Posts Tagged ‘presentation training’
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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In 2003, I traveled to Guatemala with a group of professional communicators from all over the world. We spent one particularly memorable day exploring the Mayan ruins in Tikal, climbing its tall structures and trekking through the forest. It was a magical experience.
But for some reason, the moment I remember best about that trip has nothing to do with the historical site. It has to do with a DJ.
On the last night of our trip, the conference organizers hired a disc jockey. I watched as the DJ struggled to find music that could fill the dance floor. The DJ was aware that we were an international crowd—but everything he played ended up segregating the audience.
If he played a Brazilian tune, the Brazilians would dance. If he played an American pop hit, the Americans and Europeans would dance. If he played something with an African rhythm, the Africans would dance. (Yes, a few people tried dancing to unfamiliar music, but they were the exceptions.)
Then something remarkable happened. The DJ played the first few notes of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley—and the dance floor filled up almost immediately. The Americans joined the Chileans, the Ghanaians joined the Filipinos.
The DJ, quite accidentally, had stumbled upon the universal language of music. Bob Marley was the one artist that, for whatever reason, united a diverse group of people from more than 15 countries. (The DJ was no dummy; he played several more Marley hits in a row.)
That made me think: What is the Bob Marley of public speaking? What is the universal language that unites audiences?
In their great book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath offer this answer:
“Find a ‘universal language,’ one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete.”
The Heaths point out that while experts will understand abstractions, non-experts will not. Concrete language, full of vivid detail, reaches both audiences. It unites experts and non-experts alike. In his book Lend Me Your Ears, author Max Atkinson offers similar advice:
“More difficult is to know how to approach it if the audience is made up of a mixture of specialists and non-specialists. The safest solution is to pitch it towards the non-specialists, as the specialists in the audience will…be aware of the different levels of expertise among those present.”
Practically speaking, what does that mean? It means anecdotes. Case studies. Stories. It means culling more abstract points out of your presentation—or supplementing them with broadly understandable examples.
Here’s an example.
Instead of saying this: “This bill got bottled up in committee.”
Say this: “The committee has 14 members. Only five of them support us. But there’s good news: that’s one more person than last year. I asked the member who changed his mind why he changed his mind, and he told me that he was deeply affected by the testimony he heard from a local resident named Trudy Hall. Last year, Trudy was diagnosed with… [insert anecdote].”
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Tags: Bob Marley, Chip and Dan Heath, Lend Me Your Ears, Made To Stick, Max Atkinson, presentation training, public speaking
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Ellen Page—the actress best known for roles in Juno and Hard Candy—came out yesterday during an emotional speech to a group of LGBT teens at a Human Rights Campaign conference in Las Vegas.
The speech has received a lot of buzz since she delivered it last night, and it’s easy to see why. It’s magnificent.
Ms. Page struck the perfect tone with her speech. Yes, this platform served as her public coming out—but even so, she made sure that the focus of her comments remained on the audience. This easily could have become an indulgent, self-focused speech, but she repeatedly returned the spotlight to the people in the audience who have already come out and are dealing with the issues that involves.
It was impossible to watch Page’s speech without noticing her fear. She spoke for five minutes before coming out—and because she knew what she was leading up to, she appeared vulnerable the entire time. But that was a good thing. Audiences often perceive authentic vulnerability as a gift from the speaker, and Page served as a perfect demonstration of that.
“I’m tired of hiding, and I’m tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationship suffered. And I’m standing here today with all of you on the other side of that pain.”
Even with her vulnerability, or perhaps because of it, Ms. Page was fully connected with the audience the entire time. She remained conversational but intense, nervous but focused.
And that leads me to a technical point. Ms. Page read her speech off of a teleprompter. But unlike the 99 percent of people who sound like they’re reading off a teleprompter, she didn’t. She infused each line with meaning, punching certain words and phrases for emphasis. Her acting background certainly helped there; she knows how to communicate the emotion behind each word. That’s a critical lesson for all public speakers who use a teleprompter.
Finally, she used a wonderful speaking device that bookended her speech. It involved the word “weird.” I won’t spoil it for you, but it was a delightful moment.
To the LGBT community, for whom these coming out speeches offer hope, Ms. Page’s speech served as a wonderful moment of inspiration. I only hope we’re nearing the point when these speeches become unnecessary, anachronisms from a less-accepting time.
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Tags: Ellen Page, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT, presentation training, public speaking
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I’ve always enjoyed looking at old photographs featuring groups of people.
The photo might be of a group of fraternity brothers from 1899. Or a junior high school class from 1912. Or a company’s board of directors from 1925.
The photo below, taken of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at Mississippi’s Jefferson College on June 24, 1884, is a perfect example of the type of photo I find thoroughly captivating.
Whenever I see one of these photos, I get lost imagining the life story for each person. Who was that man? What happened during the rest of his life? Did he get married? Have kids? Become famous? Get convicted of a crime? Invent a useful product? Live a life of quiet integrity? Suffer from a terminal disease? Live happily into old age?
I use these photographs to serve another, more practical purpose, as well. If I’m nervous before a speech or presentation, I’ll sometimes look at one of these photos to gain perspective (they can occasionally be found on the walls of the company or in the hallways of the hotel at which I’m speaking).
All of those people in the photograph are dead, I’ll think. And I’ll bet they were also anxious before these types of public presentations. Their concerns—as big as they seemed to them at the moment—were probably pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
I know that may sound morbid, but it gives me comfort. I might think: All of the people I’m speaking to today, including me, will be dead within 75 years. So don’t worry so much about being judged or imperfect. Go in, do your best, focus on their needs and not your own, have some fun, and chill out.
I recognize that may not help you manage your own speaking anxiety, but it occasionally helps me. Placing my public speaking nervousness into a greater perspective helps me see the big picture and relax. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t put everything you have into making your presentations great—you should—but rather that you place the worst-case scenario into its proper context.
It seems to me that this is probably a good philosophy to help guide the other parts of my life, as well.
What do you think? Is this morbid, helpful, or both? Please leave your thoughts in the comments sections below.
Tags: fear, presentation training, public speaking tips
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The conventional wisdom among media and presentation trainers is that saying “uh” or “um” during an interview or speech can prevent an audience from hearing your point.
In a recent post, I challenged that notion. I argued that verbal filler is a natural part of ordinary spoken communication. Michael Erard, the author of Um…:Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, estimates that about 5 to 8 percent of the words that normal speakers say every day involve an “uh,” “um,” or some other speech imperfection.
In excess, those verbal imperfections can interfere with effective communication. But an occasional “uh” or “um” is unlikely to distract an audience.
In fact, some fascinating research suggests that audiences actually remember more from speakers who do utter an occasional “uh” or “um.”
Here’s a summary of the study from The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois:
Could generations of speech coaches been wrong all these years? New research is showing that speakers shouldn’t discard those “ums” and “ahs” and other speech fillers if they want to be understood by listeners.
Duane Watson of the Cognitive Science group and Scott Fraundorf from his laboratory used a story recall task as part of an experiment that tested the mechanisms by which speech fillers affected memory for discourse. They used natural speech instead of “laboratory speech” and controlled for the extra processing time that fillers provide listeners. They discovered that the fillers actually facilitated recall for listeners.
“One finding that we had is that if you’re listening to a story or a speech, people remember the content better if the person says ‘uh’ and ‘um’ in it than if the story is completely fluent,” Watson said. “This is counter-intuitive, because if you go to a speech coach, they say don’t say uh and um.”
Why Does “Uh” and “Um” Improve Listener Recall?
“The task was for them to listen to it and then tell the story back,” Watson said. “We found that they’re better at it if uh and um is actually there. So we think that maybe those disfluencies are increasing the person’s attention.
“This is speculation, but if the speaker doesn’t know what they’re saying very well, you pay attention more because you think you need to work harder to get it.”
Watson’s last line, about the speaker not knowing what they’re saying very well, concerns me. No speaker should ever be in that position. But as he says, that’s speculation, and we can still take a larger point away from his study without getting distracted by his final point.
Here’s my advice: Don’t over-focus on a few uhs and ums along the way. If you do, you’ll probably under-focus on the flaws in your delivery that have an even greater impact on how the audience perceives you.
Of course, there are times that speakers use too many verbal fillers and distract their audiences from hearing their most important messages. If you think that might be happening to you, here’s an exercise that will help.
Thank you to reader Art Aiello, who pointed this story out to me.
Tags: Duane Watson, media training tips, Michael Erard, presentation training, public speaking tips, Um: Slips Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, verbal filler
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I am not a numbers person. But a well-told statistic tends to stick with me.
In our media training sessions, Brad and I emphasize the importance of using both stories and statistics to support your organization’s message. They’re a critical part of communications. But statistics are particularly important for data-driven audiences.
Still, it’s not enough to give even a data-friendly audience raw numbers. So what makes a well-told statistic? Context. A statistic expressed in a relatable manner will be memorable for your audience. They may not remember the number itself, but they’ll remember your central point. And in most cases, that will serve your purpose beautifully.
Recently, H&R Block launched a campaign with the best example of statistics in context that I’ve seen in a long time.
The reason this commercial works so well is that it places one billion dollars into a relatable context. One billion dollars is too much money for the average person to grasp — and if we divided that $1 billion by the number of taxpaying Americans, the number would be too small to make us care.
However, $500 on every stadium seat in America is something startling and memorable. We can imagine that amount of money and think, “Why am I not getting my share of that?” Mission accomplished.
In The Media Training Bible, Brad shares four additional ways to cite statistics:
1. Make numbers personal
Numbers are often best when reduced to a personal level. Instead of saying a tax cut would save Americans $100 billion this year, say the average family of four would receive $1,250 in tax relief.
2. Don’t rely on percentages
Instead of proclaiming that your company’s new energy-efficient manufacturing equipment will cut your plant’s carbon footprint by 35 percent, be more specific. Will that new efficiency save 20,000 gallons of oil this year, enough to fuel 36 company trucks for an entire year? Say so!
3. Use ratios
An estimated 170,000 people in Washington, DC, are functionally illiterate. But that number doesn’t tell you much, especially if you have no sense of the overall population. Instead, you might say:
“One in three adults living in Washington, DC, is functionally illiterate. Next time you’re on the Metro, look around you. Odds are that the person to your left or right can’t read a newspaper.”
4. Provide relative distance
If your car company is introducing an updated model, you’d be proud to announce that the improved version gets four miles more per gallon. But you’d get even more traction if you said, “That’s enough to get from Maine to Miami once per year—without spending an extra penny on gas.”
Christina Mozaffari tweets at @PMRChristina.
Tags: H&R Block, media training tips, presentation training, public speaking tips, statistics
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If you tell an audience everything, you’ve told them nothing. People can only take in so much information in any given amount of time, and loading them with too many new facts can prevent them from absorbing your most important one.
That’s obvious, I know, but many speakers—even some of the smartest, most thoughtful people I know—try to put too much content into their presentations. As a result, the main point they really want to shine through gets obscured by an overabundance of rhetorical clutter.
So I often ask my clients a deceptively simple question: What is your big, shiny object?
Your big, shiny object is your most important point—the one you want your audience to walk out of your presentation remembering more than any other. Because it’s big and shiny, and because you’re holding it out for the audience’s examination, they can’t help but to see it.
But as you add additional points, picture your big, shiny object getting covered with a thin layer of dust. You can still see the object, but it’s not quite as brilliant as it once was.
As you add unrelated points, picture your big, shiny object getting covered with a thin layer of moss. The object’s brilliance is now in question, because all you can see is a ball with only a few small uncovered areas of brightness still peeking through.
As you deliver your presentation without emphasizing the most important point with a verbal and physical delivery that indicates clearly that THIS IS THE KEY POINT, picture your big, shiny object becoming a dull concrete wrecking ball. It’s no longer brilliant. It’s just an unremarkable object that’s taking up a lot space and weighing down your speech.
Your job as a speaker is to identify your big, shiny object long before you hit the stage. If you go into your presentation with that clarity, your audience will walk away afterward sharing that same clarity.
As you put together your presentations, review every point you’re planning to make and ask yourself this question: “Does this point help people see, understand, care about, and/or act upon my big, shiny object?” If not, it’s a good sign that you should probably cut that point, for it would only serve to obscure, not illuminate.
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Tags: presentation training
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