Kelly Vandever - Communications for Everyone

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Do you tell stories about working with prospects/clients? What’s your best advice on incorporating “I Was Working with a Client Who…” stories into presentations?

In Presentation Tips on September 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm

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Stories Question from LinkedIn

I posted a question on a series of LinkedIn groups.

Do you tell stories about working with clients?  What’s your best advice on incorporating “I Was Working with a Client Who…” stories into presentations?

I believe telling stories about working with past clients during a presentation is a great way for audiences (prospects) to get an image of what it might be like to work with me (the speaker) too.

Do you agree?

If so, what advice would you give on the best way to use those client stories? What have you done that’s worked? Not worked?

If you disagree, then why?

I’d like to feature the best answers in a blog post. If you’re willing to let me repeat your advice in a blog post, let me know how you’d like me to reference you in the article (name, title, company) and any link back to your website/blog post you’d like me to include!



Here were some of my favorite responses on LinkedIn to the question.

There were tons of great replies to the postings.  Overall, the responses affirmed that stories are valuable tools both in relating to prospects and clients and in making us memorable.  Here are some posts that summarize several of the replies.  I’m in the process of getting a few more OK’s to post below and will keep adding them as I get the approvals.

John Zimmer

John Zimmer • Hi Kelly,

Telling stories about your clients and the work that you have done with them is a key way to build credibility with the audience and to help them visualize, in a concrete manner, the point you are trying to make. As for advice, I’ll start the ball rolling with two points:

(a) First and foremost, always respect the confidentiality and privacy of the clients about whom you are speaking. If you want to name them, check with them first. Otherwise, generalize; e.g., “I once worked for a mid-size company in the textiles business and they were getting squeezed on their margins because of the increase in the price of cotton …” It is basic respect for your clients, and demonstrates your integrity to the people in your audience (who will want to feel comfortable that you will not one day be telling stories about them without their permission).

(b) Make sure that the story is relevant to the audience. Talk about experiences with clients where the key issues were the same as, or similar to, those faced by your current audience. A simple, but effective structure is Problem-Assessment-Solution. Easy to follow and gets the audience thinking about how you can help them.

Hope this is helpful. Happy for you to use, as you see fit in a blog post. A link back to my public speaking and presentation skills blog would be nice, thank you:



Kelly Vandever

Kelly Vandever • John – Excellent advice! Thanks for contributing!

I like how in your first example you took out the name of the company but added details that made the example more concrete and therefore more credible. And great point about speaking to your integrity.

Interesting second point. Not sure if I fully agree. I agree that using examples similar to the problems that they have is good in that it connects with the audience and helps them with their problems.

But I think you can also use unrelated examples to make a point without hurting your relationship with the audience. In fact a few unrelated examples can give the impression that it’s not all about selling to the audience, it’s about making a connection and serving the audience. It’s not all about making me the hero of every story but it’s about connecting with an audience.

But I will definitely noodle on that idea for a while too and see if I can be persuaded otherwise!

Thanks again for chiming in!


John Zimmer

John Zimmer • Fully agree with you, Kelly, on your point about connecting with the audience and not just selling to them. My point, perhaps unclearly expressed, is that whatever story you are telling about a client, it should have some relevance to the audience (as should all aspects of your presentation). Shared problems are one example, but you rightly note that other possibilities exist. Ultimately, it comes down to: “Why should the audience care?”

Thanks for starting this discussion.


Michael A. Brown

Michael A Brown • Kelly, I was speaking yesterday with the founder of a new business about what “engagement” really means with prospects and customers. We swapped stories of good versus misguided attempts to approach, influence, advance, and sell. Your question has relevance in each of those phases! (Holy cow … I’m telling a story!)

During the approach, marketers and sales people often tell stories too soon, so they sound like pitches rather than empathy-generators. Example: “Our new state-of-the-art zinc-lined heimelbeffer has helped busy executives at other companies just like yours … “ Eyes roll and the conversation is over.

While trying to influence, reps must take care not to over-state their story, especially if it involves specific results with another customer.

When it is time to suggest the next forward step in the consideration (advance), and to actually consummate the sale, story-telling tends to slow things down, so I don’t recommend it.

Net: stories need context, relevance, and timing to be effective. 

Paul Boris

Paul Boris • A lot of very good comments here.

For my part, I think telling stories is very valuable as along as they are relevant, brief, add value to the discussion, incite conversation and plant the seeds of a message you want to leave behind. Good stories allow executives to retain the key message you wanted to deliver.

Things to avoid
– being verbose and irrelevant
– trying to top your best story, ie, know when to quit
– telling stories at the wrong time, ie, stop selling when the selling is done
– telling others stories as your own or fabricating. Remember, you might be called on to validate, ie, be prepared to hear “I’d really like to talk to that person/company”
– sharing proprietary information. This will destroy your credibility.

The best stories come from your personal experiences, because it is incredibly difficult for people to fake the body language that comes with the retelling of a personal experience. Have you ever heard a really compelling story and it just didn’t click for you ? It was probably a good retelling of a story that person heard elsewhere and did not actually experience.

Finally, stories let you bring yourself down a couple notches without losing credibility, “I remember my first co-op assignment at GM when I literally destroyed a brand new car body on the assembly line”. They also let you agreeably disagree, “I worked with one exec who felt exactly the same way, but let me tell you how that played out for them…”

Doing it well is a lot harder than it looks, but with practice and sincerity, anyone can do it well.


Story Question on LinkedIn

I Tweeted a Series of Similar Questions on Twitter

I also tweeted but with 140 characters, it was harder for people to respond!  So I’m tweeting to the people who responded so they can add their comments below.

What’s Your Best Advice?

Please join the conversation?  What advice have you received?   What have you learned for yourself?  Can you share some sample stories?

Love to see them in the comments below!!


Trusting the Human Experience: Why the Average Joe’s Presentation Advice Is Worth Listening to Too.

In Presentation Tips on September 21, 2011 at 5:09 pm

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Do You Know Steve? The Human Experience Can Be Very Helpful in Seeking Advice.

“So do you know this Steve guy?”  That was the question a colleague in a professional association asked me on the phone after we exchanged the obligatory how-are-you-I’m-fines.


I had heard of the guy.  I didn’t get a good feeling about him the first time I came across his name and company.  You know how it is when you just get that feeling like “there’s something about this guy I don’t trust”?  Nothing I’d learned since that first impression had changed my mind.  So I briefly told my colleague why I had reservations about Steve.


“Ah OK.  Well then that explains this email too.”  My colleague then shared an email he’d received from Steve which was just one more piece of evidence that my initial suspicions that Steve couldn’t be trusted were correct.


There are certain aspects of the human condition that normal, healthy human beings share.  We healthy human beings get a gut feeling when someone isn’t really interested in us, but instead is interested in making money off of us (that was the case with Steve).  We healthy human beings know when people are being sincere with us and have the best of intentions.  And we healthy human beings know when we watch a presenter if the presenter did a good job or not.


While my business is focused on studying the art and science of public speaking and I’ve read more books, watched more hours of speeches, and listened to more podcasts presentations than the average Joe, that doesn’t mean that the average Joe doesn’t still have advice that can help a presenter improve.



Seek Out Average Joe’s Advice


Many presentations aren’t so critical that you need to hire a speech coach to help you improve your presentation.  Or maybe you don’t have the time or money to hire a professional.  You (and your audience) can still benefit greatly if you rehearse your presentation with one or two other people before you give the actual presentation.


Ask an average Joe in your life to listen to your presentation and give you honest feedback.  Stack the Joes in your favor — if you’re presenting on a technical topic to a business audience, seek out an average Joe who knows nothing about technology.  If the average Joe can’t understand you, then in all likelihood, neither will your business audience.  If you’re speaking to a group that’s made up of your peers, then find an average Joe peer who can give you advice on whether your approach is too basic or too far above the heads of your audience of peers.  Just running through your presentation with a supportive average Joe can help you feel more comfortable and confident when you present.


Average Joes Have Life Experience Too


If they’ve got both ears and both eyes or even a partial number of these four body parts, then the average Joe can comment on what he likes about a presentation.  He can comment on caused him confusion.  He can say what he didn’t like about the presentation.  You may decide to take the feedback with a grain of salt.  But getting that feedback in the first place will likely help you be better off in the long run.



What’s the Last or Best Piece of Presentation Advice You’ve Gotten From an Average Joe?


Probably one of the best comment that was the most helpful for me came from an average Jo Ann in this case.  She told me that she’d heard other speakers talk about presentation skills but she’d never heard it put like that before and that the information was helpful.


That was such a huge gift to me – it was a gift I didn’t know I wanted – but has helped me tremendously in my speaking, coaching and training business.  People aren’t looking for more of the same.  They want new insights that they haven’t heard, and I happened to have some.  Thanks, Jo Ann!


How about you?  What advice or comment have you gotten from an average Joe that helped improve one of your presentations?  Share in the comments below!

Doing Presentation When “They Need to Understand”

In Presentation Tips on September 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

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Presentations Aren't There to Just Meet One Purpose

They need to understand how to use the new software.

Why do they need to understand how to use the new software?

Well it’s needed to do their job.





Later in the conversation…




My situation is a little different.  I’m working with the sales guys who sell our service. 

Oh, so does the software you’re training them on have to do with their role as sales people?


Do they put information about their sales into the software?


Are they paid on commission?


So could their personal reason for wanting to learn the software, beside just because someone told them they had to, be that they want to make sure their information is in the system correctly so they get all the commissions they have coming to them.

Aaaahhhh.  [dawning realization look coming across his face]

In the little scenario above, I was speaking to a technologist who had to do training within his company on the new software he was part of developing.  When thinking about the training, he wasn’t thinking about why his audience would care about learning the software.  He just knew he’d been assigned to do the training and the audience had to use the new software because that’s what the bosses wanted.

He’s not alone.  Most speakers fall into this trap.  I think one reason to blame is one of the biggest fallacies perpetrated about presentations.

Myth:  You Should Have Only One Purpose for Your Presentation

I believe there is a huge fallacy that’s been perpetuated in the world of public speaking and it’s effecting speakers’ ability to be effective speakers.  The fallacy -– that you should have only one purpose to your presentation.

When studying what others say about doing speeches or presentation, one piece of advice that was ALWAYS mentioned was that you need to have one purpose for your presentation.  At first glance, that seemed to make sense to me.  Maybe it seems to make sense to you too.  But since I really started studying the art and science of presentations – watching great speakers and speaking more frequently myself – I’m convinced that having one purpose for your presentation is dead wrong.

For one thing, “one purpose” is overly simplistic.  Life is messy.  Rarely are we doing anything including a presentation with only one outcome in mind.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, the “one purpose” approach encourages people to focus on themselves as a speaker and what they want to accomplish.  When you’re standing in front of an audience taking up the finite commodity of the audience’s time, it’s incorrigible to think only of yourself as the speaker.  It’s reprehensible to think only about what YOU want the audience to understand.  Not to mention that if someone else has asked you to speak, they have a lot riding on your presentation as well.

For these reason, I believe there are actually 5 purposes to  any presentation.

The 5 Purpose of a Presentation


As you read the purposes below, think about the next presentation you have coming up.  Ask yourself the questions related to each purpose.  Have you factored these considerations into your presentation?


#1 – General Purpose

This is just a word or two 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 or two, 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 to inform your audience what the presentation will be about.  It would be the description that you would send in a meeting invitation or to the person organizing the event that they could put on their website or print up in their conference program.

#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.  Have you asked him or her?  Do you understand what the leader of the meeting hopes to accomplish?  How will the success or failure of your presentation effect him or her?  How will your presentation support his or her objectives?

#4The Audience’s Purpose

The audience’s purpose is the most overlooked yet is the most important factor to a presentation’s overall success.  Most speakers assume that the audience comes because of the specific purpose. Not so fast jack.  The thing the audience cares about most is themselves.  Have you asked representatives of the audience what your content will mean to their situation?  Do you understand why what you want to talk about is important to them?  How will your information be valuable in their lives?  Why should they care?  Understanding the underlying motives of your audience can be the real differentiator in your success.

#5Your 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?

Ask the Questions

Life – and presentation – are rarely ever simple, particularly when there’s a lot riding on the outcome of your presentation for you and for your audience.

Start by asking yourself the questions about and see how you can account for all these purposes in your next presentation.  Then let me know how it goes by commenting in the comments section below!

Presentation Skills Speaker, Trainer, Consultant, Blogger and Tweeter Kelly Vandever

In an attention-deficient, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-my-Facebook-page kind of world, the typical business presentation is lame.  Do you want to change that for yourself and your staff? Professional speaker, trainer, tweeter and blogger Kelly Vandever is here to help!  An award winning speaker herself, Kelly helps organizations crank up their content and create killer interaction using old school and hi-tech techniques, all while annihilating bullet points and making this a better world for business audiences.  Find out more at Communications for Everyone.

Disaster Preparedness … For Your Presentation – Part 1 – LCD Projectors

In PowerPoint Slides, Presentation Tips on September 1, 2011 at 3:00 pm

It looks so innocent doesn't it? When it works, a projector is a great thing. But when it doesn't, disaster awaits! UNLESS you're prepared!

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Do you ever have thoughts run through your head and worry that you just jinxed yourself?

I did.

I thought, “Gee, I’m glad I’ve never had a malfunction in showing my presentation slides.”  I knew immediately, that I’d just jinxed myself.

The very next time I presented, sure enough, I had a problem with my projector.

Turns out later I figured out it was user error on my part…perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Having a problem with your projector is no fun, that was for sure.

After spending a minute or two trying to figure out what was causing my problem, I went on to do my presentation without the slides.  Even though I know the audience missed out on some beautiful slides, they were still able to get value from the presentation and that’s what’s most important.

While certainly no comparison with the tragedy of a natural disaster, missteps in a presentation can really throw off a speaker off.  But just like being prepared for a natural disaster can help you cope with a hurricane or an earthquake, being prepared for presentation disasters can help you avoid making a bad situation even worse.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll touch on some disasters that can occur while you’re presenting, what to do to avoid them, and give you options on how to deal with them when they do.  First up…

Problems with Projectors

One of the most common problems for presenters is some sort of problem getting the computer’s screen sent through the LCD projector and onto the screen.

In the early days of LCD projectors, it seemed to be some sort of magic formula, which I could NEVER remember, about plugging the projector and the computer together.  One had to be off (was it the computer or the projector?), one had to be on, and then you plugged them together and turned on the other one?  Or were they both supposed to be off before you plugged them together?

Even though the order of plugging up and turning on doesn’t seem to be a big of a problem as it used to, hinky issues with projectors still happen often enough that we need to be prepared.

Arrive Early

Always arrive far earlier than you need to for the meeting or event.  If your event is out of town, arrive a day early.

Ask to get into the room with the equipment the day before if possible.  If not, get into the room one to two hours before you are due to present if possible.

This gives you time to plug everything up and make sure it’s working.  I recommend you click through your slides to make sure they look as good on the screen as they did on your computer.   If you’re using video clips, plug your computer into the sound system and play the clips so you can make adjustments for light and sound.

If you get there early and find a problem, then early arrival will give you more time to get the issue resolved before the audience starts filing in for the event.

Know Your AV Support Helpline

Get the name and contact information for the person who can help you with the equipment.   Even if you’ve gone in the day before and everything worked fine, you still want to know how to get a hold of the person or group that can help you if any problems occur.

I was presenting at a local conference and was able to get my computer set up, the LCD projector adjusted and everything ready to go a couple hours before my session was due to start.  But I still got the AV guy’s card, even though I didn’t expect to need it.

As I put on my microphone and started greeting guest right before my session was scheduled to start, the presenter in the adjoining room came in to say that my microphone feed was coming through the speakers in their room.  I called the AV guy and they took care of the problem quickly, I’m sure much to the relief of the people in the adjoining room!  I’m sure they were grateful that I had the AV guy’s card!

Have a Backup Plan

Always have a way to carry on with your presentation without the slides.  Assuming you’ve practiced your presentation (you have practiced your presentation, right?!) then you know your material.  Carry with you some hard copy materials that can help you carry on without your slides.  You can do that with a printed out version of your slides or with notes of your presentation outline.  If you have handouts that can serve as a guide, then use them.  Just be sure you have a way to still get your message across even if it’s not going to go as smoothly as you planned without the slides.

When It STILL Goes Wrong

If things start to go wrong despite your planning, then be real with the audience about it.  Try to relax and joke about it.  Don’t blame others.  Don’t apologize repeatedly.  Ask their forgiveness.

Try to correct the problem.  If you can’t figure it out quickly, say in less than two minutes, then stop trying and move on.  Gather up your confidence.  Remember that you know your content.  Deliver on the value you have to offer to the audience.

The audience will be grateful that you didn’t waste more of their time trying to figure out why your computer and projector aren’t talking.  And you may find that you do better connecting to your audience without the crutch of your slides – (especially if you haven’t read my blog posts on how to do presentation slides and you are still creating them with lots of bullet points and text).

Now It’s Your Turn

What did I forget?  What are some precautions you can take or things you can do when things go wrong with your projector to keep yourself and your presentation in tact?

Add your ideas to the comment section below.

In an attention-deficient, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-my-Facebook-page kind of world, the typical business presentation is lame.  Do you want to change that for yourself and your staff? Professional speaker, trainer, tweeter and blogger Kelly Vandever is here to help!  An award winning speaker herself, Kelly helps organizations crank up their content and create killer interaction using old school and hi-tech techniques, all while annihilating bullet points and making this a better world for business audiences.  Find out more at Communications for Everyone.