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.

How to Be a Rock Star Panelist

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If you’ve been asked to sit on a panel at an industry forum or some other professional event, congratulations! The mere invitation is testament to your expertise and others’ confidence in your ability to share it. You’re doing something right already.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that expertise alone will carry you through. Many a panelist has bored an audience into oblivion with information overload. Often they’re so focused on providing technically correct answers that an hour later, no one remembers a word they said.

Yet others seem to have the crowd listening, laughing and hanging on every anecdote. Afterward audience members line up like teenagers at a rock concert to ask questions and keep the conversation going. Best of all, the panelist’s performance casts a favorable glow over his or her organization and own career.

If you want to elevate your panel appearance to rock star status, take some time to prepare. Here are a few tips to get you ready:

1.) Do some homework: Of course you’ll need to find out whether each panelist is expected to give opening remarks or just field questions. But also learn a bit about your fellow panelists and what distinguishes you from them. Ask if there is anything specific you should cover. Learn what, in the eyes of the host, would make the panel a success.

2.) As always, have key messages. Think ahead of time about what three or four messages (or even adjectives) you want your audience to come away associating with you. Write those in large print on a sheet of paper as you practice answering questions. If you want to be regarded as “industry leader,” “innovative,” “hip,” and “forward thinking,” be sure your remarks include---or at least echo---those terms.

3.) Know that you have three jobs: To ensure you, your organization and the panel all come off well. It’s not as tricky as it seems since in most cases the three will be aligned---or at least not in direct opposition. But remember, if you spend all your time bragging about your company but the panel overall flops, in the end neither you nor your company will look good.

4.) Bring stories. No matter the industry, people want to hear people talk about people. Think of at least three stories you can tell to drive home your messages. Then practice telling them to be sure they’re on the mark, can be told in short order and land the way you want. More than anything else, audiences remember stories. Be sure to bring them.

5.) Prepare to be spontaneous. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s not. Once you’re clear on your role, your messages, and your stories, practice answering as many different questions as you can---always coming back to your key messages and working in your stories along the way. The more you practice, the more natural the process will become. Soon you’ll be able to confidently handle anything that comes your way during the actual panel discussion.

If you follow these tips, your audience, your host, and YOU will all be thrilled with your performance. But more importantly, days and weeks after the program, your audience will still be recalling - and with any luck, repeating - your words of wisdom and the stories that brought them to life.

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.