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Tips on creating presentations with personality

Posts Tagged ‘eye contact’

Persuading an audience one-to-one

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Pic from Phil\'s Old Radios

You can learn from really good talk radio hosts.

We’re not talking about the nutbag ones who like to humiliate callers and want everyone locked up, but the ones who create a real intimacy with the listener.

They good ones seem like they’re talking specifically to you. They never talk like they’re addressing a vast audience. It’s because no matter how large the audience, it’s usually just one voice talking to one listener in their room or car.

Talk in the singular

Part of the skill is using singular language: ‘you’, rather than ‘everyone here.’ It makes people feel more special, and that you understand them better.

Radio hosts also avoid the ‘addressing the masses’ tone of voice. Unless you really are addressing thousands of people, a more conversational tone usually creates a closer link with the audience.

That’s why people who listen to a lot of talk radio often regard the host as an actual friend they can trust.

How do you capture that sort of vibe for your presentation?

Your Audience is Not A Thing

Stop thinking of your audience as a thing - a mass of teeming life that forms a single organism, like the Great Barrier Reef.

You can spot speakers who think that way. Some have the thousand yard stare that suggest a previous career as a special forces sniper. Others scan the audience from side to side like a sideshow laughing clown, eyes never resting on any individual. So they never actually make meaningful contact with the audience.

Never forget that every audience is made up of individuals that you’re trying to persuade.

Eye Contact, One By One

The most important way to create the magic audience link is eye contact.

Communicate with the whole audience, but one person at a time. Find a friendly face to start on, and talk to them like they’re the only person in the room. Don’t break eye contact. React to their facial expressions. If they smile, you smile. If they nod, you nod.

Give them a couple of sentences. Then move on to another person on the other side of the room. And so on throughout the presentation.

Talking directly to people engages all the normal facial expressions you make when you’re talking passionately one to one, so even the people you don’t look at can sense you’re engaged.

It’s a huge help for your confidence. You feed off the energy of the audience, creating a loop of positive feedback that makes the whole experience much happier.

Hey! Over HERE, Mister Dominos!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I was pretty shocked by the Dominos YouTube incident.

Not because I didn’t think this sort of thing went on in fast food outlets.

But it shattered my innocent Australian preconceptions of what North Carolinians were capable of. I’ve met a few of them, and my brother-in-law is one. They are the world champions of good manners and considerate behavior. Aside from these two rogue pizza hillbillies, North Carolinians can be trusted around food preparation.

Except for their scary love of deep-fried Thanksgiving turkeys.

But you didn’t come here for flammable turkey alerts, so let’s consider the swift response of the Dominos Corporation CEO Patrick Doyle.

Good Point 1: Quick Response

They got out there and dealt with it quickly. A lot of large companies go into denial mode until it builds up into a larger disaster than it need have been.

Good Point 2: Choice of Media

Nice work to actually use YouTube, the source of all the trouble, to get the message out there, rather than the usual press release approach. The script was pretty honest and free of the usual lawyer-driven evasion words, giving you a sense of the trouble the scandal has caused for innocent small business operators and their staff. It put a human face on the damage, rather than just a giant corporation that people won’t feel sorry for.

The guy seemed genuine, though obviously not a born performer. But that’s OK, it would have been horrible to see a glossed-up professional presenter deliver the message on Domino’s behalf. You want to see the Big Cheese take personal responsibility.

Not-So-Good Point: No Eye Contact

As with any presentation, getting a single point wrong can really lower its effectiveness. In this case, it’s his just-off-camera gaze. Eye contact is essential for any kind of ‘trust me’ message, whether it’s in person, on the stage, or on camera.

It isn’t even the proper ‘talking to an interviewer off camera’ angle, although that would also have been wrong for this. It has a disorienting, ‘are you looking at me or not?’ sort of feel to it.

He’s obviously reading a script, but that’s no excuse. On-camera teleprompters are simple and affordable, allowing you to look down the lens in convincing newsreader fashion.

Shame to mark it down for that one error, but overall, a positive exercise for Dominos in a difficult situation.

What You, The Presenter, Can Learn From Tyre Salespeople

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

I’ve been on the road lately, spending time in tyre stores all over the place, hunting for inspiration for their TV ads.

It involves lots of conversations with tyre mechanics and sales people. And pretending to read a magazine while you eavesdrop on people buying. We find focus groups weird and unnatural. You learn a lot more observing behavior in the wild, David Attenborough style.

This kind of thing is always instructive for us marketing types. A lot of marketers look down on sales people for their coarse treatment of brand values and their total lack of interest in your weekly emailed PowerPoint charts.

This is a major mistake.

Salespeople Have Psychic Skills

Because people who sell things all day long know an enormous amount about people and what makes them buy.  It’s an understanding that goes way beyond the  ‘Female 25-39 AB Family-Oriented Lifestyle Seeker’ stereotypes that infest office-bound thinking.

Good sales people don’t even know how much they know.  They just feel it, instinctively.

Day after day I’d stand with the tyre store people and watch customers pull up out the front of the store. The tyre guy would look at them, and their car, and tell me exactly what the customer would be looking for, what they would say, and whether they were going to buy now or not.

All before the customer has said a single word.

And 80% of the time, they were exactly right.

Their brains are finely calibrated by years of experience, subconsciously noting the non-verbal signals that lead to each sale. To read that last sentence expanded into an entire book, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is interesting.

Audiences Know What’s Coming

Presentation audiences work the same way. They’ve seen a lot of presenters. They know what you’re going to be like before you even open your mouth.

They can just tell, from the graphic style of your first slide, to the way you walk on stage, how you stand, how much eye contact you make, the expression on your face, the equipment you use, and a million other factors.

Most presenters focus on the words to the exclusion of all else. They’re still writing new words in the cab on the way there. And then they start off nervous and twitchy from all the stress.

So work on your snappy opening. Walk on like you own the place.  Work the eye contact. Don’t shuffle papers around. Develop a killer opening line. Those first few moments are when you win ‘em or lose ‘em.

How Do You Tell People They’re Wrong?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Someone recently asked me who was the best speaker I’d ever seen.

I’m not a big fan of the holy-rollin’, pump-‘em-up, Nine Steps to Success school of speaker. They’re all the same, every last one of them.

I prefer presenters that break with the conventional templates, like Edward de Bono slumped over in his chair in the middle of the stage drawing squiggles, the Tom Waits of the overhead projector.

The best speaker I ever saw, coincidentally at the same conference as de Bono, was Noel Pearson, Director of the Cape York Institute, lawyer and aboriginal activist.

His passion is ending the handout mentality among his people, built up through years of good intentions from government and welfare agencies. He believes passive welfare is at the root of the social deterioration of indigenous people, and speaks of the balance between rights and responsibilities.

Not a standard topic for a conference on current business issues, rather than social ones, with an audience of overwhelmingly white finance and marketing types. He had the audience spellbound for an hour, without raising his voice or leaving the lectern. He painted a vivid picture of a world that few of us know or understand, and methodically explained how well-meaning actions can have the opposite effect.

If you define the success of a presentation by how effectively it changes the way the  audience thinks, then this was up there with the best. It was a stunning display of… reasonableness.

Some lessons from Noel Pearson’s presentation style:

The Power of Not Being What They Expect

Pearson was calm, reasonable, and logical, which was not what the audience expected from an aboriginal activist. That instantly changed their willingness to listen. Kind of like Barack Obama’s success in escaping the stereotype of the Jesse Jackson-style firebrand.

Without wanting to trivialize what Pearson or Obama have overcome, we all have our stereotypes when we get up to present: Self-Indulgent Marketing Guy, Out-Of-Touch-With-Customers Finance Woman, Dandruffy IT Man. If you can break these expectations, their minds open up to your message.

You Don’t Have to Shout

A lot of speakers are really concerned about being ‘energized’, and that’s generally a good thing. But if you’re energetic all the time, there’s no light and shade. Speaking quietly and calmly can draw people in, making it seem more like a conversation than a broadcast. It creates intimacy, even in a large hotel ballroom.

Eye Contact: Show You Know Your Stuff

Pearson rarely looks down, even when he’s delivering a really complex message. Obviously his legal background helps. Apart from the non-verbal benefits of looking the audience in the eye, it shows that he knows his material, and he believes in it. When you see politicians reading from a script, you tend to think: “She doesn’t really believe that. She’s just reading something one of her staffers wrote.” If you’re really passionate about your topic, you should know your material.

The clip below shows Pearson speaking at a breakfast. He gets off to a nervous start, with lots of ums and face-touching. But once he gets the flow going, he has a superb command of language. It’s a compelling demonstration of the delicate art of telling people their views are wrong without causing offence.