Presenting Resources: Articles
Putting Muscle in Your Message
In the old TV series, Dragnet, Joe Friday was well-known for his oft-quoted line, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” But Joe didn’t reckon on the arrival of the Information Age (or would that be “The Too-Much-Information Age”?). He didn’t anticipate the struggle that we now face to capture the minds and attention of our listeners.
Facts alone just don’t cut it anymore. As business people, we need to give our facts a considerable boost to help our listeners really get the message.
At IWCC, we use the phrase, “Put some muscle in that message” to encourage our clients (and ourselves) to move beyond the mere transfer of humdrum information and to give presentations more punch. Here are three ways to “put muscle” into your next presentation:
1. Build a picture with an analogy
Simple analogies can make the complex and the technical much easier to grasp. In their award-winning book, “Made to Stick”, Chip and Dan Heath tell of the challenge faced by a health agency which was trying to communicate the health dangers of eating high fat popcorn. The agency needed to communicate that just one bag of popcorn has 37 grams of saturated fat – almost a full 2-day supply of saturated fat for the average adult. But 37 grams of saturated fat was – in itself – a meaningless statistic to the average consumer.
The agency finally hit on the following analogy: “One medium-sized butter popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-egg fried breakfast, a BIG Mac and fries for lunch and a steak dinner with all the trimmings - COMBINED”. Makes you think about those bags of popcorn, yes? The power of analogy.
2. Cut numbers down to size
Numbers can be difficult to convey. Everywhere we turn, we hear about billions of this and trillions of that. But most people have trouble grasping the enormity of such numbers. When we say, for example, that the net growth in world population in the next 50 years will be 2.5 billion, most people find that statistic hard to digest.
If, however, we translate that number to “149,000 more people on the planet per day for the next 50 years”, we convey a much better sense of the magnitude of the growth. And if we go one step further, and equate 149,000 to the number of people who would fill 2-3 football stadiums? Now your listener will really get the message on population growth.
3. Put facts and figures in perspective
In her book, “Metaphorically Selling”, Anne Miller asks the question: “Is a performance accuracy rating of 99.9% good enough?” She then reminds us that a 0.1% error rate in, say, the delivery of healthcare services is the equivalent of 500 botched surgeries per week and 12 babies being given to the wrong parents!”. Hmm….all of a sudden the idea of shooting for 100% accuracy seems like a worthwhile goal.
Make it a practice to gather up examples of analogies and other ways of communicating dull facts. Newspapers, magazines and TV are great sources.
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Speaking to an Executive Audience
Even seasoned presenters sometimes experience an acute attack of “butterflies” when asked to address a group of senior executives. Use the following five presentation practices to help you calm your nerves and ensure that all your butterflies are flying in the same direction. Then you will be in a position to wow even the most senior audiences.
- Strong words: Effective influencers say exactly what they mean and avoid tentative or groping language which never sits well with senior decision makers. When you rehearse your talk (and you DO rehearse, don’t you?), watch out for any wishy washy words and get rid of them. Look for hesitant words (maybe, might, possibly). Listen for qualifiers (“I might be wrong about this but….”). Eliminate the word “little” (“I’m going to talk today a little bit about our new product launch…”). And don’t apologize (“I ‘m sorry to have to tell you…”).
- Voice: Louder voices command more respect and attention than softer, weaker voices. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being at the level of a shout), good presenters speak at a 7 or 8 level. Remember that you always sound louder to yourself than you do to your audience. When you speak loudly, you’ll find it much easier to use inflection and convey enthusiasm. You will also reduce or eliminate filler words (these nasty “um’s” and “er’s” that can creep into your speech pattern when you are nervous).
- Look ‘em in the eye: Eye contact is your best friend when speaking to executives. As you complete each thought, make eye contact with one member of the group; then shift your glance to someone else. It takes courage at first, but this single technique will give you added presence and authority.
- Communications alignment: One of the simple – but so powerful – truths about giving confident, believable presentations is simply this: your voice, your words and your body language (including facial expressions) all need to be sending the same message. If you say you are excited about your proposal - but you are hunched over a lectern with a frown on your face - your listeners won’t hear your words. They will read your body language instead. If you are rocking nervously from one foot to the other or playing with hair, jewelry, or the remote for your slides, you will never convince a senior-level audience no matter how well you have crafted your words. Make sure that your words, your tone of voice and your body language are all telling the same story.
- Get to the point and stay high level: Whatever you do, don’t beat around the bush with senior folks. It drives them crazy. Work on a strong opening; tell them what you’re going to tell them; and give them the big picture with the key information at the beginning. If you are recommending they spend money on something, tell them early rather than at the end. Have your back-up information on hand in case you are asked for it; but don’t cloud your message with too much detail.
One last word of advice: Don’t be spooked by the senior level of your audience. Just take the time to:
- Be extra-well prepared
- Know the players who are going to be in your audience
- Make sure your talk will help the decision makers do their jobs
- Rehearse your talk at least once.
You will be on your way to a successful executive presentation.
Keys to Successful Team Presentations
You have no doubt heard the old joke that a camel is simply a horse that was put together by a committee. Sadly, so many team presentations that we see are more like a camel than a beautiful, sleek racehorse.
A team presentation needs to come off as just that – a TEAM presentation. Team presentations take more time and need more effort on the part of the presenters than individual presentations. Here are some “must do’s” to help you eliminate the bumps the next time you present with your colleagues.
- Hold a kick-off meeting with the team: Make sure your leader (and yes, you need one) is able to articulate the objectives of the presentation; knows a lot about the audience and their expectations; has details about timing, location and set-up. Do not leave this meeting until all presenters are on the same page with respect to these issues.
- Storyboard presentation content: Yes, it’s flipchart time! Book a conference room and paper the walls. Brainstorm the key points you need to cover and sort them into a logical order. (Graduates of IWCC’s presentation skills workshops will find the Listener Questions technique useful here.)
- Appoint a visuals coordinator: It’s OK for each presenter to compile their own PowerPoint slides. But someone needs to make sure that all the slides have a consistent look and feel.
- Rehearse at least twice: Be sure to book enough time for this activity and make sure ALL team members attend. Practice your introduction and closing until they are flawless. Also practice your transitions between speakers and make meaningful links from one speaker to the next.
- Think, work and interact like a team: Remember on the big day that you are “on stage” even when you are not presenting. Stay alert and attentive when a colleague is presenting and – when it is your turn to speak – refer to content from your colleagues’ presentations. Be keenly aware of your body language while one of your colleagues is presenting – no slouching, frowning, doodling, yawning or texting!! The audience will be watching.
Team presentations are among the most challenging communication situations you will face; but with the right processes and intelligent preparation, they can be beautiful and sleek just like a racehorse.