Podium Coaching Blog
Make sure technical glitches don’t ruin your dynamite presentation
by Halina St James
“There are three roads to ruin; women, gambling and technicians. The most pleasant is with women, the quickest is with gambling, but the surest is with technicians.”
Georges Pompidou, Former Prime Minister and President of France
I was once on a double bill with another professional speaker. I was speaking after him. We were both using PowerPoint. He had everything set up including external speakers when I arrived. Great, I thought. All I have to do is disconnect his computer and connect mine.
But when I suggested that, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He told me all the equipment, including the LCD projector, was his. He traveled all over the world and he didn’t want anyone, not even a colleague, messing with his stuff.
He’d been burned once too often using other people’s equipment. So he invested in the smallest and best LCD projector, speakers and laptop he could afford. His equipment works every time, and he guards it like a mother hen guards her chicks. I don’t blame him at all.
At the break, the hotel technicians came in with their equipment and I set up. I said a few prayers and happily everything worked. But there have been times when I’ve double checked everything with a technician – and still something went wrong.
Despite what Georges Pompidou said, I cultivate the friendship of technicians. They’ve saved me when last minute disasters loomed.
So to keep from going to the dark side with your slide show, back it up on a memory stick or web based program. Have access to an extra laptop if necessary. Get your own LCD projector if you can. Test everything every time before you present. And thank the technician. You never know when you may return to the same location.
Etch-a-Sketch gaffe latest crisis for Romney campaign
“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-a-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
Four sentences. That’s all it takes to create a media crisis.
The ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ comment comes from Mitt Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom.
Romney is not exactly cruising to the Republican nomination to challenge Barack Obama. But winning the Illinois primary gave him some momentum, after surprise wins for Rick Santorum.
For Fehrnstrom, the appearance on CNN should have been a cake-walk. But he bobbled what should have been a routine question: whether Santorum and Newt Gingrich “might force the governor (Romney) to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?”
Mainstream and social media pounced on the Etch-a-Sketch reference. It reinforced a suspicion that Romney says what he thinks people want to hear. ‘Don’t like that picture? Never mind. Shake the box. How about this picture?’
The Etch-a-Sketch comment probably made perfect sense to Fehrnstrom. You go through the primaries, fighting fellow Republicans. You have the convention. And then you start over again, against the real opponent. You do hit re-set, draw new battle lines and start over.
Trouble is, Romney has problems connecting with many Americans. They’re just not sure about him. So references to the ever-changing images of a kids’ toy start to resonate.
Romney has already goofed with his ‘don’t care about the very poor’ comment. This time the gaffe is not from the candidate, directly. But it’s going to haunt him.
Quicker access to more tools in new-look newsletter
If you are a subscriber to our monthly newsletter, you will have noticed something different in your inbox this morning.
We’ve given the newsletter a facelift.
(By the way, if you are not a subscriber yet you are missing a whole lot of tips on public speaking, how to build a presentation, and how to deal with the media. There’s a sign-up form on this page).
The big change is intended to help you find the resources you need, quicker.
We know you are busy, and have a lot of calls on your time. So we have shortened the articles, but provided a link to the full document, or a related White Paper, Briefing Sheet or Blog article.
The idea is to help you scan through for articles that affect you most directly, and give you the option of a synopsis, or a more comprehensive backgrounder than we’ve ever offered before.
This month we are offering tips on how journalists formulate those ‘tricky questions’ – and how you can deal with them. You can download a Briefing Sheet, which we’ve just added to our Resources Page.
But if you are not likely to find yourself talking to reporters, you can quickly skip to the article on how to keep speeches and presentations from running off the rails. If a presentation loses its way, it’s usually because we try to cram in too much information. The remedy is to clearly define the ‘controlling idea’.
The newsletter introduces the concept, and provides a link to a Briefing Sheet on the topic – for those who want to know more.
We want to give you easy access to the tools you need, whether you are wondering how to write a speech, how to build a presentation, or how to handle a media interview.
We also want the newsletter to reflect our approach to presentation skills training and media training – clear, direct, practical.
We’d love to hear your feedback. There’s space below for comments, or you can email a quick note.
Don’t let technology stifle your message
A friend’s wedding set me thinking about the possibilities and pitfalls associated with communication technology. One of the bridesmaids spoke from notes on her mobile phone, instead of reading from paper.
I’ve seen other people using phones and tablets when presenting. Bravo. We’re saving trees, cutting down on litter, and we look cool using the latest gadgets.
There may even be an anticipation by the audience that the presentation is going be better – because the of the technology.
But that buzz quickly evaporates when the speaker picks up the phone or tablet and starts to read from it. Reading to an audience – whether from paper, a phone or tablet – is a major obstacle to holding their attention and delivering a memorable message.
As you peer at the screen, it’s hard to maintain eye contact with the audience… so you can’t build a relationship. Your tone changes as you concentrate on following your notes. You lose vitality and passion. You’re less likely to use emphasis, or pause strategically.
Technology can make reading worse. It’s not so cool if you have to hold the phone to your nose to read the small type on the small screen.
I’m not saying don’t use technology for public speaking. Just use it strategically. The screen of a phone or tablet works better if you rely on it for a few key words, rather than complete sentences. Glance down… see the key word… look up… speak with passion.
Make sure your battery is fully charged and that your device will not auto-lock after a few minutes.
When you settle down to write a speech or build a presentation, use whatever tools will help you connect with the audience. Just remember, the audience is looking forward to hearing you speak to them – not read to them.
By the way, our free monthly newsletter is packed with tips on public speaking, dealing with the media, and writing. Click here to read last month’s edition. If you like what you see, you’ll find a sign-up form on this page.
Don’t be a hostage to a careless introduction
For my first big speech to an audience of 300, I let the person who was introducing me write her own script. The person used my bio, right off my website. Very flattering – but that bio was written for the eye, not the ear.
Then she said I would talk about some of the things she found interesting on the web site. Again, flattering – but unfortunately nothing to do with my speech that day.
I learned a valuable lesson that day, something we include in all our presentation skills and public speaking training: never let someone else write your introduction.
Many good speeches have started badly because the speakers were poorly introduced. The introduction raises certain expectations. It can position the speaker to engage quickly with the audience. Or it can leave the speaker thinking ‘How do I get out of that?’
People who are picked to introduce a speaker are rarely professional speakers. Nor are they always experts on your topic. So they grab a speaker’s bio and read it verbatim. They give the audience a data dump which diminishes expectations, rather than raising them.
Make sure you get properly introduced. Find out who is going to introduce you. Tell them you’re going to write the introduction for them. They will probably be relieved.
The introduction should never be a biographical list of your achievements. It’s a springboard. It should fit seamlessly into the opening of your speech. It’s the opening act, the warm-up to the actual speech. It should promo the speech and your talent or position by teasing, enticing and arousing the audience’s curiosity.
It’s too important to leave to chance. When you are sitting down to figure out how to write a speech or build a presentation, start by crafting an introduction. It will raise the whole speech to a higher level.
‘Controlling idea’ helps keep your presentation on track
Before you sit down to write a speech or build a presentation, be clear about one thing: your controlling idea.
The ‘controlling idea’ is the big thought you want to plant in the mind of your audience. Sure, you’ll be talking about a whole lot of things… but they all need to lead in one direction.
In our presentation skills training sessions, we show people how the controlling idea helps to limit the focus of the speech or presentation. Without a clearly-identified focus in mind you are in danger of confusing your audience.
Keep your controlling idea to one short sentence.
Let’s say you are explaining what your company is doing to support a clean environment. You want to tell the audience all the good things you’ve done, and why they’re important. That mass of facts is an important part of the speech.
But it’s not a controlling idea.
The controlling idea has to be one clear simple sentence that expresses what you want the audiences to understand. Your controlling idea should be something as clear and simple as “We strongly support a clean environment because it’s good for business.”
Or “We’re good business-people but we’re also good neighbours.”
Or “Our green credentials help us hire the staff we want.”
Once you decide on your controlling idea, keep coming back to it throughout your talk. Let it guide all your arguments and all the points you want to make. You can even say it out loud at an appropriate place in your speech. The simpler the controlling idea, the easier it will be to do this.
Figuring out the controlling idea will save you time in the long run. It provides focus for your whole presentation. It’s the glue that holds your speech or presentation together, helping it make sense for the audience.