How to Make Your Listeners Love You When You Give a Speech or Sales Presentation

A study of what makes people fall in love has implications for helping speakers connect with audiences.  Specifically, the more personal stuff you reveal about yourself, the more likely your audience is to like you.

At least that’s the conclusion that we draw from a study about what makes people fall in love. 

In the study, researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook gave pairs of students scripts that urged them to reveal things about themselves in varying degrees. The pairs that revealed more about themselves tended to form closer personal bonds. In fact one pair got married.

What does all this mean for those that want to connect better with an audience?  Simple. The more you reveal about yourself during a presentation, the more the audience will like you. 

Indeed, at Speechworks, we urge our clients to tell stories about themselves as part of the presentation.  Certainly you want to tell about your own success stories. If you’re trying to persuade a client to hire your accounting firm, tell stories about your own experiences solving other similar accounting problems.

But it’s also a good idea to weave personal details about yourself in the course of the presentation.  Letting people know that you have children or are learning to play tennis are personal details that will help you connect with the audience.

Next time you have to put together a speech, let the audience in on some personal details of your life. They’ll fall in love with you.

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Godin Says: All You Need is Love . . . And Respect. Yeah, but how do you get that?

In an interesting post yesterday, marketing guru Seth Godin said that the keys to being a good presenter are love for the audience and respect from the audience.

I agree.  But his prescription for how to get those two values is astonishingly weak, especially for Godin, whom I like a lot.

To get respect he says,

When you create a presentation, think about what your status will be as you begin the presentation. What can you do to prewire, to earn more respect from the start? How can you be introduced? Lit? Miked? What can you wear? If your reputation doesn’t precede you, how do you earn it?

You don’t get respect or show love by being properly “lit”, or “miked”, or dressing properly.

You get respect and show love by making it clear to your audience that you have done everything possible to to get to know their true needs prior to the presentation.

You show love by doing your homework, interviewing attendees and listening to their needs so that you can address their concerns in your presentation.  Your audience will feel the love when you start your presentation by putting your finger firmly on their true concerns.

You earn their respect the same way, by making it clear that you have bothered to understand their needs prior to the presentation.

Do your homework prior to the presentation, and it won’t matter how you dress. They’ll love you and respect you.

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Website Helps You Write Your Oscar Speech

I couldn’t stay up to see all the Oscar speeches. But if you want to have some fun, here’s a link to a site that produces a “Mad Lib” style Academy Award speech.  

PROFANITY ALERT. The site does have some foul language.

Here’s the speech I came up with using the site.

Thank you! Oh! Thank you! I can hardly conjugate verbs! I feel so coked-up! And this statue – it’s so shiny! Oh, thank you again! I just want everyone to secretly suspect that even in my wildest fits of self-loathing, I never would have frantically prayed that this could ever validate my mediocrity. And to the other second-rate nominees, I want each of you to know how totally saddened your crushing defeat makes me feel right now!
You know when they first told me I was a God on Earth, I just had to take an epidural and brag about how unaesthetic my love scenes have been. I guess it all just makes me feel kinda wrinkly

You know, there are so many back-stabbing little people to thank! First off though, I want to blackball the esteemed idiots of the Academy, who looked deep within their wallets before giving me this fantastic award! Also, I want to thank Charleton Heston, for being such a powerful force in my kitchen. And to my brother, who taught me to take life by the fifth of bourbon. And finally, to all the personal assistants I fired – I couldn’t have done it without you! 

Thank you America, and good night!



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What Makes a Presenting Team Seem Like a Team?

One of the things that many business people say when they’re interviewing business partners is  “We’re looking for the best team.” 

So the question is this: how can you come across as a great team during a 30-45 minute presentation?

In doing many of these presentations I’ve learned a few things.

1.  It’s not something you can declare.  You can say “we are a team” all you want, but if you don’t present like a team, then you’re not going to seem like a team.  Of course, you should give examples of where you have all worked together in the past. But that is no substitute for presenting like a well-oiled machine.

2.  Be well-rehearsed.   The most import thing is simply to rehearse the presentation carefully so that everyone plays their roll well during the presentation. Good teams deliver presentations that don’t go over the time limit because one of the team members has spoken too long.   That long-winded speaker reveals that the group didn’t practice much together. How can you come across as a good team if you didn’t rehearse?

3.  Each presenter must fulfill an important and distinct role for the client.  On a football team, every player has a role. There is no duplication of purpose.  On a good presenting team, each player must address a different issue that is important to the client.  In construction presentations, often I’ll see two firm principles present because “we want to show the client that we care.”  One firm principle is enough.   The estimator should address the budget. The project manager should address the schedule. The superintendent should address issues of safety and site logistics. 

4.  Everyone should appear to like each other. While it’s  a hard quality to quantify, you want to give off the sense that everyone knows each other well.  During the presentation, everyone should be watching the other presenters carefully. You don’t want to be looking at your shoes or, worse, thumbing your Blackberry. When you hand off to a team member, you should find a nice thing to say about him. “Now I’d like to turn it over to Jack, our superintendent. Jack and I have worked together for 15 years. I call him The Captain because of the way he runs a job site. No one is better.” And smile at your colleague as you do that introduction.

5.  Everyone should speak with passion. When all the team members speak with enthusiasm, they give off a sense of unity of purpose.  If some of the members of the team are excited and others seem bored, there is the sense that some of the team members are committed when others aren’t.

6. No second guessing during Q&A. One of the easiest ways to show that you’re not a team is to second guess your colleague as they answer questions. If someone answers a question, then everyone needs to act like that’s the team answer. No second guessing allowed. Period!  If someone gives out wrong answers and you second guess them, it says a lot that’s bad about your team. First, it says that you didn’t prepare for the questions. Second, it says that you don’t really trust each other.

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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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How to Put Lipstick on the PowerPoint Pig?

Presentation skills coach and fellow blogger  Olivia Mitchell has asked me and many others to comment on what, in our business, apparently passes for a controversy: how can we make PowerPoint better?  You probably missed this controversy if you are part of the following group: business people who are trying to accomplish things.

Let me summarize this distracting tempest in the graphic design teapot.  For several years, a group of graphic designers have been rightly trashing PowerPoint and the busy slides it tends to produce.

Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen, Nancy Duarte at Duarte Design, and Edward Tufte (the granddaddy of PowerPoint haters)  have been hammering on the misuse of PowerPoint for years.   Many graphic artists have pushed for a minimalist approach using big pictures and very few words. These slides are quite attractive and it’s easy to see why artists love them.  They’re very “arty” looking. 

Now comes the inevitable backlash to this minimalist approach from writer and internet marketing consultant Laura Bergells. On her PowerPoint blog, Maniactive she wrote: 

The current PowerPoint design fashion vogue is overly simplistic, and panders almost completely to the right side of the brain. Since one of our chief presentation objectives is to persuade, why is this a problem?

Using only right brain techniques to persuade is emotionally manipulative. Oh, it’s highly effective, all right, but it’s propaganda, nonetheless! Appealing only to the right side of the brain is less than truthful — it lies by omission of key facts. 

Audiences are getting more savvy.  We’re getting more suspicious. We’re asking harder questions. We’re tired of lying, half-truths, and crass emotional manipulation by corporate leaders, politicians, and news media outlets.

So there you have it. First there is a well-deserved backlash against PowerPoint’s tendency to get too complex.   Now comes a backlash to the backlash arguing that we’ve gotten too simple.

When it comes to PowerPoint, I suppose I come down in the “simpler is better” category.  And I do think that visuals are helpful. We help our clients with slides and flip charts when they are appropriate.  I use them myself in my presentations.

But ultimately my position on PowerPoint is this: it’s largely irrelevant to whether you accomplish your goals. That’s because PowerPoint and other visuals, now matter how graphically pleasing, don’t inspire audiences, sell ideas, or win business. That’s done by the speaker. If he or she has a well-crafted message that focuses simply on the listeners’ needs, and if it’s delivered well, then the presentation is going to be a success regardless of what slides you have. 

Does anyone remember the Barack Obama’s slides?  Colin Powell’s?  Ronald Reagan’s? What about Steve Jobs? Sure he uses a minimalist slide approach. But the reason he’s so good has nothing to do with his slides.  He’s great because he knows how to tell a story and deliver it. Take away his slides and he is still great. If you don’t agree, check out his much praised graduation speech at Stanford.

This debate is a symptom of a larger problem. That problem is that business people waste too much time crafting slides rather than doing what will really make their presentation succeed: seeking to understand the audience, telling a good story, and rehearsing.

Here’s what I’d like to see going forward. Let’s start creating presentations by taking out a blank sheet of paper and writing down what we want to accomplish and what our audience cares about. Then let’s decide what our core message is, deciding what three key messages we really want our audience to remember. Then let’s see if we have some interesting and relevant stories to support our points. 

Then let’s spend a little time thinking about whether slides are even necessary. If they are, then let’s spend a little time creating slides.

But let’s also keep in mind that slides don’t grow businesses. Connecting with audiences and colleagues and business partners and customers is what grows businesses. And to do that you need a clear message, a style that connects, and lot of rehearsal.

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Five Keys to Making Your Pitch Like a Test Drive

Buying a car is easy. You go to the Honda dealership. You say, “I’d like to test drive the new Civic.”

The salesman says, “Sure. Let me get you the keys.”

You give it a spin and you get a feel for it. You know pretty quickly whether the car is right for you.

Hiring a service provider for your business is much more difficult. You can’t take an architect for a test drive. You can’t ride around in a lawyer.  You can’t hop inside your accountant and give him a spin.

That’s why your sales pitch should do everything possible to give your prospect the closest thing possible to a test drive. Everything in your pitch should be aimed at giving your prospect a sense of what the experience of working with you will be like. 

There are five keys.

Key 1. Focus your message on a solution to the prospect’s key business problem. The prospect is not hiring a law firm. It’s buying a solution to a troublesome legal problem.  Your main job in a pitch is not to show your credentials. Your main job is to give the prospect a sense of your proposed solution to their business problem.

Key 2. Keep your message simple. From the prospect’s perspective, one of the main experiences of working with you will be meetings, conference calls and other forms of spoken interaction.  Your prospect wants to know if you are able to speak to her in a way that is simple and easy to understand. If your presentation is simple and user-friendly, that says a lot about what it will be like to work with you. It says that you’ll be user-friendly. And that’s good.

Key 3. Be passionate.  If you’re hired, the prospect is going to have to spend a lot of time with you.  If they see that you’re passionate, then they’re going to sense that spending time with you will be a pleasure. What if you’re not passionate about your work? Consider a new line of work.

Key 4. Be interactive. Make sure that the prospect has plenty of time to ask questions and discuss your ideas. Q&A is a test drive of the intellect.  The more interactive the presentation, the more the prospect gets a feel for what a meeting with you would be like. That’s a good thing.

Key 5. Rehearse. Good preparation is obvious to the prospect. If you show up well prepared, it gives your prospect a feel for how well you’ll be prepared for them on a daily basis.

Follow these five keys and you’ll give your prospect a sense of what it will be like to work with you. It’s the closest you can come to giving your prospect a test drive.

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Public Speaking Tip from Bill Gates

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend looking to Bill Gates for public speaking advice.  He didn’t make it to the top on eloquence.  But it’s his birthday today and I was curious about what he had to say about communication.

The answer? Nothing really.

But I did find this quote that seems relevant.

Gates said, “The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”

Of course, Gates is speaking about computers and how they can empower workers. 

But the same idea applies to good speaking. Great speakers understand that a good presentation isn’t about showing off or looking fabulous. It’s about empowering your audience, giving them the information they need so they can succeed.

A great speech lays out a simple path and points a direction toward success.

If you do that well, you don’t need to be eloquent. You can be more like, well, Bill Gates.

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