Archive for the ‘Presentation skills’ Category

Pride: An unexpected angle on for women in leadership

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Have you ever thought about the role of pride in executive presence?  The   HRM Online  earlier this week quoted German research in Germany showing that women who adopted a proud approach to their personal performance were seen as more willing to take the lead.

Pride has a rather negative press, but when soundly based, it can be a powerful motivator.  As we acknowledge our achievements we build our confidence and that will comes out in a multitude of subtle ways.

I suspect that NZ women find it very difficult to communicate their pride in their achievements. We’d be great at being cheerful, but unfortunately the German study shows that cheerful women are seen as less willing to lead.

Jon Katzenbach has an interesting article  in the website for The Centre for Association Leadership, titled: Instilling Pride: The Primary Motivator for Peak Performance. It is talking about pride in an organisation, but it’s comments would equally well apply to personal performance.

How to persuade people they need to improve their presentation skills

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Do you cringe when you see senior managers and staff making inadequate  presentations?  It’s difficult to challenge people on these important skills, even when the problems are glaringly obvious.

It is a difficult issue to confront, unless there is strong support from high level executives, who often are the worst offenders.

Ellen Finklestein’s useful PowerPoint Tips blog has a good post on just this issue and includes a couple of less common tips.  She views it through the PowerPoint lens, but PowerPoint does reflect many of the symptoms of boring presentations.



Simple three way test for communicating with staff

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

One of my clients is working on her leadership skills in a major corporate organisation.   A recent session focused around getting key partners and managers to buy into a new strategy for the business unit.  In the end it came down to a  whole series of individual conversations – with other partners and with the managers.

How do you get those conversations ‘leaderly’? Run your conversation plans past this three-way leadership communication test:

1. Is what I am going to say going to be inspiring?

2. Am I being a good steward of the people?

3. Am I solving the problem?

There’s a lot more depth in Kouzes and Pozner’s book  ‘The Leadership Challenge’.  We also need to remember that leader communication is a mix of what leaders say, the communication behaviours they model and the decisions they make supporting a communicative culture matter too.  The three way test is a good simple start though.

Use stories to engage your audience

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Today a client and I were discussing technical and strategic presentations. She had recently heard a very good presentation at a conference in Australia.  Afterwards she found herself working out what made the communication so good, because the presenter wasn’t charismatic and she wasn’t particularly funny.  Although the presenter did have excellent visuals, it sounded like her very human story was what made it special.  One important aspect of the story was that the woman told  about her failures and moments when she felt daunted,  as well as talking about her successes with the project.

Audiences desire to   connect with a speaker, and sharing our weaknesses as well as our strengths can build a very human connection.

Don’t think that your story has to be very dramatic and set on an Mount Everest type of scale.  Sometimes the very ordinary human tales can be powerful for a group. I was practising story telling with a group of young military people a while ago. Some of their stories were set in exotic locations, others were tales of human courage, but the most effective story was a very simple one about the young recruit going home after her first three months of army training and realising she had outgrown her no-hoper mates.

Write your stories down, you never know when they will be useful. There’s a delightful post about the value of working on the wording of your stories at: iggypintardo’s posterous

You can help your story-telling ability by collecting four different types:

  1. Successes: We all like to be associated with success
  2. Failures: This creates real human sharing and can lead to what you learnt
  3. Funny stories: When an audience laughs they build a sense of belonging in that group
  4. Legends: These provide a very attractive shortcut to meaning.  legends can be true legends, urban legends or stories about famous people that have become apocryphal.

Good luck with using your own life to source transformational stories.


Making the most of your introvert

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Want to read an interesting book that will change the way you see people? Try ‘Quiet: The power of the introvert in a world that can’t stop talking’.

The author is Susan Cain.  I posted a link a few weeks ago to her  TED Talk: The Power of the Introvert.

Cain explores her thesis that the brains of introverts are wired differently and are just often out of sync with the extroverted Western world.  Her book covers the research on introverted and extroverted brains and has a series of interesting cameo stories to carry the key ideas.

If you are an introvert struggling to manage in the extroverted world this book will help.  If you are an extrovert struggling to communicate with introverts,this book will also give you some excellent insights.

She’s really suggesting that our work environments would gain hugely in productivity and engagement if we broadened our approaches to accommodate introverted styles as well as extroverts. There’s an attractive blog on this subject with more tips on managing from both sides,  at Introverted and Loving It


Get your presentation working well through story boarding

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Today I worked with a client who had written quite an academic paper for presentation at a conference. Our challenge was to turn that paper into an engaging presentation.  Story boarding was the answer.  This technique enabled us to quickly turn his complex academic content into a much more straightforward and stimulating presentation.

Storyboarding is often used for development of the plot  for movies or writing a novel and so on.  It appears to have been widely adopted after Disney studios started using it. The image here is one from storyboarding a movie, but you will get the idea of how it might apply to a presentation, plus how it doesn’t have to be great artistry to be useful.  Just as well in my case!

With storyboarding, after having clarified your purpose for the presentation, you work out the three or four major points that will enable you to achieve your purpose. Then you tease out each of  those major points into a series of sub-points, again relating them to your overall purpose.

My story boarding is very basic:

  1.  I grab a blank piece of paper, turn it into a series of boxes, similar to the image.  I write topic headings for a series of slides that communicate the points I want to make. Sometimes I need to add more slides, so I just add them in.  If you are preparing a group presentation, sticking Post -its on a wall is good for this stage (one slide per post-it) because you can move them around and add in more slides as the group discusses the presentation.
  2. Once I think I have about the right number of slides, I rough out a title for each one and make sure that the title reflects the key message of the slide.  At this stage I also jot down ideas for visuals that would best convey the message of the slide.
  3.  I then turn my storyboard slides into a series of draft PowerPoint slides.  You could do that earlier, but I find I think more creatively on paper.

There are a number of benefits you will get  from storyboarding your presentation:

  • Thinking the messages through very clear
  • Creating a better sequence of ideas once you have seen them all laid out in front of you
  • Becoming more creative about potential visuals, rather than just getting stuck in bulleted slides
  • Tightening  up the presentation because you can see any repetition and over-done detail.

Just try it out as a technique. You will be amazed how fast and productive it is.  The excellent Garr Reynolds has written a more sophisticated version in: Make Presentations that People will Remember: The Process and if you Google ‘storyboarding for presentations’ there are heaps of good tips.


Project your voice to gain authority

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Last week I sat up the back of a rehearsal of speakers in a science oratory contest.  I was struck by how relatively much harder it was for the light voices of the young female contestants to project authority in a large lecture theatre.  Microphones helped but didn’t remove the disparity.

Despite the light voices evident,  female voices are deepening.  In the US the average female voice deepened by 23 hertz from 1945 to 1993. 23 hertz is about a semitone in music. Don’t ask me how they know this!  It is thought that pitch deepening has coincided with women having to be more authoritative to advance in a career.  There is also interesting evidence that as our bodies get larger, our vocal cords lengthen  and thus  our voices deepen.

Why do we invest so much authority in  a deeper voice?  One obvious reason is that deeper pitches are easier to hear, so a deep voice will project across other people talking.  The evolutionary psychologists, who have a view on everything these days, believe that a deep voice signals more testosterone and thus more dominance!

There are plenty of tips available on how to deepen your voice. Take care that you don’t strain your vocal cords, but   improvements in your breathing technique can make a big difference. There are some good simple techniques in Tips on Talking.

Some  psychological barriers to a stronger voice are connected with the value we place on what we have to say and how we feel about risking disagreement. If your voice is too quiet or too high, think carefully about your self-perception when speaking.  If you value your message, you will speak up more strongly. If you prepare well so you are ready to handle disagreement, you will state your views more confidently.

Use the Four Ps:

  1. Posture: Push your shoulders back, so your lungs can expand and so you can feel confident
  2. Pronounce the whole of each word, so each syllable is articulated clearly.  This will create a stronger message
  3. Pace yourself, so you are speaking more slowly and giving  yourself time to breathe
  4. Pinpoint someone in the audience who is quite a distance away. Imagine you are speaking directly to them

Good luck with the husky voice, it can bring all sorts of benefits.

The simple answer to building audience engagement

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Last online canadian pharmacy week a client mentioned that while people think she is a confident speaker, she often feels she is just giving a monologue.  She wanted to know how to build audience engagement in a way that suits sophisticated business environment.  It’s a darn unfair thing to say, but if you are boring yourself, you are likely to be boring your audience!

The generic answer to the problem is: Change what you are doing.  If what’s going on feels too much like a one- way communication, you don’t have much to lose.  This doesn’t mean you have to suddenly leap about the place or share your deepest soul-searching – just create a positive change.

Often  just a small, low risk change will revive your audience (and you), whereas uniformity quickly disengages them.  When you change what you are doing, you are altering  the audience’s emotional ‘state’ and thus their learning.

Five easy tips for increasing audience engagement:

  1. Change your tone, or pace of voice
  2. Switch from abstract ideas or technical detail,  by using an anecdote.  Tell the story that lies behind the figures, the diagram, the recommendation.
  3. Vary your PowerPoint slides so that they build in something  unexpected
  4. Shift the focus of communication to the audience and away from you.  Do that by giving them something to discuss or share with the audience.
  5. Use analogy or metaphor. This enables the audience to see the content in a completely different context.

These are just five suggestions.  You could easily find 25 more by just asking  yourself the question: ‘Now want could I do to make this more engaging?’

Interestingly, while it will often take more time to prepare for better audience engagement, whatever option you choose will generally make the presentation a lot easier to deliver. Another rule of thumb is that if you are having fun, the audience is probably finding the presentation worthwhile.

There are some other interesting tips on building audience engagement at: Tips on Talking.   A relevant book that we have recommended before is:  ‘Made to Stick’, by Chip and Dan Heath.