Some inspiration and quick insights on developing better management and leadership skills:
8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world
Some inspiration and quick insights on developing better management and leadership skills:
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“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
The term was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881). In today’s information overload world, the need to use data in business is a necessary tool for an effective communicator. Big data is here.
Today’s article looks at three guidelines when using data to influence your audience:
1. Don’t lie or mis-lead
I once heard a CEO from a major coaching association stand up and give a confident presentation full of his insights, trends and forecasts from his research of talking with … 16 people.
Now maybe these were the 16 most important people in the field. Or maybe they were the 16 most insightful people. But let’s face it, it’s a little dangerous to make big bold predictions from a sample size of 16. While industry leaders, gurus and media titans are great food for thought, they can often skew the outcomes. Always explain your sample size and the implications this has on the data itself.
Another common mistake occurs when visually displaying data. When you’re using a bar chart for example, always use a baseline of zero. The two charts below will show you the impact of starting a baseline from anything else.
The first chart shows what looks like a massive increase in one year:
You’ll notice that the scale actually starts from 79,000 so that the increase from 1998 to 1999 looks significant.
Plotting the same data with a baseline of zero gives a different picture:
In this chart the increase looks much less “massive”.
2. Comparisons and contrasts
Single data points carry very little meaning and are instantly forgotten unless you are a subject matter expect within that particular niche.
I once heard an engineer stating that his products had helped to take out one billion grams of fat from the US diet. That sounds like a lot but can you imagine how much that is?
Instead, comparing it to population of New York City gives a better indication of the magnitude of how much fat was really removed.
When Apple were marketing the iPhone 5, they contrasted it’s dimensions with the iPhone 4 so that the new phone was “18% thinner and 20% lighter”. This brings out the incremental improvements in a better light than may at first be obvious when comparing the two phones.
Comparisons and contrasts are especially useful because they take a complex subject and should the most important similarities or differences.
Remember that the amount of detail you show will depend on your audience. So the example below show how Apple compares and contrasts in China, where a higher comfort with technical specifications and a higher focus on price exists.
3. Tell your story behind the numbers
Whatever your data set, you can always find a way to personalise or humanise the way you introduce it. This is known as telling the story behind the numbers.
Overwhelming an audience with a slide back full of numbers is not an effective way for them to internalise or remember your message. Instead, your data should be used as a way to strengthen the message you wish to convey throughout your presentation.
Whatever story or anecdote you choose to share it should follow these checkpoints:
A. Memorable or meaningful to the audience
The audience can relate to the story, understand it quickly and likely to remember it.
Help your audience remember the point by making your story clear, concise and finish with a precise point.
Ideally, as an expert on your subject, you’ll be able to share a story that comes from your experience. This adds credibility to you as the expert.
Types of business stories:
Adjust to your audience
In a Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Tell a Story with Data,” Dell Executive Strategist Jim Stikeleather explains how you can divide up your audience based on their technical knowledge.
These levels are novice, generalist, management, expert and executive:
The novice is new to a subject so likes it clear but not too simple.
The generalist is aware of a topic and looks for an overview and the main themes.
The management seeks detailed understanding.
The expert wants to deep dive into discovery and limit vague storytelling.
The executive needs to know the significance and conclusions.
Using data to influence is a necessary part of an effective communicator’s arsenal. Use these guidelines to ensure that your data doesn’t bore the audience but engages and leads them to the points you wish them to remember. First, never mis-lead. Then use contrasts and comparisons to give context to your data. Finally, add anecdotes, stories and examples to personalise the main points you wish them to remember.
I’m very passionate about the spoken word. I love public speaking and spend a lot of time watching videos and live public talks to see how people engage and convey their ideas. I work with corporate professionals. I work with international business school MBA and e-MBAs. I work with start up entrepreneurs. Recently I spent some time working with 10 start ups to help them shape their message in terms of how they describe their business and pitch investors. Here are a few thoughts around how to convey big ideas that matter. Especially ideas that are driving change to happen.
1. What problem do you solve? And why should the audience care?
Clearly articulating a problem is half the solution. So take time to paint a clear picture on what exactly is the problem you are addressing. Bring the audience to this pain-point as vividly as you can. Personal anecdotes, examples or analogies can all do this. Then explain why this is a problem worth solving. Sometimes you can find a solution to a problem that’s not worth solving. My dad once created a pair of concrete hands so that you didn’t need to hold your book while reading. I’m not sure just how heavy the books were back then but let’s just say the molds remained in the garden shed.
Write down a list of reasons for why the audience needs to solve this problem. Start to sketch the typical target audience. Describe the typical person who wishes this problem to be solved. Prioritize them according to certain criteria such as how urgent the problem is to them, how much they are impacted by the problem, how much they would be willing to pay for it.
2. What’s the value? And who benefits?
Sometimes we get very excited by our ideas. We spend a long time talking them through and visualizing them with our partners and team. But what happens when we face a new audience. An audience that hasn’t been exposed to our ideas. How can we grip them with the same passion. One area that’s often lost in the excitement of a new idea is the value.
What is it exactly?
How does the value get released?
What do we need to do to release this value?
And who benefits from it?
3. What’s your purpose?
Often time you have many ideas or models in your head. During your talk, focus on one strong idea. Don’t dilute your ideas but adding in too many different ideas. Lead with your strongest idea. What’s your most desired end result. Capture this in a sentence. So I often start by saying:
My purpose is to equip technical professionals with the skills they need to shine while speaking in public.
I want to turn shy technical people into confident public speakers.
4. What behavioral changes do you need to make?
Making change happen can be challenging when faced with ingrained habits or behaviors. Think back a few decades to how hard workers fought to prevent new publishing technology being introduced into British newspaper publishing. Even today in companies without unions, making a rapid shift in working conditions is difficult for large companies to achieve. Consumers often have preferred ways to purchase. I found from my own experience when I first arrived in China and was asked to help a friend’s daughter prepare for an overseas university application. While I wanted to help her get up to steam in terms of being ready to cope in an international environment, the approach favored by her father was to find an agent to just get the application done. Agents are often preferred in many sectors as there’s a closer bond and familiarity. That said, things can change. While Chinese first traveled overseas, now the amount of independent travelers has exceeded the numbers going on tours. What changes do you need to make? How much of a challenge will they be?
5. What assumptions are you making?
Often when you’re expressing a new idea, there are many possible paths that could be chosen. Perhaps you’re not sure which one to take. Perhaps you are confident that you know the right path. Regardless, make sure you spell out your assumptions. What are you assuming will happen so that your ideas will come into fruition. One of my assumptions is that the increase in technology and rapid expansion in information we’ve been seeing over the last decade will make spoken communication more important not less important. What assumptions are you making?
There will be a market for my new product or service
People will be willing to pay for it
This change is urgent enough that people will want to do something immediately
We can actually deliver what we promise
6. What metaphor can you use?
How can you shortcut the time it takes for someone to understand what it is you are
describing. In Hollywood this is known as the high concept. For example, in 1979 the science fiction movie Aliens was introduced as “Jaws on a spaceship”. Steven Spielberg once said, “if a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less, it’s going to make a pretty good movie.”
So how can you use a high concept to describe your business. Using popular companies can be one way. Perhaps your new business is “the ebay for industrial products” or “Facebook for the medical profession”. In a few words, people can get the gist of what it is you do.
While you’re getting ready for your next important pitch or presentation, use the above is points as a checklist to ensure that your content is packaged to engage and connect with the most pressing interests of the audience.
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The Engaging Speaker is a performer. However, her primary purpose is not entertainment. The purpose is not for the audience to watch spellbound. The Engaging Speaker knows that every talk is a chance to educate and inform, inspire and persuade. She has a clear communication purpose alongside her ability to entertain.
What’s the main difference between a performer and an educator? A performer knows how to vary the energy levels in the audience. The Engaging Speaker knows that shifting energy levels keep the audience’s attention and increases their engagement.
The Engaging Speaker leads this change in energy with bursts of enthusiasm. She carries the audience to a higher level. By turning up her enthusiasm dial from 5 out of 10 to 7, she makes it clear to the audience that she believes in her content, she believes in her message and she wants dearly for the audience to come along for the journey.
In my very first sales job, I was given a book to read on improving sales performance. I still remember that the first lesson was that more people are moved by enthusiasm than are ever influenced by information alone. Product knowledge is important. But it’s worthless unless you can connect with your audience first. The Engaging Speaker keeps that connection by adding bursts of enthusiasm.
How can you add enthusiasm? Imagine your telling a good friend about a great experience you just had. Perhaps a fun time out with friends or family. Think about how you tell the story. Your voice speed. How your tone pitching up and down. The laughter and smiles that accompany a good story. The transfer of energy from you to your friend. Enthusiasm is like electrify flowing between two people. The other person can’t help but be affected too. Enthusiasm is a great safe way to connect with your audience. Look for ways to add more enthusiasm into your next talk. Entertaining personal stories are usually a good place to start.
I work with technical professionals who want to engage and influence non-technical people through public speaking and presenting.
About the Author
“Warwick helps C-level executives, working in multinational companies based in Greater China, who need to become more confident and effective in their spoken communications. Warwick helps the executive project a clear message allowing them to express their opinions powerfully and gain respect from senior managers even when under pressure.”
Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”.
Buy The One Minute Presenter here.
Satya Nadella is the new CEO Microsoft. No doubt we’ll be hearing more from him over the years. But how does he fare as a smart and engaging communicator? Here are seven points to consider:
1. He’s a subject matter expert. When you listen to his interviews and keynote talks, you’ll be left in no doubt that Satya is a tech guy. He’s knows his stuff. You’ll hear him talking a lot about the cloud.
2. He looks the part. Satya is very well dressed and exudes the look of a business leader without looking too slick. He has presence.
3. Good energy. While not at the over-the-top energy levels of former-CEO Steve Ballmer, Nadella certainly brings good energy to his public talks. He has a clear voice, a good physical presence and cuts a dynamic figure. He brings good energy to the room.
4. During keynotes, he tends to speak a little on the fast side. Added to his high energy style this can become a little overwhelming after a while. His delivery can seem a little one tracked and one paced at times. A few pauses to break up ideas would help the audience digest his ideas. A shifting between energy states to create difference responses from the audience would improve his delivery.
5. He falls into the trap of a technical professional. He leads with content and forgets to have a message. If you stopped his keynote speech after five minutes and said, “Okay, so what was that about?”. You’d struggle to easily pick out a message or takeaway idea without retelling his ideas. Without a headline message, all the data points, process and buzzing ideas will be quickly forgotten. As he becomes the figurehead of Microsoft, this will likely change. Why? See the next point.
6. I love the fact that he describes himself as a learner. Satya defines his motivations as “Family, curiosity and a hunger for knowledge. “ This desire will make him a quick study and I’d expect we’ll see a very different public persona from Satya – especially to general and non-technical audiences – over the next 12 months.
7. He loves cricket. And if he can explain cricket to people who didn’t grow up with it – then there’s nothing he can’t explain!
To learn more about Satya Nadella, visit my Scoop page with articles from multiple sources. Click here.
Buy the e-book of The One Minute Presenter for only $10
Michael Bay is the Hollywood director behind blockbuster movies like The Rock, Armageddon and Transformers. He was recently invited to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) by Samsung to help launch their curved televisions. It’s the major venue for brands to launch their products.
What happened when Michael took the stage is not that pretty. According to Michael:
Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.
You can see the video here. It’s all over in a minute:
Among the flood of reactions, there’ s a point of view that Michael was struck by stagefright. Stagefright is a power reaction to the idea of speaking in public that affects many people to such a great extent that they’re unable to speak. They’re simply overcome by their physical reactions to anxiety.
However, having watched the video a couple of times I think otherwise. As Michael mentioned in his blog, he skipped the teleprompter introduction and then it got lost. And he says on the video, “The type is off. Let’s wing it right now. “
I’ve seen this many times before. It’s a reliance on a crutch. It could be a PowerPoint deck, it could be a script or some notes. In this case it was a teleprompter with his word-for-word script. In other words, he could only read in public not speak in public.
In my opinion, this is not caused by stagefright but by the wrong type of preparation. Michael Bay is no doubt being paid some big bucks by Samsung and I’m sure he spent some time thinking through and preparing his script. But he didn’t take it to the next level of rehearsal. As I recently commented on a public speaking group on LinkedIN:
Don’t rely on the technology. He needed the teleprompter to speak and that’s not a good place to be when it stops working. I help my executives to speak without notes or other crutches. The confidence this gives them allows them to better use slides and other speaking aids. It requires more preparation and a leap of faith.
A good speaker may start with a script or notes but at the end of rehearsal will be able to deliver the talk without referring to a script or notes. If the speaker is unable to do that, then they are not ready. It’s just a part of the process. If you stop half way through the process, you’re under-prepared.
What this needs is adequate preparation involving clearly mapping out a flow or direction for the talk. Refining a message that articulates your point of view. And supplementing your message with an interesting array of supporting material such as anecdotes, examples, and data if relevant. Just like an actor would first read a script, then run through a rehearsal script-in-hand and finally be able to perform without any notes, every good public speaker follows a similar process.
The problem occurs when speakers stop their rehearsal too soon. This is the curse of PowerPoint. I’m sure you’ve seen more than a few speakers just reading from the slides off the screen. This is because they have not mastered their content. They may have spent a lot of time making their slides but it’s not the right type of preparation for a public speaker. It’s not asking too much that Michael Bay should be able to speak about why he’s working with Samsung, what he think of the product and how the experience might look for consumers.
In the same way, when I coach executives who are giving public speeches at town halls, conferences or all-hands meetings, they often start by insisting that they hold notes or have their script in front of them. What happens, of course, is that gradually they start to refer to their notes more and more and finally all they are doing is reading from a script. It looks and sounds awful. I help them see this and move on to a the next level or preparation.
The script is simply a crutch that good rehearsal can overcome. Once you’ve mastered the content, you can then use a slidedeck to prompt your flow or to trigger a story or example.
In Michael Bay’s case, all he had to do was keep his composure and be ready to go off-script. The Samsung executive was asking him set up questions that he could have easily answered, like “What do you think of the Curve (TV)?”. Surely you don’t need a script to say a few words about that.
In this case, perhaps things will work out well. As Oscar Wilde said “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Surviving an Ironman race needs control of your energy
I’ve completed the grueling Ironman Triathlon which is a race involving a 3.8km open water swim, 180km bike ride and finishes with a marathon, back to back all on the same day. The race has a cut off time of 17 hours and I finished my last one in around 12 hours 30 mins. Needless to say, it’s a long day and your energy levels change throughout the day. Nervous excitement before the swim. Steady rhythmic effort to complete the swim. A burst of energy on the bike before settling into a long ride with ups and downs, trying to hold on to your pace in the final 60km while holding back enough for the run. The marathon starts at a lively pace. It’s the final segment and if everything falls apart, you can always walk. You hold a pace, keep it ticking over. Everything seems good until half way through, muscles start to cramp, pain comes. Your pace drops a bit, you fight it to keep going. From 30-38km, you’re in complete pain, you think about quitting or walking. Somehow you keep your body moving forward quietly encouraging yourself and feeding off the energy of the crowd’s cheers. Finally you hit 38km, you realize that in 2km it’s only 2km to go. You perk up. Your pace rises. You find a new wind. You’re going to finish. The final one kilometer, you’re hitting euphoric levels as your endorphins kick in. You finish the marathon practically sprinting, fall over the line and break down into a heap. Before standing up with a warm painful glow of completion. Success.
Energy levels change through a presentation
The Engaging Speaker is aware that energy levels change through a presentation. Shorter presentations are easier to plan. Longer full day sessions require more detailed mapping. Remember people are fresh in the morning so get right into the content. Keep things moving along. Set the tone for starting and ending breaks on time. Plan your afternoons particularly carefully. Participants energy levels tend to dip around an hour to two after lunch, especially if they’ve had a big hotel buffet lunch. During this time period, move towards more physical exercises. Add higher impact team activities. Move things around. Shift venues. Keep things moving, changing and adapting. Finish strong. Have a clear conclusion to the day. Keep a couple of short energizers in your pocket in case the energy plunges. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Ask the participants what they’d like to do to pick up the energy.
Be aware that you create the energy in the room, not the audience
If you looked at your last talk or upcoming presentation in terms of creating energy, what would your energy chart look like? Would it be high at the start and then gradually falling away to nothing? Would it be low at the beginning, peak in the middle and drift off? Or would it look like a read out of a healthy heart with regular peaks and troughs. A good presentation should start and finish strong but should allow time to reflect, time to pick things up and a time for interaction.
What energy map are you creating?
Map your presentation’s energy chart. Is it in line with your message? A rallying sales meeting will start high and finish higher. A senior management crisis talk will have moments of low before building up momentum towards the end. The Engaging Speaker sets the tone for the talk and creates the energy, the enthusiasm, the experience for the audience.