Archive for the ‘Presentation Training’ Category
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Kylie Johnson, a communications professional based in Sydney.
I was giving a workshop on the psychology of digital media. I wore a beautiful red dress, held together with a zip down the back.
It was the ultimate professional dress for a girl with an hourglass figure. No cleavage, flattering, mid length, etc.
So, there I was, sitting in front of the class talking about Jungian archetypes when I realized the dress was feeling loose. I’d lost some weight so I was congratulating myself.
Then I realized I could actually feel the air conditioning…on my back. Yes, the zip had come apart and the dress was starting to fall off.
I rapidly went through my options. Pretending nothing was happening was clearly never going to work. The dress was about to drop off completely and this was a three-hour workshop.
There was no option but to say ‘in case you’ve failed to notice, my dress is falling off’ and make a joke of it. What happened next was wonderful.
The women ran to me with safety pins, scarves, jackets, etc. The men sat rigid in their seats and did nothing. I spoke to one of them later, and he said ‘oh, we were just waiting to see what happened next.’ Another said ‘oh, we weren’t doing nothing.’’ Bless him.
So, what did happen next? How to rescue the situation? I laughed – gave them an exercise to do and escaped (backwards) to the bathroom where I fixed up the dress as best I could. I then made the dress a running gag throughout the next three hours. Of course I sat very, very still. I had their full attention!
The result? Three new clients (no, not just the men) and an invitation to return for another workshop next month.
Someone once said, if you can’t hide a flaw, highlight it and turn it into a feature! It actually worked in my favor. No one ever forgot that workshop although I’m not sure everyone remembers what I said…
Tags: Kylie Johnson, presentation disaster, public speaking nightmares
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A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel discussion.
The organizer didn’t provide me with much detail in advance, so I emailed a few times to learn more about the panel. “It’s just a loose conversation about the media,” he told me. “No need to prepare anything specific.”
I asked whether I should prepare any opening remarks. He told me that there wouldn’t be any and that he’d jump straight into the conversation.
As the four of us on the panel took our seats, the organizer/moderator introduced us. Then, without warning, he said: “We’ll begin with each panelist giving five minutes of opening remarks. We’ll start with Brad Phillips.”
I’ve written before about that “oh, shit” moment, where your physiological symptoms overwhelm you as the fight or flight syndrome kicks in. My heart started thumping.
I had mere seconds to decide what to do. I could have complained that he hadn’t informed me in advance that I’d need an opening statement (although, curiously, he seemed to have informed the other panelists). I could have informed the audience that although I wasn’t prepared, I’d do the best I could. Or I could have asked for someone else to go first.
Instead, I decided to fight through it. I gave an opening statement. On the plus side, the words I uttered were in English—but that was about the only thing I had going for me. My opening statement lacked a central theme, a sense of importance, and any type of organization. As a presentation coach, I’d give it a “C-.”
Since then, I’ve learned to formulate my impromptu comments using a sandwich formula, with the main point at the beginning and end of my comments, supplemented by an example or two in the middle. Alternatively, you might try the “reverse sandwich” formula, which places your examples at the beginning and end of your comments, anchored by the main point in the middle.
In hindsight, I made the right decision to proceed without excuse. But I’ll never walk into a panel presentation again without a well-formed opening and closing statement ready to go.
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Tags: presentation disasters, public speaking nightmares
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This week, we’re focusing on public speaking horror stories—mine and yours. (Please leave yours in the comments section below!)
Reader Susan Martin wrote in with a rather embarrassing moment:
“I was media training a high-profile physician, and part of the presentation included advice for doing interviews via Skype. To demonstrate the importance of camera angle and an uncluttered background, I planned to show her an interview another doctor had done recently that was posted on a news website. It had a commercial for hand lotion at the start, but that was only a few seconds long. However …. when I played it during the training session, that inoffensive hand lotion was nowhere to be seen. Instead it was an ad for some kind of “feminine odor” spray, and it was the longest 20 seconds of my life. We quickly moved on and the physician was very kind and did not remark on it. But I never played a live video from a website again!”
I feel your pain. No, I’ve never run a commercial for a feminine body spray, but I’ve had more than a few glitches with streaming video during live presentations. Sometimes it’s unavoidable (if the video is not downloadable for some reason), and I always hold my breath when hitting “play.” In my experience, streaming video in front of a live audience works only about 80 percent of the time.
In an effort to prevent live streaming video glitches, I download videos from YouTube using Freemake Video Downloader and insert the videos into PowerPoint. That usually works well, and it prevents me from having to rely on a live stream. And good news: if I’m reading the Freemake Facebook page correctly, you can edit the commercials out.
As a final precaution, I also load the videos as a live stream at the event venue before speaking. That way, if the PowerPoint crashes or the video has some sort of glitch, I can at least toggle over to the “live” version as a backup.
Thank you for sharing your public speaking horror story, Susan! I appreciate you reminding all of us of the dangers of streaming live video, whether it’s for an audience of one or one thousand.
Please leave your public speaking horror story—and your lessons learned—in the comments section below.
Tags: presentation disasters, public speaking nightmares, Susan Martin
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A few years ago, I was hired to give a keynote speech to a group of about 100 PR professionals.
I wanted to make this presentation special—completely tailored to this group—and spent a lot of time preparing a personal keynote.
The open I created felt particularly strong. I practiced it several times until I got the timing and wording just right. I was confident that the open would not only get a laugh, but that it would set the stage for the entire talk by establishing a theme I planned to return to numerous times. This was a sure winner, and I couldn’t wait to deliver it.
On the morning of the keynote, I waited a few extra minutes before beginning so the latecomers could find their seats without disrupting my open. When everyone appeared to be seated, I signaled to my host that he should begin his introduction of me.
He introduced me, I strode to the center of the room, and I opened my talk.
I was about one minute into the open when the doors to the room swung open. In walked four members of the catering team, who proceeded to refresh the drink and snack stations quite noisily. As they slammed ice into the ice chest and set the coffee station, the entire audience turned toward the loud disruption. The noise continued for what felt like a lifetime (but what was probably about a minute).
To prevent any awkwardness, I decided to continue speaking—but the interruption stole the audience’s attention and broke my flow. The open’s punch line landed with less impact than it should have, and my critical moment to establish the presentation’s framework was, at least partially, diminished.
In hindsight, there are a few things I could have done differently.
1. Speak to the host and catering manager in advance
It would have been perfectly appropriate to ask to speak with the catering manager when I arrived to the speaking venue. I could have asked the manager when they planned to refresh service and to come up with a mutually convenient moment to do so (preferably before or after my presentation).
2. Ask the catering staff to come back later
The moment I realized that the catering crew was going to create a noisy disturbance, I could have asked them to return later. The key would be to make sure my tone toward the crew wasn’t even remotely rude; any whiff of condescension would have made everyone in the room uncomfortable. Rather, I’d have to make sure my tone came across as apologetic and kind (“Pardon me. I’m sorry to ask you to do this, but we’re just getting started here. Would it be possible to please come back during our first break in about an hour? Thank you so much.”)
3. Hit the pause button
This is my least favorite option of the three, but it might still have been better than trying to speak over the din. I could have said, “I want to make sure you’re all able to hear without distraction, so why don’t we give the catering crew a few moments to do their work, and then I’ll resume?”
This is “public speaking horror story week.” What speaking horror stories have you faced? Please leave your experiences and lessons learned in the comments section below.
Tags: presentation disasters, public speaking nightmares
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Many years ago, I was hired to speak to a group of about 80 people.
The client requested a format I was uncomfortable leading. She wanted to do a message development workshop with all 80 people in the room, something my gut told me was doomed to fail. Message development sessions can be challenging to begin with—but if they’re not contained to a small, core group of people, they can be difficult to control and unwieldy.
I accepted the job—my first mistake—but was determined to make it work. From the moment I kicked off the session, it became clear that there was nothing even close to consensus in the group. There were different factions with contrasting opinions, each lacking any willingness to compromise.
Using every bit of skill and knowledge that I’d acquired up to that point, I was able to move the group forward, if only a little. But I felt “off” the entire time.
And then it happened. When walking up the stairs from the floor to the platform, I tripped.
I’m not talking about one of those subtle trips where your foot catches the top of a stair and you’re able to catch yourself with one hand. No, I’m talking about one of those face-plant trips, where your papers fly out of your hand, and your body hitting the stage makes a tremendous thud.
I felt my face reddening. I was mortified. Because I was already feeling “off,’’ that slip felt like the culmination of a bad day—and made me feel like a giant failure. I stood up and continued, barely acknowledging that anything had happened. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
In hindsight (and now, with many more years of experience), I would have handled that much differently.
First, I would have remembered that such moments make the audience uncomfortable. My job as a speaker was to stand up, smile, and let the audience know I was alright and remained in control. Although a natural tendency in those moments is to speed up, I would have been better served to slow down for a moment, calmly collect my papers, and pause before continuing.
Second, I would have handled the moment with humor. For example, I could have:
Approached someone in the audience and jokingly whispered, “You don’t think anyone saw that, do you?”
Said, “Perhaps that’s a sign that the third message isn’t quite there yet?”
Or, if it was a friendly crowd said, “From now on, if you don’t like one of these messages, please raise your hand instead of greasing the stairs.”
These incidents—as awful as they feel in the moment—are also wonderful opportunities to exhibit your competence. When it happens to you, slow down, convey a sense of control, and don’t be afraid to laugh at your human imperfection.
Have a public speaking horror story? Please leave it in the comments section below, along with the lesson you learned from that moment.
Tags: presentation disasters
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This week, I’ll focus on public speaking horror stories—mine and yours.
The goal isn’t simply to share fun stories about the public speaking nightmares we’ve all experienced (although I’ll admit that they can make for fun reading). Rather, my hope is to use those experiences to share lessons about what others should do if faced with a similar situation.
I’ll post a few of my own horror stories this week, but I’d also like to post yours!
Please leave your personal public speaking horror stories in the comments section below. In addition to sharing the story, please leave some advice for people who may face the same situation. Now that you’ve had time to think about what went wrong, what would you do differently?
I’ll post a few of your excerpts throughout the week. I look forward to learning from you!
Tags: public speaking, public speaking nightmares
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You’re in middle of a presentation when someone asks a question about a topic you planned to cover later in your talk. You’re faced with a choice: You can answer the question—which may throw off the sequence of your presentation—or you can tell the questioner you plan on covering that material later.
What’s the right thing to do in those moments? In a recent article for Inc.com, author Jeff Haden wrote this:
“If you happen to stumble on an audience eager to learn and interact, grab that chance and enjoy it. If someone has a question you will address in a later slide just skip to it right away. If someone is brave enough to raise their hand and ask you a question, compliment them and invite the rest of the audience to do the same. Never delay anything.”
Although Mr. Haden’s advice is right some of the time, I disagree with his absolutist stance. Context matters. Below, you’ll find six options to consider when faced with this circumstance.
1. Set the rules before you begin
There are five times you can take questions from your audience; tell your audience which one you’ve chosen during your opening remarks. Generally, I take questions throughout my presentations—particularly in smaller sessions in which audience participation is beneficial—but there are exceptions, such as when I speak to larger crowds.
2. Make them wait
Like Mr. Haden, my instinct is generally to try to answer the question in the moment. But there are times that’s not the case. As an example, if someone interrupts a powerful story with an irrelevant question, it could undermine the entire impact of the anecdote. It’s okay to defer those questions to later in your presentation.
3. Answer the question now
When it’s not disruptive to do so, answer the audience member’s question in the moment. As Mr. Haden suggested, doing so encourages the type of audience behavior you usually want—engagement and participation. Taking questions in the moment is also of value to you as a speaker, since it offers you immediate feedback about what your audience may or may not understand or be interested in.
4. Short answer now, long answer later
I like this hybrid approach, because it both honors the questioner and allows you to cover the material in the most persuasive sequence possible. In this case, you might answer a question by saying, “The short answer is yes, although there are a few situations in which that’s not the case. I’ll go into detail on those three situations shortly.” When you do cover that material later, check back in with the questioner to make sure you’ve sufficiently addressed their concerns. This type of hybrid response also prevents you from having to utter the rather graceless, “Well, I was going to cover that later, but I guess I’ll just answer that now.”
5. Determine the question’s relevance
Before deciding to make the questioner wait for an answer, quickly assess how relevant their question is. If it’s a question many other people in the audience are likely to have, you might consider answering it before moving on. If it’s of more limited appeal, it’s less of a risk to come back to the topic later.
6. Consider the type of presentation—and your audience
If your presentation is designed to inform or educate, I’d almost always answer the question in the moment. But that might not be the case if you’re making a persuasive argument and it would be counterproductive to reveal your conclusion before you’ve given the audience the context they need to understand your final recommendation. Answer questions that help clarify your content, but resist the urge to jump ahead to your conclusion before you’ve sufficiently laid the groundwork.
Of course, that might be harder to pull off if the questioner is your company’s CEO or a prospective customer. In those cases, it’s probably best to answer their questions on their time frame, not yours.
Tags: Advanced Presentation Training Tips, Advanced Public Speaking Tips, presentation training, public speaking tips
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You may recognize the title of this post as a famous quote from Mark Twain. But I had never heard that quote when, in 1998, I was tasked with running the intern program for ABC News’ Nightline.
We received hundreds of applications for that year’s coveted summer internship, for which we only had four open slots. I culled the hundreds of applications down to about 20, and then conducted phone interviews with each of the finalists.
Sixteen years later, I still remember one of the phone interviews. The applicant had been performing well enough—but then I asked him a question he clearly hadn’t anticipated. He asked if he could take a few moments before answering the question. The phone then went dead. Not for three, or five, or ten seconds, but for close to fifteen.
He then answered the question. It was a good answer, but that wasn’t what impressed me. Rather, it was his confidence in pausing and thinking before rushing into an answer. Anyone with that much confidence and poise deserved a shot, I thought.
He got the job.
His approach to answering that question stood out precisely because it was unusual. But it shouldn’t be. All of us should be able to stop and think for a moment before rushing into an answer—and as my experience with this intern demonstrated, that pause can enhance an audience’s view of you.
That sounds deceptively simple. In my experience, even when I coach a presentation training client immediately before their practice Q&A session to pause before answering a question, they forget the moment it begins.
That’s understandable, because answering questions without a pause in everyday communication is reflexive, even normal. So for presentations, you have to work actively to subdue that reflex (you can also pause when answering questions in some non-live media interview settings).
The pause has many benefits for you as a speaker: It buys you time to form a better answer, it allows you to deliver that answer with greater confidence, and it often eliminates your verbal filler. It also gives your audience a moment to think, to engage with your content in their own terms.
A pause can also make you appear more thoughtful to an audience, but only if you do it the right way. Pauses can look either purposeful—and therefore be perceived as effective—or as a sign that you’re slow of thought, which is obviously a problem. The key is to be deliberate. Either say something similar to my former intern (“I’d like a moment to think about that”) or communicate the same message through your body language.
The best part of this advice? You can begin practicing this immediately, the next time someone asks you a question.
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Tags: Mark Twain, Nightline, pausing, presentation training, public speaking
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