Monthly Archives: December 2007

Matching your audience in style

When you make your presentation, make sure you are not under-dress or over-dress. The way you dress should “match” the way your audience dresses. Attorneys are notoriously bad at this. I used to make presentations at Executive Enterprises’ environmental seminars held at resort hotels. Some of the guest speakers were attorneys. They always showed up in their three-piece suits to speak to an audience that was made up of engineers and plant managers. Almost every member of the audience was in polo shirts or open collars. There was not a tie in sight. And these attorneys were wondering why they were not making rapport and connection with the audience.  

You should always try to dress in the same style as your audience so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. If you are not sure how the audience would dress, you can show up wearing a tie and jacket but be prepared to take them off if necessary. Removing your jacket, taking off your tie and rolling up your sleeves in front of a group of engineers will do wonders for you. It tells them you are one of them.

A great slide presentation

Here is a wonderful slide presentation made by Rowan Manahan.

More on “Words that work”

In Frank Luntz’s book “Words That Work”, he lists ten rules of effective language. We can apply these rules in our presentations. Frank uses advertising slogans to illustrate his points: 

  1. Simplicity.  Try to use small words whenever you can. Forget about fancy multi-syllable words.
  2. Brevity.  Try to use short sentences if you can. Nike’s “just do it” ad campaign is a good example. Have you noticed that most office memos are only one page long and have short sentences.
  3. Be credible.  A good example is Wal-Mart’s slogan “Always low price.  Always”.
  4. Be consistent. The rental car Avis’s campaign “We try harder” was launched in 1962 and the company has stuck with it for more than four decades.  The consistency of this message has helped Avis to cement its position as the second-biggest car-rental company in the world.
  5. Offer something new. Try to get the audience to think in a new way.  The success of the Volkswagen think small campaign in the late 1950s was an example of shifting the thought process in a novel way.
  6. Sound and texture do matter. The phrase “snap crackle and pop” immediately conjures up images of the actual sound of the cereal itself.
  7. Personalize your message. A good example is GE’s slogan “We bring good things to life”. It personalizes the message.
  8. Visualize.  Paint a picture. A picture is worth a thousand words. M & M’s slogan “Melts in your mouth not in your hand” has a strong visual component to it – something we can see and almost feel.
  9. Ask the audience questions.  Try to get the audience to have ownership of your presentation.
  10. Provide context and explain relevance. Burger King’s slogan “have it your way” is a good example of a message that provides context and relevance.  This slogan sets Burger King apart from the other fast food chains.  This message works because the underlying context and relevance consist of a mass-produced assembly-line food production.

Speaking from your heart…really?

It is political season again….as I am sitting here watching C-Span. There is a former U.S. Senator giving a “warm” endorsement of a Presidential candidate. As he speaks “glowingly” about how he worked closely with the candidate for so many years and how great a president this candidate will become, he is saying all the right words. One problem: he is reading from a set of notes. All the right words come spewing out of his mouth but he rarely makes eye contacts with the audience. It is as if someone gave him a prepared statement to read to the crowd. How do you think the crowd will receive such endorsement?  Why does a former United States senator have to read from a set of notes about his warm personal working relationship with the candidate he is endorsing? Surely he can’t be nervous about public speaking. He was a senator for many years.  Does it seem congruent at all? Is he making the connection with the voters?

Think about this when you make your next presentation. Will your audience feel that you are speaking from your heart? Will they feel that you really mean what you are saying? The way to achieve all of this is to KNOW your subject (not memorize it) and believe in the content. Speak from your heart and you will be fine.

Why you should avoid bullet points

The beauty of not using bullet points is that it forces the presenter to “have a conversation” with the audience rather than a recitation or worse yet a reading of bullet points! The primary reason people use a bunch of bullet points on a single slide is that the bullet points act as reminders or crutches. They are security blankets. Without the bullet points, you have to know the topic and speak to it naturally. I always ask people this: “When was the last time you spoke to your friends in a social setting and both of you were reading off a deck of index cards?”

Long time ago I was at a seminar where this moron (presenter) actually got on the podium and read his bullet points from notes to the audience for one hour without ever looking up once. Actually it was worse than that. He started the presentation by syaing that he didn’t really know aything about the topic! The presentation was so bad that it was almost funny. If there had been a trap door underneath him, the lever would have been pulled 5 minutes into his recitation. Finally one fellow from the audience stood up and asked why he had to pay $1000 to listen to someone read his notes.

The moral of this story: If you do not know your topic well enough to speak from your heart, don’t speak. No need to tell your audience you don’t know anything about your topic. They will know soon enough!

More tips on making a great presentation

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you are making a presentation: 

1.      Show passion in your presentation. It was the German philosopher George Hegel who said: “Nothing great has been accomplished without passion.” It is very important for you to show passion when you are presenting your slides. Your future clients need to know that you truly believe in what you are saying and that you have the desire to do the work if they award it to you. They need to know that you have not made the same old boring presentation to 100 other customers and they are now victim number 101. They need to get the sense that your presentation is the most important presentation you have ever made in your career. Your passion must show through. In other words, the best presentations are the ones that carry high voltage. When you present your reasons for your ideas with passion, the combination will work magic.  In his book “Moving Mountains – the Art of Letting Others See Things Your Way”, Henry Boettinger states that “passion and reason can cut through the fabric of doubt, inertia and fear” that your audience may have about your idea. Passion and reason are like the blades of a pair of scissors. Neither one can cut the fabric alone.  

2.        Focus your clients’ attention on you. Do not load the slides down with words that are mostly unreadable. Even if they are readable, you should refrain from using them because the text on the screen can be a great distraction to your audience. You want them to listen to what you and your team have to say rather than try to decipher what’s on the screen.  The best way to get attention is to give it. You want your clients’ attention on you. So when you do your homework and demonstrate that you truly understand your clients’ problems, you will get attention from your clients. 

Another way of keeping your audience’s attention is to vary your tone of voice throughout the presentation. Never use a monotone. At various stages of your talk, your tone could go from slow to fast, loud to soft, humorous to serious and melancholic to joyful. Use plenty of interesting and out-of-the-ordinary examples. If you are describing an aerodynamic equation, explain to the audience how it describes the flight of a bumble bee. Examples like that would certain keep your audience’s attention on you. 

The difference between a presentation with variety and one without is like the difference between a river and a canal. If you are floating down a river, it offers you different surprises at every bend. You may go from farmland to gorges to forest just by floating along. A canal, on the other hand, is a man-made ditch that is straight and not very interesting. A good presentation is a river. A bad one is a canal.  

(Note: this is an excerpt from Norman’s book “Connecting With Your Future Clients”.)

There are only two reasons for making a presentation

There are really only two reasons you make a presentation. One is to inform and the other is to persuade. You make a presentation to tell people about something – such as your ideas. You also make presentations to convince people to do certain things – like hire you as a consultant. In both cases, you need to make your ideas succinct and to the point. You don’t want to cluster up your slides with bullet points. If you cram 10 bullet points onto a single slide, your audience will not hear you or see you. They will be spending all the time trying to decipher those tiny words on the slide.

Brevity is the key to any presnetation. If you can say it in 5 words rather than 20 words, do so. Make your presentation more like a conversation with your audience. Afterall, isn’t that how you share ideas with your friends and convince others to do things? By having a conversation.

Presentation storyboard – tell them a story!

Whenever you make a presentation, you are telling a story to the audience. It is like showing your audience a movie with you as the narrator. Your story takes the following format:

  1. The setting of the story
  2. The main characters in the story
  3. The current situation the main characters are in (point A)
  4. The place where the main characters want to go (point B)
  5. How they can go from point A to point B (with your help)

These are the first 5 slides of any PowerPoint presentation.

Here is an example:

Let’s say you are making a presentation to the City of San Francisco to build another Golden Gate bridge. You want the City to hire you as the general contractor. Your first five slide would look like the following:

  1. Increasing traffic and population growth in the Bay area mandate a second bridge
  2. The City of San Francisco is responsible for choosing the right contractor
  3. The City has limited time and budget to build the bridge 
  4. It is critical that the bridge be built on time and within budget
  5. We are the contractor who can help the City achieve its goals

You then go on to show why you are the right contractor and how you plan to build the bridge on time and within budget. Use as many slides as you need to make the case but always limit each slide to ONE idea with a photo. No bullet points! Remember that slides are free. There are no limits to how many slides you can use. You do not have to pay Microsoft for any extra slides. So there is no reason for you to cram ten ideas onto a single slide.  The minute you show a slide with ten bullet points, your audience (your future clients) will focus its attention on reading these bullet points and not pay attention to you.

You show them photos of bridges you have built in the past. You show them photos of your team members. Do not cram the team members’ resumes into one single slides! Highlight major achievement in your slides – one point per slide. You are the narrator of your movie “Why the City should hire you”. Tell them a story.

If you have engineering details on how to build a bridge in a short time, show them pictures on slides. If there are complicated engineering equations or formulas involved, put them in a separate handout and speak to them during the presentation.

Remember the NASA Columbia space shuttle disaster story – you cannot reduce complicated technical details into a single slide with multiple bullet points. It will not work. 

One more point: There are no hard and fast rules on how much time you should spend on each slide. The only limitation you have is the time alloted to your entire presentation. So take as much time as you need to narrate each slide depending on the point you are making on that slide. You may spend 20 seconds on some slides and a full minute on others. It all depends on the content. So as long as you stay within your total time allotment, you are free to structure your presentation.

high quality information vs. low quality information

Let’s say you mention to the audience about the Lincoln Memorial. You show them a photo of it. There is no misunderstanding between you and your audience about the subject because the audience can see and touch the Memorial. They know exactly what you are talking about.

On another slide, you talk to them about the importance of being “wealthy”. Every single member of your audience will have a different idea of what “wealth” means. To one person, having $10,000 in the bank makes him feel wealthy because he has never had that much money before. To another person, $10,000 means nothing to him. He does not feel “wealthy” because he comes from a family with millions of dollars.  

The first example represents “high quality”. The second example is “low quality”.  If you want your audience to see things your way, you should try to present high quality information as much as possible.

Precision – a new approach to communication

This is the title of a book on business communication by Michael McMaster and John Grinder. It is one of the best books on this subject. It talks about how to obtain high quality information in business. For example: common business terms such as productivity, motivation, and profit are used often in a business setting and yet these terms are “low quality” words in that different people have different ideas of what these terms mean to them based on their own past experience. The highest quality is what can actually be seen, heard or felt. Compare these two statements: “Our machines are not very productive.” and “Machine #42 operated by Tom only works half of the time.” Which statement is more precise and has better quality information for you to take action?

According to the authors of this interesting book, “many management mistakes are the results of acting on a belief in a common understanding of words which, in fact, does not exist.” Misunderstanding occurs when people are not precise in communicating ideas. The same holds in presentation. When you make your point in a PowerPoint presentation, you want to be as precise as possible so that your audience will understand exactly what you are trying to convey. That’s why a three-word bullet point will not work.  Instead you should describe your point in a short sentence and reinforce that point with a visual presentation (a photo) that is relevant to the topic. You are trying to make a point that can be seen, heard or felt by your audience.