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Business Communication in the Brave New Virtual World

By Paul Barton
Principal Consultant

HAS CORONAVIRUS changed public speaking forever? Well, our business certainly has taken a dramatic and sudden downward turn. Workshops and speaking engagements, even those booked months from now, cancelled.Personal coaching clients, wary about face-to-face contact, have all postponed or cancelled sessions. All new business came to an abrupt halt as caution turned to outright fear.

The world has suddenly turned nearly 100% virtual for business communication. Nearly every business, large and small, that we’ve talked to have all their employees working from home. For some, this isn’t new. But for many, doing business from home is uncharted territory. I believe virtual work will become a bigger part of our lives long after the virus has subsided.

But remember this: Whether you’re trying to get your point across from the board room or on a laptop from your dining room table, basic public speaking skills apply. And there are many new considerations that come into play as well.

For instance, eye contact is still important but it now means looking into the built-in camera on your laptop instead of at individuals in your live audience. Engagement is still crucial but it now means using polls, chat boxes, Q&As, and other creative ways. Body language and humor and still important but need to be approached differently because visual cues and vocal subtleties can’t be as easily detected in a virtual environment.

New Approaches to Public Speaking

Approaching this new way to communicate is not as easy as flipping a switch. You cannot just do everything you used to do only now do it via video-conferring and expect it to translate fully. And that’s assuming it was done perfectly before!

We’re here to help you navigate the world of virtual business communications. This isn’t new to us. For instance, in 2018 we published tips for presenting via speakerphone and we teamed with New York City-based social media expert Dhariana Lozano for a webinar on ways to engage virtual audiences. [Transcript here] You can expect to see more posts here on communicating effectively in this brave new virtual world.

Virtual Business Communication Services

And please bear in mind, all of the 1-on-1 personal coaching packages that Michele Trent and I offer are available as less expensive virtual options.

We also have an online course on conquering public speaking fear and more courses are on the way.

Meanwhile, some of you know that I also operate Paul Barton Communications, a business communication consulting firm. I’m busy right now helping to craft coronavirus messaging for employees of a large healthcare provider. We’re available to help you and your organization as well.

The single most important constant, whether live or virtual business communication, is this: It’s always, always, always about your audience. And for those of us at Phoenix Public Speaking, that means you. Let us know how we can help.

Together, we’ll all get through this. Be safe, be well.

4 Speech Structures Beyond ‘Intro, Body, Conclusion’

Every speech and every business presentation should be built upon a solid structure to keep you on point and on time, and to help the audience make sense of what you’re talking about. Every speech and every presentation should have three main parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In public speaking, we often think of that three-step structure as an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. We must set the stage with an introduction, then present our content, and then wrap everything up. This is a good way to think about your speech or presentation when you are putting together your content.

But there are some other ways to think of those same three parts that might help you think about and frame your content even better. Here’s a summary of four other approaches to consider.

1) Problem, Solution, Result. What is the problem, what is the solution, and what great outcomes happen when we fix it. This one works well for problem-solving presentations.

2) What, So What, What Next. What is the situation is, why does it matter, and what action should we take as a result of it. This one works well for persuasive presentations.

3) Curiosity, Insights, Commitment. First, hook your audience in with curiosity, then provide new information, and fi9nally ask for a commitment and the specific actions you want them to take. This approach works well for a storytelling presentation that seeks to persuade.

4) Empathy, Suspense, Surprise. Begin by connecting with the audience emotionally, then build suspense with nee information, and concludes with a surprise that makes the important point you are trying to make. This one works well with storytelling that seeks to enlighten an audience.

Note that in all of these potential structures, the sequence of the steps is crucial; you can’t skip steps. The situation, problems, action steps, and positive outcomes must be clearly defined.

Great speeches and presentations are built upon solid structures. Find the one that best fits your content and you will set yourself up for great speaking success.

RELATED POSTS

Intro, Body, Conclusion

What, Now What, What Next

Audiences Like Vocal Variety

Is it best to talk slow or talk fast when giving a business presentation? Is it best to talk loud or soft when public speaking? How about your pitch — low or high? And how about no noise at all or talking constantly? The answer to all these questions is — “Yes!” That’s right. Audiences want it all. Too much of the same becomes boring and your audience will quit listening to you.

What audiences want is vocal variety. It’s vocal variety that adds the energy to your content. I’ve broken down vocal variety in these four categories: Pace, Power, Pitch, and Pause. Here’s a look at how you can use each to be a great speaker.

The 4Ps of Public Speaking

Pace — It’s easy to get into a rhythm when speaking and that can become boring to your audience. Slow down to emphasize key points. Speak a little faster when presenting supporting thoughts or to convey excitement.

Power — We know we can get attention by raising our voice for emphasis, but sometimes you can get more attention by whispering, especially if you’re saying something in a soft voice like “Do you want to know the secret?”

Pitch — No one likes to listen to a monotone. We all like to hear pitch variations. Change your pitch slightly when quoting someone when you’re telling a story. Questions are another natural way to vary our pitch. You can use rhetorical questions or self-questioning (“Should we do it? You bet we should. Can we do it? You bet we can!”) to achieve this effect. While we like pitch variety, no one likes “upspeak” (adding an up pitch at the end of a declarative sentence making it sound like a question.)

Pause — Perhaps the most powerful tool in a public speaker’s toolbox is saying nothing at all. Pause after key points to let the message sink in. Pause after questions to let the audience consider how they feel. Here is some more detail about how to use the power of the pause.

Vocal variety brings your content to life. Learn how to incorporate your vocal variety into an authentic, conversational tone, and your presentations will rock!

 

 

PowerPoint Tip: Use Blank Slides Instead of Filler

Sometimes fewer is better. Sometimes nothing means a lot. Sometimes, you don’t need to have a PowerPoint slide to go with each and every point in your presentation.

It’s easy for public speakers and business presenters to fall into that trap and you can find yourself wasting hours upon hours trying to find images and putting together needless slides when perhaps a few key slides are all your audience really needs. (Notice we said “your audience” because they are who really matters in content decisions.)

Great Slides Add Value

Good slides support and enhance your points. Great slides add value. If you need a chart, a graph or an image to explain or strengthen your point, then, by all means, use it. But what if all you really need is a graph and your other slides are really just filler?

Consider this solution: Sandwich the slide you actually want to show between two blank slides. Here’s how: Create a slide with a solid black background. The solid color will keep the projection screen from being a distraction. Now insert the graph you actually need after your blank slide and then create another blank slide to go after the graph.

The Solution

Here’s how this scenario might play out: You begin your presentation and quickly grab the attention of your audience. There is a blank slide on the screen but the audience probably doesn’t realize that the projector is even turned on. Your audience is focused on you and what you’re saying. You are the center of attention, not the slides. Then, you click your presentation remote and, viola, there is your graph. The graph stands out and makes your point clearer. The graph adds value. You then click the remote again to another blank slide and continue speaking. All eyes are on you. Now, you’re ready for your big finish.

Of course, there are many situations when you’ll want a full slide deck complete with a title slide, numerous points, and final thoughts. As in all good design, the form should always follow the function. But always ask yourself these questions before settling on a slide strategy: Who is the star of this presentation, me or the slides? Am I running the slides or are they running me? What’s best for my audience?

The answers to those questions will help you to create a more powerful, more persuasive presentation.


LOTS OF RELATED POSTS

What’s On Your Final Slide? Hint: It’s not “thank you.”

PowerPoint Tips to Make Your Presentation More Powerful Great tips from a top-notch graphic artist.

Where to Get PowerPoint Ideas? Yep, thousands of them.

Use PowerPoint to Enhance To slide or not to slide; that is the question.

Use a PowerPoint Remote or a Helper Connect better with your audience. No, really.

How to Create Visual Slides Your Audience Will Remember Tons of tips and things to think about.

 

Pack a Powerful Presentation Punch with The Power of Three

Small, medium, large. Past, present, future. On your marks, get set..GO!

We like hearing things in threes. Our brains are hardwired for them. After all, we count to three before taking a group photo right? You’d surely count to three before plunging off a zipline tower for the first time, wouldn’t you? And, of course, as any Monty Python fan can tell you, you must count to three before lobbing the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Think about the classic Western movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Ugly doesn’t logically fit but it seems like it does because we like the pattern of three so much.

Want more proof? The Three Stooges. The Three Amigos. The Three Musketeers. Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee. A, B, C and 1, 2, 3. Oh, and don’t forget: the third time is a charm.

Yep, three is perfection. Three is completion. Three means business.

In public speaking, things said in threes help you land your important points in a memorable, persuasive, and powerful way. The trinity tool is a good one to keep in your verbal vault.

So, here are (you guessed it) three ways you can use the awesome Power of Three in your presentations:

  1. Make a point by constructing a superlative sentence, such as, “That was good, this is better, our proposal will be the BEST!”
  2. Build to three with the third item being a powerful payoff, as in this line from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.”
  3. Create a humorous line by building to an unexpected third item, such as, “When I was young I had hopes, I had dreams, I had HAIR!”

Learn how to use the Power of Three and you’ll be a more powerful, polished presenter. And that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.


THREE RELATED VIDEO LINKS

> Gettysburg Address recreation. Listen for the Power of Three here and again here.

> Benjamin Netanyahu United Nations Speech selection. Listen for the Power of Three here and here. (This speech also contains what must be the longest pause ever.)

> And, you have to hear this hysterical Your Thought Leader parody poking fun of the Power of Three.

What’s on Your Final Slide?

What’s on the last slide in your business presentation? For many, it’s a slide that says “Thank You!” Well, that’s simply not as powerful or as useful for your audience as it could be. Instead, we suggest using that space for something fresh and more meaningful. Think of it this way: The final slide should stay on the screen until every last member of the audience has left the room. It’s the last opportunity to communicate with them. What information, what thoughts and what feelings do you want your audience to leave the room with?

Here are seven suggestions for slides you can use to have a fantastic finish:

(1) Business Card. A close-up photo of your business card, perhaps with your hand holding it as in the photo at left. This reminds your audience of what you do for business when not presenting and gives them the opportunity to take a photo of the slide for future reference.

(2) Contact Information. If not a business card, perhaps a list of various ways to connect and stay in contact with you to “keep the conversation going.” This could include your social media channels, a mail list signup, or a private group on LinkedIn or Facebook.

(3) Summary of Key Points. A brief listing of the key messages you really want your audience to remember.

(4) Call to Action. The one thing you want the audience members to do or to remember above all else.

(5) Next Steps. A list of the action steps audience members should take following the presentation.

(6) Final Thoughts. A final thought, such as the fortune cookie photo at the top of this post, or a powerful closing quote. Leave your audience feeling hopeful about the future.

(7) Bookend Thought. If your presentation began with a provocative question or thought, you could return to that question or thought on your final slide and bring it all full circle for your audience.

People tend to remember the first and the last thing you say the most so you want to end strong. By choosing a slide that has some meaning for your audience, you’ll have a much more powerful finish and a much better chance of leaving a lasting impression.

Do you have an idea for a final slide that isn’t listed here? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear them.

Getting Just the Right Volume

How loud should you talk without a microphone in a room full of people? Here’s how to determine just the right volume so that you can influence and persuade your audience when public speaking in a meeting space or making your next business presentation in a conference room.

First, locate the person furthest away from you in the room. Yep, that person waaaay in the back. Now, how loud do you need to talk to be heard by that person? Adjust your volume to that level. If you’re a quiet talker, you might have to “use your outside voice” or you can try these tricks.

But wait, there’s more. Yep, you don’t want that person to simply hear you; you want to be able to influence them with the sound of your voice. So, adjust your volume up a little bit more. There you go. That’s it!

Now you’ll be able to be heard and influence everyone in the room.

 

 

Use a Presentation Remote Control or a Helper

As in all public speaking endeavors, it’s crucial when making a business presentation to connect with your audience. That becomes more difficult if you find yourself trapped behind a lectern running PowerPoint slides. A lectern is a piece of furniture that comes between you and your audience and anything that separates you from your audience detracts from your ability to connect with them.

Solution: Get yourself a presentation remote control and a fresh set of batteries. This will allow you to move about the room freely and better interact and connect with your audience.

Before your presentation, test the remote to make sure it will work from the sides and back of the room. Make sure you know what all the buttons do.

What do you do if you don’t have a presentation remote control? Ask a colleague or friend to handle the keyboard and advance slides for you. When doing so, avoid overusing saying “next slide please” and instead cue your helper with a simple head nod or “the look.”

Remember: presentations are always, always, always about connecting with your audience. A presentation remote or a trusted helper will give you a better chance to connect with your audience and deliver a more powerful message.

RELATED ARTICLES

Understanding Your Fear of Public Speaking

Before you can conquer your fear of public speaking, it’s important to understand exactly what it is that you’re fearful of. Take our quick survey to help you better understand where you are strong and where you need help.

 

Add a Little P.R.E.P. to Your Unscripted Speaking

By Michele Trent
Public Speaking Coach

RECENTLY, I was at an event and the headline speaker gave a remarkable speech. It was fitting for the event, emotionally stirring, beautifully descriptive. He finished, we all clapped. Well done indeed. Then, this same speaker was asked to share an announcement with the crowd. He sounded like a completely different person. Once he no longer had the crutch of reading his exquisitely crafted remarks, he stuttered and stammered. He repeated himself and tried to explain over and again the one point he was tasked to deliver. It was awkward. And this after such a tremendous speech. What happened?

Delivering written remarks is a vastly different skill than impromptu or extemporaneous speaking. Both have their place but they are different. Have you ever been to a concert and watched amazing performers dancing and doing tricks all while singing flawlessly? Well, that’s because they are lip-syncing. Once the song is over and the mic is turned back on so that they can speak to the crowd directly, then you hear him or her huffing and puffing and gasping for breath after the high energy routine. They can dance and do acrobatic moves but that does not lend itself to singing. Same with speaking. While you might deliver your written and rehearsed speech well, what happens when you’re forced to tap into a different skill set?

Unscripted Speaking

Delivering written remarks is a skill. There is no doubt about that. You need to be familiar with what you are saying. You need to be concerned with pacing and tone. It’s rehearsed. In some instances, it is completely fitting to read your remarks. Impromptu (delivered without preparation) and extemporaneous (prepared but without a script) speaking require a different set of skills. While many people find it “scary,” it really need not be. Unscripted speaking is what you do every day, all day, when you interact with your friends and colleagues. What you will want to be most mindful of when you are called upon to speak with little or no notice is what point do you want to make?

This might sound overly simplistic. Of course, you will have a point! However, you’d be surprised at how masked your point can become when you are nervous, and you just start saying all kinds of other things to fill time and space. It is better to be succinct and simply stop talking than to ramble in such a way that your point is lost. This is what happened to the speaker I referred to at the beginning. His point got lost in all kinds of other weird and unrelated statements.

P.R.E.P. Formula

So, what do you do and how can you make your point well? Here’s a simple formula used by Phoenix Public Speaking, Toastmasters and others that you can employ in a business setting to make your point. The next time a meeting starts and your boss says, “hey, can you give a quick rundown of where we’re at for your project,” remember the acronym P.R.E.P.

  • The first P in P.R.E.P. stands for “Point.” Start with your main point.
  • Then “Relate” (or “Reason”). Why you are the one qualified to make this point.
  • The E stands for “Example,” give an example (such as a short story) to support your point.
  • And then “P,” make your point again with a recommendation.

When you put it all together, it might sound something like this:

“We have too many signs in our stores, they are costly, create clutter, and confuse the customer. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jane Smith and I lead the Signage Strategy Team. We recently concluded an expansive research project to identify the value of signs within our stores. The result of the study concludes that we could reduce the amount of signage in-store by 30% and expect an increase in customer purchases as a result. How could this be? We allocate up to 30 hours a week of manpower to put up and take down signs if this time was reallocated to customer service, associates could greet customers and be available to answer crucial customer questions regarding delivery and custom color options. In our test store with 30% fewer signs, sales increased 5% due to this increased customer interaction. Additionally, have you ever noticed how overwhelming our stores appear when you walk through the front door? The boldness of our signs diverts attention from our products and overwhelm our customers. With fewer signs and less information to take in, customers buy more. In short, we recommend reducing the overall number of signs in our store by 30% as a way of reducing costs, creating a more favorable aesthetic and increasing overall sales.”

This is a made-up example but you get the point – make your point, support your point, and make your point again. And then, stop talking. Don’t dilute what you have to say by adding information that could create confusion. If people have questions, invite them to ask those. Your job is to make the point.

Now, the next time you are called upon to give remarks with very little notice, what you have to say will be as clear as what you have rehearsed. You will simply be tapping into a slightly different set of skills.


RELATED POSTS

Presentation Structure: What, So What, Now What

Your Teacher Was Right — Structure Your Speech