Smile and the world will smile with you

The success of a presentation often depends upon your interaction with the people in the room. To create a true dialog between a speaker and his/her audience, it’s important that they both feel comfortable with each other’s presence. Presenters who aren’t capable of building this rapport may fail to communicate their message, lose their audience’s trust, or deter the latter from asking questions or engaging.

As such, body language and non-verbal communication are powerful tools for putting people at ease while helping yourself to relax. Use positive gestures… Make eye contact… Smile…

(image by Semcon)

A few weeks ago, I delivered a keynote presentation at Connected Cars Europe. One of the sessions at the event touched upon the relationship between self-driving cars and pedestrians. Of course the speaker covered the obligatory ethical minefield of the driverless car forced to decide whether it would kill a group of elderly people rather than a woman with a stroller.

The presenter also gave an interesting answer to the question on how autonomous vehicles may interact with humans to enhance their safety perception. Pedestrians crossing the road often engage with motorists – driving towards or waiting at the intersection – by making eye contact to make sure that the driver noticed them. But how would they feel when this driver is reading a newspaper (while the car is doing all the work on his behalf) or even when there is no person at all sitting behind the steering wheel?

Research has revealed that almost than 60% of pedestrians don’t trust self-driving cars. That’s why a Swedish company introduced a concept car with a front radiator grille display that… smiles at pedestrians. Watch the video below.

This smiling car is just one possible way for future self-driving vehicles to communicate with people around them and avoid confusion or accidents. And just like the public speaker and his audience, both the car driver (or driverless passenger) and the pedestrian will enjoy the experience, and feel more at ease when crossing the street.

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Making the volcano

I once started a presentation workshop with this exercise: “Describe how you would use a volcano as a metaphor for presenting your business plan to investors?”

As I wrote in my “begin the beginning” post, a query or a poll may be a good means for grabbing your audience’s attention. So the question resulted in an active brainstorming session, and the answers from the group included statements such as “it’s about fire and passion”, “an eruption of words”, “a mountain to climb”, “need to assess the risks”, …

Then I came up with my “volcano making kit”, a construction toy with fast drying plaster and paint that I found on the internet. I actually used it as a metaphor myself for introducing a series of tips, tools and best practices for preparing and delivering a business presentation – the kind of topics I frequently write about on this blog.

volcano_making_kit

And also my call for action at the end of the training stayed within the perimeter of the volcano, since I finished with one of my favorite Tom Peters quotes:

Tom_Peters_passion

Simplicity always works

Yesterday I was confronted with a complex and technical topic to be presented to our customers. To be honest, it took me quite some time to fully grasp the full scope of the solution we offered, as well the associated business proposition.

Albert Einstein once said:

 “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself,”

so I decided to take a helicopter view, apply the KISS principle and build a message house. As such, I iterated both the problem and the solution, until I could fit everything into an overarching value statement (roof) and three simple key messages (pillars).

The final result, was –at least in my humble opinion– a good piece of work. A short, sweet and simple presentation, not obscured by technical details, that explained the big picture, the pains and the gains on a handful of slides. I’m not sure if my six-year-old niece will understand it (yet), but there aren’t that many little Einsteins after all.

albert_einstein

When driving back home last night, a composition by Charles Mingus played on my car radio, which made me remember another quote, attributed to this American jazz musician:

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesome simple, that’s creative.”

Another creative day in the life of a business storyteller had passed. A day on which I look back with a simple feeling of satisfaction.

The joy of presenting naked

In my previous post, I wrote about a situation in which I was confronted with a broken projector, and as such (almost) forced to present “nakedly”. For those who might get wrong thoughts: naked presenting is delivering a presentation without slides (and without hesitation.)

It’s nothing new. The art of storytelling dates from long before PowerPoint and the projector were ever invented. But nowadays, too manypresenters hide themselves behind their slide deck. Although some of the best public speakers I know don’t need (and a few of them don’t use) any visuals to deliver an outstanding talk.

bare_feet

Naked presenting lets you concentrate on your audience and on your message instead of on your Powerpoint-style presentation tools (see also my reasons for not using Prezi.)

For a naked presenter, less is more!

  • When you need to invest less time in graphic material preparation, you can spend more time on building your story, and practicing and rehearsing it.
  • When you’re relying less upon the laptop in front, you have more space to move around the stage and face the people in the back of the room.
  • When you count less on the sexiness of your slides, you may discover the expressive power of your voice and body language.
  • When you give them no slides to read from, people will more attentively listen to your words.
  • When you put less energy in trying to impress your audience (don’t confuse a naked presenter with an exhibitionist!,) you will probably establish a better emotional contact with them.

If –after all these convincing arguments– you’re still too shy to go full monty in front of your customers, you can leave your hat on... and use a flip chart and a few markers to cover your nakedness.

A final note for those in the audience: things may not always be what they seem. It’s a known fact that even Barack Obama uses a teleprompter on the sly.

If you have some spare time, read the revealing Presentation Zen post about presenting naked by Garr Reynolds, as well as these other articles:

Enthusiasm can be contagious

“From the glow of enthusiasm I let the melody escape. I pursue it. Breathless I catch up with it. It flies again, it disappears, it plunges into a chaos of diverse emotions. I catch it again, I seize it, I embrace it with delight… I multiply it by modulations, and at last I triumph in the first theme. There is the whole symphony.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

Maybe you remember an earlier post that I published on this blog, titled: “Playing at a theater near you“. But last week I actually delivered a presentation in a real, authentic, former-GDR movie theater (as shown on the photo below).

intrel14

Although I have given quite a few public talks for quite large audiences in quite nice auditoriums before (I once presented in Henry VIII’s bedroom – without losing my head), this cinema location gave me a very special kick. And although I talked (as usual) about a technology related topic, in this theater environment I felt more visual storyteller than ever.

Sure I am aware that I’m a rather enthusiastic speaker by nature, but this special place probably boosted the passion in my talk even more. It is said that enthusiasm is contagious, so it was not a (very big) surprise to me that the audience shared my mood, and even reported this on their feedback forms.

QED – a cinema is a place for stories, and as a B2B storyteller I am already looking forward to presenting in such an inspiring place soon again!

Read also these blog posts:

Defy the demo devil

When it comes to product selling, a good demonstration may tell more than a thousand slides. But at the same time, an ill-prepared demo may also ruin your whole presentation – as well as your reputation.

People who have done (or participated to) live demonstrations before, know that Murphy’s law always applies and that the Demo Devil is never far away.

murphys_law

But if you stick to a few simple rules, your odds to beat this annoying creature will be bigger than ever. Some tips and tricks to prepare and deliver a successful live demonstration:

  • First of all, don’t try to boil the ocean in one single demo run. Keep it sweet, short and simple. As most of your spectators may not be very familiar with your product (yet), don’t go into the nitty-gritty technical details. Show only a few key features that really matter for your audience. Focus rather on the user experience and the value of your product than on individual features.
  • Prepare and deliver your demonstration the same way as you would do for a presentation. Tell a story. Build a message house. Structure your demo the AIDA way. Get into a dialogue with your audience. Make it a visually pleasant experience.
  • Compose a detailed demo script and freeze it. Never show an unplanned (and often untested) feature! A presentation can survive some last-minute changes, but a demonstration likely won’t. A good practice is to create a two-column “tell this – show this” cheat sheet, and not to deviate from it.
  • Arrive early, and (when possible) test and dry-run  the demo a few minutes – not a few hours! – in advance. Special caution is needed when the success of your demo is relying on an internet connection. Wi-Fi and cellular networks may start behaving badly when too many people are accessing the venue’s communication infrastructure simultaneously (watch this video to see what happened to Steve Jobs and the iPhone 4.)

  • Prepare a few slides to display with the demo, that explain e.g. the value proposition, the physical setup and the interactions you’re showing. Always keep in mind that people came to see something, so keep the narrative short – and the demo experience exciting.
  • Just like for an oral presentation, be ready to take questions from your audience – but don’t feel obliged to illustrate all your answers with an on-the-fly extension of your demo script (see my point above about not doing non-planned things). Don’t let the people leave without a product sheet to handout of your visuals.

 More tips and tricks for doing live demos can be found in these articles:

Playing at a theater near you

In this week’s post I’m writing about what was probably the most impactful, but certainly the most fun business presentation I delivered in my whole career. A genuine example of transmedia storytelling, even before the concept and the term were widely used.

In 2005 –in-between the burst of the internet bubble and the demise of Lehman Brothers– when there was still corporate money to spend on single-customer marketing campaigns, my company (at that time pre-merger Alcatel) organized a solutions showcase for a major UK customer. To generate interest and create an upfront hype, we organized it as as a private event near the customer’s London headquarters and promoted it as a Hollywood blockbuster movie: “The Convergence Factor”.

tcf

The Convergence Factor theme was chosen to highlight the effect that the availability of broadband technologies and the convergence of telecom services (fixed and mobile, voice and data, communications and entertainment, …) could have on people’s every day lives. Consequently, the script of the showcase was emphasizing on the business value of these converging technologies, the opportunity to create new applications, and the unprecedented user experience they were enabling – rather than doing a sales pitch on our products or solutions.

A tagline “Life Held Them Prisoner, Until Convergence Set Them Free” complemented the title to suggest drama, and intrigue and engage our target audience. All campaign elements such as direct mails, teaser trailer, web portal, event signage and give-away gadgets were also branded with the Convergence Factor identity.

The presentation itself was delivered as a transmedia mix of three distinctive, on-stage narratives with live demos, interspersed by tailor-made Hollywood-style movie trailers produced by Twist & Shout, a UK-based communications agency.

Instead of doing one single performance in front of a plenary audience, we decided to present intimately to groups of 5 to 10 people, who could freely register for a session depending on their availability.  As such, my colleague and I gave 15 presentations over a period of 5 days, and reached out to an audience of almost 150 customer executives.

Have a look at the trailer and the movies, and try to imagine what the presentation might have been like. I’m sure our customer still remembers…

The perceived value of value

As I discussed in former blog posts about “five lessons from B2C” and “the good life”, there’s a lot that business presenters can learn from consumer marketing. A key lesson is that there is no universal standard that defines value.

I have worked in high-tech companies for many years now, and although me and most of my fellow marketers proudly call ourselves “customer centric”, we tend to assume that we always need to impress our audience with the latest ‘n’ greatest technology and with the best in class performance. And we use to call this “value”.

But lately I presented to an industrial customer who didn’t get impressed by the Mbps, GHz or PPI figures, the complex system architectures and the tons of product features he was bombarded with, but kept asking for a simple, stable and field proven solution. To this specific prospect, “value” just meant that the product would flawlessly do what it was supposed to do – nothing more, but also nothing less. And at a reasonable (which is not the same as the lowest possible) cost.

This is exactly what is happening in B2C too. Starbucks is offering good coffee at a “bearable” price (but not cheap at all). Their value offering is in the quality and the choice of their products, combined with a few extra differentiators (or benefit experiences) such as e.g. free Wi-Fi.

starbucks

McDonald’s is a similar case. Why would you spend big money to take your young children to a three-star restaurant if there’s Happy Meal® box and a PlayPlace at walking distance?

And there is also the story of Harvey’s: a half-a-century old hardware store in Massachusetts that sells commodity goods like nuts and bolts, but manages to obtain a revenue per square meter that is almost four times higher than its large-scale competitors  – by pricing products based on the (perceived) value of the benefit experiences they provide to their customers.

Sometimes good is good enough. No thrills, but also no surprises. With a few extras. No need to compete with players in a different league. So, hard value doesn’t exist. Value is in the perception of the beholder. It is a subjective concept that lies squarely in the minds of your customers and it’s always related to the context of their business, working or living environments.

So, as a B2B presenter, you’d better adapt your content and adopt your tone to the needs and expectations of your audience. And give them value for listening to you.

Other articles about the companies mentioned in this post:

If the world were a village

If the world were a village” is a children’s book that maps the world’s population onto a village of just 100 people, and explores the lives of the villagers… to discover that life in other countries is often very different from our own.

I have traveled this global village and presented to groups of many nationalities. And I have learned by experience that –although people are people wherever you go– audiences may have divergent habits and react differently to what you say and what you do.

  • Don’t assume everyone can understand you. Although English is the official business language in many companies and countries, don’t assume everyone is a native speaker. Check frequently with the audience if they still follow. Encourage them to interrupt you if they don’t. Identify the people in the room that understand you and may help you better connect with the rest.
  • But also don’t assume they can’t. Particularly when talking about expert matters, the people in the room may very well understand your ‘technical’ language. Even better than you assume. Read my blog post “Lost in translation” about what happened to me once.
  • Always speak slowly and articulate well. To enhance the audience’s ability to understand you, speak slowly and clearly, and articulate carefully. The faster you talk, the more difficult you are to understand. If you are being simultaneously translated, speaking too rapidly also makes it more difficult for the translator.
  • Be cautious with metaphors, humor and cultural references. Figures of speech are often very difficult to translate, and when they translate they may not resonate with the audience. Humor from your culture can even be offensive in other cultures. Also avoid references to local TV shows, celebrities or ‘institutions’, such as the IRS, Galeries Lafayette or The Fat Duck, as they may have no meaning to your audience.
  • Adapt your wording and visuals. Words, images and colors may have different meanings in different countries. My favorite anecdote is about the financial presenter who talked about “blood red stock markets”… to a Japanese audience (he did not know that on the Tokyo stock exchange, upward trends are marked in red and downward trends in green.)

tokyo_stock_exchange

  • Watch your body language. Gestures (e.g. pointing) or unconscious habits (e.g. maintaining direct eye contact) could be offensive in certain cultures. Do your research to determine what’s appropriate and what’s not where you’re speaking. For example, take the “OK” sign – making a circle with the thumb and forefinger. To an American this can only mean that everything is good. But in Japan it is a gesture for money, in France it means worthless, and in Greece it’s an insult!
  • KISS your language. In a multi-cultural context, one really needs to Keep It Short and Simple. No slang, no idioms, no jargon, no acronyms, no complex vocabulary. And when dealing with simultaneous translation, make sure you divide the length of your phrases as well as the anticipated duration of your talk by two.
  • Learn how to interpret audience attitudes, behaviors and feedback. The more you understand the links between your listeners’ attitudes and behaviors, the more confidence you can have in your delivery. Western audiences tend to pay attention to focus points, while Eastern people consider the background. Also non-verbal feedback may differ from culture to culture, as e.g. Koreans and Japanese are not comfortable with showing emotion in public.

If you keep these few simple (and most of them, obvious) rules in mind, speaking in another country and meeting people from another culture is an enriching experience. Do your homework, tune your presentation and adapt your style. Show respect, celebrate diversity, and embrace any opportunity that comes your way.