In the Sunday New York Times Book Review section, novelist Colson Whitehead took the opportunity to poke fun at some tried and true rules of the writers’ craft, some of which I have recommended myself.Among them are:
See Jerry’s interview on Pando Daily’s Pandolist: CEO Coaches.Pando Daily, founded by Sarah Lacy in 2012, is a news site that covers the technology startup ecosystem. Its single goal is to be the site-of-record for that startup root-system and everything that springs up from it, cycle-after-cycle.
1) What is your biggest fear?
The polarization in the United States now.
2) What's one thing you believe in that nearly everyone disagrees with you on?
My approach to presentations, people want me to give them short tips, they don’t want to take the time to learn. If I become a critic, nobody learns.
3) What's the one event in your life, be it personal or professional, that brought
you here today?
When my friend grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said start this business and do it now.
4) What is one piece of advice you're glad you didn't take?
I should just maintain this as a one man operation and close the door when I'm finished.
5) If you could have any mediocre super power, what would it be?
Arianna Huffington, the president and editor-in-chief of the
Huffington Post Media Group, a nationally syndicated columnist, and
author of thirteen books wrote about the value of good story telling in her blog today.
“I like that person; he/she looks you straight in the eye!”
“I don’t like that person; he/she is shifty-eyed!”
These two familiar exclamations define the opposite poles of eye contact, the most essential element in interpersonal communication. But effective eye contact has another little-known but important benefit: Calming the user.
Whenever you—or any presenter—stand up in front of any audience, the stress of the moment triggers an adrenaline rush that sets your whole body into the accelerated motion of Fight or Flight; particularly your eyeswhichsweep the room in search of escape routes.
The rapid eye movement makes you appear furtive to your audience, which makes feel them uneasy; when you sense their uneasiness, you become more stressed which heightens your adrenaline rush which makes your eyes move faster and…a vicious cycle.
It gets worse.
During the sweep, your eyes take in a great deal of sensory data. All of that data is processed by your brain which increases your stress which heightens your adrenaline rush which makes your eyes sweep faster; the faster your eyes move, the more data you take in… the vicious cycle compounds.
Instead, look at each individual in your audience long enough to see that person look back at you. This simple step will suddenly diminish your rapid eye movement. Readers of The Power Presenter will recognize this technique as “Eye Connect,” a more pronounced form of eye contact in which you engage with each member of your audience in full. Contrast this approach with the scanning that most presenters do in their attempt to make eye contact. Connect with every person you see by waiting until you see each person look back at you, until you make the connection.
While Eye Connect decreases the frequency of your eye movement, it also decreases the amount of sensory data your brain has to process, which reduces your stress, lowers your adrenaline rush and makes you calmer.
The calming effect created by diminished eye movement has an analogy in scuba diving. Karyn Scott, the Director of Enterprise Segment Marketing at Cisco, is a certified scuba diver. She explains that when she sees a novice diver panic under water, she swims to that person and gives hand signals— pointing two fingers rapidly back and forth between their eyes and hers—directing the person to look her in the eye. As soon as their eyes stop darting, their panic subsides, and the air bubbles coming from their regulator quickly slow down. Connecting eye to eye with another human is so powerful there’s almost no need for words.
Bruce Iliff, an Australian scuba Divemaster, has a variation of Ms. Scott’s method: he recommends that when divers start to panic, they should “look at the surface. At 20 metres the surface looks so close you could reach out and touch it, a comforting thought!”
In essence, both Mr. Iliff and Ms. Scott are advocating the same method you can use when you present: look at each person in your audience until you see that person look back. That simple but powerful step will decrease the frequency of your eye movement, increase the duration of your engagement—and you will become calmer.
Sue Shellenbarger, the creator of the
"Work & Family" column for the Wall Street Journal, did a piece last week on the importance of good
grammar in the workplace. The column quickly became the most popular on the
newspaper’s website. Ms. Shellenbarger identified the challenge at the
beginning of her column: “looseness with language can create bad impressions
with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors.”
The rest of her column is just as good,
so I’ll step out of the way and let you read
P.S. Be sure to try your hand at the 22
test questions by clicking on the "interactive graphics" tab directly
under the title.
No presenter in his or her right mind would want to see an audience yawning, right?
Of course not, but there is an aspect of yawning that is desirable: Empathy, the involuntary sharing of feelings between human beings. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of one person’s yawn producing a contagious chain of yawning in other people in the room. But I’m not talking about putting your audience to sleep; I’m talking about provoking a positive empathy as contagious as yawning.
Empathy occurs in specialized brain cells called mirror neurons. Studies have shown that mirror neurons cause us to mimic the physical behaviors and emotional states that we observe in others. What we see, we feel.
ABC Science of Australia reported on a study on empathy made by Atsushi Senji at the University of London’s Birbeck College. In the study, two groups of children, one with and one without autism—a developmental condition that severely affects social interaction—watched video clips of other people yawning. The researchers found that the children with autism yawned less than the other children, leading the researchers to conclude, "It supports the claim that contagious yawning is based on the capacity for empathy."
In other words, empathy is intrinsic. Your audience perceives and responds to your emotions on a very fundamental level. If you appear poised and confident, they will feel your confidence and you will win them over.
But how can you be poised and confident when you get up on stage, the bright lights hit you, and your adrenaline starts flowing? The only method I’ve found successful is to do the groundwork first.
As a producer of corporate meetings and events, I’ve seen the full spectrum of efforts when it comes to presenters. Some prefer to be spontaneous and just “wing it.” Others inherit a slide deck from their boss or a colleague and try to shoe-horn it into the context of their presentation or speech.
Effective presenters first get their story straight by brainstorming, determine the key elements, the benefits for the audience, establish a logical order for their story, and then develop slides that support their message. But most importantly, they are the ones I see showing up for rehearsals!
No one can completely eliminate the adrenaline rush that occurs when you are on stage. But if you’re well-rehearsed, you own your own story, and tell it in a logical order, the adrenaline rush will be greatly reduced. You will feel more poised and confident, and your audience will feel it too.
And I guarantee they won’t be yawning!
Thanks to Chad Hall of Ioxus and Eli [Oleg] Pozniansky of CSR Technology (formerly Zoran) for their contributions to this post.
In a previous post, you read about how self-centeredness is an obstacle to all communication, extending all the way from social conversations to our focus, presentations. To remove that barrier, to put the “co-” in “communication,” the effective communicator adds interaction to interpersonal exchanges, but more important, adds benefits for the listener—whether that listener is the other person in a conversation or the audience for a presentation.
But that leaves open the question of why any person in his or her right mind would allow a failure to communicate to occur in the first place. There are two answers: one scientific and the other a pervasive misconception that has taken on the status of a legacy in the world of presentations.
Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir and her Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell conducted a series of experiments to explore why people like to talk about themselves. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said:
Here, we test recent theories that individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward. Five studies provided support for this hypothesis. Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area.
The mesolimbic dopamine system just happens to be the same part of the brain in which pleasurable sensations occur. Meaning that, as the Wall Street Journalstory about the study summarized it, “Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money.”
This places a very high barrier to being able to interrupt the party bores who monopolize conversations; and the only solution I can offer is to repeat what I wrote in the previous blog: excuse yourself and head for the bar to refresh your drink.
Presentations are another matter. As a coach, I have spent the greater part of my career urging presenters to include benefits in their pitches. But the need to remind them still persists. Presenters continue to sell features and/or blow their own horn. The reason they do—and this is only conjecture—goes all the way back to the dawn of the presentation universe when some sage decided that presentations should begin with a “snapshot” that introduces the presenter’s company. This usually results in an initial slide that, depending on who creates it, is a hodgepodge of disparate facts that include (but is not limited to):
year of founding
number of employees
This step gets the presentation off on the wrong foot for a number of reasons: the slide attempts to tell the whole story, the story is not apparent at a glance, the focus shifts attention away from the presenter, the presenter is forced to read the slide…the list goes on. But worst of all, it’s all about you and not about the audience and, to paraphrase the title of the 2004 bestselling book, they’re just not that into you.
Make the front end of your presentation about your audience. Focus on their issues and concerns and tell them what your company can do for them. Pivot from your point of view to theirs. This pivot is best illustrated by the story of Theodore Leavitt, a professor at Harvard Business School who told his students not to try to sell customers a quarter-inch drill, but a way to make a quarter-inch hole. Tie what you do to your audience’s needs.
Consider the snapshot as boilerplate that is best left to the handout materials. If you still feel the need to include information about your company within the presentation, shift it to later in the deck, after you have shown them how well you understand them.
If you’ve ever tried to have an important conversation on your mobile telephone from a busy airport terminal, a crowded restaurant, or a noisy street, you’ll appreciate the solution developed by Audience, Inc., a Silicon Valley company. Using sophisticated software algorithms and integrated circuits that mimic the dynamics of the human ear, Audience’s technology separates the background noise from the human voice and transmits conversations with crystal clarity. Investors appreciated Audience’s technology—and the 316% Compound Annual Growth Rate of their revenues—when they went public last week. The stock was priced above the anticipated range, and then rose 12% higher on the first day of trading.
Investors related to Audience as end users of mobile devices, but they also related in their primary roles as investors because Peter Santos, the company’s CEO, made the connection for them in his IPO road show. After describing Audience’s revolutionary solution—with a simple but dramatic demonstration of Audience’s technology enhancing a mobile conversation on a noisy street—Mr. Santos punctuated his presentation by scaling the “you.”
If you or billions of other mobile phone users want to have not just narrowband calls but wideband calls, to be able to have video in addition to voice calls, want to be able to enter addresses or search strings using your voice instead of typing it on a keypad, and if you want to do all these things in a noisy mobile environment, you have a much higher bar in terms of acoustic signal processing….Audience has solved those problems.
Because Mr. Santos scaled from the single “you” of a mobile phone user to the implied multiples of “you” represented by the “billions of other mobile phone users,” he demonstrated the large market potential for Audience’s technology. But he didn’t stop there, he went on to widen the opportunity for that same technology to address several other applications and several other markets; all of which is music—as clear as an enhanced mobile phone call—to investors’ ears, music accompanied by the sound of a ringing cash register: Ka-Ching!
Scaling the “you” was a lot easier for Mr. Santos than it was for the CEO of a medical device company whose product treats diabetes victims. In her IPO road show, the CEO could not address the investor audience as individuals for two reasons: less than 10% of the population has diabetes and, far more important, she might have made her audience feel uncomfortable by associating them with a debilitating disease. In her road show she went right to the big market by describing the 25.8 million children and adults in just the United States who could be helped by her company’s product. Ka-Ching!
The CEO of another medical device company whose product is a minimally-invasive surgical tool, had it a bit easier. I coached his IPO road show and role-played a potential investor in our sessions. During the final rehearsal of his presentation, he held up his minimally-invasive surgical device, looked at me and said “With this device, you can make a better incision.” I shook my head and said, “I don’t make incisions.” He thought for a second, held up the device again and said, “So you can see, if tens of thousands of surgeons want to make better incisions, they’re going to have to buy this device from us.” Ka-Ching!
Do the calculations for your audiences and add value.
Scale the “you,” and listen for the happy sound of Ka-Ching!
One of the early lessons we all learn in school is how to make an outline; how to create that waterfall of Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lower case letters that cascade down to the bottom of the page, if not dozens of pages of interminable term papers. Thus we are forever programmed to arrange our ideas in a hierarchical order—in sharp contrast to what our brains do naturally: generate ideas in random order.
To demonstrate: as I sit writing this blog, I glance at a ball point pen on my desk. The logo on the pen reminds me that I got it at as souvenir at a business conference. I remember that I met a man at the conference who told me about a book on presidential politics. This reminds me that I had been planning another blog on the same subject, and so I open a file with the notes on that subject and…. you see where this is going. I’m sure that if you were to track your own thought patterns, you would discover the same winding, random path. That’s the way every human mind works: unstructured.
And yet, when business people sit down to develop a presentation, they immediately start to apply structure, in either a hierarchical outline form or by organizing a set of existing PowerPoint slides to create a new “deck”—each approach forces structure onto unstructured ideas.
In a priorpost about how Woody Allen creates, you read that he and other artists let their random ideas flow unimpeded, note them as they occur, and then lay out the notes in a panoramic view. Mr. Allen tosses scraps of paper onto his bed, other film directors use storyboards, architects make papier-maché models, military officers use wall size maps, and businesses encourage employees to doodle their creative ideas on whiteboards during product development or strategy sessions. The Wall Street Journalreported that sales of IdeaPaint, a paint product that turns a wall surface into a whiteboard, have doubled since 2008. For your presentation development, you can do your brainstorming on a whiteboard, a computer screen or Post-it Notes as you generate your ideas, but what is as important as the free flow is that you see the ideas you generate in a panoramic or landscape view.
The simple reason for this part of the creative process is that our eyes are set side-by-side in our heads, making the landscape view more pleasing and open than the portrait view. If you start with an outline, the constricted view imposes a ranking sequence too early in the process. A panoramic view allows you to see the conceptual relationships among your ideas.
Even the venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica has come to understand the importance of visual thematic relationships. The publisher of alphabetized—sequential rather than conceptual— reference works for almost 244 years, discontinued its print version in March and went digital. As part of the transition, they included a link map feature, shown above, that looks like a brainstorming session you might do on a whiteboard.
Walter S. Mossberg, the author of the Wall Street Journal’s “Personal Technology” column, reviewed the new feature and wrote that the publisher, which “has always been expensive, and a bit stodgy...[in] order to make itself more relevant in a Wikipedia world…has produced a slick app…Perhaps the coolest feature is the link map, triggered from an icon at the top of each article page. This generates a spider web of icons representing other articles related to the one you were reading.”
The 35,000 foot view shows patterns that lead to clear stories; an outline traps ideas.
Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president in 1964 infamously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” This misguided view of political policy became a major factor in Mr. Goldwater’s landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson, but it also serves as a warning lesson for presenters. Extremism in any pursuit can overshoot the mark and result in the opposite intent of the pursuit.
One of the most frequently repeated pieces of advice for presenters is to “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em what you’ve told ’em.” In fact, I offer the same advice in my own coaching practice and writing. The intent is to impose and maintain a clear narrative flow in presentations and speeches; and the reason it is repeated so often is that most presenters and speakers, who regularly crank out long, rambling, pointless patchwork pitches, desperately need reminding. The Triple “Tell ’em” is one solution. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing; a sword can cut two ways.
Bruce Eric Kaplan, a cartoonist who appears regularly in the New Yorker magazine as BEK, skewered the excessive Triple “Tell ’em” earlier this month with a panel that showed a presenter in front of an audience, saying, “First, I want to give you an overview of what I will tell you over and over again during the entire presentation.”
We’re also painfully familiar with presenters who impose a narrative laundry list on their bullets by saying “First, I’d like to talk about…” then move on to the second bullet saying, “Next, I’d like to talk about…” and then proceed through every bullet the same way until the end, when they say—wait for it— “Last but not least…”
Some presenters push their extreme handholding even further, by utilizing their slides to do the tracking. As in the figure above, they insert copies of an agenda slide between the sections of their presentation, progressively shifting the highlighted bullet to “Tell ’em what they’re gonna tell ’em” in the upcoming section. This technique can be useful in long tutorial presentations, but if there are only one or two slides between the variations of the agenda in short presentations—and short presentations are obligatory in this 140-character day and age—the audience, feeling patronized, will react with a big Duh!
Presenters are not the only perpetrators of such deliberate continuity devices. Geoff Dyer, who writes the “Reading Life” column the New York Times Book Review section, considers excessive tracking a “basically plodding method.” In one of his columns, he criticized art historian Michael Fried, whose book, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, takes “the style of perpetual announcement of what is about to happen to extremes.” Mr. Dyer said it is “like watching a rolling news program: Coming up on CNN . . . A look ahead to what’s coming up on CNN.” Concluding his critique, Mr. Dyer wrote, “I kept wondering why an editor had not scribbled ‘get on with it!’ in huge red letters on every page of the manuscript.”
Then, with a shorter and more succinct story, look at your presentation from a 35,000 foot view—as a storyboard—in the Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Sorter view, or with the Power Presentations Storyboard form in the accompanying figure. It’s downloadable from our website: www.powerltd.com by clicking at the bottom of the home page.
Just as television and film directors use storyboarding to see the full scope of their stories, look at your slide show in this panoramic view to see your flow. Then rehearse your presentation aloud, moving from frame to frame. Do this several times. Along the way, you’ll find that you might want to add, delete, or shuffle slides. As you proceed with your iterations, you will develop verbal connective links for your narrative.
Ultimately, you will have a presentation in which The Triple “Tell ’em” is transparently implied. You will have a story that will be easy for you to deliver and, more important, easy for your audience to follow—without a laundry list, without CNN-style teasers, and best of all, without those patronizing agenda slides.