What to do when you present in a boring, repetitive monotone – follow TED speaker Robert’s example

This is a TED Talk by Robert Ballard, deep-sea explorer.

If you can, watch it without listening to the words, just to the pitch of his voice, especially about half way through the talk, at about 7.30.

The majority of his speech is incredibly monotonous.

He gives the impression that he is ashamed of what he is saying, that his audience will find it boring and that it needs to be hurried, get it out of the way as soon as it can be done.

There were times when I thought I would stop watching.

It was that bad!

I didn’t stop watching.

Why?

Because …

he compensated with some fabulous, very successful strategies that had his audience engaged despite the monotony.

What were these strategies and can we use them ourselves?

There were six that I noted, and all of them are powerful – they needed to be!!

1. The message is simple and strong

He has a very simple, well articulated message. Why are we spending so much time and money on space exploration and so little on exploring our oceans? It is repeated. The whole presentation supports it. And the fact that it is regularly stated as a question keeps it hooked into his audience’s minds and hearts.

2. He uses the unexpected

Several of his statements stand out for me but there are others. The first that aroused my attention was the one about how everything he learned at school in his field was wrong. The second was about the map. Normally when we see a blank space on a map we assume it is just an area of similar topography. A space like that on a map of the sea is blank because it is not mapped. Life under the sea exists in ways no life should. Water is upside down. Volcanoes work in ways volcanoes shouldn’t. He sets his audience up and hits them regularly with the unexpected and each point made that way hits strongly.

3. He uses images.

There are 57 image slides in this presentation with no words. There is no conflict in his audience’s minds between spoken and written words. The images reinforce what he is saying and his audience is more likely to remember a point made and supported by an image than one that is only made verbally. I can still see in my mind’s eye the little girl with her mouth open in amazement.

4. Humour

He’s not exactly a humorous speaker, nor a comedian, but he uses subtle humour, and again often the unexpected. There is self effacing humour, and his use of the name Easter Bunny, the statement “I would not let an adult drive a robot. He doesn’t have the gaming experience.” just three examples. And the audience laughs. But they laugh and they are acknowledging the humour but they are also being drawn to the point he is making at the time. The humour simply highlights it.

5. Clever use of Pause

Robert uses pause to highlight a particular point and his uses it powerfully, interspersing it between questions and single words.

He also uses pause as an antidote to a long session of fast-paced narrative. And that is powerful too.

6. Repetition

He repeated the main message. He repeated his main points. He repeated his humorous “Easter Bunny” statement. And it wasn’t saying the same thing over again. It was calling back to it, later in the speech. It’s a powerful technique, puts the segment just completed, monotonous though it may be, into perspective and creates support for the point he is making, or the idea he has introduced.

7. Passion

This man believes in what he is doing.

He is excited by it.

He is passionate about the possibilities it offers and about creating excitement in his audience and in the world, about his project.

And it shows, when he allows it, in his use of pause, in his enthusiasm, and in his energy.

These are not rhetorical devices he just inserted into his speech. They are the result of his enthusiasm and dedication and excitement.

He left the best for last when he talked about being able to ignite that same enthusiasm and excitement in middle-schoolers, when he talked about “creating the classroom of the future” and how you “win or lose a scientist by 8th grade”.

This is what we want.  This is a young lady not watching a football game, not watching a basketball game.  She's watching exploration thousands of miles away and it's just dawning on her what she is seeing.  And when you get a jaw dropping, you can inform, you can put so much information into that mind ...

This is what we want. This is a young lady not watching a football game, not watching a basketball game. She’s watching exploration thousands of miles away and it’s just dawning on her what she is seeing. And when you get a jaw dropping, you can inform, you can put so much information into that mind …

And he had a standing ovation.

Monotonous, maybe, boring no!

Combine creativity and the visual to reinforce your speaker memory

creativity_visualNobody likes a mental blank; not the speaker, not the audience.

As a speaker you really would like to remember all of the points that you so carefully researched and constructed and that you designed to work together to get your message across.

We all have our own ways of remembering our presentations and speeches. Some are based on our preferences for sound or images or body language. Some are simply based on what works for us.

I am working, at the moment, with a client who is moving away from a script to presenting in natural, unscripted language. She is a very creative person, especially in visual media – creates amazing paintings, patterns, and rejuvenates a flagging spirit with what she calls “creative time’ which might involve painting, or doodling or setting significant messages in a beautiful surrounding. I made several suggestions based on using visuals so that she could remember her speech and create useful, unobtrusive notes, and it was like watching a light bulb glowing. She is now in her element.

So for those of you looking for ways to remember your speech or presentation and to create prompts for yourself, here are 5 ways that visuals could work for you.

1. I will call the first one “mind mapping”. This involves “mapping” the ideas for your speech. Usually people put the central message in the centre, perhaps surrounded by a circle or border. Then they connect the points of the speech to the main message as one would spokes to a wheel. From those points, then, further connections reach out to the supports for the points. You can use decorations, colours, pictures, whatever most represents the content of each part, and the connections between them and the order in which you will present them. This is a standard mind map.

You might, on the other hand prefer to draw waves that represent the more emotional flow of the speech, somewhat similar to Nancy Duarte’s spark lines, or curves that represent a new point, or a change in direction of the speech. So each wave or curve represents the points to be made, the climax of the point that will really hook audience response, or the points of the presentation that represent, say, problems and solutions. Write the main message beneath the waves, perhaps, and transition techniques between the waves.

I simply use the sort of note-taking skills I learned in uni – main message at the top, then bullet point system for points to be made and further indented bullet points . I don’t use this system to creating slides, incidentally – yuk, how boring that would be, but it’s the way I learned to organise content and it works for me, in conjunction with other memory techniques.

So however you visually represent the flow of your speech or presentation, you can memorise that image, and the connections between its parts and that will be with you when you need to remember what to say next when you actually present. It will also be there with you, should you need to change the flow of the speech in response to the audience or the environment, and the logic will allow you to make the changes in a way that works for you and for the audience.

2. Visualisation. This is a technique used in many areas where performance is focused and adrenalin-driven, particularly in sports. And while it certainly involves the visual and imagery there are so many other aspects involved – training your subconscious to store what I call “muscle memory”, injecting positive emotion to reinforce the memories. For the purposes of this article, though, the visualisation involves using the mind’s eye or imagination to “watch” yourself as you present, your body language, how you appear on the “stage”, how you are interacting with the audience, and what you are saying. It also involves “seeing” how the audience is reacting to what you are saying, how the equipment is functioning, how you are using the particular setup in the room. I used it from the beginning, I think, of my speaking, long before the word became such a large part of our language, “visualising” successful presentation, and visualising overcoming the possible hurdles to successful presentation. It’s a way of committing the presentation to memory, and ensures that much of the presentation can be put into a state similar to auto-pilot while the front of your brain deals with interacting with, and customizing for, this particular audience.

3. For many people the simple act of writing something is a memory aid, but it can be combined with the visual memory. You can commit the look of the writing to memory, having simply written on a normal blank page. Or you can use the ubiquitous, totally indispensable sticky notes. Use colours, create patterns of shapes and colours, use diagrams on the notes, make diagrams with the notes, write a word or words for each point with points in one colour, supports in another, transitions in another. Lay out the whole speech, in point form, and that process alone may just be enough if you have a photographic memory. Or you can then transfer the whole thing onto a sheet or folder or series of cards to use as a prompt. Take a photograph of it, and use that. Your creativity comes into play, here, to learn, by trial and error, just what works best for you.

4. Maybe it is images that work for you. After all, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, and our minds remember information better if that information is combined with an image. So you could use an image as a prompt. The storyboarding process that can be so useful for creating a PowerPoint presentation would work well here. One idea – one image, with maybe a word or two to reinforce the memory. Again – perhaps the creation of the storyboard will be enough, if the photographic system works for you, or you can use the board as a prompt. Or you can rehearse the presentation and when you know the points that will cause you grief, just use images for those. It’s all a matter of finding, through practice, what works for you.

5. And, of course, the logical extension of this thought is to use the PowerPoint slides themselves as a memory aid. I know people do this and can make it work for them. It takes practice. I watched a speaker use this system recently. She was a dynamic presenter, with a fluent presentation and had the audience captivated. She had no remote for the slides, so had to ask or signal to the computer operator to advance the slides. When that operator made an error, then the whole speech ground down as the speaker had to wait to find out what was supposed to happen next. Her dynamism saved the day, but it was a glitch that could have been avoided.

Each of these 5 is a way of using images to remember your presentation. Each allows you to be creative in producing a visual to memorise and guide your presentation. Each will need your constant creative attention in honing its success, and maybe you will go even further and combine them.

Perhaps you are already using one or more of these or have your own way of using the sense of sight in memorizing your speech, ensuring there are no blank moments and that it progresses as you dreamed it would. I would love you to share them in the comments below.

[Quick Public Speaking Tip] Is your audience illiterate? And does it matter?

You must know your audience. As speakers, we must know our audiences.

It’s key to our success – to design our presentations to their needs, their wants, their physical, energetic and mental presence.

audience_illiterateAnd perhaps design for their literacy level.

Why?

Well – handouts for a start. There’s no point providing written handouts if your audience is illiterate, is there? So what is your design Plan B for that scenario?

Where else would literacy level matter?

Slides. Of course!

Put words on slides and literacy becomes an issue.

If the audience is illiterate, you will need to read out everything you have written on the slides, won’t you? Otherwise it was a waste of time writing words there, wasn’t it?

Obviously …

But seriously, what about some other, different, aspects of literacy?

What about the fact that your audience can read way faster than you can speak?

If you read out what you have written, they will be way ahead of you visually and then there is that awkward lapse while you are still speaking.

And even if you respect their needs in that department, what about your audience’s ability to read and listen at the same time?

It is extremely difficult for people to take in two different streams of words, one from the slides and one from you.

So perhaps it would seem that you really should care about literacy when you design slides.

So what is the Plan B in this case?

You can stop caring about literacy and it really doesn’t matter if you put a power-packed, insidiously subtle or glaringly obvious graphic there, along with a single word, a short phrase or no text at all, all of which support your content. You have covered all of your bases – all of those three permutations of literacy, haven’t you?

— Text is superfluous, though it can add to your speech and the graphic. So everyone who can’t read it is covered.

— People can certainly look at images and listen at the same time – pretty much from infancy.

— And the only reading they are doing while listening is minimal so you have minimised the distraction factor.

Now … about that Plan B for the handouts ….

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Quick public speaking tip – Is your audience illiterate?

Well, are they?

Probably not.

If your words are on the screen or sheet of paper, then let the audience read for themselves. This will have enormous impact, especially if your audience is used to presenters slavishly following the test on their visuals.

You are presenting your message verbally, and visuals are just that – images or groups or words that support your message. They are not the message itself. If necessary, you may have to explain this, first, because many audiences have been trained by presenters who cover their inadequacies by using their visuals as the message.

This may just be why you will make an impact if you can present without using this method. You will be different. You will be seen as so much more confident and competent as a person.

But underneath all of that is the fact that your audience is not illiterate. Don’t annoy them by reading to them what they can read themselves.

Is your audience switching off when you present data? – Part Two

Presenting data is a very difficult challenge. The first step is engaging the audience with a strong emphasis on why it is important for them to understand what is being presented. Nevertheless they do need to be able to understand the data you present. While ensuring its relevance is understood is vital, so is it vital that your audience understand each and every piece of data that you present, or they will just as surely switch off, and your outcome is lost.  

Visuals are very useful here. Use pie graphs and bar charts; insert them into your slides if you are using slides. If you are using a whiteboard, draw as you tell the story or make the point. If you are using PREZi you can let the audience look at the data from different angles. The visual representation will reinforce your explanation and the point you are making.

If it is necessary to use graphs, diagrams and charts, make sure they are as simple as possible. While you probably want to impress with your understanding of complicated data, being able to simplify it will have far more of an impact, particularly in terms of getting your message across.

And make sure that everything about those visuals is clear. Sometimes it’s necessary to explain so that all the implications are clear as well. There may have been a very good reason for choosing the axes in the graph. There may have been a very good reason for choosing the increments that are used. While it may seem obvious to you, it may not be to the audience, and it may make the data relationships clearer.   
You can also add to the impact of the visuals. There may be a story behind the points on a graph. It is the intersection of two values and maybe the relationship is reasonably clear. But if you can give the reason why this relationship exists or maybe the history behind it, then it will be so much clearer.  And if you can put a human face on it, with a human story then the relationship and the point you are using it for will have so much more impact. If wages are going down and costs of living rising, for example,  then a story about a family forced to live in a car will make the impact so much more real. Another way to add a human face, or a realistic face, is to use a graphic representing the actual item being quantified. This can be particularly useful in a bar graph. If the bar consists of pictures of dollar coins to represent money, or of groups of people to represent populations or groups, for example, again the impact is multiplied.  

In the midst of all this, it is important to remember, still, that you are presenting points towards a persuasion of some kind. It can be useful to have the point you are making as the heading for the slide that contains the visuals.

And while the visuals should be as detailed as is necessary to make them understandable, too much detail will overwhelm. Remember the visuals only need to make a point, not necessarily present all the data. If all the data is necessary for later inspection and verification, put it in a handout, and leave the slides as simple as they can be.

Visuals are your greatest ally in presenting data. They can add impact and keep your audience engaged with the thread of your message. Your simplification and design of the material to support that message and the thoughtful explanation you add to it, will support the success of your data presentation.

©2012 Bronwyn Ritchie
Please feel free to reproduce this article, but please ensure it is accompanied by this resource box.

Bronwyn Ritchie has 30 years’ experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking – from those too nervous to say their own name in front of an audience to community groups to corporate executives. To receive her fortnightly free tips, articles, quotations and resources, subscribe now, it’s free!. Visit http://www.pivotalpublicspeaking.com/ps_ezine.htm

The New Rules of Persuasive Speaking

Carmine spoke to an audience of grad students at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. His topic: The New Rules of Persuasive Presentations pulled from his best-selling book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Here’s an excerpt.

the New Rules of Persuasive speaking

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Prepare and choose your visuals so they work for and not against you

Visuals can provide you with powerful support in your speeches and presentations … if you let them.

If you allow it, visuals are a wonderful way of keeping attention, because they add another element of variety and change.

If that attention, however, is aimed more at how you are dealing with an object or if it is more on the object itself than on your message, then it has failed in its duty. If the PowerPoint slides are more interesting in themselves than what you are saying about them, then they have failed in their duty.

These visuals have to be used to support, not detract from, you and what you are saying.

You need to prepare, for this to happen. Think about how you will use them in terms of your own physical presence and stage design. It is you and your message that the attention needs to be aimed at.

Practise how you will handle your objects, how you will display them so that the process is seamless and amplifies your message – at all times. Turn off the screen if you want the attention to be on you. Keep the slides simple if you want people to listen to what you say rather then read what is written. Design your presentation so that the visual aids are just that – aids – and they can be a powerful source of attention and engagement.

If you allow it, visuals can also work as a powerful multiplier of the impact of the words you use. Your audience’s brains are tuned in to pictures and images. So an image will multiply the point and the message that the words deliver (“a picture paints a thousand words”), and will reinforce what your audience is hearing as they look.  

Keep the slides simple with as little text as possible to allow the images to do their work.

You will certainly lose engagement if your audience thinks you are treating them as stupid – needing you to read to them something they can read for themselves.  

You just need to remember that the image needs to support the message of your words, so choose it wisely. 

Choose, too, where and when in your presentation to use visuals so they will create their most impact and support.

Choose them, too, so that your audience relates to them, so that they support your credibility and support your authenticity and support your brand.

Visuals really can do all of that – build credibility, authenticity and brand, build engagement and maintain audience attention. If you plan, prepare and strategize their use they are powerful allies in your presentations.

© Bronwyn Ritchie … If you want to include this article in your publication, please do, but please include the following information with it: Bronwyn Ritchie is a professional librarian, writer, award-winning speaker and trainer. She is a certified corporate trainer and speech contest judge with POWERtalk, a certified World Class Speaking coach, and has had 30 years experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking. Get her 30 speaking tips FREE and boost your public speaking mastery over 30 weeks. Join now or go to http://www.30speakingtips.com

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Steve Ballmer – About PowerPoint …

An Open Letter to Steve Ballmer

Dear Steve,

How are things..? It looks to have been a bumpy few months for you but it all seems to be coming together for you now. Nicely played…

We wanted to drop you a line to firstly commend you, secondly to point out some “opportunities for improvement” and lastly to suggest something a little “out there”. Bear with us…we think you’ll like it.

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