Five do’s and don’ts for speakers at B2B events

What’s it like being a (professional) presenter in a business-to-business environment? I’ve given many B2B presentations during my career as a high-tech marketer, strategist and communicator (that’s what I put on top of my LinkedIn profile.) Speakersbase, who were so kind to promote one of my older posts, asked me to share some experience and best practices at their event last night.

First, I must point out that not all speaking engagements are shaped equally, and that one should make a clear difference between a private and public talk:

  • Private presentations are usually hosted (and paid) by the company you work for or by a partner you work with. The audience consists of existing customers or business prospects, and they (must) understand they’re entering in a commercial conversation with you – as a representative of your employer or sponsor.
  • Public talks are coordinated by a third-party seminar, congress, or event organizer. Most often the audience is putting (quite a lot of) money on the table to attend, and listen to you and your fellow speakers. As such, expectations are quite different from the private case, and organizers and attendees want you to deliver the 3 E’s: education, entertainment, and engagement.

This being said, the 5 recommendations below mainly apply to public speaking opportunities:

1. No soliciting.

The audience is not travelling lots of kilometers, and paying lots of euros of dollars to get a hard sales talk, a product pitch, or a promotional speech for your company. Just imagine yourself spending a night at an expensive hotel, when a sales rep, a Jehovah’s witness, or a Mormon missionary knocks on your door to bring you his gospel…

Talk about your audience’s daily problems, and the questions about the – your! – solutions will follow. And if they don’t, make sure to end your talk with a clear call to action.

2. Mind your audience.

Satisfying your audience should be any speaker’s primary goal. Align your content upfront with the event organizers and/or the session chairperson. Avoid overlap with other presentations at the same conference. Tailor your talk to the audience’s specific knowledge, needs and expectations. Never stop intriguing, surprising, or provoking them.

Also avoid mentioning customers or business relations by their name (or by their logo), unless you’ve got their prior (implicit or explicit) approval. Remember what happened to a presenter who cited facts and figures about one of his clients, who turned out to be the next speaker on the agenda…

3. Storytelling always works.

Though not all content is equally suitable for storification, I experienced many times that storytelling techniques have a real value. Even (or should I say particularly?) for management, business, and technology presentations.

If you’re looking for some extreme cases, read my “Tell them fairy tales” post in which I explain how I narrated “the ugly duckling” and “the emperor’s new clothes” to business audiences of over 200 persons.

4. Don’t feed the chameleons.

There’s nothing as easy as creating a presentation by cutting and pasting slides from existing PowerPoints into yours. But, then you should also not be surprised that your slideshow looks like a chameleon.

If you want to be considered a professional speaker, then make sure that you deliver professional visuals. Look ‘n’ feel really matters! Which also counts for your dress code: your attire can change your image or enforce your message too. Read more about this in my “Dress to impress post.

5. Break away from picks and shovels.

In the fast-moving hi-tech industry that I’m active in, public events are considered “picks and shovels for the gold rush,” and conference facilitators often generate more revenue than participating (start-up) companies.

IMHO this is one of the reasons for so many poor speakers, violating points 1-4 above, appearing at events. Money makes the world go round. But, dear event organizers, try thinking of speaking and sponsoring as two mutually exclusive topics. There are many great speakers who aren’t able to sponsor a show. And, reciprocally, many of them may be eager to deliver a top-notch presentation without getting paid for their gig.

Bonus. Think visual.

Finally, a picture says more than a thousand words. For the people who were in the room last night, here are the new traffic signs that may help you not to forget the 5 tips I presented…

The 3 p’s of a professional public presenter (extended version)


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


During the first weeks of their education, masses of freshman marketing students still get confronted with Jerome McCarthy’s 4P model. A tool created more than 50 years ago, in an age where customers were labeled “buyer” or “consumer”. And though the 4 P’s still may provide a fair means for defining a traditional marketing mix, I dispute that “putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time” is the most important course that 21st century students should get on the menu.

In the era of content, communication, conversation and customer experience (coincidently all starting with a C,) a marketer’s capability to create a decent message house, translate it into a captivating story, and use it to engage with a specific audience is probably more essential than mastering the 4 P’s.

So it was no surprise to me that the French ManpowerGroup identified the storyteller as one of the emerging job profiles for the future:

“a craftsman of engagement, the storyteller gives meaning to the company’s engagement and communicates with internal and external stakeholders through dialog and social media.”

Being able to create and deliver a compelling business presentation is certainly one of the basic competencies a storyteller needs. As Richard Branson once said in an Entrepreneur magazine Q&A:

“Good speakers aren’t just talented or lucky – they work hard.”

This is why I am dedicating this post to mastering the 3 P’s of presenting: PitchPreparation and Presentation.

3ps2

The setting is simple: when you want to deliver specific content to a specific audience via a specific medium, you will need to connect the corner points of the triangle in the picture above.

  1. First of all you will need to define your Pitch. The message(s) you want your audience to remember. How you will grab their attention and capture their interest. The story you want to tell them. This is where techniques like power mapping, message house building, and storyboarding will come in.
  2. Take ample time for your Preparation. Choose the most effective medium (e.g. a PowerPoint show, Prezi, naked speech, video testimonials, …) for getting your story across and adapt your content to it. This is where your right brain hemisphere comes to the fore. When creativity, design and empathy turn out to be your most valuable attributes.
  3. And finally, the moment will come when you are scheduled to face your audience and deliver your Presentation. Be prepared. Use all possible means of visual, verbal and non-verbal communication to persuade your listeners with your value proposition and to call them to action.

The attentive reader may have noticed that there’s something more in the center of the picture: YOU. Because, as KPCB’s Bing Gordon rightly observes,

“The first and most important element of your presentation is not a slide: it’s you.”

In the next 3 chapters, I will further elaborate on the 3 P’s and give some tips, tricks and tools for better pitching, preparing and presenting your content.

The first P: your Pitch

“Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.” ― Seth Godin

Some readers may know pitching as what advertising agencies do to promote their ideas to a potential customer. And that’s indeed what it’s all about: defining your value proposition, translating it into a few clear messages, and deciding on how you’re going to communicate them to your customers (or any other audience.)

  • Finding the right pitch often boils down to pinpointing a sticky story to tell. With the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos you can appeal to the hearts and the minds of those listening to you.
  • Do you remember the 7 C’s of a good story? Compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized and conversational. If you remember these seven adjectives, you’re already one step closer to a great pitch.
  • When defining your value proposition, never forget that value is in the perception
    of the beholder. Adapt your pitch to address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) concern(s) of your audience. And give them something in return for listening to you.
  • As mentioned in the previous bullet, it’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who will be in the room. Doing some upfront research and power mapping will help you to tailor your pitch and (later) customize your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.
  • Building a message house is a great and simple means for defining, simplifying and structuring your messages, and to make sure your audience will remember them.
  • You could also consider creating a mind map and/or drawing a story board. These tools will help you to sort out your thoughts and put your ideas in a sequence that easily translates into a presentation.
  • A good way to validate your pitch is putting it to the elevator test. Can you ‘sell’ your message(s) in 30 seconds? Can you summarize your story on the back of a napkin? Can it be understood by your mother in law?

Once your pitch is completed, you’re all set to start preparing your presentation. Don’t forget that HOW you tell things may be as important as (or sometimes even more important than) WHAT you actually tell.

The second P: your Preparation

“World class presentations require time and focus” ― Nancy Duarte

Rome wasn’t built in one day. Neither will you be able to create a good presentation in a few hours. Crafting a presentation ― yes, even a business or technical one ― is a creative process. A process that takes more than a PC with PowerPoint (or Keynote, or Prezi, or …) installed on it.

As I wrote in my previous post, it all starts with finding your pitch: thinking about the story you want to tell, the messages you want to convey, and the results you want to obtain. So, don’t start creating a single slide before you have figured out WHAT you want to tell to WHOM, and HOW you’re are actually going to deliver it. Only then comes the ‘packaging’ of your content.

  • Always start with the end in mind. Take a blank sheet of paper and write down (no more than) three results you want to obtain from your presentation. What impressions do you want the people in the room to take home? What do you want them to remember about your product or service? What action do you want them to take after the meeting?
  • Then inventorize your assets: what facts and figures, anecdotes, trivia, case studies, experience, demos or prototypes, etc. do you have on hand that may help you achieve these objectives?
  • Based upon the outcome of the questions above, you may select the most suitable medium for delivering your content, e.g. a traditional slide presentation, a naked speech, maybe supported by video testimonials or — why not — a live demonstration. Note that your choice may also be influenced by the size and composition of your audience, the layout of the room, or the technical facilities you have on hand.
  • Make sure your talk has a begin, a middle and an end. Structure it the AIDA way. As the first seconds of your performance are crucial for grabbing your audience’s attention, choose a catchy title and a powerful opening slide.
  • Think visual. Use images to communicate, not decorate. Translate concepts to visual metaphors. Look for compelling ways to conceptualize facts, processes and data. You won’t need artistic drawing skills; a bit of analytical sense and a good portion of creativity will certainly do.
  • Analyze. Surprise. Focus. Simplify. Cut the crap and don’t feed the chameleons. Keep your presentation short and sweet. And when you prepare slides, keep them clear, clean and consistent.
  • Practice makes perfect. Rehearse your presentation as often as needed. In front of your mirror, your family or your colleagues. Or use a video recorder to tape your performance.
  • But most of all, reserve ample time for your preparation. The time you invest in realizing, refining and rehearsing your presentation should be proportional to the importance of your talk, and reverse proportional to the time you will be given to present.

The third P: your Presentation

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” ― Dale Carnegie

I am aware that many of you may suffer from glossophobia, or fear of public speaking. But honestly, if you have invested enough time in defining your pitch and preparing your presentation there’s really not that much left to worry about.

  • Make sure to avoid unpleasant surprises. Arrive at the venue well in time, get familiar with the room in which you will present, and check the A/V equipment before your start. And when you’re planning a demo, dry-run it a few minutes ― not a few hours! ― in advance.
  • Go on stage with a positive attitude. Don’t get paralyzed by stage fright. You know that you can do it! Take a deep breath before you start and give the audience what they came for.
  • Start with a short silence. Then grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward. Surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll.
  • As I have explained in many of my older blog posts, when you give a presentation, you need to get your audience engaged. Appeal to their emotions, by telling a personal story. A good practice is to try to make eye contact with a few individuals in the audience and monitor their body language.
  • But, watch your own body language and nonverbal communication too. Your tone of voice, volume of speech, as well as your facial expression, stance and gestures should add to or complement your verbal message.
  • Speak in short sentences and pause often. Pause right before a key point to create a sense of anticipation. Pause right after a key point to allow it to sink in. And, most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
  • Take care of your speaking time. Ask a time keeper in the audience to give you a five or ten minute warning. If you feel you’re going to run over time, adapt your story and/or your pace, or consider skipping details and less meaningful slides.
  • Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Only present your own pitch and show the slides you prepared yourself. Don’t let the visuals dominate your talk. Never read your slides aloud: most people in the room already know how to read!
  • Be aware where you stand, don’t obscure the screen, and don’t turn your back to the audience. When you like to move around on stage, make sure you use a remote control device (that’s why I always carry a clicker on me, along with a spare battery ― prevention is better than cure.)
  • End your presentation in a powerful way. Your closing is your chance to leave a final impression on the audience. Don’t lose energy. Don’t change style. Don’t stop cold. Summarize your main ideas and key points. And call the people in the room to action.

The 3 P’s. Do you still know what they stand for? If you want to be a professional public presenter, then take control of your pitch, your preparation and your presentation.

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and on LinkedIn)

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below.

 

Public speaking stress, sweat and adrenaline


This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.


Take your parachute and jump, you can’t stay here forever
When everyone else is gone, being all alone won’t seem that clever
Take your parachute and go, there’s gonna have to be some danger
Take your parachute and jump, you’re gonna have to take flight

― from “Parachute” by Something Happens, EMI Records

Let me tell you about my first parachute (tandem) jump and what I learned from it. No need to say that it was a unique experience. Jumping out of a very small plane from an altitude of over 3000 meter. Half a minute (that seemed like only a few seconds) of free fall at 200 km/h. A stunning view from somewhere between heaven and earth. And, finally, the feeling to be safely back with both feet back on the ground.

Here are eight lessons I took from this breathtaking experience…

  1. Always make sure your parachute is properly folded before the plane takes off.
  2. Timing is key: when to jump and when to open the parachute.
  3. Motivation is also important. I can assure you that it takes some guts to step out the door of a plane into open space.
  4. Keep in mind that the laws of gravity are equal for each one of us, and will never be greater than 9.81 m/s2 – regardless of your size, shape or mass.
  5. Don’t forget to take a deep breath just before you dive and let the adrenaline flow.
  6. The free fall starts a bit scary but once you get through the first seconds, it feels really great.
  7. Once the canopy has unfolded, there’s not much left to worry about (except for point 8) – and you have ample time for savoring the scenery below.
  8. Start preparing in time for a soft landing.

I have to admit that the dive took me some guts, and produced a lot of stress, sweat and adrenaline.  But it felt… WOW! Almost as thrilling and exciting as speaking publicly in front of a large audience.

No more fear of speaking

Don’t think that stress only comes to you. According to the People’s Almanac, “speaking in front of a group” tops the list of worst fears in the US – beating heights, insects and bugs, financial problems and fear of flying (and probably jumping to).

keep_calm_jump

You may blame it on your reptile brain, the oldest one of your three brains, that is responsible for all the ‘automatic’ functions of your body, like controlling your heartbeat, your breathing, and your body temperature. It’s full of fear, and it will put you in “survival mode” under life-threatening conditions. But, unfortunately, this part of your brain can’t make the difference between a real physical threat and an imaginary threat, like fear of public speaking. This is why some presenters get jittery or freeze up when they get in front of an audience.

Here are a few tips that may help you deal with stage fright, prepare for a public performance and survive the first minutes of your speech  ―  once you have made a good start, you stress level will go down and your will feel more comfortable.

  • Arrive at the venue well in time. Get familiar with the room and check the A/V equipment before you start. This will keep Murphy out, save you from unpleasant surprises and give you less things to worry about.
  • Think of the audience as your friend. The people in the room have come to listen to the interesting talk you prepared for them. As most of them are scared of public speaking, just like you, they want you to succeed. Look for a few allies in the audience and make eye contact with them during your talk. After your presentation, try to get some feedback from individuals – they will certainly tell you that you did a good job!
  • Believe in yourself. Think positive. You can do it! Transform your stress into energy. Enthusiasm is contagious; if you show passion for the topic you present, your listeners will get excited too.
  • Control your breath. Nervous people have a tendency to take shorter breaths, which means less oxygen is getting to their brain. Breathing a few times deeply and thinking about something pleasant before you start will help you to control your nervous system’s response to stress.
  • Don’t present with an empty stomach. Have some food before you start, maybe even accompanied by a glass of wine – ONE, not more ;-)
  • Prepare for a strong start and a good story. Plan and memorize what you will be saying during the first minutes of your presentation. Make sure you will grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward.
  • Rehearse your presentation a few days in advance with a friendly audience, such as colleagues, friends or family members. Make sure you feel comfortable with your story, your visuals and with the words you want to use. Prepare a cheat sheet with a few keywords or bulleted speaker notes. You don’t have to use it, take it ‘ just for in case of …’
  • And finally, remember Dale Carnegie’s words (but don’t worry, the audience doesn’t know…): “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Now, re-read the 8 lessons from my parachute jump I listed above, and think of the skydive as your next public speech, and of the parachute as the story of your presentation. You would never consider jumping without one, would you?

(this compilation post has been published earlier on Business2Community and LinkedIn)

The young ones

Yesterday, I attended one of the preliminary heats of the Telenet – BBC Public Speaking Awards, a competition in which 16 to 20-year old non-native English-speaking students speech about technology, society, philosophy and culture. About challenging topics such as “Education kills creativity”, “Culture is not a luxury, but a necessity” and “Ignorance is bliss.”

Belgium is a small country, and English is taught as a second or third language at school. But still, the richness of idiom and vocabulary of these adolescents on stage was beyond impressive. I heard some excellent and some not quite so good speeches. But overall I was surprised and delighted to see how most of these young people (among which one of our sons) presented more-than-worth-to-listen-to content and showed a remarkable mix of character, creativity and confidence.

Still, let me share some points for approval I jotted down:

  • Practice makes perfect. And without doubt all the competitors practiced a lot. But if a speaker over-rehearses his or her discourse, it may start to sound inauthentic or even theatrical.
  • Speaking in public without slides or without cheat sheet is certainly not easy. When you pencil the key points of your talk in the palm of your hand, however (which is not necessarily a no do,) don’t spend the whole presentation with your hand palm-up.
  • Less than 10% of a message is conveyed by actual words or content. The rest is delivered through non-verbal means. Most presenters controlled their body language well and kept good eye contact with the audience, but some of them neglected the expressive power of their voice pitch, intonation and volume of speech.
  • The end of some monologues could have been more inspiring. A sincere “Thank you for listening” or a dry “This concludes my speech” is hardly ever enough to engage your audience or call them to action (or help you to the second round of the competition.)
  • A poor response during the Q&A at the end may ruin the whole of your performance. Make sure you know your topic extremely well, and be ready for some provocative or even weird questions from the jury.

But most importantly, I heard a lot of good stories. Filled with ethos, pathos and logos. And seasoned with personal examples, anecdotes and metaphors. Each of those 18-year olds managed to deliver a great performance on stage. My Saturday morning in the audience was well-spent. So, let me close by paraphrasing the title of one of the speeches: “Storytelling can teach as well as entertain.” Yes, it can.

And our son Robin, he made it to the quarter finals! Congrats from his old dad for an outstanding performance.

BBC_winnersPhoto: courtesy Telenet – BBC Awards

Plan and deliver ― your presentation

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” ― Dale Carnegie

I am aware that many of you may suffer from glossophobia, or fear of public speaking. But honestly, if you have invested enough time in defining your pitch and preparing your presentation there’s really not that much left to worry about.

  • Make sure to avoid unpleasant surprises. Arrive at the venue well in time, get familiar with the room in which you will present, and check the A/V equipment before your start. And when you’re planning a demo, dry-run it a few minutes ― not a few hours! ― in advance.
  • Go on stage with a positive attitude. Don’t get paralyzed by stage fright. You know that you can do it! Take a deep breath before you start and give the audience what they came for.
  • Start with a short silence. Then grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward. Surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll.
  • As I have explained in many of my older blog posts, when you give a presentation, you need to get your audience engaged. Appeal to their emotions, by telling a personal story. A good practice is to try to make eye contact with a few individuals in the audience and monitor their body language.
  • But, watch your own body language and nonverbal communication too. Your tone of voice, volume of speech, as well as your facial expression, stance and gestures should add to or complement your verbal message.
  • Speak in short sentences and pause often. Pause right before a key point to create a sense of anticipation. Pause right after a key point to allow it to sink in. And, most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
  • Take care of your speaking time. Ask a time keeper in the audience to give you a five or ten minute warning. If you feel you’re going to run over time, adapt your story and/or your pace, or consider skipping details and less meaningful slides.
  • Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Only present your own pitch and show the slides you prepared yourself. Don’t let the visuals dominate your talk. Never read your slides aloud: most people in the room already know how to read!
  • Be aware where you stand, don’t obscure the screen, and don’t turn your back to the audience. When you like to move around on stage, make sure you use a remote control device (that’s why I always carry a clicker on me, along with a spare battery ― prevention is better than cure.)
  • End your presentation in a powerful way. Your closing is your chance to leave a final impression on the audience. Don’t lose energy. Don’t change style. Don’t stop cold. Summarize your main ideas and key points. And call the people in the room to action.

This ends my series of articles about the 3 P’s. Do you still know what they stand for?  If you want to be a professional public presenter, then take control of your pitch, your preparation and your presentation.

vintage_microphone

Other articles about planning and delivering your presentation:

Use your brain, you’ve got three of them

In an earlier post, “yin, yang and your brain,” I have written about the differences between left-brain thinkers and right-brain thinkers. At the end of the article I made a quick reference to a three-layered model of our brain, which is also known as the triune brain.

triune_brain

According to this model, the human brain is —by evolution— made up of three sub-brains that co-habit in the human skull and work together as one.

  • The oldest part of your brain is the archipallium, or the reptilian brain. It’s called that way, because we share it with birds and reptiles. It is responsible for all the ‘automatic’ functions of your body, like controlling your heartbeat, breathing, and your body temperature. Consequently, it is full of fear, and may put you in “survival mode” under (perceived) life-threatening conditions.
    But, unfortunately, this part of your brain can’t make the difference between a real physical threat and an imaginary threat, like fear of public speaking. This is why some presenters freeze up when they get in front of an audience.
    So, when you’re overwhelmed by stage fright, blame it on your reptile brain (and try to apply some of the tips I have presented in my “no more fear of speaking” post.)
  • On top of the archipallium is the paleopallium, a.k.a. the mammalian brain or the limbic system. Most mammals, such as cats and dogs, have one. This part of the brain drives you to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When you get emotional about things like food, sex or violence, it’s that part of your brain that is working.
    Since people will never forget how you made them feel, this part of the brain is extremely important for both you as a presenter and for your audience. When triggered by positive emotions, the limbic system will inject a shot of dopamine into their brains and make them feel warm, comfortable and confident. And when confronted with a painful situation, they will want to avoid it happening to them and become receptive to the solutions you are proposing.
  • On top of both of the two older, inner brains there is the neopallium, or the neocortex. It is also called the rational brain, and takes up a massive two-thirds of the human brain (although some of us may not utilize it to its full extent.) When you are thinking and reasoning, this is the part of your brain that’s doing the job. It’s also responsible for interpreting language and figures.
    A common problem is that many speakers solely rely on the ratio of their audience. But, sometimes the neocortex gets overpowered by one of its peer brains, and lets fear or emotion take power over their feelings, reactions or decisions.

As a conclusion, knowing how the human brain works, being able to control the triggers you send out, and understanding the way that the people in your audience will react to them are extremely important if you want to deliver an impactful presentation. Doing or telling the right things may influence your listener’s opinion, appreciation and behavior. But always beware: if this knowledge is not used wisely it may give you a false feeling of control.

NB: recently, a new brain model has shown up, dividing people into top-brain and bottom-brain users (read this: Right-Brained Or Left-Brained? Actually, You May Be Neither)

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

No more fear of speaking

According to the People’s Almanac, “speaking in front of a group” tops the list of worst fears in the US – beating heights, insects and bugs, financial problems and fear of flying…

stage_fright

Don’t think that stress only happens to you. Many experienced speakers feel nervous and get jittery before they enter the stage and during the first minutes of their speech.  Here are a few tips that may help you deal with stage fright, prepare for a public performance and survive those first minutes. Once you have made a good start, you stress level will go down and your will feel more comfortable.

  • Arrive at the venue well in time. Get familiar with the room and check the A/V equipment before you start. This will keep Murphy out, save you from unpleasant surprises and give you less things to worry about.
  • Think of the audience as your friend. The people in the room have come to listen to the interesting talk you prepared for them. As most of them are scared of public speaking, just like you, they want you to succeed. Look for a few allies in the audience and make eye contact with them during your talk. After your presentation, try to get some feedback from individuals – they will certainly tell you that you did a good job!
  • Believe in yourself. Think positive. You can do it! Transform your stress into energy. Enthusiasm is contagious; if you show passion for the topic you present, your listeners will get excited too.
  • Control your breath. Nervous people have a tendency to take shorter breaths, which means less oxygen is getting to their brain. Breathing a few times deeply and thinking about something pleasant before you start will help you to control your nervous system’s response to stress.
  • Don’t present with an empty stomach. Have some food before you start, maybe even accompanied by a glass of wine – ONE, not more ;-)
  • Prepare for a strong start. Plan and memorize what you will be saying during the first minutes of your presentation. Make sure you will grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward.
  • Rehearse your presentation a few days in advance with a friendly audience, such as colleagues, friends or family members. Make sure you feel comfortable with your story, your visuals and with the words you want to use. Prepare a cheat sheet with a few keywords or bulleted speaker notes. You don’t have to use it, take it ‘ just for in case of …’
  • And finally, remember Dale Carnegie’s words (but don’t worry, the audience doesn’t know…):

“There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

A tale of two talks

This is a true story that happened a couple of years ago when two executives of competing companies delivered a plenary keynote address during the opening session of a large industry conference.

The first presenter of the day was deliberately a charismatic speaker. He brought a broad and interesting slideshow about his company’s vision on emerging market trends, the challenges and opportunities these pose to customers, and gave examples of how his people were providing the right solutions to tackle the problems.

Forty-five minutes later, the second speaker talked about largely the same industry topic, but addressed it from a technical regulation perspective – with lots of acronyms, jargon and details. During his speech, he made at least five references to the preceding presentation, acknowledging the trends, challenges and opportunities earlier listed by his competitor. But he forgot to mention his own company, and neglected to talk about the products and solutions they were building and selling.

Both keynotes were interesting, complementary and well presented, but IMHO speaker #2 made a few notable mistakes:

  • By taking a dry regulatory stance, he missed the opportunity to inspire the audience and position his company as a thought leader and market leader in the domain;

  • By making so many references to and confirming what was said by the previous speaker, he provided free publicity for his competitor;

  • By not explicitly mentioning his own employer and their solutions, he missed a great opportunity to promote them to a large audience or potential buyers.

Although I am not a fan of hard sales talk (particularly not at public events), the first keynote speaker certainly did a better job in selling his story, his employer and his products.

plenary

More keynote presenter advice may be found in this blog post by Mike Brown.

My name is Bond

In last week’s post, I provided the example of the notorious John Doe, who completely missed his opening and wasted the crucial first seconds of his presentation by delivering only small talk.

But, John also did one thing good: he introduced himself. But, as people in the room were not decided yet if they were going to pay attention to the speaker, he did it way too early. So, what is the best moment in a presentation to present yourself?

First of all, why (except for vanity reasons) should one talk about himself or herself in front of a public audience?

Because it’s an opportunity to show that you’re a person of interest, that you are an authority on the topic you are presenting and, consequently, that you have the “right to speak”. Make sure that you give a bit more argumentation than just saying “My name is Doe, John Doe” – this may work well for 007, but most probably not for you.

james_bond

And when is the most proper time to do so?

You should of course introduce yourself at a moment that makes sense for your presentation, for yourself and for the people in the room. As a best practice –and in full compliance with the AIDA structure– a good moment is somewhere in the first half of your presentation. Once you have caught the attention (“A”) of the people in the room and you have introduced the topic of your presentation, you can amplify their interest (“I”) by explaining that you are the expert they should listen to, and start creating desire (“D”) for whatever you are trying to teach, evangelize or sell to them. And finally call for their action (“A”) – shaken, not stirred.

Lost in translation

Some years ago, I was presenting in China in front of a government audience.

As I had a local official assigned to simultaneously translate my speech into Mandarin, I assumed that no one in the audience actually understood English. But, to my big surprise, my presentation got interrupted twice by the guy who seemed to be the highest in rank in the audience. He kicked-out the interpreter on duty and replaced him by another one he had on hand.

This man perfectly understood what I was speaking about in English –even though it was addressing a very high-tech topic– and decided that the Chinese translation was not accurate enough.

Never underestimate your audience!