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.


SOLD: a fantastic free magazine for sales professionals

August 14, 2012

I was recently contacted by the extremely friendly people at SOLD Labs, which publishes a fairly new online magazine called SOLD Magazine. They asked whether I’d be interested in writing a regular column. So of course my first course of action was to take a look at the magazine.

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve spent many years in sales and rarely found any published advice that was relevant to modern selling situations. B2B and B2C sales have changed immensely in the last 15 years, mostly thanks to the advances in information technology and the professionalisation of the procurement function in major companies. The old advice about how to sell a set of encyclopedias door-to-door just isn’t relevant any more.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover an attractive magazine, full of useful and relevant advice for modern salespeople, from experienced columnists and featured experts like Shep Hyken. And it includes a section about presentation skills which is truly modern – none of the old advice about seven bullets per page or three minutes per slide.

I liked it so much that I agreed to contribute a monthly column, focusing on the Presentation 2.0 approach which we’ve developed at Ideas on Stage. My first column appeared in the July edition.

So to check out my article, and plenty of other fine articles about selling, negotiating and presenting, please click through to SOLD Magazine, and sign up free to subscribe to future issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope you will be too.

 


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.


Top Talk: Bob Davids at TEDxESCP

May 6, 2012

Today, I rolled my lawn. It was a heavy roller and a tough job, but with plenty of effort, I managed it.

I quickly realised that it was much easier pulling the roller than pushing it. Leading people is much the same. If you push them, you don’t really know how they are going to react. But if you inspire them to follow you, then you have a far better chance of getting them to go where you want them to go.

At TEDxESCP 2012, I had the good fortune to work with Bob Davids, a seasoned American entrepreneur and leader, who gave a talk on leadership, with the potentially controversial premise that you can’t manage people – but you can lead them.

Of all the many great speakers at TEDxESCP 2012, I perhaps worked with Bob the least – partly due to schedules and partly because it was clear from our first discussion that he didn’t need much help. (One of the most important skills of an event coach is to work out where you can make the most difference, and allocate your time accordingly.)

We did discuss one important item. It was clear that he didn’t need any slides for his talk, but I asked whether there were any props he could use. He mentioned that he liked the idea of using a chain, which he picked up from General Eisenhower, and I immediately encouraged him to use that if he could.

You’ll see why in the video below. It helps people to remember one of his key messages. (I won’t spoil the surprise – watch it and see.)

Bob is a master storyteller. He speaks slowly, calmly, deliberately, and with the voice of experience. Young people would do well to listen and learn, as younger people have a tendency to speak too quickly. With Bob, you have time to digest his words and thoughts, work out what they mean for you, relate them to your own experience, and store his wisdom.

It was a pleasure to work with Bob even for a short time, and to watch him hold the audience in the palm of his hand – and indeed I have always subscribed to his vision of egoless leadership.

Watch and enjoy. And then please tell me what you thought about his talk.


An Amazingly Easy Way To Pull Media Out Of PowerPoint And Keynote

April 24, 2012

It’s now two years since Ideas on Stage was born, and in that time I’ve learned a remarkable amount about presenting and communicating, much of it from my amazing business partner Pierre Morsa.

Although I don’t usually talk much about applications, here is a small but potentially useful tip which Pierre just shared on his extremely popular (French) blog, and which I felt deserved to be shared with an English-speaking audience.

Here it is: PowerPoint and Keynote files (.PPTX and .KEY) are essentially just ZIP archives with a different file extension.

So if you want to find an easy way to pull photos, videos and sounds out of a PowerPoint or Keynote file, follow this simple tip:

  1. Make a copy of your original file (this way, you don’t risk harming your original).
  2. On your copy, replace the .PPTX or .KEY extension with .ZIP instead (do this in Windows Explorer or Finder – on a Mac you may need to open the Get Info window and then change the extension in there).
  3. Then you can open the ZIP archive and you will find all the images, movies etc. which were embedded in the slide deck.

As Pierre stated, it’s a very simple tip, but it could be a real time-saver – and it’s certainly a little trick that might impress your colleagues…


The Power Of The Pause

April 3, 2012

A good friend recently asked me why a pause is so important when speaking. His style is usually quite fast and dynamic, and he felt that leaving pauses might disrupt the flow and make his talk seem disjointed.

My first encounter with the power of the pause was when studying the plays of Harold Pinter at high school. Pinter was a master of the dramatic pause. A pause on stage is where the characters are not speaking, but they are perhaps doing something, and certainly thinking, and that adds to the drama. A pause adds importance to what precedes it and to what follows it.

I first realised the power of the pause in a presentation when I was at a private equity seminar in 2008. There were a number of presentations from private equity firms and professors, most of them with predictably ugly slides, and often they were just reading a written speech (most of which was written on the slides anyway).

But then came the closing keynote. It was by Didier Pineau-Valencienne, of whom I had never heard, but I later learned he is a famous French business leader, and honorary chairman of Schneider Electric.

He didn’t use slides. He didn’t read a speech. He looked at us. He made strong eye-contact. And he spoke slowly, carefully, deliberately, and powerfully. He left pauses regularly so we could reflect on what his words meant for us. Every sentence was well-crafted, yet simple rather than impressively complex. From the way he spoke, it was clear he was a leader. You could have heard a pin drop between his words.

You can think of a pause like a coffee-break. Coffee stimulates our attentiveness, and makes us more influenceable, and the break allows us to catch our breath between work periods. A pause can have a similar effect on you and your audience. Here are three reasons why you should speak slowly, carefully and powerfully, and leave pauses at appropriate times.

1. It gives the audience time to reflect.

This is the single biggest reason to pause from time to time. We don’t remember things because we hear them, or because we understand them. We remember them because they mean something to us, and because we remember how we feel about them. But for a message to have personal meaning and generate an emotion, we need not only to hear and understand it: we also need to think about it, to think about what it means for us, and to work out how it fits with the rest what we think we know about life, the universe and everything.

Personal reflection is the glue that makes a message stick. It is as powerful as any story.

The trouble is that most speeches and presentations bombard the audience with sentence after sentence, without giving them the time to perform this personal reflection. Leaving strategic pauses after important points gives the audience time to reflect, and gives your message a chance to stick.

Think of it like painting a wall. You apply the first coat of paint, and then you wait for it to dry before applying the second coat. You wouldn’t apply the second coat while the first is still wet. You give it a chance to dry. Do that with your messages too. Give them a chance to stick by letting your audience think about what your messages mean to them.

(And try to make your messages more interesting than watching paint dry…)

2. It gives you time to reflect.

A pause between sentences is not only good for your audience: it is also good for you. It gives you a chance to catch your breath, to relax, and to prepare the next sentence. You are therefore physically ready to deliver the next sentence, and you know what you are going to say, so it will come out smoothly. It also gives you time to gauge the audience’s reaction to your talk.

Last week I gave a short talk to young students at a business school about slide design, and during one pause, I noticed the silence in the room. I have never known students to be so quiet (and no, they weren’t asleep). They were paying far more attention than most students in most classes. It was a good sign. The pause enabled me to notice it.

I’m not suggesting you should pause at the end of every sentence. Pause to give effect to your point, and that point may have required two or three sentences to make, so pause at the end to let people think, and you can take advantage of that time to catch your breath, check how your audience is reacting, and prepare your next point.

Always remember, by the way, that a pause will always seem far longer to the speaker than it does to the audience. So don’t worry if the pause seems long to you: your audience won’t think so.

3. It makes you look like a leader.

Many speakers are nervous, nervy, over-excited, worried about how they will be perceived, worried that they might be interrupted, worried that they might run over time, and desperate to get it over with and get off stage as quickly as possible. All these points contrive to make them speak far too quickly. Unless you are a racing commentator, speaking quickly will make people perceive you as a loser.

Remember the four aims of presentation: to be heard, understood, respected and remembered.

If you rattle through everything at lightning speed as if you had a plane to catch or an urgent appointment with the nearest rest-room, your audience might not hear all your words, they might not properly understand, they won’t credit you with enough credibility to care what you are saying, and they won’t remember it anyway because they have no time to think about what it means to them.

Leaders, on the other hand, are confident. Leaders know that people will listen to them, and not interrupt them. Leaders are calm and collected. In short, leaders speak slowly and in a controlled way, and when they leave a pause, they are saying to the audience: “I am confident that nobody will use this pause to interrupt me.” And because they exude this confidence and this sense of leadership, generally nobody does.

Therefore when you use pauses, it makes you look confident and powerful. It makes you look like you are in control. It makes you look like a leader. It makes you look like someone worth listening to. And if the audience thinks you are worth listening to, then speaking slowly with pauses should enable you to achieve all four of the aims of presentation: to be heard, understood, respected and remembered.

Let’s finish with a few examples. Here are three fine speakers: Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs, and former French President Jaques Chirac. As you watch these (you probably only need the first minute of each to get the idea), try to imagine how those speakers would have appeared had they spoken extremely quickly. Would they have had the same effect?

MLK

In the first part of Dr King’s famous Lincoln Memorial speech, he spoke at approximately 92 words per minute. That is extremely slow compared to most speakers, and slower than I would recommend in most professional situations. But it worked for him. Could you imagine him speaking much faster? When your words have as much power as Dr King’s, don’t dilute that power by rushing through them.

Steve Jobs

Jobs was a master of the pause, and of speaking slowly. In the first 90 seconds of this example (the original iPhone introduction), Jobs spoke at 94 words per minute – and that’s not including the time he waited while the audience applauded.

Note how he even paused at the beginning. Of course it wasn’t the start of his complete presentation, but it was the start of this section. The long pause would have left the audience wondering what was to come, and it allowed Jobs to collect his thoughts, catch his breath, and prepare for perhaps his biggest ever launch. Again, his words all had such power which would have been lost if he had hurried through them.

Lastly, remember that slow should not mean boring and monotonous. Nobody would accuse Dr King or Steve Jobs of sounding boring. On the contrary, when you slow down and use pauses well, you can give your words far more power and emphasis. Watch how Jobs did this.

Jacques Chirac

In this televised address to mark the end of his presidency, Jacques Chirac spoke purposefully and meaningfully. You may not speak French so this may not mean much to you, but just watch the first 30 seconds and listen to the sound of his voice. He spoke at 120 words per minute in this section, which is right in the range of 110-140 words per minute which I recommend to most speakers. It’s faster than both Jobs and Dr King, but still quite slow compared to most speakers who are above 150 words per minute (why not time yourself?).

(I can’t embed this one sadly since WordPress doesn’t seem to support embedding DailyMotion clips.)

Jacques Chirac – Adieu

So slow down, and leave pauses. You will have more credibility. Your messages will have a better chance of sticking. And your audience will certainly be grateful.


5 Reasons Why Black Is The New White

March 23, 2012

Earlier this week, I was with a group of senior executives at a multinational corporation, looking at some slides I had produced for them. The HR VP had never worked with Ideas on Stage before, so our 2.0 visual style was entirely new to him.

The slides were entirely compatible with this company’s corporate identity, except that the slide background was black instead of their usual white.

The HR VP’s reaction was very positive: “I’d never thought of using a black background before. It looks so much better.”

Indeed it does. Very much better. Apple uses dark backgrounds (dark does not need to mean pure black) and that’s as good an argument as any. Here are five other reasons why you should stop using white backgrounds, and use a dark background wherever possible.

1. Don’t fatigue your audience

I often surprise my trainees when, after a hundred or more slides with a black background, I then start talking about the use of colour, and show them a mostly empty slide with a white background. Their reaction is always the same – the sudden burst of white light physically disturbs them, causes them to reel away, narrow their eyes, and not enjoy the experience at all. I make them think about why they reacted in this way. And then ask them why they would do this to their audiences all the time.

Whether you are projecting onto a screen or using a large LCD screen, a white background produces an awfully bright light, and although if the background is always white your audience will not need to recoil in self-defence, what will happen is that all that light will tire their eyes and make them unnecessarily fatigued. If you want to tire your audience, by all means bombard them with lots of white light. That’s not the aim of most presentations – but sadly it is the result.

A black background with white text will be far easier on their eyes, and help you to keep them fully awake. This is especially important in dark settings such as a theatre where the audience is mostly in the dark. There, a white background is simply criminal. But even in a well-lit room, white on black works just as well as black on white in terms of contrast – and much better in terms of the audience’s comfort.

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2. Keep them focused on you

We use slides to illustrate our messages – they are not the message themselves. We want people to be able to ‘get’ the slide in 3-5 seconds, and return their focus to the presenter, instead of spending the whole time looking at the wall.

Unfortunately, our eyes are naturally attracted to sources of light. So the more light you put on the screen, the more people will be drawn to look at it even if they already ‘got’ the slide. I sometimes test audiences with a slide with just one word on it, and I find people still looking back at it long after they had first read and understood it. That is worse when the background is white.

Give them less light on the screen, and they will be able to focus more on you and what you are saying.

3. Smile – you’re on camera

If you are being filmed, or if there are photographers capturing your moment on stage, then do the cameramen a favour – make sure the slides are no lighter than you are. Otherwise they will have a tough time with the contrast, because a white background on the slide is a lot – a LOT – brighter than you are, even if you have a spotlight on you.

If you want good-quality photographs and videos of your big presentation, don’t use a white background. Black is far better.

4. Slides without borders

You might want to have a slide which simply features a photo in portrait format (i.e. it is rectangular, but while it fills the screen vertically, there is a big gap on the left and the right). If you use a white background, then what people will see on the wall/screen is a photo with two big bright bars on each side, and their eyes will be drawn to the white bars instead of the photo. If you use a black background, they will just see a photo in the middle of the screen.

Quite simply, if you use a black background (and here I do mean a purely black background, not a gradient like Apple uses most of the time), there will be little or no ‘edge’ to the projected image. People will see your nice clear graph in the middle of the wall, and it will blend into the wall rather than being clearly part of a projected white rectangle. It looks so much better. Try it.

5. Stand out from the crowd

99% of slide presentations suck. Probably 95% of these presentations use slides with white backgrounds. It’s not because of the background that the presentation sucks, or at least that’s not the only reason. But it is a simple fact that the vast majority of slides are horrible, and the vast majority of those horrible slides have white backgrounds.

So when you start up your slides, and the audience sees they are white, they will immediately (and perhaps subconsciously) recall all their previous painful experiences with horrible white slides, and they will expect the worst. They’ll probably assume you will assault them with Comic Sans and cheesy stick-man clip art at any time. And clearly you don’t want to start your presentation by making them expect the worst – your introduction needs to make them want to listen!

If however you start projecting slides with a black background, you immediately set yourself apart from all those previous negative experiences. This is not like every other presentation. It can’t be any worse. It might in fact be better.

And if you care enough about your audience and your communication to use a black background, then you’ll probably make an effort with your story, your slides and your delivery as well, so it almost certainly will be better.

But hold on a minute…

You might be thinking that you have to use a white background because you have to print your slides, and you don’t want to use huge amounts of toner. Indeed my old friends at HP would probably love it if you decided to print out mostly-black slides. But I have two responses to this.

1. You should never, ever, need to print your slides. Why would you do that? Slides are not handouts (if you don’t agree, read this) so you shouldn’t print them to give to your audience. Besides, in this environmentally-conscious age, you should be avoiding unnecessary paper use whenever possible. Your slides are intended to be projected on a big screen or via a webinar – and perhaps to accompany your electronic hand-outs which you distribute (ideally) after your presentation.

Of course, if you are producing a document in PowerPoint – which you may want to print – then by all means use a white background and by all means print it. Just don’t confuse that with the kind of slides you would use for a live presentation.

2. Pure Black & White. If you really, really do need to print your slides for some reason (and every rule has an exception), then you can use the Pure Black & White printing mode in PowerPoint, and it will automatically change the colours for you so that your printout is clear but you use a minimum of toner or ink. (NB: PowerPoint 2010 had an issue with this printing mode, and if you suffer from it, there is a hotfix available here.)

So there you have it. Black is the new white when it comes to slide backgrounds. And this is one change your audience will truly thank you for.


How To Make A Great TED Talk

March 12, 2012

Recently my company Ideas on Stage was privileged to coach the speakers for TEDxESCP, a fantastic TEDx event at the ESCP business school in Paris. Working with an amazingly diverse group of fine speakers, we produced a show of which I am particularly proud, and with which the students and speakers should also be extremely pleased.

Following this, I have been asked for the recipe for a great TED talk, or indeed, the magic ingredients for any conference speech.

This is not an easy question, since with the ten speakers I coached, we produced some very different talks.

We had Emmy-winning film director Anne Aghion who spoke movingly about her experiences making films in Rwanda and Antarctica, with no slides but a couple of short video clips.

We had Alexandre Marchac who gave a brilliant talk about the advances in reconstructive surgery, illustrated with many photos and a couple of videos and a ‘TED moment’ in that one of his team’s face transplant patients was actually in the room.

We had Martin Kupp, who explained how students should take control of their education using three examples, illustrated by works of art.

We had Olivier Oullier, who used few slides, but did make good use of some amusing photos which completely contradicted what he was saying, and thus making his point about how our brains think one thing while our mouths say another.

We had Laszlo Laufer, who talked about the power of zoom using a Prezi illustration (and for once, one which I actually quite liked).

And we had Isaac Getz, with whom I performed a small sketch during his talk (is that a TED first?), and who ended up by throwing toy monkeys into the audience.

I’ve not even mentioned them all, but that’s already a lot of very different talks. In fact, the event would be rather boring if we used exactly the same formula for each talk. With any presentation, you have to consider the objectives, the context and the audience, and then choose some key messages, a suitable structure and a strategy to communicate each key message.

However, there are some characteristics which these different talks all share, and after much thought I realised that they are exactly the same ones I use to teach what makes a great slide. So here are the five characteristics of a great TED talk.

SCORE - Simple, Clear, Original, Relevant, Enjoyable (©2011 Ideas on Stage)

Simple

The first is that the message needs to be simple. In 18 minutes (or less) you don’t have time to deliver anything complex, and your audience wouldn’t get it anyway. Your presentation should not be like a crossword clue, where the audience needs to spend time working out what the answer is and what they should do with it. You should be giving them the answer so the audience can use their brain-time to think about what to do with your message.

In order to be simple, you have to be very clear in your objectives and your messages. First, set your objectives by completing this simple sentence:

“After my presentation, my audience will…”

(Of course the rest of the sentence should not read “…wake up”!)

So for Isaac Getz’s talk about how to liberate your company, the objective may have read:

“After my talk, my audience will want to liberate the power of their companies and their people, and will know the three key steps to implement.”

A last point about simplicity: one thing many of the talks had in common was the number three. Three keys, three steps, three examples… three is a very good number, since we can usually remember three points but rarely many more than three. I could write a whole article about the power of three, and perhaps one day I will.

So keep your message simple.

Clear

The next characteristic is clarity. Having a simple message is not enough: it also has to be clear to the audience.

In a slide, clarity is about using text which is big enough to read, about adding text to images so their context and meaning are clear, and about removing unnecessary noise and visual pollution. In the context of the talk, clarity is about giving your talk a clear structure so it is easy for the audience to remember what you said, realise where you are, and have an idea where you are going.

It is also about repetition, because as Lewis Carroll wrote, “What I say three times is the truth”. If you say a key message once, it will be forgotten. Twice is good; three times is better (yes, the number three again). If the audience can remember your key messages and the structure of your talk, then it was clear enough. Even a simple message like “Eat more vegetables” can get lost in a mire of graphs, statistics and boring facts. Don’t let that happen.

If you’re not sure your messages are clear enough, they’re not. Don’t compromise on clarity. Your audience is not psychic, and they are not detectives. They might be smart, but even if they are as clever and perspicacious as Hercule Poirot, your talk should not be an Agatha Christie whodunnit. If the butler did it, say so clearly – ideally three times.

Original

Here is where many TED talks distinguish themselves. We can all remember Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes and Jamie Oliver tipping a wheelbarrow of sugar cubes onto the stage. Those are things that we hadn’t seen before, and they were memorable. So you should try to make your talk original in terms of the way you deliver your messages. There is no rule that says you can’t open a jar of mosquitoes to make people feel the immediacy of malaria. There is no rule that says you can’t use props. There is no rule that says you can’t bring someone else on stage to help you. In fact other than common sense and decency, there’s only one rule: don’t show the audience something they’ve seen before.

Originality is therefore partly in terms of your strategies to communicate your messages memorably, but it is also about the messages themselves. Al Gore gave fine TED talks about global warming, but that’s been done – a TED audience doesn’t want to see yet another talk about global warming, unless there’s some completely new angle to it. So if you want to talk about the reproductive habits of Andean llamas, first search on ted.com to see whether somebody’s already done that – and if so, find something different to say.

Relevant

TED audiences expect new and interesting ideas – “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Audiences at other conferences may have different expectations. A good talk is one which meets or exceeds its audience’s expectations. So for a TED or TEDx event, the message not only needs to be original and simple: it also has to be relevant to the TED audience.

A simple test for this is as follows: at the end of the talk, will anyone in the audience shrug their shoulders and say “So what?” If so, that’s not a good sign.

What you want is that your TED audience thinks at the end “I didn’t know that, and I’m glad I do now” or “I must change how I act” for example.

So your original talk about the reproductive habits of Andean llamas might in fact not be a good subject for a TED talk. If nobody yet talked about your pet subject at TED, perhaps there’s a good reason for it. If the reason is that nobody else yet knows the results of your ground-breaking research, then perhaps you’re on to a winner. If not, ask yourself whether the world really needs to know more about the mating habits of llamas.

A word here to TEDx curators: don’t choose speakers based on how good they are. Choose speakers who have something original and worthwhile to share. Coaches like me can help average speakers to formulate and deliver their great messages memorably. But the greatest coach can’t do much even with the greatest speaker if their story just isn’t worth telling.

Enjoyable

The final part is perhaps the most difficult but the most important. People do not pay good money to go to TED to be bored. They want to be entertained, and TED audiences know that if you enjoy something, then you are more attentive; and if you are more attentive, you take more in and remember more.

So you need to entertain your audience. This is partly in what you say and do, and partly in how you say and do it. This is where it is very important to ensure you have a good coach to help with both aspects.

You need to capture their attention at the beginning, and make them want to listen (for more, read my earlier post First Impressions Last). You need to keep their attention by being interesting and passionate, and by saying things in a clear and memorable way. Try to deliver at least one clearly tweetable statement every minute or two.

Use humour whenever you can (and assuming you are good at using humour – make sure it is properly rehearsed). Remember that humour is a high-risk strategy – see more here – but at TED, being humourless is also a high-risk strategy.

Be extremely careful with your slides, if you choose to use any. A long set of bullet-points in the middle of a TED event will stand out like a sore thumb, and simply signal to the audience that they can take their comfort break right away without missing anything worthwhile. SCORE applies just as much to your slides. They need to be simple and clear; original (no over-used clip-art please); relevant to what you are saying; and enjoyable, i.e. well-designed and pleasant to look at. There’s more to say about TED slides but that deserves another post – watch this space.

There’s a way to make anything interesting and enjoyable, if you look hard enough. For example, Isaac Getz’s three steps to liberate your company (1. create an environment for intrinsic equality; 2. create an environment for personal growth; 3. create an environment for self-direction) could have been delivered in an extremely boring business-school-101 manner, with a monotonous voice and no passion. But we found ways to make his talk enjoyable with stories, examples, amusing metaphors, a sketch, toy monkeys and some playing with the audience, and Isaac did a fantastic job in delivering it. I’ll use this an example in an upcoming post once the video is available.

So that’s the last part: make your talk enjoyable.

Simple, Clear, Original, Relevant, Enjoyable. If you can take a simple, original and relevant message, and deliver it in a clear, original and enjoyable way, then you will certainly SCORE with your audience.

With that, you should be well on your way to producing a fantastic TED talk. And if you happen to be speaking at any other conference, putting this into practice will make your talk stand out. And your audience will certainly thank you.


Introduction To Selling (video)

February 15, 2012

Salespeople need to know how to present, although they also need to know when not to present. I once sold a $100M outsourcing contract over a 12-month sales cycle, and I had salespeople from all parts of the company asking me to share my slides, hoping to replicate this success. They were disappointed: I hadn’t used a single slide in all that time.

Selling isn’t all about presenting: it’s about setting clear objectives, understanding your customer and their problems, choosing suitable messages, making a connection, gaining their respect, communicating your key messages effectively and memorably, delivering a clear call-to-action, and convincing the customer to act.

Look back at that last sentence, though, and you’ll realise that in fact we could say all those things about a presentation as well. Selling and presenting have so much in common. It’s partly why my sales management background helps me in my role as a presentation designer and coach. It also explains why I train people to sell, as well as to present.

Here is a video of my latest mentor session for Le Camping, the Paris-based start-up accelerator, which was the introduction to a one-day seminar about sales and negotiating. In this talk, I cover how to approach a sales meeting, based on three key objectives: making a connection, listening & learning, and always getting to the next step.


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