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Presentation skills

The best communication advice anyone ever gave me

More than a decade ago, I did a presentation on public speaking for Columbia Women in Business – a club for graduate students at Columbia Business School. With more than 400 members, CWiB is one of the largest organizations on Columbia’s campus.

My presentation went well.

Afterwards, an attendee came up to thank me for the communication tips I offered. Then she added: “I’d like to return the favor by giving you a tip of my own.”

Here’s a summary of the insights she shared with me:

Women who change their opinions on a topic often face a unique blow back. Whether in business or politics or medicine or education, women are likely to get public criticism when they change their views.

Maybe they supported something 5 years ago, but they don’t support it now. They get labeled “flip-flop” or “indecisive” or “wishy-washy”. And what do they do? They often respond with apologies. “I’m sorry. I regret that choice” or “I’m sorry. I wish I’d made another decision.”

Apologies have their place – absolutely. But many women apologize way too often.

Better?

If criticized for changing your position, consider this simple honest statement: “New information presented itself.”

When new information presents itself, wise people listen. Wise people keep learning.

When new data shows a better way forward, wise people make fresh decisions.

“New information presented itself.” Memorize this short statement. You’ll convey truth and confidence – in just four words.

Gratitude to the wise audience member who shared  this with me…

What’s the point? Why give a presentation unless you make sure you’ve got an audience?

Example:

Four panelists presented for 30 minutes then opened the session to Q&A. These were good presenters from respected organizations.

They had prepared their remarks well and deserved a good crowd. Unfortunately, the session began with only 10 attendees in the room. Latecomers “swelled” the audience to 18. And guess what? Most of the attendees had work connections with the panelists.

In other words, the panelists put in a lot of time and effort, only to have their  key messages reach almost nobody. What’s the point?

FYI: I checked their Twitter accounts. Not one of the panelists had written any tweets to promote this program.

Equally interesting: Not one of the panelists tweeted after the program to help their messages reach a bigger audience.

Why go to all the trouble to give a presentation unless you can get your message across to a good audience (either live onsite, or later online)?

How to give a presentation in English … when English is your second language

I’m pleased to give public speaking tips to English-as-second-language speakers in this Business Venezuela magazine. (The article appears in both English and Spanish.)

Te invitamos a leer Nuestra Edición Digital N# 360 2018 “TOP 100 COMPANIES” 20 Años presentando el mejor ranking de negocios en Venezuela.

To read my featured piece click here.

A few words about introducing a speaker

For starters, don’t read any introduction from your cell phone. I’ve watched this several times, and it was always a disaster: squinting eyes, inaccurate scrolls, “Oops, I lost it”, “Just a moment – I’ll find it”, no eye contact with the audience, and no eye contact with the speaker being introduced.

Do not read a canned introduction from a cell phone. Do not read an HR bio from a cell phone. Do not read a LinkedIn profile from a cell phone. Are we clear on this?

Instead, write a great introduction and print it out. In just 1-2 minutes, a great intro explains:

  • Why is this speaker
  • from this organization
  • talking about this topic
  • to this audience
  • at this time?
  • Joan-Detz_CPC

Become known for giving great introductions. It’s a valuable career asset.

Media training: More words to avoid (Let’s shut the door on “open the kimono”)

I’m not sure why some executives say “Open the kimono” during a media interview.

I really have no idea why they use these words. But I wish they would permanently drop the phrase from all future interviews, Q&A sessions, and presentations.

In fact, it would be nice if they never uttered this phrase again. It’s so overused and so unsettling.

Think – just please think for one minute – about what they’re saying. “Open the kimono”? Of all the words in the English language, they’re choosing these three words to express their thoughts?

Enough said.

Why speechwriters need to look at a client’s past public speaking appearances

From Patrick Henry:

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.”

Look at the speeches your client has given over the past six months.
* What went wrong?
* What proved successful?

There’s always a reason. Look. Analyze. Figure out why your client succeeded with one audience but underperformed with another.

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Changing your presentation: When is it too late?

In theory, it’s never too late. You can make changes to your presentation anytime. But – and this is a big but – changes always present a cost.

Sometimes changes pose a financial cost:
* rush fees for a graphic designer to fix your PowerPoint
* rush fees for a speechwriter to rewrite your notes
* higher costs to rent rehearsal space
* higher production rates
* the need for additional proofreading

Sometimes changes pose an opportunity cost:
* What could you be doing if you weren’t making your 11th change? (What should you be doing?)
* Does changing the content mean you’ll have less time for rehearsals?
* Could redesigning your PPT take away from Q&A preparation?
* Do ongoing changes hurt staff morale?
* Do last-minute changes introduce errors/typos?

Whether it’s a financial cost or an opportunity cost: Either way, you’ll pay.
And the later you make those changes, the more they will cost. Beware night-before rewrites.

The best way to avoid changes? Plan. If you plan your presentation carefully, you’ll be less likely to require last-minute changes.

Always prepare an outline before you script your remarks or do your PowerPoint. The more you understand your content and your audience, the more you can remain in control of your presentation.

As a speaker, ask yourself, “How much am I willing to sacrifice for hasty changes? Money? Quality? Frustration? Lost sleep? Less rehearsal time?”

Yes, errors absolutely do need to be fixed. Other items? Not so much.

Foreign Book Covers

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Are you ready for your next Q&A session?

I just finished coaching a client for a big Q&A session. In particular, I focused on coaching the executive to improve his question-and-answer skills with international audiences.

The a-ha moment for my speaker was: “Preparing for a Q&A takes at least as much work as preparing to give a major presentation.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Allocate your preparation time accordingly. Don’t skimp on Q&A practice. (FYI: The more diverse your audience, the sharper your skills have to be. Content alone won’t suffice … you’ll need multicultural communication skills to save the day.)

Right from the beginning, budget time for Q&A practice each time you rehearse your presentation. Don’t wait until the last minute to think about the questions you might get.

Need help? This book has a detailed section on Q&A sessions – and you can borrow it widely from public libraries:

How to Write  Give a Speech smallforhomepage

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