Acknowledge it or not, you too are wearing this sign under your shirt
We love to show off. We love to shine. We love to succeed and share our feelings of success with others. We love to post pictures about our new body, our new car, our vacation to some exotic place. We love to tell the world we've been to an exclusive opera, we've eaten at a high-end restaurant or we've been to a huge party in another part of the world.
We love to brag. We can't help it, it's human nature.
Consider this: most people value themselves "above average" in categories such as intellect, memory, creativity, or ambition. Although this is statistically impossible, it's still a fact.
Whenever we meet somebody, we engage in a curious game called "I'm better than you because…" You might have a sporty body, but I have more money. You might be cuter, but I have more expensive shoes and make-up. I'm smarter than you. I have a better job. My girlfriend/boyfriend is hotter than yours.
We have to feel we have worth. If nothing else, than at least we are better off than the other person. Younger. Smarter. More wealthy. More successful. More, more, more.
We are all egoists. Especially we, presenters.
Presenters are one-of-a-kind, or so we like to think about ourselves. We've faced the mother of all fears (speaking in front of other people), we are thought leaders, we inspire, we influence. We have power over how others think, how others feel, what they do or what they buy. We can reach into their souls and reprogram their feelings like magic.
If we think so, we are amateurs. If we are egoists, we are amateurs.
The human mind cannot concentrate on two things at the same time. Effective multi-tasking is a myth, a fraud, a lie. We cannot concentrate on two things at the same time with the same intense focus. If we have 100% focus, than we cannot magically have 200%. John Medina – a development molecular biologist and author of the New York Times bestseller book Brain Rules – agrees:
"The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes"
So we cannot concentrate on ourselves and the audience at the same time.
Hence, we can choose to focus on ourselves, or our audience.
If we as presenters only concentrate on ourselves – how our reputation will improve after our presentation, how awesome we will look on the stage, how much fun we will have telling those great stories and showing off our Powerpoint-jutsu –, then we can forget about giving enough attention to our audience.
And of course, the members of the audience don't give a fuck about us. We are all egoists, remember? They only care what we have to offer to them. They don't ask themselves "What's in this speech for this guy on the stage, or the guy next to me" – they ask "What's in this for ME". Even during job interviews, when the other person asks us about ourselves, what he is really looking forward to hear is something about him, something about his company.
We are all egoists. Our audience cares only for themselves. If we want to serve them, if we want to be effective and inspirational to them, if we want to influence them, then we have to give them what they want.
The professional presenter loves her audience and cares for them, because she understands that she is slaving away countless hours for them. As soon as the audience realizes this, they will take good care of the presenter herself.
The professional presenter concentrates only on her audience.
If you really want the best for yourself, drop the attitude. It's simply not worth it.
Lose your egoism. Give your presentation. Change their world.
You are red, we are black. Can we trust you? Why should we even care what you're talking about?
Most people will advise you to make the ending the strongest part of your presentation.
While it's true that the ending should pack a good amount of punch, I do disagree that it should be the strongest part.
I do believe that the most important part of any presentation is the beginning.
Begin badly and you lose most of us in the first minutes. You might be brilliant afterward and you might have a killer ending, but you will be throwing those punches towards empty seats, because we might have already left the room (in mind, at least).
On the other hand begin well and strong, and you have our attention, our sympathy and our trust. If we trust you, we will be more inclined to trust your word and your suggestions; hence when you get to the end you can influence us easier to see things your way and take the actions you propose.
For you to achieve that, you have to answer two questions that will be playing in the back of our mind – and divide our attention – until you've given us a pleasing answer to the both of them.
#1 – Can we trust you?
First impressions count.
You already know that.
What you might not be aware of is the sheer magnitude of how much they count, or the '7-11 rule'.
According to PhD Michael Solomon, a psychologist and former Chairman of the Marketing Department Graduate School of Business, NYU people make 11 decisions about us in the first 7 seconds of contact: (1) education level, (2) economic level, (3) perceived creditability and believability, (4) trustworthiness, (5) level of sophistication, (6) sexual identification, (7) level of success, (8) political background, (9) religious background, (10) ethnic background, (11) social and professional desirability.
(It is obvious but it's worth mentioning that we also pay attention to people we want to have sex with… not a bad point when giving a presentation, mind you! It won't get you to the promise land – that is, your key audience members taking the action you want them to take – but hey, influence starts with attention.)
If we don't know you yet, you are a blank slate to us. It's your responsibility to paint the correct picture of yourself and make sure that we like what see (i.e. what we expect from you).
You can achieve this by doing simple things, like:
First impressions not only count big time, they tend to stick. If you score high during your first try, those impressions will leave their mark on us and enhance (or taint) our very subjective perception of you (and hence your message).
The human mind is such a messed-up beautiful construct that it will happily accept everything that proves its first conclusions (be that positive or negative) and disregards most information that would prove that the opposite is true.
Answer the first question ("trust") correctly and we will start listening to what you say.
(Also, NEVER EVER say, 'Trust me, I should know…' or 'Trust me on this…' We won't. Ever. You will never make anybody trust you by ordering her to trust you.)
This leads us to the second questions which shall be emphatically paraphrased as…
#2 – Why the f@ck should we care?
You'll have maybe 2 minutes to answer this question after you've begun your presentation.
The key here is to understand two things:
Whenever you open your mouth – guess what, giving a presentation or a public speech qualifies – you have to make sure that you are talking about us.
Not just to us, or (God forbid) down to us.
We want to hear solutions to our problems. We want to hear our own concerns addressed. We want to achieve our dreams, we want to realize our potential, we want to reach our own North Star.
Now, we won't mind at all if you also achieve your own goals as long as you help us reach ours. If we feel that you are actually interested in us and our personal agendas, you have our attention. If we feel that you are honest and really enthusiastic, then we might even take action.
But first you do have to reach down and see our hopes, our fears and our dreams and address those correctly.
How can you do that?
Talk to us. Take some time to get to know us. Actively listen to what we say.
Give us emotional stories about people like us who were in the same situation and by following you they achieved results that we desire.
Also, enthusiasm generates enthusiasm. We will never be as excited about your idea as you will, but your passion for it will definitely make an impression on us.
Try to paint a picture of a better future instead of dwelling on the past mistakes. You will never be able to influence us if you lay out the "cold and hard truths" about what we've done/been doing.
It should be obvious that this part is not that easy to nail down and break down into bullet points or 5-step actions plans.
It requires empathy, the art of understanding people. It does take time and practice to get a feel for it. Practice and you will get better at this every time.
It's quite exciting to know how much hinges on how we perceive you and how we feel about you.
If we like what we see (positive subjective perception) and if we like how we feel (empathy, understanding, inspiration, possible excitement and fun), then you have a shooting chance that we will do as you suggest (influence).
Let us trust you, let us feel great. Give your presentation. Change our world.
Unless your presentation hiccup caused the end of the world, it's not worth beating yourself up about it (illustration by Marco Casalvieri)
You worked your ass off and it seems all was for nothing.
You got your goals right, your audience analysis was on the mark, you chose the appropriate theme and interesting, relevant stories, your slides were colorful and relevant, you practiced until your nose bled and nailed the performance on the stage. You put countless hours into the thing to make sure that your audience gets the biggest bang for their time. You smiled and what's more, you thanked that man who started bitching about an irrelevant subtopic that you knew was not even connected to your presentation.
And you loved the audience with all your heart, hell, you fucking loved even that troublemaker for taking the time and energy to try to destroy you on the stage.
And you failed, so it seems. You didn't get the nod to try out your new idea, the group didn't take the course you suggested, you got no love back from the decision makers. The chilled champagne still served its original purpose, but for all the wrong reasons.
No matter how professional we are, how much experience we have or how much we love what we do, failing is natural. Sometimes we cause it, sometimes the circumstances, sometimes something that are totally out of our control (giving a presentation to a group of bankers as the stock exchange comes crashing down… good luck there getting a cheerful message across). We might even run into a presentation-from-hell, a pure disaster of an event, when everything and everybody seems to concentrate on one thing only – to eradicate us from the face of this planet.
Let's face it, failure can bring us down, physically, mentally, emotionally. It might even erect mental walls in our minds as we dwell on the "Hows" and "Whys", the "What if" and the "Why me".
Everybody deals with failure in different ways and I don't have the perfect answer either. The only real suggestion that you can take to heart from this piece of writing is: Don't listen to me. Listen to yourself. Only you know yourself so much as to come up with the perfect way to deal with a presentation disaster.
Then again, maybe I can be some help.
#1 – It will make a great story
Work-related disasters make for awesome stories later on – when it's all behind you and you are ready to have a laugh about how stupid you/the circumstances/the presentation was. No matter what hiccup happens during your next speech, you can always go into story-mode and tell about some other disasters you experienced as you/the staff tries to solve the problem.
#2 – You always learn from it
Maybe next time you'll practice more (or actually practice). Maybe you'll think harder about your story. Maybe you won't stay out partying away the night before. Maybe you won't let the uninterested or hostile looks get in your way of delivering the best you are capable of. Maybe you'll take the time and check your gear 30 minutes before your speech and not 3 minutes before it.
Maybe next time you learn to let go of the bitter feeling in your heart that is called failure. Maybe you won't think about it for days and weeks and instead get back to doing the work.
#3 – Review and correct
Ask some basic questions, such as:
#4 – Love yourself
There's no need to beat yourself up about a presentation that went south. If human civilization didn't collapse or nobody died, then it will be okay.
#5 – The mercenary attitude
A mercenary is someone who is hired for a job, he gets the job done, he gets paid and he goes home.
If you are positive and sure that there was no way you could've done things better and the circumstances were totally out of your control, then take the mercenary attitude
This is one of my favorites – essentially the "fuck it, it's done, let's move on" attitude.
It's the opposite of the perfectionist attitude i.e. "Unless it's 100% perfect, it doesn't count as a success". Consequently it's also the best remedy for perfectionists.
+1 – Love the work
I sometimes get intense headaches after a major presentation. These are the culmination of all the work and love I put into them. They signify the fact that I've done my job. It hurts and I love it.
You do this because you love presenting and because you desire to inspire other people. Failures and even disasters are natural and they are part of what you do. They happen. Love the whole package, not just the success and joy it gives you.
In the end, love the work. Give your presentation. Change their world.
One of my father's old friends told me about this guy he used to know back in the seventies. This guy (let's call him Johnny) was very much into western pulp fiction. He just loved getting lost in that idealized time period, with gunfights and steamy nights, men shooting up each other and drinking untold amounts of whiskey, and sexy women dancing wildly on the stages of saloons. He was a plasterer by profession, so no wonder that sometimes he wanted to get away from the noise of the concrete-mixer, from all the dirt and hard (and sometimes dangerous) work he had to do day-by-day.
Now Johnny had one major requirement, one single demand every single time he opened a new western pulp book. He said that if at least seven people didn't die on the very first page, then the book was worth nothing (Johnny used to have another term here, but you get the gist).
Seven people. Dead. Within the first page.
Talk about first impressions…
I love this little story because it demonstrates how important it is for us presenters to make a good first impression and start our presentations very strongly.
The beginning of a presentation is most probably the only time your entire audience will give you their full and undivided attention. They make subjective conclusions about you very fast (10-15 seconds, and that's including the time you make your entrance) and then what you do within the next few minutes either solidifies those conclusions (most of the time) or makes them change their mind about you (sometimes).
And after those few minutes pass, their attention goes downhill. As Scott Berkun writes in his book Confessions of a Public Speaker at any given time during your presentation, only cca. 30% of your audience will actually pay attention to you – the other 70% are phasing in and out, checking e-mails, browsing the net, writing an sms, daydreaming, checking out that hot girl/guy a few seats next to them, etc. If you hope to influence everybody in your audience during your next speech, well, you're in for a surprise.
What you can do though is to tailor your messages, your story and the overall structure of the presentation to the key decision makers; the people whom you actually want to influence. And to get their attention you have to make the proper entrance and start with a brilliant and strong scene.
First impressions count, and your first few minutes on the stage count double-time. Always put extra effort into getting the most out of that critical time period. Never make an entrance without making a scene.
Seven people dead? How about making it ten?
Get your guns out. Make your presentation. Change their world.
When I was working for Tamara Hagen Cons, I remember coming into the office one Monday morning and Dorka, our office manager telling me that Kamilla, one of our bosses had an accident just the day before. She was speeding down the highway on her motorcycle at 90 km/h, when she got a flat tire and she had to "throw the bike away". People do die under similar circumstances. She had excellent gear but any biker would tell you that the faster you go the less your gear will protect you if you get into an accident.
She was lucky. She got away with a few bruises (and possibly with a broken arm, I don't remember for sure). Most people would have taken it easy for the next couple of days, as such a crash might have serious consequences physically as well as mentally.
Not Kamilla. She came to work. On time.
She shared the story, said she was okay, sat down and started working.
Dedication to ones work and ambition to excel were the two thoughts that came into my mind when I'd witnessed this.
There will be times when you're creating a presentation and you hit a wall. The story doesn't feel right, the slides might not really show what you want them to or certain phrases that sounded great don't seem that brilliant anymore. You think, you struggle, you brainstorm with others and the solution still eludes you.
You are ready to give up and deliver the stuff as is. You are ready to take the easy route. You are ready to put the presentation away and not want to do anything with it for days.
That road leads to a "good enough" presentation at the very best and probably a bad presentation at worst that gets you no results and no action from the audience.
Creating presentations that change the world of the audience requires hard work every single day. It's not just the techniques, the story crafting and slide design, or the use of our body language and gestures on the stage. It's also the developing and nurturing of our mindset towards our work.
Great presentations only work if you care so deep for your audience that you decide that they deserve nothing but the best from you. You care for their time, their hopes and dreams, even for their fears. It is only on this level that you can create trust and hence you can influence them to take the desired actions. And this requires the mindset of the professional – a mindset that drives you to do your work every single day no matter what. You might have been in an accident, your significant one might just have walked out on you or you might feel tired, down and uninspired. All that stuff doesn't matter if your attitude towards your work is that of the professional.
See, I firmly believe that Kamilla from the story earlier would have continued doing the work even if she had been taken to the hospital after the accident. That attitude is something that should be taught in every university – but of course you can't teach ambition, you can't teach this mindset. You can only develop it in yourself.
Steven Pressfield says that a professional does the work every day, no matter what.
Do the work, whatever it takes. Give your presentation. Change their world.
A few words about what I do and why this blog exists.
I'm on a mission to gun down every single bad presentation.
Actually, I want to see the dead bodies of "good enough" presentations too. No more ineffective, goalless, or just dead-boring presentations, no more impassionate, disinterested and unstructured speakers. No more "I didn't have enough time to practice", "I wasn't in the mood" or "the audience was hostile".
Excuses are done. Dead. Finished.
I want to see and hear and experience the passionate, influential, exciting and authentic You when you take the stage. I want you to make us, your audience see it, feel it, laugh and cry, be upbeat and ready and roaring to go and eager do something.
I want you to inspire us to take action and love every minute of it. I want you to be more influential, to be more powerful and more You, when you present.
I hope you'll be able to learn something useful from this blog and share your experiences with me – because I want nothing more than to hear your stories, to hear you succeed and change the world.
Grab your guns. Give your presentation. Change their world.
Sure I haven’t seen too much of this world yet, but let me tell you a small secret:
If you don’t read Nicholas Bate’s simply awesome 101s, you are missing out on things big time.
This 101 project of his must be one of the most creative themes I’ve ever seen. Just pure awesomeness in there.