Presentation Lessons from Strange Places

Not all lessons on presentations come in context. Every year my wife and I host a Mardi Gras party. I always cook the favorites, like gumbo and jambalaya, and I add one new dish. This year I prepared a meat pie as the new dish. I was very disappointed in the meat pies and meForgienLandscapentioned to a couple close friends that I wouldn’t be making those again. To my surprise several guest came up to me a told me they loved the meat pies and asked for the recipe.

Very likely, you’re asking yourself, “What in the world does this have to do with creating great speeches and presentations?” Answer: If you only create what you like, you are isolating a lot of people. Some people enjoy McDonald’s, others go to Wendy’s and some choose not to eat meat. In the same way as people have different preferences in what they love to eat, they also have preferences as to how they want to receive information.

To help people build great speeches and presentations, I developed the REPS Matrix. The Matrix covers four areas you need to be aware of as you develop your speeches and presentations. The Matrix does not cover every area you need but it will give you the basic ingredients. As all great cooks and chefs know, once you know the basics, all you need is a pinch of thi

s and a dash of that to create an incredible meal.

Presenting and speaking are more similar to a great meal than most people realize. Think back to a memorable meal. I’m sure there were multiple courses with a variety of flavors. Great presentations are constructed in the same way. Whether your purpose is to entertain, inform, and/or motivate, delivering the content in uniquely different courses will keep your audience wanting more.


Are You a Steamroller

I checked out a business development group and part of their meeting is to open the floor for anyone that would like input on a business issue. A person asked, “How do you increase the likelihood of someone attending an event that they RSVP’d for?” The head of the group started on a rant about that’s not important. If you want more people you invite more. You need toSteamroller_SM know your conversion rate. There is no way to change the conversion rate and so on and so on.

Several minutes into this rant a person at the table said, “I found a method that increased my conversion rate.” She continued, “After they say they will attend I ask them ‘Have you had people not show up to something they had promised to attend? What was your opinion of them after that?’” I thought that was a brilliant tactic and a few others nodded their heads in agreement. The head of the group immediately started back into his rant for several more minutes.

I’m sure you can find many faults with this scenario but let’s focus on the social skills faux pas. By not asking a follow-up question to encourage input you have just told them their information is not important. You have figuratively steamrolled their ideas and them into the ground. Most people will overlook this the first time or two. If this steamrolling happens on a regular basis you will loose a valuable asset because the person will stop trying to contribute, and others in the group might prefer to keep silent after witnessing such a steamrolling.

I’m sure the head of the group did not mean to dismiss the idea so completely. I believe he truly wanted to help the person with the problem, but by being so focused on his point he caused damage to several people. His repeated comments about knowing your numbers and working them took up all the time so no one else could ask questions. Always keep thinking about how to make others better and you will get better.


Hallucination = Three

The other night I was headed to a Toastmasters meeting. There was a new maître d’ at the restaurant and I could tell he was a little nervous as I walked toward the meeting room. I smiled anHallucination Smalld said, “Greetings and hallucinations.” This a slight twist on Mr. Spock’s greetings of, “Greetings and Salutations.” The poor guy became more confused, looked at me and asked, “Did you say three?” I chuckled and replied, “ I said hallucinations.” As the look on his face became more confused I continued, “Don’t worry, that was out of the frame.” He stood there with a blank expression on his face as I wheeled around and headed for the meeting.

The old idiom, “Not everyone is on the same page” can explain were most of the confusion is in a presentation. This idiom refers to a frame of reference, in which all conversations are set. In the example above, the frame of the maître d’ was the typical conversation of a maître d’. The normal frame includes a short conversation of, “How are you?”, “How many in your party?” “Is this your first time?”, etc. I forced him out of the frame because I did not say what was in his frame of “normal” for that situation.

Your audience, whether it is a client, coworker, boss, friend, family member, or group, has a frame of reference during all your interaction with it. Typically, if the interaction is not going well, it’s because different frames of reference are intersecting. Once you realize what is going on, it’s your responsibility to make an effort to understand the other person’s frame.

Normally, this is the section in which I give you a nugget of wisdom on how to handle the situation. I wish a nugget were all that is needed. I’ve spent over a quarter of a century trying to understand other people’s frames and how they created them. From that research I developed the REPS Matrix to help others understand frames faster.

The only simple piece of advice I can give, is to ask yourself this question: “What would this person have to believe for them to act this way?” This is a very powerful question, which allows you to build good relationships. Those good relationships with your audience are what will bring you success.


Better Listening Advice

As someone who teaches communication skills I scan for blogs that might have some new information that I need to investigate. I recently came across a blog entitled, Five Communication Strategies You Must Master. Disappointingly, this blog did not have anything new though it did press one of my hot buttons.

One of my pet peeves isElephant_SM advising a person to “listen.” The advice is typically: “Make sure you concentrate on what the person is saying, and don’t think about what you’re going to say next.” I’ll agree this is good advice, but they never tell you what to listen for. Occasionally they will suggest listening for “key points.” The only problem is how do you know what the key points are to the speaker?

One of the worst pieces of advice that well-meaning people give is to paraphrase what a person says back to them. Their rationale for this is to check your understanding of the message the speaker is trying to convey. Paraphrasing is a bad thing to do. The person talking to you chose specific words for a reason. Paraphrasing with different words, that you think mean the same, but may or may not mean the same to the other person, causes confusion. You know this is happening when they start to look like our elephant friend.

A Realtor I know makes a very good living by parroting words back to people. When a client asks for an elegant dining room in the house, the realtor does not use words like “formal,” “large” or other words that that could be associated with the word “elegant.” He makes sure he uses the exact words his clients used so they will know that he understands their desires.

Elegant is one of those words I classify as being fuzzy. Elegant to you may or may not be elegant to someone else. Our language is filled with fuzzy words. Adjectives are the perfect example of fuzzy words—beautiful, cute, large, and the list goes on. Ask a dozen people to describe any of those words and you will get a dozen different descriptions.

My lesson on listening is a little more specific than most advice: When you’re listening for words, listen for those descriptive words people are using and use those words back so they feel you understand exactly what they’re saying. This builds initial confidence in the person you are talking with. Most of the time other information gives you enough details to be in their meaning ballpark. If you need clarification of a fuzzy word ask question that prompt detail answers. For example; repeat the word with a questioning tone, “Elegant?” or “What are your planning for the dinning room?” Most people will give more details with simple questions like these. Recently I looked puzzled at a client and they filled in all the details I needed.



Facts Don’t Need to be Boring

I recently listened to a friend give a presentation. I was looking forward to his presentation because of his sense of humor as well as his knowledge. He started the presentation wonderfully. The slides included lots of pictures. He used humor to make his points. He had the audience in the palm of his

That all ended abruptly when he said, “I guess we should get serious.” The rest of the slides were filled with bulleted text. He stopped the humor and most of the audience stopped listening. Within ten minutes of “getting serious” I saw many people using their phones, tablets and laptops. Others were doing their best to listen but were restless in their seats. At the end, most of the audience left without talking to my friend even though the information was important.

You do not need to suck the fun out of information. If you want the audience to remember what you say, it’s important to put the fun into your presentation. Neuroscience has found the best way to anchor information is with emotion. Take a moment and recall a powerful old memory. You will not remember all the details but you remember the important parts and the emotion associated with the memory.

The next time you have facts the audience needs to remember, tie it to an emotion. You could work the fact into a joke or a story. I prefer humor to anchor facts when appropriate but there are many other emotions. Many sales people use fear with their facts to persuade clients to buy. Concern, the little brother to fear, can be a great audience motivator. Working in a verity of emotions in a presentation will keep your audience engaged as will as learning.

The next time you are working on a presentation, plan the emotions needed to anchor the facts. You will have the audience in the palm of your hand throughout the presentation.



I was working with a client that constantly breathed from the top of their chest. This was causing him to have short choppy words and sound nervous. When focusing on your breath you can control your tempo and relay emotions. As I planned this blog, Pink Floyd’s song “Breath” kept running through my head. My mind jumped to a trick I learned years ago: that listening to a metronome can help fast talkers slow down. Next my mind jumped to, “Breath has a greatDoc with music note sm tempo to it.” Next my mind went to… never mind, a small glimpse into an ADD mind is scary enough for most people.

People can remember music and lyrics relatively easily especially in relation to a typical presentation. Don’t think that I’m suggesting you need to sing your presentation. If I tried that, the audience would set a record time for evacuating a room. What I am suggesting is to use music to set the rhythm of your presentation. Is there music that conveys the same emotion that you want to relay to your audience? Play it in your head as you speak. This will help keep your tone and pace in a good rhythm.

Warning, do not keep the same rhythm throughout your presentation. If you do, you will start to sound like one of those machines people use to fall asleep. Mix up the rhythm to keep the audience interested. Maybe start with Classical to slowly bring your audience in, switch to Jazz in the middle to stir them up, and then end on Classic Rock to motivate them. I don’t recall a presentation where Death Metal would work but you never know. It’s your concert/presentation so be creative. There are rhythms that will engage your audience, entertain, and inform. That’s what makes you a Very Impressive Presenter.


Emotions Trump Facts

I experienced another shining example, proving that emotions trump facts, at a Toastmasters convention. For the non-Toastmaster readers, let me give you a little background. Part of a Toastmasters meeting is a formal evaluation of a prepared speech. Each HappyBaby_smyear, a contest is held to find the best evaluator in the 97 districts worldwide. I have seen the following pattern over and over again, not only in Toastmasters competitions, but also in all presentations.

Six people competed this year displaying their own style of evaluating a speech. After they finished, and before the winners were announced, my wife and I discussed whom we thought did the best job. She picked #4 and I agreed he did a good job but he was my second choice. #5 was my pick for the best evaluator. I was surprised when she said, “I did not like him; he only gave negative feedback.” I replied, “No, he gave two very detailed examples of what the speaker did well and one detailed suggestion on what the speaker could improve.” We both agreed the worst was #2.

When the winners were announced #4 was first, #2 was second and #6 was third. Why did my choice not place in the top three and our worst pick win second place? Mirroring Neurons. The winners showed enthusiasm as they gave their feedback. The mirroring neurons in the audience stimulated similar emotions. Feeling good plus having good facts will trump ether by itself. #2 had the most enthusiasm and the least facts. #5 had the most facts and the least enthusiasm.

To connect deeply with the audience/client, a balance of emotion and facts must be achieved. Of course, this is easier said than done. You must know your audience and how your content interweaves with them. Take time to find out what’s important to your audience then find stories to induce those emotions. Sprinkle the right amount of facts through out and you will have a presentation that your audience will get the most out of.


Your Voice Matters!

At a recent workshop for speakers, one session covered connecting with your audience. The speaker Voice Smalldiscussed how important the use of words is to create visual images ensuring you connect with your audience. He emphasized trying to find some common experiences with the audience to start your “verbal painting of a pictures.” He gave several good examples on how the use of words can paint a connection with your audience. As he gave the training, he was omitting one major aspect of connecting with your audience.

Have you ever had a computer read documents to you? A lot of the tablets, as well as the new Mac OS, have reading functions built into the system. The computer says all the right words but there are no voice inflections—the simulated voice sounds flat. This is what the speaker sounded like to me throughout the entire workshop. He talked fast; I do not remember any pauses, yet once he had to gasp for air in mid-sentence.

No matter what words you use, you will never connect with an audience unless you use your heart as well. I’ve seen countless presentations by engineers, IT people and many highly trained professionals that remind me of my computer reading to me. This gets the facts out, but you will not truly connect with the audience. I call this “talking from your head.” When you know what to listen for, it’s very obvious when speakers do this.

When you present to your audience/client, it’s critical to speak from your heart as well as your head. Make sure there is that emotional sound in your speaking. If you’re not sure how this should sound, rent a movie. For Example, watch a romantic comedy and listen carefully to the tone and vocal variations during key scenes. This gives you an idea of how a tender moment should sound.

Depending upon your presentation, there may be times when you need to sound scared or excited. Check around for famous movies that have these types of scenes. Listen carefully to how the words are said. Using the right voice with the right words causes a connection with the audience much deeper than sounding like a computer reading text.


Keys to the Mind

During my How to Read People and Stay Out of Trouble presentation the other day, a big smile came upon me. One of the exercises had audience members pair up and role-play a sales person and client conversation. The purpose is to watch for eye movement in the client to underkeys-smallstand what parts of their memory they are accessing. One of the ladies was doing a marvelous job of verbally leading the client where she wanted them to go.

Using the right words and questions, a person can be led down a thought path. For example if you ask someone about their children, they typically will not reply about their favorite sports team. I inserted “typically” because there may be a connection in the person’s mind between their favorite sports team and their children.

This works with key words as well. If you want a client to access their feelings, a car salesman could ask; “How would you feel every morning to have that new Maserati parked in your garage?” I’m sure a couple of you reading this post got a feeling.

I bet you are asking; “What would prompt the car salesman to ask this question in the first place?” If you watch people’s eyes they move in different directions when they access memories. When they look up, they are recalling an image. When they look to the side, they are recalling a sound. When they look down, they are recalling a feeling. If your client/customer is looking down most of the time, he is lead primarily by his feelings in that situation. Asking a feeling oriented question allows the client/customer to maximally integrate into the process.

Always remember that people use all three modes to store information. Therefore it’s important to include all three, visual, audio and emotional (feeling) when working with people. Timing your wording with their eye movements is a very powerful way to connect with your client/customer. Once you get to know them, you can open their mental doors with key words and question like my star pupil did during that presentation.