A student in one of my public speaking classes recently gave a persuasive speech about the declining honey bee population. At the end of her presentation, she distributed a straw filled with honey to each member of the audience. Attached to the straw was signage that read “Save the Honeybee.”
The Honey Bee straw was a nice ending to a wonderfully presented speech. It also was a great reminder that in public speaking and business presentations, applying a little creativity in your choice of a visual aid can help you stand out and help make your point more memorable.
Credibility is the most important characteristic in all communications, especially public speaking and presentation. Without credibility, nothing else you do matters — not the clothes you wear, the words you use, the passion you bring to the presentation, nothing.
This has always been true, but more so now than ever. Thanks to reality TV, YouTube, Facebook Live, Snapchat and a thousand other contributing factors, perceived authenticity and sincerity have risen to the top of the way we evaluate the credibility of all message, including speeches and business presentations. Messages that are not deemed authentic or sincere are immediately dismissed as unimportant by audiences.
In public speaking and business presentations, if you don’t have credibility, you don’t have anything.
The best speeches and presentations are stories and the best stories are stories from the heart. Everyone has thousands of stories to tell — unless you’ve been living in a cave your whole life in which case, I want to hear all about the cave!
Despite all the new communication technology we have available to us, face-to-face communication and storytelling are still the most powerful methods we have of communicating, engaging and persuading our audiences. That has been true since the dawn of humans.
Why are stories so powerful? Data makes us think, but stories make us feel. Data is important to bolster credibility but stories create an emotional bond and that is what drives us to get our butts out of our chairs to take action. Supporting data combined with compelling stories are an unstoppable combination.
Telling the stories of your business can have a powerful effect on your customers, employees, shareholders, community leaders and others.
I once saw the Chairman of the Board of a large retail chain move a group of store directors to tears when he told stories of how the company was disappointing customers over and over again due to the poor layout of the stores. He made a solid case for change using data, but it was the storytelling that moved the store directors to embrace the changes and take immediate action.
In another example, I once helped developed employee safety communications for a global mining and manufacturing company. We were able to present lots of data to make the case for following safe work practices, but it was the story a widow told about the tragic accident that took her husband’s life that made the biggest impact on the employees.
In public speaking and business presentations, it is important to remember that data feeds our brain but stories feed our souls. So speak about your passions. If you speak from your heart, they’ll listen with theirs.
So you’ve just given a great presentation and you’ve moved into the Q&A. Someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer. What should you do?
Make up an answer?
Admit you don’t know but promise to find out the answer?
Throw the question to the audience?
Let’s look at each course of action:
Make up an answer?
Never make up an answer. It’s not ethical and it will catch up with you eventually. Don’t fall into the trap that you have to know everything because you are the speaker. You’ve already proven your expertise in your presentation. Remember: nobody likes a know-it-all. You don’t have anything to prove, except perhaps your humbleness.
Admit you don’t know but promise to find out the answer?
This is an acceptable way to handle the situation but be sure that you do indeed follow up with an answer and that you do so in a timely manner.
Throw the question to the audience?
I believe this is the best of the three choices. It engages the audience and often provides an insightful discussion. You can say something to the effect of “That’s a great question. I don’t have an answer. What do you the rest of you think? How would you handle this?” I sometimes throw questions to the audience even when I do know the answer just to see what others think. “I have an idea but I’d really like to hear what everyone else thinks.”
The Q&A in public speaking and business presentations is a great way to engage your audience and a great opportunity to be inclusive with other ideas and other points of view.
One reason I love public speaking so much is the audience. I draw energy from them and immediately put that energy back into my presentation. I become more animated and in turn, my audience shows more engagement. I see them smiling and their heads nodding in agreement. They take notes, and when I make a great point, they write furiously. When they see a slide that they like, they raise their smartphones to snap a photo of it. I hear them laugh at one of my quips. I see their quizzical facial expressions when they are trying to understand. They sit up straight and lean forward as they are listening intently.
I can react to all of that — unless I am making a virtual presentation.
Virtual Business Presentations
Increasingly, business presentations are being delivered virtually via webinars, podcasts, and telephone conference calls. Virtual presentations have many advantages, not the least of which is that they allow people from all around the world to participate without having to travel. But such meetings can be challenging because you cannot see your audience and that makes it more difficult to determine if your messages are resonating.
Last Friday, Kris Pugsley of ON Semiconductor and I co-presented a webinar hosted by Poppulo about how large companies could communicate more effectively with their employees. There were more than 1,000 corporate communications professionals from around the world who listened to our webinar.
Engaging a Virtual Audience
Here are some of the techniques we employed in an effort to engage our audience:
Good Content: We knew our topic was relevant to our audience and that they would be curious about what we had to say. We presented intriguing strategies but we also included many practical examples. Audiences want to hear stimulating thoughts but they also want ideas that they can implement right away.
Personal Introductions: In addition to our professional biographies, Kris and I each shared a photo and shared some information about our personal lives. Knowing that Kris underwent brain surgery last year and that I have a 10-year-old son with severe Autism helps humanize us to our audience.
Vocal Variety: Kris and I took turns presenting so the audience got to hear the content broken up with a male and a female voice alternating. An extra bonus was the charming Irish accent of our host, Emma Hanley (Poppulo is based in Ireland.)
Compelling Graphics: We had visually pleasing graphics with compelling data.
Audience Polls: We polled our audience at four different points during the presentation. The audience was able to see the results instantly. Having to determine how to answer, the physical act of clicking on the response, and then waiting to see how their answers compare to the rest of the audience helps keep the audience engaged.
Q&A: The audience typed questions into a chatbox as the presentation went along and we responded to their questions in the final 10 minutes.
Social Share: Our host publicized a Twitter hashtag for the event so that the audience could engage in conversations before, during and after the webcast.
Judging from the number of questions asked on the webinar, the feedback we received on Twitter and LinkedIn, and the traffic generated to my website following the webcast, our presentation indeed resonated with our audience.
As presenters in the digital age, we have to become more creative to engage our audiences in virtual presentations. Performing public speaking virtually can be a challenge, but it can be done effectively with forethought, a little creativity, and good planning.
When public speaking or making a business presentation, always face your audience. If you’re writing on a whiteboard or flip chart, don’t turn your back to the audience while you are talking. In other words, don’t talk to the wall! Learn to write sideways while you are talking or write first if it’s something you can do quickly and then turn to face your audience to talk.
Your audience will appreciate being able to see and hear you.
Finding common ground with your audience is crucial in public speaking and business presentations, especially when the goal of your talk is to persuade. It is nearly impossible to change the minds of people in your audience without making connections with them and establishing common ground is a great way to build those connections.
The video clip above, from the movie 300, provides a great example of how speakers can establish common ground by positioning themselves as equals with their audience. In this scene, the Spartan Queen, Gorgo, appeals to her audience “not only as your queen” but as a mother, as a wife, and as a Spartan woman.
Common ground can the key to achieving uncommon results.
One of the exercises I have my public speaking students do is stand and read quotations from famous speeches. One of the quotes is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” More than half of the students who read it out loud trip over their tounges when saying it.
Sometimes what looks really good on paper is hard to say when spoken out loud. Our brains sometimes get ahead of our tongues. This is one reason why you should always practice your speeches and business presentations out loud. You may discover words and phrases that just don’t come out right. If you do discover problems with the flow, you have two choices:
You can practice the troublesome verbiage over and over until you can say it consistently right
You may replace the troublesome words with something that means the same thing but is easier for you to say.
One thing is for sure: It’s much better to trip over your tongue while practicing in front of your bedroom mirror than it is to have a tongue-twister disaster in front of your business colleagues or a live audience.
In today’s fiercely competitive business climate, how well you present yourself can make the difference in getting ahead or going home. When it comes to winning a new client, getting a project approved, or closing the deal, the smallest things can make the biggest difference. You don’t want to blend in you want to stand out! From shaking hands, exchanging business cards to storytelling these all have a powerful impression on how people perceive you. Most people underestimate the importance of these interactions and just get by. But by knowing a few simple secrets, you can turn that around.
That was the premise of our “Speak Up and Stand Out” public speaking workshop held last week. The sold out event was sponsored by the Phoenix Business Journal and held at the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce.
Among the topics we covered were:
Using your body language to influence and include
Using storytelling in presentations to turn heads and win hearts
Introducing yourself to make a great first impression
Exchanging business cards so that you are remembered
If you missed the workshop, don’t worry — We’ll be adding new workshops soon!
You know this cat. You see this cat and his raised paw almost every time you enter an Asian-owned business. Some of the cats have a battery operated paw that moves back and forth. The cat is known as Maeki-Neko, which is Japanese for “beckoning cat.” That’s right “beckoning cat” not clawing cat.
Maeki-Neko’s raised paw is meant to resemble how people beckon you to come inside in Japan and in many other Asian cultures (hand raised, palm down, fingers moving in and out quickly). The cat is intended to bring customers and good fortune into their establishments. But to many people in Western cultures, the cat looks like he’s trying to claw something. Maeki-Neko is a great example of how things can be interpreted differently by people in different cultures.
Public Speaking Requires Homework
Before you speak to any audience, particularly an audience that is culturally different from you, you need to do your homework. Research is key to an effective presentation.
Here are some questions to ask when doing audience analysis:
What is my audience’s feelings toward my topic?
What common ground do audience members share with one another and with me?
How relevant will the audience find my content?
What can I do to enhance my credibility with this audience?
How can I make it easier for audience members to understand and remember my main points?
What language or cultural differences do audience members have with one another and with me?
Am I using colloquialisms, idioms or humor that won’t be understood?
You can’t anticipate and research everything when dealing with cultural complexity. My wife grew up in the Philippines and we encounter unexpected cultural differences on a daily basis in our household. But with my family, and in my travels to other countries, I’ve always found that being respectful of different cultures and seeking to understand your audiences will get you headed in the right direction. Most people are forgiving of occasional slip-ups if they know your heart is in the right place. So speak up — and don’t let the cat get your tongue.