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

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!

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.

Loving Communication

Xmas OrnamentIt’s the Holiday Season; let people know you love them.

During our day to day lives we often allow our actions to speak for us in letting our loved ones know how we feel about them. Hopefully, our actions speak loudly and clearly.

However, during the Holiday Season, wouldn’t it be nice to use the power of communication to take that message to a higher level.

When I say communication, I’m not talking about a highfalutin, ornate, or complicated process. I’m talking about the simple sharing of a heartfelt “I love you.”

As we say at Sliding.ca: Clear, Concise, Compelling.

Have a Happy Holiday and a Prosperous New Year.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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