Who Would Want to Listen to Me?

Who will listen?

Supposedly, public speaking is the number one fear we all have.  The most common form it takes in our minds is standing up in front of a large group of people to give a speech.  But it can also strike when giving a toast at a dinner party, or when addressing clients on a conference call.

The cause of the public speaking fear is a tricky thing to pinpoint, but one part we can identify is that confidence has a lot to do with it.  Speaking from an audience’s viewpoint, we enjoy a good speaker and empathize with a bad one.  So it’s good to know that right from the bat, the audience – mainly – is on your side.

Lisa Braithwaite of SpeakSchmeak has a very good point on the subject of confidence.  Have you ever asked yourself, “Who would want to hear what I have to say?”  As Braithwaite points out, if don’t have anything to say – or think you don’t – then no, no one will want to listen.  Part of having confidence is knowing that you do have something to say and people will listen.

You know your message is important, so take stock from that.  Believe that your story is as good as or better than anyone else’s, and it will be.  Not because of wishful thinking, but because it came from you, and you – and your message – are unique and interesting. 

Creating Effective PowerPoint Slides

After last looking at the macro approach to presentations, which involved figuring out which pieces go where and in what order and creating a cohesive whole, in this post we'll discuss building the individual slide itself -- how to title, how to use graphics, etc.

1. Each slide needs a title. A lot of presentation specialists may argue the point, but how confusing is it to come into the middle of a presentation having missed the first five minutes and there's a slide up without any telling information on it. It's a graph, with lots of numbers, but the late arriving attendee has no idea what the information represents and has to dig through his handout or ask someone for information. Why not just put a headline on it? It's an easy, straightforward, audience-friendly approach.

2. Titles are not all considered equal. Communications specialist Mary Munter terms good titles as "message titles" and bad titles as "topic titles." Basically, a topic title is something like "Our Company" while a message title is "Our Company's Growth in 2008." So many presentation templates emphasize the use of topic titles (for those presenters just quickly throwing together their slides at the last minute), but take a few more minutes and think it through. How best can you explain what's on that slide? What message do you want to send about that slide?

3. Using graphs, word charts, and concept diagrams. Slide after slide of text may not be the best approach. If you have information that can be presented another way, why not try it? In most presentation programs, there are a variety of chart options to insert into your presentation. If you are presenting several "how much" or "how" concepts, consider doing so with charts, graphs, or concept diagrams. Rather than just using a bulleted list, why not use a more visual representation? There are a myriad of options available in PowerPoint, some over the top and unnecessary, but a simple chart used here and there can spice up an otherwise unfriendly presentation.

Do people retain information by reading it or by understanding connections between it and other information? It depends on their learning style. If you calculate that about half of your audience will be visual, using graphs and charts will help them, and will still reach the other half of your audience that are verbal or aural learners, or a combination of the two.

Be An Interesting Speaker, Part 1

Managers and CEOs have to make speeches. It's just a fact of business life. As someone in a position of leadership, you have to get up and talk to your constituents or your employees about policy changes, new business development plans, the state of the break room after lunch time, or whatever. For many, it's old hat; for some, it induces terror of the worst sort. There are many factors to consider when approaching a speaking event, so we'll cover those first.

A few tips to making it through your speaking duties:

1. Consider your body language. Speakers who slump or walk with a wilted appearance won't garner much respect or credibility. Posture is poise. If you stand up straight while you speak, it goes a long way. But you don't have to stand stock still the entire time, you can use planned, natural movements (use of hands and arm gestures, walk in short paces within your speaking space, etc.) that emphasize the points you are trying to make. If you're speaking in a more personal manner, you'll want to lessen the distance between yourself and your audience.

2. Think about your vocal qualities. How your voice sounds is another consideration. If you get really nervous, watch your breathing and slow it as much as possible. Try not to fear silence. If you're in between points and saying nothing, that's better than stuttering um, um, um as you find your bearings. Slow your speech to a meaningful pace (one that isn't so boring as to put people to sleep, but that isn't as fast as you can talk) and take care to enunciate the words you say. Hurrying and not speaking with clarity can seem like you're mumbling instead of speaking.

3. Find out about your speaking environment conditions. What kind of space are you speaking in and to? How will your listeners be seated—around a table, in rows of chairs, around smaller multiple tables? Consider how far away you should be and how close you should be. Communications specialist Mary Munter says that the more objects you place between yourself and the audience, the more formal the interaction. Think about what you should wear? Is it a casual event or should you wear business attire?

In an upcoming post, we'll cover how to practice your speech, relaxation techniques, and last minute jitter techniques.

Designing Top-Notch Slide Presentations

The macro version of slide presentations entails figuring out which piece of your presentation goes on which slide and how to connect them all into a cohesive whole.
This post discusses the macro version. In a future post, we'll talk about the micro version of slides, or what each slide should look like. So stay tuned!

Remember the presentation structure we talked about in our previous post? Everything you put together in that step now comes forward to this step. Got everything within reach. Okay, let's go.

1. Translate your presentation structure into draft slides. You'll need an opening slide (usually an inspiring image or quote) and an agenda slide (a kind of table of contents for your presentation; this is a bit different than the quick synopsis of your key points, which is part of your presentation. An agenda outlines the slides for your presentation). Then you'll need slides for all your main points and backup slides (at least one or two) to support those main points. And finally, you'll need a closing (or summary) slide. So how many slides total does that give you? Use one piece of paper for each (or if you're already using your slide software program, map out the number you'll need there).

2. Connect the agenda and the main points and backup slides. Use the same wording throughout. For instance, if you describe the employee handbook as the "Employee Guide," use that throughout your presentation so as not to confuse anyone. Keep the typography and graphics, spacing, amount of text and size of text as similar as you can throughout all the slides. Another idea is to repeat that agenda slide throughout the presentation, each time you switch to the next main point in your agenda. But only if your presentation is quite complicated and really requires people to focus on how each main point relates to the other.

3. Choose colors that don't overwhelm or distract your text. If you use Powerpoint, you'll have to avoid the templates that come with the program, according to PowerPoint critic Edward Tufte, who said, "No matter how beautiful your PP readymade template is, it would be better if there were less of it." Design your own template and then keep it consistent, as mentioned in step 2. Use a solid background, without patterns or textures or graphics that move. More light, go lighter; less light, less light, a cool color such as intense bright green, blue, or maroon, as the color won't glare like a lighter color.

4. Keep the typography simple, and ignore the urge to add animated or convoluted graphics. Less is much more; trust me. I recently took a multimedia presentation class and realized that every single presentation I've ever given was a disgrace to the name presentation. I love animation and graphics and pretty colors. by the time I got out of that class, I knew that I would never again subject my audience to a dancing cartoon character or a headline that flickers on the screen. Please trust me when you think just one fancy graphic or animation will add some pizzazz to your boring presentation. Just don't be a boring speaker (or don't procrastinate) and you won't absolutely infuriate your audience.

Next time, a micro approach to slides: how much text, how to title, how to use graphs, and more!

What's Your Communicator Strategy?

Everyone has one, or should have anyway, when communicating as a manager or CEO with their employees, regardless of whether you are speaking or writing.

A communicator strategy is made up of the following:

1. What is your objective? Communicating in non-business environments is as simple as speaking or writing to get a response. However, in business environments, you are speaking or writing (i.e., communicating) in order to get a certain response. Thus, your objective will determine your communication strategy from the outset. To find a viable objective, convert your general communication goal to a more specific communication goal. This would look something similar to "To express my vision," which would turn into "As a result of this communication, my audience will understand my vision for 2009." See how that works?

2. What communication style do you choose? Your communication style is directly related to the objective you've set for the communication. Are you explaining or persuading? Are you seeking to understand or learn something?  You're going to use different communication styles when doing each of the above-listed objectives. For instance, when you're explaining, you have all the information you need, you don't need others' opinions, ideas, or input, and you want to control the message content. This is also true with the persuading communication style. For the communications that are for you to understand or learn, you obviously do not have sufficient information, you need or want to hear other opinions, ideas, or input, and you want to (or need to) involve your audience in order to come up with the message together.

Be advised that sometimes you may need to use a combination of those styles in order to facilitate quality communication throughout a longer-term or more difficult project.

3. What is your credibility? What is your audience's perception of you? How they perceive you will affect your communication strategy. If they don't think you are someone they want (or need) to listen to, it does not matter how efficiently you communicate. Thus, you may want to stress or remind your audience of the grounds for your credibility. Let them know why they should listen to what you have to say, and do so in a humble way. However, simply relying on that is not enough. You must communicate well and use every communication tool in your arsenal to continue to prove your credibility.

Win Mark Cuban's Money

I first came across Mark Cuban's challenge on Seth's Blog and was intrigued.  Apparently Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, wants to stimulate the economy by investing in new and start-up businesses across America. 

The way he's doing this is very dramatic and Cuban-like.  He announced his intentions in a blog-post, and to be considered, you have to respond with your full business plan – yes, all of the private details – as a comment on same blog for all the world to see.

This seems like madness!  He expects people to give their money-making ideas away for just a chance at getting some seed money?  Cuban acknowledges that business plans may be stolen, but it's all part of a larger plan.

"If its a good idea and worth funding, we want it replicated elsewhere. The idea is not just to help you, but to figure out how to help the economy through hard work and ingenuity. If you come up with the idea and get funding, you have a head start. If you execute better than others, you could possibly make money at it." –Mark Cuban

Taken all by itself, the concept of "meta-franchising" (my new word I just invented… I think) simply through intellectual property distribution is genius.  If someone reads about an idea on Cuban's site, they can duplicate it somewhere else and now we have two businesses thriving where before we'd just have one.  And without a Cuban call to action, perhaps none?

Of course it's not about money for the billionaire – either receiving more or investing it -- I'm thinking he is doing whatever he can to get people motivated to go out and make money for themselves.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Politics & Branding

US Capitol

Back in the day, it was said that there were a couple of very taboo subjects that you should never bring up in your business life. One of which was politics. There was an understanding back in the "good ol' days" about your business practices being separate from your personal political beliefs. 

With the rise of social media, it seems to be an acceptable practice to associate your politics to your brand. On Inauguration Day, Twitter was just going crazy with updates regarding the new President. Social media has changed the way we look at associating our personal beliefs with our business or brand. Small business has taken over sites like Twitter and Facebook and no one really seems scared to share their political beliefs anymore.

Have we really reached the point where we are not concerned that our political beliefs might drive off potential clients? Let's assume for a second that anyone who has a political belief opposite from yours is someone you're not going to do business with.  In regards to the presidential election in November, Obama defeated McCain 53% to 46% of the popular vote. You're running the risk of alienating somewhere around one half of your potential US client base.

This wouldn't happen, of course, because that's just an incredible assumption to make, but it is an interesting thought to consider. What happened? When did it stop being taboo for us to talk about our political beliefs when we're using a social media tool to market our companies or brands?

As a business owner, do you consider your risks to be worth the rewards? Are you okay with possibly losing a handful of clients because you spoke your mind but gaining one that agreed with your opinion?

Can it be possible that it's just a commentary on how far the United States has come that we are able to share those kinds of beliefs with our virtual communities? Diversity and tolerance have come a very long way in the last sixty years. Maybe that's why it's not considered taboo anymore.

What do you think?

If you blog in a business capacity, are you more or less likely to talk about your political standings?  Do you even care if people do? Are you less likely to do business with a company that doesn't have the same structure as you do?

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist