Youthful Skepticism

June 10, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Introduction, Preparation, Presentation

Last week I spent three hours working with a group of people just starting their careers, all in the non-profit sector. It was a real break from the usual business audience we work with in a couple ways. First, they were very young, many of them fresh out of college. So they had no problem challenging what I had to say.

Second, although their presentations were delivered to community-based organizations, their topics were very much like those we see in for-profit businesses. They focused on serving people better, being more efficient, and improving technology.

Before meeting with me, this group all took our online course. As part of that, they prepared a presentation and sent it to me. This gave me a chance to prepare feedback for them. Before I dove into their presentations last week, I asked if anyone had questions or comments about the online course.

A couple people in the group did, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of feedback I was expecting. They said they found the structure we had asked them to follow, especially the introduction to their presentations, very restrictive and regimented. “I would rather just start talking with my audience when I start. I’d give them an agenda, but that’s it.”[Tweet “Clarity, context, and relevance are necessary for every presentation, regardless of audience.”]

I probed a little and asked if the organizational structure felt like a straightjacket. “Yes,” they said.

We hear that a lot from class participants. People often feel we impose a strict structure for introductions, one that cramps their style.

After working with a few introductions and talking through the nuances of each, the group last week began to see that an introduction is just a framework, a framework listeners need. Further, while the goals of every introduction are the same, presenters are free to reach those goals any way they want. So there really isn’t a straightjacket, just goals to be met.

What struck me about this group of presenters is that they assumed there was a disconnect between our approach (all business) and their needs (all community-based-non-profit). What they wound up seeing was that clarity, context, and relevance are necessary components of every presentation, regardless of audience or purpose.

I’m looking forward to going back to this organization next year. It was good to work with a group of eager yet skeptical young people.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

The BEST Way to Start a Presentation

September 15, 2010 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Introduction, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation

QUESTION:
According to most public speaking experts, the first 30 seconds of a speech are extremely crucial for the success of a presentation. So, what’s the best way to start a presentation?

ANSWER:
We get this question a lot in our presentation skills workshops.  I also read similar questions on discussion boards on LinkedIn.  Unfortunately on LinkedIn, it seems that everyone’s a presentation expert.  That leads to a lot of bad advice.  No wonder presenters are confused about how to begin.

Typical “expert” responses include:

  • Show a video
  • Ask an open-ended question
  • Ask questions about their day so far
  • Have people introduce themselves to each other

While these ideas – if kept in a business context – aren’t terrible, they’re not enough on their own.  Ideas that are terrible:

Ahhhh… Enough with the gimmicks already
Participants in business presentations are not children.  They are adults who deserve better.

While I’ll agree that the first few moments of a presentation should get you started on the right foot, gimmicks don’t work.  Instead, work to engage your listeners in a meaningful, interesting, relevant dialogue.

Presentations are NOT theatre performances
We need to move away from the idea that a presenter’s job is to entertain or WOW or dazzle. Preparing a whiz-bang attention grabber ahead of time will always seem contrived.  Plus, it ignores the fact that something took place prior to your presentation.  Remember, the curtain isn’t going up.  The spotlights aren’t just now coming on.  When you walk to the front of the room you’re doing so in the context of whatever happened before.  You need to acknowledge that and then move into your presentation.

Presentations ARE Orderly Conversations
Every presenter’s job is to spark a conversation.  If you read this blog regularly, you know that we define presentations as Orderly Conversations.  “Orderly” because they need to be carefully organized and thought through.  “Conversations” because they need to feel spontaneous and interactive right from the start.

So, what IS the best way to start an orderly conversation?
Be in the moment, refer to the listeners’ current situation, and talk about how your presentation is going to address that issue. Examples:

Be in the moment:

  • “It’s been a long day (it’s hot, we’re behind schedule, etc.), so I’ll keep our discussion about X brief.”
  • “John just discussed ABC; I’m going to talk about XYZ.”
  • “Hope you all had a good evening, this morning we’re going to turn our focus toward…”

Refer to their current situation and your response to it:

  • “As we know, sales are sluggish, but today we’re going to talk about a new promotion that will turn things around.”
  • “We’re all busy and most of us feel overwhelmed. I’m here to talk about a new process to ease the pain.”
  • “A lot of discussion has been about X for some time now.  Today we’re going to address the issue so we can move on.”
  • “The bad news is X, the good news is Y, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.”

Give them a reason to listen and participate
Taking this approach with your introduction will give your listeners a reason to participate in the conversation without resorting to manipulation.

What are your thoughts?

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication