All posts by Patrick Williams

Be Over-prepared

Don’t allow your next presentation to be scuttled by unforeseen circumstances. Be over-prepared.

computer-823613_640It’s April, another winter has passed, we have our eyes peeled for that first robin of spring, and then… snowww.  It came as a complete surprise, it was totally unexpected, and it caught a great many of us unawares and unprepared.  On the night of that first unexpected snowstorm I walked out of a movie theatre and remember being amazed at the number of people I saw cleaning the snow and ice from their car windows with their hands, or a piece of cardboard, or the credit card being used by one unfortunate fellow.

Now, I’m not surprised these folks no longer had snow cleaning utensils in their vehicles.  We had, after all, had a fairly mild winter and the previous day’s temperature held the promise of a mild spring to come.  They were prepared for the weather they expected and I completely understand that. But, the situation also brought to mind one of the tenets we preach at Sliding.ca: always be over-prepared.

This tenet, always be over-prepared, isn’t just for movie theatre parking lots on cold snowy nights.  The tenet also holds true in the world of presenting.  One of the things an experienced presenter will tell you is that problems can and will arise from the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.  Experienced presenters will also tell you that there’s nothing worse than having to explain to an audience why you can’t deliver the whole experience you were hoping to and the experience that they deserve to receive from you.

So, how do we over-prepare?

The first thing to do is ask yourself “what can go wrong today.”  This is like a pre-threat assessment of your day as it unfolds before you.  A presentation can be spoiled by something as simple as not checking a public transit schedule to make sure everything’s running on time.  Nothing takes a presenter out of the zone faster than having to rush to get somewhere or not having enough time to settle in at a speaking venue.  Little things can create big problems.

The next thing you do is ask yourself “what steps can I take to mitigate threats to my presentation.”   The answers to this question can come in many forms; the three main ones we focus on are the presentation, the venue, and the equipment.

When it comes to your presentation you can never be too prepared.  By learning your presentation inside out you not only improve your delivery, you also protect yourself from the possibility that something catastrophic can scuttle your presentation.  If you know your presentation well enough you can present it under any circumstances, even by candle light, should there be a power failure.

We also suggest you break your presentation into easily defined sections and learn each section as a standalone piece of material.  By doing this you inoculate yourself from the vagaries of time constraints; if you have to delete a section to stay on time you can easily do that.

When it comes to venue we suggest you learn everything possible about where you’ll be presenting prior to the event.  Does the venue have a power supply close to where you’ll set up your computer, do they have an in-house public address system, are their dead spots for sound in certain parts of the room, or a restricted view for some of the audience?  These are not things you want to find out once you take the stage.  And, regardless of whether you can get the information you need about the venue, always do a thorough walk-around before taking the stage.

I recall a situation when Gerardo was presenting at a local venue as I sat at the back of the audience monitoring the room.  He couldn’t understand why I kept signalling for him to speak louder. It wasn’t until after his presentation that I was able to explain to him that the air conditioning was turned on soon after he began speaking and the white noise from the overhead vent completely drowned out what he was saying for a segment of his audience.

When it comes to equipment, always assume the venue won’t have what you need. When we at Sliding.ca do a presentation we carry a large bag, actually a plumber’s tool bag, filled with everything we might need from cables to connectors.  The bag is heavy and cumbersome but the peace of mind it brings is well worth the effort of lugging it around with us.

When I remember those moviegoers in the parking lot that night I think “what a shame to have a nice night spoiled because they were only prepared for what they expected.”  Golly, if they’d taken one of our Sliding.ca presentation courses they’d have known “what can go wrong will go wrong, and it’s better to be over-prepared than prepared.”

Cheers, Patrick

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Mood Music

When setting a mood, music may be your most powerful tool.

Sheet MusicI was watching the Golden Globes awards show last Sunday evening when they presented the award for Best Original Song (the winner was “Writings on the Wall” from the movie Spectre). It reminded me of the power and importance that music plays in setting a mood in a movie, event or presentation. I have to admit, although I like the song Writings on the Wall, Spectre was not my favorite movie. That said, I did recently watch a television series in which a song played a very important part. The show is River, a British detective show starring Stellan Skarsgård. The song is an old one, from 1976, called “I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)” by Tina Charles. The song is so well placed and so perfectly sets the mood for the show that I now can’t think of that scene without hearing the song in my mind or hear the song without having that scene flash past my mind’s eye. Music has that power.

Think back to some of your favorite movies. When you hear Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape you know you’re in for action and excitement. The theme from The Pink Panther tells you you’re in for something more lighthearted. More recently, when you hear the theme from Star Wars you know you’re in for something epic and adventurous. Music affects us and informs us.

So, the next time you prepare to stand before an audience, ask yourself, what do I want them to feel and what type of music will best prepare them to be receptive to my message. Do I want an upbeat audience or a more contemplative audience? Do I want to take my audience on a journey and have them leave feeling differently than when they arrived?

Then, begin a music search and find some tunes you can play as your audience enters your venue, or as they leave the venue following your presentation. The songs you choose don’t have to be loud, rousing or overbearing; the idea is to set a mood and gently prepare your audience for your message rather than to stir them or bring them to their feet. When we at Sliding.ca prepare a venue we try to bring a couple of small speakers with us but you don’t need a high end sound system to accomplish your goal. Again, this is about setting a mood not moving people. Think of it as providing your audience with a palette cleanser for the ears prior to the meal of your message.

Always remember, for members of the audience, your presentation begins the moment they enter the venue. Anything you can do to create an environment that supports your message works in your favour. Music can make a great contribution to that effort.

Cheers, Patrick.

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Consider Your Gift

The next time you take to the stage to speak or to present, consider your gift.

“Giving a gift” by asenat29 (flickr) via Wikimedia Commons

The gift I’m speaking about in this article is not your commanding voice, or your motivating gestures, or any other of the many skills and traits that go into making a powerful speaker. The gift I’m talking about is the core message you’ve brought to share with your audience.

We live in an age of overstimulation. At every turn we are being wooed, cajoled, charmed and distracted by people and things vying for our attention. Combined with the fact that the average audience member possesses, in the form of a smart phone, the ability to tune you out or replace you with information and tasks more relevant to their daily existence. If you turn up without a gift, you will lose that battle.

So, what kind of gift should you bring? Well, how about something that will enhance or improve the lives of the people you are speaking to. The gift can be in the form of information, or entertainment or inspiration. The point is that it has to be for your audience, not for you; and, it has to be offered magnanimously, with generosity and a real care and concern for those listening to your message. In short… it has to be a gift.

The problem with finding the gift in your presentation is that it isn’t always self-evident. It can be hard to lead to a frustrating search, and it can be hard to find, but finding it is worth every moment of the time you spend searching. At Sliding, when we work with a new client, a good portion of our opening sessions are often spent helping the client bore down to the crux of their message. Our credo is that you must be able to state your core message in fifteen words or less or you’ll risk losing your audience.

That fifteen words or less that constitutes your core message will be your gift. The truth is; if what you want to say to your audience doesn’t seem like a gift to you, you probably shouldn’t be standing up to speak to them, because they will have no reason to listen and you will have no reason to speak to them.

The great thing about “the gift” is that it not only benefits the audience; it also provides practical and tangible benefits to the presenter, particularly in the area of delivery. Here are three such benefits:

  1. Speaking and presenting can be a daunting experience. Many people actually say they are less afraid of death than they are of public speaking. By having a gift to offer it helps to shift the focus of your presentation from you to the audience. It also gives you, the presenter something to focus your thoughts on other than how you’re doing or whether the audience is receiving you well.
  2. Having a gift will turn your presentation from an “inny” to an “outy.” Having a gift that you fervently want to share with your audience provides you with a mission to accomplish. The mission will in turn inject a sort of motive force into your presentation that will help you to reach out to your audience and connect with them on a more personal level.
  3. Having a gift gives you something to be excited about. It’s like the unwrapping of presents on a Christmas morning, when you’ve got something really great for someone you just can’t wait to show them. Having a gift to share with your audience will help you to find, and share, that same type of enthusiasm.

Consider your gift. If you prepare a presentation and can’t find the gift within it, it may be time to reconsider the presentation. When you do find the gift within your presentation hone it until you’ve made it absolutely clear, concise and compelling. Then, when you take to the stage to share your gift, do so with enthusiasm, generosity and love. It’s your gift to share.

Cheers, Patrick

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Emotional Connection Trumps Facts

Appeal to Your Audience on an Emotional Level

Emotional Connection Trumps Facts
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

The summer is nearing an end it is election season in Canada and the United States. In Canada, our pre-election period will last 11 weeks while, in the US, it will continue for the next fourteen months.  As I’ve been watching the US election run-up and, of late, the Republican race for a Presidential nominee, I’ve found myself more and more intrigued by the attention, and controversy, generated by the nomination campaign of billionaire Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump is far ahead of his GOP rivals in the polls, and it doesn’t seem like those numbers are going to change anytime soon. Consistently polling at 23% Mr. Trump has garnered almost double the number of supporters as his closest rival.  No matter what Mr. Trump says or does and, in the face of growing opposition from both inside and outside the Republican Party, his numbers remain firm.

What surprises me about this turn of events is that the media seems to be baffled by it.  Day after day, we hear predictions that the end is near and how Mr. Trump is going to plummet to earth like Icarus caught in a Florida heatwave. The truth is, it’s not going to happen; and, here’s why.

At Sliding.ca one of the axioms that permeates our teaching is that humans are emotional beings and as such, must be appealed to on an emotional level.  Regardless of the number of indisputable that may be presented to an audience; that audience will not willingly adopt the presenter’s point of view until they feel emotionally comfortable with the message being presented.

When Donald Trump speaks he comes across as contemptuous, angry, and frustrated at the state of the United States in the 21st Century.  Well, that’s exactly how his audience feels.  Mr. Trump’s critics complain that his tone is unrelentingly negative, and that he offers no solutions to the problems he seems to be contemptuous, angry, and frustrated about.  For that 23% of Republican voters which support Mr. Trump, the negativity is not a problem, and the solutions don’t matter; what matters is that he mirrors how they feel.

There are many studies that show that, when faced with incontrovertible facts that contradict a person’s core belief system, their core belief system becomes even more rigid and intransigent than before the facts were presented.  This is precisely what’s happening with Donald Trump’s supporters. On television last week, I watched a focus group of Trump supporters.  One lady said she supported Mr. Trump because he was a pro-life candidate. When the commentator then played a video for the lady showing that, just a couple of years ago, Mr. Trump professed to be a pro-choice supporter her answer was “turn that off, don’t tell me that, I don’t want to hear about it.”  Emotional connection trumps facts.

For as long as Donald Trump remains in the running as a Republican Presidential nominee that 23% of voters that support his candidacy will stand by him, come hell or high water, and regardless of any facts that run in the face of their emotional connection to him.

So, what does this have to do with presenting?  Well, Donald Trump is a presenter.  His success with that 23% of polled Republicans stems from the fact that he speaks to how they feel.  The words don’t matter, the facts are irrelevant, and opposition to him is of no consequence.  When Mr. Trumps speaks, that 23% has their core belief system honored, and spoken to, and exalted, and they will stand by him no matter what.

The next time you are faced with the formidable task of bringing an audience around to your way of thinking, consider approaching the endeavour from their emotional point of view.  Start by discovering how your audience feels and what core beliefs they hold dear.  Then, take a look at your presentation and figure out a way to frame and deliver your information in a way that avoids running counter to that world view but also supports the position you represent.

This isn’t always an easy task, but I think you’ll find the reward of having your point of view not only accepted but embraced by your audience well worth the effort.

Cheers, Patrick

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Create a Presentation as you Travel

By using the SLIDING method you can create a presentation anytime, anywhere.

Create a Presentation as you Travel
Image by Cicava via FreeImages.com

I was speaking with two presenter friends of mine, Alan and Barbara, about the problems we all face when it comes time to create a presentation.  The first presenter, Alan, said that the biggest obstacle he faced was finding the time to create a presentation because he travels so much.  In response to this, the second presenter, Barbara, who travels even more than Alan, said she was actually at her most creative when she traveled, and came up with some of her best ideas while sitting in an airport lounge.

As we talked further I realized why their responses were so different.  When it came time to create a presentation the first thing Alan did was turn on his computer and open a presentation software app, like PowerPoint or Keynote.  Meanwhile, Barbara wouldn’t even look at her computer until well into her creative process. At Sliding.ca we subscribe to the process used by Barbara.  And, not surprisingly, to the use of our SLIDING method as a part of that process.

The SLIDING method:

  • Search for any information or materials that can be used to convey your message.
  • Learn about your audience; what is it they need and how can you help to fill that need.
  • Identify the information that directly relates to those needs.
  • Delete any and all information that doesn’t fully support your message or distracts from your message.
  • Integrate the information so that it is grouped logically and concisely.
  • Navigate through the information so that it has a sense of flow and rhythm.
  • Gauge your results and then go back and repeat the process.

The beauty of the SLIDING method is that most of the steps can be utilized anytime and anywhere.  In the early stages all you need to create a presentation is a piece of paper and a pencil.  This is the Search step of the process. By its very nature it is a relaxed, informal, free-flowing process.  Unfortunately, the moment Alan took out his computer his creative process became subservient to the mechanical processes of the machine and the constraints of the environment he was required to work within.

Barbara, on the other hand, found herself free to create in a much more organic and open way.  Whenever an idea would pop into her head, she would simply pull out her notebook, jot it down, and go back to whatever she was doing when inspiration struck.  The beauty of Barbara’s approach was that any idea that popped into her head could apply to and be used for any one of a myriad of topics she might be working on, or might work on in the future.

Conversely, the process Alan used to create a presentation forced him to think in a much more linear fashion.  It became about the words and how one sentence followed another instead of being about the ideas and, ultimately, the message he hoped to share with his audience.

Sitting in an airport lounge energized Barbara.  She loved the hustle and bustle and told me how she would get many of her ideas from watching the travelers pass by and wonder where they came from and where they were going to.  She would jot down descriptions of the passersby, notes about where she imagined they came from, and story lines about where she imagined they were going.

After gathering all this material, without ever needing to go near a computer, Barbara would draw on the ideas she had written down in order to create analogies and metaphors designed to help her to connect and communicate with her audience.  The next step of her process, and the SLIDING method, would be to Learn about her audience and which of the many ideas she came up with that would apply to their particular needs.

Whether sitting in an airport lounge, sipping coffee in a quiet café, or hard at work at the office you can begin to create a presentation without ever having to take out a computer or type a single word.  Then, when you are finally ready to commit words to screen and build the visual portion of your presentation, your message and your plot will be clear in your mind and you’ll have a story to tell. And, as we all know, in the 21st Century if you don’t have a story to tell, nobody’s going to listen.

In this article, I’ve focused on the Search portion of the SLIDING method. If you’d like to learn more about the entire SLIDING method and the seven key elements of a well structured, memorable, and effective presentation, go to our Sliding.ca home page and register for our monthly newsletter.

And remember, the next time you have to create a presentation, begin with paper and pencil; you’ll enjoy the freedom.

 

Cheers, Patrick

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Cadence Counts

The importance of rhythm in the delivery of your presentation.

An excerpt from Barack Obama’s March 7th, 2015 speech from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Obama speaks in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Obama speaks in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

“… In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.

And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:

“We shall overcome.”

What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God – but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

 

    

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Big Beginnings

Make all your beginnings big

Justin Timberlake - BeginningsLast month I had the opportunity to go to a Justin Timberlake concert at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.  When I go to events like this I often find myself as fascinated by the mechanics of the concert as I do the songs or the artist performing before me.  Having an interest in presentation (big or small, every presentation is a show) I find that, whether the show was bad or good, there’s always something I can take away from the experience that I can learn from to improve my own presenting skills.

Fortunately, the Timberlake show fell well above the “good” category on the concert rating scale and actually soared to the level of “spectacular” and “OMG, I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing.”  The Timberlake show was fantastic with many, many takeaways that can be applied to presentations of just about any kind.  In future articles I’ll talk about the takeaways I got from later in the concert but for this particular article I’m going to focus on the way Justin Timberlake began his concert.

Prior to the actual concert itself Timberlake had a DJ set up on an elevated platform at the opposite end of the arena from the stage.  From the moment the doors opened, the DJ played dance music, worked the crowd, and made sure everyone knew (and felt like) they were integral to the show.  This went on until just a few minutes before the lights went down.

As the lights went down in the arena, the huge screen behind the stage came alive with images representative of the 20/20 theme of the concert.  These images danced around the screen for a period of time, and then a woman’s voice proclaimed, “20 seconds.”  The 20-second countdown had begun. As the numbers counted down, aloud and on the screen, the excitement of the audience increased.  Five, four, three, two, one… a pause, a huge flash-bang, and the images onscreen become instantly replaced by a silhouette and sounds of an orchestra string section, and then the looming silhouette of Justin Timberlake in a tuxedo adjusting his cuff links and straightening his cuffs.  He’s ready, we’re ready; a few seconds pass… a massive flash-bang and there he is, in the flesh.  A beautifully choreographed and truly spectacular opening.

So, what does this multi-million dollar extravaganza have to do with the presentations you and I find ourselves tasked with on a daily basis.  In a word: Preparation!

When I say preparation I don’t mean the preparation that went into the show; I’m talking about the preparation of the audience that began from the moment we walked into the venue.

The DJ wasn’t there just to keep us occupied pre-show, he was there to make sure we were engaged and ready for what was to follow.  The graphics displayed behind the stage were there to remind us that this was the 20/20 Tour, and we were in the right place to have fun.  When the disembodied voice called out “20 seconds” and the countdown began we were being put on notice that something extraordinary was about to happen, and it was time to begin raising our energy level to the appropriate level for launch.  And, when the orchestra appeared in silhouette followed by Justin Timberlake, also in silhouette, we were being given a chance to acquaint ourselves with our hosts for the evening prior to being blown away by what they had to offer.

You, too, should prepare your audience.  Many people think a presentation begins after they’ve been introduced and after the first words are uttered.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. From the moment your guests enter the room they should feel they are a part of the event.  By doing this you will increase their enjoyment of your presentation and you’ll definitely increase the enjoyment you’ll have presenting to them.

Remember, big or small, every presentation is a show.

Cheers, Patrick

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

As the 21st Century unfolds before us it seems like change is the only thing we can really depend upon

The change trainChange is all around us; we can’t go a day without hearing about a new conflict, a new invention, a new challenge, or a new product available to the market. Sometimes it seems like we’re moving too fast, and that may well be, but change is here to stay and it’s increasing at an exponential rate. This change-train is not going to stop. Consequently, you have three choices for dealing with it; you can: get on board, get run over, or get left behind.  We suggest you get on board. Embrace change and make it a part of your daily mindset.

At Sliding.ca we subscribe to a process that embodies change.  SLIDING is actually a mnemonic for a process we use when creating presentations.  SLIDING stands for: Search for appropriate content for your presentation, Learn as much as you can about your audience, Identify the content that most appropriately applies to your audience, Delete any content that detracts from or doesn’t fully support your message, Integrate the remaining material, Navigate the material in a way that takes your audience on a logical and enjoyable journey, Go back and run through the process again… and again… and again.

That last, Go back and do it again step, is all about change.  As the presentation is being created the ‘Go back” step serves to repeatedly trim away non-relevant or non-supportive material so that we end up with a clear, concise, compelling message that will not only inspire our audience but be remembered by them long after the presentation is finished.

But, the “Go back” step doesn’t only apply to the creation process, it also applies to the review process.  By routinely reviewing our presentations, without the fear of making changes, we keep them relevant and we improve them.

At Sliding.ca we, on occasion, find our clients resistant to this concept.  The reason often presented is that, after investing in the time it takes to memorize a presentation, the client is afraid that changing the material might make it more difficult to repeat on a regular basis.  This is why we suggest that you approach your presentations with the intent of “knowing” your material rather than “memorizing” your material.  If you know your material you can speak about it at any time and under any circumstances.  And, rather than making a presentation more difficult to remember, knowing your material will actually make it easier to remember because you no longer have to spend so much time worrying about syntax and phraseology.  Your presentations will become conversational rather than repetitive. By allowing your presentations to change and evolve you will also be keeping them more fresh and enjoyable for yourself, the presenter.

One of the greatest changes of the 21st Century is the way we communicate.  With the advent of social media every interaction has become a conversation.  Audiences no longer listen to presenters who “recite” to them, they want to feel as though they are part of the conversation.  Embrace change in your presentations. It will keep them fresh for you, it will keep them fresh for your audience, and it will help to keep them relevant and current.

The times they are a changin’.  It’s time to get on board.

Cheers, Patrick

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Joan Rivers — Can We Talk?

Have a Joan Rivers conversation with your audience

Joan Rivers —© JDH Rosewater

The amazing Joan Rivers passed away a few days ago and “can we talk” was one of her best known catch phrases. We heard that phrase so often it almost seemed like a throwaway line and Ms. Rivers has said that she didn’t even realize she was saying “can we talk” until someone pointed it out to her. Whatever the case may be, by design or by accident or by instinct, every time Joan Rivers used the catch phrase “can we talk” she was initiating a conversation. In doing that Ms. Rivers not only broke down the fourth wall between her and her audience, she also made the audience members  co-conspirators in the hilarious, and often risqué, banter that followed. It was no longer Joan Rivers, standing alone onstage, making cheeky comments about famous celebrities, it was Joan and her audience SHARING cheeky comments about famous celebrities. Her monologues became dialogues; the audience’s contribution being its laughter. In effect, the audience became a part of the conversation; a conversation that, for Joan Rivers, lasted more than 50 years.

 

From monologue to dialogue

So, what can we do to turn our monologues into dialogues?

Here are a few simple suggestions:

1. Say hello: Greet your audience members as they enter the room. By doing this it gives you the opportunity to learn the names of some of your audience members and find out a little bit about them. Then, when you are speaking, you can speak directly to some of the people you’ve met and maybe even include some of the things you spoke to them about in the conversation. By doing this not only the people you spoke to will feel included in the conversation but, by proxy, everyone in the room will feel included.

2. Provide name tags: If possible, provide your audience members with name tags. As Dale Carnegie is famously quoted as saying: “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Every time you address an audience member by name you are telling them and the entire audience that they matter, that they’re a part of the conversation, and that their contribution is important to you. Names are important.

3. Gestures: Use your gestures to include members of your audience in the conversation. A huge percentage of our communication is non-verbal. By physically reaching out to audience members you draw them to you and make them feel welcome and included in the conversation.

4. Eye contact: Making eye contact with the audience is one of the first lessons a speaker learns. However I’m not just talking eye contact, I’m talking EYE CONTACT. Really look at people and make a solid connection with them. There’s nothing more compelling than having someone look into your eyes and hold your gaze as they make a point or share something with you.

5. Ask questions: Conversations are back and forth endeavours. By asking questions of your audience you literally begin a conversation and make your audience a part of the presentation. If your presentation doesn’t allow you to literally ask questions then ask rhetorical questions instead. Even though you won’t get an audible reply  your audience will answer your questions in their minds and, by doing so, become engaged in the conversation.

 

Joan Rivers has passed on but her talent, her humour, and her “can we talk” catch phrase will live on. The next time you are about to address an audience try whispering “can we talk” to yourself just before you take to the lectern. With that “can we talk” thought in your mind and by using some of the suggestions listed above you should be well on your way to turning your monologues into dialogues and conversing with your audience rather than simply speaking to them.

Cheers, Patrick

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Attending the TEDx Talks in Toronto

TEDx Talks and the Power of Connection

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend TEDxToronto at Koerner Hall in downtown Toronto. I’d been looking forward to the event as much for the opportunity to see Koerner hall as for the TEDx talks I was about to see.

Since opening in September 2009, the Hall has been celebrated as “a triumph of architecture and engineering” and lauded for “the seamless integration of superb acoustics, warmth of atmosphere, and beauty.” What better venue to experience the spoken word of a full day of informative and inspiring TEDx talks.

TEDx Talks Toronto
TEDx Talks at Koerner Hall

Our morning began with coffee and a round of networking on the three levels of glass walled lobbies that look out over Philosopher’s Walk at the University of Toronto. Everyone in the hall was enthusiastic and eager to meet new people. I got to speak with some fascinating people and traded business cards and contact info with a number of interesting people who I’d love to work with at some time in the future.

As the doors opened we filed into a concert hall that can only be described as spectacular. Large yet intimate, wood undulating across the ceiling like flowing garments caught in a gentle breeze, every seat offering a perfect view of the stage, the room was truly amazing.

The line-up of the TEDx talks for the day covered a wide array of topics. The first speaker was Ti-Anna Wang speaking about her father’s incarceration in China for his political activism. Her story was a compelling one and her speech set the tone for what was to follow.

Each and every speaker at those TEDx talks had a story to tell that we could all identify with and learn something from. The speeches ranged from compelling stories of individuals who have overcome daunting odds to a simple speech about the joys of preserving food.

Throughout all the speeches the bottom line was the connectedness between speaker and audience. We recognized a little bit of ourselves in the words they spoke, and the stories they told and the lives they lived. And, that’s what makes TEDx talks so successful. Each and every speaker, in some small way, represents us. We might not see ourselves in the same way another audience member sees themselves, or at the same part of a speech as another audience member but we all sense and feel the speaker’s humanity.

And, that’s what makes TEDx talks such a joy and an honour to attend. I’m already looking forward to next year’s TEDx talks.

Cheers, Patrick

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