One of my earliest posts on this blog was on “Tell them a story“. Every presentation is story telling. It does not matter how complicated your topic is, your success in presentation hinges on your story telling ability. In fact, all the great presenters and speakers have the ability to turn complicated and technical issues into SIMPLE story telling. Any fool can rattle off complicated equations and theories from a set of notes. Only the smart ones can explain them to a non-technical audience.
I think they call that communication.
Everybody is a sales person. How true! I remember when I was in graduate engineering school many years ago and of course I thought I knew everything, I used to look down on sales people. One day I made a derogatory comment about salesmen to my engineering professor who at that time also had a thriving consulting business going. He glared at me and said “Never lose sight of the value of a great salesman”.
Ten years later, when I was working for a small consulting firm, the owner of the company used to send out a note to all his employees that read” “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.”
So next time when you make a presentation, just remember that you are the proverbial sales person SELLING something to the audience.
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.
I recently posted a question to the staff at Tom Peters’ website as to whether Tom rehearsed before his made his video. His staff checked with him and here is his answer:
“There’s less of an easy answer than you’d imagine. I do not rehearse in the formal sense. On the other hand, I come close to staying up all night before a speech going over my slides—over and over and over. Perhaps over 100 times???? Of course I formally modify the slides, to the point of de-emphasizing one word and emphasizing (italics) another. But as I go through the slides I am also sub-consciously, semi-consciously going through phrasing I might use. So in a way it’s damn near rehearsal, though you’re also right in that the main rehearsal is 3,000 or so speeches over about 31 years.”
As he said, he does not “rehearse in the formal sense”. What he does – in my opinion – is that he gets VERY familiar with what he plans to say to a particular audience the next day.
I just love Tom Peters. He is the best speaker (sorry – I meant to say salesman) I know. Bar none. Listen to what he has to say about sales:
When you make a presentation, you are selling something to someone. You are selling an idea to your colleagues. You are selling your business proposal to potential clients. If you are a teacher, you are not really teaching – you are really selling your knowledge to your students. If your presentation sucks, your students turns you off and nothing is taught.
The term “salesman” or “sales” has gotten a bad rap. It is not cool to be called a salesman. We sometimes associate sales to used car salesman. And that’s not fair to sales. We refer to used car salesman as those people who are too slick and too unethical in their dealings with customers. It is the same in the presentation world. If a presentation is too slick or comes off too smoothly, we become suspicious of the speaker. We think he is not one of us – and rightly so too.
So that’s another reason why you should never over-rehearse your presentation to the point where people think you are too slick. It needs spontaneity. And from it comes sincerity and credibility. Without credibility, no one will buy from you.
When you make a presentation, you are communicating with your audience. I have said many times that you are in effect having a conversation with the folks in front of you. Having a conversation involves LISTENING. Listen to what management guru Tom Peters has to say about listening. Wow!
How do you listen while making a presentation? You pay attention to the audience. You listen through your eyes in addition to your ears. If members of your audience are dozing off, your eyes are “telling” you that you are boring and you are using too many bullet points.
One of Tom Peters’ presentation tips is “By hook or by crook..connect, connect and connect” with your audience. There are many ways you can achieve that. The most obvious one is to maintain eye contact with the audience by NOT reading your notes. Talk to them the same way you talk to your friend.
Another way is to relate to your audience’s experience by telling stories. Remember: every presentation is a story. You connect with them by sharing part of your experience that is similar to theirs.
For example, when I give my 2-day presentation on environmental regulation (a potentially deadly dull subject) to an audience made up of environmental managers, I relate to them by telling them the failures and successes that I had when I was a corporate environmental manager. I connect with them through a shared road map of our past. I was experiencing the same challenges that they are having now. That’s where the connection occurs. As a result, I am able to make a deadly dull subject sound interesting to the audience.
Contrast this approach to that taken by many attorneys before the same audience. The attorneys cite regulations ad nausea because many of them have never visited a factory or have to be responsible for compliance in a corporate setting. They have no stories to tell that the audience can relate to. On top of that, these attorneys show up in full business suits when there is not a single tie in the meeting room.
You just can’t connect this way.