Questions for Effective Presentations

Business communication is different from other types of communication.  It always needs to be clear and concise, and most of the time it needs to be fast.  But fast or slow, when you give a speech or presentation, or send an email or memo, remember that you’re giving them information, but you also want them to do something with it.

To help make sure your communication has the right focus, the Michael Hyatt blog has five questions to ask yourself while preparing to communicate.  They are:

  • What do they need to know?
  • Why do they need to know it?
  • What do they need to do?
  • Why do they need to do it?
  • What can I do to help them remember?

Especially if you have a lot of information to convey, these questions can help keep the presentation focused and easily digestible by the participants.  They should also drill-down the scope of what is to be covered to just the parts that are pertinent or important to the actual audience.

The question that I believe is the most crucial is number four.  It’s tough—and frustrating—to be told to do something without knowing why or how the task fits into the big picture.  Telling people the why along with the what lets them be a part of the team. 

But my favorite part of number four is that if everyone knows the goals and greater purpose, then each can be on the lookout for problems, or even opportunities for improvement.  Instead of just one person trying to hold everything together, there’s a team working together towards the finish line.

Black

What is the number one rule of PowerPoint presentations?  That’s right, “Less is more.”  So what’s the second rule of PowerPoint presentations, the one we most often forget?  It’s, “You are the center of the presentation, not your slides.”

I came across a great tip on the Decker Blog about the use of black slides in PowerPoint presentations.  Bert Decker rightly believes that a big problem with a lot of presentations is that the PowerPoint slides take over and become the point of the meeting, replacing the speaker.  And like many have said before, these presentations grow to have more and more slides with more and more bullet points, until eventually the speaker—and the meeting—can be replaced with an emailed attachment of that detailed PowerPoint.

Decker's solution?  Well, first use less slides of course, but his second solution is to insert the occasional all-black slide in there.  

Think about your last web conference.  What were you doing when the speaker had already talked about the bullet points showing, and was making a point before going on to the next slide?  For me, I was trying to listen while idly reading and re-reading the bullet points on the screen.  Yes, I missed part of what was being said.

So what if there was a black slide there?  With nothing to distract, I could have concentrated on the speaker much easier.  And if it’s a long time to the next slide, switch from PowerPoint to the speaker’s video feed.  A message will get across much more effectively if all we have to focus on is the speaker themselves.

Another great thing about a black screen is it’s also a definitive divider between ideas.  It shows that the previous section is over and now is the time to recap, to talk about what was covered.  And most important, a black slide tears attention and importance from the PowerPoint presentation to give it back to the speaker, the center of any presentation.

Picking the Right Conference Call Service

As more and more companies choose to do business utilizing conference calling, the question is often asked of us: How do I know exactly what kind of conferencing tools I'll need?

We feel that when you choose a conference call service, you should keep in mind future conferencing needs, even if you're sure now you'll never need anything that fancy later on. We always encourage folks to keep their options open.

Accuconference offers a wide range of conferencing tools, some of them you definitely need now and some you don't. However, adding the ability to share applications later is always an option, so no worries.

I just want to host a straightforward conference call.

A simple conference call among a smaller group (less than fifty) will require a conference line, invitations, and a date that works for everyone taking part in the meeting. Check it out.

What if I want to add a PowerPoint presentation?

Web conferencing allows you to share, review and revise documents or web pages, demo products or present a proposal—all in real-time, sharing the same screen space. Look here.

How about video? I really think it's important that people can see me as I speak.

Video conferencing will never replace the in-person meeting, but it will support your business meetings by providing you with unique ways to interact. The online collaborative tools can enhance a meeting in ways that can't be done in person. Find out more here.

Plus, Accuconference offers recording playback at your convenience, secure conference controls right from your computer desktop, and toll-free customer support for any questions you may have. A full list of our customer benefits is here.

Often people aren't sure about teleconferencing because they're nervous about learning how teleconferences work, not sure if everything will run smoothly at the right moment, and general nervousness about having to speak with a group via the telephone.

We can't help you with your nerves (talking on the phone in a teleconference will get easier over time, we promise), but we can promise a stress-free, easy to use experience when you choose our teleconferencing system. Our rates are reasonable and well-priced when compared with other conferencing services, and we offer outstanding customer service. And I mean outstanding. Our customer service specialists will and often do bend over backward to help our clients with any issue.

Still not sure about conferencing even after that amazing list of benefits?

If you have any questions or want more information on how Accuconference can help you with your teleconferencing needs, please let us know.

How NOT to Integrate Webinars into Your Business

You've read the news, the websites - this blog - done the research, and run the numbers. The final conclusion shows that webinars really can help out your company, and save it time and money. All you have to do now is integrate webinars into your business.

For some, it can be as easy as distributing conference codes and numbers, and announcing, "This is how we are going to do things from now on." For many businesses, it won't be that easy. There could be resistance from your workers or management. People might not be motivated enough for change, or may not realize - or care about - the benefits.

When introducing innovation into a company, there are many pitfalls and potential derailments that you can come across. The blog, The Heart of Innovation, has 56 reasons why innovation fails. Hopefully, you won't run across any of them when integrating webinars into your business. Just to be sure, let's take a look at a few of the big ones.

If you cut off the head, the body will die. Likewise, if senior management isn't behind webinars, then most likely the employees will follow suit. They may give you the green light, but if they don't change like everyone else, your innovation will become a flash-in-the-pan idea.

Sometimes, easing into a change can be more detrimental than the one-time growing pains that accompany a full switch-over. For example, if given the chance to decide how to do things, most employees will stick with what they understand, or are comfortable with. If you want to use webinars to record all of your sales calls, but only half of your sales staff is on board, then there will be confusion when it's time to "review the tapes."

Finally, without proper training and orientation, you won't get the results you expected. People will get frustrated with what they perceive to be endless changes, parts of your business will be doing it one way -- completely different from how other parts are doing it -- and what could have been a time and money saver becomes a headache.

Webinars, like innovation, can be excellent for your company. With a little due-diligence and time invested at the beginning, you can avoid pitfalls that turn a good thing bad.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Handout Tips

Presentations, conferences, and meetings almost always have handouts. These can be as simple as a one-page agenda, or as complex as a fifty-page workbook. Regardless, handouts help to guide your audience through your presentation, understand your message better, and give them something to take away from the meeting… literally.

It's easy to simply make copies of your notes and pass them around the room, but this really isn't the best. If your notes are sparse, the handout is pretty much useless. If your notes consist of your entire speech in bullet points, then what is the point of listening to you? Take a look at three good tips for handouts from The Power of Reflection.

First, encourage your participants to take notes by leaving large spaces for them. Make sure every page has a header, section titles, and page numbers. Refer to where you're at by saying the page number and titles. Though don't make the mistake of making your "master" copy be different from theirs. Finally, if you have more than one booklet or stapled stack of material, color-code each to make it easier for your participants to pick up the right one.

Handouts aren't limited to face-to-face conferences. You can distribute pretty much anything, even if you are hosting a webinar. Email your handouts to your participants to print out before the conference call. You could also setup a downloadable version and simply send the link. If you are hosting a web conference, most likely all of your participants are in front of their computers. Blast email handouts to participants during the conference, or have a link ready that you can put into the chat.

Even if it's a virtual meeting, you're not as constrained as you think. Don't forget to include handouts in your presentations and your participants will appreciate it. One more thing to think about: you can probably have donuts and coffee delivered most anywhere…. just a thought.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Non-Verbals are Still Important, Even on a Webinar

Non Verbal

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how the number one fear of the average American is public speaking and that death is number two. This means that the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy. Sure it's funny, but it's not too terribly far from the truth. Part of the reason for this is that when you're speaking in public, audiences are influenced by the way your body appears as much as the words you're saying. Different forms of communicating are received by the human brain, and there are numerous studies about which ones are the most important. One of the most famous of these is a study by Albert Mehrabian, a current professor at UCLA, who developed the 7%-38%-55% Rule. The percentages reflect what your brain reacts to and by how much; whether it be words (7%), tone of voice (38%), or body language (55%).

Taking away one of these aspects ups the ante on your brain's reaction to another. If you're on a teleconference, suddenly the words become that much more important. On a video conference, you're suddenly at the mercy of all these things -what you are saying, how are you saying it, and what you look like when you're saying it. Nerves can be read very easily while in front of a crowd and being able to move can sometimes hide these little shakes and quivers until you gain your footing and feel a little more confident. Most of the time on a video conference you're glued to one place so it's difficult to 'walk off' these nervous feelings and find ways to make those public speaking fears a little less apparent. What can be done to prepare for the inevitable webinar where you'll be the center of attention?

The most important thing to remember is that not all webinars include a type of video conferencing, but pretty much all include some sort of voice or speaking. So your first goal should be to make sure your voice is clear and concise. Sure, it's only 7% of the rule, but if participants can't see you, then what you're saying becomes so much more important. Improving the words becomes simply a product of research. In many ways, the business world is like college all over again, where you could probably skip a few nights in the library and be able to get yourself a passing grade, but no professor is going to nominate your presentation for an award. Now had you spent a few extra hours in the library, your presentation could have probably turned some heads. It's the same in the business world. You should treat every presentation like it's the audience's first time hearing the information. Give the basics, offer a place where they can get more information, and then dig into the meat of the topic. Not only does it make your audience feel a little more at home, it gives you a jumping off point where you feel more comfortable before getting into less familiar territory.

When it comes to a video conference, being aware of your body language and posture is important. On a video conference you're usually sitting down. Sit up straight and look directly into the camera. Since eye contact is most important for getting a connection with your audience and since they are not right in front of you, imagine that staring into the camera is the same as looking at your participants. Leaning forward when listening to another's comments or being asked a question not only indicates a readiness to act but also an interest in what the other person is saying. Tilting your head also expresses interest in the things that are being said and done around you. Nodding while another person is speaking indicates an understanding of what is being asked or said. Above all, you need to remember that people can see your face. So if you roll your eyes or make uncomfortable facial expressions, it will be apparent that you are questioning the information being presented.

In the end, being comfortable with the information you're giving will be the greatest influence over audience perception. When you know what you're talking about, the information will come easily and any nerves your may have will soon dissipate. Confidence is the key. Do your research, know your subject, know your audience, and things will be much easier.

PS: It's not just about what you look like, what you say and how you say it is also key to a good presentation. Having an attack plan is going to benefit yourself and your audience. Develop the presentation, design the slides, and display your incredible skills.

5 Steps to a Great Presentation

Previously, we talked about how to be an effective speaker when doing a presentation. Everyone has different learning and listening styles; and with webinars, it sometimes becomes difficult to make sure you're appealing to everyone's sensibilities. While some people are more audible learners, some are going to thrive and really understand when they can see the information in front of them.

When slide presentation software came along, it revolutionized the way that things were done – especially when it came to large rooms and conferences. Gone were the days of thick and boring handouts that never seemed to make it to all the attendees on time. Now there's a way to create slides that are going to be effective without overloading the audience with colors, pictures, videos, and animations.

1.) Slide Cohesiveness

The hardest thing about presentations is making sure that everything looks clean. You want each slide to set the general tone for the presentation. Keeping all the slides uniform is incredibly important. In order to help this process along you should always brainstorm your presentations as well. Select a color scheme that reflects the tone you wish to set with the conference, attach pictures to the slides that make sense, and never try to overload the attendees with too many graphics. If there's ever any question on how much is too much or not enough, always err on the side of caution and do a simple presentation. Be prepared to use your words if you start to lose audience interest.

2.) Color Schemes

Colors affect moods whether it be promoting unity, peace, love, harmony, or creating a passionate environment. Different colors invoke certain types of emotions and help to create a different atmosphere. For example, the color green is considered to soothe, have healing power, and is often worn by doctors. Red is the color most used to get attention. Using colors together and creating color schemes is a good tool to promote emotions that are going to make your presentation more enjoyable. This is especially helpful in sales presentations; by tuning into your audience you can better affect that outcome of your sales pitches and presentations.

3.) Establish Focus

Focus is one of the most important things about any good presentation. The focus of a presentation is the overall message or tone that you are trying to create. If you're trying to let all the attendees know that everything is going to be okay in this unstable financial environment, you should established that theme right away. The rest of your presentation should focus on explaining who, what, where, when, why, and how. Think of establishing focus as writing a thesis statement. The focus should be the central idea, and all the other ideas of the presentation should revolve around it.

4.) Animations should be used sparingly

Just because they look pretty good doesn't mean that every slide needs to fade or roll into another. Use animations at points in the slides that matter the most. If you're showing profit growth from one quarter to another, use an animation to move through your chart. By limiting the amount of animations on a slide, you can ensure their effect is noticed, and people are taking more interest in what you are saying.

5.) Expand your mind

Don't just use the standard everyday clip art that's available on most computers. A quick Google search can show you website after website offering copyright free pictures or pictures with small watermarks on them available for public use. Check with the US Copyright office to see if your organization qualifies for the benefits of public use policies. This mostly applies to schools and teachers - however, you can never be too sure. Better quality and more vibrant pictures make slides pop off the page, and make trying to find the hidden meaning a thing of the past.

Remember, the most important thing about any presentation is that it's targeted for your audience. The difference between a great presentation and a great presenter is that the great presenter will take the time to research his or her audience and get to know them before putting his information together. Your audience will take notice of your dedication and respond to it.

Freeing Yourself From the PowerPoint Security Blanket

When you think meetings, do you think PowerPoint slides? I sure do. Every meeting I'm in these days (offline and online) is a lovely compendium of slides and the thing that gets really monotonous is that the person who speaks forgets how good of a speaker he or she usually is and just starts reading off the PowerPoint slides. Yawn.

Here's a few tips to get out from under your PowerPoint crutch:

1. Tell good stories. Any human storyteller with an ounce of talent is a 100 percent improvement over rehashed slides or statistics. A story gets them every time. If you want to use slides, get one with a picture that represents the story you want to tell. When talking about how to sell ice cream, use ice cream as the visual. Totally more interesting. And then you'll get a run on the fro-yo machine in the break room.

2. Try to consider whether or not you'll even need slides for your speech. A nicely designed slide show can really show you off (lots of slides needed for all your accreditations and accomplishments, sure), but a slide for every single thing you say can quickly overpower your presence in the room and become the focal point of your presentation. Can you just skip it during your next speech? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to compete with a machine for your audience's attention?

3. A slide of vapid statistics really has no meaning. If you want to report those statistics, why not put them into context. "This year we'll see a 67% growth in our international division." That's an easy thing for attendees to jot down. Showing a screen full of numbers requires someone to use a calculator to get to that same 67% statistic and makes people crazy and thus need way too much caffeine.

4. Create yourself a PowerPoint presentation on paper, but then use it only to guide you as you speak. For the really important points when you must have a slide, insert a highlighted stage direction to yourself-"Put up slide #5 now"-and then you'll only be punctuating your speech with those wonderful tidbits that attendees can use as takeaways, which they will. At other times, when there should not be a slide, make sure you use the function key to darken the screen, keeping the audience attention right where it should be-on you.

5. Remember Seth Godin's rule of thumb: no more than six words on a slide. If you think Seth's advice is crazy, check out Seth's astute guide to PowerPoint here. If you're still not convinced, think back to the best presentation you ever sat through and try to copy your next presentation to match. I bet it was succinct and sparse. Right?

Follow even one of these rules and you'll be giving better presentations than most corporations in America. Don't your employees and clients deserve that from you?

How to Go Back to School . . . and Still Keep Up With Life

There are so many options out there for getting that degree you never finished, brushing up on business skills, or even to retrain for a new career—all without changing your entire life in the process.

The New York Times reports on whether or not online education is right for you . . . and your current or future employer.

"While every employer is different, Susan Kryczka, director of distance education at Boston University, said that most treat online degrees as equivalent to degrees obtained by attending classes in classrooms.

Ms. Kryczka said that many employers would cover online education as part of existing tuition reimbursement programs, provided that employees could prove that the online degree pertained to their current job.

Once employees have completed their degrees, she added, many are rewarded with additional compensation for advancing their education. . . .

When employers are considering job applicants, online degrees are also becoming more accepted. Bob Leber, director of education and work-force development at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., says that when employers are evaluating prospective employees, most don’t ask applicants to specify how they obtained their degrees, just where they obtained them."

So how do you find a good program?

OnlineEduBlog.com rates online universities here. This rating service offers news updates, ratings, and links to a wide selection of online education classes that are available.

"OnlineEduBlog is an education directory and guide that provides exclusive information, reviews, tips and suggestions on choosing the best online college, online course and online education resources that will help you complete your higher education very conveniently along with the degrees they offer for various levels."
The Denver Post reports that with the rising cost of gas these days, online classes are becoming the preferred choice of prospective students.

"As the price of gasoline swells by the day, online education appears to be one industry that has grown sweeter for those hoping to get a degree.

The wait list at the University of Colorado Denver's online program is up 90 percent from last fall. The number of students enrolled in CSU's distance-learning courses is up by 300 students from last year."

What are you waiting for?

Using an Outlook Plugin To Set up Meetings

This increase in the use of technology has lead to management asking employees to do more. The name of the game is productivity. More output with fewer employees equals higher profits. If we are going to be asked to use technology then it makes sense that we use it to its full potential.

Outlook Plugin

Telephone calls, conference calls, web or video conferencing, they all take time to organize and of course, they all take time from our schedule to participate. There is much in the way of software that can help a busy person plan and control their daily activities. If you are a MicroSoft Outlook user then you have a fairly comprehensive calendar and task manager right at your fingertips.

If the in-built features of Outlook aren't quite powerful enough to handle your requirements, you can download and install plugins that extend Outlook's capabilities. There are several plugins available including AccuConference Outlook Plugin. This is a free conference call scheduler.

Most schedulers allow you to view calendars for all the proposed participants to find common free periods. You are then able to book a conference call and send emails to each participant.

One of the benefits of using a plugin is the auto feature which will automatically dial the participant's phone numbers at the scheduled time. Using this feature, you can schedule individual calls throughout the day to an individual number or schedule a group of numbers for a conference call.

To use the software, you would normally activate the function through a button on Outlook's toolbar. To select the participant(s) from your contacts list (or manually insert numbers), select a time and day and save. You can set a reminder for any period prior to the scheduled start time. This appears as a popup displaying the reminder message and details. At the scheduled time the software would activate the auto call function.

Plugins help you to schedule your time. This helps you plan your day leading to more control over your activities, less stress and better productivity.

AccuConference | 5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable

5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable

Were you told to set up a conference call today? Did you groan, roll your eyes, or curl up in the fetal position on the floor? That’s a shame – meetings aren’t bad, it is the way that we think they should be conducted that are.

Here are six myths about meetings that mean participants will be bored and as the presenter, you can’t wait for it to be over with a tip to bust the myth and get your participants engaged.

  1. The more people that attend the better your meeting will be.
  2. Wrong. If you’re putting a meeting together to follow up with a development project, you may not need to invite the sales department. The Modern Meeting Standard suggests asking if the presence of one person would dramatically shift a decision making vote. If yes, they need to attend, if no, then they can probably skip this one. (Al Pittampalli put together a great book and you can check out a more in depth interview with him in our April Newsletter)

  3. Everyone is paying attention.
  4. A lot of presenters think that once they send out the invitation and conference call information that their work is done. The truth is that it takes a lot of work to keep participants engaged during the conference call. Many participants just put their phone on mute so that the rest of the conference doesn’t hear them working or playing games on their phone. Things like Q&A sessions, polling, or even getting interactive on social networks during your presentation are great ways to keep participants engaged.

  5. Reading from slides is the same thing as “making a presentation”.
  6. No. The golden rule of presentation is never read from your slides. Slides are a guide to prevent the speaker from losing their place and to visually stimulate your participants along the way. Instead of filling slide after slide with bullet points, use images and short statements to clue the participants into the information, but if you give it away on the slides – they will tune you out.

  7. Your agenda is a script.
  8. Much like the slides in Myth #3, the use of an agenda is sometimes distorted into being used as a script for the meeting. The agenda should be more of a guide to let participants know how the conference call time is going to be spent. For example, an agenda might say that from 9:00 – 9:30 will be Introduction, 9:30 – 10:30 Speaker, 10:30-11:00 Q&A. A meeting agenda works best when used as a short check list of how presenters plan on the time being used.

  9. Meetings that are blocked out for an hour must fill the whole hour.
  10. Don't fill time for the sake of taking up the entire hour. If you wrap up early or get through questions quicker than anticipated, go ahead and close out the conference. People will appreciate your effectiveness and be glad they have some extra time where they can get some other things taken care of. Nothing kills a meeting faster than when your participants feel like you're wasting their time.

Part of the thing that makes meetings and conferences a bit of a drag is the way the meeting is viewed. If we start small, dispelling some myths, and move on from there we are guaranteed to have more productive meetings and happy co-workers.

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