Monthly Archives: March 2010

More on perfection

My friend Jim Rait from the UK sent me an email today. I am posting parts of it here because it is thought provoking and it merits some discussions. Here it is:

“Warming to our theme of last week I began to realise we are talking about presentations that inspire the ‘audience’ and make them want to think about,  or do, something differently. So perfection depends on the interaction between the presenter and his presentees. So the perfect presentation is a process and an event. It is about pre-preparation the sweat and tears that goes in deciding the theme, the content and the illustrations and then throwing away the excess generated during that process what we might call perfecting presentation. Then comes the standing up, having first worked out what sort of audience it is on that day/hour, what sort of facilities are available (and do they work?). So simultaneously delivering the presentation and interacting with the audience  should lead to perfect presenting: but our work is not done… we need to follow up on the feedback and reflect on what went on while we presented.. does it change how we put the slides together and what we put on them… so its back to the ‘drawing board’.”

Anyone wants to add to this? I personally think Jim hits it right on the head.

Is there such a thing as a “perfection” presentation?

In his comment to this blog, Jim Rait made the following quote that I thought was really appropriate: “You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.”

What this quote implies is that less is more. It addresses the issue of simplicity in design which can quite easily carry over to presentations. Is there such a thing as a perfect presentation? I think not. A lot of people think of a perfect presentation as one that has the right gestures, the right tone and the proper pacing.

The two main criteria of a near-perfect presentation are these: It conveys carries the conversation to the audience or it convinces the audience to either buy or accept something or it conveys an idea. Those are the two reasons that we make presentations. And the key to such a presentation is to keep it simple. Yes, less is more. A lot of speakers make the fatal errors of wanting to tell the audience everything about the topic. That’s why they jammed all that information onto a single slide. They feel that if they leave something out somebody will challenge them. They feel that they need to cover all the bases. They are trying to prove to the audience how knowledgeable they are. That approach is all wrong.

What you want to do is to cover the key points that you want to convey to the audience. Many people say that you should have only three points in a presentation. That’s nonsense. You should have as many points as you need to make but not so many that you overwhelm the audience. For example, if you’re making a presentation on the Ten  Commandments, you make 10 points – not three.

Is your presentation ho-hum?

When you finished making a presentation or giving a speech, did you come away with the feeling that it was okay? When you asked your friend in the audience how it went, did the reply come back as “it was okay”? Have you ever wondered in your mind: did I just gave a great talk or was it just ho-hum?

Take a look at this short video from Tom Peters who talks about why you do not want to go through life being ordinary or just ho-hum.

By the way, if you made a presentation and somebody comes up to you a week or a month later and talk to you about that presentation, you can safely say that your presentation was not ho-hum.

Why do people get nervous when they speak in public?

This is an age old question. Why do people get nervous when they have to speak in front of a group of strangers? There have been many many studies done on this subject. Numerous doctoral theses have been written on this topic. The basic reason we get nervous is fear. It is the fear of the unknown and there are two possible causes of such fear. The first one is the audience-a group of total strangers. We don’t know how they will react to our speech or presentation. The second fear is the topic itself.

To handle the first type of fear-fear of speaking to a group of total stranger’s-is relatively easy to do. Make a point of meeting some of these total strangers before you get up on the podium if it is possible for you to do so. If not, then try to make eye contact with a few of them during your presentation and convince yourself that these are your friends. Pick someone who has a familiar face, a kind face, a face you can relate to. Someone who reminds you of a friend you know. If you’re able to take either one of these actions, the fear of speaking to a group of strangers world dissipate sooner than you think.

The second type of fear relates to the topic on which you speak it. If you do not know the topic well enough, you are going to be very nervous and rightly so. It doesn’t matter if you have memorized or rehearsed your presentation 100 times before the day of reckoning. You will still feel nervous dep down because if you don’t know your subject, you’re going to be asking yourself this question “Geez… what if somebody asks me something on this topic and I don’t have the answer?” Many speakers have fallen flat on their faces after they’ve given a well-rehearsed presentation or speech as soon as someone in the audience asked them a question that they cannot answer or understand.

My favorite example is this: you can memorize Einstein’s theory of relativity and give a flawless presentation to a group of theoretical physicists at the convention. But unless you know the topic really well, you are going to be nervous and mortified because you know that  you will not be able to answer the first question from the audience.  The fear will never go away. You can have the best speaking coaches in the world coaching you. That fear will NEVER go away.

So the best way to conquer this fear is to know your subject. Instead of spending your time memorizing your speech or presentation, spend the time to really understand the topic and to try to anticipate any questions that may come up from the audience during and after your presentation. Once you feel that you have mastered the topic of your presentation, the fear of this unknown will also dissipate.

One final thought. Never never tell your audience at the beginning of the presentation that you are nervous and you are new at this. All that does is reinforce your lack of confidence and it also makes the audience nervous. They’re going to be sitting back thinking of two things. One – you mean I have to sit through this horrible presentation because the speaker doesn’t know what he’s doing? Or two – Lee’s sit back and see how bad this presentation is going to be and let’s look for mistakes. The truth of the matter is that you may feel nervous but the audience doesn’t really know that you are nervous. We are often a much harsher critic of our own ability than others.

The Impact of Public Speaking on Top Sales Performance

Angela Definis of Blog Carnival asked me to write a blog on the impact of public speaking on top sales performance. Books have been written on this very topic. I will just summary here a few of the many keys points that I have in  my own book.

An excellent example of the impact of public speaking on top sales performance is none other than Steve Jobs. Just look at his presentation on this blog and others and you would see the passion that he possessed when he made his sales presentation. That brings us to the first point. You must show passion in your presentation. It was the German philosopher George Hegel who said “Nothing great has been accomplished without passion.” It is extremely important for you to show passion when you’re making your sales presentation. Remember the basic reason why you are there.  You are there to convince somebody to buy something from you and if you can’t show passion about your own product,  who’s going to buy that product from you? The people in the audience need to know that you truly believe in what you’re saying. They need to know that you have not made the same old boring presentation to 100 other customers and that 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. The best presentations are the ones with high voltage.

The next point to remember is that you must focus your audience’s attention on you. That means that you do not load your presentation with slides containing a bunch of horrible bullet points. You do not want your audience to read your slides. You want them to listen to you, to see you and to feel your passion.

The best way to get attention is to give it. You do that by doing your homework by understanding what your customer wants.

Another way of keeping your audience attention is to vary your tone of voice throughout the presentation. Never use a monotone. At various stages of your talk, you 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. Use examples that your audience can relate to. The difference between the presentation with variety and one without this like the difference between a river and a canal. If you’re floating down the river, it presents different surprises at every bend. You may go from farmland to gorges to forest just by floating along. The canal on the other hand is a man-made ditch that is straight and not very interesting.

Another important point to remember is that your sales presentation is not about your ego. It is about your ideas. It is about your products. So avoid telling the audience how great you are. Focus on the product or idea and not on you. If you go and look at Steve Jobs’ presentation, you never hear him brag about how smart he is.

Also make sure that your presentation is concise and to the point. Sometimes less is better. Do not fall into the trap of wanting to tell the audience everything about you and your product. All that does is confuse the audience. You certainly do not want your audience to describe your presentation as “a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

It is not necessary for you to cover all possible combinations and permutations in your proposed solution to your audience. You can employ a technique known as “cognizant omission” that is used by many professional speakers. For example: you start by telling your audience that you have looked at all possible scenarios and you have narrowed them down to three and these are worthy of further discussions. In that way no one in the audience is going to think that you have ignored or overlooked some salient points of your argument.

Another important point to remember is that your sales presentation is a conversation with your potential customers. It is not public speaking – it is public conversation. You’re talking to your future customers about what your product can do for them. Therefore it should not be a monologue. So try to engage your customers early during your presentation. Get them to talk to you. One way to do that is to invite them right up front at the beginning of your sales presentation to interrupt you anytime they have any questions.

One very last point to remember is that you should always prepare for any anticipated questions. This is where smart rehearsal comes in handy. You do not rehearse the delivery of your presentation. But you do spend time on how you will answer any anticipated questions about your product. That means you need to do extensive research. So just give a conversational type of presentation with the knowledge that you will be able to answer any questions posed by your audience.

If you keep all these points above in mind, chances are you will make an excellent sales performance.