May I Present to You. . .

January 10th, 2007

Happy 2007! Yes, I’m 10 days late, but with good reason. January is one of the busiest months here at Braithwaite Communications. We spend the greater part of these first 31 days developing and implementing annual meetings for a handful of our clients. They aren’t your father’s annual meeting, though. We put on full production shows that incorporate improv actors, videos and lots of interactivity.

A big part of what we do – if you haven’t guessed already – is help our clients better articulate their message. This is especially vital for the kinds of internal communications that occur at annual meetings. It’s an important issue, but equally important is the way our C-levels present their internal message – whether it is a recap of the previous year or the vision for the next year. And as we kick into New Year event mode, now’s a great time to evaluate, it’s the perfect time to resolve to deliver that message as powerfully as we can.

Last week, BusinessWeek published an article on giving presentations called “The Camera Doesn’t Lie.” The author, Carmine Gallo, is the author of 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators (you should read it) and has helped train many of those who are presenting at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. He recommends that those who are giving presentations this year should rehearse and video tape themselves to improve their skills. I couldn’t agree more.

Gallo provides some tips on presentations that are valuable and interesting for those giving big presentations at big conferences (such as Don’t Start with “About Us” and Complex Thinkers Use Complex Gestures), but for those out there struggling to just get through a few minutes in front of their employees, we have some tips of our own.

1. Gain Trust Through Storytelling: There is no more powerful tool for a presenter to use to create trust with an audience than sharing a personal experience. Gallo’s statement that “About Us” is a terrible way to start a presentation may be true, but “About Me” is different. Showing your audience – especially when they’re your employees – that you are more than just a suit will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. It’s the greatest return on investment you could get.

In this presentation to the Knox College 2006 graduation class, Stephen Colbert tells the story of not getting his diploma – TWICE!

2. Give the Audience a Role: No one – not even your mother – wants to listen to you talk for minutes or hours on end. Encourage your audience to participate, even this just means inviting them to think about something you’re talking about. In an ideal situation, your employees will have an opportunity to interact with you and each other. This will help you build on the level of trust you have established by telling a story.

But if the group is too big and unwieldy, I recommend using a device like this: Ask them to imagine themselves achieving the goals you are setting forth. Encourage them to feel what it’s like to have won, to have finished and to have achieved. Now ask them to walk backwards through their minds and identify what they’ve done to get to that point. Ask them to write it down. And then, in the following day and weeks create forums where they can share this information and take it to the next step.

3. Silence = power: Just because you’re the speaker doesn’t mean you always have to be speaking. Silence can be a very powerful tool for speakers, especially when it is used in conjunction with the tip above: give the audience a role. By incorporating silence into your presentation, you are giving your audience something to fill.

Silence can also be used to emphasize your most important points. (It has to be confident silence; don’t mess with your notes or wring your hands.) Give your audience a chance to digest what you’ve just said. And if they weren’t listening, make them wonder what they’ve missed. Likewise, you can also use speed to emphasize your speaking points. By strategically speeding up and slowing down during your presentation, you can get and keep your audience’s attention.

These are some initial thoughts. There’s a lot more on presentations rattling around up there. Especially about the use of humor. But that will have to wait for another day. Now I’m late to an annual meeting strategy session.

Posted Under: Storytelling
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