critics1Every presenter needs an Accountabila-buddy. Do you have someone in your life who isn’t shy about telling you you’re being stupid? If not , go get someone. My Accountabila-buddy is my best friend and wife, Lisa. She’s not the least bit shy about telling me that a presentation point is “Dumb” a slide is “Too Busy” or a story is “Off Topic”. Sometimes this process is frustrating, but ultimately if a presentation meets   Lisa’s tough standards, I know it’s good. There are just a couple of rules:

Your Accountabila-buddy gets to critique your work when you say so.

Both must be clear that the criticisms are about the presentation, not you.

You both understand that the presenter has the final say about what goes into a presentation.

To be your best, you need feedback from a caring dissenter. If you don’t have one in your life, get one.

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leaders-tech-steve-jobs1I was recently helping a friend and colleague prepare a presentation. Her topic was “Building Exceptional Teams”. I’ve been giving some thought to this friend’s leadership style because it’s a big part of why she builds such successful teams.

She definitely has “Signature Voice”.

In their book, “Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence” (Harvard Business Press)  Muriel Maignan Wilkins and Amy Jen Su state that a great leader “Owns the Room” .

“No matter where you sit in an organization, you can “own the room” if you are able to do two things well: first, demonstrate your authentic value and distinction, and second, connect to others in a positive way.”

 Leaders who are able to be authentic while connecting with and impacting others have what the authors call a “signature voice”–a means of self-expression that is uniquely and distinctly their own.

Authentic Value and Distinction

What can you contribute to your team better than anyone else?  What is there in The Authentic YOU that will make people want to be led by you?

Connect in a positive way

We live in a cynical world. We are constantly bombarded by negative imagery and thought. If you can lead in a positive and encouraging way people will follow you anywhere.

Be Affable and Unflappable

I live by the words “affable and unflappable”.  I’m sometimes called upon to coach , teach or lead groups in which some members view me as an interference.  I’m seen as an outsider who has been sent in by “Corporate” to mess up their beautiful little group.  No matter what they say or do, I don’t react emotionally (Unflappable) and  I stay positive (Affable). I’ve had success with even the most hostile people by demonstrating my value and staying positive. No matter what.

In the end people want leaders who are Authentic in their intent toward the team and Positive in their approach.

Speak your truth in a positive way and you’ll enjoy the leadership benefits of  “Signature Voice”.

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To slide or not to slide…

I hear this question from people all the time: do I have to use slideware?

The answer is: It depends!

What are you trying to communicate and to whom? How comfortable are you with presentation software?

In his book, ”The Naked Presenter”, Garr Reynolds writes:

“When we learn to present naked, we reach our audiences by communicating the essence of the message, stripping away all that is unnecessary and embracing the ideas of simplicity, clarity, honesty, integrity, and passion. If “slideware” is used, the slides never steal the show or rise above serving a strong but simple supportive role. The ideas in the presentation may or may not be radical, earth shattering, or new, but there is freshness to the approach and content that makes a lasting impression.”

My personal approach is to use as few slides as necessary to have the desired impact on my audience.

In the world of presentations; Less is always More

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What is the “One Thing” that will make your presentations shine?

The Slaughter!

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
― William Faulkner

To start, I spend a lot of time thinking about the “End State” that I want: What do I want my audience to think, feel and do as a result of hearing me speak?

I will spend weeks bouncing ideas off of friends and colleagues. I read as much as I can about the topic I’m going to speak on. I do exercises like “Six Word Story” to crystallize my thinking. A lot of Ideas get created and slaughtered in this first phase

Once I’ve got it; Once I’m sure I know exactly what I want to say I start “capturing”.  You can use sticky notes or a white board.  I like XMind , a mind mapping software, to throw ideas related to my chosen outcome on to a space where I can gather , edit and prioritize ideas. Don’t edit yourself! Anything goes, no matter how crazy.

Once again, (you guessed it) the slaughter!  No matter how cool a concept, phrase or slide idea may be, if it doesn’t get me too my “End State” I lose it!

Note:  Keep the ideas that were cast aside on the chopping block; they may be useful in a future presentation.

At this point I’ve been living with this presentation for a few weeks. I could probably stand up and give a decent talk on the subject off the top of my head. But I’m not done yet.

If I’m using slideware (and I usually do), I start “Storyboarding”.  I use pencil and paper to roughly draw out the slides I’ll want for the presentation.  When the process is complet,  it’s slaughter time! I take a second look at the slides I’ve decided to create and I nix any that don’t push my story forward. By using pencil and paper, I don’t invest too much time in creating a slide I’ll later delete and I feel less invested in every gem that I created.

Finally, its time to create the slide deck.

I practice the talk with the slides, over and over. And if anything isn’t working, I cut it!

By the time I get in front of an audience, the presentation is as “On Point” as I can possibly make it.

This process of repeatedly “drilling down” to the Lowest Common Denominator plants the essence of the presentation deeply into my head, and more importantly, give me the best shot of communicating my message to my audience.

Star WarsIf you’ve been around public speaking for more than a month you’ve heard someone say “Facts tell, Stories Sell”

This is true, But why? And more importantly, how can you turn any presentation into a story?

Story is Narrative. Story is also a framework for information.

The story starts with a beginning state.  In a compelling story, this state is usually undesirable.

The galaxy is ruled by an oppressive empire

The story then dangles the hoped-for end state

The rebels destroy the empire’s most powerful weapon.

What follows in the story is the path to achieve the end state.  It is the juxtaposition of our undesirable beginning against or utopian end that makes our story compelling.

Recall we said ANY presentation – even your end of quarter financials can be presented using the framework of a story.

“Last quarter’s numbers were down. We project that the changes outlined will improve our numbers in the next quarter.”

OK, so it’s not Star Wars, but it is engaging and hopeful.

May the force be with you!

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I hate Powerpoint because it’s too comfortable; everyone has seen it and is practiced at ignoring it.

I love Powerpoint because it’s comfortable, people know what to expect when you use it.

So do I use it?

Yes-  Strategically.

One of the first steps in creating a presentation is to know your audience. Are you presenting at a business meeting, a non-profit  board, a group of brain surgeons or home builders?

Each audience comes with it’s own expectations of what a presentation is. Do you want to meet expectations or surprise them? Do you want to have a massive impact or simply inform?

Next, you’ll need to know what your “End State” is.  A presentation should be a call to action. Maybe you want your board of directors to approve the end of quarter financial statement. Maybe you’re asking people to get on board with your mission to save the world. The more dramatic your hoped for “End State”, the more dramatic, visually, you may want to be.

Depending on the audience, the material and the desired “End State”, Powerpoint may be exactly the tool you need – or not.  In other words, to chose the right tool for the job, first define exactly what the job is.