Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Good Speaker Always Has A Backup Plan

What you’re about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-bright.

A few years ago a major American medical association was conducting a search for a new public relations firm. The four finalists we given specific back-to-back time slots during the day to present their creative concepts and media plans. There were only 15-20 minutes between each presentation with no exceptions.

The fourth agency to present that day was Wingtip Partners and their team waited for their turn in the lobby with all their layouts, handouts and visual aids. Minutes before they were called into the boardroom, Wingtip’s creative director went to the restroom and left his large black portfolio case with all their visual aids on a chair in the lobby.

While he was in the bathroom the third agency, Rutledge & White, completed their presentation and filed into the lobby. During the brief commotion of one agency leaving and the other one entering the boardroom, Wingtip’s black portfolio case was accidentally picked up and carried away by a member of Rutledge & White. (Oops.)

Moments later Wingtip’s creative director joined his team in the conference room to set up.

Problem. No portfolio.

They panicked.

Wingtip Partners would have nothing to present if they didn’t have the layouts and storyboards inside that portfolio. With only minutes to spare before their presentation was to begin, they made frantic phone calls back to their office to see if they had accidentally left the portfolio there, they searched inside their cars and they tore up the lobby like DEA agents looking for crack. They were up the proverbial creek.

Finally, they tracked down the cell phone number of the Rutledge & White VP and discovered that she had inadvertently taken the portfolio because it was sitting by itself on a chair in the lobby. She thought it belonged to her team.

[I know what you're thinking, "She took it on purpose." However, I happen to know this person very well and it is not in her genetic makeup to pull a stunt like that. She would want to win the business fair-and-square.]

The case was returned to the boardroom and Wingtip started their presentation about five minutes late. The client later told me that every presenter appeared flustered.

Long story short, Wingtip did not win the account. Rutledge did. And no one will ever know if Wingtip might have prevailed if they had a back up plan (or had their creative director decided to go to the bathroom back at home like mom always told you).

Time to Hit Your Stride…

Your Turn #1: Do you have a backup plan when you’re at a new business pitch? What if a key player doesn’t show up? What if you accidentally arrive late?

Your Turn #2: How good would your presentation be without your visuals? How could you make your presentation shine without your visuals?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker – Trainer – Presentation Whisperer

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dealing with a Chatty Audience

Have you ever faced an overly chatty audience? They’re not being rude per se, but once they get talking during an exercise or a Q&A, it’s hard to shut them up. How do you maintain control without alienating the people you’re talking to?

Yesterday, I got an email from a woman who speaks nationally as a nutrition expert. Her speeches are well received and her audiences like her, but she always runs into trouble during the “did-you-know-how-many-calories-and-fat-grams-there-are-in-some-of-your-favorite-fast-food” section of her program Is it just me, or does everyone today have a fast food calories and fat grams segment?

Without fail, when she “weighs” in on the fast food statistics the audience members begin to talk among themselves. Apparently they’re so amazed by some of these numbers that they can’t help discussing it with their neighbor. She doesn’t want to play the “heavy,” but if she lets them chatter away she won’t have enough time to finish her speech.

So how do you deal with a chatty audience while keeping them on your side?

Here are three ideas to consider and I would love to more from all you fine people out there (see below).

1. Prepare them. As you introduce a “discussion-inducing” portion of your program, warn the audience that they’ll be tempted to discuss it with the folks around them. However, you want to honor their time and keep the presentation on track. (Remember, no one ever wants a presentation to go over the allotted time.) This won’t eliminate the problem completely, but you’ll be clearly establishing your expectations for the audience up front. The easiest way to maintain your leadership position from the platform is by setting your expectations in advance, then your audience will be more likely to follow you. It’s the old adage leave-nothing-up-to-chance approach.

2. Give in. If they’re going to chat about the subject no matter what, go ahead and let them. Set aside 2-5 minutes for the audience to talk amongst themselves. This must be what schoolteachers face during the first snowfall of the year. I say let the students “ooh” and “aah” at the window for a few minutes to satisfy some of their natural curiosity. Then, once they’ve got it out of their system, they’ll be more willing to go back to their desks to continue with their schoolwork.

3. Snap ‘em out of it. Buy a hotel bellhop / lunch counter bell, place it on the lectern and “ding” it several times in rapid succession. These bells make a fun (non-threatening) sound that quickly gets everyone’s attention. The instant the room goes silent after hearing the bell, jump in and say whatever you need to keep them on track.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1: How do you deal with chatty audiences?

Your Turn #2: What have you seen other speakers do when faced with a loquacious bunch?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker – Trainer – Occasional Close Talker