Feb 19, 2012

What questions do you have for my answers?

This is a guest post by Leon Potgieter. He is an English Teacher, Christian Minister and Public Speaking Enthusiast who’s been living in the Republic of Korea since 2008.  His website effective-public-speaking-tips.com is an ever growing online portal for public speaking tips, speechwriting help and presentation techniques.

What questions do you have for my answers?
The undisputable power of practice and rehearsal for public speaking.

The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, “You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.” I holed the next one. Then he says, “You got $100 if you hole the next one.” In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, “Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.” And I shot back, “Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” – Gary Player, South African Golfer and winner of 24 PGA Tours.

The often under appreciated power of practice and rehearsal might by now be cliché to you. Redundant advice that deserves no repetition or exposure on the public speaking blogosphere.  And yet, the very many speeches that I have heard, where talented and experienced speakers have botched up their deliveries by stumbling over their sentences, juggling between different sets of notes, getting their slides mixed up and using more “uums” and “yaknows” than actual English, still testifies to the fact that many Public speakers simply do not understand the importance of private rehearsal.  Either that, or they understand it but still don’t DO it (which is just as useless).

I could flesh out a large list of benefits that this single habit will throw your way, but it boils down to two very important things: Confidence & Smoother delivery.

Regarding confidence, it’s a fact that knowing your material, and knowing that you know your material, is the single most effective way to beat the soapbox shakes. Speakers who approach the lectern with the knowledge that they’ve done their part back home, that they’ve beat the practice drum, done the preparation and went through all the rehearsal they possibly needed, will feel naturally confident. This kind of self-assurance cannot but help you deliver a better presentation.

Regarding smoother delivery, it should make sense that practice will help you do better.  Gary Player isn’t the only professional who knows this: Actors, singer, athletes, politicians, cricketers and the weatherman himself knows that the more you sweat on the practice field, the less you bleed on the battlefield. Public Speakers are by no means exempt from this law of reality.

Learning from Pool Tricks
Have you ever seen a pool & domino’s trick?  It’s a pastime for bored bartenders and obsessive pool-fanatics, and the basic idea with these tricks revolves around setting up a series of domino’s and pool balls on strategic places on a table.  Once the choreography is laid out and each piece of the intricate puzzle is in its exact place, all it takes to set the trick in motion is to knock over the first domino.

The rest is almost magical to look at, as (after hours of deliberate and careful preparation) the trick plays itself out with zero interference from the outside. It creates a stunning effect and I think it’s a great picture of what public speaking should look like.  In this case like in ours, the real work, the blood, sweat, tears and cramps takes place behind the scenes, before anyone has showed up or shown an interest in your opinions or the color of your tie.

Whether its research, speechwriting or speech rehearsal, these things make up the bulk of your preparation and when done properly, the delivery itself will most certainly be the easiest part of the whole thing.  It’ll take no more effort than knocking over a single domino.

Learning from the Masters
Masterful keynote speakers, like the late Steve Jobs are often known for their great deliveries, their perfectly choreographed performances and their genuinely calmed appearance on stage.  But many overlook the fact that someone like Jobs was absolutely obsessed with rehearsal and repetition during practice.  

His preparation started many weeks before a keynote and often lasted for hours on end. If someone like Jobs’, with worldwide stage exposure and publicity, saw this kind of preparation as fundamental, how much more should you, who in all likelihood did not reinvent the definition of modern gadgetry!

Private Mistakes leads to Public Victories
The how-to of this is the easy part. Practice privately; days before your actual delivery, by letting your mirror have it! By that I mean you should go through your entire speech (with slides, props and everything else you’ll actually be having during the live presentation) aloud somewhere in the deep interior of your private bedroom or living room.  Sure enough, you’ll find the furniture snickering as you stumble over sentences and struggle to keep your eyes off your notes, but it sure beats having a live audience laugh at you.

Personally, as troubling as an initial private delivery is, I always find incredible improvement during a second, third and fourth go at it.  Once your mouth, brain and notes are in sync, things get simpler, the words come easier, and the sentences roll out in a smoother fashion.  That is of course exactly what you are after.

Henry Kissinger, the American statesmen was known as a spokesman with a quick mouth.  The more difficult the situation he was faced with, and the more tough the questions, the sharper and more direct his responses. Once, when asked about this by a curious reporter he gave a telling reply: “What Questions do you have for my answers?”  Kissinger understood the power of preparation, and so do all smart public speakers. Never go talking on stage before you’ve been practicing back-stage!

Feb 11, 2012

David Ogilvy on Presentations

David Ogilvy is considered "The Father of Advertising". His writings on advertising are popular across the world. I came across his short note "10 Tips on Writing by David Ogilvy" today and could not resist sharing it here. His tips on writing can as well be applied to presentations. Just replace the word 'write' with 'present' and 'writing' with 'presenting'.

"The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning - and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don't write. Go and tell the guy what you want."


Check out the Roman-Raphaelson book on Amazon & flipkart.

The lessons I draw as a presenter from these tips are as under. The number before every paragraph relates to that tip by David Ogilvy.

2. Present the way you normally talk. Do not put on an accent. Do not talk fast. Look people into the eye. While you are presenting, you should be your normal self.

3. Use less words on your slides. Speak less but mean more. Do not keep on talking and do not fill your slides with text.

4. Never use jargon in your presentations. You might want to sound 'cool' or like an expert but it does not help. Be clear and simple to your audience.

5. Never make lengthy presentation. Be brief and to the point. The more you say, the less people care and remember.

7. Never be in a hurry to send in (email) your PPT to the recipient. If you have worked late night on the slides, check them again the next morning and edit them. Never go into a presentation without rehearsal.

8. If you are working on an important presentation, take help from colleagues and friends. They will give you feedback which will help you. Let them critique your presentation.

9. You must be very sure what is the objective of your presentation. What do you want the audience to do after the presentation and why? This will bring clarity to your thoughts.

Not to forget, good presentation skill is not a natural gift. You have to learn to present well. Very well said David.

Thanks to my friend Nirav for sharing the link on FB.

Feb 10, 2012

Back-to-Basics: 1 - What is a Presentation?

Back-to-Basics is a series of posts where I am going to revisit the basics of making a presentation. The outcome of this series is a step by step guide of making any presentation.

What is a Presentation?
At first I felt weird asking such a question. Then I realised it was not a bad place to start. When you talk of basics, this a great place to begin. So what is a presentation? Think for a while...A presentation is a person talking to a group of people? A presentation is a bunch of slides?

In my view, "a presentation is a communication with an objective." Note the following in my definition: 1. There is no mention of slides. A presentation can be made with or without slides. 2. Presentation is a form of communication. This basically means a presentation is an exchange of information (communication) between two sides. 3. There has to be an objective. Any exchange of information is not a presentation.

A teacher taking a class is a presentation. Giving a speech is a presentation. Pitching to a venture capitalist in the boardroom is also a presentation. Every form of communication wherein two sides are involved and there is a purpose is a 'presentation'.

Are all Presentations similar?
All kinds of presentations are similar. Their goals may differ, their settings might differ but there is a common DNA which runs through every presentation. I had mentioned about it sometime before on the blog. Here is a new and revised version of the same.

There are 7 elements of every presentation. 
  1. You (the presenter)
  2. You have a goal (for example, you want to sell a flat to prospective customers)
  3. To achieve the goal you go to your audience (customers)
  4. You give them what they want/expect. You solve a problem or address an issue.
  5. You want the audience to do something (action). In the first meeting you want them to get interested in the project. In the second or third meeting, your goal can be to get them give you the money.
  6. In order to achieve the goal, you need to say something to your audience. This is your content. You talk about the great location and a reputed builder. Not to forget the lake view from the balcony.
  7. How you say is the style. Do you use slides or not? Do you personally go and talk or just email the slides? How do you take the audience through the content? Do you share a handout? This is called the design (slide design) and delivery stage.
That's about it. Every presentation you come across will need you to look at these 7 elements. Spend time figuring each of these out and you will do a better job of the presentation. To summarise, you have to answer these questions before you start preparing for any presentation.

  1. Who is the presenter?
  2. What is your goal?
  3. Who is your audience? (understand them in detail)
  4. What does your audience want? What problem are you solving?
  5. What do you want the audience to do after your presentation?
  6. What will you say to the audience? (so that they do what you want them to do)*
  7. How will you say what you want to say?**
* This is your content and ** this is your design (slide design) and delivery

I call this THE CONTEXT of a presentation.

Since this concept is new I will cover it in a bit more detail. Go back to your last presentation and figure out the 7 elements. My last presentation was a workshop I conducted for under-graduate students. Let me present to you the 7 elements:

  1. Who is the presenter? Vivek Singh, the presentations blogger. I was there because I am a presentations expert. I was not there as a marketing manager (which is my full time role). I had only one image to portray to the audience.
  2. What is your goal? My goal was very simple. First, make students realise the importance of presentations in their career. Second, teach them a step-by-step guide to making any presentation and also share with them common mistakes which most presenters make.
  3. Who is your audience? My audience was under-graduate students who are studying commerce and management. I spent a lot of time understanding how many presentations the students make. I even interacted with their teacher to find out how good they are at making presentations and what mistakes they commit. What to say and how to say depends on who your audience is.
  4. What does the audience want/expect? What problem are you solving? I knew that every student wanted to become better at presentations but most of them do not have the time or interest to research and study on their own. So I taught them something useful and easy to apply within two and a half hours.
  5. What do you want the audience to do after your presentation? They must feel motivated to use the techniques taught in the workshop. They must use the checklist I gave them (as a handout) and apply it to the next presentation they make. I gave the handout because it makes their job of remembering and applying what I taught easier.
  6. What will you say to the audience? (Content) I was clear on what my goal was. I understood what my audience needs were; "give us useful stuff but do not bore us." It should be easy to remember and easy to apply. This helped me shape the content. What to say and what to ignore. Since I wanted to teach less and make my content memorable and understandable, I chose to use lots of examples. I also kept summarizing as I went along.
  7. How will you say? (Design and Delivery) I decided to use slides as I needed to show them examples of good and bad slides. I also decided to give a handout. The handout captures the basic lesson of the entire workshop. They can use it the next time they present. I also rehearsed many times so that I feel confident and finish my content well within the time allocated.

In the next post, I will discuss why these 7 elements make you a better presenter. Why you must spend time and figure out answers to these 7 questions and then jump onto the computer and start making your slides. As of now, just remember one thing. The first step to making your presentation is to answer these 7 questions.

Feb 8, 2012

Back-to-Basics: A new series on Presentation Basics

Back-to-Basics is a series of posts where in I am going to revisit the very basics of what a presentation is, what are the stages of making a presentation and how to excel at making presentations. This post not only includes the lessons I shared in my presentation workshop last week but also takes it forward. It is the crux of my 3 years of blogging. 3 years in which I have written 342 posts.

In this series I am going to cover the following:

What is a presentation?
What are the stages of making a presentation?
What are the do's and don'ts at every stage of making a presentation?
How to make a presentation quickly and yet be effective?

The outcome of this series will be a step-by-step guide to making any presentation. Something which will be of practical use to you when you are about to start working on your next presentation.

Come on then. Let's go Back-to-Basics.

Feb 5, 2012

Presentation Survey Findings

The results of the Presentation Survey are out. 73 people responded to my survey and it is a healthy sample size. Out of 73, 41 were students and the balance were working professionals. Majority of the respondents were from India. Here are the findings:

Question: How do you rate OTHERS on  presentation skills? (Rate on a scale of 1 to 10; 1 being poor)
Rating of 5 or less: 40%
Rating of 6 & 7: 36%
Rating above 8: 24%

Most people rate others as average presenters. The weighted average score comes to 6.2. This is pretty poor.

Question: How do you rate YOURSELF on  presentation skills? (Rate on a scale of 1 to 10; 1 being poor)
Rating of 5 or less: 10%
Rating of 6 & 7: 45%
Rating above 8: 45%

Most people rate themselves much better presenters. The weighted average score comes to 7.2 but look at the how rating has happened from 1 to 5. We think 40% of others are between 1 to 5 but only 10% of us place ourselves in the same 'poor' bracket. We are clearly over rating ourselves.

Question: What are the areas of improvement for other presenters?
Respondents were asked to share what lacked in other presenters and these are the ones which came up most.
  • Lack of confidence and fear of presenting to a crowd
  • Long presentations, too much content and too many words on slides
  • Reading the slides
  • Engaging the audience. Presenter is not able to retain audience attention
Question: What are your areas of improvement as a presenter?
Respondents mentioned what they felt were their own shortcomings.
  • Lack of confidence. Less experience as a presenter.
  • Lack of convincing power
  • Poor communication skills
  • Lack of preparation
  • Do not know how to tell a story
Most people are aware of their shortcoming when it comes to preparation and confidence but do not realise that their audiences hate when they read slides and make long presentations. I am sure after reading this, you will become aware of these shortcomings as well.

Feb 2, 2012

Presentations Checklist [Workshop Material for Free]

This Presentation Checklist is the crux of my three years of blogging. This was given out as handouts to all the students who attended my Presentations Workshop "Making a Powerful Point" at SCMS(UG) at Pune.

There are four stages of a presentation.
  • Context
  • Content
  • Design (slide design) and
  • Delivery
This checklist contains tips on all these stages. This checklist will give you an overview of how to make a presentation step-by-step. However, this checklist does not contain sample slides I presented at the workshop or the discussion we had there. That will be covered in future posts gradually.

Go through this checklist and use it as a tool to make effective presentations. It will also ensure you do not make the common mistakes which you normally make in your presentation.

Click here to download from Google Docs (no log in required)
Click here to download from slideshare

View the checklist here. Feel free to share it with others. Any feedback/query on this checklist is welcome. 

Feb 1, 2012

Presentations Workshop at SCMS(UG), Pune

This Monday I conducted a workshop for under graduate students from all over India who had come to attend the management fest Sympulse at Symbiosis Center for Management Studies (SCMS UG). The crowd was well above 100 and I conducted a two and a half hour workshop on the basics of making a presentation.

Here is a photo of the college.

Since the audience was under graduate students the workshop was focussed on absolute basics of making a presentation. This workshop was the crux of all my learning for so many years and it helped me crystallise my learning as well. In the following post I am going to share what I taught in the workshop.

Here is another image of students at the workshop. There was an economics professor in the audience as well :-)