Three vital elements of story for speakers

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.

The operating system behind any great presentation

Presentation secrets of Steve Jobs

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before. So if you have been hiding under a rock for the last year or so and have missed this – it’s a great read – Jobs and Gallo are both speakers we can all model….

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Carmine Gallo

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs reveals the operating system behind any great presentation and provides you with a quick-start guide to design your own passionate interfaces with your audiences.” Cliff Atkinson, author of Beyond Bullet Points and The Activist Audience =>

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.

Research more than the content when you prepare your speech

When you start building a speech or presentation, the first thing you think of is the content. What will you say? How will you say it? What message do you want to communicate? And what do you want your audience to say or think or do differently? So you start researching that content – on the internet, at the library, with your friends and from the experts.

Content, however, is not the only thing you need to research if your speech or presentation is to be a success. If you want your audience to say or think or do something differently, you will need to know how to “pitch” your content to this particular audience.

Everything that you say or do in your presentation has to be geared to that audience… what they will be receptive to, what their triggers are, the language that they will respond to.

So in researching that presentation to write it, or prepare it, you will also need to research the audience.

Find out as much as you can – their age range, gender, income levels, dreams, needs, wants, culture. What are their likes and dislikes? What will excite them, offend them, unnerve them? What do they wear? What keeps them awake in the middle of the night?

You can gain much from a registration form, especially if you can design it yourself, or have a hand in designing it.

You can ask the event manager, or the person who hired you. You can research their company or organisation, talk to them and their friends and colleagues.

In your preparation routine, you can mingle with audience members before your speech.

Then you can use the information you have gained in constructing and presenting your speech. Use your knowledge of their interests and dreams, to choose your most persuasive stories, points and suggestions.
You will choose language that they understand, and that is not irritating or offensive to them, and subject matter to suit that audience – themes, supports, anecdotes all will be tailored to them.

One of the strongest engagement techniques in presentations is WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) and you need to be reminding your audience regularly of why they should keep listening to your presentation, and of just what they would gain from your suggestions (or lose by not following them).

I’m not sure whether researching the audience is more important than researching content. What do you think?

I do know that for the content to be effective, the research you do on your audience will be vital.

©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 take your public speaking to the next level, get free tips, articles, quotations and resources, at

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

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


3 Ways to Use Prezi Big Pictures to Make a Big Impression

Welcome to this guest post from Jim Harvey. Jim helps speakers with his very practical approach, an approach he has developed for himself and his clients through years of research and experience. Enjoy his insights on creating the big picture with Prezi.

A big picture is what makes Prezis immediately stand out from all other presentations, and lets your audience know they’re in for a different type of presentation. Because of its zoom functions, Prezi allows you to put images at the heart of your presentation – even incorporating all of your information into one picture.

No matter how you’re structuring your presentation, there’s probably a way to incorporate a big picture which makes it easier to understand and more interesting to watch. Here are three big picture techniques I use when designing presentations for myself and my clients.

1. Set the scene

Pictures have the power to make us think and understand things which we’d need hundreds of words to convey. It might be a landscape photograph which reminds us of a place we love, or a diagram which shows us how a manufacturing process works. Sometimes one image can explain exactly what your presentation is about – making it the perfect backdrop to your introduction, or window into the subject you’re explaining.
In Prezi, a big picture has the power to set the mood of your entire presentation. You can begin with it filling the screen, giving exactly the message you want to begin with, and even structure the rest of the presentation in and around that image.

A Prezi with an Informative Big Picture

For this Prezi:

2. Show the structure of your presentation

A big picture can act like a map – showing where your presentation is going, and giving context to each point you make. This makes your whole presentation work, because it shows how everything links together and relates to your overall message.

It’s a great approach to delivering both short and long presentations, and particularly useful if you’re building up a series of points, for example to argue “3 reasons why xyz”. At the end of the presentation your audience should be able to look at your big picture, and pick out the three reasons you’ve identified.

Prezi with a Clear Structure

(for this prezi: )

3. Present in a different way

Prezi allows us to plan presentations in an entirely new way – instead of creating an inflexible path through the information in advance, you can simply decide how to structure your presentation on the day. We’ve used this method before by creating infographic type big pictures, which cover all of the information a client may like to know.

When we come to present, we deliver a short introduction and then ask the client, “what would you like to know?” In present mode, you can click anywhere in a Prezi and be taken to that point – from there you can follow a linear path or carry on moving around organically.

Prezi Made for Exploring Naturally

For prezi:

Jim Harvey is a presentation skills coach and blogger. His aim is to help people to tell stories – about themselves and their products – better. Take a look at his presentation skills blog, or find out more about using Prezi.

Present like Steve Jobs

  Apple CEO Steve Jobs was well known for his electrifying presentations. Communications coach Carmine Gallo discusses the various techniques Jobs uses to captivate and inspire his audience — techniques that can easily be applied to your next presentation.

You’re not a natural comedian? That’s fine …. here’s how to find humour to use in your presentations

Most audiences will respond to humour. You don’t need to be a comedian, or even a humorous speaker, if it is not your style. You can still use humour to engage with an audience and have them be comfortable with you and your presentation.

“But I’m just not funny and I’m hopeless at telling jokes” Yes, I know – me too. So where do we find humour to use in our speeches? There are three main places to find humour. They are readily available to you, and they are used by all successful speakers and comedians. Those places are life, jokes and situations. Let’s look at how to extract the humour from them.

The first place to find humour is to look around you – look at your life – look at everything within it. Look at the conversations that make people laugh. Use them. Or look at what worked to make people laugh and use that. When you find yourself laughing or even smiling, look at why. What made you smile? Yes, I know you have your own sense of humour, but it is your own sense of humour that will make the humour in your presentations authentic, strong and personal. Select from that, what you think will appeal to your audience and what will best support your points.

Seek out humour. Look at the internet – not to copy jokes (we’ll look at that in a minute) but, again to see what makes you laugh. What makes other people laugh? Go to the library. Look into magazines and ezines. Read humorous writers, go to comedy clubs, listen and watch radio and television. What works and what doesn’t and why? When you find out what works and what doesn’t and why, then you can go back to your own life and watch for those same things, what works, what doesn’t and why – those same conversations, those same situations. See the humour and how that humour can be used in your presentations.

When they are situations and conversations and events that have happened to you or around you or to those around you, they have so much more impact. They have all the added benefits that storytelling brings to a speech. They are authentic and not some joke that you are repeating and trying to twist to suit your point. And they are certainly not a joke that your audience has heard before.

Another source of humour is our own speaking experience. You will discover, as you speak, what people find humorous about you and your style. Sometimes you may make an aside or a throw away remark that was not intended to be humorous, but that makes people laugh. You may make a point using exaggerated body language and people laugh. You might create a situation with the audience or the stage that creates a laugh. Note it well, and use it again. Next time it will be deliberate, certainly, but you can make it look spontaneous if need be. If it works, keep it!

Other people’s jokes are a very dangerous source of material for your humour. Part of the danger lies in the way people use jokes. Some speakers, desperate to be humorous, plan to simply tell jokes to get a laugh, relax their audience and create engagement. If it is not your joke, you risk it falling flat. If it is just a joke on its own, you increase the risk because everything is riding on that joke being funny, you telling it well, the audience being in the mood for that sort of humour – all sorts of pitfalls. If, on the other hand, you choose to use the joke as a support for a point you are making, then you decrease the chances of failure. If worst comes to worst and your audience does not respond, you can just carry on as if it were a story and not necessarily a funny joke. If it succeeds then you have got double value from the joke in creating a memorable tag for the point you were making. You can find jokes in all of the places I mentioned above – the internet, the library, magazines, other comedians and so on. You can use quotations and crazy predictions. You can search in the area of the subject of your presentation or in the expertise of your audience. Just be very careful that the joke suits you audience and the occasion, that it suits your style and your sense of humour and that it suits the point you are trying to make.

The final source of humour is one that works really well. I will call it situational humour. Find humour in the situation you find yourself in, for this speech. You can use geographical humour – compare your home country with this country. Tell the story of something funny that happened here on this occasion, or on another occasion. Use the organisation or the people in the audience or the event. Research the history of the organisation and its culture. Find (appropriate) humour in that. Find humour in your relationship with someone in the audience – something funny that has happened or that the person said had happened. Turn someone’s idiosyncrasies into humour if t can be done respectfully. Use current events – in the world, the country, this town or this audience. All of these are particularly useful in your opening segments that will help relax the audience and to make build engagement with them.