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The two deadly sins of public speaking are 1) confusing the audience, and 2) boring them.

Both are common. I’m not sure which is worse.

I’ve dealt with how not to confuse your audience elsewhere (7 Ways to Clarify Technical Material without Dumbing It Down). So let me suggest…

 

7 Ways Not to Bore Your Audience

1.Never talk about something that bores you.

If you’re assigned a topic that doesn’t excite you, either beg out of it or dig deep into it and find something interesting about it.

2. Never talk to an audience you don’t like.

If you don’t like the people you’re talking to, you’ll find them boring. And you’ll be boring in return, or peevish, which is just as bad. (Okay, you many not like everyone you talk to, but you can’t dislike them.)

3. Don’t give so many presentations.

A presentation is not the only way to communicate ideas or information. Often, it isn’t even the best way. Find other means of sharing what you know. Make people want to hear from you, not tire of listening to you.

4. Be brief.

It’s easier to maintain your enthusiasm and your audience’s interest in short installments. When’s the last time you wished a speaker had gone on longer? Exactly.

5. Use humor.

Laugh at yourself or at the absurdity of life as we know it or a peculiarity of your topic. Levity is always welcome, especially when it is least expected (as in a speech).

6. Tell a story.

I love stories. You love stories. We all love stories. So tell a story. It’ll help, of course, if it pertains to your topic and somehow illustrates it. But I’ve been known to tell a story just for the heck of it, and no one was the worst for it.

7. Promote a novel idea.

A speech is only as good or as interesting as the idea it proposes. So come up with a good idea, an original. Being original is hard work, especially in today’s business environment where everyone is too busy to think, which is one reason I suggest giving fewer presentations. If everyone already knows what you’re talking about, why talk about it?

What are your suggestions?

Check for comprehensinoCan you ever be sure people know what you’re talking about?

We often assume that people understand us – what we mean, what we intend, and what we want. But, sadly, it isn’t always the case.

People who are seemingly smart and good-willed all too frequently misinterpret what we say. And, to be honest, we aren’t always as clear as we think we are.

I learned this lesson from my parents. They were college professors. They were bright and articulate. They were married for 48 years, and even at the end they managed to misunderstand each other frequently.

So how can you know that you’ve got your point across and, furthermore, that people have understood you?

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Who makes better presenters?You might think that extroverts, who are generally more at ease talking to groups of people, would have the advantage. But, it isn’t so.

I believe — feel free to disagree — we’re born one way or the other (introvert or extrovert) and our basic makeup doesn’t change much over the years.

The Difference between Extroverts and Introverts

Here is how I think of extroverts and introverts.

Extroverts are generally outward-facing. Their attention, interest, and energy are engaged — primarily — in and by the exterior world: the stuff that is “out there,” people, things, activities. They enjoy interacting with people, sometimes large numbers of people, and they get a charge out of doing so.

Extroverts tend to think out loud. It’s not that they think before they speak. They speak while they are thinking. What you hear isn’t necessarily their final thought on the matter at hand; it’s their thought process. Ask extroverts for their opinion, and they’re likely to open their mouths and begin speaking.

Introverts are, for the most part, inward-facing.Their attention, interest, and energy are engaged in and by their inner world: their thoughts, fantasies, and feelings. They prefer interacting with a few people at a time and especially with people they already know and trust. They recharge by seeking alone time.

Introverts tend to think before they talk. When you as their opinion, they don’t say anything. Not, at least, until they’ve had time to think it over.

Extroverts tend to think that introverts are slow or, at worst, stupid. They must not know anything, because they’re not saying anything.

Introverts tend to think that extroverts are glib and fickle. They talk all the time, and they say one thing at one time and something else at a later time.

(The world of work is organized in favor of extroverts. The way business conduct meetings, brain storming sessions, and presentations plays to the strength of extroverts, people who speak confidently and quickly in group settings. But that’s another issue.)

Why Aren’t Extroverts By Their Very Nature Better Presenters than Introverts?

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Don't tell jokes in a speech.The stupidest piece of advice ever given speakers is “Always begin a speech with a joke.”

Don’t do it!

Unless you’re a professional comedian and the audience is already warmed up and primed to laugh, do not — I repeat, do not — start your speech with a joke.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll bomb. The other 1% of the time you’ll get a polite, halfhearted response. And where do you go from there?

Humor in a speech, on the other hand, is almost always appreciated.

When you tell a joke, you’re trying to make people laugh. When you use humor, you’re wanting to amuse them. You’re happy if they smile or chuckle.

Humor makes people more likely to like you. It weakens their resistance. It’s like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar: it helps the medicine go down.

To be humorous without trying too hard, follow these rules:

  1. Laugh at yourself, your foibles, your mistakes.
    Self-depreciating humor is the safest and surest way to win people’s hearts.
  2. Write it out.
    A sense of surprise, clever wordplay, exaggeration and embellishment, amusing anecdotes, and ironic twists get better with the kind of refinement and precision that comes from writing and rewriting.
  3. Rehearse.
    Paradoxically, it takes practice to use humor so well that it sounds spontaneous and unscripted.
  4. Keep it clean.
    Avoid embarrassing, insulting, or offending your audience. Don’t laugh at others or make them an object of ridicule.
  5. Don’t tell listeners what’s funny.
    Saying, “This is really funny” is a setup for failure. Simply tell your story or make your witty remark and allow the audience to respond. If they laugh, great. If they don’t, move on.
  6. Follow the AT&T rule.
    Is your humor Appropriate to the subject and the audience? Is it Tasteful? Is it Timely?

Even if your humor meets those criteria, remember: Less is more. So keep it short. Avoid long stories or complicated setups. And limit how often you use humor in a speech.

After all, as humorous as you may be, you still want to be taken seriously.

I distinguish, somewhat arbitrarily, between a presentation and a speech.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they deserve to be handled differently.

Presentations Are Informative

In the business world most people make presentations.

A presentation communicates information so that people understand it and can do something with or about it.

A presentation’s goal is to educate or inform audiences to take action.

Check out The 25 Best Slideshare Presentations of 2013 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The top-rated presentation is titled Internet Trends. It is, according to the description, “filled with over 100 charts, stats and trends on digital, technology and economic issues that affect us all.”

An effective presentation is clear, accurate, and detailed. You want everyone in the audience to understand exactly what you mean.

A presentation is persuasive, if it is any good. You want people to do something — preferably what you want them to do — as a result of listening to you.

PowerPoint can be an effective presentation aid, because it allows you to display information…even “over 100 charts, stats and trends.”

Presentations tend to be matter-of-fact, prosaic, somewhat unimaginative almost by default. The title Internet Trends, for example, seems designed to elicit yawns.

Speeches are Influential and Inspirational

Few people these days give speeches.

Preachers, politicians, coaches at half-time, military leaders before a battle, and motivational speakers are the main practitioners of speeches today.

A speech shapes how people think and feel about an issue or topic, and changes their behavior as a result.

Churchill’s wartime speeches portrayed the war not as a doomed effort on the part of the British, but as a life-or-death contest between civilization (the British empire and way of life) and evil incarnate (Nazi Germany). His speeches steeled people’s resistance and gave them courage and hope to carry on.

An effective speech is evocative. It uses words and phrases to activate people’s imaginations, to call forth their memories, and to elicit the feelings associated with them.

Speakers don’t — or shouldn’t — project pictures for the audience to look at.

Speakers tell stories and create images that people picture in their minds.

Words — the right words — without pictures or external visual stimuli force the mind to supply its own images. On their own, words trigger the imagination, which in turn calls forth a flood of memories and emotions.

PowerPoint is not the friend of a speech. It keeps people in their heads, in their rational, conscious minds, divorced from their imaginations, emotions, and memories.

That’s why I titled my book Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint. What I really meant to say is that real leaders don’t make presentations (which use and should use PowerPoint); they give speeches.

Speakers play with words, the way a poet or playwright does. They’re not interested in pinning a concept down to a single meaning that is the same for each person in the audience. They know — and they are pleased by the fact — that each individual hears a different message (shaped by his or her experience, wisdom, and needs), draws his or her own conclusions, and resolves to take his or her own action as a result.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they need to be handled differently.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

People who aren’t even in sales — project managers, engineers, analysts, programmers, construction workers, designers, architects — make sales presentations all the time.

They may not be the lead presenter. They’re often part of a presentation team.

And the presentation may not be called a sales presentation. It may be called an interview, or an oral proposal, or a pitch.

To prepare yourself or your team for a successful sales presentation (whatever it’s called), begin by answering three sets of questions:

  1. What does the customer/client want?
    Why do they want it?
    How acutely do they want it?
    How will you help them achieve or obtain what they want?
  2. What does the customer/client NOT want?
    Why do they not want it?
    How badly do they not want it?
    How will you help them avoid or minimize what they don’t want?
  3. How is your solution (your product or service) different from / better than the competition?
    What is the difference?
    How does the difference benefit the customer/client?
    What evidence proves both the difference and the benefit?

There are, of course, other questions to ask (and answer) when preparing for a sales presentation. (See How to Plan an Oral Proposal.)

But these three questions get at the heart of any successful sales pitch: knowing what prospects want and don’t want, how you will help them, and why you’re better than the alternatives.

How to plan a technical presentationWhen you prepare a technical presentation, there’s one question — the most important question — you need to address.

The single most important question for a technical presentation is: What will the audience do with the information or idea you’re presenting?

Answering that question will require you, of course, to understand your audience. What are their roles and responsibilities? What do the already know about your subject? What do they need to know? How are they are affected by it?

Answering that question will determine everything you say and show during your presentation.

Answering that question will determine the level of detail you present. Do you give a high-level overview (an executive summary), or a comprehensive and detailed analysis, or something in-between?

What will the audience do with the information or idea you’re presenting?

  • Will they give or withhold permission for you to proceed with a project?
  • Will they decide whether to purchase your product or retain your services?
  • Will they make a report about it to their superiors or to a regulatory agency?
  • Will they implement a new process or carry out a new procedure?

Technical presenters often want to explain what they know in great detail and at great length. That’s what makes so many technical presentations confusing and boring to most audiences.

Most technical presentations — especially those in the business world — are not about educating audiences in-depth. They are about giving people in the organization the information and insight they need to get their jobs done.

The executives of a healthcare organization, for example, don’t want the IT director to educate them about the intricacies of the latest software update. They want to know just enough to be reassured that operations won’t be negatively affected, and to be able to reassure regulators that people’s medical records will remain confidential. The analysts in the IT department, on the other hand, may need detailed instructions about working with the update.

Knowing how the audience will use the information or idea you’re presenting will keep you on target. It’ll help you prepare your presentation. And it will help you determine whether you’ve been successful.

The success of a technical presentation can be determined relatively easily. Are people able to do what they need and want to do as a result of listening to you?

Check out How to Plan a Persuasive Technical Presentation.

Speech coaches and trainers often perpetuate myths and misconceptions about presentations and public speaking.

I begin with the assumption that giving a speech is both an art and a skill.

Public speaking an art in that it requires a certain amount of creativity.

You have to come up with (i.e. create) a good idea to begin with. You have to put it together in a logical and persuasive structure. You have to use words and phrases and, sometimes, stories in a clear and evocative manner. And you have to deliver your speech with at least a modicum of drama.

Public speaking, like any art, is also a skill.

It has its own somewhat complex, somewhat variable set of requirements, rules, guidelines, and principles to learn, practice, and master. To give a speech — a good one, at least — you have to be able to plan and create one, explain your idea clearly in a limited amount of time, connect with an audience, begin and end a speech, overcome fear and project confidence in front of an audience, answer questions, and think on your feet.

Public speaking isn’t as complex or demanding a skill as, say, performing brain surgery or rocket science. But then again it’s not as simple or easy as riding a bike.

Beginning with that assumption — public speaking is both an art and a skill — I’ve developed my list of…

5 Things Speech Coaches and Trainers Won’t Tell You about Public Speaking

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about PowerPointI’m the author of Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint (Crown Business), so you might think I’m always and everywhere opposed to its use.

I’d say I’m critical of it, but not opposed to it. Many of my clients–subject matter experts of all stripes–use PowerPoint, and they should.

But these days it’s assumed, at least in the business world, that everyone should use PowerPoint every time they give a presentation. And that’s a mistake.

I begin with the assumption that PowerPoint is a tool for organizing, formatting, and projecting information visually.

If that’s the case–you can disagree with me–then there are three questions you can and should ask about it.

1. Is PowerPoint a good tool?

Does it make organizing, formatting, and projecting information easy, efficient, and effective?

Opinions vary.

Continue Reading…

Influence is the ability to bring about some change in people’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions, values, actions, or behavior.

Whenever you give a speech you are, essentially, trying to influence your audience.

The purpose of a speech is, after all, to change how your audience feels, thinks, or acts. (If you’re happy with the way they are and what they’re doing, for God’s sake don’t give them a speech. Leave them alone.)

How to Make Yourself More Influential when Giving a Speech

First, be the kind of person who inspires trust.

Who you are as a person — your character, experience, reputation, values — is, in large measure, the message you communicate.

Put yourself and your vision, your hopes and dreams on the line. Make yourself vulnerable. Invite, rather than command compliance.

Second, align yourself and the change you’re proposing with their deepest held values.

You’re not going to change what people care about most, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, show them how what you want them to feel, think, or do affirms, protects, or advances their loves, values, dreams.

Third, challenge them to be more or better than they are.

Making people feel guilty or inadequate or wrong won’t incline them to change their ways. If anything, it will make them resent and resist you.

But at the same time you don’t want them to remain complacent, satisfied with their status quo. Not if you want them to change. So ask them to go beyond, to grow bigger than, to love better than who or where they are already are.

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