Kelly Vandever - Communications for Everyone

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

5 Golden Rules of Speaking to Promote Your Business, Without Turning Off Your Audience – Rule #3 – Tell Personal Stories

In Presentation Tips on May 31, 2011 at 10:38 am

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Don't borrow other speaker's lines! Tell your own stories!

When I first started my speaking career, I’d written down some witty things that I’d heard other speakers say.  I remember one such witticism delivered by the speaker immediately after he was introduced.  The line went something like, “Thank you for that marvelous introduction.  You read it just like I wrote it.”  The line got a laugh so I thought I’d use it in when I spoke as the luncheon keynote for a state association conference.  As I was rehearsing and timing my speech, I saw that I had too much material and decided to cut the line, even though I hated giving up the laugh.


On the day of conference, I arrived super early, worried about getting caught in the Atlanta traffic.  I arrive two hours before I was to speak so I watched the speaker who spoke before me.  Guess what line he used immediately after being introduced?  While the audience laughed, I was relieved that I’d decided to drop the line.


Imagine how I would have turned off that audience if I’d used the exact same laugh line as the speaker before me!  What would that have done to my credibility?!


I learned two important lessons that day.  One – always try to get to the venue super early and listen to those who speak to the group before you.  Two – don’t steal material from another speaker – use your own stories.



Rule #3 – Tell Personal Stories


There are three compelling reasons why you want to tell personal stories.


First, stories have a way of engaging an audience.  Notice for yourself, the next time you’re listening to a presentation or a sermon, do your ears perk up when the speaker starts to tell a story?  Do you find yourself wondering how the story will unfold?  From caveman stories to modern day drama, human beings are drawn to stories.  Take advantage of that fact to connect with your audience.


Second, stories make your points easier to retain.  If you illustrate a point by telling a story, your audience is going to be more likely to remember your point.  One of my long-term clients came to me 21 months after she had heard me speak.  As we started working together, she recounted a story that I’d told during that speech.  She remembered the story I’d told her 21 months earlier!  And when she was ready to buy, she called me.  Stories make you more memorable.


Third, personal stories let the audience get to know you.  Have you ever seen an actor or a sports celebrity and thought to yourself, “that would we a cool person to have a beer with”?  By their being out in the public eye, we feel like we get to know celebrities.  Speaking in front of the group also has a similar impact.  Telling a personal story lets people get to know who you are and what you’re like.  People want to do business with people they know, like and trust.  Personal stories fast track you with an audience into that realm of feeling like they know you, they like you, and they trust you.


So tell personal stories that engage the audience.  Use good judgment. Don’t make the stories so personal that the audience is embarrassed for you. It’s OK to tell business and non-business stories.  But don’t tell any stories that will make the audience uncomfortable unless you have a really compelling reason for doing so.  Do make sure the story links to a point you’re trying to make and tie the story and the point together for the audience.  Use details in your stories where you can.  And don’t let the story go on for too long.  But try using stories and see what a difference you’ll make in connecting with your audience.


Now it’s your turn.  How do stories make a difference in your presentations?


Let us know your examples in the comments below!


5 Golden Rules of Speaking to Promote Your Business, Without Turning Off Your Audience – Rule # 2 – Involve the Audience in the Discussion

In Presentation Tips on May 27, 2011 at 7:48 am

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Engage Your Audience - Their Questions and Comments Will Benefit the Audience and You!

Before doing new material in front of an audience, I like to bounce the ideas off of friend, family and other speakers and trainers.  That helps me get my message better honed and delivered.  But one thing I’ve noticed is that I still learn so much from my audience.  As I learn from audiences, it helps the others in the session get more valuable information and it helps me improve my content for future audiences.

I remember being on one particular webinar about using Twitter as a way to interact.  Using Twitter to ask the question, one of the participants asked, besides asking questions of the presenter, how else can you use Twitter to interact with your audience?  What a great question!  I hadn’t thought about it before.  But once I did, I thought about asking audience to tweet about what area they want to spend the most time on in a session and getting audience members to respond to a question for an informal poll.  And the question caused me to open my mind to other possible uses in the future.

Which leads me to Golden Rule # 2 – Involve the Audience in the Discussion

Treat your audience like the intelligent, capable business people that they are.  Engage them in the discussion.  With smaller audiences, ask questions.  Get audience members talking to each other and talking to you.  In larger audiences, use a conference or a session hashtag and invite audience members to tweet their questions, make comments or answer questions you pose.

Audiences don’t want to sit back and watch a talking head.  They want to be engaged.

Plus, no one individual is going to be smarter than a collective group.  Give your audience credit for what they bring to the forum and engage them in a conversation.

Your Turn!

How do you engage your audience in your presentations?  What have you learned from audience members that improved your presentation for your audience and helped you as well?  Please share your thoughts in the comment!

Presenting on Topics No One Wants to Hear About? Create Your Own Zombie Apocalypse ala the CDC!

In Presentation Tips on May 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

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What's the Zombie Apocalypse Equivalent for Your Presentation?

I don’t know who’s idea it was to create a CDC campaign based on the Zombie Apocalypse but I think the idea was BRILLIANT!

Think about it.  They took a subject that we all know is good for us but which we don’t really like to do anything about it – preparing for natural and man-made disasters –– and turned it into a pile of fun!

People have struggled to do presentations on topics that while they find interesting and important but that they worry their audiences will resist or be bored by.  As a presentation skills trainer and coach, I struggled with what to tell people.

I do believe being passionate and energetic about your subject helps make it more engaging for your audience.  And I’ve helped clients create fun game-like activities to engage their audiences.  But I think the CDCs approach, appealing to the campy, pop-culture, fun side of audiences is terrific.

I could see a disaster preparedness speaker taking the zombie metaphor through and entire presentation and walk through the steps to prepare to protect yourself in the zombie apocalypse or other disaster.  Could you see that being more engaging than just straight out guilt or fear as a motivator?  I love it!

What’s Your Challenging Subject that You Need to Speak On?

What’s the topic you want to address with your audiences that you think they’ll resist?  What makes them want to push away?  Can you come up with your version of the zombie apocalypse to find a fun way to engage and entertain your audience?  Need to talk about planning for retirement?  Vampire live forever… how do they fund their estates?   Need to make a presentation to management about upgrading equipment?  Can you turn that into a super hero story like the X-men?  Sure these are serious topics.  But could a little campiness help get our message across better?  In an attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook kind of world, maybe we need to think about getting a little goofy.

What Do You Think?  Are You Willing to Find a Zombie Apocalypse for Your Subject Matter?  Want Help Finding It?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Even more, I’d like to see how we can help each other brain-storm ideas!  Add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section!

How Goizueta Business School’s MBA Program Measured Presentation Effectiveness during their Annual Marketing Strategy Consultancy Presentation Day Competition – Did They Get It Right?

In Presentation Tips on May 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

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I only got to see two presentations when I served as a judge for Emory University’s Goizueta Business School’s MBA program’s annual Marketing Strategy Consultancy Presentation Day Competition.  With six teams competing in total, I felt lucky that one of the presentations I saw won second place in the competition.  I’m not surprised that the team placed.  The group provided their client with valuable content, presented their information in a well-organized manner and engaged the audience with flare and fun.

In a previous post I asked folks to weigh in on what you thought the good folks at the Goizueta Business School might have used as weighting when evaluating the three criteria we used that day to judge the presentation.  In other words, what percentage of the overall evaluation might the judging have put on presentation skills, on organization and on content.  Well here is how judging criteria were actually weighed.

15% – Presentation Skills

25% – Organization

60% – Content

What?  Only 15% on Presentation Skill?!  And 60% on Content?!

It might surprise you to hear that as someone who has focused on studying the art and science of public speaking for the last 10 years, I feel the distribution of the weighting is about right.  Content should be the element that contains the bulk of the weighing when it comes to presentations.

Think about it.  Have you ever sat through a presentation that while the person didn’t have the best of presentation skills, she gave such valuable content that you furiously took notes to keep up with the information that was being imparted?  Have you ever listened a speaker give his story and even though he didn’t tell it in an especially organized manner, you were emotionally moved by his challenges and struggles?  I know I have.  Content is really important and it should take up the bulk of the assessment of value.

The Importance of Content in Business Presentations

Content in a business presentation really should carry the heaviest of weights – but let’s understand what that really means.  After all, I know the other presentation I saw that day had plenty of content yet it wasn’t nearly as effective as the one that placed second.  So what makes some presentation’s content better than others?

Audience Relevancy

The effectiveness of content has to start with considering the relevancy of the material to the audience.  In the two presentations I saw during the competition, the students were specifically asked to address a business problem for their client.   Each group did.

But that’s not always the case.  I don’t know about you but I’ve attended plenty of presentations where the presenter talked about himself, his department or his company without any regards to why that information would be of value to me.

So one measure of good content has to be its applicability to the audience.

But take that a little further for a business presentation.  You might also want to consider how the content applies to the client of the business audience to which the content is being presented.

In the second place presentation, the presenters where clear in both their executive summary and throughout their presentations what the benefits of their recommendations were not just their clients but to the customers of their client.

In the presentation that did not place, the benefits to the customer of their client weren’t even mentioned in the executive summary and were buried several minutes into the marketing presentation.   In a business presentation, it may not be enough to make the presentation relevant to the immediate audience.  Particularly with a marketing presentation, you also need to make it meaningful to the customer or your customer.


One of the challenges that experts have in making business presentations to those who don’t have their expertise is making the information understandable.  While these students didn’t have years the years of experience that their clients did in their industry, they did have thorough knowledge of the research they had conducted on behalf of their clients.  What the team that won second did that the other team did not do was they broke down their research by market segment and equated the people in that market segment to people that were relatable to the audience.   We could picture in our minds the age, the lifestyle and values and maybe even particular friends and family members who belonged to the different market segments the students described.  The other team didn’t describe the market segments in a way that helped the audience or their clients identify with the people and organizations that would be interested in their product.

Whenever an audience is learning new information, we as presenters can help them understand if we frame the new material in terms that the audience already has a reference for.   Content needs to be presented in a way that non-experts can understand.  We do this by helping the listeners comprehend based on their own life experiences.

Actionable Applicability

My good friend Wendy Kinney always says, “Specific is more profitable than general.”  That is certainly true when it comes to business presentations.  People want their time to be well spent.  Giving your audience specific actionable steps makes your content more valuable.

In the competition, the 2nd place winning team gave specific recommendations that their client could implement to reach those specific market segments that they so comprehensively described.

The team that did not place made general statements that left me wondering what would the client actually need to do to implement the recommendations.  It wasn’t clear from the presentation.

If I state here that you should make your content more actionable – that’s a pretty general statement.  If I say, give your audience specific action steps that they can take to implement your recommendations, that would be better.  If I knew exactly what your specific presentation was about and new the precise audience you were going to address, then I could be very detailed in drawing out of you what it is you really want your audience to do and in what order.  I could tell you where I thought there were gaps in your logic as you went step by step.

Find someone who can give you that critical feedback.  Find someone willing to say “what does that mean,” and press you until you are as specific as can be in making content that your audience can actually do something with.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you agree with content being more heavily weighed than the other components of presentation skills and organization?

Why or why not?

What should they be instead?

Add to the discuss in the comments section!

5 Golden Rules of Speaking to Promote Your Business, Without Turning Off Your Audience – Rule #1 Provide Valuable Content

In Presentation Tips on May 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

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The 5 Golden Rules of Speaking to Promote Your Business - Without Turning Off Your Audience

I was raised in the Christian church and memorized the Golden Rule early:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It helped influence my behavior as a child and stayed with me into adulthood.  According to at least one website, people of other faith traditions also have a similar sentiments –

“And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.”      —Baha’i Faith, from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”     —Buddhism, from the Udana-Varga 5:18

“Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”     —Confucianism, from Analects 15:23

“Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”     —Hinduism, from Mahabharata 5:1517

“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”     —Islam, from Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”     —Judaism, Leviticus 19:18

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”     —Taoism, words of T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

“An’ it harm no one, do what thou wilt.”     —Wiccan, the Wiccan Recede which governs all behavior

“Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.”     —Zoroastrianism, from Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

So why is it then that when good people present in front of a group of prospects, they do not follow their version of the Golden Rule?

Because when we get in front of a group of prospects, we loose our minds.  All we think is “I need to them all about us and how wonderful we are and how they need to buy our stuff.”  But how do we feel when sales people bombard us?  Do we feel our defenses going up?  Are we skeptical of hollow claims?  You betcha.  So why would we inflict the same with our audiences?  Two reason.  (1) We believe in our product and how we can benefit our clients, and (2) It’s the way we’ve always done it.  But if instead, you follow the 5 Golden Rules of Speaking to Promote Your Business, you’ll better communicate how you benefit your clients and you’ll be a believer that there is a better way than the way we’ve always done it!

Whether you’re presenting at an industry conference or a chamber event, these 5 Golden Rules will make an immediate difference the next time you speak in front of an audience as a way to promote your business.

Starting today and over the next few posts, I’ll explain the 5 Golden Rules of Speaking to Promote Your Business, Without Turning Off Your Audience.  So here is Rule #1…

Rule #1 – Provide Valuable Content

“But Kelly!” you say.  “That’s my intellectual property!  That’s what my clients pay me for!  I can’t give away valuable content.”

Sorry but you need to get over that mindset.

Audiences today are used to getting free before fee.  They’re not going to buy from you if they don’t know what value you have to offer.

If you give them valuable content that they can immediately apply to their businesses, what do you think will be going through their heads?  “Gee, if I get this much valuable information when I’m not a client, imagine how much help I could get if I hired them?!”  Then watch them scrabble to make sure there’s money in their budget to work with you or buy your product.

You don’t have to give everything you know away – and chances are, in the time allotted, you couldn’t possibly give away all your valuable content anyway.  So invite them to connect to you in another way so that they can get more valuable content and you can keep in touch with them.  That way, when they do need you and your services, you’ll be top of mind and already have their trust.  Wait to invite them to connect until later in your program – after you’ve been sure to give them very valuable information!  They’ll then have a reason to want to keep in touch and will have had a chance to see that they can trust you.

Let’s hear from you!

Tell us about when you’ve taken this approach and it has worked for you!  Please add your comments!

How Do You Measure the Quality of a Presentation?

In Presentation Tips on May 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm

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How Would You Weigh the Quality of a Presentation?

Atlanta’s Emory University’s Goizueta Business School’s MBA program has an annual Marketing Strategy Consultancy Presentation Day Competition.  Alumni and members of the business community serve as judges to teams of eager MBA students presenting their findings related to a business marketing issue that companies have hired them to research.  I applied and was accepted as a judge this year.

Picture six or seven member teams presenting their findings to their clients and a room of 75 business professionals who are complete strangers.  Besides observing the presentations and the excellent questioning done by judges in the audience, one thing I found interesting was the weights placed on the scoring.

The teams were evaluated on three criteria:  presentation skills, organization, and content.

These three criteria were not evenly weighed.  What do you suppose the weighing was for the three criteria?  What should it have been?

I’d love to hear what you think the weighing should have been.  I’ll wait a few days for your responses then I’ll give you the answer and my comments.  (If any of you Atlanta residents were judges too, please don’t give it away!)

What do you think?  Record your guess and thoughts in the comments section!

Commencement Address Dissection

In Presentation Tips on May 10, 2011 at 10:24 am

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Our Son the Graduate!

My son graduated from college on Friday!  Cum laude!  We’re so proud!  He worked so hard and we know he’s going to go on to wonderful things in his future.  I’m sure I’ll write about those future victories on the blog too!

Of course, anyone who has attended a graduation ceremony knows that inevitably there will be a speaker who makes the obligatory commencement address.  As a presentation geek, I may have been the only one in the gymnasium looking forward to the speech.  Unfortunately, I should have been on the side of the rest of the people in the building.

Commencement Address Dissection

I think there are several lessons that can be learned by what the speaker did during this commencement address.  But before I use him as an example of what not to do, I want to add a couple of notes.

I’m purposefully not using the name of the speaker or the university.  My point is not to embarrass the speaker or denigrate the university.  It was clear from the introduction of the speaker that he is very committed to the university and that he has devoted his life to a worthwhile cause.   He has gain stature and prestige in his field and is well respected by those who know him.  The professors at the university provided my son with a great education while being supportive and encouraging – for which we are very grateful.

But with that said, what can we learn from this particular commencement address that we can apply to our presentations.

Humor Is the Great Connector

The energy in the school gymnasium where the graduation was held was electric.  The room was crawling with family and friends proud and excited to see loved ones graduating.   It was such a joyous occasion.   Yet I don’t remember a single joyous moment in the speaker’s speech.

Humor is a great connector in any speaking situation but particularly a joyous occasion like a graduation.  People are already ramped up.  Humor gives the audience an outlet for the joy of the occasion.  Give an audience a way to express their exuberance through humor and they will be ever so grateful.

Humor also connect the audience to the speaker and the audience to the message.  The lack of humor distanced the speaker from us and us from his message.

The Right Speech for the Occasion

Perhaps the reason that the speaker did not add humor to the presentation was that he was there to deliver a message that he thought the graduates needed to hear.  And I get that.  There’s a sense of responsibility – that this is the final chance to reach these students before they go off into the big, bad world.  But he ended with an imperative that was solemn and overly dramatic.  It felt heavy handed and didn’t fit an occasion which should be a celebration.  There was too much preaching and not enough rejoicing.

It’s good to have a message in a speech but as speakers we need to remember the audience and the occasion.  I’ve been to funerals where we laughed – there were moments of joy when we remembered the loved on who had passed and events and characteristics that made us love them.  But those messages also gave us space to mourn.  Funerals are a time for grief over our loss.  To have a message in a commencement address that challenges the graduates is appropriate.  But because of the occasion, the speech needs the air of celebration that the audience deserves.  Students and families have worked hard to get to a graduation ceremony.  Give them a chance to rejoice!

Thinking about your presentation, what’s the overall mood of the event?  Do you need to be solemn because of job losses?  Do you need to celebrate the fact that you’ve weathered the recession and business has started to pick up?  Make sure your speech also fits your occasion.

Great Delivery Is Not Enough – The Importance of Flow

The speaker at this commencement ceremony has a position in which he speaks a great deal.  And it showed.  He had great delivery.  His voice was passionate and he had wonderful variety and intonation when he spoke.  He had dramatic gestures and poignant pauses.  But his content was all over the place.  The different stories and points didn’t naturally flow together.  It was clear he was trying to get his message across, but it wasn’t clear where he was headed and how the different parts all tied back to that message.

It’s not enough to be confident and comfortable speaking.  It’s important that your message logically flows together in a way that the listener can follow.  If you’re giving chunks of information, explain how the pieces fit together either with each other or toward your larger message.  Don’t assume the audience knows.  Connect the dots for them.  Unlike with reading, the listener can’t go back and reread a point to figure out what they’ve missed.  Give your audience a verbal road map and verbal sign posts along the way so that you keep them with you the entire way.

Do the Right Thing

Every speaker can be a better speaker if they focus on the audience and the occasion.  So what will you do to make sure that your message is the right message and the right time for the right audience?  Tell us in the comments below!

What Comes First? You or Your Prospect? In a Presentation, It Had Better Be the Prospect!

In Presentation Tips on May 4, 2011 at 10:24 am

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Do You Sequentially Show Your Product? Or Address the Prospect's Needs?

The chief information officer at a start up technology company asked me to sit down with Bill, his senior system architect, to talk about his presentation skills.   Bill was often called on by the company president to attend sales calls because Bill knows more about the software than any one else in the company.  Bill and the company president had been on a sales call the prior week that hadn’t gone the way they’d liked.  I asked Bill to tell me about it.

 Well we got there and Michael, the company president, started the meeting.  Michael’s got a British accent and is very charismatic.  Even so, I could tell we didn’t really “have” them during the presentation.

Tell me how the meeting started.

Michael started telling them about our company and where he and the previous management had come from and about the successes they’d had in their last company.  Then he started talking about the product and how much he believed in it.  Then he turned the meeting over to me.

Tell me what you did.

Well I logged into the software and opened the main window. [Bill showed me the software as he repeated what he’d said with the prospect.] I clicked on the first tab and showed them how the different reports worked.  [Bill continued on showing me the different features of the software, clicking through buttons sequentially on the screen.] Then toward the end, I pulled up the part of the application that their people would be using.  I’d done some prep work before hand and pulled down some screen shots from the prospect’s website.  I plugged those images in our software, and when I showed them how easy the tool was to use.  As they started seeing their information in the application, they started to get excited and ask questions.  For the first time in the presentation, I felt like we “had” them.  But unfortunately by that point, our time was up and the appointment was over.

That same scenario gets played out over and over again in businesses across American and across industries.  Sales people plan their sales demos with their agenda in mind.  They talk about their company and their products – without really taking into account the client’s needs, not considering how the salesperson’s product benefits the client (if at all), and without considering the players and the motivations going on behind the scenes that makes their problem worth solving.

So What Did I Tell Bill?

Bill had the answer all along.  He said it himself.  “As they started seeing their information in the application, they started to get excited and ask questions…I felt like we ‘had’ them.”  What audiences, particularly a prospect in a sales call, want to know first is, “What’s in it for me?”  No client is going to buy a product unless there is  a need or a want that will be satisfied.  When you start a sales conversation talking about what the client wants, you’re on your way to making a solid connection.

So I said to Bill, why don’t you start your next presentation at the point where they got excited?  Show me what that might look like.

Bill started again, but fell back into the same pattern, clicking sequentially through the software product.  I stopped him again and had him create with me a scenario that would play out how the prospect would use the software.

On the third try, he finally got it.  “Say you wanted to create…” and he went on to explain how the prospect would use the software for a specific business purpose.  He saw that he needed to start the appointment where the last appointed had ended.  He knew how important it was to have the engagement with the prospect and went on to apply the approach with new prospects.

But Don’t We Need to Tell Our Prospects Who We Are?

Sure, at some point, the prospect will probably want to know more about you before they do business with you.  They want to know that they’re not the first ones to trust you.  They want to know you’ve got some kind of track record.

But if you create a picture that reflects their business needs and the needs of their customers, if you start showing them how to solve their problems, then that will carry greater credibility in their mind than who you are and what you’ve done.  When they see that you “get them” then you’ll know that you “have them” with your presentation.

But that’s Not the Way We’ve Always Done It

It’s hard to break old habits.  Back before the days of the internet, sales people had to do more to educate their prospects.  Today, I can google you before I even accept the appointment.  Don’t do things the ways you’ve always done them.  Try addressing the prospects needs first and see if you don’t get better results yourself!

Do You Agree?

What has your experience been?  Have you tried to convince a client about how wonderful you are before addressing their needs?  How did that work for you?  Please add to the conversation in the comments section!