Tag Archives: Public speaking

The Power(Point) of magical thinking

“I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

~ Steve Jobs

After reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, I learned the founder of Apple who died in 2011 was a foul-mouthed narcissist who routinely dressed down employees, vendors and clients by calling them “shitheads” and much worse in corporate meetings.

I used to admire the man and his innovative thinking. Now, I just admire his innovation and appreciate his aesthetics.

Still, I love the philosophy on PowerPoint from the man who coined “Think Different.”

Slide presentations can be effective and powerful in a lecture setting where a single speaker is talking authoritatively to a large group. The best slide presentations rely heavily on images and short headlines designed to underscore the point being made by the speaker. Even Jobs used PowerPoint in his Apple product launches.

But in a business setting, PowerPoint is often gee-wizardry designed to overpower weak thinkers or mask weak thinking.

It’s not surprising, given Jobs’s contempt for ineptitude, that he would refuse to listen to PowerPoint presentations in his boardroom because he apparently much preferred to get into people’s faces and intimidate them into his way of thinking (different). But even without the rudeness, he had a point.

I can’t tell you how many bad PowerPoint presentations I sat through during my years as a corporate drone. I was mute witness to thousands of slides filled with statistics, complicated diagrams and words, words, words, often created by an MBA who was trying to prove her superior intelligence. Sometimes I even helped create such works of dazzling BS in my role to make a weak-thinking boss look good in front of a board of directors.

Not my best work.

Just for fun (because I’m arrogant and rude like a supercilious CEO sometimes, too), I dug up an example from my past (slightly modified to protect the guilty) of a “shitty” slide (in Steve Jobs’s parlance) that was used as more of a crutch for the speaker than to underscore a point for the audience:

shitty slideLots of pretty colors, huh? It’s like an explosion of baffling brilliance. You know you’re in trouble with your deck when you have to say, “You can’t read this one, but … .” For the eagle-eyed, I especially love this particular slide because it mentions “Oprah” as part of the strategy on the same level as “Bus. Cards” (because there wasn’t enough room for “Business Cards”). Thank goodness Oprah has a short name. And she’s so accessible.

Jobs was profane when he encountered such incompetence, and I wish I would have read that he learned a little more compassion before he died of cancer. In my case, I’m just grateful I’m no longer sitting in a boardroom full of shitheads patting each other on the back for crappy PowerPoint presentations.

Tomorrow: My book review of Walter Isaacson’s biography

How to deliver a message

No. 1 rule when you’re speaking to a group: It’s about them, not about you.

Whether you’re pitching a fundraiser at your church or giving a lecture at your women’s group or undertaking a new project at work, your message should be crafted at every step with your audience in mind.

Is your message complicated so your listeners need speaking points to follow along? Prepare a slide show or provide an outline. Do you need to sell your audience on your idea? Tell them “what’s in it for you” right up front. Will your listeners need to take notes? Tell them to bring a notebook or their calendar. Do you want them to do something when you’re done? Tell them, step by step, what to do and how to do it.

When preparing your speaking notes, the classic outline is this:

  • Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em.
  • Tell ’em.
  • Then tell ’em what you’ve told them.

At least then your audience will be able to suppress their questions because they have an idea of where you’re going.

If your expertise or background is relevant to your message, then most definitely include it. But if not, skip it; put it in the program if you must so the people who care can read about you, and you won’t bore the ones who don’t. The message is the most important thing — not the speaker.

I am amazed sometimes at the rambling, pointless messages people deliver or the way they cater to one person in the room. If you’re talking to one person, kiss his or her butt in private. If not, consider your whole audience.

I remember giving a speech about a dozen years ago to 3,000 salespeople. The speech was about a new brochure designed to make the lives of these 3,000 people easier, make them look more professional and help them sell more. I touted all the benefits to them, but you know where I got the standing ovation? Not when I told them all the research involved, not when I told them the brochure was full-color, not when I told them we would be adding new ideas monthly. Nope, I got a standing O when I announced the price — $2 for 15 copies. I could have been selling lame ideas in black-in-white for all they cared — they were just happy I was giving it to them for 13 cents each.

Lesson: Tell them”what’s in for me.” And never underestimate the value of value. “Free” is poetry. “Thirteen cents a piece” is just about as good.

Before I give a speech or read at church, I always say a little prayer: “Lord, let me be an instrument for you.” (Even if your message is secular, you can be a representation of peace and love.) And when I’m standing in front of a group, I try really, really hard not to think about my hair or my suit or my tone of voice — I try to think about the individuals in the crowd and how I might bless them.

That, and “free.” Free can’t hurt.

How to be a great emcee

A great emcee is both invisible and a star, at the same time.

I had the distinct honor of emceeing the Homemade Gourmet Leadership Conference in St. Louis over the weekend. Normally, I am mistress of ceremonies for only one day of the two-day event, but I did both days this time.

When things go well, as they did this weekend, it’s a jolly good time for an emcee as well as being uniquely satisfying to contribute to a good meeting/conference/convention.

A great emcee must be invisible because he or she is not the show — the performers, speakers and honored recipients must be the centers of attention. But a poor emcee plays a starring role because without this glue that holds disparate events and subjects in an agenda together, the whole thing falls to pieces.

10 Tips For a Great Emcee

  1. Do your research. Know who you are introducing and what makes them special and bring that to the audience’s attention. Run your introduction by the speakers to ensure you are not stealing their thunder but rather piquing interest.
  2. Practice. I reviewed my script book while walking on the treadmill the first morning. In the past, I’ve practiced in front of the hotel mirror. Practicing out loud — rather than in your head — is best.
  3. Know your audience. Use subjects, authors, quotes and humor that will appeal to your audience. With my audience, a reference to “pajama jeans” was funny. But an audience of suited businessmen who don’t watch late-night informercials while breast-feeding or staying up with sick kids wouldn’t understand that reference let alone laugh at it. If you know you audience, you know what subjects excite them (like incentive trips to Alaska) and when dawdling builds anticipation rather than irritation.
  4. Be yourself. Unless you’re a nervous self-important chatterbox. In that case, be someone else. Because the show isn’t about you and how much you can say — it’s about everyone else and what they say. If you’re a cheerleader, be a cheerleader. If you’re funny, be funny. I’m not funny, but I’m sincere and I can draw word pictures, so that’s what I do.
  5. Interact. Despite the fact you have a microphone and they don’t, this is a conversation. The audience “speaks” with applause, cheering, ducking out of the room and sometimes heckling. Pay attention to what the audience is telling you and react accordingly. If they’re all yawning, it’s time to get them to stand up and stretch. In general, most audiences follow direction well. When you tell them to stick their hands in the air, they will. When you say, “let’s hear some noise,” they’ll make noise. Tell them what to do when necessary.
  6. Set expectations. Your No. 1 responsibility is to prepare the audience for what is to come. Make sure they know where the bathrooms are, when to turn off their cell phones, when a break is coming, who’s speaking next and why, and what happens later.
  7. Have fun. As much as your job is to help the audience know what’s coming, it’s your job to be in the moment. Don’t rush. Don’t anticipate. Let the audience turn off their cell phones. Or laugh. Or murmur. The audience will enjoy themselves if you do, so enjoy yourself. Smile.
  8. Be flexible. Never let your audience know the whole show is running long (or fast) and when addressing snafus, be gracious. Act like it’s no big deal, even if it is. Our show Saturday started 15 minutes late because we had no sound. When we finally got sound, rather than publicly humiliating our sweaty soundman, I had the whole audience applauding for him. Off we went, and the audience had not a moment of discomfort.
  9. Be thankful. Thank every speaker, thank those who contributed to the event and, if appropriate, thank the audience. Without an audience, you’re speaking to an empty room — they deserve thanks for their attention and your gratitude when they give you more, like applause and cheering. I had a fabulous audience, and I told them so.
  10. Never, never use profanity or rely on off-color humor. While a speaker may be able to get away with such things, depending on their topic and the makeup of the audience, an emcee does not want to be remembered for such things. In fact, it’s best not to be remembered at all.