Sunday, January 15th, 2012
When I was in the States last year, I met up with Nancy Duarte… and she interviewed me. She’s now written up the interview on her blog. Find out more about my story and why I’m passionate about helping people be better presenters – and particularly helping people overcome the fear of public speaking. Here’s the link: Nancy Duarte interviews Olivia Mitchell.
And here’s five more links to great writing on presentation skills:
Even TED speakers get nervous
TED is an elite conference where invited speakers give 18 minute talks on the ideas they’re passionate about. In this short post on the TED blog, TED speakers talk about what it’s like to give a TED talk. Main takeway – if you’re not nervous , you’re not pushing yourself enough – you’re playing safe.
What you can learn from Dan Pink
Another of Andrew Dlugan’s signature speech critiques (scour his blog for many others). This one features a 2009 TED talk by Dan Pink which is worth listening to in it’s own right. Andrew has a wonderful talent for deconstructing a talk and showing us why they work (and occasionally why they don’t).
An elegant way of addressing the elephant in the room
Diane DiResta was about to teach a class of young girls when she was told that their school principal had died unexpectedly the day before. How did she handle it?
Jon Thomas’s best 20 posts on PowerPoint presentation design
Jon’s blog is a fantastic treasure trove of slide design advice and now he’s collated a list of his best posts that will help you create visually engaging and effective PowerPoint presentations.
Speaking Perfection is a Myth
This is a recurring rant of mine – and it’s well-articulated in this post by Rich Hopkins. If you fall prey to the disease of perfectionism, then you need to read this.
If you’ve recently read a great article on presentation skills, do leave a link to it in the comments.
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Friday, August 26th, 2011
There are two types of people in the world – those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. I’m one of the former.
I find models useful – they show distinctions that can help explain and predict behaviors – and they can help us see other opportunities and ways we can grow.
One distinction that, as a presenter and presentation trainer, I’ve found useful, is to look at whether a person is “careful” or “carefree” when it comes to creating and delivering presentations.
It’s a question you might like to ask yourself. As a presenter, are you predominantly careful, or carefree?
They plan their presentation. They think about their audience and their needs. They work out what their key message will be and create a structure for their talk that will take their audience on a logical journey. They think about stories and statistics – what evidence will support their message and they design effective PowerPoint slides or other visual aids that will help the audience to understand the points that are being made. They not only think through what they’re going to say, they also create notes or a script. And they rehearse their presentation – maybe many times in order to ensure that there is no hesitancy and no mistakes.
When the careful presenter delivers their presentation, they are thinking about “getting it right.” They refer to their notes a lot – sometimes, even when they don’t really need to. As a result, they don’t look at their audience as much as they could. And they appear as if the presentation is a trial – something painful, rather than an opportunity to connect with people.
They tend to say only what is written in their notes – there’s no spontaneity or variety. In fact, the presentation seems mechanistic – there’s no sense of real connection with the audience.
The audience usually gets value from the presentation but would have liked to enjoyed the experience more.
The carefree presenter knows “in their head “ what they’re going to say. They may jot down a few thoughts but they don’t create a structure – they’d rather let the presentation flow freely on the day and see where things lead. They might think of a few funny stories to tell but they don’t research – and they don’t rehearse. They tend to use a whiteboard or flipchart rather than PowerPoint – that will give them greater flexibility on the day.
When they deliver their presentation they’re really engaging. They connect with their audience resulting in smiles and nods. They have lots of energy and enthusiasm – they move around, gesture a lot and speak with passion.
But they’re hard to follow. It’s difficult to know what their point is. The audience are enjoying the presentation but they don’t really know what they’re meant to do as a result of attending.
In fact some sections of the talk are quite confusing as the presenter goes back over material that they’ve already covered because they’ve thought of something else to add. And then they remember something they forgot to say earlier which is critical in order to understand what they’re saying now.
But then they crack a joke and everyone laughs.
OK – I’ve painted two extremes, but you get the point.
I believe it’s useful to be both careful and carefree when you are a presenter – but it’s all about timing.
Before the presentation – be in careful mode. Think, plan, design. Rehearse and get feedback. Create a presentation journey that is easy for you to present and for your audience to follow. This will make your delivery job easier.
But when you stand in front of your audience to deliver – switch to carefree mode. Don’t be overly concerned if the words don’t come out exactly as you planned – the audience won’t know.
Focus on your audience members. One by one, talk to them as if there’s just you and them in the room. The odd mistake or pause to think does not matter – in fact it makes you more real. Carefree is not the same as careless – it’s a mode in which you trust yourself to deliver with ease the material you’ve carefully crafted.
English actor Michael Cain puts it well – “Rehearsal is the work, performance is the relaxation.”
So both attributes are useful to a presenter – it’s useful to be careful before the presentation and it’s useful to be carefree, during the presentation.
If you realize that you’re strong on one attribute, recognize that strength and keep using it. But your opportunity for development will be the other attribute and by developing that side, you will add to the impact and influence you can achieve through your presentations.
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Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
I’ve been through a long journey (25 years) of developing as a speaker. I started off shy, nervous and tentative. Now I’m a high energy, animated speaker and I love connecting, laughing, riffing with an audience. But along the way I’ve picked up some bad habits. Attending Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Retreat helped me identify some of these habits. So I’m starting off this list with my bad habits and then I’ll go onto list habits I’ve observed amongst other experienced speakers.
At the Story Theater retreat, I discovered that I smile most of the time when I’m speaking. Start talking – smile, that was my pattern. This was a cringe-making discovery. I’ve observed other speakers with this habit and internally mocked them – without realising that I too, suffered from this problem.
For me the habit probably started from wanting to portray myself as warm and friendly to my audiences, but it had become so ubiquitous that I was smiling even when I was describing unpleasant events. I broke the habit by identifying the segments of my presentation when I shouldn’t smile, and then rehearsing those segments consciously keeping my face relaxed. Just before starting my presentation, I would remind myself again of the segments when I didn’t want to smile. Now that I’ve broken the habit, I just remind myself to ‘live my content’, to be in touch with the feelings behind what I’m saying and live those feelings in my speaking.
Doug has written more about this here: Beware the Phony Speaker’s Smile.
As a beginner speaker, I scripted all my presentations word for word. As I became more comfortable and more experienced, I let go of the need for a script and trusted myself to say what needed to be said. I took on the concept that I was communicating ideas, not sentences. And that’s what I teach to most of my clients who are beginner and intermediate speakers.
Doug Stevenson advocates scripting your stories. Having eschewed a script for so long this took me a while to grasp. But here’s the paradox. At some point in your speaking career, you will reach a point where you can’t improve without going back to scripting again. That’s because you should be fine-tuning and replicating your best lines. You can’t do that consistently unless you write those lines down.
I’m lucky in that I work most of my time with my partner Tony and we listen to each other speaking and write down the great lines. They then go into our notes so that we can use them again. If you don’t have a partner to do this for you, record your speeches (it doesn’t have to be a camera, it could just be a sound recording) and then listen back noting your best lines. Now you can consistently replicate them.
As you get more experienced and start to get in the swing of telling stories and acting them out, it gets tempting to ham it up. For example, in one of my presentations I act out the drama I have in my head about people being able to see that I’m nervous as I’m giving a presentation. The more I ham it up, the more people laugh. But there are other situations where hamming it up has no effect at all on the audience. The distinction between these two situations had eluded me. Doug Stevenson had the answer:
Humor is big, drama is small
When you want people to laugh exaggerate. But when you want to portray emotion, think Colin Firth – be subtle.
For more on Doug’s take on humor see: How to be Funnier.
Speaking can be like a drug. Being at one with the audience, riding a wave of interaction and laughter, is a great feeling. You feel on top of the world, with this audience in the palm of your hand. You are all-powerful… and yes, power corrupts!
You start improvising, riffing, you get hyper! Most people in the audience appear to be having a great time. Problem is these manic offshoots don’t take the presentation anywhere.
Sure, play with your audience – but don’t forget the point of your presentation.
And then there’s the opposite situation where you just can’t seem to make it with a particular audience. Your best lines are falling flat, you’re facing a sea of unresponsive faces.
Some speakers in this situation get desperate. They depart from their plan and start throwing out random, clichéd questions hoping for just a breadcrumb of interaction from someone… anyone in the audience.
Don’t let it happen to you. Audiences are different. Some will show their delight in the ride overtly. Others may be quieter in their appreciation.
Asking questions of the audience can be an excellent interactive technique. But your questions should be carefully planned – in their placement, wording and implementation. For more on asking questions check out this post: The 10 steps to asking questions so you get an answer every time.
This is the second of my posts on what I learned from Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Retreat. Check out the first post: How to Turn your Story into a Movie.
To dig deeper into Doug Stevenson’s insights into advanced speaking buy his book Story Theater Method, and the audio version – which you can get as CDs or downloadable MP3s (disclosure: these are affiliate links which means that I earn a 15% commission if you buy one of Doug’s books or other products). And to go deeper still attend one of his Story Theater Retreats.
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Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
When Tony and I were in America we attended a Story Theater Retreat with professional speaker Doug Stevenson. This is a two-and-a-half-day workshop focusing on crafting and refining just one story, but at the same time teaching you a process that you can apply to all of your stories. Each retreat has just four participants so it’s an intensely individualized experience.
Doug has developed the Nine Steps of Story Structure. It’s classic storytelling technique with a protagonist, an obstacle to be overcome, and a resolution at its core. However, Doug adds 3 significant steps to classic story structure so as to brand the learning point of the story. Doug has laid it out in a step-by-step way so that you can take any event in your life and craft it into a valuable story for your audience.
Using Doug’s Nine Steps to structure your story coupled with the acting techniques that he teaches turns your story into a movie.
I chose to work on the story that I tell at the beginning of our courses. It describes my first attempt at the Toastmasters public speaking competition 20 years ago. The Retreat was transformational for me – and my story. I’ve described below some of the elements of my story makeover. I’ve added video clips from my coaching session during the Retreat so that you can see what I was trying to do. The quality’s not great but I still think it’s helpful to see as well as to read!
I had many of the elements of Doug’s Story Structure. But I was missing one element. There were no other characters in the story. I was the only character – the story had me battling alone through three levels of Toastmaster competition. That made the story rather one-dimensional. Imagine a movie or a play with only one character!
So Doug suggested that I add another character. It was easy to think of who that should be. At Toastmasters there was a woman that I respected and admired. Her name was Margaret Nixon. Margaret was a mentor to me, giving me useful feedback and encouraging me to set new challenges for myself.
Adding Margaret to the story gave the story much more interest and depth and also allowed me to incorporate some of the acting techniques which Doug teaches.
So it’s not really a movie. Since the audience can’t see the other characters we have to help the audience visualize the characters by describing them. Here’s how I described Margaret:
She was a government lawyer, just like me. She was petite with blonde, curly hair. Her speeches were models of structure and clarity. But she was never intimidating because she had a warm and sparkly personality.
Later on in the story, I have a short sequence involving our dogs – so I described them too:
Tara is a golden retriever – big brown eyes, always wagging her tail at you (or at anybody). Jodie is an elegant collie (strangers call her Lassie) and somewhat more discerning.
Now I could use photos of Tara and Jodie (you can see a lovely photo of them by scrolling down my about page). But sometimes the images that the audience can conjure up on the screen of their minds is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than actual photos.
For more see: Doug’s post Storytelling in Business – Create Memorable Characters
Turning your story into a movie means you’re not just telling a story, but showing your audience what happened. Doug was an actor for 20 years before he segued into professional speaking and he’s married his acting expertise with his speaking expertise. He’s developed the Story Theater method to show non-actors a step-by-step system to incorporate acting techniques into a story.
Doug calls showing your audience what happened an IN moment, whereas the times when you’re narrating the story are OUT moments. His guideline is that 30% of your story should be IN moments.
In my pre-makeover story here’s what I used to say:
As I walked up to the stage, my legs felt like they were noodles. I stood up on the stage and looked out and just saw a jumble of shapes and colors. My heart was pounding like it was going to explode out of my chest and I could feel sweat trickling down my sides.
In my post-makeover story all the words above have gone, I act it. Here’s a short clip from my coaching session during the Retreat as I try out acting this moment:
For more on IN moments see Doug’s article: Identify the Moments
Humor is something that I’ve struggled with and at times I’ve just said to myself “I’m not a funny speaker – that’s not me and so I won’t try to be funny”. As I’ve developed experience as a speaker I have realised that I can make people laugh but I still haven’t seen myself as a funny speaker. Doug believes that everyone can be funny and can develop their ability to be funny. So I decided to give humor another go. I already had a line in my story where I mentioned that I rehearsed to the dogs but with Doug’s help I developed it into a funny scene:
With another character in my story, I could create some dialogue. Doug showed me how to do the two-character two-step to act out a dialogue between two people. Here are the basic elements:
– each character stands at a slight diagonal to the audience.
– as you change character you shift to the other diagonal.
It takes some practice to get right! In the clip below I’m just getting the hang of it:
Another acting technique that Doug teaches is the inner monologue. Instead of saying:
To my surprise I won the competition. That was great news for my self-esteem, but bad news for my future. Because it meant that I would be representing my club at the next level of competition – the Area level.
Doug had me pace up and down talking to myself. I found this quite difficult. Whenever I try to walk and talk I end up slowing down – walking fast and talking to myself was tricky! Also my instinct was to look down at the floor as I walked, but that doesn’t work for the audience. I had to look up. You can see my struggle with this technique in this extended clip which includes Doug’s coaching:
Or you can just watch my final attempt:
Using these techniques you can turn your story into a movie too.
I’ve only covered a small percentage of what I learned at Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Retreat. I highly recommend attending a retreat if you’re committed to taking your story-telling to the next level. Doug and his wife Deborah create an incredible welcoming and supportive environment in their Peak View Studio.
If you can’t make it to a retreat buy Doug’s book Story Theater Method, and the audio version – which you can get as CDs or downloadable MP3s (disclosure: these are affiliate links which means that I earn a 15% commission if you buy one of Doug’s books or other products). I recommend getting both the book and the audio version as you’ll get all the details and hear Doug telling and dissecting his stories. You’ll get an extra level of learning as a result.
Next week I’ll discuss my personal learnings from the Retreat.
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