Archive for the ‘Presentation Tips’ Category

Lessons from the Oscars’ Quotable Quotes


Monday, February 28th, 2011

Of course the morning after the Oscars is a fun time to reflect on the celebrities’ dresses. But as USA Today noted in their morning-after article, “Oscar show mixes old and new…, there were also several quotable quotes that serve as lessons for spokespersons and presenters.

  1. Nail your delivery: Sandra Bullock’s remarks were clearly scripted and, in fact, they followed the same format as Jeff Bridge’s comments only a few moments earlier. Everything about her body language and vocal delivery nailed it and USA Today recognized Bullock as the “best greeter.”
  2. Grab their attention with an unexpected opening: Not all awards capture our full attention during a more than three-hour broadcast. People might have missed the winner of best art direction (Robert Stromberg for Alice in Wonderland) had he not opened with the line, “Why didn’t I lose that 20 pounds?” I might have scripted a slightly different surprising opening line so that he’d be remembered for his craft and not his weight…but he absolutely caught our attention in a night mostly centered on the rush of beautiful celebrities. The audience is all yours during the first few seconds after you step to the microphone. Use those precious seconds well!
  3. Say it don’t slay it: Last night’s Oscars show was all about targeting a younger audience. The hosts mentioned early on that they were chosen to be “cool and hip.” Then they said it again…and again and again in case we forgot. Don’t abuse your quotable quotes.
  4. Beware of trying too hard to be funny: Justin Timberlake’s reference to Bansky (the street artist legend) and James Franco’s reference to a text message from Charlie Sheen both were scripted to be funny but fell flat. Timberlake’s reference felt like an inside joke and Franco’s comic timing was off (sadly for much of the night). Beware of humor…it’s hard to pull off.
  5. Don’t ramble: It was painful to watch the too-many award recipients who rambled. If overcome with emotion, as I’m sure they were, they would have been much better served by standing tall and saying, “Thank you. I am humbled by this distinguished award.” At least they might have been remembered for being poised and coherent.
  6. Finally…Stay in the moment: Melissa Leo reminded us early on in the evening about the hazards of stepping out of the moment. Her foul language reverberated in the theatre and was broadcast live to an audience of a billion people worldwide.  Her excuse on the morning talk shows today was that she was swept away by the moment. Sadly her inappropriate comment may be remembered long after people have forgotten who won the award for best supporting actress in 2011.  Stay in the moment and be very aware what that moment is all about.

5 Ways to Keep Your Audience Interested


Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Several years ago Business Week reported that the typical U.S. executive has an on-the-job attention span of six minutes.  According to the Northwestern School of Speech, the average attention span of an audience is nine seconds or shorter! Notice how long it takes for someone (everyone) attending your next meeting to serepticiously check their BlackBerry for the e-mail, BBM or instant message that announces its arrival by vibrating, successfully interrupting your audience’s ability to listen to you. Technology has rewired our brains so that we require more constant stimulation.  That means as speakers we need to present in short “scenes.”  In each scene there needs to be one major point or takeaway (a nugget).  And the way you deliver that major point lets the audience know that what you’re saying is important.

Just to make it harder for you to keep your audience engaged, the average presenter talks at a rate of 120 words per minute, but the human brain can receive input at a rate of from 400 to 600 words per minute.  The mind wanders during the idle cycles.  The answer isn’t to speak more quickly (though many try).

Your audience comes ready to listen and is typically fully engaged during your brief opening which means you’ve got their attention for the first few minutes as long as those minutes are well spent!  Interest returns again when the speaker says, “In summary,” or “To wrap this up…” The challenge is to grab hold of your audience at several points during the body of your speech or presentation.  If you think of your presentation as a conversation, it gets easier.  Don’t let your audience have a passive experience.  Anticipate creating multiple “new peaks” — a change in the way you’re connecting with your audience.  Here are five peaks to try:

  1. Build in open-ended questions to drive discussion.  For example, “Can anyone describe an example of…” or “How would we know if…”)
  2. Take a poll.  “Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced….”
  3. Break the monotous pace of slide after slide with bullets (slide alternatives to bullets is the topic for another blog) by telling a story that is relevant and compelling for your audience. Make sure there’s drama, suspense, protagonists and antagonists. And remember to shift your body language as you change from delivering slides to storytelling. By changing your delivery you signal to the audience that they’re about to experience something different and special.
  4. Introduce visual aids or props to make your point and whenever possible invite your audience to engage with the prop.
  5. Move! Step away from your laptop or the screen or the podium.  Move as if you want to get closer to your audience.

These are just five of the many ways you can actively hold onto your audience’s attention.  What others can you think of?  It’s not your audience’s responsibility to stay tuned in.  It’s yours.