You Are Not Morgan Freeman
It’s all PowerPoint’s fault! It’s just too danged easy! It’s too easy to put everything on a slide. Too easy to arm yourself with bullets. Too easy to illustrate with images. Too easy to talk with tables of numbers. Too easy to delegate the entire presentation to Microsoft and relegate yourself to being a marginally involved narrator. (If you’re wondering about the relevance of the photo, keep reading.)
Except you are NOT Morgan Freeman! You don’t have his vocal mastery. You don’t have his dulcet tones. You don’t have his easily identified voice. If you did, you’d probably be doing what he does!
When I’m asked to boil down presentation effectiveness to a single word, it’s “connection.” Strong presenters connect with their audiences as often as possible.
- They connect with eye contact.
- They connect through interaction.
- They connect through movement and gestures.
All of those connect-abilities are disconnected when simply narrating a slideshow. Since you’re not Morgan Freeman, change your approach to slides.
- Imagine each slide you create is expensive. This will force you to use only the slides that give you the best ROI. This was the approach presenters took in the 1980s when slides were actually 35mm slides and were expensive to create! (There’s the reference to the photo.) I do remember working with 35mm slides.
- Become familiar with the blank out button on the remote control. Most remote controls have this. If not, get one, they’re not expensive
- Of course, unload your bullets. They don’t help. In fact, they hurt. Research into Redundancy Effect and Cognitive Load Theory has found that bullets lower retention.
Let’s Be …Uh… Practical about Um
I’ve been coaching and training business people on presentation and communication skills for almost 30 years and for a large part of that time, I encouraged people to get rid of ALL of their verbalized pauses (“um,” “uh,” “ya know,” “like,” “I mean,” “so,” etc.). I’m changing my mind on this.
There’s a growing amount of linguistic research on the importance of these “words.” Many linguists argue that those fillers serve to emphasize the next phrase or idea:
- “That trip was, uh, a huge pain in the backside.”
- “My date? Um…not good.”
Sometimes the verbalized pauses allow us to more delicately broach a difficult subject:
- “So…are you getting help to deal with your grief?”
- “I was wondering, um, do you still have my socket wrench set?”
Here’s are a couple good articles giving more detail about this https://jenabl.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/lets-stop-demonizing-filler-words/ and https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97983&page=1
Conversely, it makes sense for us to take some of the “weeds out of our words” when delivering a presentation. How many is too many? When they distract your audience from your message is probably the tipping point. Frequent ums and uhs can be perceived as lacking knowledge, preparation, or confidence. Several studies have found that we use one of the fillers 2-3 times in every 100 words. Since we speak about 125-150 words per minute, that means that we average a filler about every 13-24 seconds. If you did this during a presentation, very few people in your audience would notice it. However, if you had 8-10 of them in the first minute of your presentation, your audience’s attention would be sensitized to them and would hear as many as you had to offer! Here are some insights and tips to removing some of the verbalized pauses https://www.extension.harvard.edu/inside-extension/tips-public-speaking-eliminating-dreaded-um and https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/men-say-uh-and-women-say-um/375729/.
If you want to reduce the frequency of your ums/uhs/likes/ya knows…try these ideas:
- Become a student of filler words. Spend a couple weeks being aware of when people say them and what their patterns may be. (No, do NOT tell people that you’re doing this!)
- Enlist someone’s help to identify your patterns. Ask them to give you immediate signals when they hear you say a filler. But only do this in casual settings. If you can’t get help, use your phone to record yourself during a conversation.
- Hold your eye contact more and longer. Most of our ums/uhs occur when we break eye contact, not when we’re make eye contact.
- Practice pausing and getting more comfortable with “dead air.”
“The Only Person Who Likes Change is a Wet Baby”
When at my gym a few days ago, I saw one of the employees with a soft cast on his left forearm. The “cast” was held in place with Velcro. As I looked closer, I saw his watch on of the Velcro straps! Other than putting the watch on his other wrist, he put it on the cast! It reminded me of the quotation above from Mark Twain.
How often do we choose the “Path of Least Resistance” over what might be better for us, make more sense, or even align better with something we would like to do/be? How can be break with the Path of Least Resistance?
Following is a process that uses some tips from Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage.”
1. What is it you want to start doing? (You can’t just stop doing something, you need to have a “start” doing)
2. What are you currently doing that this will replace?
3. For the behavior you want to replace, what things do you currently do that makes this easy?
4. What could you do that would make this current habit harder, even if only 20 seconds harder (this is from Shawn Achor)?
5. What could you do that would make the new behavior easier (Achor’s 20-second rule)?
For example, if I wanted to watch less TV, I first need to decide what I want to do instead. Making a goal of “watch less tv” will create a vacuum and we all know that natured abhors a vacuum. Let’s imagine that I want to replace my tv time with listening to more music. Here’s how the process would work:
1. I want to listen to music more.
2. This will replace my TV time.
3. The TV remote control is conveniently located (and fully assembled) next to my favorite chair.
4. I can take the batteries out of the TV remote and move it to the other side of the room (making it 20 seconds more difficult)
5. I can move my stereo/bluetooth speaker closer and put the remote next to my favorite chair.
Now it’s your turn!
In the 1980s, some inmates at the Rahway State Prison in New Jersey were asked to rate the “muggability” of people. There rankings were consistent and based on posture, gait, and how aware the subject was of there surroundings. While we aren’t likely to be robbed during a presentation, many of us have been metaphorically “mugged” during one. What if your posture or gait “invited” the mugging?
Can you completely eliminate the possibility of being challenged during your presentation? No. But you can reduce the likelihood of it by carrying yourself confidently and being aware of your surroundings. How does this level of confidence show up?
Inmates keyed in on people who had slumped or downcast posture. To be less muggable, stand to your full height. Your ears should align over your shoulders (or close). Your chest should be up and the palms of your hands should be facing the sides of your thighs, not the front of them. To help with your shoulder position, think of squeezing your shoulder blades closer together behind you.
A short, shuffling stride or an elongated, unstable one made some people more muggable to the inmates. They also noticed arm swing. Your stride should look purposeful, fluid and balanced. When walking like this, your arms will swing freely and in opposition to your legs. In other words, when your right foot is extending forward, your left arm is swing forward and vice versa.
Control your eye movement rather than letting your nervousness control it. Nervousness will make your eyes move around quickly and create the appearance of anxiety. Conscious control over your eye contact will mean that you deliberately make contact with people in the room and become familiar with the setting. Arrive early and arrange the room to meet your needs and comfort to make yourself feel a little more at ease at making eye contact.
By doing these things, not only will you appear more confident, you’ll feel it too!
Growing a Growth Mindset
In my last blog entry (pretty sure it was in this century 🙂 ), I wrote about growth mindset vs. fixed mindset. I described the differences between the two and the benefits of a growth mindset. How can you grow more of a growth mindset? First, let’s tackle one approach to promoting this mindset within yourself by changing your feedback
- Monitor your feedback and self-talk. When something goes well, do you credit your genetics and skills? Do you think to yourself, “I’ve always been good at this,” or “Every one in my family has this skill/talent, of course I have it too.” When things go poorly, do you throw up your hands in resignation because you’ve simply “never been good at ____ and never will be?” These are all evidence of a fixed mindset. This thinking presumes that you either have an ability or you don’t; it doesn’t leave room for you developing that skill.
- When you find yourself in this fixed mindset mode, acknowledge it. Don’t deny it or even argue with it. Simply move on to a different tack. If something goes well, say, “I worked hard to make that happen,” or “following my intuition and processes worked well here.” If you had a negative experience, try, “Well crap! That wasn’t what I wanted. What do I need to do differently? What didn’t I pay attention to that I will next time?”
How do you encourage a growth mindset in others? No surprise here…the same way. Change the way you give feedback. When my younger son had a spectacular football game (he’s a wide receiver), I was tempted to say, “You’ve got great hands!” However, I realized that that would have been person praise (a characteristic of a Fixed Mindset). Instead, I said, “All of that hard work you’ve been putting in showed up in the game!” This was process praise. Process praise (or effort praise) are characteristics of a Growth Mindset.
When you give feedback to people, do you praise the person and an innate talent or their process/effort/persistence? More of the latter will grow the growth mindset you’re looking for.
“I can’t juggle, my hands are too small.” A woman, I’ll call her Susan, in one of my workshops said this while I was using juggling as a learning metaphor. We were using tennis balls and she did have small hands.
I asked her why she thought this about her ability to juggle. She told me that she had gone to clown school for fun and the clown instructor (insert your own punchline) told her that her hands were too small to juggle. This was after she tried and failed several times. Since she had long wanted to be a clown, her inability to juggle annoyed her.
Since we’d be using juggling for two days in the workshop, I asked her three questions:
- Can you suspend your belief, for two days, that you can’t juggle?
- Will you join our “study group” during breaks with whom I’ll share tips?
- Will you give it your best effort and a “why not” attitude during those breaks
She answered “yes” to all three. By the end of the first day she was juggling tennis balls (as defined by the International Juggling Association)! And her hands hadn’t grown!
The only thing that she had changed was her mindset. She came to the workshop with a “fixed mindset” because the clown instructor had a fixed mindset about juggling and “forced” it on her. Carol Dweck popularized the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset in her book titled, Mindset; The New Psychology of Success.
A fixed mindset is based on the belief that we either have an ability or we don’t; that we are hardwired for certain skills. Conversely, a growth mindset believe that we have the ability to learn new things and expand our skillsets.
The three questions I asked Susan temporarily moved her from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset about juggling. By allowing her to make that change, she opened up to possibilities and learned a skill she previously thought beyond her reach. It’s likely that there are some things we have a fixed mindset about and others we have a growth mindset about. A fixed mindset will keep us from trying to make progress or trying new things.
What things do you have a fixed mindset about?
I’ll write more about mindset in my next post. Stay tuned!
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
The next time you watch a presentation, take note of when the speaker actually starts talking. Odds are that he or she starts talking before they get everything in order or even get to the front of the room. Regardless of why they do that, some audience members may perceive that as being motivated by being in a hurry to get it over with.
While you may be looking forward to getting it over with, that’s not the message you want to send! Here’s an easy way to start your next presentation that will send a much more positive message: It’s A BEST:
- Arrange the room and your materials to make you as comfortable as is realistic. This means that you need to get there early!
- Balance your stance when you are ready to present. I’ve found it helpful to gently press my big toes into the ground to secure a balanced posture (thank you yoga!)
- Exhale slowly. Most of us are taking shallow breaths because of nervousness. Focus on one slow exhale before you start to relax you, even if it’s only a little.
- Smile at a friendly face. This may be someone you know or someone who is giving you positive facial feedback.
- Talk. Now it’s time to open your mouth!
Giving your presentation A BEST start tells the audience, “I’ve got some information that’s of value to you.” Try it out, it only takes a couple seconds! (Of course that doesn’t include the “Arrange” part.)
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein
A couple weeks ago, my son got disappointing and painful news. I wanted to say a lot of things to make this a teaching moment or a parenting moment. I could have said:
- “Sometimes in life things don’t go our way.”
- “Get knocked down three times, get up four!’”
- “Don’t worry, something even better is on the way.”
- “What’s your plan contingency plan? What are you going to do about this?”“What have you learned from this?”
While any of these responses might be appropriate after some time, there was a better option at that moment. Active listening was how I could show my son the most support.
Offering advice or getting him to start making other plans would short circuit his “grieving” process. It would also impose my way of thinking on him; he needed to come to terms with his loss on his own terms.
He needed to be in Denial and Anger (the other steps are Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) first before he could move on. Trying to move him past those first two steps too soon could stymie him later. Dealing with loss, even when it’s not a traumatic loss, isn’t a game of Chutes and Ladders where you can bypass spaces.
So what did I do and say? I showed him physically and verbally that I was with him and supporting him without advising or coaching him. I sat down next to him and put my hand on his shoulders. For others, I might have hugged them or just sat with them (depending on what their preference is).
Then I said a few expletives I suspected were running through this mind. This was to show I cared and empathized (as best I could). I also said, “That must really hurt.” This allowed him to reply or not, his choice. I let him know that I supported him and understood. Since he’s a teenager, his response was brief.
The only pronouns I used were “you” or some form of it. I avoided saying things like “I know what you’re going through,” or “Yeah, that happened to me too.” While statements like that may be well intentioned, they shift the focus from him to me. When you’re listening actively, keep the focus on the other person.
Sometimes leadership requires listening in a way that shows you’re being supportive. When a colleague of yours is going through something challenging, how do you respond? Do you advise, coach, share your autobiography, or do you really listen?
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen wit
h the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)
Is Your Presentation PowerPointless?
You’ve heard that your body language and voice can make you persuasive. Maybe you’ve also found that a certain presentation structure can help you be more convincing. But what about your visual aids? Can they help you persuade? Absolutely!
Your PowerPoint (or any other presentation software) should help you focus on making points rather than simply covering content. Presentation software is far less effective when it simply has a topic for a title and bullets for the body. That approach is what prompted the now-trite phrase, “Death by PowerPoint.”
Your visuals can aid in your persuasiveness by following Assertion-Evidence format. This format was studied at Penn State School of Engineering in 2002 by Michael Alley. It was shown to increase audience retention by 17%. This format is useful far beyond the field of engineering. To use it, don’t title your slides; make an assertion about the benefit(s) of applying the content of your presentation. This often means that your “title” is a complete sentence and is longer than a standard slide title.
The content of the slide then proves the assertion with a chart or a graph. Or it illustrates the point with a photo or diagram. . Avoid bullets as much as possible! Bullets don’t aid audience retention and often trigger Redundancy Effect.This type of visual aid construction will focus you more on making points and cause you to be more persuasive.
Ultimately, your PowerPoint should help you focus on claiming a point (the assertion for the slide title) and making points (the chart or image in the body of the slide), not just talking about content. Here are some examples of “topic titles” and their assertion counterparts:
- Market Share (title) – New Products are Gaining Market Share (assertion)
- DFW Facts (title) – DFW Is Centrally Located for North American Business (assertion)
- Sales Data (title) – Pacific Northwest Region Meets Quota Every Quarter (assertion)
“If your business keeps you so busy that you have no time for anything else, there must be something wrong, either with you or with your business.” – William J.H. Boetcker (religious leader and speaker)
Sticks and Stones…
Sticks & stones have broken my bones (golf carts and parking meters too) and names have probably hurt me. I’m not talking about names other people have called me, rather the names I have used to refer to other people.
During times of conflict, I’ve used unflattering terms to describe people. I’ve come to realize that those terms kept me from improving the relationship and sustained the bad feelings. We’ve all had relationships end and sometimes they end with a bang and not with a whimper. When that happens, we sometimes refer to the other person derogatorily. While that is natural initially, continuing to use those terms in the long term can poison the relationship. Or worse.
I got divorced in 2010. While it wasn’t the most acrimonious of divorces, there were still hurt feelings on both sides. For my part, I continued to think and talk about my ex-wife negatively for too long. This kept me from moving past the ended relationship and re-making it so that it served me better. Eventually I realized this and changed the phrases and words I used to refer to my. I simply started thinking and talking about her in ways that were neutral. I think that trying to make the huge leap to using glowing, positive references would have been a “bridge too far” for me.
But by refusing to talk negatively about her, I changed the way I perceived her. At least a little bit. This shift also changed the way I treated her and that correspondingly improved the relationship! Is there someone you often refer to in a negative way? If so, how might you tweak that a little?
“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso
Not So Fast My Friend
At the end of a recent yoga class, the instructor finished by saying, “The light in me honors and respects the light in you. Namaste.” Before she finished saying “Namaste,” a couple of students responded with their own “Namaste.” It struck me that they sent the message that they were simply in a hurry to say their peace without regard to the instructor.
I’ve seen presenters do something similar during Q&A. They are in such a hurry to answer a question, they don’t even let the questioner finish! While I applaud the speaker’s excitement to answer the question, it’s also important to show the questioner, and the whole audience, that you’re paying full attention to them. After all, it’s the audience who decides how well your presentation goes.
This is one of the simplest tips I have for speakers: pause after the question for a beat before answering. You can even gently nod your head (if you want extra credit) while pausing to demonstrate that you’re welcoming the question. If you naturally have fast rate of speech, this will take some practice. What’s good is that every time you talk to someone, you have the opportunity to practice pausing. As Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” As a speaker, your job is to do both, but you need to do them in order!
By pausing after your audience’s questions, you show them that you’re honoring “the light” in them! Namaste!
Gratitudes…Schmatitudes (not really)
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard about the benefits of regularly acknowledging your gratitudes: * Improved physical health * Improved emotional/mental health * Increased empathy * Enhanced attractiveness and success (just having fun, but you never know!)
I’ve read about and researched the benefits of gratitude for several years. When I first found out about it, I started including three gratitudes in my journal. Initially I loved doing it and found it helpful. But after a while, it lost it’s magic for me. It began to feel tedious and obligatory.
I recently found out why the romance had gone out of my relationship with gratitudes. When I wrote them, I attributed my feelings of gratefulness to external sources. For example, I often wrote, “I’m grateful for the beautiful weather today.” This meant that the source of my joy wasn’t my doing. According to research done in 2005 by R.L. Maddux, people are happier when they express some personal responsibility for their gratitude.
With that in mind, I’m better served by writing, “I’m grateful that I took five minutes of my day to enjoy the beautiful weather.” Here are some “before (B) and after (A)” gratitudes:
- B: I’m thankful for my friend, Mike. A: I’m thankful for Mike’s friendship and that I made time in my day to have coffee with him.
- B: I’m glad I have my health. A: I’m glad I made a workout a priority today.
My gratitudes are now my responsibility and I’m grateful that I’ve made the change. Give it a try!
3 Kinds of Lies…
Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I spent several years in market research and saw my share of numbers that, at the very least, misled.
However, in business, numbers are critical. P&L can determine compensation, market research can alter product plans, and crime statistics can change the number of law enforcement officers. While numbers have power, they aren’t as persuasive as we have been led to believe. If you want to change someone’s mind, you’d better have a story.
If you’re like me, you remember seeing anti-smoking commercials that spouted statistics about health risks for smokers. You’ve probably seen the latest wave of commercials sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Tips from Former Smokers.”
Without going into gruesome detail, the commercials graphically show what has happened to former smokers. Each 30-second spot tells the story of one former smoker and the devastating effect on his/her life. The stories include amputations, heart surgeries, breathing stomas, and difficult pregnancies. If you’ve seen the commercials (started in 2012), you know how powerful and effective they are.
As a presenter, follow the CDC’s lead. Instead of showing a slide with your corporate history, tell the story of the company’s formation. Follow the hero’s journey model (http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero%27s_journey.htm#Hero). This model is elaborate, so you may need to shorten it. If you are citing successes of past clients, tell one customer’s story rather than just showing their before and after P&L.
To convince someone to take a new step, you must appeal to their emotional brain as well as their rational brain. Remember that humans generally don’t have emotional responses to excel spreadsheets!
Do Less to Do More
For years I’ve talked about how taking 10-minute breaks about every hour can benefit memory. It turns out that a similar formula is also the key to your productivity. According to some research done by the Draugiem Group, the formula is even less intense than that!
The Draugiem group found that the most productive 10% of workers employed a pattern of working intensely for 52 minutes and then took approximately 17-minute breaks. This is very similar to the exercise program I love/hate, burst training. In burst training, I exercise very intensely for a short time (the duration depends on the complexity and difficulty of the movement) and recover until I’m ready to go again.
Keep in mind that 52 and 17 are averages. You should find what works best for you and for the projects you’re working on. What’s critical is that the breaks you take give you energy back. Get away from your computer and your office, when you can. Visit a colleague, go for a walk, call a friend meditate for a few minutes or exercise a little.
Try it out for a week. Here are a couple of tips that may help:
- Schedule breaks in your calendar when possible. We all have times when we have back-to-back-to-back meetings, but do what you can.
- Set a timer for 52 minutes and take a break around that time.
- Make your to do lists realistic and break large jobs into smaller tasks.
Intrigued? For some more information read this (or cut and paste http://www.cioinsight.com/blogs/to-be-more-productive-work-fewer-hours.html)