How To Never Attend A Boring Presentation Again

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 30, 2014 – 6:02 am

I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a good friend’s daughter.

My friend made a few remarks at the reception—and during his comments, he mentioned that he was nervous to speak given that I, a presentation trainer, was in the audience. “I had a nightmare that Brad wrote a story for his blog that had the five biggest mistakes from my speech,” he quipped.

It turns out that he had nothing to worry about. He did a terrific job and infused his speech with good humor (one highlight came when he told the 13-year-old boys interested in courting his beautiful daughter, “Gentlemen, I look forward to getting to know you over the next few years.”).

But he’s right that I’m always watching other speakers—not necessarily to be critical, but to learn from them. And that means that I almost never attend a boring presentation.

Boring Seminar

Clients leaving our training sessions often remark that they’ll never watch a presentation the same way again. Instead, they’ll pay closer attention to every speaker they watch, noting why the good parts worked and why the bad parts didn’t. They no longer play the role of passive audience member; instead, they remain actively engaged from start to finish.

The next time you attend a “boring” presentation, conduct a mental exercise and ask yourself these types of questions: If I had to present the same information, what would I do differently? Would I have used a more compelling open, a better-designed PowerPoint slide, a group activity, or something else? Would I have abandoned the lectern, conveyed more enthusiasm, or engaged the audience with a topic for discussion?

If you approach attending “boring” presentations in that manner, you’ll never be bored again. But you will learn—and you will improve as a speaker.

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Say This 10 Times: “I Am Not A Wikipedia Page!”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 22, 2014 – 9:00 pm

“Our company was founded in 1922.”

Whenever I hear a speaker say something like that, I think, Who cares? That piece of information, presented without context, could lead the audience to have one of two reactions:

1. “Wow, they’ve been doing this a long time. They must know what they’re doing.”

2. “Wow, they’re old. I wonder if they’re a traditional company that’s too slow to embrace change.”

I often tell speakers to stop being their company’s Wikipedia page by merely listing factual information. Their job during a presentation isn’t to list facts, but to create a useful context into which those facts fit. 

 

Wikipedia

In the above example, the speaker should have said something closer to this:

“Our company was founded in 1922. Our industry has gone through three major transformations from then to now—and the only reason we’ve been able to continue our growth is because we have the experience to identify and embrace tomorrow’s trends before everyone else.”

Here’s another example. Don’t simply state that you have 18 offices around the world. Instead, infuse that fact with meaning, and say:

“We’re a global events planning company. We can help you plan top-notch events in New York and Los Angeles, but also in Mexico City, Berlin, Mumbai, Johannesburg, and 12 other major international cities. And if you want to plan an event in a city outside of those 18 locations, our closest regional office can successfully plan it for you from there, as we did in 145 cities last year alone.”

As you practice for your next presentation, pay close attention to the moments when you’re verging on becoming a context-free, facts-only presenter. Then, repeat this mantra: “I am not a Wikipedia page!” and add meaning to those facts.

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What These 1990s Songs Teach You About Public Speaking

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 18, 2014 – 6:02 am

In the 1990s, we were rico suave and too legit to quit. We lived la vida loca and smelled like teen spirit. We wore gold-colored hammer pants and flannel. We went to Lollapalooza and the Lilith Fair. We listened to grunge, Britpop, and hip hop.

Nostalgia for the 90s has never been greater. In this post, you’ll find public speaking lessons based on 13 huge hits from the 1990s—from superstars like Paula Abdul and Guns N’ Roses to one-hit wonders like Chumbawamba. 

I hope you enjoy this post! If you do, please help this blog grow by sharing this post through your social networks and signing up for our free weekly newsletter. You can opt out at any time. And now, on with the 90s! 

Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way

 

Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)

Great speakers often provide the person introducing them with a pre-written and attention-grabbing introduction. When they hit the stage after being introduced, they seize the audience’s attention from the first word by using a compelling opening. Sir Mix-a-Lot did exactly that by having two white women introduce his song by criticizing the size of a black woman’s butt—and then rebutting them with an attention-grabbing opening that has survived more than two decades: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” One other note: the attention-grabber was tied directly to his message, which was about the unrealistic expectations magazines like Cosmo put on a woman’s shape.

Note: After posting this story, Sir Mix-A-Lot responded on Twitter:

Sir Mix a Lot Tweet

 

Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

According to a fascinating piece of research, boy bands use the word “you” more than any other word. Perhaps the boys of ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Hanson were onto something. By using the pronoun “you,” they directed their message straight into the hearts of their mostly younger, female fans. The word “you” has that power, and great speakers use it often to deliver their personal-sounding messages to each individual audience member. As an example, this Backstreet Boys classic uses the word “you” or “your” no fewer than 20 times—and “you” is the first word in the song.

 

 

Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (1996)

Okay, so none of the incidents described in Morissette’s “Ironic” are actually ironic. But her rapid-fire series of mini vignettes (a man terrified of flying who conquered his fear, boarded a plane, and crashed; the old man who won the lottery and died the next day; meeting the man of your dreams only to find that he’s married) offers a terrific template for speakers. The “short vignettes” opening can be an effective starter. As an example, a physician might open by describing the ailments suffered by three patients, with each mini anecdote receiving no more than 10-15 seconds of detail.

 

 

Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1993)

Whitney Houston’s record label hated the idea of a 45-second a cappella introduction to this song, but her instincts to keep it were right. According to Rolling Stone,after 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, it set the record for the longest run at Number One on the charts.” Her unique intro stood out from almost all of the other pop music on the charts at the time—her moments of breathy silence in between lyrics broke the pattern—and that’s a lesson all speakers should remember. Speakers can break the pattern by pausing, blacking out presentation slides after using them for a few minutes, or distributing a handout to the audience (among many other ways).

 

 

Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” (1992)

As a general rule, it’s better to speak for too short than too long. But if a great movie can hold your attention for two-and-a-half hours, shouldn’t a great speaker be able to hold your attention for longer than the typical 50-minute conference breakout session? Guns N’ Roses pushed back against the typical constraints of pop radio, which restricts most songs to about four minutes. In 1992, their nine-minute hit “November Rain” made it to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the “longest song in history to enter the top ten of that chart,” according to Wikipedia—and proving that longer can be better if the song—or speech—is good enough.

 

 

TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995)

TLC’s terrific mid-90s hit song (and award-winning video) delivered a straightforward, unambiguous, and easy to act-upon call to action: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” Similarly, speakers (depending on the purpose of the speech) should offer a simple and direct call to action. How important is a call to action? In one study, the “jerks” who received a direct call to action acted more charitably than the “saints” who didn’t. 

 

 

 

Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1997)

Like TLC, the Spice Girls offer a formula for a successful call to action: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want.” If your audience doesn’t understand the next steps they’re supposed to take after hearing you speak, they won’t take any. Some research suggests that asking for a small and easily accomplished call to action is a good way to begin, since a small action often leads to bigger future actions. 

 

 

Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997)

When Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997, Elton John repurposed his 1970s hit “Candle In The Wind.” Whereas the original was about Marilyn Monroe, Elton John changed the lyrics to become about “England’s Rose.” This is relevant for speakers who tend to deliver similar information to different audiences. With minor but important tweaks and modifications, “generic” presentations can become immediately relevant to the specific audience to which the speakers are presenting. The heart of your presentation may be the same—but the audience will feel that you’ve created it just for them. 

 

 

Los del Rio, “Macarena” (1995)

Let’s face it: this was a terrible song with a video to match. But the men of Los del Rio were onto something when they followed in the footsteps of other artists who wrote songs that became popular dances (e.g. “The Twist,” “The Hand Jive,” “Da Butt,” “Vogue,” “Conga,” “The Electric Slide”). These songs became staples at weddings and proms because they involved the audience in a meaningful way. The analogy to public speaking is obvious.

 

 

Extreme, “More Than Words” (1991)

In their gorgeous ballad, Extreme pointed out that there is a difference between verbal communication and body language: “More than words / is all you have to do to make it real / then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me / ‘cause I’d already know.” As Extreme pointed out, words are only one way to deliver a message—and they’re often not enough on their own. To be truly effective, words need to be fully connected to the body language associated with them. In some cases, that means that your tone is as important—or even more important—than the words you choose. And great speakers have the ability to use their faces and bodies to communicate certain key points without any words at all.

 

 

R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly” (1997)

Given his history, R. Kelly may seem like an odd choice to deliver such an inspirational ballad. But his song about positive self-talk is a great internal monologue for all speakers to remember before hitting the stage: “If I can see it, then I can do it / If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it / I believe I can fly.” Many speakers say they benefit from that type of “positive visualization” by visualizing the audience’s enthusiastic response to them before they walk onto the stage and begin their speech.

 

 

Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping” (1998)

Despite your positive visualization, there’s still a chance you might bomb your presentation. That’s where this song comes in: “I get knocked down / But I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down.” With its pick-yourself-up-and-try-again lyrics, it’s a good reminder that most of us are going to deliver a dud once in a while. But your next audience won’t know that you didn’t succeed with your last audience, so it’s important not to bring that imperfect history into your new talk. Every presentation offers an opportunity to succeed anew—if you don’t self-sabotage it with your negative self-talk.

 

 

Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract” (1990)

The video for Paula Abdul’s hit “Opposites Attract” featured MC Skat Kat, an animated cat that performed choreographed dance moves with her. The video was so popular that it won a Grammy Award. It’s a good reminder to speakers that in order to stand out, visuals need to be more engaging than bullets and words on a screen. Get creative—use compelling images, relevant multimedia elements, well-designed handouts, or anything else you can think of that will bring your main points to life in a more memorable manner than audiences are used to.

 

 

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For How Many Seconds Should You Make Eye Contact?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 9, 2014 – 12:02 am

If you read a few public speaking books, you’ll probably come across conflicting advice about how long you should maintain eye contact with an audience member before moving on to someone else.

Here are a few examples from writers whose insight I respect:

In You Are The Message, Roger Ailes writes: “As you move from small group to small group—or from individual to individual—in the audience, linger for a few seconds.”

On his website “Six Minutes,” public speaking blogger Andrew Dlugan recommends that speakers “Sustain eye contact with someone for a few seconds, then move on.”

In 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, Susan Weinschenk gets slightly more specific: “Spend 2 to 3 seconds looking at one person, then move to another person.”

In Presentation Skills 201, William R. Steele agrees: “Look at someone just long enough that you both feel the connection (two or three seconds) and then move on.

Businesspeople Spying on Each Other

Presentations That Persuade and Motivate, published by the Harvard Business Press, recommends doubling that time: “Make eye contact for five or six seconds with people in the front, left and right, and the back.”

In Speak With Confidence, Dianna Booher dispenses with that approach, advising speakers to focus not on seconds, but on sentences: “Delivering one or two sentences to each person establishes a bond of intimacy with individual listeners.” 

Jerry Weissman’s The Power Presenter has similar advice, but recommends less time-per-person: “Deliver one phrase to that person. Pause. Move to another person and deliver one phrase to that person.”

Who’s Right?

All of the writers above offered similar advice, but with meaningful variations. A few of them noted that although a specific number of seconds (or words) could serve as a helpful general guideline, the  specific amount of time was less important than what happens during the eye contact—a genuine connection between speaker and audience member. I agree with that.

In my experience, giving speakers a specific timeline to follow gets them too far inside their heads. Instead of focusing on being truly in the moment during their presentations, they suddenly find themselves doing mental math: “One second—two-seconds—three seconds—okay, I need to look at a new person now.

The most useful guideline I can offer is this: You shouldn’t say a word unless you’re looking someone in the eye and making a connection with that person. (If there’s any “rule” beyond that, it should be that you don’t dart your eyes so quickly from person to person that you fail to make a connection.) That’s all you have to remember. Don’t talk to the wall, the floor, the ceiling, your notes, your laptop, or the screen projecting your PowerPoint slides. By remembering to speak into someone’s eyes, every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph you utter will help you forge a meaningful connection.

If, after all of that, you’re still seeking a numerical formula, remember this excellent piece of advice from Andrew Dlugan: “There’s no magic minimum or maximum; you’ll just know.”

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Public Speaking Tip: Start With The Chorus, Not The Verse

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 1, 2014 – 4:02 am

The Beatles reached the top of the pop charts in 1964 with their hit song “She Loves You.”

Most pop songs of that era—and every subsequent era—started with the verse and built to the chorus. That formula was such a typical pop song construction that the band Genesis released an album and song in 1981 called ABACAB. As guitarist Mike Rutherford explained, the band used the letters to represent different parts of the band’s songs.

“A” represented the verse. “B” represented the chorus. “C” represented the bridge.

Listen to pop songs on the radio today, and you’ll hear that most of them still conform to a similar formula. As an example, Miley Cyrus’s recent hit “Wrecking Ball” uses a “A-B-A-B-C-A-B” formula.

But “She Loves You” was different. It flipped the typical formula and started with the chorus, or “B,” the giant hook that grabbed the audience immediately.

That leads to a question: Are there times when you should begin your presentations with the chorus instead of the verse?

As The Beatles would say, yeah, yeah, yeah. You shouldn’t do it for every speech, but flipping the formula occasionally to begin with your chorus is a great tool to add to your toolbox.

Beatles She Loves You

Doing so is more common than you might think. Consider the prosecutor who opens a trial with this statement:

“By the end of this trial, I intend to prove that the defendant is guilty of murder.”

That opening salvo is the chorus. The evidence the prosecutor introduces during the trial is the verse. Here’s another example of beginning with the chorus from a more typical workplace setting:

“Good morning. We’ve made our choice. Our recommendation is Mega Corporation. You asked us to choose which of three companies should become our main supplier, and after careful review, it wasn’t even close. Mega Corporation is our runaway winner. For the next half hour, we’ll explain why.” 

That may not seem like much, but that same presentation is usually delivered with a careful comparison of the three companies, with the final recommendation coming at the end. Verse first, then the chorus.

Flipping the script is one powerful way to grab your audience’s attention from the start. Consider the typical structure of the presentation you’re about to give—and then decide whether you want to keep the “A” first or flip the script and begin with your “B”  instead.

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Another Sentence To Banish From Your Presentations

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 22, 2014 – 6:02 am

I often work with presenters who lack energy during their first practice speech. When we watch their videos back together, most people see for themselves that they fell a bit flat. Then we discuss how to fix the problem.

We discuss what parts of their presentation they feel truly excited about—then we look for ways for that passion to shine through in a manner that feels genuine to the speaker. Looking for the thing behind the thing (read more about that here) often unleashes their passion.

But then a curious thing happens during the next practice round.

Successful speech

When the trainees get up to deliver their second practice speech, I often hear them insert a new sentence they didn’t utter during the first round:

“I’m really excited to be here.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that sentence (or its equivalents), but I’ve concluded that speakers shouldn’t use it. Why? Because I’d prefer they show their enthusiasm through their delivery, not tell people they’re excited through their words.

Trying to seem more excited simply by saying those words usually doesn’t work. It’s an ineffective fixative, since the line too often comes across without the enthusiasm the line demands. As a result, it typically comes across as forced.

Plus, telling people “I’m excited!” feels like the equivalent of an actor breaking character to tell the audience, “This next scene is going to be awesome!” The actor would never do that, of course—a great scene doesn’t require such an announcement. Neither does a great presentation.

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Six Things To Do When You’re Stumped By A Question

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 10, 2014 – 6:02 am

One of the greatest fears public speakers have is being confronted by a question they don’t know the answer to.

Admittedly, there are times when not knowing an answer can make a presenter look bad. If you’re a political candidate who can’t answer a question about your own economic plan, for example, you’re going to receive negative media coverage. But in the vast majority of cases, not knowing an answer is okay—if you handle it well.

This post will offer you six ways to handle a question that stumps you.

 

Man Clueless or Perplexed About Something

1. Pause

Letting a few seconds elapse between a question and your response may feel like an eternity to you—but it doesn’t to the audience. Pausing to think also conveys to the audience that you’re taking their questions seriously, not offering canned answers.

2. Punt

If you’re temporarily unable to think of an answer, you can tell the questioner that you’d like to think about the question for a few minutes and that you’ll come back to them later (“That’s an important issue, and I’d like to think about it for a few minutes before responding.”).

3. Ask Them To Elaborate

Ask questioners to elaborate upon their main point. Oftentimes, people become more specific when they restate their question, which makes it easier for you to understand and respond.

4. Turn To The Audience

Don’t be afraid to use your audience as a resource. If stumped, you can ask the audience to share their knowledge and experience with the questioner (“I know we have some people in the audience who have dealt with that issue before. How have you handled it?”).

5. Tell Them What You Know

Sometimes, knowing a specific answer isn’t as important as providing a general response. In those cases, it’s okay to tell the questioner what you do know, not what you don’t. As an example, if you work for an office supply company and someone asks what percentage of your sales last year were for recycled paper, you might say, “I don’t know the specific number, but what I can tell you is that recycled paper sales continue to grow steadily and we’ve given more shelf space to the product due to increased consumer demand.” You might pair that response with the final tip below.

6. Use These Seven Words

This final point is a critical one that should permanently eradicate most of your fears about being stumped. If you don’t know an answer, just say these seven words: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Then, follow up as promised. If you have a website, blog, or social media account, you can even tell your audience that you’ll post the answer within 48 hours for anyone who’s interested. That seven-word sentence is an especially powerful resource for speakers with perfectionist tendencies, since it reminds them that they’re allowed to be—and should be—human in front of their audiences.

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Seven Rules Of Engagement For Managing Q&A (Part Two)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 9, 2014 – 6:02 am

In yesterday’s post, you learned the first four rules of engagement for managing the all-important Q&A period. In today’s post, you’ll learn three more.

5. Keep Your Answers Brief

You’ve worked hard during your presentation to remain focused on your big shiny object and choose your words with precision. Apply that same discipline to the audience Q&A, and avoid the far-too-common problem of speakers who offer six-minute rambles where 30-second answers would suffice.

Long answers chill the room. Audience members are quick to detect the pattern of a speaker who offers seemingly endless answers—and their questions quickly dry up when they realize further questions would subject them to another interminable monologue.

Keep your answers short. Aim for one minute or less. If you’re generally successful at keeping your answers succinct, the audience will forgive an occasional extended response.

Answering Audience Questions African American Man iStockPhoto PPT

 

6. Draw Out Your Audience

When speakers ask their audience for questions, they often see a collection of blank stares facing back at them. That moment is understandably difficult for many presenters—two seconds of quiet feels like an eternity—so they conclude that the audience has nothing to say and end the session after just a few seconds of silence.

As a professional presenter, I’ve encountered audiences that are quieter than others. But almost all of them can be drawn out—if you create a climate that encourages interaction.

Let’s say you begin by asking, “What questions or thoughts do you have about my proposal?” No one responds. Here are a few things you could try next:

Wait: People detest a vacuum. Long silences are uncomfortable. If you simply stand confidently and wait, someone in the audience will usually speak up.

Ask the Audience a Question: If no one speaks up after several seconds of silence, you can ask the audience a question. (“During my presentation, I mentioned one possible approach to raise more money from donors by selling licensed merchandise. What advantages or disadvantages do you see with that approach?”) If no one responds, you can call on a few people.

Prompt the First Question: To ease the audience in, you can bring up and answer a question that you’re often asked about your topic—or a question that you had to contemplate when developing your presentation.

End the Session: Gracefully thank your audience, deliver your second close, and invite the audience to approach you with any thoughts or questions after the session ends. Don’t assume that the audience’s lack of feedback was a sign of failure (and don’t convey, through your words or body language, that you thought it was). You may have been so effective in delivering your presentation that they understood it thoroughly and are processing your information. To help determine the root cause of your audience’s silence, analyze why you didn’t receive input by reflecting upon your presentation, speaking to the meeting planner or a few participants to discuss what worked and what didn’t, and evaluating the results of your post-presentation survey.

Woman gesturing with her hand while a business team is watching her

 

7. Assign Roles For Team Presentations

If you’re presenting as part of a team, decide in advance which team members will answer questions about which topics. For example, you might assign questions about a project’s timeline to Susan, the project’s cost to Rick, and the project’s architectural design to Raheem. Doing so helps prevent the awkwardness of deciding in front of the audience who should answer which questions.

Also, resist the urge to add something to an answer given by a co-presenter if they offered a sufficient response. Too often, team members compete for “talk time” by unnecessarily adding their thoughts to another team member’s answer, which can slow down the Q&A period.

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    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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