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.

Friday, June 29, 2007

It's Official...You Can Hear A Smile

Many a customer service consultant (especially those who specialize in call centers) will tell you that people can actually detect or “hear” a smile over the phone. Really? Does that mean you can smell colors?

Just for grins, I decided to discover if a smile is truly audible over the phone. So at my recent Virtual Presentations seminar at a big PR firm in Chicago, I put this theory to the test.

I asked the participants to (gasp!) come to the meeting with their cell phone. Once there, I instructed each person to leave himself/herself a 60-second update about in important project on their own business voicemail.

Incidentally, everyone in the room left their voicemails while sitting down and some were even hunched over mumbling into their phones.

Then, I asked them to leave the same 60-second voicemail on the same topic only this time they had to stand up, smile, face the person standing next to them and act like they were talking to the person in the room.

During the second round I noticed there was more energy in the room and I even heard a few chuckles. (Chuckles always make a trainer feel good, whether it’s the jelly candy or actual laughter. We’re not picky.)

The last step of the exercise was for everybody to listen to their own messages. As people listened to their first message I saw wincing, cringing and head shaking. When they listened to their second message, they seemed to be more pleased.

At long last, I asked them to describe each message to me in a word or two and I wrote them on a flip chart. Here’s what they said about their first message.

Message #1 (seated, not smiling):
- Boring
- Muffled
- Lethargic
- Rushed
- Flat
- Incoherent
- Chuck full of “ums”

Message #2 (standing, smiling, talking to a person in the room):
- More enthusiastic
- More confident
- Friendlier
- Upbeat
- More conversational
- Focused
- Engaging

How ‘bout that? The participants couldn’t believe their ears. They were shocked at how lethargic and uninterested they sounded on voicemail. But once they stood up, added the smile and acted like they were talking to the person next to them, everything changed.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1:
How do you come across on a conference call? Energetic? Upbeat? Or, tired and uninterested?

Your Turn #2:
Take the Voicemail Test. Leave a one minute voicemail for yourself the way you normally talk. Then leave the same message standing up, smiling and speaking as if there were a person in front of you. Now listen to each message. Which voicemail portrays you the best?

Happy Speaking,

Steve Hughes Speaker - Trainer - Pirate