A cure for long-windedness … less is more

Presented by Paul Tomes:
This episode tells the story of a remarkable man who overcomes the challenge of a stammer, and the lessons we can all learn to deliver a crisp, high impact presentation.

Credit “The Kings Speech” Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helen Bonham Carter

Please welcome our next speaker. He’s one of the funniest people I know!

I sincerely hope this type of introduction hasn’t happened to you.

By the time you have gathered your thoughts at the lectern, the audience are silently taunting you … ‘ok wise guy, make me laugh!’

A more common and equally uninspiring introduction is when conference organisers somehow get hold of your CV. Now as you sit waiting for your turn to speak, the MC starts to read your CV … WORD FOR WORD

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Any danger your audience may slip into a coma?

Think of the conditions that prevailed last time you found yourself falling asleep driving your car.  Heater blowing hot air on your face, windscreen wipers creating a hypnotic rhythm, straight road ahead with no defining features on the landscape. How does this equate to your presentation style?  Have you developed techniques to keep your audience alert or could they slip into a coma any moment ?

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What do you get when you cross an under-prepared presenter with a teleprompter?

Watch what happens to “Transformers’ Director and Producer Michael Bay, as he walks on stage to promote the new Samsung 105 inch UHD Curved Screen TV. I’ve seen this happen before … quite a few times actually. However, it only seems to happen to people who are stepping in front of a teleprompter for the very first time, or during their first run through with a script they haven’t written themselves. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these categories Michael Bay falls into.

In a situation like this, the audience’s initial reaction will invariably be one of acute embarrassment for the presenter. But this quickly changes if there is no sign of a positive recovery. Michael dug a hole for himself that he never climbed out of … he just made the hole bigger!

So why did it all go horribly wrong? Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to blame the teleprompter … nor to admit that he would now have to wing it. Apologising when things go wrong in a presentation generally has the opposite effect. Instead of smoothing things over, the apology tends to emphasize the blunder even more. It’s better to quickly rectify the problem and move on. In Michael’s case, had he simply talked directly to the telepompter operator and asked for the script to be reset, he might have recovered and gained a sympathy vote from the audience … “the poor guy … typical technology glitch”

My guess though is that Michael did very little or no rehearsal for this appearance. Had he given any real thought to what he wanted to convey, he surely would have been able to adapt a a few of his stories about the movies he directs. It wouldn’t be that difficult to link the visual magic of his movies to the magic of an ultra high definition curved TV screen. If you are under-prepared and the wheels fall off, the brain goes into an overload situation.

At this point it’s a downward spiral. The more you stumble, the more you panic. The more you panic, the more you look to see how the audience are reacting. This has the effect of creating a massive amount of visual input, at a time when you are scrambling to regain control of your output. When this happens the brain reacts in the same way as an earth leakage unit in your electricity box … it simply trips out and your mind goes blank.

One way to solve this is to shut off the visual input. Look down at the floor to help your brain quickly re-set. In fairness, Michael tries to do this, but the host distracts him by asking questions, in an attempt to help him recover. The idea was good, but Michael appeared too far gone at this point.

You could argue he simply got nervous. The way he wrings his hands at the start is usually a tell-tale sign. He claimed later on Twitter that live shows ‘aren’t his thing’. However for most people, neither is sky diving. Peer group pressure usually drives people to try at least one jump. To make sure they don’t bounce, it’s mandatory to rehearse what to do if things go wrong. In Michael’s case, it looks like he didn’t even have a parachute!

A few weeks back, I was producing a road show for a client, where we used a well known television anchor in South Africa. Her part of the show had been tightly scripted and we needed her to work from a teleprompter to keep everything on track.

Despite being a pro and working with a teleprompter every day of her life, she called for a 6am rehearsal so she could read through every line of her script, working on timing, word spacing and punctuation. In the process she made sure the teleprompter operator grasped her style and pace, as she read the script. This had the effect of building rapport with the operator, developing a ‘sixth sense’ to follow her when she ad libbed from time to time.

So, what do you get when you cross an under-prepared presenter with a teleprompter? … it’s a real ‘Transformer’ … from cool to not so cool!

© Paul Tomes 2014

stop presenting … start conversing

During a recent assignment, coaching presentation skills with a senior leadership team, the CEO drew me aside prior to the start of the session and made a comment which I have to confess created a sense of déjà vu   “I’ve been delivering presentations for over 30 years … so I don’t want you to try and change me” … he said.

In his opening presentation, he stood absolutely rigid, with a serious look on his face and presented with a monotone voice.  Actually, he looked like he had a broomstick shoved down his back and a bolt through his neck. The overall impression was a living example of a personality bypass operation!

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Into the camera … Or off camera?

Before you next find yourself in front of the ‘business end’ of a video camera being interviewed or as a presenter, here is a trick used by seasoned professionals.

If you haven’t had lots of experience presenting ‘to camera’ … you are probably better off presenting ‘off camera’

The difficulty most people experience presenting ‘to camera’ … is getting their ‘eye line’ right. In other words, where do you look in the lens of the camera to make eye contact
with an audience you can’t see?.

Many people adopt a position that appears slightly too high to the viewer. The effect can be to make you appear a little ‘aloof’ …. giving the impression you are talking down to the audience.

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Lost in Translation

Increasingly, many of my clients have business opportunities throughout Africa, Europe and Asia.  This often creates the challenge of delivering speeches and presentations through a translator.

By following a few simple rules, you can significantly reduce the risk of a translator diluting the impact of your presentation.

Unless you are presenting to the United Nations or a similar body, you probably won’t have the luxury of simultaneous translation.  Instead you will have to contend with a ‘stop start’ presentation, pausing whilst your translator relays your presentation in the local language.

Whilst this process is a significant challenge for both presenter and translator, there is one fundamental difference … the translator isn’t paid to have your level of passion or commitment!

It’s unlikely he or she will deliberately dilute or distort your message, but keep in mind they are there to deliver a technically correct translation and they are not under any obligation to “sell” you to the audience.

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