- Pat O'Malley, author
The speech sounded very much like an economics lecture. It had no oratorical eloquence, and did not use many stories, jokes or illustrative references to give the speech human interests. You couldn't do much worse than that, could you? The speech was the first of a young orator named John F. Kennedy.
Many presenters overprepare on content and underprepare on delivery while others have little content but great delivery. Experienced presenters find the ideal balance between the two. In this chapter, we will look at 13 techniques to help you develop a dynamic delivery:
Avoid hackneyed openings.
Use powerful language.
Make your presentation flow.
Add suspense to your storytelling.
Use props to add impact to your presentation.
Use drama to enhance your presentation.
Use humor appropriately.
Harness the power of experiential exercises.
Use action learning.
Prepare for questions.
Develop endings with impact.
Hackneyed means "made commonplace by frequent use." There is no more common opening than the predictable and perfunctory "I am so happy to be here," or, "It is indeed a pleasure to be here." While that may be true, your listeners have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of presentations start the same way. The natural response for the audience is to tune out the presenter, and you lose the most valuable time you have to make a strong first impression.
In The Sir Winston Method, James C. Humes explains Winston Churchill's aversion to such phrases. Churchill once told an associate, "I never say, ‘It gives me great pleasure,’ to speak to any audience because there are only a few activities from which I derive intense pleasure and speaking is not one of them."
You may think you need to open with an acknowledgement or praise of your hosts. Humes suggests your opening is not the best place for such comments: "If you really want to say something nice about the organization or if you have to single out a few in the audience for special mention, save it for the middle of the speech, when it is believed. Churchill believed that praise in the beginning of the speech comes off as flattery; the same praise in the middle of the speech comes off as sincerity."
Listen to as many introductions as you can.
Which were hackneyed, boring, and uninspiring? What effect did this have on your expectations for the rest of the presentation?
Which were original, grabbed your interest from the first seconds, and were uplifting? What made them original? What effect did this have on your expectations for the rest of the presentation?
Powerful language enhances your sense of presence and the belief that your message is incisive, important, and worth the participants' time and efforts to listen to it. Weak language lessens your sense of presence and engenders a belief that both you and your message are not worth listening to. Consider the following situation where a male university student wants to invite a female student on a date. Imagine him saying, "I wonder if you might possibly consider going to the movies with me on Saturday night, but I know you are very popular, so if you wanted to tell me at the last minute that would be all right too." Such weak language would probably produce a less-than-favorable outcome.
Likewise, using too many qualifiers in a presentation makes the speaker look unsure and uncertain. The audience will quickly assume that the speaker is neither worth listening to nor worthy of its attention.
For example, saying, "I guess what I'm trying to say is ... " or, "I would like to share with you an opportunity I think we have ... " puts the speaker in a position of weakness. On the other hand, if the presenter says to an audience of salespersons, "Would you like to learn a proven method that will help you close 10 percent more sales?" the presenter would have their full and undivided attention.
Another word that is often used in a weak context is the word hopefully. Being told that today's presenter is here to hopefully motivate the troops, sounds as though the speaker is speaking from a position of weakness. Imagine a cardiac heart surgeon about to do a double bypass on a patient saying, "Hopefully today's operation will go well." Most people would look for a new surgeon. If a presenter uses weak language, most audiences will soon look for a new presenter.
Are there weak words or phrases that suck the life out of your presentations? Is there more powerful language you could use in its place?
If you have ever attended or seen an exceptional concert, you may have noticed that both the beginning and the ending were exceptionally well done.
The primacy effect and the recency effect state that we are most likely to remember what we hear first and what we hear last. For example, view Barbara Streisand's Timeless concert, Fleetwood Mac's The Dance concert, or any other performer whom you especially admire and look carefully at how he or she constructed both the beginning and the ending to see the primacy and the recency effects in action. What you say first is critically important because many listeners have already formed an opinion of you as a speaker and are forming expectations of your presentation within the first seven to 90 seconds.
We recommend you spend a great deal of effort on getting your beginning and ending just right. Paradoxically, you are probably better off starting by preparing what you will say last. There are two principal reasons behind this assertion. First, the beginning is almost always the hardest to do. Second, deciding on your ending will help you focus your whole presentation. Craig Valentine, a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking says, "One reason most speakers don't get their message across to an audience is because they don't know what their own message is. So before you speak or write a single word, you must determine exactly what you want the audience to think, feel, or do as a result of hearing you." Therefore, you need to ask yourself, "What do I want my audience to think, feel, or do as a result of attending my presentation?" This line of reasoning, starting with what you will say last, is summed up beautifully in one of the most famous lines from Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People -- "Start with the end in mind."
Your ending gives you a chance to summarize your main points; tell a short story; use a quote, poem, or metaphor to make sure that the meaning of what you are presenting is as three-dimensional and clear as possible; or to use a mnemonic to make it easy for your audience to remember your key points. The ending should also provide the final motivation to overcome the inertia that we all feel when we have to start a new task or do something differently than we have done before. Your ending should include something that can pass the "five-year test." That is, it should be so good that even though they may have forgotten you, they will remember your message five years into the future.
In music, it is the refrain; in writing, it is the theme. A listener's mind will wander, no matter how dynamic the presenter or how compelling the message. Consequently, it is a mistake to think, "I said it; they heard it." Listening is greatly different than reading. When reading, you can always go back and reread. But when listening to a live performance, you can't go back and re-hear. Therefore, if it is important, say it more than once. In a similar vein, Aaron talks about the three Rs of speaking: Repetition plus Restatement will help your message be Remembered.
With this repetition, you will give your audience a mantra they won't soon forget. It's just like in advertising where the best advertisements are so good they become part of our long-term memory. Think of some of the best advertisement slogans you have ever heard - slogans such as "Where's the beef?" and "Don't leave home without it." Deft presenters take full advantage of the same principle in their presentations. For example, in Brad's course on negotiating skills, he repeats, "You can't change somebody's mind, if you don't know where their mind is" seven times. We do the same in a presentations course when we say that "most people overprepare on content and underprepare on delivery."
Caution: If what you say often is not meaningful, memorable, or sincere, it will have the opposite effect of what you intended. Instead of making your presentation soar, it will make your presentation bomb. So, if it's important, repeat it; if you repeat it, make sure it's important.
Look at what you say often during your presentation. If it is important, do you say it frequently enough? Do you say it in a very memorable way? How could it be more like a mantra?
Pay close attention to what you say well. Sometimes, when giving a presentation, the muse is with you and you are able to capture the essence of what you are saying - your word choice is perfect, and the phrase is highly memorable. One way to listen carefully and to improve at the same time is to record your presentations. Don't just record the big events. Record every presentation, including your practice sessions. Many speakers have had the experience of accidentally finding the perfect word or phrase, were absolutely certain that they would remember it, only to find that they quickly forgot it.
In addition to performing your own self-assessment of what you say well, ask others what they think you say well. At times, others will summarize what you say better than when you said it, so don't be afraid to modify even your best phrases to make them better.
Likewise, it is possible to use a quote as a refrain throughout the presentation. For example, in speaking to daycare workers on the importance of their jobs, Carla Angleheart repeated a line from Kahlil Gibran: "Love is work made visible," to electrify her point on the importance of their work. Sometimes what you say well and what you say often will merge as in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Dr. King skillfully employed the vivid, memorable phrase "I have a dream" nine times in just over two minutes. He said it often. And he said it very, very well.
Follow the next four steps to improve the FLOW of your next presentation.
Step 1: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say First?
Step 2: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say Last?
Step 3: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say Often?
Step 4: What are three specific things you could do to improve what you say Well?
Sean had a wonderful opportunity to hear Ann Bloch present at the National Speakers Association (NSA) Annual Convention in August, 2000. Ann's presentation was titled The Alfred Hitchcock Effect: Build Suspense into Every Story. With such a great title, it was standing room only. Those who were fortunate enough to attend weren't disappointed because Ann's content was as good as her title.
She pointed out that more than 90 percent of all presenters use a chronological approach to organize and tell their stories, and that by adding flashbacks and foreshadowing, we can add suspense, novelty, and intrigue to our presentations. Ann stated: "Foreshadowing and flashback make ordinary stories spellbinding! [You can] ... restructure your stories to captivate audiences from the first word. Like the legendary director [Alfred Hitchcock], you can reveal details deliberately, not chronologically, to sustain suspense. Master storytellers weave both techniques to mesmerize listeners."
Ann then artfully illustrated Hitchcock's three variations on a theme with three movies. The first movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark. In this movie, all of the action takes place chronologically. The film starts out with Indiana Jones lecturing on archeology in his classroom and then shifts quickly into the adventure.
To illustrate flashbacks, Ann chose the movie Snow Falling on Cedars. This beautifully told story is a courtroom drama, however, each time one of the characters takes the witness stand, the movie flashes back to explain that character's development as well as to move the story forward.
Ann then illustrated foreshadowing with the film American Beauty. Foreshadowing is a technique that tells you in advance what the outcome is or at least provides a clue as to how an event or action will play out. You then go back in time to figure out how the outcome occurred. For example, in many of Hitchcock's movies, the audience knows who the murderer is. Hitchcock then takes you back in time and you and the detectives have to figure out how that outcome was arrived at. In American Beauty, the film begins with foreshadowing when the male protagonist of the film says:
My name is Lester Bernham. This is my neighborhood, this is my street, this is my life. In less than a year, I'll be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet.
We can now look at how these three approaches can be used in telling a story that Sean uses in his presentation on negotiating skills.
Sean: When my daughter was 18 months old, she had a very bad eye accident. She tripped and fell head first into a store display and one of the pegboard hooks badly damaged her eye. We were incredibly lucky, and a year later Katie's eye had recovered perfectly. I use this story in my negotiation course to explain how I negotiated to have the hooks changed and the store made safer. Using the three variations, I can tell the story in chronological order, or I can tell it with flashbacks or foreshadowing.
My wife and son were negotiating the purchase of winter boots. He wanted the winter boots with the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles decal on them that were twice as expensive as the same boot without the decal. At the same time, my daughter, who was then 18 months old, spotted character slippers, which looked like stuffed animals and were suspended on pegboard hooks from three feet down to the floor. I let her out of her stroller, and she ran to play with the slippers. Unfortunately, as toddlers do, she tripped and fell head first into the display. To my horror, I couldn't get to her in time, and one of the display hooks caught her in the eye ... . A year later, Katie's eye perfectly corrected itself and with a lot of persuasion, the store changed all 10 million of its display hooks at a cost of $2.9 million.
To this day, I still have nightmares of the day we went to have our family's Christmas picture taken. It all started out as an ordinary trip to the mall ... .
My 18-month-old daughter cost several major department stores $2.9 million.
Each of these techniques works very well. I have tried all three methods in my presentations and the one that has the most impact for this particular story is foreshadowing. Experiment with all three and ask for listener feedback as to which one works the best.
Part I: As they are being delivered, analyze the organizational structure of several of the stories from the best presentations you attend. Did the presenter use any combination of the methods presented here? Please note that this exercise is more difficult than it first appears, as accomplished presenters often organize their presentations in a way that appears seamless.
Part II: Develop a story by using one of these three methods (chronological, foreshadowing, or flashbacks). Choose a technique that you have not used before or with which you have the least experience.
Doug Stevenson likens excellent story development and storytelling to making spaghetti sauce:
You may start out with tomato sauce, but that's not enough by itself. Nobody would ever mistake plain old tomato sauce for tangy, savory spaghetti sauce. Tomato sauce is a good foundation, but you need to add oregano, basil, green peppers, garlic, (at least in our family!), and onions to make it fulfill its potential. Then it needs to simmer for a while. After all the ingredients mix and mingle, then you've got full-flavored spaghetti sauce.
Your story is like that. It's a good place to start, but you need to add garlic and onions, which in story terms are the equivalent of a substantive point and a solid organizational structure. Then, you need to spice it up with acting techniques that help audience members SEE what you're SAYING. Then, the story needs to simmer over time, which is the creative process in which you write, re-write, rehearse, practice, and polish. Finally, you've cooked up a mentally and visually delicious story, which has the power to move people to laughter and tears, and which will be remembered long after you're gone.
In summary, the power of stories depends on crafting superbly developed tales combined with a seamless delivery - just like Hitchcock.
Props, if properly used, can add drama and impact to your presentation. In his book on presentation skills, Ron Hoff says, "If there's a noun in your presentation, consider showing what the noun represents." In a negotiation presentation Sean talks about how negotiators know how to ask the right question, in the right way, at the right time, and that the answer to that question can be a key that helps the negotiator unlock the negotiation and resolve the issue to everyone's satisfaction. When Sean says the word key, he brings out a very large old antique key, allowing him to make the point visually and aurally, thus increasing the dramatic intent as well as helping the participants remember the point.
Props can make even dry and technical presentations come alive, as Sean illustrates:
Sean: I was coaching a group of senior managers at a local dairy on how to give "High Impact Presentations." Most of the material they had to present to their staff was of a rather dry and technical nature. One of the challenges that one of the presenters (Joe) had was to give a presentation on the cost of producing yogurt containers that subsequently became damaged and therefore could not be used. We developed the following prop in which he was able to get his presentation off to a strong start.
Joe started his presentation by dumping a handful of assorted coins into a wastepaper basket. Needless to say, this got his audience's attention. He then said, "Every time we damage a yogurt container, we throw money in the garbage, money that could help our company be more competitive through better research and development, money that could be used for better staff training, or money that could be spent on employee benefits such as an on-site gym or daycare facility."
Did Joe get and hold his audience's attention? Absolutely! He did it by the creative use of props to add significant impact to the beginning of his presentation and by showing his audience how it affected them (WIIFM - What's In It For Me). In summary, props are an excellent way to make your message more creative, unique, and memorable.
To draw a parallel from the famous line from the movie The Sixth Sense: "I see dead people, I see dead people everywhere," polished presenters see props, they see props everywhere. First of all, you have to train yourself to be vigilant, constantly on the lookout for props. For example, Sean was in a gift shop and saw the following picture that he found to be perfect for illustrating one of the five approaches to conflict management: Take It or Leave It.
Another excellent source to help you see the creative use of props are buskers or street performers. If the busker captivates his or her audience, he will make it in this extremely demanding business. If he is not captivating, he is soon looking for another job. Buskers must be relentless innovators because the job requires that they travel light. Therefore, they often make ingenious use of props, including the audience members. Watching buskers is also a great way to see how to increase audience involvement.
Plays are also excellent venues to see the innovative use of props in action. This is especially true if you have ever had the chance to see a one-person play. In a one-person play, an actor can play an entire cast of characters. The actor often changes characters by changing a hat while at the same time changing his or her voice and position on the stage. You can also ask your creative friends for their ideas on how to find and use props and look at how other presenters use props.
In the meantime, we wish you every success in discovering props to make your presentations more dramatic and impactful as the following example illustrates.
In just a few words you have clarified [the] use of props. Recently I spoke to a sales team and referred to Client Objections as a can of worms best to be emptied. At which point I passed around a tin can filled with candy worms.
Each participant took a worm or two!
- Alice Wheaton, Canadian Association of Professional Speakers colleague
Sean: I felt that I was making a great deal of progress in the use of props when one day I walked into an advanced negotiation course wearing a neck brace after pulling a muscle. The participants had all taken the entry level negotiating course with me. I was surprised and delighted when one of them asked whether the neck brace was a new prop.
You can become so well-known for your use of props that they essentially become an unofficial trademark as they have for an expert presenter like Harold Taylor. Harold is known for his dynamic and highly entertaining seminars on time management. In the center of the stage, Harold sets up a typical office desk representing the characteristically unorganized person. He has a table, which corresponds to the desktop, complete with a telephone, books, and papers piled on every available space. He then does a 15-minute hilarious routine that illustrates every time-management mistake in the book. This demonstration, combined with Harold's dry sense of humor, gets his audience going every time - even those who have seen it many times. As Harold is poking fun at himself, it is impossible for audience members not to see some of their own errors - especially as Harold is frantically going through all of the papers in search of an important piece of information he needs to close a deal on the phone.
The use of props will help you make your point, will help the audience remember your point, and will greatly contribute to developing your style and presence while presenting. If you are good enough, you may even develop props as part of your trademark as Harold Taylor has so successfully done.
In addition to the techniques that have already been discussed, drama can give life to just about any presentation.
Aaron: One of the most stunning presentations I have ever seen was by J. A. Gamache, in a speech he delivered in the 2001 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. To achieve an extraordinary dramatic effect, he coupled creative staging with a prop. As he told a story of a poignant moment with his grandfather, he placed a simple wooden chair center stage. It was instantly apparent that as he spoke to the chair, that he was speaking to his grandfather. Technically, this was a monologue, but curiously, it was more like a dialogue as the chair brought his grandfather to life. But it became even more dramatic when, as he told of his grandfather's death, he lovingly tipped the chair, bringing it to rest on its back. No words were spoken; no words were necessary. The silence in the room at that moment was overwhelming.
Describe a situation you have seen where a sense of drama greatly enhanced the presentation.
Describe how you will use drama to enhance an existing presentation or add value to a presentation you will give in the near future.
- Mark Twain
Darren LaCroix, a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, studied videos of Toastmasters' World Champions and said, "One thing I found that every one of the winners had in common was that they all used pauses extremely effectively." In fact, Ed Tate, another World Champion of Public Speaking used one pause that was a full six seconds long. In stage time, six seconds of silence can seem like an eternity. Yet, in that powerful six seconds, he commanded the stage. He said more in silence than words ever could.
Sean: Twenty-five years ago I was a graduate student working on an advanced degree in psychology. I was extremely fortunate in securing an internship at the Family and Children's Centre. I found that all of the psychologists I got to work with were very knowledgeable and articulate. One psychologist, Chris Rainy, stood out as being the most articulate and I decided to use him as a model to help me become more articulate. Knowing about behavioral analysis, my first thought was that Chris sounded more articulate than I did because he had a larger vocabulary. However, when I observed him more carefully, Chris's vocabulary, with a very few technical exceptions, was not larger than mine. What I did notice, upon closer inspection, was that Chris sounded more articulate because he knew both when and how to pause. I decided to look more closely and found that Chris used four types of pauses: the articulation pause, the reflective pause, the dramatic pause, and the anticipatory pause.
The articulation pause is a very short pause after almost every word. It allows the word to be pronounced clearly and distinctly. A good test of how articulate you sound is to record yourself speaking or reading. If your words flow too closely into one another, you will have to slow down and add a slight pause after each word until each is distinct. However, if the words are too distinct, you will sound too formal or stilted. One of the best things you can do is to record yourself speaking or ask others for specific feedback on how well you articulate your words.
The purpose of this exercise is to help you learn to have a short articulation pause after each word. Please notice that although the following exercise is grammatically incorrect, it is incorrect for a reason: to allow almost every word to end in "s." If you don't use articulation pauses, then instead of each "s" and each word being distinct, you will find yourself hissing like a snake. Try repeating the following exercise three times. Ask friends or colleagues if you articulate each word. Also ask them if you have enough volume to reach the four corners of the room. An alternative is to recite Moses Supposes into a smartphone or voice recorder and listen to how well you articulate each word and if your articulation pauses are long enough.
Moses supposes his toes is roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously.
Why is a reflective pause so powerful? Because it emphasizes the last words the speaker said. In that moment of silence the listener is thinking, "The speaker is giving me time to think about what he just said, so it must have been important."
Sometimes we just need a little time to savor or reflect on an interesting point, conclusion, fact, statistic, or story. The reflective pause allows your audience to do this without feeling that it has to catch up as the speaker goes on to the next point.
As we discussed earlier, presentation coach Betty Coper calls this the HUD principle (see Strategy 3). So many presenters are in love with so much of their material that they try to cram everything into one presentation. You can't cram wisdom, and wisdom is what excellent presentations are all about. Therefore, as presenters we need to give the participants time to Hear what we say, Understand our message, and Digest the wisdom.
Aaron: When I tell the story of a time I experienced a very embarrassing speaking moment, I use a dramatic pause to emphasize one important word. The event I retell was of the moment in a timed speech contest that I discovered someone had switched my flip chart with someone else's. There was no time to correct the mistake, so I had to finish the rest of my speech without my critically important prop. I then explain that I immediately left the room and went out to walk the streets while wallowing in self pity. "I wanted to go back in there and tell everyone that it wasn't my fault. I wanted to tell everyone that it wasn't me who had screwed up, it was someone else. I wanted to go back in there and blame ... [four-second pause, shake head] ... but I knew I couldn't do that. Because I've learned that if I am to accept the credit for my successes, I must accept the responsibility for my failures."
In that four-second pause, the word "blame" resonates. It signals an abrupt shift of momentum and mood, all without words - and that pause creates more drama than words ever could.
Anticipatory pauses build suspense. As in a well-told joke, you draw it out just enough to tantalize your audience. Jack Benny provided a memorable example of its use. With his well-honed reputation as a miserly tightwad, the classic moment played out like this: A robber points a gun at Benny with the demand, "Your money or your life." At least 10 seconds pass. The robber, puzzled at the delay, shouts, "Well?" Benny replies, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" The punch line was amusing, but it was in the anticipation that the real humor lay. Today's master of the anticipatory pause is Lou Heckler. You can hear Lou in action in a presentation titled The Pause That Brings Applause. By listening to Lou's presentations, you'll hear the anticipatory pause at its best.
I am accused of telling a great many stories. They say it lowers the dignity of the Presidential office, but I find that people are more easily influenced by a broad, humorous illustration than in any other way.
- Abraham Lincoln
Humor can make or break your presentation, but it must be used appropriately. Everyone likes to laugh, but few people can tell jokes. No problem. Getting laughs when you speak is not a matter of telling jokes. The most effective humor comes through observation and attitude - real-world examples and illustrations. The real key to the success of an artful presenter like Jeanne Robertson throughout her career is, as Toastmaster Magazine states, " ... her humor - specifically, her ability to laugh at the funny things that happen (or don't happen) to her; and to invite others to laugh along with her."
Telling funny stories doesn't give a person a sense of humor. A real sense of humor means being able to laugh at yourself, and being able to laugh at day-to-day situations that are often anything but funny when they happen ... And therein lies the added challenge. Being a professional humorist entails far more than getting a laugh. Your goal is to inform, to motivate and to impart some bit of wisdom from your experience to your audience. Humorous treatment of a given topic or story is a means to that end. By using humor, your message will be both more enjoyable and more memorable.
Jeanne developed a method called "Jeanne's Journal System." The system was developed to help presenters capture "life-experience humor." But often, the story has to be worked and reworked so it can reach its full potential. The method she invented to find and develop funny stories is called LAWS where "L" stands for Look and Listen to daily life events that have the potential to develop into a funny story. "A" stands for Ask. Jeanne relentlessly asks her friends, colleagues, and total strangers to recount funny or amusing events that happened to them and if she wants to use them, she asks permission. She also relentlessly asks for feedback on stories as she is developing them because sometimes things that she thinks are hilarious, others don't find amusing, and sometimes material that Jeanne is ready to discard, others find hilarious. "W" stands for Write it up. Writing it up will help ensure that you don't lose it and will give you another chance to improve it. The "S" stands for Stretch. Sometimes, adding just a bit of exaggeration will turn a funny story into a hilarious one.
The following example illustrates how she uses this method:
When our son Beaver was in junior high school, he and his friends wanted to wear only Izod shirts. If there was no little alligator sewn somewhere on the garment, that garment hung in the closet until it no longer fit. In addition, the Izod shirts had to be worn with Levi jeans. Period.
[At the same age,] Beaver and his buddies were attending numerous basketball camps in the summer. Time and time again we mothers received the typical camp letter telling us to make sure to sew labels in the clothes our boys brought to camp. With all this information, however, it wasn't until I was reading an old joke book that I developed the following piece of material.
... Before one camp, the coach had the nerve to write me a letter that instructed, "Mrs. Robertson, When you bring your son to our camp, please do not mark his name in his clothes with a black laundry marker. We prefer that you use sewn-in labels with his name."
Sewn-in labels? Sure. I thought it was a joke letter. When I realized it wasn't, I put it on the floor and kicked it. Then I wrote them back.
"My name is Jeanne Robertson. I will be at camp with my son on July 13. His name is Levi Izod."
However, Jeanne didn't get the idea for this piece of material until she was reading an old joke book and came upon a joke with a similar theme. Therefore, Jeanne recommends studying joke books to help master the art of joke and story construction, and to stimulate your own creativity in finding and developing funny stories. Jeanne also says that she seldom uses standard jokes, but that she will use them occasionally if the joke is perfect for the occasion. As Jeanne states, "A good joke that is told well and illustrates a specific point is a work of art."
Jeanne has one more strategy that has stood her in good stead, and it will do the same for you if you use it. "If you don't jot things down when they happen, a lot of good ideas get away. If you don't write up your stories soon after, a lot of good stories never materialize." Then keep your stories in an easily accessible story/humor file.
Almost every gifted presenter we spoke to will tell you that they had a terrific story, joke, or humorous incident, but they had forgotten it. It was only through listening to a previously taped copy of a particular presentation that this treasured material was found. Keeping a story/humor journal will help you be aware of and collect and remember material that can make the difference between a good presentation and a great one. Therefore, we recommend you carry a notepad with you at all times. When something makes you laugh, write it down. With notepad at the ready, pay attention - you'll be amazed at the funny things you see or overhear.
Because humor can make or break your presentation, we will look at Canadian Association of Professional Speakers member Ross MacKay's five reasons for using humor and five rules on how to use it effectively.
Ross's five reasons to use humor are:
To connect with your audience.
To make a particular point.
To change the pace or tone.
To make your message more palatable.
Ross's five rules on how to use humor are:
Surprise your audience - that's what the punch line does.
Allow your audience time to enjoy the joke when it works - if it doesn't work, just pretend it wasn't a joke and keep going.
Use humor to advance to subject of the presentation. The biggest crime is to use humor to get a laugh but it has nothing to do with the subject.
Make sure that your humor is appropriate - appropriate to your audience and appropriate to the event. If you have any doubt, don't use it.
Personalize your material; even a standard joke or introduction can have meaning when it is personalized.
Aaron: Ralph C. Smedley, founder of Toastmasters International said, "We learn during moments of pleasure." Therefore, there are times when humor is needed just because the audience is getting restless or fatigued. In such cases, the audience needs to laugh just to keep them focused on the serious topic at hand. On occasions when I see the audience's attention start to wane, I'll bring out a short, amusing anecdote. The audience laughs, is refreshed, and we move on.
Dr. Terry Paulson, CSP, is one of North America's top-rated professional speakers and is the author of the book 50 Tips for Speaking like a Pro.
Sean: What's your secret for making your content so engaging?
Terry: Early on in my work I was a youth director for high school-age kids and if you weren't funny, couldn't tell stories, and weren't authentic and prepared, they'd kill you. It was an early lesson on how to engage an audience and at the same time make sure that the humor has content and is grounded.
I came out of a research background that was strongly analytical, and I had to learn how to deliver, out of complexity, simple messages that were engaging and fun. A lot of people talk about humor being great to start with and maybe important to end with; I use humor throughout to keep the attention level of an audience, especially with an audience that has a short attention span and starts to wander.
I make sure that my content stays current and is practical. And the humor is an added value. People expect to have quite a lot of material and then select what is relevant to them.
Sean: How did you develop your warmth and sense of humor?
Terry: A lot of people know the importance of research, stories, and inspiration and don't realize how valuable humor is until they start to collect humorous stories and anecdotes around your topic areas. It's a fun way to elicit information.
You have to work at finding things that make you laugh. Then add it into one of your stories. I develop timing by telling a story 70 times before I ever use it on the stage. As I adjust it or make it shorter my timing starts to improve. Always ask yourself, "Is it funny or does it move my content forward?" Find excellent examples and then sharpen your delivery.
Laughter lets them know they are not alone. Laughter makes one audience out of the sub-audiences. It creates warmth and it increases their attention level. One of the things that creates warmth is that I talk to individuals rather than groups. I have eye contact with one person for up to 15 seconds, picking different people in different areas of the audience, and it creates warmth because I am talking more conversationally.
When people enter the room for your presentation you do not have everyone's attention. Paul is wondering if this presentation is going to be another colossal waste of his time; Tina is thinking that she will sit near the back so she can sneak out; Dan is wondering if he can get a date with Julie on the weekend; Sara is making her grocery list; Pauline is editing a memo she brought with her; Ed is feeling badly about the fight he had this morning with his wife; Sue and Katie are wondering if the vice president is really having an affair with his secretary; and Michele is mentally preparing for the presentation she will be giving after yours.
You have to earn your audience's attention and you have to earn it fast. You have 90 seconds or less to earn their attention. If, in this short period of time, they decide that you are not worth listening to - you may never be able to gain their interest.
One method to help you get your audience's attention is with experiential exercises. Experiential exercises actively involve the audience in an exercise whereby they experience the point or topic on which you are presenting.
For example, Stephen Covey gave a keynote address at a National Speakers Convention in Anaheim, California. More than 2,000 speakers were in attendance and the room was packed. Covey started the session with an experiential exercise called "Which way is north?"
Covey asked everyone in the room to point to the direction that they thought was north. In looking around the room, we could see that our fellow attendees were pointing to every direction imaginable. Dr. Covey then asked the people who were sure that they knew which direction north was to stand up, close their eyes, and point north. Only about a tenth of the people stood up and there was an immediate burst of laughter, because those of us who were not sure, could see that those who were sure were once again pointing in every direction. Dr. Covey then said that our pointing in all of the various directions was analogous to most organizations, that is, most of us assume that we know in what direction the organization is going, but in actuality, the people who work in that organization do not have either a clear idea or a strong commitment to the direction in which the organization is moving.
The second exercise Covey used had to do with negotiation and influencing skills. Party "A" was anyone who was wearing glasses; party "B" was anyone who was not wearing glasses. The goal of the exercise was that party "A" had to convince party "B" to try on his or her glasses.
Sean: As an expert who constantly lectures on negotiating and influencing skills and who has written a book about influencing skills, I was hooked. My party "B" was a very fashionably dressed young man. Apparently he did not like the idea of even trying on my conservative looking glasses. I tried everything I could think of to get him to try them on. For a minute, it seemed as if my entire self-esteem rested on his trying them on, while a great deal of his self-esteem equally rested on his not trying them on.
This was an important lesson for me More importantly, the magic started when Covey suggested that for all of us (who were in the influencing role), our glasses had a specific prescription that was made just right for us and not necessarily just right for the party that we were trying to influence. Then Covey hit us all - right between the eyes - by saying that each of us developed and was entitled to our own perspective, and how many times per day and upon whom do we try to force our own perspective. I immediately thought of the times that I tried to impose my perspective on my children. Even thinking about Covey's presentation, six years later, I can feel the power of that exercise. Not only do we often try to press our own perspective onto others, as presenters we try to force our learning style onto others.
To summarize, experiential exercises, if done correctly, are some of the most powerful tools a presenter can use to help the participants understand the point that is being made, integrate that point into his or her own experience, and remember that point, all at the same time.
Briefly describe the most powerful experiential exercises you have seen in a presentation.
How can you use the power of experiential exercises in one of your next presentations?
Role-playing is typically done in workshops rather than seminars, but we have seen gifted presenters use this technique in large groups as well. The advantage of role-playing is that the participants can actually see if they have mastered the material or not. In many cases, they find that although their intellectual understanding of the concepts are fine, it is another matter altogether to put them into practice.
There are two major ways in which role-playing can add depth and breadth to your presentation. First, role-playing can help participants determine their understanding of the material and get a sense of their skill at applying the key concepts. Role-playing can serve as a perfect demonstration of a case or a situation where everyone in the audience can observe the skills being taught applied to a real-life situation.
Role-playing can be one of the best ways to learn, but not everyone will want to participate. Therefore, we recommend that you remind your participants that this is a purely voluntary activity and that many people learn better by watching - this is especially true of the reflectors in the group.
In role reversal, the person with the problem takes on the roll of their own problem person. There are two main advantages to role reversal. The person with the problem will almost always gain insight into the person he or she is having difficulty with. Second, the person with the problem will be able to experience how different words, arguments and strategies come across from the point-of-view of the other party.
Sometimes in role-playing situations, the person presenting the problem may be the problem. For example, as soon as a strategy is developed, this person comes up with an argument as to why that the intervention will not work. In some cases the person may be right. The situation may be so hopeless that Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Winston Churchill could not do a better job, and the only real alternative is to live with it.
There are other times, however, when the person who suggests the problem situation vetoes on the spot and has no genuine interest in trying to solve the problem. In fact, the person presenting the problem has a conscious or unconscious vested interest in not solving the problem. And although he complains vehemently about the problem, he does everything in his power to maintain the problem in its present state (homeostasis) similar to the person who is in a bad marriage, who spends all of his time in therapy complaining about the problem, but does nothing to resolve it.
If you, as presenter, find this is the case, you will find that both you and everyone else in the room are getting increasingly frustrated. There is a technique, called alternative endings that has been designed for situations just like this.
Sean had a very lively group of salespersons in a negotiating course. He asked the group to describe what a positive ending would look like and then instructed the participants in the role-playing to act out the positive ending. As you can see, this technique gets everyone out of a negative spiral by focusing on what a positive ending to the story might look like.
One of the problems with role-playing, role reversal, and alternative endings is that you can lose the attention of the participants in the room who are not directly involved with the role-playing. In order to keep everyone involved, to increase the number of ideas, and to enrich both the quality and the quantity of the feedback, Sean developed an enhanced role-play methodology that he calls The Virtual Video Camera.
The Virtual Video Camera is a technique used to give the participants immediate corrective feedback as to how well they are communicating and negotiating, as well as a chance to implement that feedback in the immediacy of the situation.
Step 1: Imagine that in the room you are in contains a video camera and that the open space is where a case study will be performed and recorded on video. Each participant and the instructor have remote controls. The remote control has four buttons: Stop, Offer/Ask for Strategic Advice, Reset, and Play. What this means is that at any time during the role-playing, any person in the room can stop the video, offer or ask for strategic advice, reset back to the start of the video, and then replay the video with the participants having been given a chance to try out the "corrective feedback."
Step 2: The second step is to decide on a case. It can be a case that the instructor has prepared, the students have prepared, a case that has been designed on the spot where all of the participants have input, or a case on film that can be stopped so that the participants can continue the role-playing.
Step 3: Assign roles in the case study to the participants. Start by asking for volunteers. If after a suitable period of time there are not enough volunteers, ask some of the participants whom you think would be favorably predisposed to volunteer, but first make it absolutely clear to the class that everyone has the right not to volunteer.
Step 4: Give the participants the "Positive Feedback" guidelines, copies of the 3 × 3 Feedback Form (see Strategy 7), and start the "The Virtual Video Camera."
Positive Feedback Guidelines:
The feedback must be specific.
The feedback must be balanced.
The feedback must be positive and constructive.
The course instructor must be a strong facilitator for this exercise to work well. Too much corrective feedback and the participants will lose their feel of the flow of the case. Too little corrective feedback and the exercise becomes just another role-play.
Remember your high school biology teacher? The one who used lecture notes from when Charles Darwin was a student and showed outdated movies that were so bad that even she fell asleep? Contrast that with action learning. In action learning, the participants are working at solving real-life problems. And you can up the ante and the energy level by having the class compare their solutions with the real-life outcome. A colleague named Dave Buffett gave us the perfect example:
I was in the midst of an Executive MBA program. The class was divided up into competing teams. Our goal was to plan for the acquisition of one company by another. The teams took their task very seriously and planned their strategies. All of the teams were to present their strategies at the beginning of the next class. Imagine our surprise, when in the next class, the instructor introduced a guest lecturer - the vice-president from one of the two companies. The students then had to present their strategies to the vice president and after their presentations, he would tell them how it actually turned out and comment on where their strategies were the same, where the students' strategies were better, and where his strategy was better.
We were geared up to present our strategies and see how well we compared with the other teams in the room, when the instructor announced that the actual vice president who was in charge of his company's negotiation strategy would be in the room to debrief this case with us. It raised the ante 100 percent. We felt that we were actually negotiating a real-life acquisition. The atmosphere in the room was electric. Learning just doesn't get any better than that.
To find out more about action learning, we highly recommend the Harvard Business Review article "Driving Change" by Susy Wetlaufer.
Did the presenter(s) debrief the case with a real-life outcome?
Next, briefly describe how you can use this technique.
Will you provide a real-life outcome?
Sean: I am often amused that people who know that I teach negotiation skills assume that I never falter in that role, and although I am getting better, I know that I will have at least one spectacular failure every year. One of the things that I have learned is that Mother Nature is a persistent teacher and we will be given the same lessons over and over again
One such lesson was when I was unable to negotiate the release of course handouts from the print shop, which I turned into a case study for my negotiation course. It is reproduced below:
Econo Copy Store
You are asked to give a talk on effective negotiating skills for the Association of Dispensing Opticians. The talk is to take place on Saturday, September 15, at the Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrew's-by-the-Sea. The Association has agreed to pay you your regular half-day fee, transportation expenses, and one night's accommodation at the luxury resort hotel.
You have to leave your home by 8 a.m. on September 15th in order to leave your 2-year-old son with his grandparents and catch the noon ferry, which will save hours of driving. You and your spouses are very much looking forward to this relaxing trip.
As a professional speaker, you have handout materials that you will use to help illustrate your talk. As you have been extremely busy, your spouse took the handout material to the Econo Copy Store on September 11th. The 60 copies of the handouts were to be ready by 2 p.m. on September 14th.
You arrive home at 4 p.m. on September 14. Your spouse walks in the door a few minutes later and states that he / she just returned from the emergency room at the local hospital. He/she explains that as he/she was leaving to get your handouts, he/she experienced an excruciating pain in his/her lower left abdomen. Both your spouse and a colleague thought that it could have been a case of appendicitis. After several hours at the hospital, the blood tests indicated that it was a new version of the 24-hour flu that mimics appendicitis.
It is now 4:15 p.m. You have to pick up your son from daycare and pick up the handouts. You decide to get your son first. You arrive at Econo Copy at 4:45. To your horror, the door is locked, and you notice a sign that says "Office Hours 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m." To your immense relief, the store clerk is still there counting out the day's receipts. You now have to negotiate for the release of the handouts.
Sean: By turning this example into a case study, I have learned a lot from observing my participants' innovative approaches. We can also learn that sometimes things are not negotiable and we have to go with our best alternative.
Have you ever had a failure that you could turn into a teachable moment or exercise? Take a few minutes to describe it.
How could you turn it into a teachable moment or exercise in a future presentation?
If you have ever had the experience of being an expert witness, you know that it can be a very grueling experience. At its worst, the opposing lawyers will be out to destroy both your testimony and your credibility. The lawyers representing the side that called you as an expert witness will prepare you and conduct a mock trial. First, they will take you through giving your testimony. Second, they will play the opposing lawyers and cross examine you in a manner that is similar to the way that they think you will be cross-examined. In other words, it is a dress rehearsal, so you, the expert witness, will be as prepared as possible.
Experienced presenters use the same method to prepare for the questions that they will be asked by anticipating those questions, by having someone else anticipate the questions, or by having a dress rehearsal - sometimes with different types of audiences - so they will be as well prepared as possible.
Communications consultant Roger Ailes says that you should prepare to answer the five toughest questions that the participants will ask you. You can think up the questions on your own, however, it is often a good idea to get others to think up the questions. You can then role-playing the answers to actually see and hear how well you answer. Don't be afraid to do this several times until you get the answers just right. Even if you aren't asked directly the same question that you have prepared for, you can often make an opportunity to get the question in. One of the most famous examples of being absolutely well-prepared was during the 1984 presidential debates between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan. At the time, President Reagan was the oldest serving American President and he knew the question of his age would come up in the debate.
Reagan's response was, "I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." Not only did the studio and television audience break up, the camera got a close up shot of Walter Mondale's reaction and he was seen breaking up on national television.
As Roger Ailes said, "Reagan hit a home run." He hit a home run because he was prepared, and he was prepared because he and his campaign team had anticipated all of the difficult questions that Reagan might be asked.
Next, please list three people who could both ask difficult questions and give you direct and constructive feedback on how well you answered them.
Opening the floor to questions can be a risky adventure. Occasionally, you will be confronted with questions that are unintelligible or inappropriate. If the question is unintelligible, first ask for clarification. See if you can answer by rephrasing the question. On follow-up, if the question still is not clear and you have a sense that the person asking the question needs more time to think about what he or she is asking, suggest that it is an interesting question, and say you would like to think about it or that you could answer it better at the break. On some occasions, you can also ask if anyone in the audience would like to answer. Be careful, though, that you keep the discussion under tight rein. Some in the audience can be more interested in impressing others than in moving the discussion forward.
When asked an inappropriate question, such as one that is intentionally confrontational or hostile, do not attempt to answer it. Instead say something like: "That is a question that will take some time to answer, please meet me at the break or after the presentation," or "I am not the person to answer that." Then to further emphasize your unwillingness to pursue an inappropriate line of questioning, quickly reposition yourself on the podium to face a different part of the audience. By doing so, you send a visual message: "That conversation has ended."
You can get a better sense of how professionals deal with difficult and/or off-the-wall questions by listening to professional interviewers on both radio and television. Listen closely to their ability to be polite, firm, to ask just the right question at just the right time, and to deal with difficult and off-the-wall remarks and questions.
The ending of your presentation is your last chance to encapsulate everything you said in your presentation. It is also your last chance to bring all of the material together in one unified whole. There are many ways to end your presentation. You can use an electrifying quote or a thoughtful story. You can ask a reflective question or use a contemplative poem. For example, Sean read the following poem at the end of a keynote on self-esteem to an audience of physically challenged children and adults:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but please don't quit.
Life is unpredictable with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out.
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
- Author Unknown
Sean: When I started reading the poem, there was no music. By the time I got to the second stanza, the music was barely audible and was becoming increasing audible, but not so much that it interfered with the reading of the poem. When I finished reading the poem, the impact was electrifying. The poem was an exceptional choice, and the music was absolutely wonderful, however, the poem and the music together moved the audience significantly more than either could have done alone. They could see themselves as heroes and heroines, just like the runners in the movie, because just by showing up at the conference, they had proved that they had not given up. The audience could anchor this experience in both the poetry and the music.
An additional hint to make your ending powerful: expert presenter Mark Sanborn cautions us not to put FEAR into your endings. FEAR stands for False Endings Appearing Real. This happens when the presenter is so in love with his or her material that he keeps presenting when it is well past the time to close. Instead, Sean and Aaron recommend giving your audience HOPE: Helping Others Persevere Effectively.
Please describe the most powerful closing you have ever heard. Why was it so powerful?
How can you make the closing of your next presentation more powerful?
By this point in this resource we have looked at the importance of knowing your audience and of aligning your content to your audience's wants, needs, expectations, and aspirations. We have looked at developing outstanding content and organization and at 13 methods that can make your presentation more dynamic. All of these efforts will have been for naught if your listeners don't remember your presentation and/or put it into action. We'll address this element of your presentation in the next chapter.