Sunday, February 24, 2008

13 Ways to Make Your Visuals More Riveting

Want to keep your audience from taking a snooze while you make your next presentation?  Give them something they're not expecting.  Give them better visuals.

With stronger visuals to reinforce your message you'll keep your listeners tuned in and energized.  Plus studies show

Skeptical?  Dont' take my word for it.  ebay recently reported that auctions which feature a picture of the item up for sale yield a 400% increase in bidding.  Let's face it.  We're visual creatures and we want to see what we're buying.

So here are 13 ways to make your visual aids more riveting.

  1. Use more pictures.  Your audience can't get enough of them.  Words are forgotten, but pictures linger.
  2. Delete clip art from your computer.  These images are overused and often cheesy.  You can do better.
  3. Use unexpected images.  Strive to find relevant, creative pictures...for instance, use a picture of stampeding wild horses to illustrate market forces that your business can no longer deny.
  4. Take your own pictures.  You'd be amazed at the cool things right in front of your eyes, like the FedEx drop box in my local U.S. Post Office.  Strange bedfellows indeed.  How many points could a picture like this make in a presentation?
  5. Go low tech.  Draw your visuals on a flip chart.  When you actively create a picture on a flip chart it's kinetic and it draws in your audience.  And you don't have to be a Picasso, just keep your images simple.
  6. Use more graphs and charts.  The only thing you have to remember here is to be sure to match up the right kind of chart/graph with the information you're trying to convey.  For more on this, check out Gene Zelazny's classic "Say It with Charts."
  7. Write and draw on top of your Powerpoint slides.  In slide show mode, you can turn your cursor into a pen by pressing Cntl+P.  Then you're free to circle key words, "x" out a number you'd like to change or compare two parts of a graph.
  8. Use props and demonstrations.  Slice up an apple to show budget allocations or roll a pair of dice to illustrate a potentially risky move or smash a cheap watch to reinforce wasted time. 
  9. Paint a picture in the minds of your audience.  There's a Chinese proverb that says "the mind paints what the eye cannot see."  Remember "The Blair Witch Project" from the mid-90s?  Part of what made the movie so scary was the fact that the director never showed the witch on screen.  Our mental image of what the witch might look like was immeasurably more frightening than anything Hollywood could have showed us.
  10. Use color in your PowerPoint bullet slides.  Call out key words and phrases with color to focus your audience's attention on the ideas you want to drive home.
  11. Use the pre-set graphics in PowerPoint to jazz up your text.  For example, show a 3-step process in three boxes with arrows or illustrate the importance of your customers by putting them at the hub of a wheel with key attributes as spokes.  You get the idea.
  12. Use video.  We live in a YouTube world.  Let video enhance your ideas.
  13. Don't use PowerPoint at all.  (Gasp!)  This would be a really unexpected move.  And, it would force your audience to focus only on you and your message.  That's a good thing.  You'll connect more deeply with them and have a better chance of success.
Try out some of these and see what reaction you get.  Don't be surprised if members of your audience come up and embrace you openly.

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - Kodak Guy

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Critical First Few Seconds

How critical are the first few seconds of a presentation?

More than you might think. Dr. Nalini Ambady at Harvard fielded a research project to study the impact of first impressions with surprising results.Two groups of college students were exposed to professors for different lengths of time.

One group sat through an entire semester with the professors. The second group only saw 2-second video clips of these same professors teaching. Each group of students was then asked to rate the performance and attitudes of the professors--surprisingly, the survey results from both groups of students were nearly identical.

In other words, after only seeing a 2-second clip of a professor these students were able to ascertain a great deal about his/her style and abilities.Likewise your audience rightly or wrongly sizes you up rather quickly when you begin a presentation.

So how do you make a great first impression?
1) Walk confidently to the front of the room.
2) Smile.
3) Pause 2-3 seconds as you look at the audience.
4) Start talking.

This communicates confidence and that you’re happy to be there (even if you feel like running for the hills). You’d be surprised how far these simple steps will go in winning over your audience before you even utter a single word.How will you make a great first impression?

Rhetorically yours,
Steve Hughes

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thoughts on "Last Comic Standing" - Part I

Last night I was watching NBC's "Last Comic Standing" and was struck by some of the good and not-so-good things the comedians were doing. For those of you living under a rock (which is not a bad place to live if you have sensitivity to the sun) "Last Comic Standing" is a worldwide "funniest person contest" hosted by Bill Bellamy.

After auditioning thousands of comeidans, we're down to the final 32. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from last night's show.

  • A very funny woman from New York did a whole set about living in New York. Hello? She was performing in LA. Lesson: Know your audience and do material they might relate to. (Yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Sue me.)

  • Another comedian, a 9-year veteran, got up on stage and did a series of unrelated one-liner jokes. He would have been right at home in the Poconos circa 1959. But in 2007 he couldn't get in a rhythm nor could he build any momentum with his audience. Lesson: Lose the old school approach. Stay current.

  • A comedian from Minneapolis took nearly 25 seconds of her 2-minute set to get to her first laugh. Nothing against Minnesotans, but that is way too long. Lesson: Life is short. Get to your point fast.

  • The comedians who seemed like they were having fun as they walked onto the stage and up to the mic seemed to perform the best. Lesson: Get them to like you before you start talking. Lesson #2: Have as much fun as the audience.

  • And the comics who performed the most universal material (i.e. stuff that everyone can relate to) did the best. Those who just talked about themselves didn't fare as well. Lesson: It's not about you. It's all about the audience.

  • Best line of the night was from Doug Benson after he earned a spot in the finals. "I feel like a weight has been lifted and it has been replaced by another weight."

My favorites from last night's episode were Ralph Harris and Doug Benson.

Time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1 and #2: See the "Lessons" above.

Happy Speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - Critic

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

2007 National Speakers Association Convention: Day Two

Whoa! So many good speakers, so little time. Today there were two mega sessions (2,300 attendance) and close to 20 breakout sessions at NSA so we can't cover it all. Let's just talk about the speaker that made the biggest impact.

John Molidor, PhD - "Shocking Revelations About What's Going On Inside Your Brain"

John is the dean of the college of Human Medicine at Michigan State--he's one of those smart scientist-types you see on "NOVA" and yet he was able to speak to us in language we could understand. (Keep in mind, the old line about NSA is that it's the only organization around whose members have written more books than they've read.) This is some of the stuff John laid down for us:

  • There are 3 parts of the brain: reptilian (survival), limbic (emotion) and neocortex (thinking).

  • You need to engage all three if you want to be a successful speaker.

  • By the way, when push comes to shove the reptilian always wins. Case in point, if you have to go to the bathroom, learning has left the building.

  • He showed the parts of the brain that "light up" on an fMRI scan when listening to the famous "Starfish Story" for the first time. However, it was interesting to note that a person's brain shuts down (i.e. doesn't light up) when the Starfish Story is told again in the first person. Lesson? When we detect dishonesty our brains don't want any part of it.

  • The brain hates rote. (Hmmm, maybe that's why we didn't enjoy memorizing dates and facts in school.)

  • Smell is the most acute and least used of our senses.

  • You can partially recreate what goes on in the minds of your audience if you describe in a smell or sound in detail. For instance, how do you feel when you walk into a Krispy Kreme when the "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign is lit up?

  • How audiences remember: 1) use color, 2) break your presentation up into 25-minute segments, and 3) provide rest time - let them soak it in.

  • Want to be remembered? 1) Know how the brain works, 2) speak to the senses, and 3) create an emotional content

  • PowerPoint slides? Put images on the left and text on the right - your brain will thank you for it.

  • You use WAY more than 10% of your brain.

  • Men and women speak about the same number of words per day.

  • Finally, he deconstructed the oft misapplied Dr. Albert Mehrabian communication study that said communication is 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% visual. Really? To test this theory he played a two minute clip of a person speaking Russian and asked if we could gleen 93% of the meaning. We couldn't. Conclusion? Content matters.

Time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1: What parts of the brain are you not addressing in your presentations? Could your facts and figures be dressed up with a little emotion?

Your Turn #2: How can you invoke all five senses and build emotional connections with your audience?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - PhD Wannabe

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

National Speakers Association Convention Day One: Simon T. Bailey and Brilliance

The 2007 National Speakers Association is taking place in San Diego this week. It's a weeklong festival of powerful platform presentations and big time business-building breakouts. Here are the highlights from Day One.

Simon T. Bailey kicked off the event with an amazing speech about recognizing and embracing your brilliance. He suggested that brilliance is the present embodiment of potential. Whereas potential is something that might be realized in the future, brilliance is something we have right now.

He had some great quotes, too:

    • "You’re a vitamin, not an aspirin."

    • "Be an original voice, not an annoying echo."

    • "I want to be judged by actions taken, not evaluations given."

    • "You can tell that I’m from Orlando by my Godiva tan." (He's African-American, in case you didn't know.)

    • "I'll let that marinate for a while." He added this line after he said something very profound. The audience loved it.

    • "Delete your ‘qoute file’." Which means, try to create your own quotes instead of resting on the laurels of others. Plus, if the quote is famous enough, there's a chance most of your audience has heard it before. Be an original voice.

He also through out some great statistics about the meetings and convention business. Every year $1.7 billion is spent on meetings and conferences, 1.2 million conferences are held every working day and there are approximately 3,500 members of NSA. His point? There's more than enough work to go around.

Lastly, he closed with a powerful analogy while seated in a chair on stage. When he said is final words he just sat in the chair and looked at the audience. You got the idea that he was finished, but you weren't exactly sure. Then he stood up and walked off the stage. He didn't get more than 3-4 steps away from the chair before the place erupted into a standing ovation.

Nicely done.

Now it's time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1: I think it's great to use quotes in presentations, but ask yourself if it's time to freshen up your pool of quotations. The author of the quote isn't as important as the quote itself.

Your Turn #2: How will you conclude your next speech? Consider a powerful, show-stopping statement followed by a three second pause. A strong impression is guaranteed.

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - Candlestick Maker

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Stick The Landing! End Your Speech With A Call-To-Action

Last week we talked about how you should never, never, never, never end a presentation with a Q&A. The next logical question is “how should a presentation end?” With a Call To Action (CTA).

CTA is a term borrowed from the advertising world. Believe it or not, every single commercial, magazine ad, coupon, web page design, etc. has some sort of CTA.

A Call-To-Action is what the audience should do or think about a product or service.

“Just do it.”

“Drivers Wanted.”

“The 7-Layer Burrito is now only $1.29.”

You get the idea.

Advertisers and good presenters know that the CTA is the last thing the audience will hear and it’s the one thing they’ll most likely remember. Remember your Psych 101 class in college? The recency effect? When given multiple pieces of information, people tend to recall the last thing they hear. So why not make the last thing they hear, the most important thought, request or direction of your speech?

It’s fairly easy to come up with a good CTA if the goal of your speech is for the audience to literally take some course of action. Do you want them to approve a budget? Adopt a new strategic direction? Bless the Q4 advertising plan?

Or, do you want the audience to stop doing something? Reduce mistakes? Less waste?

Crafting an effective CTA requires a little more effort and when you’re just conveying information or providing an update. Just boil the essence of your speech down to a single sentence that encapsulates the purpose of your speech.

Do you want your audience to simply be aware of some new regulations? What are the regulations and what impact will it have on them? The shorter the better.

Are you providing a monthly update? What is the one thought or idea you want your listeners to walk away with? What should they keep top-of-mind when they’re back at their desks?
Does your audience simply need an attitude adjustment? Without being heavy handed, what inspirational thought, quote or number could you leave them with? What will make them pause and think about where their heads are?

For example, I conclude nearly every one of my “Presenting with Excellence” seminars by reminding my audience what they just learned. I tell them, “Anyone can become a great speaker because great speakers are made, not born. You’re off to a great start. Keep it up.”

Does the audience start applauding? Sometimes. Is there a group hug? No. Do they throw roses on the stage? No. (But I wish they would.)

A good Call-To-Action is a great way to end. And a great ending is the best way for your audience to begin the rest of their day.

Time to Hit Your Stride…

Your Turn #1:
Take the goal or purpose of your next presentation and repurpose it to function as a CTA.

Your Turn #2:
Set up your CTA by planting the seed in your audience’s mind prior to Q&A. Try saying this, “Before I make my final point [CTA], what questions do you have about my presentation?” Now your listeners are prepared for a few final remarks after your Q&A.

Rhetorically yours,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - An Autobot In Disguise

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Never Never Never End A Speech With Q and A

Think back to the last presentation you gave or the last one you attended as an audience member. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts (whatever that means) that the presentation ended with a Q&A session. Perhaps there was even a colorful PowerPoint slide with a giant question mark on it or it simply read “Questions?” Very creative.

It’s hard to pick the biggest mistake most presenters make, but ending on Q&A has to be up there in the top three.

So you might be asking, “What are we supposed to do? Every presentation should have questions at the end.”

To answer that question, let’s look at all the things that can go wrong during the question and answer portion of the program.

1. There are no questions. Yikes! Talk about an uncomfortable silence. (Check back in a few days for a post about out how to solve the “no questions” problem.)

2. Questions take you off topic. A waste of your time and everyone else’s.

3. The questions turn negative. Some colleague or customer wants to assert himself/herself by tearing you down. Not fun.

4. You get asked legitimate questions for which you have no answer. Ouch. Even if you say you’ll find the answer and get back to the questioner, your credibility takes a hit.

5. The Q&A session is flat. Nothing good or bad happens, but the energy and enthusiasm you worked so hard to generate during the presentation simply vanishes.

6. Finally, most of the time during Q&A people just want to get the heck out of Dodge. In many people’s minds the learning is over and they’re just sitting quietly waiting to leave (and secretly hoping that no one will ask another question).

So when do you let your audience ask questions? You have two options.

One, encourage them to ask questions throughout your presentation. This is the best way to handle questions because there isn’t a formal Q&A session that puts you on the spot. Plus people might forget a question they want to ask if they have to wait until the end. But be prepared, if the audience peppers you with throughout you speech, don’t let them throw off your rhythm.

The second option is to have your Q&A as the second to last thing you do. This way you signal to the audience that there’s more to come, that they should stay engaged and that the Q&A will not go on forever. I like to open Q&A by saying, “Before I make my final point, what questions do you have about my presentation?”

And just what is the “final point” you ask? Tune in tomorrow.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1
Do a little experiment. Pay attention to the way the next three presentations come to a conclusion. Was it Q&A? What was the energy level in the room? What was the mood of the audience as everyone filed out?

Your Turn #2
Try the “questions throughout method” in your next presentation. You might be surprised to see the level of engagement go up. And your speech will feel more like a dialog than a monologue.