Next Time, Try Skipping the Agenda

If you begin every presentation with an agenda, here is a quick and helpful hint to make your next presentation instantly better:

Stop doing that!

Sure, your high school speech teacher hammered home that foolproof formula: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; Tell ‘em; Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” But today’s audiences expect something different----or at the very least a modern riff on that familiar refrain.

When an executive stands to deliver a presentation, then pauses to “review the agenda,” he or she risks slamming on the brakes before things even get rolling. In many cases, the executive senses the audience’s boredom and starts adlibbing details about each agenda point, dragging out the painful opening and stealing the thunder of the actual presentation.

Yes, your audience wants and deserves some assurance that you’re going to cover the points they want to hear. But perhaps a better plan is to craft a great open that leaves no doubt your presentation will be both interesting and relevant. Consider scrapping the agenda altogether and diverting the extra time and effort to a compelling open, persuasive key points and a provocative close.

Of course, if you’re part of an organization that requires presentations begin with an agenda (and don’t assume that because everyone else does it, it’s a requirement), you may have to go along with the program. Still, there are a few ways to comply with company policy without sabotaging your show.

1. Let a paper agenda suffice: Distribute a printed agenda ahead of time so audience members can peruse it before you take the stage. They’ll know what to expect, but you won’t waste precious moments (or their attention span) going over rote details.

2. Give a quick verbal agenda, rather than a visual one. Skip the agenda slide and instead quickly run through your game plan verbally, before launching into your carefully planned open.

3. Outboard the agenda. If your organization absolutely insists that you begin with an agenda slide, treat it as its own entity. Keep it as short as possible. Then stop. Give your audience a signal that the REAL presentation is about to begin by taking a long pause, changing your floor position, flashing a blank slide, telling an interesting story --- or all of the above.

The best way to captivate audiences is to convince them early on they’re about to hear something they’ve never heard before. Do that, and they won’t be wondering about what you’re going to cover. They’ll just be looking forward to it.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

Really, No Questions?

 If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

You had them on the edge of their seats the whole talk. They nodded at your insights and laughed at your jokes. But suddenly, when you announce you’ll take questions...crickets.


What seemed to be a soaring success suddenly feels more like a flop. Though it’s hard not to feel the audience is using its silence to give you the hook, don’t dash off just yet. The final moments of your talk are a big part of the impression you’ll leave. Here are some tips for avoiding an awkward silence when no one asks a question:

Give them time to prepare. Often the switch from speech to Q and A is a bit abrupt. You may be such an engaging speaker that no one is even thinking about questions yet. Just before your conclusion, consider offering a remark such as “I’m going to take some questions in a moment, but first I want to tell you one more quick story.”

Have a plant in the audience who can kick things off.  Before you get started, ask a friend or even your host to jump in if no one else volunteers a question at the end of your talk. Often audience members just need someone else to break the ice and they’ll come around with their own questions.

Ask yourself a question. This tactic is especially useful for CEOs or other leaders speaking at town hall meetings where employees may be reluctant to stick their necks out. Simply fill the awkward silence with something like “One question some of you might be asking is ‘Will the company continue to match our 401k contributions?’” or “Something I usually get asked is ‘What kind of feedback have you had from customers?’” It might give someone else the courage to jump in. At the very least it helps you fill the emptiness.

Offer one final comment, then concede the stage. If you’ve tried the above and the audience STILL doesn't jump in, offer one final insight. This should be a brief comment you’ve saved just for the end to tie up your talk, show you’re not rattled, and leave on a positive note. Then do leave the stage. But later follow up with audience members or your host about the lack of questions. Perhaps an overheated room or the alluring scent of lunch arriving next door made the audience impatient. Or perhaps you weren’t as engaging as you thought. Regardless, that’s one question worth asking---and having answered.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Facing Your Own PR Crisis? Better Get Your Story Straight

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Good public relations practices are scalable. The same strategies that can help a global company navigate an epic crisis can hold true for individuals fighting to manage their own bad news---like an untimely departure.

None of us likes to think about losing a job. But if the day comes when you find yourself packing that cardboard box, here are three PR moves to help keep your image in tact while you regroup.

Get your story straight. Sure, you’ll want to vent to your personal inner circle. But before you share the bad news much further, come up with a narrative about what happened and what you want to see happen next.

Regardless of the reason for the separation, you should be able to frame it in terms that highlight your professionalism. Most importantly, you want to draw a picture in which the listener can see you moving on to even better things.

No matter the circumstances, resist the urge to paint yourself as a victim, even if you are one. People feel sorry for victims, but they don’t hire them. Instead summarize the situation and emphasize what YOU are doing to take control of your future.

Get Some Good Buzz Going. Once you have your story straight, start spreading it. Reach out to as many people in your network and their networks as you can---and not just people in positions of power. In fact, while people high up the food chain can be very valuable at helping to close a deal, they are not as useful at the front end of a job search when you need to dig up leads. Make the rounds electronically or better yet in person. Ask for informational interviews to learn about new companies and get the momentum going. All along the way, let folks know you’re interested in new opportunities and would appreciate them keeping their ear to the ground for you. You’ll be surprised by who in your circle turns out to be helpful.

Malign No One. Talking ill of someone else only calls into question your character, not theirs. So take the high road when it comes to speaking about your former company, supervisor and colleagues. If you can’t say something nice about them, focus instead on the opportunities you were given to grow and do good work. You’ll win points for graciousness and professionalism---and you’ll be that much closer to your next great thing.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.


The Right Way to Read a Speech

 It’s possible to  READ  a speech and still have impact. The trick is making eye contact at just the right times.

It’s possible to READ a speech and still have impact. The trick is making eye contact at just the right times.

We all know that when delivering a speech it’s always best to learn the material cold and deliver it from the heart. But let’s face it: For busy executives with frequent trips to the podium and little time to prepare, that’s not always an option.

So today I’m giving away the best tip I know for connecting with your audience while READING a speech. Ready? Here it is:

If you must read a speech, make it infinitely more impactful by looking up NOT in the middle of each sentence, but rather at the beginning and, more importantly, the end.

That’s it. Sounds simple enough, yet it’s actually counter-intuitive and requires practice to pull off. But for anyone who doesn’t have time to internalize a speech or simply can’t, mastering this technique for reading remarks is the next best thing.

Here’s why.

In normal conversation, we typically stack the most important words at the ends of sentences and when we speak them, if it’s important, that’s when we’re sure to make eye contact. But somehow when we put ourselves behind a podium, that natural inclination gets flipped and our delivery comes out exactly opposite, depleting our words of impact and making us appear disconnected or insincere. Maybe worse, if we read the way most people are inclined, no matter how great our speechwriter is, we’ll squander every good line by breaking eye contact at exactly the wrong time.

Not convinced this subtle difference matters? Compare the two approaches reading one of the best speech lines ever, borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. “I Have a Dream.”

First, the wrong way:

(Eyes down) I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation

(Lift eyes) where they will not be judged by the color of their skin

(Eyes back down) but by the content of their character.

The impact of the sentence is almost completely lost when we drop our eyes while delivering those critical last few words.

Now try reading for impact:

(Eyes up) I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation

(Eyes down) where they will not be judged by the color of their skin

(Eyes back up) but by the content of their character.

What a difference! We’ve made a connection at both the start of the thought and at its inspirational end. It’s as if that sentence takes on all new meaning!

And we can pull this off without memorizing the speech. We simply use the least important part of the sentence—the middle—as an opportunity to glance down, catch our place and gather up the words that will drive our point home.

Though making this adjustment requires practice, the effort is worthwhile. After all, connect with the audience and we’ll win their hearts, we’ll spread our message and who knows? We may even change the world.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear," visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.