Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

Don’t make these presentation mistakes

October 20, 2011

One of my clients routinely gives public education presentations on the organization’s role and responsibilities. Recently, I was asked to assist with creating new presentations for its various audiences. The client sent me a few PowerPoint slide decks as background info. He prefaced the email attachment with the line, “These presentations are really bad.” Well, yes, the slide decks were pretty bad, but what I found interesting was that this client seemed to regard the slide deck as the presentation itself. I think this is pretty common and it’s mistake number one.

Your slide deck is NOT your presentation

Microsoft’s PowerPoint came on the business scene in the 1990s and people were blown away with this technology. It wasn’t long before giving a presentation without using PowerPoint seemed somehow less than professional. It was the start of a journey that led to endless slides filled with bullet points. Sometimes these bullet points zipped across the screen and included sound effects. Why? Well, because the software allowed the presenter to do this, that’s why.

What got lost in all the bells and whistles is that PowerPoint was created to be an aid to presenters, not to replace them. PowerPoint quickly became a crutch. It became the presenter’s notes displayed up on the screen and it made for excruciatingly tedious presentations.

Tip: If you gave your PowerPoint slides to someone who hasn’t seen your presentation and they can figure out exactly what it’s about, start again. Your slides are not an aid, they are a distraction.

Having visuals does not replace good structure

When you embark on creating a presentation, do not even open PowerPoint on your computer. Any visuals you apply to your presentation should come last. Start with answering these questions instead:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Why should your audience care about your topic?
  3. What are the three or four key messages you need to deliver?
From here you can begin to piece together the content of your presentation. It should have a clear beginning (intro of yourself and what you will be speaking about) middle (key messages explained and illustrated with examples and stories) and an end (a summary of the content to tie things up for the audience possibly along with a call to action).

Slides are for reinforcing your comments only

Slides can be enormously helpful, but they should not be necessary for giving your presentation. If your technology fails (it happens), you should still be able to deliver an effective presentation. You, the presenter, are the crucial element of the presentation, not your slides.

Slides should be visual, not words on a screen. Some presenters completely swear off the presence of any words on a presentation slide. While I wouldn’t go that far, I do feel strongly about the absence of bullet points. Just don’t do it. Instead, choose images to reinforce what you are saying. If you’re talking about a location for example, use a map to illustrate where it is. Use images as a metaphor to drive a point home. For example, in a past blog post about crisis communications I used the image of a cat’s paw hovering over a garter snake. That’s a powerful image to reinforce the idea of a crisis in the audience member’s mind.

Graphs and charts are fine but they are not the only way to convey numbers. Don’t use too many and make sure they are easy to understand at a glance.

Watch presentations by the late Steve Jobs to get an idea of how expert presenters use images to reinforce a message. Carmine Gallo has a nice way of summing up Jobs’ skills in this video.  In a vintage post, I also made reference to a still brilliant presentation by Dick Hardt. It’s a great example of how slides can keep a presentation moving and the audience visually engaged.

Don’t just wing it

It’s very important to rehearse your presentation. Repeatedly. Even the most confident presenter needs to practice and make sure things run smoothly. Grab a co-worker, roommate and/or significant other and have them watch you run through it to make sure you’re getting your key messages across. Have them be brutally honest and adjust accordingly.

Your turn – What presentation mistakes do you see people make and what’s your solution for avoiding them?

*photo courtesy of Fixedgear on Flickr

Avoiding guest speaker disaster

October 13, 2010

I started my career in public relations at a child protection agency. One of my first challenges was putting together the annual report and preparing for the annual general meeting. The AGM was a traditionally humdrum affair and I thought I’d make my mark by getting an out-of-the-ordinary guest speaker. I suggested to my executive director that we get a client to speak at the AGM—someone who had turned things around and made a better life for herself and her children. A brilliant idea had I made sure it was executed properly.

I put out a call to various front line workers for suggestions and got a few. One client had a particularly compelling story. She had several years of involvement with child welfare authorities with her children coming in and out of care due to her alcohol abuse and neglect. She had many ups and downs but through a lot of hard work and intensive support, she reunited with her kids and all had been going well for the past couple of years.

I spoke with the client and she had many positive things to say about her present social worker and the support she was receiving from the agency. I told her I thought her story would be great and she agreed to do it. I let her know she’d have about 15 minutes to speak. I spoke with her briefly one more time before the AGM to make sure she was coming and to see if she needed any help with her speech. She declined, saying she was feeling prepared. I left it at that.

The day of the AGM, the client stepped onto the stage and began to tell her story. About a minute into it, my heart began to sink. My chosen speaker was trashing the agency. She spoke of systemic issues that led to the apprehension of her children rather than the preservation of her family. In a somewhat rambling style, she talked of insensitive and, in her view, incompetent social workers she had encountered over the years. Her comments did include praise for the support she ended up receiving, but overall, her message was that a lot of her family’s heartache could have been avoided if the child welfare system had responded to her situation with initial support instead of its punitive approach.

The audience, which included a good percentage of staff, gave weak and bewildered applause at the end of the speech as my executive director awkwardly thanked her for her comments. I wanted to die. The next day, at an unrelated meeting in one of  our field offices, a couple of social workers lambasted me for the choice of speaker, saying that they had come to expect being vilified by clients but not at their agency’s own AGM. Ouch.

Today, I avoid the above scenario by taking the following steps when engaging a speaker:

  1. Know your speaker – whether it’s a professional speaker or someone who uses your nonprofit’s services, speak to people who know the person well or who have heard the speaker at other events. Make sure the person is the right fit for your purposes.
  2. Let the speaker know what you’re expecting – Never leave it up to the speaker to figure out what you want. Make it clear who the audience is, why you want him/her to speak and what you’re expecting in the way of comments.
  3. Help out the non-professional speaker – If you are asking someone to speak who has never spoken in public before or has limited experience, guide him/her through the process. Offer to meet, help to draft the comments or refine what the speaker has pulled together.
  4. Know what your speaker is going to say – Even if it’s a professional speaker, make it clear that you need to know what he/she plans to say to ensure that it fits with the rest of the program and doesn’t overlap with what someone else is saying. Experienced speakers expect this and will often ask you these very questions.

You can never prepare too much for a public event and that includes making sure your key speakers don’t surprise you when they open their mouths. Avoid embarrassment and potential disaster by taking the above steps.

Have you ever been caught off guard by a guest speaker at an event? What steps do you take to ensure the experience is positive?