However, there are a few fairly frequent mistakes that speakers make that tend to negate the good will of their audience. After hearing a few hundred (probably closer to a few thousand) speakers--both internal and external--these are our biggest presentation pet-peeves.
1. Apologizing for their time.
"I know it's been a long day, try to stay awake..." or "I know I'm coming between you and lunch..." Sometimes this comes off well--with a strong speaker--as a lighthearted attempt at humor. More often it comes off as a reminder that I really want to check-out and a red-flag that this speaker doesn't consider him/herself important enough to listen to on their own merits.
Instead: Own your time. What you have to say is important. If it's not, don't be on that stage. The audiences' time is a gift; don't apologize for taking it--make them glad that they gave you their time because you're giving them something valuable in return.
2. Saying "in conclusion" and not really meaning it.
I once heard a speaker--no exaggeration--declare his conclusion a half-dozen times in his presentation. He may have meant to conclude single points among many in a fairly long speech, but there was no way for the audience to know that. He said, "In conclusion..." and everyone prepared for a summary statement and the end. The fact that he then went on another 5 minutes, then concluded again, then went on another 10 minutes, and then concluded again, and so on and so forth, sorely tried the patience and attention spans of the audience. By the time his real conclusion came about a more fidgety bunch of folks I have never seen.
Instead: Only conclude when it's time to end your speech. You have 30-60 seconds to wrap up after you make a conclusion statement. It's a great signal in a presentation to have the audience sit forward and take in your final point, but they don't appreciate being jerked around by multiple conclusions.
3. Using incorrect/outdated/inaccurate information.
We were listening to a speaker who was giving a professional, paid presentation on a very serious topic. To make a point via metaphor, she told a story about a military dog--Brutus--who protected his captured owners by killing their captors with a single silent signal. Something about the story wasn't jiving, so those of us with smartphones (a great majority by now) went on a little fact-finding mission at Snopes.com. The story turned out to be untrue and debunked. Not only did we spend time in her presentation checking this out instead of listening to her message--but she lost some amount of credibility in her actual message.
Instead: Use metaphors that you know to be true, and fact-check any anecdotes, datapoints or tidbits of information. If your aunt forwarded you the email that you got the story from, it's best not to just run with it in your public presentation.
4. Thinking your message is more important than it is.
Being unable to see the relevance of their message in perspective to the audience's perception of its relevance is a huge stumbling block for a lot of presenters. Sure, you've spent 11 months in the trenches of marketing and the minutia of the new PR rollout is really fascinating for you and your team and you're really proud of it... but does your audience feel that way too?
It's like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and Elaine go to visit their friends who just had a baby. Their friends, of course, think their child is the most beautiful thing in the world...but...it's an ugly baby. Your content is the baby. You may think it's beautiful but it might not be completely relevant to your audience.
Instead: Think about the perspective of your audience before crafting a presentation. Does it fit into what they immediately NEED to know? Does it fill in a "what's in it for them"? If not at all--or you can't think of a way to make it relevant/fit--then you may not be the right choice for a presentation at that event.
5. Not rehearsing
You'd think that if someone were presenting in front of a group of thousands, they would at least rehearse their presentation, right? Wrong. And it shows. Sometimes this is as simple as not testing the technology--the video clips, the PowerPoint, the transitions, etc. Other times it's as simple as not practicing and being rough, unpolished and nervous. Still other times this manifests itself as speakers going way, way, way over time.
Instead: Even the best speakers in the world practice each presentation. Test your technology. Make sure your timing is right. However, do NOT rehearse by memorizing your speech. Be comfortable enough with your talking points to relax and simply talk TO your information instead of repeating back the information.
6. Having a very obvious "insert company here" message.
This is more for professional external speakers that make the rounds at big corporate events. A lot of speakers have a fairly canned message about how they accomplished X and Y and how it's relevant to you, as an employee of Z company, accomplishing A and B. Sometimes you can literally hear the pause for the "insert company here" line in their speech. Is it really relevant to that company? Does the speaker actually know anything about the situation? Not really. Yet they're trying to be motivational with a generic message.
Instead: Good keynote speakers take the time to get to know the situation in the company and customize their message accordingly. They may have a bank of several messages or key points they can draw from or put together depending on the needs of the audience in front of them.
The Problem with Award Ceremonies
|Bootlegger Bob, award show host.|
- People who haven’t been nominated don’t have a strong incentive/interest in the proceedings
- Nominated individuals often tune out after their award category
- The ceremonies tend to go long due to the nature of the recognition—straining the attention span of even the most invested individuals
- They often lack engagement outside of the award presentations
- Balancing a serious/regal/elegant award presentation and entertainment value can be tricky (and often times scripted entertainment dialog can come off flat in the best of situations. See also: The Academy Awards)
Your Audience Has Baggage
It's all pretty straight forward; but is the message that is being delivered even acknowledging the state of the audience? People don't just come into a sales meeting all tabula rasa; waiting for you to dump 8 hours of information into their heads (not that information should be dumped anyway, but that's another blog post). They come with the whole year on their shoulders.
We're not saying that you have to start off a meeting with a little therapy session, but measures must be taken to move your audience from baggage-carrying and not-really-listening to an unburdened audience ready to see the possibilities of the next year. If you don't do this, every persuasive point you try to make (i.e. "We can hit 3% growth, here's what I want you to do," will be met with skepticism).
1. Acknowledge what they're going through. If it's been a tough year, don't kick off the meeting like everything is great. Ignoring a major communal issue that the audience has isn't going to make them forget it--it's going to make them reiterate that issue in their heads after every point you make.
It's not enough to say, "It's been a tough year," either. Open by relating to the audience. "I know it's been a tough year; you've had problems retaining sales leaders, our clients only seem to want bargains, we're late on x product." That way you can get over the past and move forward into the coming year. Maybe the situation isn't going to improve--but acknowledging that you're all going through it is going to help people deal with it as a team.
2. Anticipate objections. You want the audience to adopt a new sales strategy, but in the past you've gone through "new sales strategies" like a couch potato working on a bag of chips? (This year: Relationship Selling! Next year: No, Now Whiteboarding!) What makes you think that the audience will have faith that the new way will stick around? Why would they make the effort to adopt something that will be gone in a few months? Pre-frame their objections by acknowledging the situation of the past and giving concrete reasons (what's in it for them) for the future strategy.
3. Acknowledge your shortcomings. If you didn't deliver on something--don't be afraid to admit it to your audience. "We know that we didn't give you marketing support like we promised, but we'll have to do more with less." It's not justification to tell the story of an initiative gone wrong. It's a way of bringing it to a rational, understandable level. Be sure to follow up, of course, with why it's not going to be this way in the future (or alternate options if it IS going to be this way in the future).
4. It's not all negative. If your team busted their behinds all year and did a great job, don't start off by telling them how much more they're expected to grow in the coming year. It's okay to celebrate. This doesn't mean that you'll be resting on your laurels in the future, but many people are driven by significance and positive reinforcement. Be sure to give your team the props they deserve for a job well done.
Congratulations, you've just had the best event they'll never remember...
We made a short video highlighting our event philosophy.
These are absolute event truths that a lot of companies don't take into account when planning their event.
For instance: The attention span of an attendee during a presentation is 5-7 minutes. Do you know anyone that keeps their presentation that short? What about all those 90 minute CEO presentations about the direction of the company?
That's important information, right? Right. It is, in most cases, absolutely CRITICAL information. Yet the attention span of the audience wavers at the 5 minute mark. So how do you keep your audience engaged during a long presentation? (And no, the answer is not making everyone fit their content into 5 minute chunks...you can still have very effective 90 minute presentations--think of expert keynote speakers and how they keep the audience engaged the entire time...)
There are multiple ways to engage the audience that accommodates the limitations of the working memory. We employ several techniques: from varying content, to multimedia, to storytelling to more unique solutions like AniMated characters and audience interaction.
And yet, most meetings are planned so that if the right people present at the right time, and everyone who "needs" to present gets to present (structured around breaks, lunches and golf time, of course) the event is considered a success.
But when the attention span of the audience isn't taken into account for EVERY presentation, you lose the value of your event. Something to think about, no?
Creating Powerful PowerPoints: A hands-on workshop
The client challenged us: Is there any way to use PowerPoint WELL?
The answer is yes. PowerPoint has gotten a bad rap from many years of ill-use and abuse. It's a stalwart tool, but it's taken a beating in the popular event culture. PowerPoint is evil. PowerPoint is how you kill learning. Death comes by PowerPoint!
Not exactly. PowerPoint is a GREAT tool. IF you know how to use it.
In our workshop, the goals were this:
• To give best practices.
• To correct worst practices.
• To give participants hands-on experience in editing their own slides.
Here is a broad-brush overview of the brain:
The brain responds to:
5-7 minute segments
The brain does not respond to:
Excessive words on a slide
Typical PowerPoint presentations
So how did we go about showing the participants of the workshop how to create powerful PowerPoints? By giving them a hands-on experience with a deck. We printed out large PPT slides on paper--real slides that we had been given by a client.
The first step: Look at one slide and discern the main message points.
Second step: Remove excess words/data/clutter.
Third step: Think of a way to portray the same data on clearer, cleaner slides.
What happened was that most people came up with 3-4 clean, visually impactful slides in place of one cluttered slide. There was much tittering and taboo-whispering; for these participants had long been taught that they could only have X slides per deck--no matter how much information they had.
A 90-minute workshop wasn't enough to completely and permanently change bad PowerPoint habits, but it was a good start toward the fundamentals of Brain-Based PPT design.
Case Study: Custom Game Production "A Fistful of Dollars"
Custom Audience-Response Game: A Fistful of Dollars – Three different game plays
Graphics, Programming, Scripting and Game-play: Designed by Live Spark
Situation: Toyota wanted a way to engage and entertain their top sales reps while at the same time testing their company knowledge and giving them the opportunity to earn some big rewards with that knowledge. This was a great teambuilding event in the morning; it gave the audience a chance to compete on teams and individually and allowed them important, low-stress face-time with top executives.
Toyota had already used a game show the previous two years—both times utilizing either our sister company--LearningWare's--software (Gameshow Pro) or custom software programmed for their event by Live Spark. They wanted something to fit their Clint Eastwood “Western” theme and that would add variety from previous years’ play.
Solution: A custom Fistful of Dollars game show with three completely unique varieties of game play. The audience still played along using audience-response keypads, but there were a few variations:
Target Practice: In this game play variation, we asked extremely difficult multiple choice questions. The audience members, consequently, had three opportunities to get a question right.
The question was be asked the first time, and the audience saw what percentage of their team responded correctly. They did not know whether they—individually—answered correctly. They then got a chance to answer again—and they could either change their answer or stick with it. Again, the percentage of correct answers was be shown. They got one final chance to answer the question, and only their third response counted as correct or incorrect.
Do You Feel Lucky Punk?: (Wager Round) In this game variation, we utilized a team leader—someone with guts, daring, and willingness to take the glory or the fall.
Everyone on the team was shown a question. Before the audience votes, the team leader decided whether he/she thinks that 75% of the team will know the answer or not. If he/she is confident, then they’ll bet high. If not, they’ll bet low.
No guts, no glory. The team leader wrote down or verbally submitted their wager. The question then played out as a typical audience-response question.
Six-Shooter: (Speed Round/Final Round) Teams were asked a group of 6 questions—rapid-fire-style. They were NOT shown the team results of their answers until after the questions are done, at which point the team scores rose (and failed to rise as much as they should) dramatically, determining the final winner.
Results: The game show was entertaining, challenging, tough, competitive and held a level of novelty—being different than the year before. The audience was engaged with each other and management for the entire morning.
Case Study: Amazing Team Building for Onyx
The first executive was brought onstage and the audience was asked a question about that executive. (I.e. On his day off, you're most likely to find [John Doe]: A. On a golf course, B. Surfing in the ocean, C. Drag racing, or D. Playing competitive backgammon). The audience (in their team designations) voted on which answer they felt was correct (using audience-response keypads). The answer was revealed, and the executive in question used that as a jumping-off point to elaborate and go into a 3-minute pitch on his vision. After he was done, the team tallies were revealed and the next executive was brought up to repeat game play.
"Great way to know more about where we're heading!"
- The final clip was the best representation of the team’s interaction. It could be:
The Anti-PowerPoint Movement
It's a bit unfair; PowerPoint is a tool and is not directly responsible for its misuse. However, when the misuse is so rampant and there seems to--generally--be little interest or ability to create different, fresh and truly effective PPT presentations, it's natural that people would grasp on to available alternatives.
But...are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
We saw this article on Yahoo! News and we have thoughts. Our commentary is in bold-italic.
10 Things to Do Instead of PowerPoint
The bad news: there are thousands of presentations every day, everywhere around the world. Most of them use PowerPoint, badly, as speaker notes, with more words or numbers on each slide than anyone can read.
The results are predictably boring – no, excruciating -- for their hapless audiences. That’s human misery on a massive scale.
The good news: in an effort to make the world a better place, here are 10 things to do instead of PowerPoint. Ways to make your points without the sleep-apnea-inducing effects of boring slides. Ways to pep up your presentations without much additional effort. Your audiences will thank me.
1. Use props. For most workers, in a cubicle world, it’s sensory deprivation from 9 – 5. The whirr of computers and the A/C. The hum of colleagues chattering away. The beige walls of the cube farm. The fluorescent lighting. It’s amazing anyone stays awake. Offer the audience, then, something physical. Instead of describing that new product on a slide, show them a prototype. Pass it around. Let the audience get physical.
Workers can also be out in the field every day and absolutely unaccustomed to sitting still in a presentation for x hours. There are people who learn by seeing and hearing, but there are also those who learn exclusively by doing. Many people would prefer to DO instead of SEE: Think of someone who doesn't read directions before trying to put together a piece of furniture...even if they don't get the best results.
2. Use music. We have an emotional response to music which is much more powerful than we do to most words. Especially words like “3rd Q results” and “product optimization.” So add a soundtrack to your presentation. It will bring it to life. Do obey copyright and licensing laws, please.
Music can, in our experience, be a tricky thing within a presentation--simply because evoking that emotional response should be done with care. Choose the wrong piece of music and it's discordant. Ahhem. Also make sure that the music is unobtrusive--or you'll get a jam session instead of a content session.
Music should also be used throughout an event--not just in a presentation.
3. Use video. Video –good video -- has all the life in it that static slides lack. A good clip can enchant, move, and thrill and audience in 60 seconds. You can create the right emotional atmosphere to begin or end a speech – or to pick it up in the middle.
Or use a bad video. Not a boring video, but a low-quality, as-seen-on-YouTube video that entertains and delights. Use video to tell your story. Use video to evoke an emotional response. Use video to demonstrate a product. The key is to entertain with the video (humor is very effective) and to keep the video short.
4. Use a flip chart. Create any visuals you need right there in front of the audience. No need for technology. Just a magic marker and your arm. The act of creation draws the audience in where a slide doesn’t.
Your results may vary. We've had mixed experiences with flip chart presentations. While some supplement is very effective; your short-hand is not always the short-hand of the audience, flip charts can be hard to read, and presenters vary greatly in artistic/calligraphic ability.
5. Ask the audience. Of course, the best way to draw the audience in is to draw them in. Ask them to tell you their stories – as they relate to the topic at hand. Ask the whole audience or just selected volunteers.
Pre-screen these first. WARN someone that they'll be asked to tell an anecdote if you can--or you better know your audience very well. Never put anyone on the spot unprepared, and make sure that the selected audience member has a concise, cohesive, relevant-to-everybody story to share. We've seen audience anecdotes that were more dull than a bad presenter.
Beware the crickets chirping. It may take away from the spontaneity of the interaction, but be sure that you have someone who IS ready to share.
6. Ask the audience – 2. Break the audience up into small groups and get them to respond to a challenge that you set, a question that you ask, or a problem that you pose. Then have them to report back to the whole group.
This is a great idea. Discussion groups allow people to make information personally relevant and sharing with peers reinforces content. Set acoustic conversation music in the background and allow tables to discuss for several minutes. Designate a team leader who will be charged with collecting responses and reporting back.
7. Ask the audience – 3. Play a game with the audience – relevant to the topic. Award prizes. Audiences love to compete. Just don’t make the questions too difficult or the prizes too expensive – or too cheap. Only Oprah gets to give away cars.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Games are a fantastic way to engage the audience. Have a game that runs throughout the session, opens the session, or reviews content at the end. Put the audience onto teams and keep them in teams.
8. Ask the audience – 4. Get the audience to design something – new products, plans, or ideas. Give them plenty of paper, sticky notes, ipads, or whatever you have on hand that they can play with.
Adults want to play, too. Giving the audience a chance to exercise their creativity allows their brain a natural "break" to absorb and synthesize previously covered information. Content-related creativity can be extremely fun and actually inspiring.
9. Ask the audience – 5. Have the audience create video responses to what you’re talking about. Hand out a dozen flip cams and get them in groups. Give them a limited amount of time – 10 minutes, perhaps. Then show some of the video to the whole group on the big IMEG screen.
This is a wonderful idea in theory. In practice we've learned that most people aren't even amateur videographers. While the act of creation is fun, it's tough to get everyone involved, tougher to shoot something that is engaging to watch, and toughest still to organize it in a brief amount of time. That's not to say it can't be done--and we have seen some incredible audience-created video pieces--but use with caution.
10. Combine any 3 of these to create huge audience buzz. Stop thinking of a presentation as a static activity where you show slides to a catatonic group of fellow humans. You passive, them active. Instead, treat them as co-conspirators in something exciting, educational, and fun.People learn best when they can make the information relevant to them. This includes synthesizing it in a variety of ways; quiet reflection, group discussion, personal practice, hands-on activities and even creative, fun exercises. The enemy here is not PowerPoint, it's a lack of consideration for an audience that wants to actually INTERACT instead of be talked to for hours in a way that is disrespectful to the workings of the brain.
Teambuilding: You're Doing it Wrong
"We just want to let them go to the bar and network. They're so stressed out from sitting in the meeting all day that they need to relax."
It was like a needle-scratching-record in our conference room. Jaws dropped. Heads started to shake back and forth slowly in disbelief.
There are three things that are astounding about that statement:
1. The meeting was so stressful and packed with information that the attendees needed to medicate with alcohol. (To forget the event?!?)
2. Drinking is not networking, nor is it teambuilding.
3. This sentiment is more common than people might realize.
First off; your event should never be so jam-packed with information that your presenters must drink to forget their experience. Your content is presumably important--it should be metered out in digestible chunks so that it can be absorbed and remembered--NOT so it causes stress (and if it's not important enough to be remembered--why are you covering it?).
That aside, there are key elements that one should remember about teambuilding that will help produce the event's outcome:
Teambuilding should occur throughout the event. Three hours of teambuilding isn't as effective as teambuilding that is woven throughout the event. Give attendees a chance to bond (and a brain-break) with interactive activities sprinkled in between presentations. Dividing the audience into teams and having competition (with competitive elements like game shows, presentations, etc.) within the event is a great way of doing this.
Teambuilding should be carefully structured. An afternoon of golf doesn't bring your audience closer together. It brings a foursome who like golf closer together. It brings pre-existing cliques within the organization closer together. That's important, sure, but the strength of teambuilding is networking with peers that one might not normally come in contact with (but who can enrich one's working life through the contact).
Structure teambuilding to mix up regions, cliques, job roles, etc. Make sure that everyone has a role in a teambuilding activity so that no one is left out.
Teambuilding should be neutral. Not everyone loves a spa trip. Not everyone loves a ropes course. Some people (gasp!) hate golf. Pick a teambuilding event that is on "neutral" ground--that focuses on the team instead of the specific activity.
Teambuilding should support the content. There's no reason that you have to discard your content to do a teambuilding event. You can get just as much mileage out of getting your audience to present content in a fun way--to play with the content--in a team setting. It both suits the event objectives and is a bonding experience.
For instance, we'll occasionally have an American-Idol-Style evening event where teams have to come up with the best product presentation (using craft materials, creativity, and fun).
It's time to rethink teambuilding. Three hours of golf and spa is recreation, not bonding. If you want to bring your group closer together, get closer to what teambuilding SHOULD be. Raise the bar--don't congregate around it.
3 Things Companies Say That Guarantee a Stagnant Event
We hear this a lot from clients--especially lately. A lot of companies are returning to events and they want something different and fresh. It's more difficult to justify a large, in-person event--so it can't be the same-ol'-same-ol'.
And yet, companies still fall into the trap of producing stagnant, stale, unengaging events. The following three phrases are red flags that signal business as usual (and not in a good way):
"We've always done it this way."
We recently asked a client why they scheduled a certain speaker at a certain time in their agenda. There response was: because they had always done it that way. Never mind that it wasn't the most strategic place to put that speaker.
Be wary of the trap of doing things as we've always done them for the sake of comfort or because it's kinda-sorta worked in the past. Unless events are re-imagined, they become traps for mediocrity.
The biggest culprit here tends to be the structure of the agenda. Before consulting on a 3 day event, we can almost lay money down on the proposed agenda: Cocktail hour the first night. First day: Corporate speakers the first morning. Breakouts in the afternoon. Second day: Motivational speaker in the morning. Breakouts or general session info. Team building in the afternoon. Third day: Panel discussion in the morning. Regional breakouts. . . The problem with routines like this is that attendees go into autopilot and their experience is automatically passive instead of active. It then takes work to get them into an interactive, engaged state.
There's nothing wrong with repeating an element or structure from year to year--but it should have a distinct purpose outside of "how it's always done". Thought should be put into constructing every element of the event to make it the most effective experience for the attendees.
"Our president needs 90 minutes to speak... The VP of marketing must present after him..."
There is a certain amount of political sensitivity that creeps into an event. X position speaker should go before Y position speaker. Z speaker needs at least 45 minutes, lest they feel slighted. While we understand the need to be sensitive to corporate culture and politics, arranging event elements based on politics instead of necessary content is doing a disservice to the audience.
From the perspective of the audience--and being in thousands of corporate events--there's nothing that lowers the expectations of an event more than seeing a whole day lineup of corporate speakers...one after another... Sometimes it's best to space these corporate presentations out over the days and in between other content--not only to add variety, but to give the audience a better chance to absorb the messaging.
Sometimes the number of corporate speakers can be reduced. Often times A, B and C department all get to present because D department is speaking and we can't leave out the others. However, sometimes A, B and C departments don't have anything new or relevant to present at that time. It's not respectful of an audience to have a speaker present just for the sake of having an equal presence onstage. If it's exposure that is needed, there are more creative ways to go about this throughout an event.
And finally: If you give a speaker 10 minutes of time, they will talk for 10 minutes (and sometimes go a bit over or under, as non-professional speakers are wont to do). If you give that same speaker with the same content 60 minutes, they will talk for 60 minutes. People will, generally, fill the time that they are given with *something*--whether that information is relevant or not. Ask people about their content first--and then determine their speaking time--instead of the other way around.
"We don't have much time, so we want to get the most out of it..."
This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The issue here is that "getting the most" out of an event typically means putting as much information as possible into an event. Oftentimes, the opposite of what is intended is what ends up happening. Cramming a lot of information into a little amount of time is a recipe for learning disaster. By having too much content--instead of a key points being remembered, there is a far greater chance that nothing will be remembered. The brain becomes saturated and cannot process new information without first digesting the old information and working with it in some practical way. To use an old metaphor--it's like "drinking from a fire hose".
This is certainly NOT getting the most out of an event.
Does this mean that events cannot be meaningful experiences with effective learning moments? Not at all. The key is to be selective and strategic. Build in time for brain-breaks, interaction and activities. Be very selective; separating what's nice to know from what attendees NEED to know--and only bringing the latter to the event.
What do you do with all that extra content you wanted to cover? The event isn't just the three days everyone is together. Have additional resources before and after the event, continue following up with participants, and give them the ability to discover and work with additional information long after they fly home to keep the momentum of the successful event going.