Archive for the ‘Handling Q&A’ Category

For a Great Presentation, Practice the 10/20/30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki is a technology guru and venture capitalist who listens to a lot of presentations from entrepreneurs seeking money for start-up ventures.  The overwhelming majority of the presentations he hears are, as he says, “crap.” 

 

And so he requires that all presentations at his business Garage Technology Ventures follow what he calls the “10/20/30 rule”.   It’s a rule that should be embraced by anyone that wants to connect with audiences.

 

The rule states that all presentations should be limited to 10 slides, 20 minutes, and have no words on the slides smaller than 30-point type.  I love the rule because it keeps you out of the weeds by forcing you to keep your message focused on key issues.

 

Limit Your Presentation to 10 slides. Too many of us create presentations by opening up PowerPoint, picking a template, and typing. Before long, we have a “presentation” with 40 slides.

 

I was coaching a consultant once as he prepared to speak at a trade conference.  He arrived at our practice session with 60 slides for a 45-minute presentation.  Flipping through, I noted that every slide was loaded with bullet points.

 

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Would you want to listen to this presentation?”

 

“Well . . . , ” he muttered, seeming startled. “I guess not.”

 

His presentation was packed with too much information.  Limiting your message to 10 slides forces you to answer the question “What do I really want to say?”

 

PowerPoint has no template for that question.

 

Speak for no more than 20 minutes.  When Kawasaki listens to a pitch for start-up capital, he allocates an hour.  Limiting the pitch to 20 minutes allows for 40 minutes of Q&A. As Kawasaki knows, all presentations improve with lots of Q&A.

 

Recently, I went fishing in Tampa with a guide named Rick. He told me that one way he markets his business is by giving presentations on how to catch fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

“I usually speak for about fifteen minutes and then take questions,” he said. “I’ve found that people have a lot more fun at my presentations when they get to ask questions.”

 

That’s a nice lesson in hooking an audience from a professional fisherman.

 

No Slides with Words Smaller than 30-Point Type.  For many people, this seems impossible. You can’t get more than five or six words on a line with 30-point type.

 

But all businesses should mandate this rule. Smaller type  is so hard to read that it becomes distracting.

 

To me, corporate America tolerates tiny type on slides in the same way that mill town residents tolerate the stench that fills their community.  It’s so prevalent that everyone just gets used to it and no one even notices anymore.

 

But your slides will be far more effective if you minimize your bullets and keep your type size big.

 

And if you follow the 10/20/30 rule, your presentations will be a breath of a fresh air.

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Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Whatever You Do, Do Not Present Like Michael Jackson

When I learned of Michael Jackson’s death yesterday, I recalled the time that I saw him here in Atlanta at the old Fulton County Stadium. He was at the height of his popularity before he became embroiled in a series of bizarre scandals. We sat in the upper deck of the arena and watched him on a giant screen above the stage.

With binoculars, we could see Jackson moonwalking across the stage. The show was executed perfectly.  The lights flashed.  The dancers twirled. But we might just as well have been watching him on television at home. It was such a carefully choreographed show that I felt no connection to him.  It was disappointing.

In my judgment, the show was a failure.  Live audiences want to feel a connection.

Similarly, we’ll sometimes come across speakers who are technically excellent.  They speak with energy. They smile. They use PowerPoint perfectly. They have every hair in place. They have every word carefully scripted.

But like Michael Jackson in that concert, they fail to connect.

I call this the “rock star effect.”  You’re so perfect that you come off as a rock star and don’t ever really connect with the audience.

So what can you do?

The most important thing is to make sure that the audience has a chance to interact with you.  Leave plenty of time for Q&A. Ask the audience questions.  And be sure that you’re willing to adjust your presentation to what you hear from the audience.

In a program recently, one of the participants wanted to know how to organize his thoughts for a conference call.  I heard what he said and adjusted.  During the rest of the workshop, I made sure that I came back to the issue of conference calls.

The goal in a presentation isn’t perfection. The goal is to build a relationship. That requires connection.

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Friday, June 26th, 2009

To Connect with Audiences, Follow the 10/20/30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki is a technology guru and venture capitalist who listens to a lot of presentations from entrepreneurs seeking money for start-up ventures.  The overwhelming majority of the presentations he hears are, as he says, “crap.” 

 

And so he demands that all presentations at his business Garage Technology Ventures follow what he calls the “10/20/30 rule”.  It’s a rule that should be embraced by anyone that wants to connect with audiences.

 

The rule states that all presentations should be limited to 10 slides, 20 minutes, and have no words on the slides smaller than 30-point type.  I love the rule because it keeps you out of the weeds by forcing you to keep your message focused on key issues.

 

Limit Your Presentation to 10 slides. Too many of us create presentations by opening up PowerPoint, picking a template, and typing. Before long, we have a “presentation” with 40 slides.

 

I was coaching an attorney once as he prepared to speak at a bar event.  He arrived at our practice session with 60 slides for a 45-minute presentation.  Flipping through, I noted that every slide was loaded with bullet points.

 

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Would you want to listen to this presentation?”

 

“Well . . . , ” he muttered, seeming startled. “I guess not.”

 

His presentation was packed with too much information.  Limiting your message to 10 slides forces you to answer the question “What do I really want to say?”

 

PowerPoint has no template for that question.

 

Speak for no more than 20 minutes.  When Kawasaki listens to a pitch for start-up capital, he allocates an hour.  Limiting the pitch to 20 minutes allows for 40 minutes of Q&A. As Kawasaki knows, all presentations improve with lots of Q&A.

 

Last weekend, I went fishing in Tampa with a guide named Rick. He told me that one way he markets his business is by giving presentations on how to catch fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

“I usually speak for about fifteen minutes and then take questions,” he said. “I’ve found that people have a lot more fun at my presentations when they get to ask questions.”

 

That’s a nice lesson in hooking an audience from a professional fisherman.

 

No Slides with Words Smaller than 30-Point Type.  For many people, this seems impossible. You can’t get more than five or six words on a line with 30-point type.

 

But all businesses should mandate this rule. Smaller type  is so hard to read that it becomes distracting.

 

To me, corporate America tolerates tiny type on slides in the same way that mill town residents tolerate the stench that fills their community.  It’s so prevalent that everyone just gets used to it and no one even notices anymore.

 

But your slides will be far more effective if you minimize your bullets and keep your type size big.

 

And if you follow the 10/20/30 rule, your presentations will be a breath of a fresh air.

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Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Public Speaking Tips from Passover

Tonight is the first night of Passover.  For many Jews, including me, it’s a favorite holiday because it’s a family get together. 

But it’s also a highly engaging religious service. Indeed, speakers can learn a lot about connecting with audiences from the Seder service.

First, the Seder is a lesson in the power of a story.  The entire event is centered around the story of the escape from Egypt.

Second, the Seder teaches the importance of Q&A.  One of the highlights of the event is the asking of the Four Questions. 

Third, the Seder shows the power of audience participation and interaction. There’s responsive reading and singing. There’s a mysterious open-door vigil for the ever-elusive Elijah.  There’s even a treasure hunt.

Fourth, the Seder plate is a multi-tiered lesson in the power of analogies and visual aids to help reinforce a message. 

So for your next presentation, think about a Seder. Tell stories. Leave plenty of time for questions.  Find ways to get the audience involved.  Use creative visuals aids.

“Dayenu!”

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Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

How to Get Your Prospect To Engage with You During a Sales Pitch

One of the best ways to make sure that your sales pitch is interactive is to send the prospect something ahead of time with a note saying, “We can discuss this during our meeting.”

 

A consultant I work with is involved in helping pharmaceutical firms comply with FDA rules. When they’re hired, they engage in highly complex compliance programs. He says, “When we go in for a sales presentation, we always send ahead a plan for how we will spend the first year of our engagement. Even if they don’t read it, it gives us something to discuss with them. It helps make the pitch more like a work session than a pitch.”

 

Virtually any business can use this tactic. If you’re an attorney, send ahead a brief outline of thoughts on how to approach winning the lawsuit. If you’re an architect, send ahead design ideas that your listeners can react to. If you’re a software engineer, send ahead key issues with the software installation that you’d like to discuss.

 

And don’t worry too much about sending out something that the prospect won’t initially embrace as the final answer. The point here is not to send out a perfect solution. The point is to give something that will get the conversation started, transforming your presentation from a pitch to a working session.

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Thursday, March 19th, 2009

How to Win a Pitch Against a Rival with a More Established Brand

The other day  I was conducting a workshop with a consulting firm about how to win a pitch.  A consultant raised his hand and asked “How do we win if we have to go up against IBM?”

While this was a great consulting firm, they didn’t have a brand as well-established as IBM.  As a result, they had lost business to IBM and other better-branded rivals.

 Indeed, many firms in many businesses face what I call the “the IBM problem.”  They run up against the old saying that “no one was ever fired for hiring IBM.”  In other words, if you have to decide between two closely matched potential business partners, most will go with the more established brand because it’s easier to justify your decision up the corporate heirarchy.

But that doesn’t mean that the lesser brand will always lose.  The established brand wins when everything else is equal. But that doesn’t mean that everything else needs to be equal.

You Beat the Superior Brand With Execution

You beat IBM by executing the fundamentals of the pitch better than your competition.

Fundamental # 1. Focus your pitch on solving the prospect’s business problem.  Estblished brands can get complacent and rely on the power of their brand, discussing their past successes rather than how they plan to solve the prospect’s specific business problem.  If you detail a specific plan to help your prospect and the branded rival doesn’t, then you move to the top of the stack.

Fundamental #2. Make sure that your message is simple.  If you speak in a way that is easy for people to understand, that distinguishes you from the competition. Your branded rival may not have as simple a message.

Fundamental # 3. Leave plenty of time for Q&A.  How you answer questions allows your prospect to probe your intellect. They see who you are and forget about the branding issue.

Fundamental #4. Speak with energy. A brand is a static idea that is fixed in the mind of the prospect. If you come across as exciting to work with, you can easily surpass the superior brand. On the other hand, if you speak in a flat monotone and your rival does too, then they will go with the brand.

Fundamental #5. Rehearse like crazy.  If you come in well-rehearsed, then you will demonstrate your intense interest in winning the business.  The established brand might not come off as well.

The reason that IBM has established a great brand is that they have performed at a consistently high level for many years. But that doesn’t mean that in a given pitch, you can’t outperform them.  If you execute these fundamentals, you can beat IBM.

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Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Justice Scalia Gives Lesson in How Not to Answer Questions

Justice Scalia

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lashed out at a student during a question and answer session yesterday in West Palm Beach Florida.  

“That’s a nasty, impolite question,” said Scalia. He was responding to a question from 20-year-old Sarah Jeck, a Florida Atlantic University honors college junior. 

According to the Sun-Sentinel, “Jeck stood in front of 750 people and asked Scalia why cameras are not allowed in the U.S. Supreme Court even though the court hearings are open, transcripts are available and the court’s justices are open enough to go “out on book tours.’

He initially refused to answer the question.

Suffice it to say that berating the questioner is not a good way to handle Q&A during a presentation.  Presentations are for the listeners. If they have a question, you should take it seriously, even if you see it as hostile.  

If you get a hostile question, calmly answer it. Lashing out will only make the audience turn against you.

Or worse yet, earn you a nasty article in the newspaper.

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Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Lectures are dying. And I Say Good Riddance.

I was speaking recently with a client about her presentation to a trade group. It was a big opportunity.  

“How long do you think I should speak?”

“Twenty minutes,” I said. “No one wants to hear anyone speak for more than 20 minutes.”

Maybe it’s because of the internet. Maybe it’s because of sitcoms. Maybe it’s because we’re used to getting everything so fast. But for whatever reason, the day of the stem winding lecture is over. I don’t care who you are, no one wants to hear you give them a lecture.  As further evidence, check out this story about how MIT has ended the era of giant lectures.

Rather than give lectures, we urge our clients to give interactive presentations, where listeners participate in the program, discussing questions, taking positions, and even solving problems.  It’s a far more effective way to connect with the audience.

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Thursday, January 15th, 2009

What To Do About a Grandstanding Questioner

You’ve just finished your remarks and are taking questions.  A guy in the third row raises his hand and asks a question. You answer it and then he asks another.  Before you know it, this guy is starting to take over the presentation. He’s grandstanding.

What do you do?  

Start with patience. You never want to show that you’re irritated with anyone in the audience. Say something nasty and the audience might turn on you. Stay calm and the audience will admire your control.

On the other hand you can’t let the guy go on forever. It’s not fair to the rest of the audience.  This is where you use a little psychology.  When you’re ready to cut the guy off, say “I think you’re raising some good questions. Why don’t we discuss them further when we’re done.”  Then look at another part of the audience and say, “Does anyone else have a question?”

By looking at another part of the audience, you’re sending a strong signal that his time is done. But you’re not humiliating him.

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Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

To Brief CEO, Focus on Big Picture, Not Weeds

Focus on big picture. Let the CEO take you into the weeds.

That’s the philosophy of a strong executive briefing.  A tight, high-level message inspires confidence.  “If you can’t tell it to me quick,” one manufacturing executive told us recently, “you probably don’t have a strong understanding of the issues.” 

Long rambling remarks sound uncertain.  With that in mind, prepare relatively short messages that focus on just the most important issues. Deliver the update quickly.

“But our CEO wants to know all the details,” one of our clients told us.  

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t be ready with the details when asked.   But don’t serve up those details until you are asked.  A good waiter recites the specials and takes his cues on further suggestions from the restaurant patron.  He doesn’t read out the entire menu.  Similarly, a good briefer gives the high points and then responds to the issues raised by the CEO rather than wading into a lot of potentially unwanted detail.

Let the CEO ask for the detail she wants.  When you start at a high level, you can always go deeper.

We recommend a three point strategy:

  • Current Status
  • Key Challenges
  • Proposed Solutions

We worked with a telecom executive in charge of improving customer service. His task force had done several things to improve service and he had to report out to the CEO. He outlined his message as follows:

  • Current status: Our key customer service metrics are finally starting to move in the right direction.
  • Key Challenges: We’re still getting way too many customers calling us trying to figure out how to operate the new handsets.
  • Proposed Solutions: To solve the problem we’re going to get more involved in early development of the handsets.

When it was his turn during the meeting to speak, he quickly outlined the three key points, giving an overview in 15 seconds. An overview helps the listener get the big picture. Then he went back over the three key points, giving a couple of sentences of detail and explanation.  Then he stopped and took questions.

“Actually it was a very orderly and productive discussion that everyone was happy with,” he told us later. “We stayed on track and didn’t get too lost in unnecessary detail.”

Keeping your message high level tends to keep the discussion properly focused, leaving plenty of room for detail if needed.

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Wednesday, December 10th, 2008