Monday, 24 November 2014

The practice of presentations.
The 5th P in Presentation is for Practice. It is, of course, the most important. The astute or grammarians amongst you will have noticed that this is the noun version of the word, not the verb. The practice of presentations is the continuing study and improvement of the nature and construction and delivery of presentations. The first presentation you give will not be your best. Your biggest presentation to date could still be improved upon. The worst presentation you have sat through can still offers inspiration and ideas for future presentations. Practice is the process of continuing to deliver presentations improving by repetition, reflection and consolidation.

For most of us, getting off the stage and out of the spotlight represents just a huge relief and the end of our engagement with the process of presentations. We have little requirement or desire for feedback and the only reflection that is carried out tends to be fleeting and self critical. To improve your presentation skills, it is important, at some point, to sensibly consider your whole presentation (p cubed). 

Formal feedback from the organisers may be supplied at a later date and will be of some value in personal reflection. Remember that it is the audience who define value. It is important that we step beyond the "thank you I very much enjoyed your presentation" to a structured assessment of the presentation in its composite parts (p1, p2 and p3) as well as its overall value (p cubed). Consider what you know went well and why you know this, what felt stilted and forced, what might you have done differently if you had the chance again, what did you learn after your delivery that you might have used had you known. This is not about criticism but critique, this is the practice of presentations. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Can I have a...erm...medium..err

I was standing in the queue at a franchised coffee outlet and noticed the various people in front of me make their orders. "Can I have a...erm...medium..err," said the first man as he looked up at the menu board behind the barrista. He focussed, staring at the board, "Can I have. A medium. Americano. Please?"

I'd hate to give the impression that all I think about every day is presentations but it struck me how, even knowing the facts (p1) of his choice of beverage, when facing his "audience" he reverted to reading his script and even in something as simple as ordering a coffee, he stumbled. Moreover, his delivery (p3) was incredibly stilted simply because he was reading, even whilst trying not to.

You know your facts, your delivery WILL be stilted if you have script or notes nearby so leave them behind, step boldly up to the front and tell them what you want.

Monday, 17 November 2014

One Hundred Posts!

Way back in March 2013 I published my first post on this blog site; "Your presentation is the product of its parts." In it I discussed the p cubed concept that the best presentations are made up of a good story (p1), good supportive media (p2) and good delivery (p3). To improve your presentation you need to address each part of your presentation.

The blog site and the subsequent 99 posts have been viewed nearly 36,000 times and it is my firm hope that this has translated into improved presentations in more than one or two places.

A review of all the posts shows the most viewed as below:

Most Viewed Posts Views
1 How to "do" a presentation          1503
2 One word for Prezi. 1267
3 Clip art 1216
4 Maths of a better presentation 973
5 Read these. 770

The least popular posts were:

Can I suggest if you have any interest in improving presentations that you have a trawl through some of the posts on the site, the popular, the less popular and the rest. Please share the tips you find with friends, lecturers, professors and anyone else you feel might benefit and keep spreading the word that presentations CAN be better than Death by Powerpoint.

It is a performance, not a reading.

The 4th P in Presentation is to Perform. Clearly this is the most important. Even having perfected all of the preceding parts of your presentation if you simply stand on the stage and speak as though in conversation to the person sat beside you at dinner, the overall value of your presentation (p cubed) will not be as high as it might. You need to perform.

The immediate response to such a suggestion is, "Oh, I'm not a performer." You are. We all perform different roles at different times as our lives require. Some roles are more obvious and distinct than others; parent, boss, child, customer but even within our job there are many different facets that require us to behave in a different manner. As a surgeon for instance, the woman who meets the patient in clinic will be different from the woman who takes control of the trauma team in the face of an emeregency and different again from the woman who meets the family after the emergency to explain what happens and different again to the woman who counsels a team member through their distress. Each is a different role and presenting is no lesser or different a role.

We need to recognise those characteristics that a good presenter has and adopt them. We must ennunciate more clearly our words, project to the back of the room, speak more slowly and more precisely, use changes in pitch and tone and volume and pace to dramatic effect, wider and more expressive actions and facial expressions, take account of reactions of the audience and play to their emotions. 

To some this appears natural. No-one though is a born actor. Like every other skill, this is learnt and improved over time. Recognising that you are allowed and actually required to be "bigger," "more expressive" and "more expansive" than your spoken self is the only permission you need and is the beginning of even better presentations.

It is a performance, not a reading.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Stage presence

The third P in Presentation is of course the most important, the P of Presence. Once again a simple concept that actually contains a huge complex of ideas. It is the culmination of the practise and preparation that allows you the presenter to stand up in front of the audience and even before you start speaking, the audience is looking to you thinking, "Okay, tell us what you think."

The confidence in your story (p1) and supportive media (p2) should be the major part of this presence. Who am I kidding though? We are all, to some extent or other, terrified. In the previous post about confidence we covered the idea of "fake it 'til you make it." And this is part of your presence. Standing tall, shoulders back and looking directly out into the audience shows the audience your confidence. It also, as Amy Cuddy points out, tells your body of your confidence and this has significant benefit.

This positive stance can also be augmented by moving away from defensive behaviours and hiding places. The commonest defensive behaviour is the "let's all look at the screen whilst I read from it" manoeuvre. Most speakers do this subconciously, it is a product of using the supportive media as an autocue but principally allows you to avoid eye contact. Watch the next presenter you see. Even those who appear confident end up locked tightly to their script, unable to properly engage with the audience because of their need to constantly check their position in the script. Looking into the eyes of your audience will show you that they actually want you to do well.

Depending on the setup and your role within this, stepping out from behind the lectern will also give you more presence. It is a big step I appreciate but also makes a big statement. The audience will recognise your intention to engage with them and will value that and respond accordingly. Even in a more informal presentation, moving away from a defensive position such as behind a desk, sitting down or in some way hiding, adds to your presence and this will have a positive impact.

Presence is about existing, not hiding. Stand tall on your stage, your audience will value it and you will become it.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The 2nd P is for Preparation.

Each part of your presentation is as important as the others. It is essential that we address delivery of our presentation in our journey towards improvement. In a previous post I covered the 5Ps of Presentation, the first and most important is Practise. Please read all the posts in this link.

The 2nd P is for Preparation. It is the most important too. Preparation is a vast topic but for this post I would like to consider a small aspect of preparation, mental preparation. Rather than go through a whole pile of psychobabble and mind tricks I want to give you one simple thought; the audience want you to do well. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less, the audience want you to do well.

The whole flight or fight thing that gets in your head before you start off? The audience want you to do well.

The possibility that you won't be word perfect? The audience want you to do well.

You might momentarily lose your flow? The audience want you to do well.

Someone might not agree with your findings? The audience want you to do well.

I get nervous in front of strangers? The audience want you to do well.

I might forget something? The audience want you to do well.

Your voice might shake? The audience want you to do well.

They will know I'm nervous? The audience want you to do well.

The audience want you to do well.

They do! There is no audience that doesn't want you to do well. If it is a scientific conference where you are presenting your research, they want you to be clear and consise and for them to understand your conclusion. The audience want you to do well. If it is a lecture where you have been asked to share your knowledge or insight into a condition or topic, the audience want to hear what you have to say on the matter, they are interested. The audience want you to do well. If it is a business case, a paper at a management meeting, a small teaching group, a huge TED audience, the audience want you to do well. There is NO meeting where you will make a presentation that doesn't want you to do well.

The audience want you to do well.

Maybe you don't want that? Maybe you don't believe that? You're wrong. When you stand up there, the most important part of your preparation is to remember that the audience want you to do well. Once you start to believe that everything gets better.

Go on then, they are waiting.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Take a chance.

It is my pleasure to introduce another guest blog this time from a twitter friend @Liz_ORiordan on her experiences with a different approach to presentations than the "tried and tested" method.

“Hello, my name is Liz Ball, I’m a Consultant Breast Surgeon. I’m going to tell you a story….” That was how I started my presentation to the Medical Women’s Federation in November. I have never received so many compliments on a talk as I did that day and I believe those are due to the change in style of presentation I have adopted having read the posts on this website.

I have given many talks in the past based principally on the style I have seen at the many conferences I have attended as well as on the advice and example of colleagues. I would use the following "tried and tested" method:

  1. Condense clinical paper into abstract
  2. Accepted abstract = acceptance of concept/data
  3. Cut and paste abstract onto power point slides for lecture to last about 7 minutes
  4. Convert paragraphs into bullet points
  5. No more than 6 bullet points per slide
  6. Add in relevant graphs and data tables
  7. Add in all details of all references mentioned
  8. Practice opening sentence: “Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for asking me to talk today on ‘abstract title’…”
  9. Read slides word for word.

Having been to a lot of conferences lately dealing with breast cancer trials I have realised that the vast majority of the audience (including me at times) switch off when abstracts are presented in this "tried and tested" method. All the speakers follow the process given to them by their seniors and because of their stress, read aloud from pages of notes or directly from the projected slides, data slides, complex diagrams and summaries. And I groan. I’ve no idea what the take home message is and often I no longer care. The further option of being encouraged to tweet during conferences is a great excuse to look at your phone/iPad and pay even less attention. Presentations shouldn't be like this.

I saw @ffolliet 's post on "How to do a presentation" on twitter and thought I should try his advice. The first line was scary: "First, turn off the computer." What…? I need my bullet points to work from. Then odd questions challenging me to consider who the audience are and what they might want and then write something called an "elevator pitch"? This wasn't the "tried and tested" method!

When I reconsidered my abstract I saw that it wasn't perfect for the audience, it was just a way of getting the story across within a word count in the hope that it would be accepted. It wasn’t really addressing the title of the conference or the audience that I was speaking to. I had to turn everything I thought I knew on its head.

It was hard to do initially, but the more I thought about the facts of the abstract as "story", and where I wanted to go, the easier it became. By making it a story, I could very easily remember the flow of the talk, and by the time I came to looking for pictures, I knew the talk by heart, because I had rehearsed it so many times, and didn’t need text slides as a crutch to help me along. If technology failed me, I could still give a confident, effective talk.

The trickiest part was thinking how to illustrate my talk. I initially started looking for cute animal pictures – but realised (with prompting from @ffolliet) how they might detracted from the message as people might think, "aww cute cat” rather than listening. Clip art similarly was inappropriate for such a discussion. It was difficult to find the right images. Maybe one of the next blogs could be on how and where to source illustrations?

I sent @ffolliet my deck and he suggested possible changes: a common colour theme to tie in the illustrations to heighten the visual impact and blank slides between the images so the audience can concentrate rather than being distracted by the images on the screens.

The changes in style that I have adopted meant I would use fewer slides, with fewer bullet points and more images and would be able to talk to the audience, rather than talking to the monitor in front of me, or to the big screen behind me. 

And so, prepared in a way completely different from the "tried and tested" method, I stood up at the conference to start my talk, “I’m going to tell you a story...” The audience sat up and listened. After I had shared my story I was bombarded with compliments, both about the content of the talk and its delivery. 

And now, I want to spread the word about how we can deliver better presentations. We can all do better, and we can all learn from the experts. Why should public speaking be any different from any other skill? If you have used the the "tried and tested" method, can I make a suggestion quoting the last line of my warmly received talk:

“Take a chance and try something new. It worked for me, why couldn’t it work for you?”