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Presenting makes you nervous? Good!

This story is amazing, and has a lot of lessons about context, value, appreciation and connecting with your audience. The follow-up is also worth a read. Check out the story before you read the rest of this post, what's below is a big spoiler.

What I wanted to share most was this: [bracketed comments mine]

Before he began, [one of the best violinists in the world Josh] Bell hadn't known what to expect. What he does know is that, for some reason, he was nervous.

"It wasn't exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies," he says. "I was stressing a little."

Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro? [yes, you read that right, the subway, not a concert hall in DC called the Metro.]

"When you play for ticket-holders," Bell explains, "you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I'm already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don't like me? What if they resent my presence . . ."

He was, in short, art without a frame. Which, it turns out, may have a lot to do with what happened -- or, more precisely, what didn't happen -- on January 12.

Moments before I read this Augustin Hadelich was being profiled on WBUR (Listen here on Real Media). Hadelich won the gold medal at the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis last fall. In the story they discuss how nervous he was at the competition and how important those "nerves" were to his excellence -- and dominance there. They contributed energy and excitement to the violinist-audience dynamic.

Take heart, nervous energy is a universal and natural part of performance no matter who, and how accomplished, you are. My point? it's not "getting over" your nerves because you are "good enough", it's harnessing them to work for good and not evil.

Thanks to Seth Godin's blog for the link to the Post story.


Pitch Better: 10 “Rules” to Break

(nod of thanks to Seth Levine, Gordon Whyte and David Teten for blogging about these tip sheets when I first put them on my site)

1. Don’t say “Um.” Look, don’t freak out over bad verbal habits. Minimize them, but trying too hard can blow your cool.

2. One slide per minute. If you have even close to that we’ll hit you. You shouldn’t have anywhere near that many. Unless you know what you’re doing.

3. Memorize your speech. Recital is not effective communication

4. What you say is just 7% of your credibility. Whomever told you that owes you every penny you paid them.

Use your full time slot. Quality, not quantity. Be succinct. Be alluring. Make them want to follow-up.

End with a summary slide. End by encouraging the next steps in the process.

7. Speak up. Make yourself heard, but more importantly vary your tone, speed, volume & inflection to maintain audience attention.

8. Start by introducing yourself. You just got introduced. Open with some drama (or at least excitement) and get right to the “ah-ha.”

9. Answer every question they might possibly have. Aim to be complete, but don’t overkill. Your pitch is like an executive summary.

10. Sum the years’ experience on your team. 40+ years, wow! Does that mean 10 schmucks with 4 years’ each or 3 with 13 1/3?

11. Make your pitch into a story. “Story” is a hot right now, but be judicious. Don’t just string stories together or be contrived, use 1 (maybe 2) and use other techniques too, like comparisons to convey unfamiliar material in terms of something listeners already understand. (Oh and as always, give something extra)

Ten things you MUST do in your next pitch

(nod of thanks to Seth Levine, Gordon Whyte and David Teten for blogging about these tip sheets when I first put them on my site)

1. Get to the “ah-ha” immediately: Why is your business a great investment? What’s in it for investors?

2. Attend to audience and desired results first. Everything you say and show serves both or doesn’t belong in the pitch.

3. Cut the PowerPuke clutter – .ppt file is not “your presentation” it’s a visual aid. Keep only slides that illustrate your talk. Chuck the rest.

4. Those slides you kept? Chuck a couple more and streamline the rest. Try to read your slides from across the room. (Stuff the detail where it belongs – in an appendix of your business plan.)

5. Say something on slide titles – replace “Company History” with “Substantial Value Built” (Investors recognize a management team slide without you labeling it “Team” – use the title to tell them about your team.)

6. Prepare effectively. Practice in front of your team, in front of a camera, in front of a group of laypeople, get their feedback, refine the logic flow and try again.

7. Know your best style. Earnest, clear speaking beats stilted, overproduced and even “by the rules” reciting any day.

8. Interact with the audience. Refer to handouts, ask thought questions, make genuine eye contact. End by asking them to do something incremental like drop by the booth or website.

9. Ask yourself: How can I make it easier for these investors to do their jobs? (You’re in customer service and they’re the customer)

10. Features = characteristics (adjectives). Benefits = actions (verbs). Benefits matter the most. Know the difference.

11. Give a little something extra…


Great Presentations Mean Business

Effective commerce demands effective communication. A great idea is not worth much until a viable market hears it and acts on it.

Step one. Identify the market. Step two. Describe, not the product itself, not its features, but its benefits. Construct a vivid picture in your audience’s mind. Take them on a journey that shows the world that could be, that would be, if only they… invested, committed, agreed, supported, signed up, signed on… well, you get the idea.

Oratory is an ancient art, but the majority of PowerPoint-based business presentations have completely “lost the thread” on doing it well. Books and classes on effective speaking and presenting can teach “tricks and techniques” but they can’t get at the root of most bad presentations – the message itself. Messages must be well-honed and laser-focused on achieving a specific result with a specific audience.

We all should know better. One can’t convince by merely describing. So why do so many presentations deliver a “laundry list” of content on their topic? The response that approach generates is along the lines of “Hmm? Oh, that’s nice. Is it time for my next meeting?” We believe every presentation worth making should stimulate the audience to act in specific ways that generate positive results. Otherwise, you’re wasting time and money.

In practice, most professionals have little to no opportunity to acquire and improve their skills before taking the stage. This “trial by fire” – at its worst – results in some spectacular failures. Most presentations stumble along with mediocre delivery, moderate to poor focus and results that are just left to chance.

Anything short of a great presentation wastes time, money and business opportunities. There is no substitute for personal training and iterative rehearsals to develop compelling, persuasive presentations with lively, solid delivery.

Great ideas, great services, even great products are worth absolutely nothing in a vacuum. Great presentations, on the other hand, mean business!

You're the Best

I have a rant about "competition" that in certain circles it's an illusion. Once you get to the kernel of who *exactly* you serve and what *exactly* you are able to do for them, your offerings are unique.

This is a long journey and I can't pretend I'm already there, but I know when I consider other providers of presentations advice, I get excited more than anything else, because we're each building up a massive repository of knowledge that we can all use to serve a massive audience.

But I digress.

What do you do that's different, and ergo, better, than anybody else? For whom do your efforts have the most value? Figure this out and prosper.

Inspired by a Seth Godin's The Dip blog post just now: Seven Reasons You Might Fail to Become the Best in the World.


When the world makes your point better than you ever could

(From Cory at Boing Boing)
Professor Walter F. Murphy, a Korean war hero and McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) at Princeton, was delayed while flying because he's on a "terrorist watch list." ...

I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said.

To make this presentations related:

This effort to punish a critic states my lecture's argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could.

I don't think your politics matter, or who you favor in government. I don't think any of us grew up thinking that this is what America stands for.


Your Investment Pitch is NOT Your CV

True story -- at a major investment fair, I saw an entrepreneur (waste) a number of their 8 scarce "pitching" minutes outlining the development of the core idea behind their business from Grad school onward.

Now, raise your hands all the Investors in the audience who give a sh*t about when you first thought there might be something to your idea.

Okay, how many of you want to know: "Is the idea is scalable, lucrative and competitive in a viable marketplace?" "Is it a good match with my objectives?""Do I think this team can do it?"

Point is, too much pitching tries too hard to show how good the idea is instead of how good the investment is.

Other point is, what were you thinking? If you MUST use milestones and timelines to show your business has traction and value (HINT: there are much better ways) please AT LEAST put the most IMPORTANT at the TOP of the list, NOT the bottom.

No investor cares how brilliant you were in Grad school, unless your mom's a VC.


Features vs. Benefits razor "which means that"

Circuitous, this. Caught this tip on Ben Casnocha's blog and forwarded it to colleagues including Gina who blogged it. Now that my blog's up I'm back-filling some entries I had been writing offline for the past few weeks.

If you've heard me (or others) rant about features vs. benefits and you think you have it, but it's still a little tricky to sort through them, use this phrase after your "features"
"Which means that..."

...And then finish the sentence. Those are your benefits. (and in the jargon below, your USP or unique selling proposition...)

Source is someone named TW on a message board:
Re: USP Help continued...
If you're still out there...Here's an easy way to convert (read: uncover) your features into benefits. It's also a way to uncover your one GIANT/VITAL benefit -- upon which you can (+ should) hang your ENTIRE mrktng (for example, as Verizon has wisely done with the "It's the network" usp).
It's just three simple words ---
... which means that...
Just insert that after each of your known features, and complete the sentence. If you still end up with a feature, just keep adding that phrase ("which means that...") until you convert that feature into a benefit (remember, a feature is what you do/provide -- a benefit is what they GET -- classic example: waterproof boots --- dry feet) By doing this, you'll end up with a list of customer-oriented benefits (not features).
To get (uncover) your ONE vital benefit, just take all the benefits you uncover, and keep reducing each of THOSE down too -- using the "which means that" phrase -- when you do that, you may find that all the benefits boil down to ONE (the same) CORE BENEFIT. If they do, you're in luck! You've now discovered the cornerstone of all your marketing msgs! Your USP. Consider having your USPs begin with the word "Get," --- as in, "You get..." Enjoy!-- TW

Got Questions? Ask my evil cybertwin

I actually am working on training a Cyber Twin to answer your presentation FAQs, but it's such a new product that it will be a while before I trust her out in public alone.

In the meanwhile, those of you who are thick-skinned can chat it up with MyEvilCyberTwin

NOTE: If you are new to evil cybers, they're not programmed by the user like Cyber Twins, so I am not kidding about the thick-skinned part. All of us obscure and celebrated are spewing insults from a single database.


Did they use a PowerPoint to present their findings?

Hurrah -- scientific evidence that reading your slides makes the audience less likely to understand you. They'll remember you, perhaps, but not in the way you want them too! More on Professor John Sweller's work to come...


Smart people are using twitter?

Sigh. Last time I looked to see what all the fuss was about I was entranced by TwitterVision in a kind of an overtired/ADD/look at that puzzling trainwreck kind of a way, but that was about it. Now this blogger comes along and claims good uses by smart people for this thing. Hmpf.

Now if I could offer some kind of promotion to whomever Twitted that they were working on their presentation, that I might pay for...

Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 Rule

Pretty darn good rule, as rules go. (Hint: I am not a fan of rules, except that knowing them allows you to break them productively...)


Why We Hate "Book Reports"

Presenters, PLEASE remember, you're not in 4th grade anymore, trying to use your book report to prove to the teacher that you read the entire book (you know you didn't) by including every possible fact.

In every presentation, even project and performance reviews or status checks, you need to work to accomplish a well-defined business objective.

(HINT: Not "tell them every piece of data possible about the project")

All joking aside, even when the presentation/objective requires significant detail, deliver it in comprehensible ways. Handouts, supporting documents, heck even white papers = good, presentation visual aids = bad, fillibuster-style speaking = bad. Your presentation guides the audience through the material, as opposed to shoveling it onto their heads until they're smothered.