THE Presentations Japan Series is powered by with great content from the accumulated wisdom of 100 plus years of Dale Carnegie Training. The show is hosted in Tokyo by Dr. Greg Story, President of Dale Carnegie Training Japan and is for those highly motivated students of presentations, who want to be the best in their business field.
226: Posing Big Questions When Presenting
As presenters we want to inform, persuade, entertain or motivate our audiences. Most B2B business presentations fall into the “inform” category, because the organisers don’t take too kindly to presenters “selling from their platform”. They want us to get up there and bring some value to their audience by providing data, experience and insights. Grabbing the mic to flog your widget will see you blacklisted as a presenter for that organisation and through word of mouth, probably many others, as you are considered an idiot sans common sense.
Telling people useful stuff is fine, as far as it goes. However, there is always too much information for the size of the time we have, so we are constantly chopping bits out to make it all fit into forty minutes. The danger here is that we become captured by the elegance of the data, the rarity, the precision or the raw value. Why are we telling the audience this information in the first place? This basic concept starts to erode in our consciousness as we start building slide after slide, packing them to the gunnels with useful information.
Storytelling is a powerful way to convert data into memory and impression. Our listeners will remember data bound up in stories much more easily than a trail of disparate numbers. Stories also help persuade audiences of what we are saying. Also, they tend to recall us as someone they would welcome listening to again. Stories alone won’t take us as far as we want to go.
If we want to really reverberate with our audience, we need to get them going much deeper than they would left to their own devices. People enter the venue at a low ebb. They are sitting there passively waiting for the performance to begin. As the speaker we have to lift their energy stocks right up and get them involved in our talk. Audience passivity has to be replaced with engagement. We have the usual toolkit for that. We can get people to voice their agreement with ayes or nays. We can have them raise their hands to signal their opinion to the question. Or we can give them handheld bats with “Yes” on one side and “No” on the other and have them wave these about in response to our question.
Rhetorical questions are good to get people thinking about what they believe and why they believe it. We can switch it from rhetorical to real, by calling on individuals in the crowd whom we know, to speak up. “I see Suzuki san sitting there, who I know is a real expert in this area and we have enjoyed some great debates in the past. So Suzuki san, how do you see this playing out from your perspective?”.
There is always a tension in the air when a question is posed. Are we supposed to answer this or is the speaker going to take care of that.? Not knowing which keeps audiences concentrated on what we are saying, which is precisely what we all want.
We can also add pertinent questions after supplying some rich data and key information. Most business talks are laden with apple pie is good and motherhood is admirable statements. We state the unremarkable in our advice and everyone listening just forgets it immediately. If we want to have impact, we have to push the audience further in their thinking. We need to make what we are saying as relevant as possible to that audience.
If we say something bromide like, such as, “culture is very closely linked to team performance” then the audience will be absorbing this and nodding in agreement and forgetting it straight afterward. It is much better to challenge the audience. So, we say the same thing and then we add the bear trap, “Can you say you are fully satisfied that the current culture in your organisation is producing the highest possible levels of team performance?”.
Now we have exposed the gap between the actual and ideal situati
225: Preparing For This Year's Most Important Presentation – Your Town Hall
Year Two of the pandemic puts a lot of stress on organisations. I was watching a television news report last night on an Inn that is closing. This particular Inn is well known in Japan, because it featured in the hit comedy movie series “Otoko wa tsurai yo!” – “It is hard being a man”. This “Otoko wa tsurai yo!” series reached 46 movie releases, so it is a legendary franchise here in Japan. The Inn has been running for 231 years and the owner is the 8th generation of his family to run the Inn. The pandemic has finished them off and all the staff are out of a job, through no fault of their own. My wife was crying watching this news report because in Japan longevity, continuity, loyalty, predictability are highly respected. I am sure many people shed a tear to see 231 years of history end. There will be many working in other companies who are also worried whether their firm will suffer a similar fate. This is the time to have that Town Hall to assure everyone the firm will make it out the other side of Covid-19 and there is a plan.
Get them altogether, if you can, with social distancing or do it online if you can’t, but do it. Now busy bosses may be inclined to not put in the time preparing for this presentation, thinking it will be okay if they just wing it. If you are a staff member watching the presentation and you feel your President couldn’t be bothered to prepare properly and is just winging it, how are you going to feel about the stability of the company or the quality of the plan?
We have a long way to go with this pandemic and there are many tough months ahead. This is the time to assure everyone it is going to be okay, that we can come out the other side of this mess. Why are we going to be okay? That would have to be the central question. It is on that basis of making it clear that the whole presentation should be designed. We need to take this conclusion and prepare two closes, one for the initial end of the presentation and another for the end of the Q&A.
Now that we have the central thesis fixed, what is the evidence that it is true. We need to assemble the data, facts, evidence and proof that we will survive Covid-19. There will be various elements of the business that will drive the outcome so we need to talk about those. We also need to play the Devil’s Advocate and explain how we are going to deal with the problems that may arise. We need to present a strong Plan B ready to go.
Finally, we need a powerful opening for the talk. We won’t have a problem with getting people’s attention, as we may do with a public talk to an unknown audience. The team are all ears to find out what their future holds. What comes out of our mouth has to be reassuring, positive, credible and convincing. This needs very careful design because this is where we grab or lose our audience. If we don’t get this right then what follows may be ignored, discounted or silently mocked.
Having done all of this design work we are now ready for the next stage. Now we start assembling the visuals to support our contention, that we are going to be okay. We have to choose only the most powerful pieces of proof, because we have limited time to be able to maintain everyone’s full attention. Make sure the visuals are zen like in their clarity and simplicity. Resist the temptation to pile everything on to one slide.
We need to think through what are some of the likely questions which will be asked, to make sure we are ready to handle those well. Trying to think of an answer to a tough question on the fly is not recommended. We can pretty much guess what people will ask and be ready with our answers. We are going to listen to the question, apply a cushion – a short statement that says I heard you, without agreeing or disagreeing with the
224: Business Storytelling For Fun And Profit
I listen to some podcasts on writing, trying to better educate myself on the craft. I was hopeless at English at school, so the rest of my life has been a remedial fix in that department. Fundamentally, these podcast authors are aimed at fiction writers, rather than non-fiction scribblers like me. A lot of what we do in business on our dog down days may seem like we are living a fiction, when the numbers are not there or the results are dragging their sorry backside along the ground. Despite these self-recriminations about our situation, we are in the non-fiction storytelling business for business purposes, not for winning literatary or public oratory awards. What are some of the elements we need to consider when deciding, “right, time to get a bit more serious about storytelling in my presentations”.
Welcome to the one percent club of presenters, who actually incorporate stories into their business presentations. Usually getting into the top one percent in any professional field is diabolically difficult, but here we have an open field in front of us, devoid of worthy competitors. They have all stayed at home. That is the type of field I like play in.
Now are we going to tell a deadly boring or basically dull story? Are we going to lose our audience’s attention? Are we driving them to their phones for escape to the internet, to get away from us. Have we forced them to search for something more interesting, better suited to while away their time?
What would make for an interesting business story? We need personalities to come to life in this story, preferably people the audience already knows. These might be executives in the company or people from the rank and file. Something happened and they were involved. We need to describe them in such a way that the listener can visualise that person in their mind’s eye, even if they don’t know them. We need a location for our central characters in this story. Where are we? Which country, which city, which building? We don’t need a riveting recounting for the fans of Architectural Monthly, describing the building in deadly detail, but we need some remarks to set the scene. Are we in a massive skyscraper, are we downtown, are we in a restaurant? What season are we in? Is it blazing summer now or deep snowy winter? Just when are we experiencing this incident? How long ago was it?
We need drama. Yes, I know there is a lot of drama in business and we are up to our armpits in drama on a daily basis, but that is what makes it so appealing. People know about their own dramas well enough, but they are superbly curious about yours. Maybe yours is worse and that puts their regular meltdowns in perspective. Maybe your drama is a dawdle, compared to what they are being served up every day, “you were luuucky” they think. Check out Monty Python’s Four Yorkshireman skit, for a humorous masterclass on great one upping someone else’s problems.
Something bad is going to happen, unless something else happens instead. This is the fare we get fed from television and movie action dramas all of the time, so we know the format. The damage will be great to the firm, an individual’s career, the survival of the business, etc. Even if you have some great news to relate, set it up from some bad news dramatic context. No one really relates to perfect people. We can’t identify with those who are blessed with great everything and glide through business, untouched by any blood and gore. We want to hear about the struggles and eventual success. We need a tale of hope, a saga of eventual success, an overcome all odds story of ultimate triumph.
At the end we want a punchline that teaches us something. Give us some guidance on what we should do, genius ideas on what we could do, hints on the possible. The climax has
223: How to Question Your Audience
Presentations have become tediously monochrome. The speaker speaks, the audience sit there passively taking it all in. After the speaker’s peroration, they get to offer up a few questions for about 10 to 15 minutes or so and then that is the end of it. With the pivot to online presentations, the fabric of the presentation methodology hasn’t changed much. We sit there peering at the little boxes on screen, hearing a monotone voice droning on. We listen to enquiries from others submitted beforehand or we may actually get an open mic opportunity to ask our questions directly, although that has been rather rare. We may be directed to the chat to make our question known to the organisers. The formula is basically the same and has been the same since our antediluvian origins.
Why can’t speakers vary their presentations to sometimes include more interaction? Why does it always have to be the same format? Obviously, we have to pick our moment to go off piste. The audience composition, the topic of the talk and the organiser’s latitude for doing something different, will be factors for consideration. One of the tricky aspects of asking questions of your audience is getting people to contribute and to do so in a way that they can be heard by everyone. The obvious answer is to have a team of your people armed with handheld mics, which they can ferry at warp speed to the individual asking the question. Here is a word to the wise. You should choose who you want to question, but also allow some free styling as well. Events where the guests are seated at round tables are great for this and long rows of schoolroom type seating are not.
We are not switching the presentation to a continuous dialogue with the audience – that is a different type of presentation altogether. I am talking about livening up a standard presentation with more interaction with the audience. The reason you select the people is because it allows you to control the affair more closely. It is also more surgical. You know who is in the room and there may be some people who are very well informed, articulate and confident. That type of individual would be a prime target.
We have five arrows in our question quiver. If we want a yes or no answer then the Closed Question is ideal. It might be regarding a fairly macro question, that would have relevancy for everyone in the audience. “Should Tokyo continue to pursue the holding of the Olympic Games this year?”, would be an example. In this case, we can ask the entire audience the question. We can ask for a show of hands as to whether they agree with the point or not? I have been to some events where two sided paddles have been distributed to each seat beforehand, with one side saying “Yes” and the other “No”. A simpler method is just ask those who agree to raise their hands, then after that, ask those who disagree to raise theirs. Everyone can clearly see the survey results immediately in real time.
The Open Question cannot be answered by a “Yes” or a “No” and requires an actual answer. “What do you think about ….”, “How do you feel about …?”. This is why selecting your interlocutor is a good idea. If you select one of the punters at random, you may be putting someone on the spot. Next thing they are spluttering away lost and wholly embarrassed. They will hate you for it forever.
If only you are selecting the people, then there is the suspicion you are using sakura or stooges in the audience, whom you have cunningly planted beforehand. So it is also wise to open the floor up as well to those brave and informed enough to offer their opinion. Don’t worry if no one goes for it, you have at least demonstrated your embrace of true democratic ideals of free speech.
If the opportunity presents itself, we can
222: Breaking The Rules By Choice, When Presenting
Many people break the rules of presenting, usually unknowingly. They have Johari Window style blind spots, where others know they are making mistakes, but they themselves are oblivious and just don’t know. This is extremely dangerous, because when you don’t know, you keep hardening the arteries of your habit formation. It is diabolically difficult to break out of those habit patterns once formed because you become comfortable with sub-standard performance. On the other hand, breaking them for effect, is very powerful and can be a tremendous differentiator in a world of mainly tedious presentations.
There is an old saying that “to break the rules, you need to know the rules”. Presenting is the same. Breaking them unwittingly or in ignorance is not the same thing as a conscious, well informed, professional choice. Let’s take some rules and break them on purpose.
The “berserker stage fiend” is the presenter who wears a furrow in the stage as they pound across from left to right, over and over again throughout the presentation. This is normally derived through a combination of heightened nerves and low self-awareness. They are not tuned into how much all of this pointless striding backwards and forwards, is diminishing the power of their message. Moving with purpose is fine, but incognisant hyperactivity is not.
We can however, for effect, suddenly explore dynamic activity on stage to drive home a point. For example, if we were to relate the story of the leadership teams’ panic over the nail biting 90% drop in revenues, thanks to lockdowns caused by Covid-19, we could suddenly start pacing furiously across the stage. We mimic and then exaggerate the emotions of that moment. We move on stage in this way with the intention to demonstrate the sheer scale of the dilemma and the psychological impact it was having on the leaders. We wouldn’t be doing this throughout the whole speech. That would engender an audience meltdown. For a minute or two, it is a dramatic re-enactment of the fear, frustration and sense of doom’s arrival, that everyone was feeling. Together we bring forth a dialogue of distress, fusing it with the frantic on stage pacing movements.
The “galactic black hole” presenter sucks all of the energy out of the room. They completely break contact with their audience. This time the desired effect is one of total despair, all hope lost, no solutions available and facing massive unforgiving defeat. The speaker drops all eye contact, stares at the floor about a meter in front of them and drops their chin onto their throat, so that they are looking downward at an accentuated sharp angle. The shoulders hunch over and the body energy is reduced to a minus number. The voice is frail, catching, weak, whispering but still audible. You definitely need a microphone to pull this one off. With this “in character” rendition of the replay of the horrific experience, we exaggerate for effect. This is not something we should sustain for too long or do too often. It works best as a single, short duration, audience undermine effort.
The “whoop and holler “presenter goes way over the top. Sometimes you will see comedians use this device. They employ the micro psycho rant, at top volume, to drive home the point. This energy rocket differentiates the point being made from all that has gone before. In this Age of Distraction and Era of Cynicism holding audience attention has become a zero sum game between the presenter and the punters’ hand held phones. Either we keep them with us or they slip into the magnetic field embrace of internet access. For these reasons in telling the story, we might want to imitate on stage, an explosion which took place back at the executive suite. Or it might be the re-enactment of a big client meltdown o
221: The Incredible Lightness Of Speaking
Bonseki is a Japanese art creating miniature landscapes, on a black tray using white sand, pebbles and small rocks. They are exquisite but temporary. The bonseki can’t be preserved and are an original, throw away art form. Speaking to audiences is like that, temporary. Once we down tools and go home, that is the end of it. Our reach can be transient like the bonseki art piece, that gets tossed away upon completed admiration, the lightest of touches that doesn’t linger long. Of course we hope that our sparkling witticisms, deeply pondered points and clear messages stay with the audience forever. We want to move them to action, making changes, altering lifetime habits and generally changing their world. In the case of a business audience, we are usually talking to a small group of individuals, so our scope of influence is rather minute. How can we extend the reach of our message?
Video is an obvious technology that allows us to capture our speech live and ourselves in full flight. How often though, do you see speakers videoing their talks? It is not like people are constantly giving public speeches in business. Apart from myself, I don’t recall seeing anyone else doing it. You need to tell the audience this is for your own purposes and they will not be in the shot, otherwise you have to get everyone to give you their written permission to be filmed. You may get criticism about being a narcistic lunatic for wanting to capture yourself on video, but the only people who make that type of comment are idiots, so ignore them.
With video, instead of a standard business audience of under fifty people, you can broadcast your message to thousands. The video is also an evergreen capture which allows you to keep using the content for many years. Video has the added benefit that you can cut it up and create snippets to take the content even further. You can have ten videos sprung from the original. This again extends the ways in which you can use the medium. People have different appetites for information, so some may want to feast on the whole speech, whereas others want the digest or just the part on a particular topic of most interest.
Video has two tracks – the video and audio components and these can be separated out. Very easily you can produce the audio record of the talk. Everyone is a firm multi-tasker these days. I sometimes hear people pontificating that you cannot multi-task, blah, blah, blah. What nonsense. Walking, exercising, shopping and listening to audio content are typical multitasking activities. Busy people love audio because it saves them time and allows two things to be done at once. Now your audio content can be accessed by even more people.
Did you know that in August 2019 Google announced that in addition to text search they were employing AI to enable voice search too. This will take a while to roll out but this is the future and audio books have recently overtaken e-book sales. The audio track can become a podcast episode and be on any of the major podcast platforms. Also we can produce a transcript of the talk. There are transcribing technologies that are very good today which can reduce the cost and time of this exercise. Now we have a text version, we can project the value of the content further. It may go out as an email, a social media post or be reworked into a magazine article, or it may become a blog on your website.
Repurposing of content is the name of the game. The video and or the snippets can be sent out to your email list, put up on social media and always sit there on YouTube. The same can be done with the audio track. Now what was a simple, ephemeral interlude in a room of fifty punters, has developed a life of its own and is being pushed out far and wide. The same message and messenger, but a vast