Monday, April 30, 2007

The Best Banking Presentation Ever - Part II

Here’s the scene: I was attending the annual shareholders meeting for a start-up bank, Champion Bancshares ( To be perfectly honest I showed up partly because I heard the food at the event would be fabulous. And it was. What I wasn’t prepared for was how good the presentations were by the bank officers. In my limited experience, most people don’t camp out for several days to get line tickets for an upcoming bank presentation. The Police reunion tour, yes. A series of banking speeches, not so much.

At any rate, after the bank president Kirk Briden kicked off the meeting in fine style (See “Part I”), he turned the mic over to Lane Alpert, Senior Vice President. Lane talked about the commercial side of the bank by opening with a short anecdote about Auguste Renoir. (Art history majors, rejoice!)

Apparently Renoir suffered from terrible arthritis during the final twenty years of his life; it was so bad that his gnarled, pain-stricken hands could barely hold a paintbrush.

When asked by a friend why he continued to paint while he suffered so greatly, Renoir replied,
“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
Lane tied this quote to his team’s hard work and creative approach to banking. It’s not easy, but certainly worth the effort. He also quipped that bankers’ hours for his group meant 11-12…(long pause)…hour days. Nice.

And to top it off, Lane concluded his remarks by going back to the Renoir quote. Very poignant. Very symmetrical. Sort of like a Hemingway chapter. Bravo.

Even when the vertically-challenged CFO, Bruce Phelps got up behind the lectern to start his portion of the program, he opened with humor by saying, “Yes, I am standing up.” Laughter ensued. Undoubtedly Bruce had the toughest assignment of the night because he had to read all the legal disclaimers, review some key financial information and handle the Robert’s Rules of Order stuff. But he even joked about trying to make his part of the presentation shorter, but the lawyers wouldn’t have any of it. Another smile, dare I say a laugh from the crowd.

Finally, Kirk Briden once again stepped up to the microphone and he asked all 37 of the bank employees to stand while the shareholders gave them a rousing ovation. But he didn’t stop there. Kirk also acknowledged the support and sacrifice made by the employees’ spouses and significant others (who were also in attendance).

Again, it was THE best banking presentation I had ever seen. Kirk, Lane and company took a potentially dull discussion of data and turned it into a decidedly dynamic discourse. That’s dynamite.

Interesting sidebar: After the meeting I had no less than three people came up to me and ask if I had given the presenters speech coaching. I had not. I wished I could have taken credit for their speeches that night because it probably would have lead to additional business for me.

I guess I’ll have to find another group of bank officers that need help jazzing up their presentations. Know anybody who fits this description? Let me know.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1: Who are the unsung heroes of your organization that need to be recognized publicly? How can you honor them in your next presentation?

Your Turn #2: Many people might think that banking and humor don’t mix. I think they mix quite well. Where can you add a little relevant, appropriate humor to your business communication?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - Sudden Banking Enthusiast

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Best Banking Presentation Ever - Part I

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you can make a speech about banking fun, you can change the world.”

Okay, I’m not 100% sure that Ben actually said that, but the words are a truism as far as I’m concerned.

Case in point. Last week I attended a shareholders meeting for a newly formed bank in St. Louis called Champion Bancshares ( While the bank is off to an amazing start with the 2nd largest capitalization in Missouri banking history, I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the officers’ speeches with all the numbers and spreadsheets and details and whatnot. I, like most people, find the choice between a banking presentation and a root canal to be a toss up.

Was I ever wrong.

The first speaker of the night was Kirk Briden, the bank president, and this guy immediately grabbed the audience’s attention by flashing a picture on the screen of a group of 15 geeky looking 20-somethings from what appeared to be the late 1970s. Everyone laughed. This group was an odd sort to say the least. Kirk then asked the audience, “Would you have invested in this group of people?” More snickers and laughs.

He continued, “Well, you would have been wise to do so because these are the founding members of Microsoft.” Stunned silence followed. “My team and I are certainly glad that you all decided to invest in out bank…”

He then quoted 19th century architect Daniel Burnham who was instrumental in Chicago’s urban planning after the Great Fire of 1871. Burnham said,
“Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably
themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work
remembering that a noble, logical plan once recorded will never die.”
This quote summarized the bank’s approach to business. Make no small plans. Aim high. Powerful stuff.

After this Kirk proceeded to discuss the “state of the bank,” what lay ahead and what was in store for the rest of the meeting. This part of the speech could have been a cure for insomnia, but Kirk used several analogies from Alexander the Great vanquishing superior armies to the last year’s surprising World Series victory by the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals analogy was brilliant because he used it to reassure his investors that while things were going very well, the bank had experienced a few bumps along the way. He noted that the 2006 Cardinals won baseball’s top honor, but they also endured two 8-game losing streaks and committed their share of errors. In other words, he reminded his audience to keep their eyes on the prize and that any worthwhile venture will suffer minor glitches along the way.

Again, this was a banking presentation. Kirk had the crowd of 150+ engaged and interested in what he had to say. What a terrific way to get the evening rolling.

To hear about the other speakers, tune in tomorrow.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1: How can you use quotes, stories and pictures to make your next presentation meaningful and memorable?

Your Turn #2: What “big plans” are you making? Are your goals lofty enough? How can your next speech “stir the blood” of your audience?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - Utility Infielder

Monday, April 23, 2007

How to Make Your Next Presentation Funnier

One of the most frequent questions I get asked at my seminars ( is "how can I add more humor to my presentations?" A natural follow up question is "can anyone learn to how make people laugh?" The answers to these questions are "very carefully" and "yes."

Many business people, trainers and educators recognize the need to keep their presentations interesting and engaging. Duh. They just don't know how to do it. Humor is hands down the quickest and most effective way to make even the driest presentation palatable. Just ask the flight attendants at Southwest Airlines. The best part is anyone can learn to generate more laughter at the podium.

That's right. Anyone can learn to generate more laughter when they speak.

Just follow this simple three-step process and you'll get more people to crack up.
  1. Don't be a stand-up comedian. In other words, there is such a plethora of humorous material out there that has already been vetted, there's no need to create your own stuff. Just identify the quote, picture, comic strip or story that fits the occasion and watch the laughter materialize. Then be sure to cite the source. BUT, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TELL A JOKE. (That's a subject for a future post.)
  2. Be relevant. Don't be funny for funny's sake. Try to graft in humorous material that reinforces the point(s) your trying to make. The humor needs to move the presentation forward. Then, even if you attempt at humor doesn't generate any laughter, at least your audience will understand and recognize that you were just trying to make a point.
  3. Start slow. If you haven't ever used humor in a presentation, don't go from zero to sixty in one speech. Your audience will probably recommend some kind of therapy.

You're probably saying, "Steve, that's all well and good, but can you give me an example?" Glad you asked.

Let's say you're a financial planner and you want an engaging way to begin your public seminar on "planning for retirement." You could use the one-panel New Yorker cartoon ( that features a husband and wife pouring over their finances amid spreadsheets, stock reports and retirement literature. Eventually the husband looks up and says, "If we take a late retirement and an early death, we'll just squeak by." Wait for the laugh and then say, "Let's talk about how you can plan for an EARLY retirement and a LONG life with full health coverage. Sound good?" Then your audience is ready for the heavier information they came to hear.

Time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1 - In your next speech, what key point(s) could be reinforced and driven home by the addition of relevant humor?

Your Turn #2 - If you're hesitant to add a little humor (and that's okay), what's holding you back from mixing more mirth into your presentations?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes

Speaker - Trainer - Hair Loss Survivor

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

So you think you can speak?

On Saturday I sat in on one of the early stages of the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. For those of you that aren't aware of this colossal annual event, let me set the stage.

25,000 people enter from over 14 countries across the globe.

Contestants write and deliver an original 5-7 minute speech on any topic.

The contest has six levels.

At level 5 you have to write and deliver an entirely new 5-7 minute speech.

At level 6 (the Finals) you have to write and deliver yet another totally new speech. So, you can't just be a one trick pony, you have to show that you can rock the house with three different speeches. Think of the contest as "American Idol" for speakers without the snide remarks from Simon Cowell. Previous winners include folks like Cavett Robert, the founder of the National Speakers Association.

What's amazing about this contest is that forces speakers to get the most out of themselves and their speeches. If you're looking for some good entertainment that's free to public, check out and find a contest in your area. The finals are in Phoenix in August.

That said, I observed several things in the speeches (in Round 3) that are instructional for anyone who does public speaking. Some things to avoid, some things to do.

#1. Make sure you have the floor before you start speaking. This may sound obvious, but on more than one occasion the speaker was so eager to begin talking that he started while the last few claps of the welcoming applause were still audible.

Solution: Smile at the audience and wait at least 2-3 seconds in silence before you start talking. That way you'll have 100% of their attention.

#2. Avoid distracting/reflective/sparkly jewelry. One woman (who happened to be quite good) was sporting round silver earrings the size of half dollars that caught the light like a giant radio telescope. Combined with her head movements I found myself distracted by the light flashes emitting from her one point I thought she might be signalling "SOS" or something.

Solution: Accessories are great, but do a quick mirror check in two different settings to test the reflective aspect of your jewelry. The last thing anyone wants is for your sense of fashion to take attention away from you and your message.

#3. No one cares. Unless you tell them why they should. There, I said it. The contestants were telling lots of amazing stories, but very few of them took the extra step to involve the audience. While I was listening to these stories I found myself asking, "So what?" I'm glad you got through that difficult trial, but what does that mean for me?

Solution: As you tell a story (especially a long one), be sure to invite your audience to join you mentally by asking rhetorical questions. For example, when you mention that you got fired from your dream job, don't just plow forward. Pause for a moment and ask the audience if they have ever had a similar experience. Then, they'll be more likely to stay with you.

#4. Get out of the phone booth. Despite the fact that many of the speakers had good gestures, a lot of them were still trapped in the proverbial phone booth. Picture the speaker standing inside a phone booth (for those of you under 25, phone booths were where we used to place calls before the advent of cell phones). I could tell that a lot of the contestants wanted to move around the platform, but held back for some reason. They'd take a half-step here and a half-step there reminiscent of an 8th grader awkwardly attempting to do the Fox Trot at his first cotillion dance. Unfortunately, these kinds of movements communicate nervousness almost as loudly as shaky hands.

Solution: When you feel the urge to move, that's your body saying "Listen up, Public Speaker Person, I've got some nervous energy here and I'd really like to move around a little. Would that be okay?" When this happens, heed the call. If you have an 6' x 10' platform, use it. It will also help your audience pay more attention.

Time to Hit Your Stride...

Your Turn #1: The next time you give a speech. What questions can you ask along the way to engage your audience so that they feel included?

Your Turn #2: The stage is your canvas. How are you going to use the full footprint of the platform to deliver your next presentation?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - Denture Wearer

Monday, April 9, 2007

Presentation Lessons from the 2007 Masters

31-year old Zach Johnson made golf history on Sunday by fighting off Tiger Woods to win the 2007 Masters. There are two interesting things about his win. He posted a final score of 1-over 289, the highest winning score in the tournament's 71 year history. It wasn't pretty, but he won. And, he "settled" for birdies (and got them) on the par 5's while others were trying for eagles (and failing).

So what does this have to do with presentations?

Good question.

The first thing is that a good presentation must have a game plan. It doesn't have to be flashy, just effective. Last week at the Masters the conditions were horrible and Zach Johnson had the best game plan to take the top spot. If fact, his approach probably would not have been as successful in previous years. But this was 2007.

He didn't drive the ball the farthest, but he was accurate. He didn't try to reach the green in two on the par 5's like everyone else. His strategy was to not to fight the wind, but take what the course would give him and use it to his advantage. He was content with birdies.

Shorter drives + more accuracy = green jacket.

Good presenters also recognize that they must have a plan going into a presentation. What do you want the audience to do or think as a result of your speech? More importantly, why? Why should they care? Why should they act? Answer these questions and you'll be well on your way to a successful outcome.

The other thing good presenters do is they aren't afraid to make mid-course corrections. What always worked in the past may not be as effective today. Assess the conditions and adjust accordingly.

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

Your Turn #1: What is everyone else doing in presentations that you shouldn't be? Do your co-workers always use PowerPoint? Next time consider shaking things up by presenting without it. I guarantee you'll be remembered.

Your Turn #2: In your next presentation how can you stay within yourself to get more than you expected? Don't try to be like someone else. Don't try to do too much. Focus on one thing and nail it.

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker - Trainer - The Presentation Guy