Speaking of distractions – They might be louder than you

Presenting to distracted people means that you must work harder to gain and maintain their attention. Some of your energy will be wasted combating distractions and competing for your audience’s attention.

“We have so many distractions today it is very hard to focus on one thing.” Marina Abramovic.

We have become distracted people.  From cubicles to conference halls, speakers fight against a flood of distractions as they work to engage and connect with their audiences. Some distractions will be totally out of your control, but you need to be aware of their existence and how they affect both you and your audience when you speak.

So how many distractions could there be that prevent your audiences from listening to your message?  Take a look at the top 15.

The Top 15 Distractions for Presentation Audiences

Your message – Presentation audiences begin tune out when the speaker’s message does not involve their concerns or address their needs. Keep your message on “WII-FM” (What’s in it for me?), and your audience will stay tuned to your presentation message.

Clothing – Your inappropriate dress for the occasion can be a distraction to some in your audience. Excessive, flashy, unusual, or noisy jewelry can be a problem for both genders. Google glass distracts. Even a small watch can send out blinding flashes of light from a well-lit stage. TED conference dress guide.

Distractions - Google Glass

Charles with David Datuna’s “Portrait of America” – Google glass project

Your mannerisms – You’ll only know if you have odd or distracting actions if you video your speaking and then watch the video with the sound off. Look at your gestures and movements and then decide if they detract from or compliment your speaking.

Slides – By their nature, slides are distracting, but do yours have too much text? Do you use fancy slide transitions?   Go easy on the eyes of your presentation audiences. Create slides with less text and choose simple transitions.

Laser pointer – Is your use of a laser pointer a little too frequent? Could you reduce those times by adding a more detailed slide to your presentation?

Handouts – Is your audience flipping through your handout while you are presenting? Could you reduce the page-turning noise by passing out your handout after the presentation?

Technical snafus – Tech gremlins can pop up at anytime to blow a projector bulb or cause microphone problems. Dealing with a tech problem in the midst of your presentation is a huge distraction. Spend no more than one minute trying to resolve the problem while in front of your audience and then move on.

J.A.C.O.Ws – Jargon, Acronyms, Clichés, & Overused Words, can be distracting to your audience. Here’s another reason to video your presentation. Review the audio of your video and listen to what you say.

Video: J.A.C.O.Ws = Jargon, Acronyms, Clichés, & Overused Words

Seating – Will your audience be comfortable for the length of time that you are speaking? Does the seating arrangement allow you to be seen by all?  You can’t redesign the room, but rearranging the chairs or moving more in the provided space might increase audience engagement.

Lighting – Are the lights in the room aimed appropriately? Do they cast awkward shadows? Do they beam toward the eyes of your audience? Are there lights outside of the space that are distracting? Sometimes a drawn curtain can make a huge difference.

Sound – Is your microphone volume appropriate? Can you hear the presentations from the room next door? Does the door to your room close loudly?

Phones – Remind your audience to put them on silent/vibrate. Ask them to take calls out of the room.

Keyboarding clicking – Lots of people take notes on a keyboard. Sitting between click and clackers can be distracting. Some conferences ask texters to sit in one specific area to minimize the noise distraction.

Food & Beverage – Speaking at a lunch program could mean that the dessert is being served and plates cleared during your presentation. Try to present after all food service has been completed.

Room temperature – Is the room too cold or too hot? Is your audience shivering or sweltering?

Yes. There are lots of things that could distract your audience from your presentation message. Be kind to your audience.  Consider the issues and think of possible solutions in advance. Reduce the number of distractions. This will let your audience keep their eyes directed on you and their ears focused on your presentation message.

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How to give authentic presentations

Authentic Presentations – If your presentation style were a meal, would it be an authentic, unique offering or more like a chain restaurant experience?

I hope that when you travel you take the time to seek out dining experiences that are unique to your destination. Chicago has amazing deep-dish pizza; New Orleans, spirit-lifting creole; and Philadelphia, renowned cheese steaks.

Video: Be an authentic speaker

Charles Greene III in Austin, TX

Yes, you could fry beignets at home. However, they’ll pale in comparison to the experience of sitting at Café du Monde in New Orleans and being served a plate of warm beignets topped with a mountain of powered sugar.  Substitutes for authentic food experiences can’t replace the “real deal.”

Do you give your audience the very best of you? Do your presentations offer the “real deal?” Follow the menu below for ways to serve up a more authentic you.

4 steps to serve up authentic presentation experiences.

1) Discover the real you. You can’t present your authentic self if you are currently presenting like someone else. See what your audiences see. Video yourself presenting. Video will reveal what you really say and do when you present. Reviewing the video will let you see the areas that need improvement. Yes, watching yourself can be difficult and boring. However, it’s the fastest way to see the reality of your presentations.

2) Make your style unique. As with food, it’s sometimes not what’s on the plate, but how it’s delivered to the table. Does the steak of your presentation have any sizzle? Do your words come with a side of awesome sauce? Listen closely to the audio of the video. Does your message speak more about you than about the needs of your audience? More customization to their needs would help. Do you speak in a monotone? Work on changing your pitch, pace, and tone when you speak. Customization and vocal variety make your message unique and more appealing.

3) Deliver quality, not quantity. Most speakers try to fit too much information into too little time. Do you find yourself constantly going over your allotted time? Are you always talking faster to squeeze in all of your slides? You may be offering your audiences a smorgasbord of TMI – Too Much Information. Less is more. Pare your presentation to the critical elements. Using a slide deck? Narrow down its size. Using less information and fewer slides will give you a more focused presentation with more impact.

4) Take time to practice. All speakers fall somewhere on the spectrum of skill. Some are chain-food style presenters who just crank it out. Some are like master chefs of communication who use masterful technique to please each audience. No matter where you are on that spectrum, practice and thoughtful review will improve your speaking authenticity. Mahatma Gandhi said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” Practice. And then, practice some more. See tips and video on the best way to practice.

The choice to be a better speaker is always yours.

It’s your turn now. Lots of speakers want to be more memorable and engaging, but few do the off-stage work needed to evolve their presentations. You can reach that point of offering more of your true self. Leave the “chain restaurant” experience to the masses. Be an authentic speaker.

Charles Greene III
Presentation Magician
Washington, DC

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5 tips to maintain control of your next Q&A session

Maintain control of the questions session—and your message—by following this simple yet highly effective approach.   

The Question & Answer segment of a presentation often makes most speakers sweat.  Of all possible presentation elements – opening, stories, demonstrations, closing – the Q&A has the tendency to be a low point in the presentation.  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.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Dr. Henry Kissinger & Charles Greene III

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

One common fear that causes many presenters to dread Q&A is the fear of unknown question.  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, make your answers 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.

Here are 5 tips that will let you assume—and maintain—control of your next Q&A session.

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 could allow an off-topic question to drag 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 with a brief recap will redirect attention back to your message.  You get the final word as you deliver a lasting impression of your message.

2) Know the “top 10” 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 learn these questions 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 “top 10” questions for your presentation and be ready with succinct responses.

Video: Five tips to maintain control of your next Q&A session

3) Prepare fifteen responses to the “top 10” questions.  Create a variety of ways to respond to your audience’s standard questions.  This will give you flexibility when you respond.  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.  Professional presenters 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.  Don’t fake an answer. You’ll lose credibility if you evade the question or give a false 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.

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 10” questions in advance and prepare the best responses.

Apply the above information and fear not the raised questioner’s 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 more presentations tips, visit his weekly presentation tips page.

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2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List


Bethany Beach Welcome SignIt’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere. The daylight hours are longer. The temps are warmer. I’m a happier camper. I’m writing this post while in Bethany Beach, DE. The Greene family is here hanging out with friends for a couple weeks. After the beach there’s a quick trip to Nashville, TN, for presentations with American Express. To end the summer there’s the annual trek to upper Minnesota to join the family at the lakeside cabin near Hackensack, MN.

The spring was filled with lots of flights so I had some extra time for reading. Here are three standout books on presentation skills that I’m recommending for my 2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List.  Read all and you’ll be a better speaker by the Tuesday after Labor Day. This year’s selections provide excellent information for seasoned speakers who want to take speaking to a more professional level. Regardless of your level of speaking ability, you’ll find great advice and tips in all three of these books.

Video: 2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List

2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List

1) The Message of You by Judy Carter

2) Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo

3) Smart Talk by Lisa B. Marshall

For bonus points and a gold star, read these three books and one additional book from a  previous Summer Presentation Skills Readings List.  Have an amazing summer filled with good friends, good food, and good times.

Previous Summer Presentation Skills Reading Lists
2013: The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds; Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun; Paid to Speak from the National Speakers Association

2012: Presentations in Action by Jerry Weissman; Boring to Bravo by Kristin Arnold: Mastery by George Leonard

2011: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds; Resonate by Nancy Duarte; The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo

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Preparation – Magic Key #2 for presentation success

Preparation — A successful presentation involves preparation of your core message and its supporting elements.  Even if you know a subject well, your investment in preparation will pay off by having your core message remembered more easily. Just as a jeweler polishes a stone to make it brilliant, preparation helps polish your presentation.  Here are three phases of presentation preparation.

  • Define your message – Make it simple and clear
  • Frame your message – Provide a story structure
  • Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements

1) Define your message – Make it 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 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 also have a decisive conclusion in mind.  Know what you want your audience to do with the your information.

Here are some examples of clear messages and desired outcomes…

  • Stocks are devalued. 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.  Structures place limits on the speaker, but it’s these limits that help to create an efficient 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, at the end our your presentation, your audience should be given an action to accomplish, some application for your information. 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
In the final phase you’ll take out the weakest elements. 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 items that don’t fully support your core message.   You want to have the fewest elements that give the strongest support to your main message.

Very few masterpieces are created in the first draft.  Every great writer gets edited.  All diamonds were once chunks of coal.  Like sculpture, novels, and diamonds, presentations are best after they’ve been honed, polished, and refined.

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

  • Know your message – Make it 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.  Apply these three elements and your next presentation will be a work of art.

Let me know your thoughts.  What methods have you used to prepare your presentations?  Leave a comment about your preparation experiences and suggestions.

“Preparation” is the second part of Charles’ “Three Magic Keys to Successful Presentations.”  The first in “Audience.” In an upcoming post, Charles will discuss the last magic key, “Practice.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician

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Audience – Magic Key #1 for Presentation Success

Audience – Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up.  In public speaking, I believe that 80% of presentation success is meeting your audience’s expectations.  Address their concerns when you present and they’ll give you high marks as a great speaker.

All audiences want your presentation to focus on 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.  They are 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.”

Audience: Magic Key #1 for Presentation Success
Video: Know, meet, & engage

Know, Meet, & Engage Your Audience

1) Know your audience
Find out who they are on as many levels as you possibly can.  The more information you learn about them the more you can address their concerns.  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 a life experience, work, school, parenthood, etc.
  • Learn why they are coming to hear you speak.

Customize your presentation with this information.  Make your presentation audience specific.

2) Meet your audience
Every presenter wants to address a friendly face.  Meet with your audience members before you present.  Create connections with people.  Let them see you not as “the speaker,” but as a person whom they hope will succeed.  Meeting people before you speak means that when you present you’ll see new friends.  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.

Charles Greene III Presenting Audience Magic Key #1

3) Engage your audience
To captivate attention while you speak, you must engage them on a variety of levels.

Multi-level engagement of your audience requires variety: facial, spatial, and vocal.

  • Eyes: Look directly at people.  In a small room, attempt to look at everyone during your presentation.  In a large room, select a few friendly people in different parts of the room and have conversations with them.
  • Feet: Get close to your audience.  Leave the lectern.  Come down from the podium.  Move around your space.  Don’t pace, but use the space to walk to different points while holding the gaze of one person as you walk towards them. 
  • Voice: Vary your vocal pitch and pace during your presentation.  Add pauses at appropriate moments to create tension or emphasis.  Imagine your voice being the sole method of engaging and holding your audience’s attention.  Think radio. 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 directly connects you with the audience.

Summary:  For a successful presentation, you must meet your audience’s needs and expectations.

Recommended reading:  John C. Maxwell’s “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect
Charles’ Presentation Magazine article “Holding an Audience’s Attention for 20 Minutes (or More).

Let me know your thoughts.  Leave a comment.  What methods do you use 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
Washington, DC
Twitter: @CharlesGreene3

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