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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

6 steps to captivating your audience

Have you ever delivered a presentation and thought, “My audience isn't engaged. They’re not responding. I’ve lost them.”

Never pleasant.

And, when you’ve 32 slides still to go, it’s even worse.

Research shows most audiences are similar in what they like/don’t when receiving communications. Most like interactivity, stories, clarity, quizzes, humour, brevity. Most dislike irrelevance, no variety, text-filled slides, waffle, repetition, sloppy delivery.

So, use this research to make your presentations more audience-friendly. When you finish preparing your content, highlight the areas they’ll find fun and interesting. If there are long periods with no highlights, insert audience-engaging activities in there – for example:

  • identify questions you can ask to make it interactive
  • include a story – personal or funny works well
  • show a different-looking slide – maybe a picture, graphic, or cartoon
  • tell a joke

Do this and you’ll enjoy it more.

And when you enjoy it more, they will too.

And when that happens, your presentation is more likely to work.

Action point

For your next presentation, highlight where they’ll enjoy it – interactivity, stories, quizzes etc. If there isn’t enough highlighting, insert more interesting stuff.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

3 steps to boost your influence

To influence and persuade others, you must:

  • appeal to their self-interest
  • show that your proposition will add value to them
  • help them see your proposition will make their future better than their present

So, the more future-focussed your communication, the greater your chances of success.

But, when communicating, people tend to focus more on the past and present, than the future:
  • Companies often sell by discussing their past (“founded in 1922”), not the enhanced future they’ll get (“here’s how we can help you increase market share”)
  • Interviewees often discuss their achievements to date (“this is where I’ve worked”), not the value they’ll bring to the employer’s future (“this is what I can do for you”)
  • Conflicts tend to focus on past actions (“you shouldn’t have done that”), rather than finding a workable solution going forwards (“how can we resolve this, in ways we’re both comfortable with?”

As the saying goes, ‘the past is for reference, not residence’. Future–focus leads to more positive outcomes. For example:
  • Strategies land when everyone sees how their future will be enhanced by adopting them
  • Arguments get resolved when both parties remember it’s more important to find a solution than it is to be right
  • Employers recruit/promote you when they know you’ll improve their company
  • Conferences, workshops and 1-2-1s improve business performance when organisers and speakers focus firstly on the business improvement they want the event to cause, and secondly on the content of the event
  • Delegation is more effective when people see the value a task will bring, rather than just seeing the task itself
  • Meetings and conference calls lead to positive action when the Chair prepares by thinking what they want the meeting to cause, not cover
  • Customers buy when they see the value your organisation will bring

Action Point

Think of a communication that isn’t going as you’d like. Ask yourself:

  1. Am I being future-focussed enough?
  2. Is the other party aware of how their future will be enhanced by a successful resolution?
Use your answers to shape how you proceed.

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Two slide-sets are better than one

Presenters use PowerPoint in one of two ways:

  • As a presenter aid to present alongside; and/or
  • To send before/after/instead of their presentation, as a permanent record

This poses a problem when writing your slides:
  • The former requires sparse slides. After all, if your slides contain all the detail, you aren’t needed
  • However, the latter requires full slides. Since you’re not there, the slides must contain everything

Therefore, it’s impossible for the same slide-set to satisfy both objectives. How can something tell only some of the story, whilst simultaneously telling the entire story?

So, here's a quick technique to improve the impact your slide-sets – and, therefore, you – have…

When you're both presenting alongside and also emailing a slide-set, prepare two versions: one full; one sparse. This sounds like twice the work, but it isn’t. It just requires the use of the “delete” key, in that you:
  1. Create the full slide-set – your permanent record; then
  2. Delete as many words as possible – to create your presenter aid

Since both slide-sets now give the two audience-types everything they need, your audiences are more likely to engage and say “yes” more quickly. So, much less chasing afterwards!

This means that, weird though it sounds, it’s much quicker to do two versions, not one.

Action point

Next time you’re required to both present and send a presentation:

  • do the full version first
  • then send it out
  • then delete as many words as you can, to leave yourself sparse slides to present alongside

Don't fall into the trap of creating a slide set that tries to do both jobs, and thus does neither.

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The #1 way to really impress someone

“Give me some Rules of Thumb with communication – rules that I can follow without thinking.”

So said one of my clients recently. I asked what areas he was most interested in.

Him: “Well, when I’m making a formal presentation, should I use PowerPoint or not?”

Me: “I don’t know. It depends what the audience wants. Your best bet is to ask if they want you to use it or not.”

Him: “Ok, but if I do use PowerPoint, should I send information in advance, or take everything with me on the day?”

Me: “It depends. Ask them what they want.”

Him: “Should I start my presentation with background information, to set the scene?”

Me: “It depends. Ask them if they want it.”

Him: “Who should present the information? The best presenters on my team? The people actually doing the work? Does it matter?”

Me: “It depends. Ask...”

My client interrupted me: “This is exasperating. I’m looking for some Rules of Thumb.”

I replied: “Can't you hear the Rule of Thumb? Ask.”

The best way to ensure you give people the communication they want... is to ask them what they want! Contact them before the communication, and ask such questions as…
  • What do you want me to cover?
  • What do you want me not to cover?
  • Have you any concerns, that you want me to address?
  • Who else will see this communication? Is there anything I should include for their benefit?
  • Would you prefer a formal PowerPoint, or a more informal discussion?

If you don’t ask, you don't know. And that means you are guessing. This makes it less likely you'll get the outcome you and they want.

Action point

For your next communication, ask your audience what they want from you. Use their answers to shape what and how you communicate.

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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Are your conference calls painful or powerful?

Ever been on a conference call that was tedious?

I thought so. Everyone has.

Here are six simple, effective ways to improve them:

1. Get the mechanism right: This is the most important one: ensure it should be a conference call. For instance, one-way communications like information downloads and weekly updates often make better emails.
2. Focus on the 'do': When preparing, focus first on what you want attendees to do after the call, and then work back from there to decide on your agenda. This stops you wasting time on unnecessary issues.
3. Get the duration right: Most conference calls last 30 or 60 minutes. This is because your calendar is split into 30-minute chunks – not the best rationale for deciding meeting durations! If you think the call should take 5 minutes, schedule it for 5 minutes.
4. Use names: Asking open questions to a group of people who can’t see each other usually results in silence. Using people’s names makes people aware of who should reply.
5. Persuasive invitations: A diary entry called “Weekly update – conference call: Friday, 9am” does not make people rush to the phone. Instead, set the tone for your call in your invitation. For instance:

  • A title containing a benefit (e.g. ‘Conference call: improving our performance’)
  • Purpose i.e. what attendees are to do after the call (eg ‘To identify 1-2 improvements each of us can make, to help us hit targets next quarter’)
  • Duration – not 30 or 60 minutes (eg ’Maximum duration: 20 minutes, though I expect it to be less’)
  • If appropriate, send pre-call reading with the invitation. (This removes much of the dry information swap on the call) 

6. Follow-up: The minute the call ends, email attendees the action list showing who is doing what, by when.

    Action Point

    For conference calls you chair:

    Do these steps in your next call (the easiest is point 3 – instead of “duration will be 30 minutes”, say “maximum duration will be 20”)

    For conference calls you attend:

    Forward this email to the Chairperson (if appropriate)!

    Know people who'd enjoy reading this post? Please forward it on, and introduce them to our Blog :)

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