5 Ways to Have Comfortable Presentations

There’s a reason why we all love going home. It’s comfortable and familiar. You know where everything is and you can stretch out in a chair that knows your form and weight. There is no second guessing in your home.

There also isn’t a group of people listening to some snappy conference call hold music while waiting for you to start a conference. It can be a little overwhelming, since conference calls are usually held away from your desk and you’re completely thrown off by the new surroundings. How many times have you been on a conference and heard, “Oh, one second, I don’t know where anything is in here.” Here are five very simple ways to be more comfortable in new surroundings.

  1. I suggest you stand up during your conference, but if you chose not to, make sure you sit in your own chair. Just like at home, your chair knows what you feel like and you’ll feel comfortable in your chair.
  2. Unless you’re “borrowing” someone’s space, choose your own room to hold the conference call. When you can, walk into each room and get a feel for it. I would hate to present in a room that didn’t have any windows, so I would never chose a room like that.
  3. Take at least 30 minutes before the call to poke around the room. I would even suggest planning on eating lunch in the office, the longer you sit in a room, and the more comfortable you’re going to be with it. You’ll know where the foot rests are for the conference table or where the table might squeak if you move too much.
  4. Use your own computer when you can. Out conference room computer set up is completely different from mine at my desk (my desk is Windows 7 and the conference room is Windows XP). Every time I go in there, it takes me like 15 minutes to get used to how things look. Use your own computer when it’s easy to take it into the conference room you selected – and if not, make logging in part of your 30 minutes of familiarizing.
  5. Always chose a room that has a door to close. Being able to shut the door will cut out any of the outside influences and you’ll be able to focus on what you’re doing without any interruptions.

Nothing is ever going to feel like your own desk and your own offices, but these are five very simple things that you can do in order to make yourself feel a little more at home in your conference room. What are you doing to get yourself ready for your next conference call?

Where to Focus?

There are a lot of different reasons a company will host a conference call. It could be to announce a promotion, have a guest on the call, train, update company policy, you name it and a company can accomplish it with a conference call. One of the things that always have to be identified when planning a call is what approach you should take as the speaker. Should you take the “I” focus, or the “we” focus and what is the difference?

Some examples of I-Centric presenting will be when you say phrases that have a personal focus, like I have or I feel. In a We-Centric conference, you’ll be referring to a lot of things in the third person or using we. So how do you know what focus to take? As I’ve said before, on a conference call you only have the ability to use words and tone to set a mood.

Set the mood with an “I-Centric” presentation if you are:

Invited to speak on the conference call. You’re there because you have some information, and people want to hear how what you’ve done worked for you.

Accepting a promotion or a new position. You want to address that you’re excited and that you’re looking forward to working with everyone.

Presenting research you did. Sometimes, what you’re showing everyone is something that you’ve done on your own, so “I-Centric” words are completely okay.

Set the mood with “We-Centric” phrases when you are:

Accepting a promotion or a new position. Yes, I realize that I suggested you use I-Centric words for this situation also. The truth of the matter is anytime you accept a promotion or new position in your company is a time that you should enforce the ideas that you’re all going to be a team. It’s important that everyone walks away knowing you’re excited about your new position and that you look forward to collaborating with a new team.

Updating on company policy. When policy changes are made, it’s not just the employees who are affected. Everyone will be affected by changes in a company. When announcing them to a group of employees you need to make sure they understand that the management will not be immune to the changes.

Status meetings. When you’re just updating members of your company or group with where you stand on a project or just in general, you should take a We-Centric approach. Any good things that have stepped forward with the project, everyone has a small part of the success – as well as any failures.

The bottom line between using a We-Centric or I-Centric focus is that most of the time, you’ll want to use a mixture of both, and depending on what you have to say, it could affect the way you say it. How are you using “we” and “I” to set the mood on your conference call?

Presentation Time Limits

Last week, my dad called me in a mess of bubbling excitement, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since one of his Little League teams was getting to battle it out on the road to a championship years ago. A few weeks ago, he got a new job and was faced with the prospect of presenting a proposal—something new for his company.

He struggles with getting up and doing presentations. It’s not that he’s shy (by ANY means), it’s just not something he’s had to do a lot, and his brain tends to get ahead of his mouth—especially when he’s bubbling with ideas. Naturally, he called me for some tips about what to do. The first thing I told him, based off what I know about my dad and his ability to ramble, was to set a time limit for his presentation. He had one hour in front of the big-wigs in his company, and he wanted to make the most of it, but he had about thirty pages of information he wanted to cover. We had to whittle all that down to a presentation that would fit in a time limit that didn’t seem like too much, or too little. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Give yourself enough time to cover what you want to cover and leave time for questions. Since he was presenting something new to a company that they had never done before, it was important to pad the time for a little longer question session. We anticipated they would want to know a little more about what he had in mind, and he wanted to be able to answer those questions.
  • Define specific points to cover – and make them the most important things. To do this, we found that he should take a journalistic approach. In his presentation, he should answer who, what, when, where, why, and how and then let the conversation start.
  • Stick like glue to the plan. When you make a plan and then veer off the path, it’s almost like people can see that your thought train was completely derailed. Once you make a plan for time limits, stick to it.
  • Plan what you’re going to say, and then put together the PowerPoint. Since we were trying to stick to a time limit, we decided that if we put together what he would say, instead of what he would show, we would be building a PowerPoint that was to the point of what we were trying to accomplish.

In about ten minutes, we had my dad ready to go, and after another thirty, we had his PowerPoint knocked out. It only took us about an hour to get him ready to present to a Fortune 500 company – and the best news? They loved his ideas and gave him the green light to go ahead and get the ball rolling on a major venture.

Public Speaking Practice

A lot of times I talk about how to “practice” before you stand up in front of a group or jump on a conference call, but I get the distinct feeling that not a lot of people take this into consideration. We make a lot of excuses as to why we can’t practice – or sometimes, even why we won’t practice. I’m going to debunk some of those reasons right now and show you why you should always practice before you present.

Excuse #1 – I’m a pro. Yeah? So are Major League sports players, musical talents, and theatre stars. So are movie stars, television stars, and even acrobats in the circus. They still show up to batting practice and dress rehearsals. Getting paid to speak at events doesn’t mean that you’re immune to wardrobe malfunctions or technology failures. 

Excuse #2 – I don’t have enough time. Make time – plain and simple. You should never try to make a presentation when you haven’t familiarized yourself with the surroundings or topic. You would never present on a subject you don’t know anything about – so why would you make a presentation in a conference room or over a phone system that you didn’t know anything about. 

Excuse #3 – I have to travel to get there. Okay, that’s understandable, but that shouldn’t be your excuse for absolutely not practicing. Give yourself enough time when you get into the venue to at least take a walk around the hall, or to ask someone to tell you how the conference call will work, instead of just walking into the presentation and expecting everything to run smoothly. Pad your scheduled with, at the very least, 10-20 minutes of down time before you start.

 Those are the three biggest reasons that I hear for why people don’t do a run through before their conferences. Everyone says the old cliché about how practice makes perfect – but I don’t agree with that.  I think that striving to be perfect will only lead to disappointment because no one is perfect. You should instead strive for confidence. Part of confidence is being comfortable. So practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make confident public speakers. 


Crisis Communication

I think we can all agree that the BP created a PR disaster with their handling of the crisis shortly after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sure if the PR team could hop in a time machine and go back, they would find a way to handle things a little better from the very start. (One would hope right?) The thing about communication in a crisis is that sometimes, we come across situations that are unprecedented, things that have never happened before, and it isn’t until later that we can get down into the nitty gritty of a company response and learn from mistakes as well as triumphs. This kind of communication can be especially different when hosting a conference call to update everyone and when you have only your voice and the words you are using to convey the messages, here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • Express your emotions so there is no question on how you feel about a situation. Sometimes, situations call for condolences to be expressed to families. Be sure you say that out loud. In a crisis, loss happens, and you’re sorry for that. No one will be able to see that in your eyes, so you have to say it out loud.
  • Use the tone of your voice to convey the seriousness of the situation. There is a time and place for jokes and humor on a conference, but this is not one of those times. It’s not always appropriate to try to “lighten the mood”.
  • Use facts and refrain from judgment or blame. When presenting information in a crisis, the last thing you want to do is speculate when you shouldn’t be. Talk about or answer questions about what you know, not what you think.
  • Keep it simple and avoid using jargon. Word is going to travel fast once you hang up from the conference. Speak in simple terms to lessen the likelihood that your words and meaning could be twisted.
  • Be mindful of the words you are actually saying. For example, using a word like “promise” is going to stand out. Even when you say “I promise” or “we promise” and you don’t mean the literal meaning of promise, for many, that word binds you into stone. Remember that your words have so much power, even though you’re just trying to offer comfort.

I think in the end, what I’ve learned from BP as well as numerous other tragedies that we’ve had in the world is that when it comes to communicating in the crisis, most of what people want is reassurance, but as companies, we are also trying to give the public the facts. What have you learned from the BP oil spill?

Public Speaking

Back in Junior High, I had a choir solo in front of the whole school. I got dressed up for my big debut and listened to the music intently for the musical queue. I was singing a solo from Sunset Boulevard and I was 12 years old and nervous as heck. Since I fidget when I’m nervous, I played on the ends of my skirt, rolling the ends a little between my fingers.

When my choir teacher (who looked a lot like the wicked witch of the west) played the video in front of the choir class, I realized that I was not “rolling my skirt” a little – instead it was rolling quite a bit and I thank God I managed not to flash anyone. Mortified, I’m pretty sure that was the moment I determined that my choir teacher hated me for letting the tape play, and it was also the moment that I realized that a socially awkward girl prone to fidgeting and embarrassment had no business putting herself on the line like that – despite my love of singing.

When I moved, I decided to build a new me, and my fear of speaking in front of a group of people was the first thing I wanted to tackle. Despite my introverted personality now, in high school and college no one would have ever applied that adjective to me. I got active in debate and by the time I graduated college in 2005, I majored in Communications. Not bad for a shy kid, don’t you think? As I worked (and continue to work through) my old fears of public speaking, here are the presentation skills that I know are going to help you rock some socks off.

Rule Number One: You should never read word for word from a printed out document or slide show. (Please never forget this one.)

  • Start strong – come out with a relevant story that ties everything together.
  • Let go of the podium and take down the last wall between you and the audience.
  • It’s a presentation – not a sales pitch.
  • Be passionate, exciting, and make people want to know more.
  • Be open for questions and if you run out of time, give the audience a way to get a hold of you after the presentation.

The people who taught me these things know way more about public speaking and presenting in front of live crowds than I do, but thanks to some of these things, the shy awkward kid from South Carolina moved to Arkansas and now has a career that she’s comfortable and happy in. Never saw that coming.

How did you make yourself a better public speaker? Who did you watch and what presentation skills did you try to emulate when it came to when you did your own presentations?

Really Anywhere, Anytime, Any Place.

While everyone might now be over excited about the appearance of two-way video calling on cell phones, I am. Since I work in an industry where we talk about how certain products and services allow you to take your office and meetings everywhere, being able to actually do that is a very cool change. Since Wi-Fi is everywhere you can take your laptop out and host or attend a conference without having to worry about being in the office.

Right now, if you’re stuck in traffic or on a train it’s not always an easy move to whip out your laptop and connect to a meeting. In the next year, we are going to be able to whip out our phones and see the person we’re talking to. Here are some of the companies that are making this happen.

Apple:  While official confirmation hasn’t come out yet, it’s a pretty good guess that the new iPhone 4G will support (at least) two way video conferencing, among many other things. More than likely, it will (with no big surprise here) support iChat or some other form of Apple based product, but I suspect with time, video conferencing providers and services will find a way to make their products compatible with that kind of video availability.

Evo 4G: A strong response to the iPhone, it’s got a similar layout and will provide a means for video chatting. The initial concerns to the Evo video chat was that there would be a charge for the service, but it seems like now, it will not require an additional fee to access, only an additional fee to access premium services (whatever those will be).

I guess the basic question comes down to if you see yourself using this kind of service, or if you will just try it out because you’re in the market for a new phone.  Are you more excited about Apple or Sprint being able to offer this kind of service and will it make your life easier, or harder?

How to Get and Use Feedback

Your conference call has been planned, executed, and now you’re sitting back, enjoying the endorphins that are flowing through your system after a successful presentation. It was successful, right? You think it was because you managed not to forget what you were talking about or get derailed, but did you remember to ask what participants thought? Here are five easy steps for asking for feedback and what to do once you get it.

1.) Ask for feedback.  If you’re not providing the channels for your attendees to give you feed back, you’re not going to get any. Make it easier on them by polling them throughout the web conference, providing an email to send feedback to, or encourage them to use social media by liking your company page on Facebook or a hashtag on Twitter.
2.) Respond to the feedback. Nothing sucks worse than feeling like you’re not heard. When you get feedback from someone, respond to them, thank them, or ask for more information. The more you know about how they developed an opinion, and compare it to your other feedback, the better you’re going to know what works and what doesn’t.
3.) Implement the suggestions. This is important especially when you have a repeat conference with repeat clients. What is the point of asking for feedback if you’re not going to make changes based on what your clients feel? Meet with the other conference organizers and see what the participants said and how you can make the changes – if you can at all. There will be some changes you can’t make, but you should evaluate all the suggestions.
4.) Invite the clients who gave you feedback to another conference. Once you’ve evaluated the changes you can make and implemented them, invite the people who had feedback to a session for free. Let them see how you took the suggestions they made and implemented it into further conferences.
5.) Follow up with the participants. Once the conference has ended, don’t be shy to send them an email and ask them how you did. If they have more suggestions, they’ll let you know. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can ask for feedback all day long, but unless you do something about what you’re given, it’s empty question. What’s your preferred way to ask for feedback and how are you responding?

Vacationers Guide to Conference Planning

When heading out the door for vacations, you have a very specific plan in mind when it comes to how to approach the trip. Where are we going? What are we doing when we get there? My mother planned every aspect of our road trips down to a “T” and I learned the guide to a great road trip. Most of us have a plan for things that are fun and if we could just apply that same dedication to our business, we might find that much of our daily stress will be gone.

Here's how my mama’s vacation planning guide can help you plan your next conference call:

1. Make a list to keep from forgetting anything. If you are an organization nerd like me, then you know that a packing list is one of the most important things you have for your trip, especially when traveling with kids. It serves as a “to-do” list for your upcoming trip. You should have the same approach to planning your conference. Can your provider handle the capacity needed? Do you need to schedule the call with them? Making a to-do list leading up to your conference will ensure that things work smoothly. We have a number of free eBooks available that can help you plan your conference and how to leverage conference calls to your advantage.

2. Get your business done before you lock the door. When we got buckled in, my brother and I both knew that we were not going to get to make a stop for at least two hours. So before we left the house, we were sure to have our bellies full and have used the restroom. Before a conference call, you should make sure that you’ve done these as well. When you’re body is happy, you’ll be able to pay attention and no one will be able to hear your stomach growling over the speaker phone.

3. Have a map – not just a GPS. GPS is a great tool until you’ve ventured off the beaten path enough where you don’t have the right map for your location. You know you’re on a road, but GPS doesn’t think that road exists. One second you know just where you are and then next, you’re completely lost. This is why you should always travel with an atlas. When you’re hosting a web conference, you should provide your participants with the hard copies for the presentation as well. If someone doesn’t have computer access or (horror of horrors) your power goes out or your internet dies in the middle of the presentation, you can keep right on going.

4. Keep the kiddos entertained. The greatest invention ever for a road trip family? The back seat DVD player. I remember traveling without those and peppering my parents with an endless stream of are we there yet? The last thing you want as a presenter is for participants to be thinking are you done yet? Be sure that while covering the topics and being knowledgeable, you are also entertaining. Remember that you have two minutes to get the audience’s attention at the beginning and after that, you might never get them to pay attention.

5. Be sure to make stops along the way. Growing up, we were adept at taking really long road trips and my parents always made sure to plan about an hour long stop somewhere, so my brother and I could get out of the car and run around. While we were great travelers, we were also kids, and we still needed to stretch our legs and play. While your participants are still business people, they are also human and will want to get up and stretch their legs. Pad conferences that will last longer than an hour with a short break in the middle.

By applying the same rules to setting up a conference call that you would to hitting the road with the kiddos in tow, you can make things a little easier. Remember that, unfortunately, most people don’t look forward to conferences, much like small children who dread the backseat of the car. All they need is a little bit of entertainment and they will stay nice and happy. That’s my plan, what’s yours?

Five Ways Educators Can Use Conference Calls

In sixth grade, I remember our teacher telling my class about the importance of working in a team. It was the new thing when I was in elementary school – breaking into groups and doing projects together. We had to assign managers, reporters, and the like in order to get the best grade. She always told us that it would be the most important lesson we would learn, something we would appreciate when we got out of college and into work.

  1. Invite a Professor. Even in elementary school, kids are developing their likes and tastes. When I was in fifth grade, I realized I hated math and I liked learning about history. Elementary school was when I decided that I was going to go to college – without fail. It would have been one of the coolest things in the world to get to speak to someone who taught college so we could ask questions to someone who could be one of our teachers in the future.
  2. Authors.  When I was in elementary school, it was so different to have a student that likes to write. I was that kid who took writing assignments so seriously, turning in three pages when only a paragraph was required. I wanted to be a writer from a very young age and to have had the opportunity to speak to someone that did that for a living probably would have been the highlight of my life. (Up to that point, at least)
  3. Phone Pals. Remember having a pen pal? I wrote to a girl in Paris, and she never wrote me back. The point of having a pen pal is to learn about different cultures and when pen pals don’t write back there’s only discouragement. If a kid doesn’t get a response, they won’t be interested in the assignment. Instead of writing letters or emails, set up conferences with other teachers from around the world.  You don’t have to talk to people outside of the United States in order to be exposed to different cultures, and schools are full of kids who will already have different life experiences.
  4. Other Teachers. Set up a conference call with other teachers from your school or branch out to other states and countries to share lesson plans and things that have been happening in your class. If you had a student who had a great idea, you can share it with other teachers. Just because you’re not in college anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not learning something every day.
  5. Summer Reading Clubs. Okay, obviously I was that kid in elementary school. The one who was sneaking her book out of her desk and reading it intently when the teacher wasn’t watching (and sometimes when she was). It would have been fun though, since I wasn’t the only one who was a super book geek, to have been invited to a conference call once a week with other students who were reading, and our teacher advisor. You could even get with other teachers in you district, put together the same reading list and start the discussion.

Most conferencing services have some kind of discount for educational institutions (shameless plug: Get Connected) so if you’re interested in trying to incorporate something like this into your class room, be sure to give your provider a call and see what they can do for you. Are you an educator currently using conference calls? Let me know how you are using your conferences to make for a better classroom experience.