Monday, 20 October 2014

Open and close your business presentation with more impact – by switching off

I am going to offer a little tip that can enhance the impact you make as you open and close a business presentation.
As I have discussed before (here) ‘Firsts & Lasts’ are the most important part of any presentation because, as Rule 13 of the Rules of Magic states, ‘Firsts & Lasts are remembered’. Moreover, the way you open is crucial to engaging your audience up front; and making anything happen as a result of your presentation usually depends on a successful ‘Call to Action’ at the close.
So what’s the little tip? Switch off the PowerPoint for your opening remarks; or don’t even switch it on until you have made them. This enables you to establish yourself as a person – with all those people in the audience – before a great deal of their attention gets sucked into the screen by your PowerPoint presentation. They can look you up and down, tune into your voice and run through all the 'first impression checks’ that our brains undertake automatically. With a combination of luck and design they will hopefully decide that they like you. Then you are all set to deliver your big messages – with some support from PowerPoint if appropriate.
You can repeat this trick at the end, just prior to delivering your big ‘Call to Action’.  Think about it – you are almost certainly asking your audience to do something or believe something; you may even be seeking to inspire them. That has to be better coming direct from you – straight form the heart and with full on eye contact – rather than via a list of bullet points on a screen.
It’s actually an old show business trick. Something like a big variety show would traditionally build to a big crescendo that was literally all singing/all dancing, with the stage full of people and the band playing at maximum volume. After much applause the curtains would close for a final time and then the star of the show would come out from behind them to say one more, very personal and heartfelt goodbye to his or her audience.  

So how do you turn off the PowerPoint without powering down the projector? Again, I have discussed this (here) before. There is a little tool built into PowerPoint that many people don’t know about but is invaluable to presenters as it brings attention back to you, while also clearing away distractions. Simply press the B key and it blanks the screen; press it again and it brings the presentation back.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Impact in business presentations needs props as well as PowerPoint

The art of using props in a business presentation has become something of a forgotten art, partly because it is all too easy just to slip an image into your PowerPoint deck.

Including props as well slides in a presentation can, however, bring many advantages, not least of which is breaking the ‘media trance’ of all the attention being sucked into a screen. It refocuses attention on you and your prop and even has the potential to re-energise your presentation at a key moment.

Above all, the strategic use of a good prop adds so much more impact than an image on a slide ever can. I was once helping a very senior logistics executive in the retail sector prepare for a big presentation to his CEO. “Basically, it’s all about cardboard boxes”, he said. “Take these chocolates”, he continued, “we deliver them to stores that sell six per week and stores that sell 600 per week – all in the same-sized boxes. There has to be a more effective delivery solution”.

To illustrate his big point he put up a slide depicting some brown-ish splodges. “What’s that’? I asked. “Pictures of the cardboard boxes”, he replied. Now, certain things – such as cardboard boxes and TV sets - can be surprisingly difficult to photograph. You need very good lighting to bring out any sort of contrast or perspective; and he was proving the point very effectively.

My recommendation was as follows: Set the scene by talking about the great variance in the size of your outlets, ideally pointing to the CEO’s own local store as an example so that it is personalised to him. Use the screen if it helps, but switch it off when you come to the key moment of talking about boxes. Then, produce actual boxes from under the table and plonk them down right under the CEO’s nose – with some force if it feels right at the time. Now you will have the boss’s attention – and it will be focusing very directly on the matter in hand.  

My own most memorable use of props came when I was running my own PR company and going through the process of buying out my partners. For technical reasons my accountant advised me to apply for a new bank account but warned me that this might be difficult in the midst of a buyout. So I asked him what the bank manager would perceive as my strongest selling point. “Undoubtedly your blue chip client base”, he replied.  So I wrote a list of all my clients, most of which were in the drinks sector, on a sheet of paper. Impressive as they may have been, they weren’t exactly ‘jumping off the page’. I tried logos and that just looked a bit messy. So I went for props.

I arrived at the bank manager’s office with a sports bag that I discreetly slid under the table. When the right moment came I said: “Let me tell you who I have as clients”, as I reached under the table and produced a bottle of Cockburn’s Special Reserve. I followed up with bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Champagne Pommery, Holsten Pils, Gaymer’s Olde English Cyder, K and Babycham. When I got to the packets of Typhoo tea he exclaimed: “OK. I get the point. You can have an account”.

So, if you want to make a real impact, consider using props, but be warned: as any actor will tell you, props can be your enemy as well as your friend. Their deployment requires careful planning and practice. I shall return to this topic on another day, but for the moment, don’t even think about taking a prop and handing it out for inspection. You will progressively lose the attention of each person you are addressing and your prop will be working against you, not for you.

Adapted from Nick Fitzherbert's book  Presentation Magic

Monday, 29 September 2014

When it comes to Q&A - have some questions ready to ask yourself!

“And that’s the end of my presentation, so now I would be happy to answer any questions you may have”.

“Any questions?..............................”

“Would anyone like me to expand on any of the points I have made?..........................”

“I’m really very happy to talk about anything……………………………….”

“Last chance………………………………”

“Well, if there are really no questions……………..we had better go to lunch.”

We have all witnessed such situations and you may even have been on the receiving end at a presentation of your own. It all feels a little awkward, and the bigger the venue the worse it feels for all concerned. The most ghastly one I experienced was on board a ship where I was giving a talk in a medium-sized room. Topping the bill was a Scandinavian futurologist who was flown in by helicopter to speak to all 1,500 of us in the main theatre. When no one wanted to ask her a question the collective feeling was quite excruciating and it completely overwhelmed any impact she had achieved in her presentation.

You could blame this on bad chairmanship – the chairman of such as session should see it as their duty to manage the situation using means such as planted questions or questions of their own. I, however, urge anyone I am coaching to seize and maintain control of the whole scenario whenever they are presenting.   

So, don’t let any silence linger when you open the floor to questions. If none are forthcoming then pose one of your own! Use the line: “Something I am often asked is…..”; then pose a question and answer it, all of which should be very easy. What you will invariably find is that this starts a flow of genuine questions.

You need to bear in mind that the main reason for no questions is generally that no one wants to go first. By going first yourself – probably with a question that is even personalised to the audience – you make another key point and keep everything moving along. 

So next time you present be sure to have a few FAQ-type questions up your sleeve.

Adapted from Nick Fitzherbert's book, Presentation Magic

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Scottish debate's big reminder for business presenters in targeting & focusing communication

One thing for sure about the Scottish independence debate is that it provides a crystal-clear lesson for business presenters in targeting and focusing their communication.

The plain fact is that any message that is going to succeed boils down to WII FM.  That’s not a radio station – it stands for ‘What’s In It For Me’?

It has to be said that this is a whole lot easier for Salmond and the Yes camp who can paint dreamy future scenarios while tapping into gripes and prejudices that have festered for hundreds of years.

This is inevitably going to be a lot stronger than ‘Please don’t go’. When did that ever work?  ‘Better together’ is certainly a big step in the right direction but too many of the messages come over as threats and danger signals rather than benefits in the form of What’s In It For Me? messages. It’s all ended up as a bit of muddle that, whatever the result, we are going keep feeling for the rest of our lives. 

Even with the benefit of hindsight there is no easy solution but, as I said, the starting point for any message that is going to succeed is WII FM. So, what the Better Together team needed to tell the people of Scotland was: a) this is What’s In It For the Scots; b) this is What’s In It For the rest of the UK; c) it all adds up to a sum that is greater than its parts.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The tiny tool that gets you perfectly positioned to deliver a business presentation

Not many people carry what is undoubtedly one of my favourite items of business presentation equipment. They should, because it’s very small and costs just a couple of pounds. Most of all, it can be key to getting you properly positioned for a business presentation and feeling comfortable enough to ‘own the space’.

Let me introduce you to the gender changer. All it really does is join one projector/TV monitor cable to another. Most of the time you will have no need of this, but on the first occasion you are faced with a too-short projector cable you will wish you had one. You want to position your laptop so that you can see it from your preferred speaker position – not have it tethered according to what the available cable allows.

This is most likely to happen in a room without a fixed projector. Someone arrives with one in a bag; typically, the accompanying cable will be about a metre long. By the time you have positioned the projector far enough from the screen to create a decent-sized image, you have little or no flexibility as the where to put your laptop.

Even in rooms with fixed projectors, having a gender changer and extension lead in your
bag can be an advantage. The ideal way to set up is generally on the left of a screen from the audience’s point of view. As Rule 5 of the Rules of Magic states, ‘Attention tracks from left to right, then settles at the left’. The reason for this is that, in Western cultures, we read from left-to-right. With this set up your audience will therefore look at you (assuming you have established strong eye contact), then look at the screen; then their gaze will return naturally to you. 

With a right–to-left set up, on the other hand, your audience’s gaze will be veering towards ‘nothing’ on the left. You will find such a set up in many venues - regular haunts of my own such as the British Library Business Unit and The Royal College of Art are set up like this, often for good reasons such as there being a door on the left. With a gender changer, however, you have the flexibility to adapt the lay out to one of your own choosing. You can own the space! 

Monday, 4 August 2014

James Blunt's ROFL tweets have a serious side - and a lesson for business presenters

Singer James Blunt has rightly been lauded for the brilliant way he communicates via Twitter. Far from shying away from so-called ‘trolls’ he actively embraces them, with replies such as this particular favourite of mine:

@hettjones: James Blunt just has an annoying face and a highly irritating voice

@JamesBlunt: And no mortgage.

Much has been made of Blunt’s wit and clever self-deprecation, but there is actually a valuable lesson for business communicators here. Most people prepare for a presentation by putting high focus on the message they want to get across and the means (mostly technological) by which they are going to do that. These people have already made a fundamental mistake, because the first thing you need to think about is your audience: Who are they are? What do they already know? What do they think? What are their beliefs and prejudices? etc, etc. Only when you have addressed questions such as these can you really start to craft your message in a way that will engage your audience. 

The classic example of failing to think first about the audience was when Tony Blair addressed the Women’s Institute. One of the most successful communicators of the modern age, who happened also to be the Prime Minister, ended up being slow handclapped. The reason was very simple – he delivered his usual political message without any proper regard for the make up of his audience. And yet, had he sought a briefing from an appropriate adviser, he could probably have delivered fundamentally the same speech; it just needed to be tilted in the direction of his specific audience on that day.

James Blunt focuses on his audience in two ways. First, he engages directly the person attacking him. Second, he uses his ripostes – knowing them to be witty and highly shareable – to address an image problem he has been experiencing with the wider public. And of course, it just so happened that he had a new album ready for release. How much better is it going to be received when thousands of people are discussing James Blunt in a new, much more positive light?

So, engaging directly with your detractors is a risky strategy that is not necessarily to be recommended. But you are never going to truly engage an audience unless you have first worked out - however painful the process may be - what is already going on in their heads about you and the topic of your talk.

 Retweeted by James Blunt
James Blunt just came onstage at Hop Farm. Had to step on a few toes, but we've managed to fight our way to the back.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Dragons’ Den victim highlights the importance of a crystal-clear opening to your business presentation

BBC2’s Dragons’ Den featured a classic pitching error this week – the first entrepreneur forgot to tell the dragons what he was pitching!

We viewers had the benefit of a voiceover explaining that he was seeking investment for ‘a new national fast food franchise’. What the dragons got to see and hear was a (literally) all singing/dancing intro, followed by statistics and facts such as £3.8bn spent of Indian takeaways, two existing stores in South Wales and a dream of a nationwide network. Confused dragon Piers Linney sought clarification, saying: “You have not explained, unless I missed it, what on earth you do. What is it? A takeaway? Is it a shop? Is it fresh? What is it?” The entrepreneur responded, but his explanation was still littered with jargon about ‘the brand’, ‘social media’ etc. Eventually Linney was forced to spell it out for him.

It was a very basic error, but it is quite common. For some years now I have coached some of the most brilliant young entrepreneurs prior to making a pitch of 6-8 minutes in front of investors who have the power and resources to make their business fly. Sometimes during rehearsals I stop them mid-flow, saying: “You are now four minutes into your 6-8 minute pitch and you haven’t told me what it is yet”. They usually protest that their business coaches have stressed the importance of communicating the strength and breadth of their team, the robust nature of their financial projections and size of their potential market.  “Yes”, I reply, “but until we know what it is none of that means anything to anybody.  Once we know what it is, then as well as being intrigued and potentially excited, the fact that you have, say, a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon on your team becomes very relevant”.

So I urge them – before they have even introduced themselves – to give the one-sentence version of what they have invented and plan to unleash on the world; for instance: “Good morning, we have invented a new way to make cars run on air and water alone”. I tell them to spit it out clearly and slowly and then pause to let the message sink in. This, it has to be said, brings other challenges. I remind them that they are some of the most highly educated people in the world and they are clearly very passionate about the project they have been living and breathing to the exclusion of almost everything else. Now they have to explain it all - in a rather specific and alien manner- in just 6-8 minutes. The fact is that they know too much about their project, so I introduce them to the concept of ‘killing your darlings’ – the film maker’s  expression for having to be ruthless with your editing, perhaps cutting out whole scenes that you have lovingly and expensively crafted.

Crucial to any form of communication, however, is getting the fundamental facts absolutely crystal clear up front. If you don’t, then anything that follows is relatively meaningless and your audience are probably half asleep anyway – because you have failed to engage them at the outset.