Speaking PowerPointThere are two basic approaches to designing PowerPoint slides these days.

1. The traditional approach produces the type of slides we’ve all grown accustomed to…and bored by.

This approach has its own set of rules. It emphasizes clarity and simplicity. It recommends limiting the amount of text on a slide (e.g., no more than 5 lines of 5 words each). It counsels against using animations and fancy fonts.

2. The newer approach creates a most artistic, visually appealing set of slides.

Its rules are simpler. Use images with a few words. Tell stories.

Both approaches to designing PowerPoint Slides have their merits. But a book I recommend (and wrote the foreword for) — Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business — makes me question both approaches.

Bruce Gabrielle, the author of Speaking PowerPoint, distinguishes — rightly and wisely, in my opinion — between two different types of presentations:

  1. BallroomBallroom presentations are given at conferences and to general audiences by keynote speakers or at breakout sessions. The audiences may (or may not) be invested in what the speaker is addressing. They are easily distracted. They generally do not have an in-depth knowledge of the topic being addressed, nor do they want a detailed, in-depth presentation.

    The audiences are at a distance from the slides. They have trouble reading text and most graphics (charts and the like).

    The rules recommended by both the traditional and the newer approach apply, it seems, to ballroom presentations.

  2. BoardroomBoardroom presentations are for business meetings, where attendees do’t expect to be entertained. They don’t want to be bored or confused, mind you, but they want to be informed. They expect details, data, and in-depth analysis. They dislike fluff.

    The audiences are up close. They can see the screen. And, often, they have printed handouts to read. (They may have received and reviewed the “deck” in advance.)

    Boardroom-style PowerPoint decks, according to Bruce, have several uses. They can be used as 1) a stand-alone reading deck that is circulated, almost like a white paper, 2) a discussion deck, to spur a conversation among decision-makers, or 3) a briefing deck.

The slides used for a boardroom presentation — which includes most workplace presentations — require more detail, including text and statistical data. They are, necessarily, complex.

The PowerPoint slides used in business today — the most common type of presentation — require a new set of rules, different from those proposed by both the traditional and the newer approach.

Bruce proposes his own rules, which I find very helpful. (They’re too sophisticated for me to go into here.)

So let me ask you. Do you buy into the distinction? Does it make sense to you? What do you find works?

(By the way, I do not receive any compensation for recommending Bruce’s book.)

 

 

What is a good sales pitch?A good sales pitch isn’t a pitch at all. It isn’t something you throw at people, hoping to persuade them to buy your product or service.

When you pitch something at people, their natural inclination is to duck or to take a swing at it, not to engage it with an open mind.

A sales pitch — a winning one, at least — is more like a consultation, a collaborative conversation, a facilitated dialogue.

By doing your research, by asking questions and listening to the answers, by engaging the other person — before, during, and after your formal sales pitch — you discover whether there’s a good fit between what they want and need and what you offer.

A good sales pitch gives prospects confidence that your product or service best meets their needs (to fix, solve, improve, or achieve something that matters to them), given their unique situation and constraints.

A bad sales pitch is a one-size-fits-all presentation. It makes token references to your prospective clients and their concerns. It’s mostly about your company, your qualifications, your experience, and the generic features and benefits of your product or service.

A stupid sales pitch is a self-centered monologue, a rapid-fire recitation of every good point about you, your company, and your product or service. It demonstrates no knowledge of or concern for the prospect. None at all.

Whether you’re a one-person service provider — a consultant, coach, solopreneur — or a multinational corporation, you know that selling isn’t a bad thing. It’s a requirement.

And selling, from time to time, requires you to make a sales pitch. The only question is what kind.

Check out Differentiators/Discriminators Contribute to a Winning Proposal.

Making the Most of Q&A

Christopher Witt —  December 4, 2014 — 1 Comment

Encourage audiences to ask questionsQ&A is one of the most engaging, powerful, and effective elements of a presentation.

And yet many presenters (especially technical experts) avoid Q&A, mostly out of fear that they’ll be asked a question they can’t answer.

Addressing your audience’s questions makes them feel like participants, not passive recipients of your wisdom from on high. Their questions let you gauge how well they understand and accept your ideas.

I used to be happy with my presentations when the audience didn’t ask any questions. Their silence, I thought, meant that they understood and agreed with what I had said.

Now I think that an audience’s lack of questions means that they are so confused or so uninterested that they can’t be bothered.

Stirring the audience up and making them want to ask questions is a good thing. Knowing how to respond in a way that feeds their interest and drives home your message is even better.

Guidelines for Handling Q&A Effectively

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Don't set your presenters up to failI often get called in to help individuals improve their public speaking and presentation skills.

And often there is much work to be done with those individuals.

Through inexperience or lack of training, people — even highly-placed, successful professionals — need help:

  • Developing a strategy that identifies their goal (what to accomplish in the time they have available with a particular audience) and ways of accomplishing it.
  • Creating a compelling message that engages the audience’s hearts and minds and moves them to take action.
  • Delivering that message with the right amount of drama to bring it alive.

But quite often the problem isn’t all the individual speaker’s fault.

Often individual speakers are set up to fail — to give a mediocre talk — by the organization, by its systems, culture, or processes.

Even proficient speakers have a hard time giving a winning presentation when:

  • They’re given too little time to prepare.
  • They’re told to present a PowerPoint slide deck that was developed by someone else, and that they don’t understand or — worse — agree with.
  • They’re scheduled to speak to an audience they know nothing about.
  • They’re notified of significant changes in the agenda — the topic to be addressed or the time they’re assigned to speak — at the last moment.
  • They’re interrupted early and often by people in authority who have an agenda of their own, which they haven’t previously communicated.
  • They’re expected to sell an idea, product, or service that is fundamentally flawed.

There are, of course, strategies and techniques that individuals can master in order to cope with such situations. (Which isn’t to say that every situation can be salvaged or that every presentation can be a winner.)

And, at the same time, there are systemic issues that organizations need to address.

How do you think organizations can help their people give better presentations?

Promote yourselfDo you want to win the recognition and respect that you deserve? To get noticed and taken seriously when new opportunities arise? To have your ideas and contributions valued?

And do you want to do so in a way that is both authentic and respectful?

To promote yourself without being shameless or self-centered…

1. Take responsibility.
You can’t control how people think or feel about you. But you can take responsibility for the impression you make – your reputation – and correct it if it’s distorted or add to it if it’s incomplete.

2. Be yourself.
Being someone other than you are in order to get noticed is counterproductive. You’ll feel like a fraud. And other people will have misgivings about you, which is the opposite of what you want.

3. Do something notable.
Simply doing what’s required, meeting expectations, and showing up won’t get you noticed. And it shouldn’t. You have two options: 1) excel at what you do or 2) exceed expectations and your job description…consistently.

4. Help others.
Be interested in people and their welfare. Introduce them to people, ideas, or resources they will find valuable. Notice their successes and make those successes known to others.

5. Avoid extremes.
Bragging about yourself and your accomplishments turns people off. Downplaying your value and contributions does yourself and others a disservice.

6. Listen more or talk more, depending…
If you talk a lot around others, listen more. Pay attention to them, and they’ll give you their attention. If you listen to others a lot, speak up. Make your thoughts and feelings known. Don’t expect people to read your mind.

7. Tell your story.
Give examples of what you do and of its value. Don’t say, for example, “I’m good at leading meetings.” Talk about a time you lead a meeting well, and describe the (positive) outcome.

8. Practice.
Respectful self-promotion takes practice. Try it and see how it works. Try it again, differently, and make adjustments, if necessary. Allow yourself to fail…and try again.

Don’t be pushy or obnoxious. Don’t talk on and on about yourself. The world already has enough narcissists.

Be the best you that you can be. Develop and use your skills to be of service to others. Let your actions speak for you. And don’t be afraid — at the right time and in the right way — to speak up for yourself.

Aspiring writers are often told to “kill your darlings.”

In other words, you have to cut out the passages you’re most attached to when they get in the way of your goal.

The same advice applies when you write a speech or prepare a presentation.

To keep your speeches short and to the point, you have to eliminate – ruthlessly – anything that doesn’t clarify your point and drive it home.

Sometimes the hardest thing to cut from a speech – the darling you have to kill – is a story.

Stories are the most effective tool in a speaker’s toolbox. And I can’t imagine giving a speech without telling at least one story.

But there are times when the story I’m fondest of, the story I’ve built my speech around, is the very thing that I have to eliminate.

When a story dominates your speech either in length of time or in emotional impact, kill it.

When a story distorts the point you want to make, kill it.

When a story creates an image in people’s minds at odds with everything else you’re saying, kill it.

Tell stories to give your speech power, to engage your audience’s imaginations and emotions, to make it memorable.

But if the story you want to tell gets in the way, kill it.

Stories of Loss and HardshipStorytelling is one of the most effective tools in a speaker’s toolbox.

Without a story, a speech never takes flight. Or, to mix metaphors, it never takes root in the hearts and minds of your audience.

There are, of course, many types of stories you can tell.

My least favorite type of story to tell in a speech is the fable. You know the type: generic teaching stories about archetypal (fictional, one-dimensional) characters that have an obvious moral.

I find that stories and anecdotes from history are extremely effective, as long as they’re new to the audience and spot-on relevant to the audience. (I recently heard a story about the Wright brothers and Henry Ford, that I’m itching to work into a speech.)

I’m particularly partial to personal stories. They’re unique: the audience won’t have heard them before, unless they’ve heard them from you. And they forge a connection between you and the audience.

In the past couple of years I’ve had an easier job getting my clients — mostly business leaders — to incorporate personal stories into their speeches.

And the most powerful, the most moving stories they tell are not their success stories (“I was down. I worked hard. I succeeded.”), but their stories of struggle, loss, and failure.

Success stories serve an important function in a speech, but they have to be used judiciously, sparingly. If you only talk about your accomplishments, you risk sounding like a narcissist. You risk distancing yourself from your audience by setting yourself up on a pedestal.

Telling people about your hard times, your doubts, your regrets, the wrong turns you’ve taken, the bumps and bruises and (sometimes) the beatings you’ve survived…and the lessons you’ve learned from them…can be a powerful teaching tool.

Notice I said, “can be.” Wrongly told or told for the wrong reason a personal story of hardship can be disastrous.

Here’s how to use such a story well…

1. Create some emotional distance from the story.

Be sure that you’ve worked through the pain and come to some sort of peace before telling your story. Don’t use speaking as therapy. It’s okay — preferable, really — to let your emotions show, but don’t let them overwhelm you. You don’t want to make the audience feel uncomfortable. And you don’t want them to pity you.

2. Make your personal story a universal story.

The only reason to tell a personal story is to illuminate something deeply personal and significant in your audience. The reaction you want from them is, “I’ve been there too. He/she could be talking about me.” It’s not about you. It’s about them.

3. As with any story you tell in a speech, make sure its take-away truth ties directly into the point you’re making.

Any story you tell must advance the goal of your speech. (Of course, the same thing can be said of any point you make in your speech or any quotation you cite or any piece of information you share.)

 

Do you tell personal stories in your speeches? If so, what works for you?

Improved communicationsMore and more companies have been approaching me lately to help them improve their communications, internally and externally.

It’s hard to disagree with their desire for “improved communications,” even if what they’re asking for is vague and undefined.

When I do a bit more digging, I find that their real concern is more about solving problems than about improving their communications.

They have problems — with productivity, conflict, teamwork, turnover, customer retention, etc. — that they attribute, rightly or wrongly, to ineffective communications.

Improving communications is a means to an end. The end (or the goal) is what matters.

Improved communications doesn’t necessarily solve problems.

  • If you have an inferior product or service, talking about it more clearly to your prospects won’t help you sell more of it.
  • If you’ve hired the wrong people, helping them communicate more effectively won’t, in itself, improve morale or teamwork.
  • If you lack a coherent strategy and plan for implementing it, clear and consistent communications won’t get you on track.

Improved communications does, however, provide the means by which you can solve problems.

  • It allows you to identity, analyze, and remedy what’s wrong with your product or service.
  • It allows you to figure out why you’re hiring the wrong people in the first place and what you can do about it.
  • It allows you to develop a strategy and to put in place measures for implementing it.

Communication is a means to…

  1. Sharing information and ideas
  2. Building goodwill and trust
  3. Facilitating teamwork and collaboration
  4. Enabling decision making

And all those things are what make problem solving possible.

A failure in communications inevitably causes problems. Always and everywhere.

Improving communications doesn’t necessarily solve those problems. It does, however, make it possible solve them.

 

How to Demo a ProductGood sales reps know their product through and through. They know its capabilities, its features, and benefits.

Good sales reps know their prospects, their needs, goals, challenges, and hot buttons.

Good sales reps know how their product’s discriminators, how it is different from and better than the competition’s product.

But even good sales reps — the ones I’ve observed — could become better by making a slight change, a small shift in focus in how they demo their product.

Instead of demonstrating what their product can do, they should demonstrate how their product will help the prospect fix, solve, achieve, or improve something that matters to them.

Instead of demonstrating the product, demonstrate how your prospect can use the product to their benefit.

 

The ending of a speech — its conclusion — is its most important element.

A speech’s conclusion is even more important than its opening, because it’s what people remember most.

Ending a speech is, also, challenging.

I struggled for years trying to come up with powerful ways to end my speeches. And I often failed. Usually I just sat down. It was as if I had said everything I wanted to say and I ran out of steam.

Don’t let that happen to you.

5 Most Common Mistakes When Ending a Speech

Mistake #1:Popping the Ending on Your Audience

You gotta warn the audience that you’re coming to a conclusion. Doing so regains their attention (which sometimes wanders, even during a great speech) and prepares them emotionally.

It’s not hard to do. A simple, “In conclusion” or “Finally” or “Let me wrap up by…” will usually do.

Warning: Once you signal your intention to conclude, you have to finish talking relatively quickly.

Mistake #2: Ending with Q&A

You can schedule Q&A toward the end of your talk. That’s often a natural place for it. But don’t use your Q&A as your conclusion. (The last question you answer is usually the weakest. And you don’t want to have your audience leaving on a weak note.)

Conclude after you’ve answered the final question. Take a little more time to drive your main points home and to issue a call to action.

“Thank you for your questions. I hope you can see how [or why]…”

Mistake #3: Introducing New Material

Never, never, never bring up a new idea or add new information in your conclusion. This is the time to summarize your main points and hit them home. Introducing new material at this point will only diffuse or dilute your message.

Mistake #4: Failing to Issue a Call to Action

The purpose of giving a speech is to move people to action. Sure, you give them new information, new ideas to consider. Sure, you entertain them (meaning, you engage their emotions and imaginations). But you do all that because, ultimately, you want to get them to do something.

So don’t be coy or vague. Don’t make people guess. Tell them what you want them to do. Your speech up to this point has told them what you want them to do and why they would want to do it. Now give the one more reason — an emotional reason — to act.

Mistake #5: Letting the Audience Down Emotionally

A compelling speech takes the audience through a range of emotions, both high and low. But you don’t want to end on a low note.

End on a high note, not a downer. Appeal to people’s hopes and dreams, their aspirations, their courage, love, or faith, their community spirit or patriotism. Send them out energized, not depressed.

For more ideas check out In Conclusion: When to End a Speech and How to End a Speech.

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