Kelly Vandever - Communications for Everyone

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Getting Below the Surface – Learn What Really Matters to Your Audience

In Presentation Tips on April 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

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Don't Pre-Judge Your Audience - Dig In to Find Out More

An attorney friend of mine was telling me about jury selection on one of his cases.  He’s a prosecutor here in the Atlanta metro area and was trying a gang related case.  One of the people he let on the jury was a mother who had sons that had become involved with gangs.  “They finally grew out of it and got their acts together,” according to mom.

“Why would the defense attorney let her on the jury?” he asked me, dumbfounded.

“Well, maybe he thinks that she’ll be sympathetic to his client the gang member,” I replied.

He continued, “But you have to go deeper than what’s on the surface.  I asked her, ‘That’s not the way you raised them, is it?’ and she said, ‘No sir, it’s not.’  She was the one up waiting up at night when they didn’t come home.  She was the one whose stomach sank every time the phone rang.  How could the defense attorney not see that?”

When we have a high stakes message to deliver, we too need to dig deeper than what’s on the surface with our audiences.  Using stereotypes about a profession or a business without really taking time to talk the people involved hurts your ability to connect with your audience and communicate your important message.

Find the Answers

Find the answers to questions such as:

How do they see themselves?

Victim?  Hero?  Apprehensive?  Threatened?  Ashamed?  Proud?

What motivates them?

Are they living paycheck to paycheck?  Worried about reelection?  Miserable with life?  Happy to be alive?  Anxious about losing their job?

What’s their current view on the topic that you’re speaking on?

Positive, negative, uncommitted?  Hostile?  Ambivalent?

Why should they care?

What are the logical reasons why your topic is important to them?  What are emotional appeals that will motivate them regarding your topic?  How will your perspective differ?  What can you agree on?  What’s in it for them?

Ask the Questions

When I first got into the IT industry, I expected to work with the stereotypical geeks.  What I found was very different.  The people I worked with were passionate about their work, they were fun to be around and they were smart about technology, business and life.  One of things that surprised me the most was how creative the technologists were in solving problems.  They came up creative solutions to meet their goals.  If I’d never worked in the IT industry, I might have gone on thinking that they were geeks with pocket protectors.  It’s amazing what talking to real people will do to open your eyes to how much alike we are and what is really motivating us below the surface.

Meet Before You Speak

Get to know members of your audiences as people.  You likely can’t interview them all.  But interview a random sampling and find out what stereotypes you can topple.

Don’t just look at the surface.  Know what keeps them up at night.  Know what makes their stomach sink when they hear.  Then you’ll be able to really connect to them as people.

What Questions Do You Ask?

What questions do you ask to get below the surface with your audiences?  Share how you dig down in the comment section!


It’s Not Enough to Represent a Just Cause – How Can You Reach Your Audience?

In Presentation Tips on April 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm

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Can We Get Our Audience to Listen ... Even When We Can't All Cure Cancer?

I attended a panel discussion of a group of senior executives this morning.  The moderator asked the panel a question about employee retention.  One executive responded that he works to make sure his staff understands how their responsibilities fit into the bigger picture of the company.  He said, “We’re not curing cancer, but what we do is still pretty important.”  Another panelist agreed in the approach and reiterated, “Well we’re not curing cancer, but it’s important to our clients.”  One executive on the panel actually did work for a company who helps physicians cure cancer – I guess the others were feeling less than adequate.

It is important that leaders help employees understand how their job fits into the bigger picture of the company.  It’s important for people to feel they’re making a contribution toward a greater good.  But when it comes to presentations, there’s a danger with being too emotionally wrapped up in your message.

Emotional Appeal Overload

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re one of those people who works on a cure for cancer.  Is there anything you could possible say that could be wrong?  “Sorry for not following up with on that email.  I was busy curing cancer.”  Maybe not.   Maybe you’ve got a free pass because you’re doing such important work.  But to motivate an audience to take an action, simply representing a just cause isn’t enough.  The reason is emotional appeal overload.

Let’s face it.  There are sixteen gazillion just causes in the world.  Help a wounded warrior.  Rescue a child from slave trafficking.  Save the rain forest.  There is an abundance of amazing organizations doing good work toward just causes.  But it’s also easy as the person being exposed to all these just causes to get emotionally overloaded and shut down.  “I already feed a poor child in India.  Do I need to do anything else?”  Sure it’s hard to look a person in the eye and say “no” to their worthy cause.  But in a presentation situation, it’s far easier for the individual audience members to retreat into the anonymity of a group.  If you want to reach the audience, regardless of how just your cause is, you need to meet them where they’re at.

What Do They Care About

Understand what’s important to the members of your audience.  What are the messages that members of the group send out about themselves?  How is your message aligned with how they see themselves?  People are selfish, but we don’t want to be made to feel guilty about it.  We want to do the right thing, but we already assume we’re doing what’s right in the best way we know how.  And we will stick to our perspective when we fear we’ll lose face, even though underneath, we may feel uneasy and fear that we are wrong.  Simply beating someone over the head with your message is not enough.  We all crave meaning to our lives.  But we don’t want to be made to feel selfish, or stupid, or poorly because our meaning in life isn’t as meaningful as yours.

People want to change but they need to be given a way to change that preserves their dignity, is congruent with who they are as people, and isn’t so hard to do that they know they won’t do it.  Provide your audience with this information, and you’ll have a better chance of making a different when it matters.

Maybe you won’t cure cancer.  But what you do does make a difference.

What Have You Found that Works?

How have you been able to reach an audience and persuade them to take action.  Love to hear your comments!

Does Your Presentation Support the Impact You Want to Happen on the Face of the Earth?

In Presentation Tips on April 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

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How Can You Show the World Your Love?

“So, Kelly, what did you think about those slide?  I tried to get a look at your face while they were showing their slides but I couldn’t see you.  So I just had to ask you, what did you think!”

The professional association meeting had just ended.  The slides were typical for corporate presentations:  lots of bullet points, lots of words, impossible-to-read complex diagrams.  People who know me know that I teach others how to do slides which are more visually appealing and which actually improve retention over the bullet point format.  My comment back to the colleague asking the questions was, “It’s OK.  I still have work to do to transform the slides of corporate America.”  Driving home from the event, I started thinking about something I’d learned a while back.  If you can put your company mission in the frame work of eliminating something bad from the face of the earth, or bringing something wonderful to the world – and just focus on that and nothing else – what would your “thing” be.  For me my mission would be eliminating boring presentations from the face of the earth.  What’s yours?  Do your presentations reflect your need to eliminate or promote your mission?

Do You Care Enough to Share Your Very Best?

Some of my clients do presentations as a way to promote their business or move prospects along in the sales cycle.  My advice is that with such presentations, you need to provide valued to the audience.  What better way to do that than to think of what you want to eliminate or promote and passionately share the solutions with your audience?

But Kelly – That’s What They Pay Me For?

I know that some folks are very protective of their intellectual property.  But my contention is, and I know there are others out there that agree with me, that you’re better off sharing your information.  If you give your audience something of value before they are your clients, the subliminal message you send is “See the value you gotten from me now?  Imagine how much value I’ll give you if you’re a client?”  Over protect your intellectual property, and you won’t develop that sense of trust with your prospect.

My Mission Is…

I found that if I focus on this mission of mine, to eliminate boring presentations from the face of the earth, I give more to my audience.  I don’t come off as desperate for business.  I become more giving.   I have a lot more positive vibe.  And that translates in being more appealing to prospects.

So What Do You Think?

Could you be more giving with your audiences if it means eliminating or contributing to the world as in your mission?  What would that mean for your prospects?  For your business?  What’s been your experience?  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Tell us in the comments section!

What Makes a Presentation Boring – Part 2 – Same-old, Same Old

In Presentation Tips on April 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

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Not the Best Place to Nap During a Webinar...

In the corporate world, it’s common to have “webinars” for routine type events that don’t happen often.  Rather than having everyone come together for a meeting in person, everyone gets on a conference call or a specific website and the information is reviewed while you listen to the person on the phone and watch the slides on the screen.

Toward the end of my time in corporate America, I had to go to the annual webinar on performance reviews.  Since I was a manager and with a new company (my old company had been acquired) it was important for me to attend and pay attention so I was sure to get my staff’s reviews done correctly.

The woman from HR who did the webinar had a very pleasant voice.  Actually, a little too pleasant.  She spoke with a certain cadence that was easy to listen to… but a little bit hypnotic.  I can’t believe it but I actually feel asleep at my desk listening to her!  Sure it was right after lunch, but come on!  That’s not like me!  I found out later that I wasn’t the only one!  I attended the same training on a different day but that leads me to the next aspect of what makes a presentation boring – the same-old, same old.

If within a presentation there’s a lot of the same – whether it be voice or cadence or information – you’ll lose audience members.  One of the biggest offenders of the same-old, same old – is being monotone.


People who speak in a monotone voice don’t change the inflection, their volume, or their pacing throughout a presentation.  If you’ve ever been told you have a monotone voice, start with one aspect of change at a time.  Use that change in everyday conversation.  Then add another change.  Keep adding change until you comfortably add more variety into the way you speak.

For example, start by identifying a word or a phrase that’s important to something you have to say, and say that word or phrase more loudly and slowly.  Let’s use the previous paragraph as an example.  If you had to emphasize one word in each sentence, which would your choose?  What would it sound like if you said that one word louder?  How about saying that one word more slowly?  Choose and try it now for yourself.

People who speak in a monotone voice don’t change the inflection, their volume, or their pacing throughout a presentation.  If you’ve ever been told you have a monotone voice, start with one aspect of change at a time.  Use that change in everyday conversation.  Then add another change.  Keep adding change until you comfortably add more variety into the way you speak.

How did it go?  Was it a little awkward?  If you’re used to speaking in a flat, monotone voice, it will feel awkward.  But try it anyway.  Record yourself.  Give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable.  It’s a lot of work if you naturally speak in a monotone way.  But you can do it with some practice.  Practice in low-risk, casual activities first, then stretch yourself by adding more volume and emotion when you speak in public.  It may seem really exaggerated to you at first.  But allow yourself to feel a little foolish and see where it takes you.  Relax into so that you don’t seem insincere or contrived but give it a try.  Because you already know, the monotone isn’t cutting it.

What’s Worked for YOU?

If you have overcome a monotone voice… or have helped others to overcome monotone tendencies… tell us what works!  We want to share our ideas here so we can all learn!

What Makes a Presentation Boring – Part 1 – Disconnect with the Level of the Material and the Level of Knowledge of the Audience

In Presentation Tips on April 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm

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Different Content Effects Different Audiences Differently

One of my college roommates had a tough childhood growing up.  One of her parents was mentally ill which as you can imagine caused all kinds of problems for her, her siblings and the other parent.  One night, we went to a public showing of Ordinary People on campus and she broke down.  She started crying, she leaned on me.  She was a wreck the rest of the night.  The story line struck a cord and was overwhelming to her.  I had an uncomplicated childhood with parents who loved me.  The movie did not effect me in the same way it did my roommate.  Same movie.  Very different audience member responses.

The same can be said of our presentations.  Depending on the level of knowledge of the members of our audience, the same content can have a vastly different impact on our audience.  Every audience is different.  Every member of your audience is different.  But when speaking to a group, you need to try as best you can to meet the audience where they are.

When it comes to boring your audience, there are two ways that not reflecting the level of your audience members knowledge can really hurt your message:  engaging them at a level below where they’re at – or – engaging them at a level that’s way above their heads.

Below the Audience’s Knowledge Level

If the material you are covering is very basic and the audience members already have the basics, then you are going to bore them to tears, and possibly tick them off.  We only get so much time in our days.  No one wants have their time wasted by being told information that they already know and can easily do.

Going Way Over the Audience’s Head

When you cover your content at a level that is far beyond the grasp of their current knowledge, you’re also going to bore them.  Beyond that, you may also make them feel dumb – and no one likes to be made to feel dumb.  While it very engaging to an audience to go slightly beyond their current level of knowledge to educate them and challenge them to increase their abilities, going far beyond their current grasp doesn’t serve you and doesn’t serve them well either.

Know Where Your Audience’s Level Currently Is

Talk to the person who asked you to speak to this audience in the first place.  Ask them to tell you about the level of the audience’s knowledge on your subject.  Ask to speak to 10 or so people who are likely to be in the audience.  Ask those people for their current level of knowledge and what they believe to be the level of knowledge of their colleagues who will also be attending.  When you get to the meeting, ask some early arrivers for their feedback.  Poll the audience early in your presentation to get a better feel.  Do what you can to meet the audience where they are.  You might not be able to meet every single person at exactly the right level.  But you’ll be a whole lot more successful when you do your homework than if you just assume you know what they need.

How Do You Gauge the Level of Your Audience?

What other methods do you use to gauge the level of your audience so that you know you’re not being too basic or going way over their heads?  Share your techniques in the comments below.

It’s OK If Your Presentation Is Boring (As Long as You’re Not Trying to Accomplish Anything)

In Presentation Tips on April 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

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It's All About the Goal

For whatever reason, when we originally signed up for garbage service when we moved to our neighborhood, we didn’t opt for a recycling bin.  A few years ago when we changed garbage services, the new provider gave us the option to get both a regular garbage can and a recycling can.  We said, “Sure, why not.  Give us both.”  Then my husband did something brilliant.

He built two new wooden garbage cans for use in our kitchen.  He labeled one for our traditional garbage and one for recyclable material.  He knew our family well enough to know that we wouldn’t walk the extra 10 feet to the garage to throw away our bottles and papers into the big can stored there.  We needed a special recycling can in our kitchen right next to the regular garbage can if we were going to get in the habit to recycle.  It worked like a charm.  The two can system allowed us to meet our goal of adding recycling to our lifestyle.

Your presentation has a goal.  You’re trying to get something done by having the presentation.  If your goal isn’t very important, it doesn’t matter if your presentation is boring as long as your goal is met.

How Do You Know If Your Goal Is Important?  Ask Yourself These Questions?

What is it costing me to have this presentation?

Calculate the hourly wage of the individuals in the room who are sitting through the presentation.  How much of your money (or your client’s money) are you spending by having that audience sitting in a room?  If the answer doesn’t scare you or embarrass you, it’s fine to have a boring presentation.  But if that number represents a significant amount, then you need to invest the time in having a presentation that will accomplish your goal and engage your audience.  A presentation that people don’t pay attention to – or worse sleep through – is not going to give you a good return on the amount you’ve invested in having the people seated in the room.

What opportunities are you missing by having this presentation?

If you’re having a presentation, that means you can’t be doing something else that is a priority to you.  Neither can your audience.  If what you’re missing isn’t important then, hey, it’s OK to have a boring presentation.  But if there are better things you or your people could be doing, then maybe you need to make sure the presentation has the impact you need it to have.  And I’m betting a boring presentation won’t get the results you want.

How important is it to achieve your goal for your presentation?

Is it unimportant to motivate your employees?  Is it not significant that your prospect takes the next step in the sales cycle?  Do you not really care how you come across at the industry conference?  Then it’s fine to be boring.  If motivating your employees is important…if moving prospects along in the sales cycle is meaningful for your business…if being a leader in your industry matters to you, then don’t be boring!

Kelly – My Presentations Are Important!   How Can I NOT BE BORING?!

Keeping your presentations from not being boring is a lot like my husband building a second garbage can for the recycling.  You have to work at it if you’re going to make it easier for your audience.  Over the next post or two, I’ll discuss what makes a presentation boring and techniques for combating the boredom!

BUT FIRST – What Do You Think Makes a Presentation Boring?

Add your thoughts to the comments section!

It’s Not About You! Except When It Is!

In Presentation Tips on April 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm

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The Exhilaration of Nailing Your Presentation

Mary was so excited, she called me on the way home.  “I nailed it Kelly.  I nailed it!”  It was the day after Mary had attended a presentation skills workshop with me and she had an opportunity to apply what she’d learned the very next day.

“What made the difference for you this time?”  Mary, although a good speaker, was extremely anxious about public speaking.  I was eager to learn what helped her break through and be so excited about her latest presentation.

“I know I’ve heard it before but this time it really stuck with me that ‘It’s not about me.’  Once I remembered that my audience really needed the information I was giving them, it made everything easier.  It was awesome!”

It’s Not About You (the Presenter)

Whether you’re reluctant to speak in front of a group or not, it’s important to remember that the presentation is not about you… it’s about the audience.  And I strongly believe this.

But that seems contrary to something else I’ve often said.  “Tell personal stories.”  So if it’s not about you (the speaker), then why tell personal stories?

Well in some ways, it is about you!

It’s Not About You – The Presenter – Except When It Is!

Life is full of paradoxes… two aspects that seem to be at odds yet which both happen to be true.  I think to understand why both “it’s not about you” and “except when it is” are true, it helps to consider the five purposes of a presentation.

The 5 Purposes of Your Presentation

Most presentation textbooks talk about the importance of having a single purpose for your presentation but it’s my position that speeches, like life, are messy.  Rarely are we trying to satisfy just one need with a presentation.  That’s where the Five Purposes of your presentation come into play.

1 – General Purpose

This is just a word that generally describes what a speech is meant to accomplish.  Is the purpose to inform?  To educate?  To persuade?  To inspire?  What, in a word, is the overall purpose of the presentation?


2 – Specific Purpose

The specific purpose describes what the presentation will be about.  This is the “one purpose” that textbooks talk about.  Think of the specific purpose as the description you would use if someone asked you what you’ll be covering in your presentation.


3 – The Meeting Leader’s Purpose

Assuming you were asked by someone to speak, consider what that person’s motives are for asking you to present.  Understand what the person who called the meeting hopes to accomplish.


4 – The Audience’s Purpose

The audience’s purpose is the reason they came to see you.  You might assume that it’s because of the specific purpose.  That’s not always the case.  Sometime, attendees are required to attend.  Sometimes they have ulterior motives.  (Where possible, interview perspective audience members to learn more about their purpose for attending.  See this post for more information.)


5 – Your Purpose

Why did you agree to do the presentation? Was it because your boss made you?  Did you volunteer?  How do you personally want to benefit as a result of giving the presentation?

I’ll post a more detailed post on the 5 Purposes another day, but for now the point is that you should give all these purposes ample consideration as you prepare for a presentation.

For our discussion in this post, let’s take a look at when it’s not about you… and when it is.

It’s About the Audience

The meeting leader has a purpose in mind.  That purpose likely focuses on something that will benefit the audience or the leader’s organization.  – That’s not about you.  It’s about what you can deliver to their audience and the value it brings.

The audience’s purpose is by definition about the audience.  They are investing their precious time in listening to you.   They want to benefit from it – even if they’re being forced to be there.  No one likes to have her time wasted.  No one wants to listen to a message that he can’t relate to.    That’s not about you – it’s about what you can do for the audience.  And it they attended voluntarily because of what they read in the specific purpose, then you’d better come through!

Except When It’s About You

Notice that you have a purpose too.  There is something that you personally or professionally want to get out of the presentation.  As long as it gels with the other 4 purposes there’s nothing wrong with that.   But beyond that, what makes part of it about you, is the fact that your audience wants to know the real and sincere you.  They want to know you.  They want to like you.  They want to trust you.  You benefit and align with your purpose if you can demonstrate through your words, through your stories and through your actions that you are likable and trust worthy.

When we’re vulnerable with an audience by telling them a personal story when we don’t look so good – it may be about us, but it benefits the audience.

When we tell a story about how we found success – it may be about us, but it demonstrates to the audience how they can learn from our experience… if we can do it, so can they.

When we talk about the clients we’ve helped – it demonstrates our credibility so that the audience can know that they can trust us and apply the valuable content that they’re learning for themselves.

Yes, it’s a little paradoxical but by talking about ourselves – in the right balance of the good and the bad – and then by making the connection to them as the audience, we can really better serve all 5 purposes than if we just made general comments about general things.

So Is It About Your?  Or About Them?

The answer is yes.  The best presentations lie in walking the line between the two.

But when you get it right, like Mary did, it’s a wonderful thing for you and for your audience!!

So What Do You Think?

Do you agree?  Disagree?  How do you balance how you talk about you with how you talk about them?  Any wisdom you can share will be greatly appreciated!


You Know How Your Audience Is Going to React – So Adjust Before You Speak

In Presentation Tips on April 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

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The Dude with the Sniffing Nose

We have a dog named Dude.  Dude is about nine months old lab-retreiver mix that we rescued him from the Humane Society in Atlanta.  We named him Dude because he seemed to have a laid back personality and because we like to make people laugh – and they usually do when we introduce our dog Dude.

I work from home in an office in our basement.  I’ve got a small dorm fridge in the basement where I store my daily supply of Caffeine Free Cokes.  As I was getting things around this morning, Dude watched me while I put a couple of diet cokes on the chair next to the basement door.  I planned to carry them downstairs when I was ready to go to my office.  As I was sitting the sodas down I thought to myself, “Dude is going to try and sniff these sodas and get his doggy germs all over my cans.”  As I’m sitting the cans on the chair I’m thinking, “I shouldn’t do this.  The cans are at the right height where he can sniff them and get his doggie germs all over them.  He seemed comfortable laying there.  But he’s watching everything I’m doing.”  I was either too lazy or overly optimistic so I thought, “Aw, screw it.”  I left the cans and went back into the next room to grab something.  Sure enough he was sniffing my cans when I got back.  I was a little upset with myself for not thinking about turning my can upside down before I left the room because I just KNEW he was going to sniff my cans!  But by then, it was too late.

Isn’t that the way it happens with presentations sometimes?  We know that our audience could potential react to our message in a negative way.  But we take our chances and don’t prepare for it… then kick ourselves when the worst happens?

When You Anticipate Things Could Go Wrong with Your Audience

There are several circumstances where you can anticipate that things could go wrong.  In this post, I want to talk about two of the most common:  Delivering bad news & compulsory attendance

Delivery Bad News

Back in my corporate management days, we had meetings with employees that we knew weren’t going to be pleasant.  The hardest were those that had to do with cost cutting and layoffs.  I sat through far too many of those meetings.  I had to conduct far too many of those meetings.

When you have to communicate bad news, it’s important to be sensitive to the audience’s emotions.  So how do you do that?

Articulate the Emotions

People want to feel like they are being heard.  When there are cost cutting measure, people feel like they’ve had something taken away from them.  They’re mourning a loss.  And they worry about what comes next. When there is a lay offs, they’re losing friends.  They’re scared for their own jobs.  Acknowledge these realities.  Speak to the emotions they’re feeling.

Plan what you’re going to say in advance.  Run it past some trusted peers and your boss.  Don’t tell people how to feel.  They feel the way they feel.  Acknowledge the feelings of hurt, betrayal, fear or what ever is the mood of the group.  It’s tough enough to go through the circumstances of the bad news.  Don’t exacerbate the situation by appearing to be in denial too.

Be Direct

Delivery of bad news is not the time to add flowery verbiage and hallow platitudes.  Deliver the information as directly yet sensitively as possible.

If there was a layoff, say it.  If there are more coming, say it.  If there were cuts from the budget, explain why.  Give people the information they need to be informed.  Don’t pussy-foot around.  Treat your audience like you would want to be treated.  It won’t make the bad news go away.  But it will show that you are still able to treat your audience with respect.

Compulsory Attendance

Mandatory meetings.  Required training.  The attendance-is-not-optional presentation.  Let’s face it.  Sometimes our audiences aren’t there because the want to be there:  they have to be there.  What can we do to help in a situation like this?

Make Your Topic Important to the Audience

Ask yourself and the person who asked you to speak why the topic is important to the audience.  If it’s mandated by law, why was it mandated by law?  There must have been some larger societal issue that was compelling enough that the training or meeting is now required.  How does that societal issue effect the people in the room.

How will the topic get the audience member something that is important to him or her?  Will it make their job easier?  Will it help the company?  Will it save jobs?  Lives?  Make them feel better about themselves?  People often default to the lower end of Maslow’s triangle.  But in actuality we all want to feel significant.  We all want to matter.  Appeal to the audience’s sense of identity and relate that to your topic.

Add Humor

How many people have you met in your lifetime that don’t like humor?  I bet you can count them on one hand.  Humor is a great coping devise even for presentations that people don’t want to be at.  The best humor is insider humor that’s clean and doesn’t degrade anyone except perhaps yourself.  Use humor that helps you make your point.  Take advantage of the situation you find yourself in and listen for ways to lighten the mood by what you see in front of you.  Invent a game show to add some spice to the presentation.  Add some pep and your audience will appreciate that you’ve tried to make the mandatory subject more fun.

Include Meaningful Interaction

People love to be involved and they love to be heard.  Look for ways to engage the audience.  Ask a question and allow audience members to respond.  Create a contest to test their skills and knowledge in a fun way.  Have them break into smaller groups and wrestle with a portion of your topic.  The person who talks the most learns the most.  Make sure your audience has time and space to talk.


People Are Predictable

Just like I sensed that Dude wanted to sniff my cans, you can sense when you’re going to come across a challenge with an audience.  Don’t ignore that intuition like I did with Dude this morning.  Be prepared for the emotions and the level of commitment that you can expect from your audience.

By the way, the cans Dude sniffed… I washed them.  Not as good as preventing the problem.  But it was certainly a more reasonable alternative to throwing away the cans because of the Dude’s germs!

Prevent your problems by being as prepared as you can.  And if there are still problems, do the best you can to find an alternative that can work for you and your audience.

What Else?

What have I missed?  What else do we need to pay attention to when it comes to delivering bad news to an audience?  What else do we need to do when address a crowd that HAS to be there?  Please add your comments!



Paradox of the Audience’s Wandering Mind

In Presentation Tips on April 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

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Can You Guess Kelly's Favorite Key?

Sometimes I get in trouble with my family members because I’m a bit of a control freak.  It happened again this last weekend.  Nothing big.   Just enough that when it was all said and done, I felt badly that I’d fallen into the old habit again.  Then to top it off, I let my stubbornness and my pride keep me from admitting I was being too controlling and I didn’t enjoy the weekend as much as I could have.

If you were listening to these words, instead of reading them, what would be different?

If you were listening rather than reading, your mind might start to wander.  “What was it that Kelly did this weekend that ticked off her family?  How bad was it?  So, she’s a control freak…she’s probably like Aunt Shirley.  I still can’t believe what Aunt Shirley did last Thanksgiving… Oh wait, what was she saying?”

Isn’t that what we do sometimes?  We take a little mental detour when we’re left hanging for information.

As a presentation coach, I listen for gaps that can cause an audience to wander away from the speaker’s message.  I help my clients fill in the gaps or eliminate distractions that take away from the message.  But we can’t stop there.  There are times when we WANT our audiences’ minds to wander.

If we want our audience to internalize our message, we NEED them to take a mental detour.  The audience members NEED to personalize what they’re hearing.  They need to consider how our ideas apply to their lives.  If they don’t internalize, if they don’t make the message personal, then it won’t stick.  If the message doesn’t stick then behaviors don’t change, products don’t get sold, lives don’t get better.

So how do we do that?  How do we get people to take the right kinds of detours to internalize and personalize our message?  Here are three suggestions.

Tell Stories that Make Your Point

Have you ever been at a party and one person tells a story which reminds you of a story that happened to you?  And then when that person finishes telling his story, you tell the story you remembered?  And then someone else tells a story about the same kind of topic from her perspective.  It’s like stories have this “that-reminds-me-of-a-time” effect on us.

In a presentation, when you tell a story, the same thing occurs.  The story gets the brain synapses firing.  Our minds crave a connection to what is familiar to us and we start associating the facts of your story to similar circumstances in our lives.  Your storytelling is helping us make your story more personal and memorable to us.  Stories can take us down a path to relate to your emotions and your motivation to what matters to us.  Making this connection benefits us as presenters.

Ask Questions – Then Pause

Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever been listening to a story and thought about something similar that happened to you?

Asking a question of your audience and then pausing while they think about their response is another way that we can get our audiences’ minds to wander in a good way.  We may make a point, but if we can tie the point to a question that the audience has to ponder for themselves, then we’ve come a long way in the proper use of the wandering mind.

Take a Moment

Sometimes we need to give the audience more than a pause.  That’s when we want to encourage our audience to take a minute and write down their answers to our thought provoking questions.  People are busy.  If they need time to connect our ideas with the impact on their lives, we should show the courage to shut up and let them write.  Never try to talk to them while they write.  Seriously establish the time you want to give them and let them write.  They’ll appreciate that you’ve given them time to let their minds wander without the impediment of trying to tune you out while they do it.


Sometimes the best things we’ve said for an audience member are words that we know we’ve never spoken.  The audience thinks the idea came from us.  But in actuality what has happened is our idea meets with that audience member’s internalized, personalized thought.  And the learning and insight came from that important combination.

We can never control what our audience thinks.  But sometimes, we may want to actually encourage their minds to wander.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Where did your mind wander off to while you were reading this post?  Do you have a better way to articulate this concept?  Please comment and let us know!




Why You Don’t Want Your Audience to Applaud

In Presentation Tips on April 8, 2011 at 10:47 am

The Speaking Practically Blog Has Moved!

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Maybe There's a Reason Your Audience Should Be as Quiet as a Library After Your Presentation

I recently facilitated a workshop with World Champion of Public Speaking Dwayne Smith. In the section of the program about the fear of public speaking, Dwayne asked the workshop participants to take a few minutes to visualize what they heard, what they saw, and what they felt after a successful presentation.

What do you suppose the workshop participants said they saw and heard?

As professional speakers, we facilitators guessed we’d hear the participants say they saw and heard their audience applauding.   But surprisingly one common answer we heard was “silence” – as in the audience was contemplating and processing what they’d heard.  I LOVE that answer!  The reason I LOVE that answer is, it’s not about the speaker and getting the speaker accolades.  It’s about the audience!

Why Are You Speaking?

In the workshop, we had people who spoke for various reasons.  One woman was a leader in a Fortune 500 company who had to do presentations related to changes within the business.  One man was a leader of a non-profit organization who worked with several local ministries.  One woman did workshops on parenting.  Each of those individuals don’t do presentations because they want to be the center of attention.  They do presentations to help a cause – to have more success in business (which keeps people employed) – to help people in need (because we all need a little help at some point in our lives) – to help people be better parents (and don’t we want children to have good parents?).  None of those objects were about themselves and looking good in front of an audience.  It was about doing work that they were good at so that others could benefit.

So maybe a standing ovation is not the sign that you’ve done a good job as a presenter.  Maybe instead, you look out and see… people writing notes to themselves about a change they’re going to make… people picking up the phone to call the prospect they’ve been afraid to hear “no” from… people getting out their checkbooks to write you a big check!  Whatever your goal for your presentation is, keep that in mind.  And be thrilled when your presentation is greeted with silence.

What Do You Think?  Do You Agree?

Have you had an experience where you were greeting with silence… and that was a great thing?  Tell us about your experience.

Or if you disagree, let us know that too!  Tell us why you don’t think silence is the best response to your presentation!