About that presentation…

Below, some very sound advice on how to keep your next speech from being derailed by a tech trainwreck.

My take? People want to hear your message. Not the piddly in-the-moment travails and frustrations that won’t amount to anything in half an hour, but your message.

You can do everything right: rehearse the presentation with the setup, have a local backup ready to run if the Internet connection didn’t work, and so on. But for whatever reason, sometimes the AV system will have none of it.

The real solution to technical glitches like this, which still happen all too often, isn’t technical. It’s much more fundamental: being prepared to abandon the technological side of the presentation, and fall back to the thing that really matters — your story, told clearly and well.

Key Messenger

Recently I attended a luncheon speech by a senior executive from one of the world’s leading technology firms. I even sat next to be guest speaker. During lunch, his colleague indicated that the presentation had technological issues: the file wouldn’t speak to the laptop, which was angry at the projector from a different generation (my paraphrasing).

“Oh well”, said the speaker. Someone had to figure this out.

Being a communications trainer, I mentioned that slides and video, while wonderful, were not essential for a great talk. I joked that Martin Luther King never used PowerPoint; I had seen Margaret Thatcher in Parliament and she hadn’t relied on slides…

By the middle of the main course, the guest speaker turned to me:

“Wouldn’t it be funny if the guy from a major tech company couldn’t get the audio-visual to work?”

I said don’t worry you’ll be fine. Tell us a good…

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I’d like to thank Demosthenes…

After last night’s Oscar ceremony, Nancy Duarte has a few suggestions for any public speaker hoping to outdo Academy Award-winning artists (which is a surprisingly low bar, although there were a few standouts): personal is powerful; plan ahead; strike the right note and watch the clock.

For people used to delivering scripted lines with directorial supervision, it can be tough to get on stage in front of a large in-person audience and millions more tuned in around the world. By using a few important ingredients – powerful personal stories, carefully chosen tone and timing, and advance preparation – Nyong’o, McConnaughey, and a few others reminded us why we love tuning in to the Oscars every year. But you don’t have to be a Hollywood star to follow their example. Following the same set of principles can help speakers everywhere make a lasting impression.

Every year, I’m astonished just how many winners (and presenters) waste one of the greatest speaking opportunities they’ll ever have. They head to the mic unprepared, drunk, stoned or all three. They fritter away precious seconds on lengthy asides and meandering ad libs.

Maybe too much experience “delivering scripted lines with directorial supervision” has led some of them to believe this stuff just happens, and that screenwriters are simply an optional channel for a muse that would much rather speak through them directly. Maybe they think that preparing a speech jinxes their chances. Maybe they think nothing but complete spontaneity will suit the occasion.

Any way you dice that, they’re wrong. And those are beliefs that, in form way or another, I’ve heard from non-movie people as well — usually before a disastrous speech.So of all Nancy’s suggestions (each of them crucial), the one I’d like to reinforce the most is preparation. Whether it’s the Oscars, a welcome to a parents’ association fundraiser or something in between, know what you want to say before you hit the stage.


How many ways can I say I’m sorry?

The New York Times has strung together lines from notable apology speeches into one big, remorseful Frankenpentance.

Tragically missing, though, is anything from Rob Ford’s rambling, defensive apology from last November. Where’s “I know I have let you down and I can’t do anything else but apologize and apologize”? Or “I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing” – which would have fit perfectly right after Nixon’s “I don’t believe that I ought to quit, because I am not a quitter”?

I’d say the Times owes us an apology.

Seeking Redemption, Sometimes With a Familiar Ring – NYTimes.com


Stop the downward slide: Eric Bergman’s ‘5 Steps to Conquer Death by PowerPoint’

Cover image of 5 Steps to Conquer Death by PowerPoint

I enjoyed Eric Bergman‘s book 5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’: Changing the World One Conversation At a Time, once I got over my initial disappointment that it isn’t about using PowerPoint to conquer death*. (I’d missed those all-important quotation marks.)

So, like me, you’re still going to die. But if you’d rather not do it behind a microphone – or in an audience – then you might like to check out Eric’s book. My review is in the January issue of IABC/BC’s Connect:

Somewhere in the world right now, someone is facing an audience with a remote in their hand, notes on their lectern, and a failed presentation in their immediate future.

Within the next 15 minutes, most of the audience members will have checked out: losing focus, interest, or – in extreme but not entirely rare cases – consciousness.

That scene’s going to play out around the planet today with thousands of groups from training seminars to team meetings to pitch sessions. A staggering number of PowerPoint decks will be shown today to an even more staggering number of people — with staggeringly little benefit.

That’s what Eric Bergman is trying to change. In 5 Steps to Conquer ‘Death by PowerPoint’: Changing the World One Conversation at a Time, the Toronto-based communication consultant argues that the vast majority of PowerPoint slides aren’t just being created in vain: they’re actively undermining our ability to communicate.

Let me know what you think!

* This will come as a relief to the Microsoft Office development team, who would see that as some serious scope creep.

Cicero Speechwriting Awards: A little glory for the folks behind the keyboards

Nominations for the 2013 Cicero Speechwriting Awards have opened. I love the thought of honoring speechwriters; our jobs are entirely about helping others make the most of their time in the spotlight, and it’s nice to see smart, talented folks get public acclaim for outstanding work.

For me, it highlights a dilemma – because I’ve always shied away from taking credit for my clients’ speeches. The best speeches are a collaboration; even when the speaker hasn’t participated in crafting the words (rare, in my experience), the act of delivering the speech transforms it through choices such as pace and emphasis, and through the context of the speaker’s reputation. And ultimately, it’s my client who bears the weight of responsibility for the speech’s content.

If someone in the audience who knows your métier nudges you and asks, “Was that line yours?”, how do you answer? Do you go even acknowledge a role in the creation of a speech?

Mr. Gorbachev, let me post flip charts on this wall!

A post about posting (on walls) at events – part 1 | Conferences That Work:

Recently I’ve been frustrated and baffled. No less than three venues (two hotels and a conference center) in the last month have informed me that I was not allowed to post anything on the walls of the room I was meeting in.

Nothing could be posted. No flip chart paper, no masking tape, no stick pins, no thumbtacks, no sticky notes, and no wall clips.

To add insult to injury, none of the venues apologized or offered any suggestions on alternative ways I could display materials on a vertical surface. None of them had any substitute surfaces, like large portable notice boards or whiteboards available.

Hey, venue owners: I’ll bet that whatever it costs you to repaint from time to time, you’ll more than make up in repeat business as participant satisfaction with events drives organizers to come back to you.