’t help enjoying it. On the other hand, at one of the TEDx events I worked at last year, one presenter took the stage in a very bad mood, and hated his talk as much as the audience did.

If you want your audience to enjoy your talk, enjoy it yourself  – visibly. Show positive emotions, and your audience will mirror them.


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