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?
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:
Successes: We all like to be associated with success
Failures: This creates real human sharing and can lead to what you learnt
Funny stories: When an audience laughs they build a sense of belonging in that group
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Posture: Push your shoulders back, so your lungs can expand and so you can feel confident
Pronounce the whole of each word, so each syllable is articulated clearly. This will create a stronger message
Pace yourself, so you are speaking more slowly and giving yourself time to breathe
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.
Last 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:
Change your tone, or pace of voice
Switch from abstract ideas or technical detail, by using an anecdote. Tell the story that lies behind the figures, the diagram, the recommendation.
Vary your PowerPoint slides so that they build in something unexpected
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.
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.
This morning I had a stimulating conversation with a person who had led an award winning hospitality business. I asked him what he believed was the key to excellent customer service. He replied that in NZ tourism, everyone has a dream they are trying to live – after all, noone comes here by accident! His approach is that if you can help that person fulfill that dream with your customer service, the rest will follow.
I went away thinking that the principle applies to more than customer service.
When I go into a dress shop, I dream of buying an outfit that magically makes me look divine….well!
When I receive a business email, I have a small dream that the email makes it clear what I have to do about it.
Take presentations for example: Your audience must have some sort of dream in relation to your topic, or they wouldn’t be there. Figure out how you can help them with that dream and inspiration will follow. I looked back over recent presentation rehearsals we had worked on. One was in telecommunications – the company presenting to health professionals in rural environments. Presumably her audience’s dream would be about how modern telecommunications could improve access to health for rural people, or overcome some barrier in running their medical service. So the presentation could be about those possibilities. Another was with an economics consultancy. The presenter could tap into an audience dream about understanding some important aspect of economics – now wouldn’t that be nice? Or the dream might be about reaching a new understanding about an economics concept that sheds light on a key current event.
This form of inspiration means that you don’t have to ‘be inspiring’ yourself – all you have to do is to enable your audience to be inspired themselves. There’s lots more to it than that, but this seems like a very productive starting point. There are more tips on the attractive Seelemonslive blog
I suspect the concept applies to more than presenting. How what ways does your role enable people to fulfill a dream or two?
Imagine you are sitting in an audience. There’s quite a complicated presentation going on and you are attempting to follow it. The presenter is using a lot of slides with several sentences on every slide.
What do you do? Keep listening to the speaker and ignore the slides completely, or attempt to read the slides whilst the speaker keeps talking? Neither option works. Either you try to ignore the distraction of the slides and listen – hard to do. Or you can chose the opposite – while you struggle to read the slide, the speaker has moved on to a new topic.
Don’t try to use slides as hand-outs for the audience to take away. They are attending a face-to-face communication, not reading a book. Reading and listening are two completely different forms of communications, using different mental processes. Audiences can’t read slides and listen at the same time. In fact, If you have too much on the slides, they are very hard to read on their own, even without the complication of listening.
I’ve talked previously about how brief good slide content must be. Basically – hardly any words. Let’s face it: If the slides were any use to someone who hadn’t attended the presentation, they probably didn’t communicate well during it!
Two contrasting events happened in Communicate this week that put the power of stories firmly in mind: I was working with a group of auditors and discussing options for presenting technical auditing issues in an engaging way. Back in the office I picked up an email asking for presentation help for a guy described as a bright guy, very theatrical in his style who enjoys theory and concepts but is too abstract and jumps around ideas too much for people to follow. Obviously he needs to build some stronger audience engagement.
In both cases story telling is the answer. All humans enjoy stories and a good story can turn knowledge into something that really connects with us and can stimulate us to understand and to act. Even something as technical as auditing has human story behind it – stories as to why that rule was developed, what happened when the rule was broken and so on.
Often when I ask people about the best presenter at a recent conference, the answer relates to story telling – the presenter told a story that the listener could relate to and use as the basis for future action.
An example? A new team leader hearing a presenter talk about the issue of sometimes having to make an unpopular decision as a leader. The presenter told about her son falling over that very morning and getting a bad gravel graze. The mother had to inflict pain on the boy to clean out the graze so it could heal well. Who knows how true that small story was, but it lingered with the listener and gave her the confidence to act on some difficult issues she was facing.
Don’t get stuck on the idea that your life is too mundane for stories. You don’t have to have chopped off your arm with a multi-tool to escape from being trapped under a rock! Often the most powerful and long-lasting stories are built from very simple accessible material – as in the grazed knee example. With this type of story, an audience can think: ‘Ah ha! Yes, I get that. This is familiar’, then they have the basis for understanding or action.
A while ago I worked with a group young army recruitment personnel. Some of them had coped with some very dramatic situations during their overseas service, but the most compelling story came from a woman who talked about how joining the army had enabled her to find a route out of a very negative and limited background. The audience could relate to the story and use it as a message for action. So, just look at your ordinary daily life for compelling content. If you want an example, take a look at Carmen Agra Deedy telling the story of taking her mother to the shopping mall. Okay, she’s a brilliant story teller and has really worked on this one, but the source of the content is very simple:
So look around your life for some real stories, then when you have some ideas or concepts that are difficult to get across, ask yourself: ‘What else in my life is similar to this concept or has the same kinds of elements? Who knows how your life might be compelling for someone else.
Some other useful resources:
One of our favourite books: ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath covers story telling for presenters very well and…