4 Presentation skills that will make your day if you’re not Clint Eastwood.

Improvise with caution.Imagine being personally invited by Governor Mitt Romney to speak at a national conference.  Envision being introduced as the special mystery guest of the evening.  See yourself speaking to an audience of 10,000 people in the room while millions of others watched on television.  It would be an amazing offer for most speakers, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

If you accepted the invitation you would probably prepare, worry, prepare some more, and then practice a lot.  Right?  Not if you are Clint Eastwood.  For his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL, Mr. Eastwood did not prepare, practice, or worry.  Clint Eastwood is not “most speakers.”  He’s a living legend.

Go ahead.  Make his day.  Ask him for a copy of his speech in advance.  He’ll tell you that he doesn’t have one because he doesn’t know what he’s going to say.  Most speakers could never get away with that.  But then most speakers are not Clint Eastwood.

So ask yourself, do you feel that lucky in front of your audiences?  Would you wing it and let the chips fall as they may?  I hope not.  We mortal speakers must deliver presentations that are thoughtfully prepared in advance and fully vetted.  Here are four lessons learned from Mr. Eastwood’s turn at the dais that all of us who aren’t Clint Eastwood should apply .

1) Know what you are going to say long before you say it. Mr. Eastwood had three points that he wanted to convey: Not everybody in Hollywood is on the left, Obama has broken a lot of promises, and people should feel free to get rid of any politician who’s not doing a good job.  Mr. Eastwood had ideas in mind, but he didn’t think about how he was going to say them until after he took a nap on the day of the speech.  Because of a lack of preparation, when the speech ended everyone forgot his message points and remembered “The Chair.”

Preparing a speech takes time.  Begin your preparation as soon as possible.  Long before the big day arrives you should do the following presentation skill basics. Think about your audience.  Define your message.  Choose an appropriate story structure for your message and supporting points.  Make sure that all of your information supports your key message points.  This preparation and editing phase will help ensure that your key points, not furniture, gets the starring role.  (Learn how to prepare.)

2) Be aware of your time. Mr. Eastwood was originally told to speak for six or seven minutes.  His time was then cut to five minutes.  Mr. Eastwood spoke for twelve minutes.  According to Mr. Eastwood, “When you’re out there, it’s kind of hard to tell how much time is going by.”

Time warps when you are in front of an audience.  Ask for signals to stay on time.  Use a highly visible time marker.  Hit your key message point early.  The five-minute speech that you practiced in your office will be much longer when spoken “live” to a sizable audience.  You must make allowances for factors that will eat away at your time – spontaneous questions from the audience, interruptions of a ringing cell phone, or a previous speaker running long.

3) Practice.  Practice.  Practice. Mr. Eastwood admits that when it comes to giving speeches, “I really don’t know how to.”  As for the Tampa speech, Mr. Eastwood stated “I didn’t make up my mind exactly what I was going to say until I said it.” He hates teleprompters and chose to speak extemporaneously.  Clint Eastwood, a Hollywood legend, could wing it.

Until you become a cinema icon, practice your full speech at least fifteen times.  Know your presentation like you breathe, without thought or hesitation.  Don’t memorize your presentation word for word, but work to know the key words of your main key points and their supporting ideas.  This will give you flexibility when you speak while ensuring that you cover your key message points.

All good speakers became great by working on basic presentation skills and then applying massive amounts of practice.  Practice presentations aloud with all of your props — slides, white-boards, remote clickers.  You’ll discover little things that should be removed, changed, or adjusted when you give your presentation a full-dress rehearsal.  Think of these adjustments as massaging your talk into proper alignment.  (Learn how to practice.)

4) Improvise with limits. It was only in the last few minutes before walking on stage that Mr. Eastwood decided to use the chair.  He built his prime-time presentation on a last-minute improvisation.  He says that he was in the Green Room “when I saw the stool sitting there, it gave me the idea.”

Be creative, but take measured steps to make each presentation fresh.  Presenters should take advantage of situations that can make their speeches better and more “in the moment.”  Improvising is a learned skill that should only be applied after lots of audience experience.  Even then, give serious thought and caution before improvising large parts of your presentation.  If you’ve never attempted a new idea and have not had time to work out the details, leave it out.  A good speaker knows his limits.

How you present is always your choice.  You can deliver your next speech like Clint Eastwood or you can be the new sheriff in town and give a presentation that’s prepared and practiced.  Follow the above four points and no one will wonder why you brought in the extra furniture.

Clint Eastwood’s interview with The Carmel Pine Cone (Sept. 7 – 13, 2012).  In the interview Mr. Eastwood reveals his thoughts on his RNC speech and “The Chair.”

Clint Eastwood is the former mayor of Carmel-by-the-sea, CA.  Mr. Eastwood’s next film, Trouble with the Curve,” is set for release on Sept. 21, 2012.  Get there early and get a good chair.

Charles@CharlesGreene.com
Presentation Magician
Washington, DC

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Presentation Skills: 5 tips to improve your Q&A

Dr. Henry Kissinger & Charles Greene IIIPresentation Skills: The Q&A of a presentation often stokes fear in seasoned public speakers.  Of all possible presentation elements – opening, stories, demonstrations, closing – the Q&A has the tendency to make even well versed speakers lose control and fall flat.  As it’s usually near the end of the presentation, a poorly handled Q&A session leaves the audience with a negative impression of the presenter’s message.  Don’t let this happen to you.

“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”
– Dr. Henry Kissinger –

One common fear that causes many presenters to dread the Q&A session is the fear of unknown questions.  This fear, like most, is unfounded as the reality is that the presenter controls of the situation. The audience can ask any question, but the presenter chooses how to respond.

In general your answers should be brief and direct.  Your responses should not be mini presentations.   Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would begin his press conferences: “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”  As Dr. Kissinger’s quote suggests, be prepared with your answers in advance of their questions.

Q&A sessions: 5 tips that will let you take control

1) Don’t end your presentation with Q&A.  Although most presentations end with the Q&A, superior speakers don’t.  Ending with Q&A might mean having to respond to a question that drags you on a tangent away from your main message.  The better strategy is to follow your Q&A session with a short closing that recaps your main message points.  Regardless of the last question asked, ending the Q&A with a brief recap will redirect attention back to you.  This means that the last impression will be your message.  You get the final word.

2) Know the top ten questions of your audience.  Regardless of your subject matter your audience will only ask a small range of questions in relation to your information.  To find these questions out in advance, meet attendees before your presentation and ask them their top concerns about your information. The same questions, usually 8 – 10, will come up again and again as you present to different audiences.  Learn the standard questions to your presentation information.

3) Prepare fifteen responses to the “top ten” questions.  Create a variety of ways to respond to your audience’s standard questions.  This will give you flexibility in how you answer.  As you learn your audience’s primary questions, prepare responses that are brief and direct.   Practice your delivery because how you answer a question is as important as what you say.

4) Repeat the question.  Repeating the question ensures that everyone hears it.  One technique of professional presenters is to restate the question to get to the core issue.  This requires that you listen to the question, summarize it and then verify that your restatement addresses the questioner’s central concern.  This technique allows you to strip away the extraneous parts of a question and go right to the heart of the inquiry.

5) Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer.  Yes, at some point you’ll receive a question to which you don’t know the answer.  It’s okay.  Just don’t fake an answer. You’ll lose credibility if you evade the question or fake a response.  First, acknowledge that you don’t have an answer.  Second, promise the questioner a follow-up response at a later time.  You could also address the question to the audience for an immediate answer.  As long as you’ve done well with the rest of your presentation, asking for assistance from the audience will display your confidence to handle the situation.

Your Q&A, like the other elements of your presentation, should be well practiced.  Familiarity with your subject and audience will give you opportunities to learn the “top ten” standard questions in advance and prepare the best responses.  Apply the above information and fear not the raised hand.  In a short time, like Dr. Kissinger, you’ll have the answers even before they know the questions.

To receive weekly tips on presentations skills, connect with Charles Greene III on LinkedIn or Twitter (@CharlesGreene3).  For his archive of presentations tips, visit his weekly presentation tips page.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician
Washington, DC

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Presentation Structure: Chris Matthews plays hardball in six steps

Chris Matthews & Charles Greene III

Chris Matthews is at the top of that game of movers and shakers in Washington, DC.  Matthews is the well-known host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” host of “The Chris Matthews Show,” journalist, and political commentator.

Matthews is a feisty gentleman of the fourth estate who always brings high octane passion to his work.  Besides being heard and seen by millions of tv viewers each night, Chris Matthews is also read by millions.  He’s the author of five best-selling books.  In his latest “Life’s a Campaign,” Matthews presents his structure for giving a perfect speech.  In his chapter on public speaking “Speak Out” in “Life’s a Campaign” the Toastmaster alum, former congressional staffer, Presidential speech-writer lays out his six step speech system.

Chris Matthews states, “Being able to express yourself, to make your ideas not just listened to but heard, is important in just about every situation, from corporate meetings to family conclaves.  Nothing will make a job like easier – and less daunting – than to break it up into tasks.”

Chris Matthews’ Six Step Speech System:

1) Ice-beaker:  Give your audience a chance to know you.  Let them know that you are one of them.

2) Tease: Captivate their attention so that they’ll sit up and take notice.

3) Anecdotes: Bring stories that connect you with specific people, or the occasion for which all of you are gathered.  Sharing personal connections will lead to converting the audience into a community.

4) Download: Deliver your main message, point by point, in bite-sized tweetable bits.

5) Relief: Let them relax.  Tell them a light-hearted story that drives your message home.

6) Send-off: Give a clear restatement of your main message and leave them with a “wow.”  Then signal your finish and wait for the applause.

Chris Matthew states, “This six-step system is a wonder.  It works for me; it will work for you.”

My only suggestion on Chris’ steps is that you not wait until you are on stage to begin step one, the ice-breaker.  Chris can light up a dark room with his rock-star personality.  For us mortals, begin breaking the ice as soon as you walk through the door.  Go to the event early.  Be introduced or introduce yourself to as many people as possible.  Smile.  Fostering familiarity with your audience before you take the stage will allow you to begin your speech with a room of friendly faces who are primed and ready for step two, tease and captivate.

Learn more about Chris and his thoughts on public speaking by reading Chris Matthew’s Toastmaster International interview with Suzanne Fey.

Presentation structure examines the delivery framework used by successful speakers.  Choosing a proper speech structure is a key element of preparation, one of the “Three Magic Keys to a Successful Presentation.”  Not every structure will work in every situation.  The key is to examine as many structures as you can and then select the best one for your particular message and event.

 

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Summertime and the reading is easy – Three books to improve your presentation skills by Labor Day

Wow!  How did it get to be summer so soon.  It seems like just last week we packed away our heavy sweaters.  This year the Greene family will be heading off to the beaches of Bethany and Rehobeth in Delaware and the lakes of upper Minnesota, near Hackensack, MN.  I hope that you and yours enjoy a wonderfully fun, adventurous, and safe summer.

This spring I read a lot of books in preparation for leading a series of presentation skills workshops.  Out of my slew that I read I’m going to recommend three.  They’ll provide you with new insights and guidance as you improve your presentation skills.

Read any one of these books, apply the methods, and you’ll be a much better presenter by the Tuesday after Labor Day.  For a gold star, watch Susan Cain’s TED talk which is featured below.

1) Presentations in Action by Jerry Weissman

2) Boring to Bravo by Kristin Arnold

3) Mastery by George Leonard

Susan Cain’s TED talk – The Power of Introverts

Have a great summer!  Enjoy every precious moment of summertime magic that comes your way.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician
Washington, DC

P.S. Congratulations to Audra McDonald and Paul Kieve for their 2012 Drama Desk Awards.

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Presentation Skills: Three Magic Keys to Your Next Successful Presentation

Presentation Skills: Reading this means that you have some interest in improving your presentation skills and becoming a better presenter.  You want your audiences to listen, learn and act.  You want to be a more confident speaker.  Great.  You’re in the right place.

The key to becoming a great presenter, one who is comfortable delivering information in front of a live audience, is to focus on three critical areas. They are Audience, Preparation, and Practice.  That’s it.  I call them the “Three Magic Keys to a Successful Presentation.”  Work on these three areas, and you’ll go from bullet point boring to picture perfect presentations.

Audience – With presentations, 80% of success is meeting your audience’s expectations.  Address their concerns in your presentation and you’re off to a great start.  Remember, it’s not about you.  Your presentations should not begin with an agenda, a list of your company’s accomplishments, or other items that are of little interest to the audience.  Focus your presentation on the concerns of your audience.

Audiences hope you’ll meet their expectations and respond to their needs.  Nancy Duarte exhorts, “Realize that you’re not the hero of your presentation. Your audience is the hero of your idea.”  An audience changes everything.  They define your words.  They frame your images.  They set your worth.  The audience is the final judge of your success.   Without an audience, your words become a mere recitation of information, facts and stories.  The audience IS the reason for your appearance.  Perhaps Stephen Soundheim most aptly put it when he said, “When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written.”

So, how do you attain that of “80% of success” plateau with your presentation?   Meet the expectations of your audience.  To create an audience-centered presentation, read the full text and learn how to know, meet and engage your audience in “Audience – Magic Key #1.

 

Preparation — How many times have you listened to a presenter who went off on tangents, didn’t seem to have a point, or had too much information?  Yes, I know that this would never be you.  However, even if you know a subject well, spend time to thoughtfully plan the structure of your presentation.  It will assist your audience and increase the memorability of your message.

Can you sum up your main message in one sentence?  If not, you should spend some time defining the core of your message.  Make sure that you clearly know the essence of your message and can convey it in a simple statement.

What’s your conclusion?  It’s as important as your entire presentation.  As you prepare your presentation, you should have a decisive conclusion in mind.  At the end of your presentation, your audience should know why taking action is important.  They should also understand the risk of not acting upon the information they heard.  Regardless of whether or not they act upon what they hear, they will have the information necessary to take the next step.

Once you have established a clear message and a desired outcome, you can move onto the next phase – framing your message.  One time tested structure that works is the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them” format.  One reason why this structure works so well is that it the repetition of your core message creates emphasis.  People generally give greater importance to something that is repeated.  This repetition also aids in making your message points more memorable.

To create a well-structured presentation, read the full text and learn how to know, frame, and refine your presentation message in “Preparation – Magic Key #2.

 

Practice – Presenting well is a skill that can be acquired by most.  Yes, some people are natural speakers.  But some of the most memorable speakers did not start out that way.  John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, overcame dyslexia.  James Earl Jones overcame stuttering.  All the greats got great by working at the basics and then applying massive hours of practice.  If you want to be a better speaker, you must practice.

If you want to improve, you must practice.  The best way to practice is to just start doing it.  Don’t wait until the night before the big presentation to do a full run-through of your presentation.  This is especially true if you are presenting with slides or technical props.  Practice with all of your items so that you become comfortable with them.

So, how much should you practice your presentation?  You should work on it until you know it like you breathe, without thought or hesitation.  When you reach that level you’ll be speaking from a base of practiced technique instead of a base of casual preparation.

For practicing and developing your base of presentational technique, read these 10 practice tips, “Practice – Magic Key #3.

 

Audience, Preparation, and Practice are the essential presentation skills.  They are the basic elements of all successful presentations.  You must pay attention to all three.  As with a three-legged stool, remove one of the legs and the other two can’t stand on their own.  Deliver a well-prepared and practiced talk to the wrong audience, and it will fall flat.  Have the right audience, present a well-prepared message, and don’t practice and your nerves could cause you to fail.

Effective presentation skills are within your grasp.  You can be a better speaker.  With a little work and some extra time, the pay-off will be astounding.  Focus on your audience.  Prepare a clear message.  Then practice. Practice. Practice.  You’ll move from being a tentative presenter to a confident presenter who engages an audience, delivers a clear message, and gets rave reviews.  Invest the time, follow the guidelines, and you’ll quickly improve your presentation skills and be seen as a great presenter.  I promise.

For weekly tips on presentations skills, connect with Charles Greene III on LinkedIn or visit this page.


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Practice – Magic Key #3

Practice – It’s still the way that you get to Carnegie Hall, and it’s the only way to improve your public speaking and presentation skills.  If you want to overcome your fear of speaking, practice. If you want to be a better presenter, practice. If you want to effortlessly deliver your message while you connect with your audience, practice.

Practice is the last of the “Three Magic Keys to Successful Presentations.”  For most, it’s the hardest element to fully implement.  Most people don’t practice enough.  Some people hate to practice.  It’s work, hard work.  However, it’s the only “work” that can raise your presentation skills to a higher plateau.  The bottom line is that if you want to be better, you must practice.  The good news is that if you practice, you will improve.

Presenting well is a skill that can be acquired by most.  Yes, some people are natural speakers.  But some of the most memorable speakers did not start out that way.  James Earl Jones, Jack Welch and Vice President Joseph Biden overcame the substantial hurdle of stuttering to become powerful speakers.  All the greats got great by learning the basics of their crafts and then applying massive hours of practice.

The list of greats who have used practice to “lift their game” high above their peers would be too long to print here but would contain an “A” list of familiar names such as David Beckham, Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs.  Grammy-award winning musician Lauryn Hill states, “You don’t know how much artists go through to make it look so easy. It’s all in the practice.”

Beckham has said that his “secret” is practice.  Both of the Williams sisters transcended their humble genesis thanks to immeasurable hours of dedicated practice.  Michael Jordon credits his immense success on the basketball court to the time that he spent compensating for his failures by practicing more.  According to Jordan, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”  If you want to be a better presenter, make it happen – practice.

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Tipping Point, in his book Outliers posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain a level of mastery in an endeavor.  That’s practicing your skill for 3 hours a day for a decade.  In case you’re in a hurry, you can attain mastery in a little over a year if you practice non-stop.

You might think, “All I’m doing is talking.  It’s just a short presentation.  I don’t need to practice that much.”  Think again.  The most recognized presenter of our times is the late Steve Jobs.  A BusinessWeek article from 2006 revealed that Jobs put in “grueling hours of practice” before his keynote presentations.  How many grueling hours have you put in lately?

Why practice?  Besides wanting to improve, it’s the best way to edit a spoken presentation.  By speaking aloud your chosen thoughts, you’ll discover the little things that can be removed, changed, or adjusted.  Your presentation will become “lighter and tighter” with practice.  Think of these adjustments as massaging your talk into proper alignment.  It only happens after verbally articulating your message aloud.

So, how much should you practice your presentation?  Until you know it like you breathe, without thought or hesitation.  When you reach that level you’ll be speaking from a base of practiced technique instead of a base of casual preparation.

Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate, recommends practicing 30 hours for an hour-long presentation.  I understand that most people don’t have that kind of time to dedicate to each presentation.  Most would consider it a luxury.  However, only you can set the value of practice for a presentation and determine if the time spent would be a luxury or an investment.  If your presentation is for your boss’ boss and might affect your professional life, you might just want to invest in more practice time.

Jesse Owens said, “Life doesn’t give you all the practice races you need.”  By always practicing and then practicing some more, you’ll be forming a base of practice and experience beneath you.  This will prepare you not only for planned presentations but also for spontaneous ones.  It will give you options for when things go horribly wrong, e.g., the projector bulb blows, the microphone cuts out, the wireless remote fails.

Practice and create your base.  Here are 10 tips for practicing and developing your base of presentational technique.

  • Just do it!
  • Do it more than you think you need to.
  • Let yourself evolve during practice.
  • Rehearse as you will present, standing or sitting.
  • Practice your talk in chunks and then as a whole presentation.
  • Rehearse your talk in full tech-rehearsal mode.
  • Review your facial expressions and physical movements.
  • Practice with your gear – projector, computer, remote, flip charts, etc.
  • Video your rehearsal and then watch it with the sound on and then off.
  • Use a timer – one that counts up and can count down.

Jacques Pépin in talking about his masterful cooking technique said that he had no choice, “You have to repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat until it becomes part of yourself. I certainly don’t cook the same way I did 40 years ago, but the technique remains. And that’s what the student needs to learn: the technique.”

Your base of presentation technique should include the following skills: audience engagement, message preparation/delivery, prop handling, and slideware design.  Hone these skills through practice and you’ll be ready for any speaking opportunity.  They’ll keep you calm, help you deal with technical malfunctions, and give you an edge as you face your audience.

Making the investment of time to build a base of presentation technique will pay off. Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Success comes when preparation meets opportunity.”  Your topic, audience, and venues may change, but your technique will remain to make you a successful presenter in front of any audience.

Charles Greene III
Presentation Magician
Washington, DC

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Presentation Skills: Public speaking lessons from the world of magic.

Presentation Skills: It’s not an illusion.  Magicians are the best embodiment of the transformative public speaker. Magicians hold audiences spellbound, using little more than words and a few simple props. Magicians deliver memorable experiences that can’t be readily duplicated.  Magicians transform audiences, often leaving impressions that last a lifetime.  Who forgets their best experience with a magician — the coin that vanished in his hand or the playing card found in some extraordinary location?

A lithograph poster from 1910 features the magician Chung Ling Soo on stage in front of a wide-eyed audience.  The poster states “Spellbound they gathered, far and near to scan the weird powers of this wondrous man.”  It seems like Steve Jobs could have stood in Soo’s place on the poster.

The Economist (8 Oct 2011) chose “magician’ as their best metaphor for the greatest presenter of our day.  They described Jobs as the “master showman” who could “stand alone on a black stage and conjure up an ‘incredible’ new electronic gadget in front of an awed crowd.”  It sounds like magic to me.

Now it’s your turn to perform presentation magic with your message.  Levitate your presentation skills to new heights with these six trade secrets from the world of magic:

Focus on the audience.  Magicians connect with their audience early in order to establish rapport.  The magician will be better received during the after-dinner performance if he meets guests during the cocktail reception.  Likewise, a good presenter meets and mingles with guests before the formal presentation to establish a personal connection with the audience.

Perform clear and simple magic.  The rope is cut and then restored.  The lady levitates.  The elephant vanishes.  Effective presenters deliver clear messages.  The concept of clarity infuses their audible message as well as their visual aids.  Steve Jobs said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  Experienced presenters know that less is more.  They distill their presentations until only the best material remains.

Tell a great story.  Magic is greatly enhanced by story – the more personal and recognizable the story, the more impactful the magic.  Skilled presenters captivate an audience with messages that have story structure and a transformative end.  Strong presenters tell stories which are audience specific, thus increasing the relevance and power of their message.

Stay in the moment.  Like performers of improvisation, magicians seek out serendipitous events of a particular show.  However, these unique moments never derail the performance from its predetermined end.  Great presenters can “go with the flow” of the audience in order to enliven the presentation, yet they maintain the course of their core message as they achieve their final point.

Vary your elements.   Magicians captivate attention by using a variety of props and routines, using audience volunteers or not, and occasionally using music to create a mood.  Presenters maintain high levels of interest with vocal sleight of hand, pauses, changed tones of speaking, and rhetorical techniques such as the repetition of words and phrases.

Practice.  Practice.  And practice some more.  This is the magician’s mantra. It may take weeks or months before a sleight is perfected.  Only then can the magician try it out in front of a real audience. Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes 10,000 hours of rigorous practice to attain a level of mastery in any discipline.  Nancy Duarte recommends that a presenter spend 30 hours rehearsing an hour-long presentation. For the illusionist and the public speaker, there is no presentation magic without lots of practice.

The best presentation skills are truly magical – transforming an audience with a clear message, delivered with verbal variety and strong visuals.  Today, audience members expect presenters to be both informative and entertaining; more than ever, any difference between a magician and transformative public speaker might simply be illusionary.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician

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Preparation – Magic Key #2

Preparation — A successful presentation involves preparation.  Even if you know a subject well, spending a little time and thoughtfully planning the structure and elements will ensure that your audience will hear and remember your message. Just as a jeweler polishes a stone to make it brilliant, preparation helps polish your presentation so that you shine.  In this posting, you’ll learn three elements of preparing your presentation:

  • Know your message – Be simple and clear
  • Frame your message – Provide a story structure
  • Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements

1) Know your message – Be simple and clear
Have you ever listened to speaker and, at the conclusion, realized you didn’t know the point of the presentation?  Maybe there wasn’t one.  Maybe there was one, but it wasn’t clearly stated.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Make sure that you clearly understand your message and can convey it in a simple and clear statement.  Sum up your presentation in one sentence.  This clear statement will guide you as you select an appropriate framework for your message.

Your conclusion is as essential as your entire message.   As you start to prepare your presentation, you should have a decisive conclusion in mind.  Know what you want your audience to do with the information they’ll hear.

Here are some examples of clear messages and desired outcomes…

  • Stocks are devalued and now is a great time to invest.  Buy stock.
  • An electric car will save you money and help the environment.  Buy an electric car. 
  • Paris has many wonderful things to experience.  Visit Paris. 
  • Montessori is a superior method of education.  Enroll your child in a Montessori school. 

Once you have established a clear message and a desired outcome you can move onto the next phase.

2) Frame your message – Provide a story structure
Presentations should contain the basic elements of story structure with a beginning, middle and a conclusive end.  This familiar three part format will ensure that your message stays on track.

One time tested structure that works is the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them” format.  Structure places certain limits on the speaker, but it is precisely those limits that help to create an efficient and focused presentation.  This format forces the presenter to know what message points to present.  Another reason why this structure works so well is that it relies heavily on repetition.  People generally give greater importance to something that is repeated.  This repetition aids in making the message points more memorable.

Although classic and familiar, the above framing structure is far from the only viable one.  Other story framing structures for presentations include: “What is” Vs. “What could be.”  (Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”); Love story (Corporate merger of former rival companies – ATT & T-Mobile); Journey/Odyssey (Facebook); Rags to riches – (Apple/Lady Gaga/Starbucks)

Regardless of what structure you chose, the audience should be transformed at the conclusion of your presentation.  They should be in a different mind set than they were at the beginning of the presentation.  At the end of your presentation, your audience should possess the vision and information to be in a different place.  They should know why taking action is important.  They should also understand the risk of not acting upon the information they heard.  Regardless of whether or not they act upon what they hear, they will have been given the option to enter into a new state of being – having a better retirement plan, a more fuel efficient car, or savoring the pleasures of April in Paris.

3) Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements
Remove the deadwood.  Take out the weakest links.  Your presentation will improve through review and rehearsal.   Items that appear perfect in the layout of the presentation don’t always work when spoken aloud or in relation to the other elements.  Take them out.

After setting your message and choosing an appropriate structure, you will add stories, quotes, data, charts, etc. to flesh out your message.  Before your presentation becomes a Frankenstein’s monster, your job, perhaps your toughest job, is to remove the deadwood – those items that don’t fully support your message.   You want to have the fewest and the strongest elements to support your main message.

Consider works of art made from marble.  They all start off as blocks of stone.  A sculptor has the talent to envision the artwork within stone and then remove all of the stone that is not art.,  As a presenter you must remove all superfluous words, numbers and images from your presentation to leave only the essential message.  Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Very few artists create a masterpiece on their first attempt.  Every great writer gets edited.  All diamonds were once chunks of rock.  Like sculpture, novels, and diamonds, presentations are best after they’ve been honed, polished, and refined.

Conclusion
You’ve just learned the three elements needed to properly prepare your presentation:

  • Know your message – Be simple and clear
  • Frame your message – Provide a story structure
  • Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements

By the way, this posting was written in the structure of “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them” format.

Summary: These three elements will help you deliver a clear and memorable presentation message.  Use these three elements and your next presentation will be a work of art.

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Let me know your thoughts.  What methods have you used to prepare your presentations?

“Preparation” is the second part of Charles’ “Three Magic Keys to Successful Presentations.”  In an upcoming post, Charles will be discussing the last “magic key,” practice.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician

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Audience – Magic Key #1

Audience — Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up.  With presentations, I believe that 80% of success is meeting your audience’s expectations.  Address their concerns in your presentation and they’ll give you high marks.

Most presenters start off their presentations with an agenda, a list of their company’s accomplishments, or other items that are of little interest to the audience.  In other words, it’s all about the presenter.

Attention levels are highest at the beginning of a presentation.  Start your presentation with a focus on you and you’ve wasted your best chance to connect with your audience!  Here are four common errors that start most presentations — a joke, an agenda, an apology, and a list of the presenter’s accomplishments.

Audiences hope you will meet their expectations and respond to their needs.  Nancy Duarte exhorts, “Realize that you’re not the hero of your presentation. Your audience is the hero of your idea.”   An audience changes everything.  They define your words.  They frame your images.  They set your worth.  The audience is the final judge of your success.   Without an audience, your words become a mere recitation of information, facts and stories.  The audience IS the reason for your appearance.   Perhaps Stephen Soundheim most aptly put it when he said, “When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written.”

So, how do you attain that of “80% of success” plateau with your presentation?   Meet the expectations of your audience.  Follow the next three steps and you’ll be on your way to a presentation that is audience centered.

1) Know your audience
Find out who they are on as many levels as you possibly can.  Talk to the person who is bringing you in to speak and do the following:

  • Ask about the top concerns of the group.
  • Find out if the group is facing unique challenges.
  • See if anything has recently changed in the lives of your audience.
  • Consider if your audience is at the beginning, middle or end of their life experience, work, school, parenthood, etc.
  • Learn why they are coming to hear you speak.

The more information you have about them the more you can address their concerns.  Use the information to customize your presentation and make it more audience specific.

2) Meet your audience
Every presenter wants to address a friendly audience.  By meeting audience members before you present you’ll be creating a personal connection.  They’ll see you not as “the speaker” but as someone they hope will succeed.  Conversely, meeting people before you take the stage means that when you present you’ll see new friends in the audience.  This can go a long way to putting you at ease and making your presentation more conversational.

  • Meet your audience before taking the stage.  Show up early to meet and mingle with them before your formal presentation.
  • Connect with people on an individual basis.  Ask for their personal feelings about your topic.  Their responses might provide you with some last minute insight into that particular group.
  • Stay late.  Take questions from the audience.  Find out what part of your message meant the most to them.  Their insight is very valuable.

3) Engage your audience
Meeting your audience will go a long way to getting them interested in you as a person.  However, to maintain that interest you must have ways of engaging them throughout your presentation.

There are many effective ways to begin a presentation. “I want to thank the blah, blah, blah for having me here today.” is not one of them.

  • Try a strong statement such as, “You can change your world,” that centers on the audience and gets them thinking.
  • Try a shocking and relevant statistic –“3 out of 4 of you in this room will not have enough money to retire.”
  • Tell an insightful personal story that sets the framework of your presentation.

Not all openings need to be dramatic, but they should center on your message and the interests of your audience.

Another level of audience engagement concerns your body language – feet, eyes, hands and voice.

  • Feet: Engage your audience by having an open stance when presenting.  Be steady and stable.  Don’t pace, but use the space to walk to different points while holding the gaze of one person as you walk towards them.  This requires that you leave the podium.
  • Eyes: Look directly at people.  In a small room, attempt to look at everyone during your presentation.  In a large room, select a few people in different parts of the room and have conversations with them.
  • Hands: Use your hands in a natural way, but with slightly larger and broader movements.  When you move your hands, move them with intent and purpose.
  • Voice: Engage your audience with your voice by using vocal variety.  Pausing and lowering your tone will literally draw an audience closer to you.

Finally, engage your audience with passion.  Be “on” when you present.  An audience will forgive many things if you give them your story, straight from the heart, with passion.  Passion is not the icing on the cake.  It is the cake. This passion does not need to be shown a la Tony Robbins style, but there should be some spark, some magic, to your presence. Passion makes your message come alive and connects you directly with the audience.

Summary:  When presenting, your goal is to reach a point of connection with your audience, instead of remaining on the base plateau of communication.

Recommended reading:  John C. Maxwell’s “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

Let me know your thoughts.  What methods have you used to connect with your audiences?

Audience is the first part of Charles’ “Three magic keys to successful presentations.”  In upcoming posts, Charles will be discussing the other two “magic keys,’ preparation & practice.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician

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Cain – A man with a memorable plan, 9-9-9

Herman Cain has an economic plan.  A lot of Americans have heard of his 9-9-9 plan.  Cain’s 9-9-9 plan is the most memorable, and probably the only,  economic plan that Americans could name.  Everyone seems to be talking about it.  Can you name another economic plan of any other candidate?

Yesterday, in Washington, DC, I was fortunate enough to have an interview with the candidate of the Republican party.  In the brief amount of time that I was granted with Mr. Cain I wanted to know why his economic message is so memorable. Candidate Cain told me that people remember his plan because it is “specific and simple.”

This posting is not an endorsement of the man, the plan or the party.  It’s a look at why this one economic proposal is so well known and how you can apply to the lessons learned to your presentations.  Would your presentation message be more memorable if it were–in Cain’s words–“specific and simple?”

It’s common for most presenters to cram too much information into too little space.  This includes the spaces of time and spaces on slides.  All of us have suffered from presenters who went over their allotted time because they had vital information to give us, yet we still didn’t know their main point.  Many have seen slide decks burdened with dozens of bullet points.  Did the volume of points yield more clarity or did they dull our ability to focus on the message?

If you want your presentations remembered, be “specific and simple.” It’s all about the details of focus and editing.

  • Discover and address your audience’s top concerns.
  • Provide clear solutions in plain language.
  • Reinforce your message with strong visual images.
  • Eliminate points (sound, transitions, background) that distract from your message.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.  “It may seem difficult to remove items from your slide deck, but from your work of simplification, your audience will gain a sophisticated and more memorable presentation.

Share your “specific and simple” solutions.  How have you made your presentations more memorable?

Next time I’ll talk about “Audience,” the first of the “3 magic keys to successful presentations.”

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician

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