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Begin with the ending, end with the beginning

 

The best presentations are structured like a really good story, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Dale Carnegie’s famous axiom offers a skeleton how-to: “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.” But starting your talk with “Today I am going to share with you…”  is not the most dynamic or compelling way to capture an audience’s attention. On the other hand, people want a road map – it’s important to orient the group to what they are about to learn and experience.

 

Begin with the ending

So, what does “beginning with the ending” look like in practice? For me, the ending doesn’t reference the conclusion of my presentation. Rather, the real ending – the whole purpose and intent of my presentation – are the implications for attitudinal, behavioural and/or practice change. In other words, I like to start with where I want the audience to end up – not me!

For example, when I offer clinical workshops on Motivational Interviewing, I begin by asking the group to reflect on specific clients that they find challenging: “Imagine it’s Monday morning, and you get to work, look at your calendar, and see that the first three clients you’re scheduled to see are the most difficult individuals that you’re working with. How are you feeling?” Common responses include “stressed”, “anxious”, “hopeless”, “frustrated” , “annoyed with the person who scheduled these clients!”. Then I say: “Now imagine that you’ve finished this workshop, you get to work tomorrow morning, and you see these same three clients booked into your calendar – and you actually look forward to your morning because you get to try out the skills and strategies that we are going to learn today!”

This brief thought experiment gets people involved right away because it establishes not only the relevance of the content, but its application beyond the workshop.

 

End with the beginning

I agree that it’s useful to offer a summary of what I’ve covered as I wrap up a presentation or workshop (“tell them what you told them”), but that’s not the end. After summarizing, I make a point of explicitly circling back to the beginning by inviting participants to reflect on where they were when we started our collective learning journey, where they are now…and where they want to go. Bridging the knowledge-practice gap is a challenge, yet therein lies the value of the whole experience. Setting concrete implementation objectives and a plan for follow-up is key.

I also point to the ending as a beginning, and to our continuing development as an ongoing series of new beginnings. We are always still beginning, each time from a different place.

Finally, ending with a great quotation is always a nice touch. Here’s one of my favourite quotes on motivation and change:

Andy warhol quote

 

So…what will you try out in your next presentation?

 

 

 

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3 + 3 ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for Slideware Best Practices (plus a bonus tip)

 

Text-heavy slides + presenter’s commentary = missed opportunity. That’s because audiences experience “channel interference” when they’re confronted with text on a screen in tandem with spoken commentary. It’s challenging to both read and listen at the same time. (Like, for example, Saturday morning when you’re immersed in the weekend paper and significant other wants to chat.)

Even worse is reading the text directly from your slides, because people can read silently faster than you can read out loud (plus that announces to the audience that you are actually redundant, assuming that they can read your slides for themselves). On the other hand, seeing an image plus listening to a person speak does not create this channel interference, and engages us both visually and aurally.

 

In a nutshell, here are my 3 + 3 key ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for Slideware Best Practices:

DO break up complex diagrams and visual illustrations into “chunks” offered over a series of slides, and/or provide a handout of the entire image.

DO use an image scaled to cover the whole slide, perhaps accompanied by minimal text (or just a single word or phrase).

DO proofread your slides. Then go back and proofread them again.

DON’T put the content of your talk on your slides. That’s what handouts are for.

DON’T use PowerPoint templates and clip art. These look retro – and not in a good way.

DON’T use text animations. Unless you are a creative director for an ad agency with a big budget, and even then think twice.

 

Bonus tip: If you ever hear yourself apologizing for any [easily preventable] part of your presentation (for example, slides unreadable from the back of the room, random typos, content on a slide that you don’t really understand), chalk it up to presentation karma…and gather these nuggets of feedback for your cache of hard-earned wisdom.

 

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Earn it, care about it, and tell me a story

 

Although I have never attended a Dale Carnegie seminar on public speaking, I have found that his books are a treasure trove of wisdom and experience. While he did not discover the importance of connecting with an audience through authentic and personally-informed communication, Carnegie was able to convey these ideas in a powerful and compelling way.

In particular, three of Carnegie’s stand-out tips for a successful presentation are worth emphasizing:

1. Earn the right to talk about your subject. To me this idea captures the credibility that comes from experience, knowledge and practice. A high-stakes example is delivering a workshop on presentation and teaching skills, something I always approach with trepidation. Presenting about presenting, and teaching about teaching, means that as a facilitator, my own modeling of the subject needs to be outstanding in order to earn the group’s respect and engagement. I don’t think I’d be able to be successful in this without the years of experience I have spent “in the trenches” (e.g., this article on presenting in less-than-optimal surroundings).

2. Make sure that you are passionate – that you truly care – about your topic. My personal experience in the transformational impact that learner involvement and group energy can have makes it easy for me to convey my excitement about dynamic group facilitation and teaching. I know that transforming practice can make a meaningful difference in peoples’ personal and professional lives and careers, and that inspires me to want to inspire others.

3. Use clear and relatable illustrative stories to underline your key points. We are all hard-wired to respond to stories, and what better than our own experiences to communicate real-life applications and meaning behind important concepts or strategies?

I recently witnessed the impact of an inspirational teacher in my teenager’s volitional commitment to complete one hour of physics homework per day over the holidays. Did I mention that this is unprecedented and has been sustained with zero prompting on my part? The determination to master a complex and challenging subject is largely due to an outstanding teacher’s effectiveness in sparking interest and motivation in his students. From the teenager’s reports, this high school teacher brings years of experience in the field, loves everything to do with physics, and is not wanting for intriguing and off-the-wall examples.

What a powerful testimonial to the continuing relevance of Carnegie’s presentation tips: Subject mastery you’ve truly earned, passion for the topic, and good stories can all add up to a stellar experience for both audience and presenter.

 

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“A recent survey stated that the average person’s greatest fear is having to give a speech in public. This ranked even higher than death, which was third on the list. So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than the guy giving the eulogy?”Jerry Seinfeld

 

We all get stage fright. Even the most seasoned presenters experience performance anxiety to some degree, although this lessens over time and with experience. From a behaviour modification perspective, the most effective long-term antidote to an acute and severe case of nerves is repeated exposure to the triggering stimuli. In other words, the more you force yourself on that stage, the more confident you will become.

“Of course”, you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but what can I do to deal with stage fright in the meantime?” Read on….

Here are my favorite five tried-and-true strategies for combating presentation jitters:

1. Sip juice instead of water

People often don’t eat much (if at all) before a talk because anxiety diminishes appetite. You probably don’t want a five-course meal before going onstage, but you need something! That shaky, sick feeling just might be low blood sugar, so pack a small bottle of orange juice in your brief case.

2. Talk to people in the audience ahead of time

It’s good to get a feel for who is attending and what brought them there. This shifts the focus away from yourself (and how you’re feeling) to the group (and how they’re feeling). This is right and good. You are there for them. Bonus points for learning and remembering peoples’ names and incorporating an important insight or contribution that an individual has shared into your onstage remarks.

3. Challenge cognitive distortions

What are your beliefs about the talk you are going to deliver? “I must succeed, and it will be catastrophic if I fail” is a message designed to evoke fear in anyone. Challenging these beliefs and replacing them with a more reasonable and realistic appraisal will lessen negative emotions (because emotions follow from how we interpret things). “It would be nice if I did well, and I really want to do well, but my life won’t end if I mess this up.”

4. Breathe…and smile

When anxious, our breathing tends to be shallow. Take a couple of deep, calming breaths as you’re being introduced. And smile too. Even fake smiling makes you feel better. Plus, people are looking over at you during your introduction, so best to look happy to be there even if – in that moment – you are anything but.

5. Slow down

Nerves make us talk fast, and fast talking doesn’t create the most compelling/positive first impression. When you get to the podium…pause. Collect your thoughts. Look right at the audience and make eye contact.

And one “don’t”: Please oh please don’t start things off with “I’m nervous”. We already know that most people are nervous about public speaking. Plus, once you get started you’ll be fine, so why handicap yourself? It’s so much better to start graciously and gracefully with a “thank you and pleased to be here”.

Follow these links for more presentation tips:

Tips for Engaging Large Audiences: What to do when it’s just you and several hundred people

That’s just how we roll: Presenting in less-than-optimal surroundings

How to TAME difficult, skeptical, hostile or challenging participants: Take a deep breath, pretend you’re not defensive, and say thank you

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