All posts by Gerardo

A Case for Growth Mindset

Change your Mindset and grow

Image by Allan Ajifo, via Wikimedia Commons

In her influential study, Dr. Carol Dweck (one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation), defines the important and deceivingly simple concept of Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset.

Essentially, a Fixed Mindset is the traditional way of thinking and giving feedback in which you are either good or not in a specific area of knowledge or skill; probably the most common example would be the overly popular expression: “I’m not good at mathematics.”

On the other hand, Growth Mindset reminds us that we are not intrinsically good or bad at a given task or subject, but that we might not be where we want to be… just yet.  If we take the example I used previously, with a Growth Mindset, the same phrase will be something like: “I’m not at the level in mathematics that I want to be… yet.”  Reinforcing the importance of constant improvement as a process, not the mentality of being intrinsically good or bad per se.

In her study, Dr. Dweck, realized that kids that were told they were good at a specific task, didn’t want to try more challenging tasks for fear of “losing” the already gained status of being good at something.  On the other hand, kids who were congratulated for trying hard (in contrast to being good) welcomed new and more demanding tasks as part of that process of constant improvement.

At first sight, the concept of Growth Mindset might seem complacent; however, it’s the other way around; a Fixed Mindset is essentially complacent.

In the world of presentations, we are constantly faced by the situation in which a presenter perceives himself or herself as being intrinsically good or bat at presenting his or her ideas in public.  Something we constantly reinforce with our clients is the fact that everybody is just at a different point in their own process of becoming a better presenter.

We just have to be willing to “fail,” to be wrong, and learn from that experience.

With a Growth Mindset applied to presentation skills:

  1. We can always do better… and that’s okay.  Nobody is intrinsically a good or a bad presenter.
  2. Improvement is a constant effort.

Instead of “declaring” yourself a “good” or “bad” presenter —regardless of the level you are at any given moment— the next, and every, time you are given the opportunity to convey your message with a presentation embrace the planning, rehearsal, delivery, and debriefing, as a process of constant improvement.

I’d like to invite you to check Dr. Dweck’s research and to apply a Growth Mindset to all the aspects of your professional life.

Happy constant growth!

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Damaging Expectations

Expectations are so low that they could be affecting your presentations

Expectations

Let’s face it; when it comes to presentations the bar is really low; and it has become one of the biggest obstacles for improvement.

Because the bar is so low, as it has been for a very long time, it creates the perception of proficiency; thus preventing many presenters from reaching (or even approaching) their full potential.

If I had a dollar for every time we’ve heard people saying: “I’ve been doing this successfully for many years.”

To complicate things further, this conundrum has one more component.

The second component is that the bar has been below par for a very long time; and delivering ineffective (and boring) presentations has become second nature.  As we know all too well, old habits die hard.

If you have been following Sliding.ca, or worked with us, you know that change is achievable and the principles of effective presentations are accessible.  It really shouldn’t be that hard for a presenter to change his or her approach towards presentations.  Then, why do some people find it so difficult?

It is said that if you consistently reinforce a behaviour every day for 30 days, you can remove an old habit or add a new one.  Unfortunately, most people aren’t in a position to create and deliver presentations every day, or to work on one every day for 30 days.

It takes time, will power and persistence to improve the effectiveness and engagement of your presentations consistently.

So, I’d like to invite you… no; I’d like to challenge you, to apply our proven principles of effective presentations to the narrative, the design and the delivery of your next ten presentations, regardless of the level you are at now.  You will witness an amazing metamorphosis.  The change will be tangible and dramatic, and your presentations will yield even more satisfying and predictable results.

Improvement is a habit.

Cheers, Gerardo.

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The Importance of a Clear, Concise and Compelling Main Message

Never lose target with an effective message

MessageOne can never stress enough how critical a clear, concise, and compelling main message is to the success of your presentations.  In this article, I’ll share with you what a main message is, why it is important and, finally, how to construct an effective main message so that your audience will remember it and make it a success.

 

What is a main message?

It is a well-known fact that most people only remember a fraction of what you, or any other presenter, convey in a presentation.  Therefore, it is crucial to make every effort to ensure that your audience walks away with the most important message from your presentation… your main message.  The rest they can learn later from your handout.

A main message is a short sentence of no more than 15 words that describes the core of your presentation.  It is the message you need your audience to take away if they’re only going to remember one thing.  It has to be clear, concise and, preferably, compelling.

 

Why is a strong main message important to the success of your presentation?

Every time you create a presentation or speech you are faced with the challenge of deciding what information to leave in or out of your presentation.

A strong main message will act as a filter or firewall to guard the content of your presentation; this makes the process of selecting the content for your presentation much easier and much more effective.

In fact, the first test of a good main message is to gauge how easy it is for you to decide what to leave in or what to take out of your presentation; if you find yourself doubting whether a specific idea belongs in your presentation it means your main message is not robust enough. When that happens I strongly recommend you to go back to the drawing board and fine-tune your main message.

So, a clear and concise main message will help you to:

  1. Ensure that your audience will remember your idea, product, solution, information, et cetera.
  2. Greatly simplify the selection process for ideas and supporting points within your presentation or speech.

 

How to create a strong main message?

After years of helping our customers to craft effective main messages I find that it is easiest to imagine the following scenario: You are about to deliver your presentation when you find that a key member of your audience has to leave. While leaving the room, he or she says you, “before I live you have 10 seconds to tell me the one thing that is the keystone of your presentation today.”  You have to be razor sharp and your message has to be razor sharp.

To create a clear message, use simple and explicit words.  To create a concise message, say only one thing, no more.  To create a compelling message, talk to your audience’s needs, dreams and pains.

 

Is the main message the same as the foundational phrase?

It is common to mistake both terms, but they are not necessarily the same.  A foundational phrase is a saying that you will repeat several times through your presentation to help your audience remember your main message —not specifically to filter the information you’re presenting.  The main message is a filter; a foundational phrase is a mnemonic tool.

Having said that; if your main message is compelling, catchy and sticky, as a foundational phrase should be, you could use it as such.

 

In conclusion

A clear, concise and compelling main message is the first, and probably, the most important step in the creation of a presentation or speech.  It takes time to create a short phrase that will contain the core of your presentation (with our coaching clients, it can often take between one to two hours of intensive work), but is time well spent.

So, if you don’t have a strong main message, stop, don’t go any further in the process of creating your presentation. The chances are very high that you will just be wasting your time.

 

 

Cheers, Gerardo.

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Presenting Data with Story Telling

Inspire your audience when presenting data!

Hans Rosling presenting data
Image of Hans Rosling presenting data by the Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland

Presenting data in a way that not only informs your audience but also motivates them to act on your message is one of a presenter’s greatest challenges.

To be effective and memorable you have to be interesting while keeping it simple; additionally, you have to be objective, meticulous, and data-oriented.

A story will bring life to your data, and it will make it easier for your audience to understand and remember your message.

The easy thing to do, and the most common, is to present just the data. Unfortunately, this will render your audience numb, uninterested, and unresponsive.  At the end of this data dump they will take away, at best, only a fraction of your points.

To solve this problem, the most effective approach is to treat your presentation as a story.  To achieve this make sure you address as many of the famous “5W+H” as possible during both your data analysis and the crafting of your story.  The “5W+H” are: what (data), who, when, why, where, how.  By the way, quite often, to get to the bottom of your story you also have to constantly ask: so what?

The process is as follows:

1. Analyze your data.  What are the key questions you are trying to answer?  What discoveries are you making while analyzing your data?  Be as thorough as possible, analyze your data in different ways.

2. Find the story.  Where is the drama?  In other words: What is the problem, conflict, or challenge, which has to be overcome?  (At a minimum, find a clear before and after).

3. Craft your story.  As I mentioned in the Tip section of our March 2015 newsletter, the mnemonic we use in Sliding.ca to help you remember the essential elements of a good story, is DARE:

      • Details —not too few, not too many.
      • Action —the conflict, challenge, or drama.
      • Roles —the characters, no more than four.
      • Emotion.

Finally, always strive to make your story relatable to your audience on a personal and emotional level.

Bonus!  By using stories when presenting data your task of “shaping” your data, creating your charts and graphs, will be far easier than when you just perform a mundane data dump.  You’ll see great charts and graphs popping out of your head.

A note of warning:  The use story-telling techniques to present data is not an invitation to hide facts or skew your information.  Always be true to your data.  Consider the words of the prominent XIX century statistician Carroll D. Wright: “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

If you follow these principles your audience will not only remember your data, they will be receptive to your message and also feel inspired to act on that message.

Happy data/story telling!

 

Cheers, Gerardo.

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The Terrible T-Rex, A Connection Killer

Is this predator killing your connection with your audience?

The terrible connection killer

As some of you may know, I teach Presentation Skills at a prestigious college in Toronto, Canada. As the semester ends I feel humbled and proud for the improvement shown by all my students in their own journey —there are few other things more personal in an academic environment than exposing yourself to your peers and a professor, to be evaluated on your delivery skills, not your content.

It’s amazing to see the progress from their very short first presentations (30 seconds to three minutes), just a few months ago, to their comparatively longer final presentations (five to ten minutes).

During the early presentations, some of them barely make the minimum time, good body language is nearly non-existent, and filler words are so persistent that some of them seem to be speaking a language from another planet.

Now, at the end of the semester, it’s a joy to hear almost no filler words, great use of rhetorical devices, natural and logical use of the stage, intimate eye contact, very effective slides and data representations, and beautiful handouts. And, most of them make the time with ease or even go happily over time.  It is, truly, a joyful experience for their professor.

Except for that little giant, the terrible T-Rex —a pest that’s very hard to exterminate.

So, what is the T-Rex? In public speaking and presentations, the T-Rex is when you have your elbows glued to your ribcage throughout the presentation, making you look like the fearsome and long extinct Tyrannosaurus Rex.

On balance, the T-Rex is better than keeping your hands in your pockets or behind your back, but it hinders your connection with your audience.  And, as we all know; no connection… no communication.

The next time you rehearse for a presentation try filming your session and check to see if your T-Rex is alive and kicking.  If you see it, banish it.

How?  Two words: mimic and amplify.

Mimic your words with your hands.  If you ask for a show of hands, show your own hand — this will also increase the response rate to your questions.  If you talk about the “three elements required to achieve success,” show three fingers high in the air. If you are telling a story about running away from a dangerous situation, mimic the action of running. Mimicking can be applied to many of the words we speak without seeming stilted or forced. Try it, you’ll be amazed.

Amplify all your gestures; be expansive.  If you point to something on the slide, a reference point, or a member of your audience, do so with your arm fully extended.  If you say something like “all together,” expand both arms as if you are trying to hug them all at the same time in a huge group hug. Don’t be afraid to go big, gestures rarely look as big to an audience as they do in our mind’s eye.

The advantages?  One advantage is that you’ll appear more confident. A second, even more important, advantage is that your audience will feel as if they’re part of the conversation. And, it gives you the opportunity to connect with your audience on an ongoing basis throughout your presentation. As we all know; no connection… no communication.

Remember, tone and body language account for the mayor part of your communication with your audience.

Protect your audience from the scourge of the T-Rex. Mimic your words and amplify your gestures.

Cheers, Gerardo.

 

Image by myfavoritedinosaur.com and LadyofHats (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

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Dodging Bullet Points

And a bit of Kevlar for those bullet points you cannot dodge

Chris Rock has a great line: “we don’t need gun control; we need bullet control.”  Applied to presentations, I think we need “bullet point control.” Here’s why.

 

Why do we use bullet points?

  • Generally, bullet points are used to separate elements on a list.  That sounds reasonable, but it’s not always necessary to use bullet points to achieve that end.  Here’s an example.
  • Search for content and metaphors to help you create a knowledge base and an idea pool for your next presentation.
  • Learn about your audience and your messages so you’ll effectively be able to filter out superfluous elements from your presentation.
  • Identify which elements of your knowledge base are appropriate to transmit the specific message to a particular audience.
  • Delete every idea that passed the initial scrutiny, but fails to pass now that you have a renewed perspective of your collection of ideas.
  • Integrate all those different ideas into natural or logical groups.
  • Navigate the groups created in the previous step and arrange them in a way that has flow and shows contrast.
  • Gauge the effectiveness of the presentation and then go back and make it better.

Bullet points may make it easier to read and separate the elements of a list, but slides offer very limited real estate, which we have to use to our best advantage in conveying our message.  Because of this intrinsic limitation, I believe bullet points should be restricted to documents and speaker notes.

 

How do we dodge the bullet points?

Every time you’re faced with the need to present information on a slide in the form of a bulleted list, ask yourself the following questions:

  1.  What can I do to reduce the amount of text on my slide (leave only enough text to convey your message effectively)?
  2.  Are the elements of the list part of a system or a process?
  3.  If they are not part of system or process, what can I do to separate the elements of the list?

In response to question number one I’ll utilize the same example that I used previously. Here is that list after trimming it down to its core elements.  As you can see, this list is now much easier to read.

  • Search
  • Identify
  • Learn
  • Delete
  • Integrate
  • Navigate
  • Gauge

Of course, you must be wondering what you’re going to do with all the information that you removed.  The answer to that question is twofold:

  1. You will share that information verbally when you display the slide
  2. You will include the information in your handouts.

In response to question number two, if the elements of your list are part of a system or a process, then use a diagram to illustrate the relationship between the components of your list.  Using Search, Identify, Learn, Delete, Integrate, Navigate, and Gauge as an example, this is how we chose to display the steps in that list using a diagram:

The SLIDING Method Img.001

Fortunately, PowerPoint, comes with a large collection of diagrams (Microsoft calls them SmartArt), or if you want something slightly different (please, no 3D effects: such as volume, shades, reflections, et cetera), you can try the diagrams on sites like:

Finally, answering to question number three, to make the separation clearer while avoiding boring bullet points, you could use other design elements like blocks, position, and/or colour (or a combination of them); as these examples show:

No bullet points agenda 1 No bullet points agenda 3

 

What else can I do?

To create a more memorable and easy to follow experience for your audience you can also use animations to build your lists or diagrams.  By bringing in one element at a time, your audience will pay more attention, and it will be simpler for you to talk about the list, process, or system.  Consequently, it’ll be easier for your audience to absorb and remember your message.

If you found that using bullet points was unavoidable, this is the Kevlar to protect your audience from those bullet points.

 

Recap, please?

Make your presentation bulletproof by following these simple steps:

  1. Reduce the amount of text on each slide.
  2. Separate the elements of your list, use visual tools like space, colour, blocks, or diagrams, and then
  3. Introduce each of those elements separately using animations.

 

Join the movement; say no to bullet points!

 

Cheers, Gerardo.

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Could Prezi save your audience from death by PowerPoint?

Or, it’s not Prezi that makes the presenter

Prezi could be too dynamic

Recently, I participated in a conversation on a LinkedIn group; somebody was asking if Prezi would be a better tool to create presentations that wouldn’t bore audiences to death. Similarly, not so long ago, a client of ours asked for our opinion about changing their entire presentation platform from PowerPoint to Prezi, so that they could create more “dynamic” presentations.

My answer in both cases was the same: “it’s not the piano that makes the pianist.”

As a professional photographer, something similar happens when people comment on the great pictures “my camera” takes. My answer is always the same: “here’s my camera, go and take great pictures.” It’s not the piano…

With presentations it’s exactly the same. It’s not the tools but how we use those tools. Prezi is all well and good, but I guess the big hype about it comes from people looking for an easy way out of bad presentations. Well, there is no easy way out; but don’t despair, the solution is not that hard neither.

However, before I give you my take on this, let me share with you a bit on the new tools that are out there. First, we’ll categorize them into two main groups: general tools and specialty tools.

Among the “general” tools, we have the traditional Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, Google Slides, SlideRocket, Emaze, Haiku Deck, and open tools like FreeOffice, OpenOffice, LibreOffice and others. All of them do more or less the same thing, and all of them can save or convert a presentation file into a PowerPoint document —which is still, by far, the standard in the industry. This last point is important because, quite probably, you will be presenting on a different environment in which you created and rehearsed your presentation.

Among the “specialty” tools we have, Prezi, PowToon, et cetera.  These are great complements to your presentations that should be used when their strengths would clearly reinforce the message you’re trying to convey and portability or Internet access are not a problem. It should be noted that most of the effects of these tools can be achieved to a certain degree with the “general” tools. If you need to smoothly zoom-in and zoom-out, use Prezi; if you want a refreshing cartoon-like look (when appropriate), go for PowToon; and so on.

As you can see the “specialty” presentation tools, can be a great addition to your presentation toolbox, but I think it’s dangerous to switch your entire toolbox with only one other tool, regardless of how innovative it might seem.

It is dangerous, for your presentations and your audience, to think that by changing the tools the results will change; believe me, you can “kill” an audience as effectively with Prezi as you can with PowerPoint.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, the success of your presentation depends on how you use the tools you have at your disposal.

Creating memorable, entertaining, and informative presentations depends, more than anything, on:

  • A clear, concise and compelling message
  • A well design storyline (structure)
  • A simple, dynamic and consistent design

Learn how to apply these three principles to all your presentations and don’t worry about which tool you are using; remember, it’s not the piano…

We look forward to the opportunity to help you hone these three key principles, so that your message will be remembered, and your audience will take action.

Cheers, Gerardo.

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The Presenter Remote… A Presenter’s Magic Wand

Deliver your presentation like a magician with a presenter remote that is simple and easy to use.

Not long ago I attended a presentation given by the CEO of a Canadian airline. The presentation took place in a small and intimate room, the speaker (I won’t divulge his name) was confident and polished but, instead of advancing his own slides, his assistant was doing it for him. Clearly, they had practiced quite a bit because the transitions were almost seamless… until they ended up out of sync.  I don’t need to tell you how that looked; we (the audience) were torn between the information he was giving us verbally and the information he was presenting on the screen.  It was like two presentations at the same time, one for visual individuals and another one for “audies.”  Not very effective but fairly common when the information and the slides are being handled by two different people.

Another common occurrence is when the presenter, either, has to walk to his computer every time he or she has to advance the slides, or find themselves unnecessarily  “glued” to the computer.  I’m not sure which one is worse, what do you think?

Fortunately, the solution to these common problems is relatively simple and consists of a good presenter remote and a little practice.

Using a presenter remote when you present makes your presentation delivery look smoother and, with practice and the right technique, almost magical.

 

The Wand

Presenter Remote
Wireless Presenter (33373)

When choosing a presenter remote the most important feature to look for is simplicity. Believe me, you don’t want to be caught in a situation in which you can’t navigate your remote in a dark room because the buttons are many, close together, and difficult for your fingers to feel.

When it comes to choosing a presenter remote our motto is the simpler the better.  And yes, we have a favourite… or two.  Our two favourite choices are made by the same company: Kensington (we absolutely do not get any promotional consideration from Kensington for saying this).  Our favourite remotes are the “33373 Wireless Presenter” and the “K72353CA Wireless Presenter Pro.”  Both have a very simple layout with only four well separated and easy to feel buttons.

The differences between the two are the working range (the effective distance between the computer and the remote), the sensitivity of the buttons, and the price.

Kensington Presenter Remote Pro
Presenter Pro Remote (K72353CA)

The “33373” has a range of 60ft (18.3m), less than half the distance of the “K72353CA” which has a working range of 150ft (45.7m).  In terms of button sensitivity; the buttons on the “33373” are harder to press compared to the “K72353CA,” which are so sensitive it comes with an on-off switch to prevent you from pressing the buttons accidentally; we find this to be more a question of presenter’s style more than a good or bad thing.   Finally, the price, the “K72353CA” is definitively pricier than the “33373”; for this reason, I’d only recommend the “K72353CA” if you need that longer working range.

I own and use both.  For small rooms, like a classroom, I use the “33373.”  For presentations on larger rooms I always use the “K72353CA.

A note on the technology used to transmit your commands to your computer.  Both remotes discussed here, and most remotes out there, are RF (radio frequency) much like a remote-controlled toy like a car or a plane.  This is important because it greatly expands the working range of your remote (other technologies, like Bluetooth, have a very short working range), and you don’t need to point it towards the screen, the projector, or your computer, like you do with an IR (infra red) remote. TV remotes or the Apple remote that comes with the Apple TV are IR.

 

The Magician

Although almost any presenter remote will help you present in a smoother way, only the right technique will make your delivery look like magic.  Here are three tips that will help you to achieve a seamless delivery:

1. An RF presenter remote doesn’t require you to point it in any direction (both remotes suggested here are RF remotes).  This will greatly free up your hands and give you the freedom to take full advantage of your body language.

2. There’s a “magic” moment when the forward button “has” to be pressed.  That moment is just after you’ve started saying the phrase related to the element moving/appearing in your slide.  For example, if you are about to say the phrase “Three key elements,” press the button when you are saying the word “key.”  This way you’ll be saying the phrase first, and the text or graphic element will appear a few milliseconds after you’ve started saying it. This will show that you know your material without breaking the flow of your presentation.

3. As I mentioned in the last point, pressing the key at the right moment will make you look like you know your material but, honestly, there’s no substitute to really knowing your material inside out.  So, practice, practice, practice.  The presenter’s screen on your computer is a great help here; we’ll be talking about that in a future edition, so stay tuned.

To conclude, choose a presenter remote that is simple to use, has a working rage long enough for the room you’re presenting in, and use it like a magician… with poise.

Until next time,  Gerardo.

 

PS You can find links to Amazon.ca on both remotes on the Presentation Resources page.

*All images from Kensington.com

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iOS 7 and Your Presentation Style

Lessons from iOS 7 that can be applied to your presentation style

Steve Jobs was revered (and occasionally vilified) for, among other things, his clean and effective presentation style.  Most of his famous presentations occurred at Apple’s main event:  the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

iOS 7 Presentation StyleAt recent WWDCs Tim Cook and his associates have been desperately trying to fill Mr. Job’s shoes by un-cluttering their presentation style, a difficult task indeed.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the products and services presented at the last WWDC, on June 10, 2013, are great products, but it was a video of Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Design, introducing iOS 7 that, in my opinion, seemed more Jobesque.  Mr. Ive said:

“I think there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, and in efficiency; true simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation, it is about bringing order to complexity.

“In many ways we tried to create an interface that is unobtrusive and deferential; one where design recedes and, in doing so, elevates your content.”

The key phrase here is the final one: “…where design recedes and, in doing so, elevates your content.”  Essentially, this is the same principle that guides our presentation style at Sliding.caReduce the noise and clutter in order to let your message stand out.

Sometimes this is called a “minimalist” approach to presentations, but in reality it is much, much more.  To simplify, to un-clutter, and to reduce noise are the means to achieve your objective: everything in your presentation, from your slides to your voice, must serve and support your message and purpose.

In order to apply this principle effectively in your presentation style a very, very clear message is required.  A great example is our coaching process; the very first question we ask of our clients:  “What do you want to say to your audience?” gets by far the longest, and often convoluted, response.  Fortunately we’ve developed several techniques to help our clients to clarify their message and empower it.

Once you have a clear, concise, and compelling message it’s relatively easy to understand what should and shouldn’t be a part of your presentation.  Understanding your message will have a profound effect on your presentation, it will:

  1. Simplify the process of creating the presentation.
  2. Reduce time and, most importantly,
  3. Exponentially improve the effectiveness of your presentation.

So remember: Never start a presentation of any kind without first having a clear, concise and compelling message; it will give you direction and it will help you to eliminate unnecessary elements from your presentation.

I’ll always remember the words of the character Kirill in Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie Andrey Rublev: “Simplicity, without gaudiness.”

Great words to remember as you begin creating your next presentation.

Happy presenting!

Cheers, Gerardo.

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