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, 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, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Why You didn't Get Quoted

Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

A few months ago I met with an executive from a large bank who was frustrated that his boss’ repeated media interviews almost always had the same disappointing outcome.

“Is he wandering off message?” I asked. “Giving up company secrets?”

No, my pal responded. The problem was, he rarely made the story at all.

Ah. Unquotable Executive Syndrome.  It’s a widespread malady, usually afflicting higher level executives.

Unquotable Executive Syndrome is the result of a failure to articulate messages in a way that resonates with the reporter and in turn the reporter’s audience.  There are three specific mistakes executives make that almost guarantee they’ll be cut from the story. Here they are, along with some corrective measures to prevent Unquotable Executive Syndrome in the first place.

Mistake #1: Talking too much. Ironically, the more anxious an executive is about an interview, the more likely he or she is to blather on once it starts. Sometimes the reporter only gets in one question before the exec launches into a filibuster, running out the clock. By filling the silence, interview subjects might feel they’re in control. But if the reporter doesn’t get what he or she needs, everyone’s time is wasted.

Remember the interview is a conversation, not a monologue. Responses should be complete, but not exhaustive. Shoot for 30 seconds for a video response, 45 seconds for radio and 60 for print. Live audience answers should be about 60 to 90 seconds. And all responses should always include a message.

Mistake #2: Not answering questions. The premise of any interview is that one person asks questions and the other answers, or at least addresses them, even if they’re not pleasant.

While it’s acceptable (actually imperative) to bridge or transition from an answer to a message, it’s not OK to ignore the questions and spew message after message with disregard for the interviewer. Interview subjects who do will at best be cut from the story. At worst, they’ll find their entire evasive interview uploaded to YouTube for public ridicule.

Mistake #3: Being boring. By far this is the most pervasive cause of Unquotable Executive Syndrome. It’s typically observed in executives who are so afraid of straying from their messages that they come off like robots programmed only to recite industry jargon and clichés.

Reporters need sources who bring to life the key points of stories with interesting, memorable language. They don’t want forgettable rehashes of predictable positions. Of course, “getting real” on the fly is more than a little dangerous. The best course is to prepare ahead of time with three or four messages and a number of “message enhancers” for each. Message enhancers include colorful language, short stories, personal examples, quippy one-liners, meaningful stats, contemporary references or pithy analogies.

Executives who load their interviews with interesting message enhancers will almost certainly guarantee a spot in the story—and likely more stories in the future. Even better, they’ll be quoted on message and in ways that resonate with the reporter’s audience. And after all, isn’t that the whole reason for investing time and money in the interview in the first place?

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.