Recently at the 2013 Emmys while accepting her award star Merritt Wever left the crowd speechless when she quickly wrapped up her speech in just a few seconds. She said “Oh my God, thanks so much! Thank you so much. Um, I gotta go. Bye!” It was hilarious and received a round of laughter and applause. The shortest, best received speech ever and talk about being memorable for all the right reasons.
We can definitely take a leaf out of her book. So here are some quick tips on applying brevity in your work life.
When you are requesting a meeting with someone, request a 30 minute or even a 15 minute meeting. Few people can refuse a 15 minute request and if you can’t say what you have to say in 30 minutes, you need to do some more work before you waste anyone else’s time! (Tough love)
When scheduling meetings with larger groups of people, buck convention and instead of booking a meeting for a hour, book it for 45 minutes. People can use the remaining 15 minutes to prepare, read the agenda on their own.
When you are asked to present for an hour, don’t feel you have to speak for the entire 60 minutes and then some! Always plan to finish early even the 45 / 50 minute mark and this will ensure you are a hit with your audience. Leave them wanting more, instead of wanting to see the last of you.
No one reads long emails! Either write a short email and put all the detail in an attachment or pick up the phone and have the conversation.
Finally this tip is from Sir Richard Branson. If you were to put what you were saying on a ‘Coat of arms’ what would it be? It would have to be simple and short to fit across the bottom of a coat of arms. Virgin’s motto for example on a coat of arms would be ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’.
George Bernard Shaw famously said ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’. Paraphrasing for a time starved world ‘Brevity is the soul of successful communication’.
In the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” Ben Stein plays a dorkish economics teacher who always interrupts his lectures by asking questions with the infamous words ‘Anyone? anyone? anyone?’ The camera pans to a sea of bored students. Ben Stein proceeds to always answer his own questions! It’s both funny and a cautionary tale for how NOT to tackle questions when you are presenting. So here are our top tips on posing questions as part of your presentation.
Steer clear of the infamous ‘Any questions’.
This is the worst way to ask for questions as it is too broad and causes people’s minds to spin into infinity. Instead ask for any comments, observations or questions. This gives people some options. Or you could be specific, and say ‘I’d be happy to take questions on X, Y or Z’. We often present on Business Storytelling so our version of this is ‘We are happy to answer your questions on storytelling in leadership or storytelling in sales’. This gives your audience a starting point and also directs the flow of questions.
The biggest fear that presenters have with asking for questions is that they may not know the answer. Relax, it’s perfectly OK not to know the answer to everything, you are not Google! When you don’t know the answer, what matters is how you handle the situation. You can say ‘I don’t have an answer for you now, but happy to research this and get back to you’. The worst thing you can do is fumble and spin your way through an answer. Doing that can destroy the impact of your presentation.
Sometimes, people will ask an obscure question, or for something so specific that is relevant only to them. They want to disappear down rabbit holes and take you with them. You don’t have to answer every question you are asked! In response we will often to say ‘That is the perfect question to solve over a glass of wine, so happy to chat with you after’, if it is irrelevant to the presentation you might say ‘I am not an expert of X, but I’m sure there is someone in the audience who is an expert and would be happy to chat with you after’. Be tactful when handling this as you do not want to deter the rest of the audience from asking further questions.
Never end on any questions
Ending on ‘any question’s leaves the end of your presentation to chance. The last questions might be a curly one, or not the final message you want to leave your audience with. So always allot time for the Q&A and pull back by saying “I will take one more question’ before wrapping up. Then make sure you end on message.
So do you have any comments, observations or questions on this post? I would be happy to hear how you have tackled questions when you present.
As Claude Levi – Strauss said “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.” Use these strategies to get your audience asking the right questions.
It was Samuel Goldwyn, of the movie company MGM, who said “The harder I work, the luckier I get”. So how does one get lucky with presentations? I often think of a presentation as living on a timeline. There are things to do before the presentation, things to do during and things to do after that set us up for luck, for success. These are some things we do.
In our ‘before phase’ we spend a lot of time thinking about the audience – who are they, what are they thinking etc. and then establishing our 3 key messages. This is before we have even opened up PowerPoint. This sounds really straightforward so far. No surprises. Once we have our audience and content right we then practice. This comes as a real surprise to most people including some of our clients. The famous golfer Gary Player said something similar to Goldwyn’s quote, “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. There is simply no escaping the hard yards; it’s practice, practice and more practice. Everyone has his or her favorite way of practising. Mine is to record myself into my phone and hear it back, or loud in the car. People are afraid they will seem too contrived if they practice. Believe me you won’t, as it’s your material, you will own it. I rather take the risk of seeming too polished than coming across as poorly prepared.
Our mentor Peter Cook says right on the day the most important thing is your mindset. Do you see the presentation as a bore, something you have to do, or do you want to give it your best shot? On ‘The Voice’ channel 9’s reality TV show, Seal gave each of his team members a folded sheet of paper to prepare them for their battle ahead. When they opened it, the paper simply said ‘There is nothing else there”. He wanted them to approach this as if there was nothing else there. Imagine approaching your next presentation with this mindset.
And finally the ‘After phase’. Spending a minute or two evaluating how you went. You can ask a trusted advisor in the audience and read the twitter feed. Always ask yourself what you would keep and what you would do differently. Evaluation is a dish best served hot!
All of this sounds simple but it’s having the discipline to do it every time for every presentation. Way back in the first century, Seneca, a Roman philosopher who seems like a really cool guy nailed it when he said ‘Luck is where preparation meets opportunity’. So see every presentation as an opportunity to shine and prepare like mad to get there.
‘It’s all about connecting with your audience, nothing else matters, if you don’t connect you are dead’ says John Polson the founder of the immensely successful Tropfest short film festival. This possibly applies to everything we do in business, presenting, communicating, selling, customer service and leading.
We probably all get connecting intuitively. Like when we say ‘I just connected with him’, but what does that actually mean? Can connecting be broken down into actual repeatable behaviours that you can use every time to connect with your customers, a stakeholder, your audience? Well I’m going to try, but this is by no means a complete list.
The first thing that matters in building a connection is people like you.
Everyone has heard the first 30 seconds count, that first impression matters. This is when what you say or do sets the tone for people to like you, or not, and don’t dismiss that, as people like to do business with people they like.
Recently I had the privilege of hearing Mark Stephenson speak. When he was introduced, the MC did a short version of his bio. He is among other things an expert in both prime number cryptography and computer aided design. The intro went on for a couple of minutes and was packed with all his achievements, and to state it mildly, Mark is a super high achiever. The audience was thinking ‘Wow, don’t think we could connect with him. He’s up there in the stratosphere and I hope I can even understand what he’s going to say’.
Mark stood up to speak and the first thing he said was ‘You probably think I’m an arse now!” There was a brief second of silence before the whole auditorium exploded with laughter. People were thinking ‘We like this guy!’. Now you don’t have to swear but if you can tell people who you really are in the first moment that helps them know you and like you.
What happens in the next 30 seconds? Can you launch into your messages yet? Absolutely not, it’s too early and you are still building that connection.
In the next 30 seconds, connecting is about being relatable and your audience whether it’s a customer or a room full of people they need to feel ‘you get them’.
Did you see the first episode of Junior Master Chef on Sunday? All eyes were on Anna Gare, the new judge. When Anna was introduced to her young audience, all under 12, she said ‘I started cooking when I was your age and I could barely see over the counter’. Her audience laughed and immediately connected with her, she was relating to them and understood what it felt like being a child cooking.
Connecting is also about seeing your interaction as a value exchange. You might be giving your audience information, or a cool new tool, but they are giving you their time and attention. Your audience needs to feel they are getting something of value from you, something they can take away instead of just being sold to. This explains why there is so much free high value content on the internet. The people who give away free high quality high value content, know by doing that they are setting in motion a high value exchange. You initially engage with them, through the high value content (whether it’s downloading a free e book, or watching a video). It’s almost like a taste test, and if you like what you see you will probably buy what they are selling. They sold to you by connecting with you first through a value exchange.
These are some of the building blocks of connecting with other people. Of course the acid test of connecting is whether they would like to see you again? I know I would love to see Mark Stephenson present again, and again.
Just last week I received an email that made me laugh out loud and go YES! And no it wasn’t a joke from a friend. It was from Meetings & Events Australia (MEA) announcing that they are banning the traditional use of PowerPoint-style presentations including such proven yawn inducers like bullet points, clip art, reading from the screen (that old chestnut) at their major conference to be held in Sydney. Hats off to MEA!
So whether you are presenting with or without PowerPoint here are 3 top tips to make your next presentation shine. This can be summarized in just one-word connections. People need to connect to you the person (not the presenter, not yet anyway); they need to feel you connect with them and they need to connect to your messages.
Getting your audience to connect with you first as a person, is the presentation equivalent of shaking hands when you meet someone. Just as you would never launch into business stuff before shaking hands, you would never launch into your presentation without getting the audience to connect with you first. So can you begin with something personal, humble, even funny, that segues into your presentation? Keep it short, and never launch into your CV – that is boring.
How can you connect with your audience? One CEO coming into the company’s strategy session handled this one by saying ‘Even this morning when I was driving here I thought what not another strategy session, feels like we just had one a few weeks ago!’. He was echoing what a lot of people in the room where thinking and feeling – so even before you have started your formal presentation people connect to you, as a person and they feel you understand them …that you connect with them.
The next tip for all presenters is to get people to connect with your messages.
Just yesterday in my daughter’s school I was listening to a parenting expert who said you should have 3 non negotiables as a parent, because your kids can only remember 3 and any more will be hell for you as a parent! The same rule applies to your presentation have only 3 key messages. 3 is all your audience can remember and anymore and it’s hell maybe not for you but definitely for them! Some tough love here, no one is going to walk away from any presentation remembering what your 8 key messages were.
For each key message think of an anecdote, a story that would make it memorable. People remember the story and through that they remember the point you were making.
So there you have it – to be a successful presenter with or without PowerPoint you need to get people to connect to you as a person first, you need to connect to the audience and you need the audience to connect to your messages, by having a maximum of 3 and using stories, anecdotes and humor to make your messages memorable.
I love TED Talks and can spend many a pleasant hour (ahem) watching different speakers. I am also always trying to dissect what makes the talks so exceptional. One of my favourites is Benjamin Zander and as soon as you watch him, you realise he has a passion and enthusiasm that is immediately infectious. He obviously knows and loves his subject (classical music), but don’t let the subject put you off.
Benjamin Zander is able to connect with people by using humour and personal stories. He seems to genuinely believe that his audience loves classical music too, except they might not know that yet! Which is a brave premise, but it works!
How about if this is not your style and you are presenting on a topic that most people might know very little or even nothing about? Rajesh Rao’s presentation on the 4,000 year old Indus script is an example. At each step Rajesh Rao creates a modern context to help his audience understand and engage with him. He almost immediately refers to the Indus script as the ‘mother of all crosswords’ – and you can sense the audience laughing and relaxing. Even when he is talking about the structure of language (which is quite complex) he is able to give us an everyday relatable example, but most importantly he uses self disclosure to tell us why this is his passion and why it’s important.
Recently, I discovered another reason why the speeches are so good. TED’s organisers send upcoming speakers a stone tablet, engraved with the ‘TED Commandments’.
Here are the Ten TED Commandments that every presenter could benefit from:
1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick
2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before
3. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion
4. Thou Shalt Tell a Story
5. Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy
6. Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
7. Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Disparate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
8. Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
9. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
10. Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee
Now we know how Ted can claim its by line ’Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world’.
Do you have another Presentation Commandment that you think should be there? As always please comment and tell us what you think.
Every four years like a lot of people, I am gripped by soccer fever, thanks to the World Cup and turn into a complete soccer tragic! Given our time zone differences, here in Australia this involves setting our alarm for the earliest hours of the morning to watch the games ‘live’. But it is absolutely worth it!
Like most people in Australia I am deeply disappointed that Australia won’t be hosting the 2022 World cup. Life is a tough teacher. You have the experience first and then you hopefully learn from it. So what did we learn? I am of course going to be looking at this through the lens of storytelling. Caveat: We all know the whole bidding process is complex involves many strategies, and many players, political wrangling etc. So this is in no way a solution but something to consider as part our learning.
Using the storytelling lens and comparing Australia’s bid with Qatar’s three things to consider:
- The emotion each pitch was tapping into
- The audience
- The audience’s objections
Every time I heard Frank Lowy pitching to host the World Cup he talked about Australia being a ‘safe pair of hands’. The Australian bid tapped into a negative emotion, fear. It looks like the FIFA committee (the audience) was not looking for a ‘safe pair of hands’. Their decision to go with South Africa for the previous World Cup indicates this. Another plank in our bid was ‘Make a country’s dreams come true’ which could apply to every country bidding for the World Cup. On the other hand ABC news reporter Emma Alberici said Qatar presented a bid full of emotion, imploring the executive committee to make history by sending the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time. Compare ‘Safe pair of hands’ with ‘The opportunity to make history’.
But what about the audience? Any narrative we engage with has to be right for the audience.
On their web site FIFA states ‘For the Game. For the World’. It is interesting to note the Qatar bid tag line states ‘For football, for the Middle East, for the world’. Perfect alignment. Qatar was telling the committee you have the option to unite the Middle East and the world through football …compare that with making a single country’s dreams come true.
In their bios on the FIFA website one of the questions for the Executive Committee is ‘What does football mean to you? It is interesting to note the range of answers from ‘Unity and friendship’, ‘Responsibility, service and joy’, ‘Team spirit and social responisbility’, ‘Unity and teamwork’. Again the Qatar bid taps into this.
How do you in storytelling overcome the audience’s objections? One of the key hurdles for Australia was the time difference. The Australian bid website states ‘A time zone for more than 60% of the world’s population. Australia will work closely with FIFA to ensure that the match schedule is designed to maximise total television audience numbers around the world’.
All necessary statement of fact but compare how objections can be handled in a compelling and emotionally engaging way. In one of Qatar’s bid presentations a child is heard saying ‘So say the Israeli teams and the Arab teams go to the world cup and they play against each other. Israelis would come to cheer their team and the Arabs would also come, then they would get to know each other’. An adult voice then adds ‘Indeed what we saw in South Africa was harmony between all people there’.
Giving a speech after the wining host was announced, Qatar 2022 Bid Committee Chairman Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al Thani said “On behalf of millions of people living in the Middle East, thank you,” he went on saying “Thank you for believing in us, thank you for having such bold vision. Thank you also for acknowledging this is the right time for the Middle East. We have a date with history which is summer 2022. We will not let you down. We will make you proud.”
He was letting the panel know this was about football, but it was also about the Middle East and the world. The legacy they would leave the world with this decision.
Congratulations Qatar on the historic win. Frank Lowy please ring us and let’s start working on Australia’s bid for 2030. The time is now …
We are often asked ‘How do I launch into a story in the middle of a meeting or in a presentation?’. In this video Yamini provides some practical advice on smoothly launching into your story and what segues to avoid…like the plague.
In the work we do with business leaders on organsiational storytelling, we are often asked about ‘natural’ storytellers. Granted some people are better at it than others, just like some people are better at tennis or singing than others……but everyone can get better at it with preparation and practice.
In this our first video blog, Yamini Naidu explodes the myth of the natural born storyteller. ..and shares their success secrets with you.