When You Have Nothing to Say, Say it On Twitter

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zurich-based software engineer Henrico Dolfing created this very entertaining slide deck on “24 Reasons Why Twitter Sucks!” It earned first place in the Technology category of the World’s Best Presentation Contest ’09, sponsored by Slideshare.net, which ended Sept. 9. You can view all the winners in a variety of categories here.

Reynolds: 15 Tips For Your Continuous Improvement

September 27, 2009

Presentation design expertG Reynolds Garr Reynolds posted a fascinating blog item today about the kaizen approach to improve, or ways to continuously strive to improve your presentation skills. (BTW – many of the 15 tips can be applied in other areas of your life or career beyond public speaking.)

In his lengthy blog item, he stresses the importance of daily, continuous steps toward a goal are far more valuable than most people think.

“Tiny improvements are o.k.,” he writes. “Over the long-term, these add up to great improvements.”

Reynolds is a former Apple Computer manager, author of Presentation Zen and a marketing professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. As a result, his design methods are often heavily influenced by the Japanese culture.

Why Some Presentations Really Connect With You

July 9, 2009

If you ever wondered why some presentations and keynote speakers really connect with you, it’s often because they use the power of storytelling and great images (rather than bulletpoints) that help their audiences to visualize their message.

In this fascinating Ted Talk recently posted online, information designer Tom Wujec discusses why animation, graphics and illustrations are powerful ways to create meaning for audiences emotionally.

One of the key points that drives home Tom’s message is in a slide shown half way through the talk about the fact that we make meaning by seeing. If you consider that for the next time you prepare a slide deck, remember Tom’s three points:

1. Use images to help clarify what we are trying to communicate.
2. Make the images interactive so we engage more fully
3. Augment your memory by creating a visual persistence

How to Write Great Speech Openers

March 22, 2009

All public speakers should learn to grab their audiences’ attention within the first 30 seconds. One of the best ways to do that is to appeal to their emotions. tennis-ball-net

And you do this by building anticipation, said Carmen Taran, managing partner of Rexi Media, during a Presentation Camp workshop at the Slideshare.net San Francisco office yesterday.

“We love to anticipate the future,” Taran said, as she listed examples, such as things that are “new” and events that are full of “uncertainty.” As she echoed that word uncertainty, Taran flashed up a presentation slide of a tennis ball teetering on a net.

It’s hard to imagine a more effective visual.

She went on to discuss things to avoid in introductions. Things that can kill a speech opener include presenting a slide of bullet points (i.e. – agenda), lack of enthusiasm, showing a lack of preparation, and of course, self-indulgence.

“It’s much better to make (the opener) about your audience, rather than about you,” she said. “Get your audience involved early.”

Following an engaging 30 second opener, an audience’s attention will start to drift, unless the speaker shifts gears, or adds “variability,” Taran said. That’s because the audience will be craving closure, unless the story takes a turn. This closure (in psychology) is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
BTW: Taran is not only an engaging presentation coach and a former United Nations interpreter, but she is also a Phd candidate in psychology, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The Creation Myth in Politics

March 5, 2009

Just like a CEO of a company getting a lot of press, politicians also bobbyjindalhave to be prepared to rattle off their Creation Myths.

Sometimes they are totally made up, like eBay’s launch myth. Sometimes, they are true stories, slightly exaggerated to add flare.

If you caught Morley Safer’s 60 Minute’s interview of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal last Sunday, the Republican party’s rising star echoed his own Creation Myth when asked about his Americanized name. He is of Indian descent and was born with the name Piyush.

So where did “Bobby” come from? He told Safer, “Everyday after school… I’d watch ‘The Brady Bunch, you know? He was about my age, and Bobby stuck.”

To be clear, this is not a political blog, but I’m simply pointing out the importance of trying to make your Creation Myth believable, at least a little.

Perhaps Jindal’s PR machine is not that savvy, I mean The Brady alex-p-keaton-thumbBunch? That has got to be among the weakest fictionalized Creation Myths of all time. Let’s try to get beyond that it’s the Brady Bunch. In the first season, Bobby Brady was about nine, which would make him in the third grade, and we are led to believe this is when Piyush is telling his classmates to call him Bobby for now on, you know like Bobby Brady?

If this politically minded conservative kid is going to be influenced by a TV character, how come he’s not Gov. Alex P. Keaton of Louisiana?

The Creation Myth – Branding Your Business

March 1, 2009

When you hear the Hewlett-Packard Story, the image that often comes to mind is that of a Palo Alto garage. When people think of the eBay Story, they think of the founder’s fiancée trading pez over the Internet (even though eBay acknowledged years later that that story was fictionalized).

Most well-branded companies have a creation myth, says Terry Gault, VP and managing partner of communications consulting firm The Henderson Group, based in San Francisco.

The Creation Myth was the title of a highly interactive workshop Gault led yesterday at Presentation Camp at Stanford University. He defined the Creation Myth as a unique quality of a company or person.

To illustrate this, Gault told two stories, or “myths” of the creation of two separate companies. One was how David Henderson decided to leave a lucrative law practice and take a chance on launching a communications consulting business, which eventually landed Oracle as a client.

The other story was about the launch of Cirque du Soleil, the wildly successful circus show. After a successful launch in Canada, bankrolled by the Quebec government, the founders took the show to L.A., with only enough money to fly the crew there. If it had failed, they were stuck. However, it not only succeeded, Cirque du Soleil has launched an unprecedented 15 spin-off shows without a single failure.

While the story behind corporate Creation Myths may be at least partially true to some extent, if not completely fabricated, they all have several elements in common.
1. Memorable characters: Characters need names, because audiences have a hard time rooting for a nameless protagonist.
2. Vulnerability: the protagonist must show a vulnerable side, because it makes your character human, and your audience can relate to that.
3. High stakes: for a story to be truly compelling, stakes have to be very high. For example, if Cirque du Soleil failed in L.A., then what?
4. Details: Providing details that make it easier for your audience to visualize the story is key. In fact, details are far more powerful than adjectives.
5. Be Selective in Details: How do you know what details to put in and what details to leave out? The answer: If the details don’t enhance the scene or contribute to the myth, they should be left out.
6. Dialogue: In describing a scene, give the characters first-person dialogue. Instead of saying, he was panicking, demonstrate it with visual details. His hand shook as he held the phone. Sweat poured down his face.

Great Storytelling is the Art of Letting Go

October 5, 2008

Children’s book author and storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy defines great storytelling as “the art of letting go.” That element is pertinent to any public speaker, whether you are a keynoter, CEO leading an All Hands corporate meeting or a salesperson giving a PowerPoint presentation.

Storytelling engages an audience. In fact, in Deedy’s very funny TED Conference speech about connecting with her Cuban mother, she precedes the talk by pointing out that when Lexis wants to sell you a car, it engages you by telling a story in its commercials.

As you’ll see in this TED.com video below, Deedy is a vivid storyteller. It’s not only because she’s a talented writer, but she’s also very effective in using techniques that great speakers use to add power to their speeches, such as vocal variety and energetic body language. She doesn’t just tell the story. She relives the story by breaking into character dialogue.

Using Fewer Examples = A Memorable Speech

August 23, 2008

When you see a standup comic, such as Robin Williams, rattle off hundreds of one-liners in the course of a 30-60 minute performance, you often leave the show thinking that was hilarious, but I don’t remember any of the jokes.

If you are a public speaker, that’s not what you want your audience thinking as they leave your presentation (maybe the “hilarious” part, but of course, you want them remembering at least parts of your speech).

A friend of mine recently gave a speech loaded with great examples to illustrate his speech premise. In fact, in the course of his seven-minute speech, he used so many examples (5, 6, maybe even 10), I lost track. Not only that, I hardly remembered any of them.

To make your speech memorable, it’s best to wrap a story around your key points. People remember stories, but bullet points are often lost on them moments after the speech ends, if not sooner.

If you have multiple examples to illustrate a key point, choose the most powerful example and run it through the Sinatra Test, a phrase that comes from the book, Made to Stick (which I wrote about here).

Stories stick in people’s minds. And best of all, stories can have the power to make people act.

Using a Slide Deck to Tell a Story

July 29, 2008

The following is a slide deck (made in Apple’s Keynote, which is why I’m not calling it PowerPoint presentation), demonstrating how to tell a story with more visuals than words. If this was for a live presentation, I would use even fewer words.

Great Storytelling From the New Yorker Conference

July 10, 2008

New Yorker writer and bestsellingGladwell 2.jpg author of the Tipping Point Malcom Gladwell demonstrated his brilliant storytelling talent recently at the 2008 New Yorker Conference (video). During a session titled “Stories from the Near Future,” Gladwell spoke about his upcoming book, which outlines how millions of dollars are spent to find the best job candidates and yet the system is entirely flawed in the modern world.

If you have enjoyed his books or New Yorker articles, you’ll probably find his verbal storytelling just as entertaining as his writing.

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