No Napping LO13531 -Joe's Jottings #72
Wed, 7 May 97 11:27:58 -0700

This jotting is about presentations. By definition there are two parties
to every presentation: a speaker who stands in front of the room and
talks, and an audience on the receiving end. The speaker tries to impart
some information while getting some ego satisfaction from being the center
of attention, while the audience tries to get some of that information
without any embarrassing snoring. In most presentations, both roles are

One big problem is that we confuse "presentations" with "education" or
with "training." As we've discussed in other jottings, learning happens
in direct proportion to student involvement. In presentations, however,
only the speaker is completely involved. The "audience" is exactly that,
a group of captives who mostly listen and look with about 10% of their
mind and think about other things with the other 90%.

So, the first rule of successful presentations is, "don't do them." If at
all possible, use interactive learning techniques so that there is a
community of learners, not a speaker and an audience.

But, the fact is that there will continue to be presentations. We do them
to customers, to our staffs, to our bosses. We use them to inform, and we
use them to ask for something. We used to use slides and overhead
transparencies; now we display fancy audiovisuals directly from our
laptops using projectors and projection panels. The high technology
merely exaggerates the basic process: the speaker shows off so that the
audience is impressed.

Given their inevitability, we should learn to do them well. So I was
pleased to see an article in the February : March 1997 issue of _Fast
Company_ magazine called "Now That We Have Your Complete Attention..." by
editor Eric Matson.

Matson suggests these eight points:

1. "Incite, don't inform. Effective presentations don't end with nodding
heads and polite applause. They end with *action*." So, we presenters
have to know ahead of time what it is we want our audience to do and how
to get them to do it. This means that any visuals we use should persuade
as well as inform. Make your visuals SHOUT, not just for the sake of
noise but also to capture the passion as well as the intellect of the

2. "Don't talk to strangers." Ideally, know ahead of time whom you are
talking to and why they are there. Know about their key issues, their key
sensitivities. If you are going to irritate them, do it deliberately, not
by accident. And, if you don't know these things, if the audience is
small enough, take a few minutes at the beginning of the presentation to
give them an outline and ask them if that's what they want to hear.

3. "First (and last) impressions are everything." "The two most
important parts of your presentation," says Matson, "are the first 30 and
the last 15 seconds." He quotes executive coach Celia McDonald who says
that a powerful close should be a call for action and also relate directly
to the beginning. Give the audience the feeling of closure and

4. "Simpler is better." One study asked top executives at six large
companies how to improve presentations. Their answer: "Make your
presentations shorter and more candid."

5. "Perform, don't present." Johnny Carson once said that people will
pay more money to be entertained than to be educated. Make that work for
you. Belle Linda Halpern of the Ariel Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts
teaches people to put more emotion into their presentations. Happiness,
anger, loud voice, soft voice, pauses, strong gestures are all important
tools for the speaker-entertainer. Emotions evoke emotions. Emotions
create caring and action.

6. "The show must go on." High tech equals high risk. First, test all
your equipment in the exact place in which the presentation will occur.
Be sure you or someone else who will be there knows everything about all
the different pieces and connections. And, second, have a (lower tech)
back-up plan if something fails ... and test the backup plan as well.

7. "There's one in every crowd." Matson's consultants offer three
possible ways of handling disruptive questions, all easier said than done.
One suggestion is to repeat and paraphrase the question and then to
disagree in a pleasant, conversational way. Another possibility is to
agree to answer the question but after the formal presentation. Another
consultant suggests that speakers answer angry questions immediately
(especially if they have answered other questions in real time) but to
direct the answer to the entire audience, not to the specific questioner.

8. "Practice, practice, practice." And the more different this
presentation is from others we've done, the more we need to practice. The
best practice is in front of both a video recorder and a coach. Next best
is to practice in front of a coach. And, then there are two ways of
practicing by yourself. One is to go through the presentation out loud in
an empty room. But it is also helpful to go through a presentation step
by step silently, visualizing what we will do. I've done this on
airplanes, silently mouthing the presentation, sometimes to the amusement
of my neighbors and the flight attendants.

Another excellent source of advice on presentations is _Presentations_
magazine (50 S. Ninth St., Minneapolis, MN 55402), a monthly publication,
offered at no charge to qualified subscribers. Here are a few ideas from
a December 1995 article called, "101 Top Tips":

- "No matter what your topic is, first-hand experiences involving people
are almost always more interesting..."

- "... don't show and tell; instead tell and show." Make your points
first verbally and then reinforce them with a visual. The "bad" part of
this advice is that we can't make our job easy by simply using our slides
as our speaking outline.

- "Step forward to make a point." That creates emphasis and power.

While the embarrassment of napping is probably the biggest audience
danger, embarrassment can generate palpable fear in speakers. Matson
offers the time-honored suggestion of visualizing our audience (or
specific people) without their clothes. I guess I have a lousy
imagination, since that approach has never worked for me. When I get
scared (or, more often, nervous) I either practice more or, like our
hunter ancestors, try to let the adrenaline make me more alert. Both are
good ways of using fear; both are easier said than done.

Often, one of the problems in presentations seems to be the metrics the
speakers use to evaluate themselves. Most speakers behave as though their
metric is "slides shown per hour." A better metric, albeit a harder one
to capture, is the amount of action that the audience is motivated to
take. We all usually have the usual post-presentation evaluation form
that asks us to rate the speaker on some 1 to n scale. Maybe, instead, we
should ask one question: What are you going to do differently as a result
of this presentation?

Perhaps the best way of ending this presentation on presentations is with
this hint from the "101 Top Tips article:

- "The single greatest secret for giving a great speech or presentation
can be summed up in one word, "passion." If you've got passion, you can
break every rule of presenting and still succeed."


P.S. What are you going to do differently as a result of this jotting?


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