Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer – Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach
Dave Hill provides a funny story to illustrate the destructive nature of really bad presenters. The number one thing that audiences hate about bad business presenters is that they turn their backs to the audience and read the slides word-for-word.
A presenter’s peers can save the day with clarifications, humor.
Business Communication Skills: Colleagues to the rescue
Learn presentation skills that give you the tools you need.
Imagine you are in a room full of highly technical engineers. You are an employee of a consulting company that is presenting information to them on various research topics. As you give your talk you expect pointed questions, cynical remarks, sarcasm and even some playful humor. At the back of the room sit your peers, waiting their turn to present.
I attended this meeting with other consultants, some of whom were relatively new to the field and some of whom had Ph.D.s. Their presentation abilities ranged from those who could remain calm through the question period and provide good answers, to those who were scared to death and couldn’t answer the questions very well. Age and experience did not seem to be a factor. A few of the younger speakers coped quite well, and I suspect they had gained experience and training at college and other venues.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
Culture of helpfulness: As the presenters were challenged and questioned, they occasionally froze trying to understand the technical question and form an answer with adequate detail. I hate to see anyone put on the spot (I have been there myself), and it made me feel good to hear the presenter’s peers at the back of the room jumping in to help clarify the question and provide information. This is an excellent culture of employees who have an inherent instinct to help each other and make sure that all are successful. This in turn maintains the image of the research/consulting company, which is hoping to make a sale.
Exceptional workplaces have a strong focus on making sure employees have good communication skills, a sense of balanced fun and respect, and trust for each other. Instead of sitting at the back and smirking as the presenter “crashes and burns,” fellow employees will do anything to help advance each other and the company.
Death by public speaking: The second visual I have from the meeting was that of a relatively young consultant who was presenting. It was an image I have seen before in different forums, and it haunts me. The young man appeared scared to death and was nervously coughing and clearing his throat. His peers helped him out when they could, but his stress just grew. I was relieved when he finished and sat down.
Fright and poor presentation skills are preventable. Organizations such as Toastmasters International can help a person become a good speaker in six to 12 months and an exceptional speaker if a person stays longer. The cost for six months of public speaking training can be less than a tank of gasoline. Many companies send their employees to Toastmasters to help them succeed. Find a club at www.toastmasters.org.
You have to laugh: The third visual I have from this meeting is that of an experienced presenter trying to get a video to work in PowerPoint. The documentation for his research project included a high-speed video of a large test explosion, which would show a flame running through a flammable vapor cloud and transitioning into a fearful explosion. Explosion videos are one of the highlights of these presentations, and everyone waited in anticipation.
The presenter spent a minute or two trying to get the video to work but was unsuccessful. “You will need to act out the explosion,” one of his peers shouted from the back. Another shouted: “Can you do an interpretive dance?” The presenter was the type who could take the humorous comments in stride, and the room erupted in laughter. With the laughter in the room the failure of the video became inconsequential and the presentation continued without it.
The presenter’s peers knew that humor was appropriate for him. They knew he had a sense of humor and would “play with their comments.” I am sure you would agree that the comments would not have been appropriate for the previously described stressed presenter. Humor is a great tool to have in a meeting or presentation, but be careful it does not cross the line and hurt someone. If there is a single person in the room who would be impacted negatively by the humor, it is not worth it.
Dave Hill, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Engineer
Keep your audience focused by being relevant.
Use interactive techniques; vary your presentation.
Visualize a meeting where about 40 people are crammed into a conference room listening to technical presentation after technical presentation for a full day. The delivery mode is primarily PowerPoint with lots of wordy data on the slides. The technical data is overwhelming, the pace of data exchange is fast, and people can be seen fidgeting in their seats. The room lights are dimmed to allow the PowerPoint to be the focus of attention and to make the slides visible to people in the back of the room.
Recently, I was sitting in this audience and the presenter was interrupted to get clarification on a point. As he responded, an out-of-place rumbling sound was heard: someone was snoring. The presenter paused to see who was asleep, then smiled and continued to answer the question. Suddenly, the sound escalated into a full-blown, high-volume snoring session. Smiles and glances bounced around the room, and someone gently nudged the snorer in the back. He awoke in a moment of shock, quickly becoming aware that he had been caught napping.
If you present intricate or technical information, how would it feel to have an audience member fall asleep and start snoring? Have you ever had to present a technical subject after your audience has had a heavy lunch? Have you ever been distracted by someone nodding off during your presentation?
HOLDING YOUR AUDIENCE’S ATTENTION
It will help if there is fresh air in the room and the temperature is not too warm or cold. Can you increase the ventilation rate without creating disturbing background noise?
Know your subject and display energy, enthusiasm and vocal variety. Make sure your voice can be heard clearly throughout the room, or people will tune you out.
Give audience members a written agenda so they have a clear image of the flow of the content. This also helps keep the session on track and on time. If discussions get bogged down or off-topic, the agenda gives you a reason to step in. We have all witnessed the audience member whose comments go on and on, causing the audience to get fidgety and start tuning out.
At the beginning of the presentation, give attendees a brief review of the rules for:
Cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices
Questions (are they allowed throughout the presentation or toward the end?)
Then enforce the rules.
Have frequent breaks.
If you have control over snack food and lunches, consider keeping them light (minimize the potential for “food coma”).
Vary the modes of presenting as much as possible. You could include:
A flip chart
Asking an audience member to provide an example to drive home your point
Illuminate your points with real-life examples. Stories and humor fit well with the delivery of technical and intricate information. Use the framework of making a point, telling a relevant story and demonstrating how this can be practically applied by the audience. The most effective stories are those that the audience can relate to.
If using PowerPoint or another type of slide presentation, put effort into providing visual information rather than overloading with technical data. If possible, design your slides’ color scheme so that you do not have to dim the lights to see them and/or use a high lumen projector.
Use interactive techniques.
Get the audience brainstorming on a subject, then choose the ideas you want them to “drill down” and explore in more detail. The initial brainstorming could be conducted on a flip chart if the writing is visible to the audience. Another way would be to have a computer and projector and assign an assistant to type in the ideas.
Ask the audience to form groups to brainstorm a point. Ask them to assign a leader to summarize each group’s thoughts.
Ask the audience (or small groups) to discuss the pros and/or cons of a specific idea.
A powerful way of energizing a meeting or presentation is to include competition, such as a game. Everyone — from front-line workers to executives — has a competitive urge. The important aspect here is to know your audience to make sure the competition/game is appropriate to the attendees, the occasion and the learning value.
A simple way of getting audience members focused on the best choices is to give them a choice of several answers and ask them to identify the least effective ones.
When I have a presentation that uses a handout, I may have some pages with sentences that are missing key words. Audience members fill in the words as the information is given to them. This technique provides you with a “cheat sheet” so you do not need to remember the content and order of the information. It also helps the audience retain the information.
Research indicates that when audiences hear information, they remember about 20 percent after a week; if they listen and see information, they remember about 50 percent; and if they listen, see and physically work out a problem, or solve a specific problem with “hands on” techniques, they are likely to remember about 75 percent.
ALWAYS BE THINKING OF A BETTER WAY
Next time you feel yourself nodding off or losing interest during a presentation, ask yourself, “If I was this presenter, what would I do differently to make this more effective?”
Dave Hill, Engineer, Professional Speaker, Trainer, Author
Think about the meetings you have attended where everyone is sitting at a table and someone is trying to convey information and get people to agree. Can you recall times when you were delivering information and no one was paying attention to you? Perhaps attendees were flicking through your handout materials; maybe the discussions were going off on an emotional tangent.
Here are some success strategies for conducting a presentation while seated.
Practice your presentation out loud until it starts to flow smoothly.
Determine the least disruptive method of distributing handouts. See further details below.
Cell phones, BlackBerries, iPods, etc. – what rules will apply? Will you ask participants to put their electronic devices on vibrate and refrain from using them unless something urgent comes up? A positive way to ask is: “I would appreciate it if you would refrain from using your cell phones or laptops. I realize that some of you may have issues going on that you need to monitor, but please put your devices on vibrate and leave the room for any discussions.”
ROOM SET UP
If feasible, sit near the primary decision-makers (directly opposite them if possible). This enables you to observe body language, make strong eye contact and be heard clearly.
It is important to remember that everyone at the table is your customer; make sure you are in a position where you can make eye contact with everyone.
POSTURE AND GESTURES
Sit upright with both feet firmly on the ground. Good posture provides an image of professionalism and maximizes the use of the diaphragm for voice projection. Your hands should rest above the table so they are instantly available for purposeful gestures.
Option 1: Place the handout or handouts at each seating place.
Advantage: It can be the least disruptive. Once you need participants to review a section, ask them to open the handout, then guide them to the section you want to discuss.
Disadvantage: They may decide to read ahead instead of concentrating on what you are saying (unless you ask them not to review the handout until asked to).
Option 2: Pass the handouts out at the point in the presentation that you want to review the information with attendees (consider having an audience member as a helper).
Advantage: This method reduces the potential for the handout to be distracting.
Disadvantage: If you do not coordinate it well, it can disrupt the meeting and use up your allocated time.
SUCCESS STRATEGIES FOR HANDOUTS
It is imperative that attendees find the specific handout sections as quickly as possible. If people cannot locate what you are talking about, they may get frustrated or miss the point you are making.
Color-coordinate multiple handouts and refer to the colors in your presentation.
Number each page and refer to the numbers.
Assemble the handouts using staples or put them in a binder separated with numbered or colored tabs. The tabs can also be used to lead the audience to a specific handout.
Keep the handout information as uncluttered as possible so that a simple glance will bring the audience to a specific section. If you have control over the handout design, consider including some white space to allow audience members to take notes.
If the information on the handout is cluttered or difficult to navigate, consider marking the sections of interest in different colors, circling sections or highlighting text to make it easier to direct attendees to the right place.
Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer. Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach.
Imagine you are delivering a technical presentation to more than 300 peers at a conference. Your boss had convinced you to develop and deliver the presentation. You are scared to death of speaking in public. As you stand at the lectern holding onto it for dear life, nervousness prevents you from making eye contact with anyone in the audience. In your hands are your notes, which could have helped guide your thoughts, but they are shaking so much that you cannot read the 12-point font size. The audience becomes more focused on your slow death than on the content of your speech. It’s a disaster, one of the most humiliating days of your life.
A hypothetical story? Sadly, it’s not. It happened to an acquaintance of mine, a highly skilled engineer who knew his subject inside and out but wasn’t able to maintain his composure, keep his thoughts and, most important, read his notes effectively. I never saw him present again.
It’s best not to use notes, but if you must, use them effectively. At the least, use them as sparingly as possible.
Notes can diminish your level of eye contact and engagement with the audience. Read from a lectern, notes anchor you and prevent the use of purposeful movement that could enhance your presentation. When you recite mechanically from notes, bullet points or a PowerPoint, you are less effective. Engage the audience with a story, then walk back to the lectern solely for the purpose of glancing at notes.
SOME REASONS FOR USING NOTES
Not enough time to prepare and memorize the information.
The information is highly technical and difficult to remember.
You have quotes or numbers that you want to deliver accurately.
Your presentation is lengthy or does not have a strong “flow” to it, and it is difficult to remember.
You have trouble remembering information under stressful conditions.
SHEETS OF PAPER
Use stiff paper such as 32 lb. – it is easier to handle, and shaky hands will be less obvious. Number the sheets in case you drop them and need to reassemble them in a hurry.
Use a large font size, such as 20 point, so your eyes can pick up the gist of a sentence with just a quick glance. If possible, just include key words, bullet points or a mind map that will guide you through your presentation.
If using a lectern or something similar to rest your notes on, discreetly slide the sheet to the side when you are finished with it.
To keep the notes less obvious, do not staple them together or print on both sides (so you don’t have to visibly manipulate them).
Your introduction should also be on stiff paper and in a large font size, as the person introducing you may be nervous or have difficulty reading the sentences.
Sometimes while giving a presentation, I carry a note card in my pocket that contains a few bullet points to help me get back on track should I lose my way. I keep this in a consistent place (the right-hand pocket inside my jacket) so I do not distract the audience by having to search for it.
Note cards should be identical size, on stiff paper, with a font size that is easy to read.
Keep the information to key words, brief sentences, bullet points or a basic mind map.
Number them so if you drop them you can easily return them to the correct order.
Practice sliding the cards from top to bottom as you finish with them.
Some presenters and trainers use handouts with “fill in the blanks.” Key words are left out of a sentence, and trainees fill in the blank when prompted by the presenter. These handouts help a presenter stay on track (the handout is a step-by-step guide) and help the trainees better remember the information.
Handouts should be numbered so you can direct the audience to a specific page. You also may want to highlight important sections in the handout so you can direct the audience to a specific part: “Let’s jump to page 3, the last paragraph that is highlighted in yellow.”
A FLIP CHART
A flip chart is another covert method of using notes. Information you want to cover or are going to write on the flip chart as part of your presentation can be written on it in light pencil ahead of time. These hidden cues can help jog your memory.