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. 

The Wingman: Your Secret Weapon for Speaking Success

Just as one pilot supports another during a dangerous mission, your Wingman can protect you from distractions.

Just as one pilot supports another during a dangerous mission, your Wingman can protect you from distractions.

Strong speakers know an important element of a great speech or presentation is focus. Speakers who can block out distractions and zero in on the audience are more likely to be engaging, interesting and effective.

And yet, more often than not it seems there’s a concerted campaign underway to distract the speaker from the moment he or she arrives at the venue. The host wants to clarify something about the introduction. A guest is clamoring to point out a mutual acquaintance. The AV tech has questions about technical needs. On top of it all, there are legitimate business leads that deserve attention.

How can a speaker possibly concentrate and make final preparations when there are so many other demands for attention?

Enter the Wingman.

No matter the size, formality or venue of an event, if it’s a performance that matters, the Wingman is the answer.

A Wingman can be male or female. Your Wingman might be a colleague, might be an intern, or in some cases, might even be your boss. But in this role, the Wingman’s number one job is to manage logistics, shield you from distractions and do whatever it takes to make you look good.

Think you’re better off flying solo? Consider these ways the Wingman can help:

Before your talk: The Wingman can help you get to the location on time and looking your best, set up and run your technology, run interference with clingy members of the audience, and work the room for leads while you focus on your impending remarks.

During your talk: The Wingman can take photos of you speaking, solve unexpected technical problems (or enlist someone who can), quash distractions like a vacuum in the hallway, and if necessary get the ball rolling with Q and A.

After your talk: The Wingman can help you engage important leads, shield you from less important contacts, and pack up your materials while you’re basking in the glory of a great speech. Maybe most importantly, the Wingman can later can provide you with feedback so you can be even more effective next time.

How you use your Wingman is up to you. The only requirement of the job is that he or she can put you at ease and help you look great when it’s your turn to shine.

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.

"We Begin Tonight with What's Boring."

Newscasters like NBC's Brian Williams know better than to start the show by talking about themselves. 

Newscasters like NBC's Brian Williams know better than to start the show by talking about themselves. 

Imagine Brian Williams starting the NBC Nightly News with “We begin tonight by telling you about me. I was born in Elmira, New York…”

Once the shock of his unbridled narcissism wore off, we’d hear “click,” “click,” “click” across the country, as viewers registered disapproval with their remote controls.

TV newsrooms have spent decades and billions of dollars researching how to deliver important information in a format that is concise and compelling. They know it’s NOT by starting with what’s boring or by talking first about themselves.

For the business presenter, the evening news offers some great lessons on how to verbally communicate information, make key details stick, and keep audiences engaged from start to finish.

1) Forget chronology and lead with what’s new. In other words, don’t begin with deep background about yourself, your company or your industry---or a chronological tale of how the problem came to be. Get to the good stuff. If major news breaks at 4:30, that’s usually the lead on the 5:00 news. The important Senate hearing that started at 9:00 will still run, just toward the middle of the newscast. In business presentations, decide what’s new and most interesting and make that your “lead.”

2) Respect the medium. A broadcaster covering the same story as a print reporter will get about 1/20th the words to do her job. She can’t possibly communicate the same volume of information. But rather than bemoaning the limitations of the medium, good TV reporters embrace its advantages, using visuals, sounds, vocal tones, even timing to convey a few key points with lasting effect. (Think of how the nation recalls the first man on the moon, the tumbling of the Berlin Wall or even 9-11.) In business, understand that a live presentation is different than a written report and find ways to exploit those differences to your advantage.

3) Don’t forget sports, weather and the lotto. No matter how big the news day, there always will be some viewers who still want the day’s high temp or the baseball scores. In business, no matter how creative or compelling your presentation, someone in the audience may still want to see an industry standard chart or graph. So go ahead and include that. But keep in mind sports and weather usually get just a few minutes toward the middle or end of the newscast---and lotto numbers run during a break. Concede, if you must, some airtime to what people EXPECT to see. But if you want to engage your audience and make your presentation memorable, do what newscasters do: Focus on what’s UNEXPECTED, what’s most interesting and what’s new.

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


 

What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint

What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint

A few months ago I attended a professional event at which I knew a well-respected and charismatic CEO would be speaking. Sure enough, he started things off with the stage presence of a stand up comedian and quickly had us all laughing and leaning in.

But then it started: The dreaded PowerPoint presentation.

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