Book Review – The Manager’s Guide to Presentations

I was recently asked by Impackt Publishing to review one of their newest publications, The Manager’s Guide to Presentations (2014. ISBN-13 978-1783000142. http://www.amazon.com/The-Managers-Guide-Presentations-Lauren/dp/1783000147/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394631990&sr=8-1&keywords=the+managers+guide+to+presentations).  The book was authored by Lauren M. Hug, an attorney who has likely both seen and conducted a number of presentations.  The books is available in both paperback (which I reviewed) and e-book.  Providing full disclosure, I was not compensated for the review, but was provided with a review copy. 

Initially I was a bit skeptical, as the paperback version is only 44 pages.  Tomes of 100s of pages have been published on the topic.  What information worth publishing can be found in only 44 pages?  Surprisingly, quite a bit! 

The target audience for the book is new managers, who often, as I can personally attest, often have little to no experience developing or delivering presentations.  Yet, given their position, are often called upon to give a variety of presentations.  The book is concise, which is perfect for managers with little available time, providing step by step guidance and several job aids to help them identify needs, outline presentation content, and deliver their presentation. 

If you’ve read any of my blog posts in the past on presentations or training, you know I’m big on ensuring an audience focus – they are, after all, the reason why we are doing the presentation in the first place.  Given that, I was initially dismayed that there was little mention of the audience in the early pages of the book.  However, as I progressed through the book, I realized the sense of the author’s approach.  Instead of focusing first on the audience, the author, keeping in mind that HER target audience was new managers, asks these new managers to put the focus on themselves first.  It’s a great reality check for new managers.  The author emphasizes the need for new managers to examine their own preferences, presentation tendencies, fears, and their particular goal for the presentation.  Some of these reflections are longer-term issues which likely don’t need to be examined for each and every presentation, but certainly the question of the new manager’s goal for the presentation is one that should be asked for each presentation given. 

Once the internal reflection is complete, the author directs the new manager toward the needs of the audience.  While she doesn’t spend as much time on audience analysis as I would like, she still hits the highlights.  She also provides a few items of consideration toward the logistical needs and environment of the presentation, with heavy emphasis on knowing the environment you are stepping into and being prepared for it. 

The second chapter focuses on designing the presentation.  I was pleased here to see considerable reference to the audience, their needs, and what the presenter needed them to walk away with.  Job aids prompting the reader to identify the audience appeal, presentation points, and a call to action help focus the neophyte presenter – brief but good points that Nancy Duarte would be proud of.  They finish off the chapter with several points on audience interaction.  I was quite pleased to see this, particularly since many presenters (both new and experienced) have a tendency to simply present rather than engage the audience. 

The third and final chapter focuses on body language and practicing the presentation.  A number of great ideas are given in this chapter, including pre-presentation discussions with stakeholders, when and how to rehearse, and conducting Q&A sessions. 

Overall, the book is quite effective.  It’s short and to the point, which is ideal for managers who have their attention pulled in many directions.  I would feel confident in handing this book off to a new manager and, if they followed the guidance contained therein, they would be successful in their presentation endeavor.  It’s not going to turn anyone into a presentation expert, but that’s not the goal of the book.  It provides great ideas and insight and the job aids are excellent.  Kudos to the author and publisher for identifying a need and providing good, concise information to address it. 

Must-Read Speaking Tips

From Forbes Magazine – originally written for entrepreneurs, but in general these are great tips for presenters and trainers!

 

For most of us, public speaking can be incredibly nerve-wracking. What if you mess up? What if no one claps? What if someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to? What if you throw up on stage? (Seriously, you should at least stop worrying about that one.)

But with the right preparation, public speaking doesn’t have to be such a daunting, fretful experience. The chance to strut your stuff and raise awareness for your brand is actually really exciting, especially if you’re a young company looking to introduce your expertise—and offering—to the world.

Here, we outline five steps to take before you get up on that stage to make sure you most genuinely connect with your audience, get your point across in the time allotted, and (most importantly) don’t pass out.

 

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

The benefits of this old adage are twofold. First, becoming comfortable with the material you’ll be delivering will ease your nerves—after reading your speech to your mom, grandma, and six closest friends, the experience will feel much less intimidating.

Second, you’ll significantly improve your delivery. Audiences want to connect with the people they’re watching speak or present, and if you’re reading from a piece of paper for 20 minutes, they’re not going to have the opportunity to do so. The more you know your stuff, the more you’ll be able to make eye contact, throw in a joke, and ensure you pack in all of your crucial points before the buzzer.

 

2. Know Your Space

If you have the opportunity to do so—like at a conference or cocktail party—check out where you’re going to be speaking. Are you using a microphone? Do you have any AV requirements? The better you understand your surroundings, the more you can concentrate on the public speaking itself. And if you’re incorporating AV aspects into your presentation, back to #1 you go.

 

3. Know Your Audience

I’ve talked at great length about the importance of knowing your audience across all of the various ways you communicate. But this sentiment is arguably most important when it comes to communicating in person. Your number one goal for any public speaking opportunity is to really connect with your audience. Regardless of how well you address the topic at hand, if people don’t get it, it won’t resonate. And if you’re not getting your message across, what’s the point?

Research the event and check-in with the coordinators beforehand so you know who to expect, and then tailor your comments accordingly. For example, think about explaining the current social media landscape to a room full of senior citizens versus a room full college students. Different speech, right? (Answer: Yes.)

Another aspect to consider, thanks to our ever-evolving digital world, is any virtual audience that might be participating in the event. Is your presentation being live streamed? Live tweeted? It’s just as important to understand this community. Ask what platforms will be pushing out the content—like the event’s Facebook page—so you can further amend your speech to address this audience. And, as the technology behind this can get complicated (especially if you’re planning to engage with your digital audience in real-time!), apply tips #1 and #2 solely to this aspect prior to getting on that stage.

 

4. Find the Balance

If you’ve founded a content producing business, and you’re speaking at a Content Producing 101 workshop, it makes a lot of sense for you to talk about your company and your experience in the industry. But many times, the connection between what you do and what you’re speaking about isn’t so straightforward. And in these cases, remember that while you want to use the speaking opportunity to draw attention to your business, you also don’t want to come across as too salesy.

So how do you find the balance? Well, remember that you represent your brand, so if you give a kick-ass speech, people are going to want to know more about you. As long as there’s an easy place for them to find you and to learn about what you do (a.k.a., make sure your company’s name, website, and Twitter handle is in your slides or the event’s program), the connection will be made naturally—no awkward, forced interjections of your brand into your speech required.

That said, it’s also OK to find one or two places to seamlessly (and genuinely) tie together what you do and the topic you’re discussing as you’re crafting your remarks.

Finally, make sure to network at the event. One of the biggest benefits of public speaking is the opportunity to position yourself as an expert, so make yourself available for questions and meet-and-greets both before and after your speech so you can strut your stuff.

 

5. Breathe

Really, don’t forget to breathe. You’ll be great!

 

 

Visual Presentation Design

I’ve been following Alex’s blog for a while now – the work she and her peers do in presentation design is truly revolutionary. This post, in particular, is a great introduction to how she works. I’ve certainly been at fault for many years for designing presentations like documents. It’s a tough habit to break, but I’m committing to the visual design method from now on!

If you do any kind of training or presentations – FOLLOW HER BLOG! She gives a ton of great advice!

15 Seconds to a Better Presentation

I was doing a lot of reading last night… Another article I came across was published on Inc.com and was written by Geoffrey James.  The article is all about first impressions and how to maximize that little bit of time (the article cites 15 seconds) that you have to grab an audience’s attention.  The information in this article is great for training programs, business presentations, and even meetings.  I’m certainly going to try these suggestions for my next presentation.

I’ve included the article below.

15 Seconds to a Better Presentation

These four simple rules will help ensure that your audience sits up and pays attention.

It takes an audience about 15 seconds (at most) to decide whether your presentation is worth their attention. Fritter away those fifteen seconds and your audience will either mentally check out or pull out their phones to start texting.

Here’s how to begin a presentation so that your audience really sits up and takes notice.

1. Have somebody else introduce you.

Don’t waste time explaining who you are and why you’re there. Write a short (100 word) bio and a short statement (50 words) of what you’ll be talking about. If you were invited to speak, have whoever invited you read this information to the audience. If you called the meeting yourself, put that information in the invite.

2. Do not tell a “warm-up” joke.

I have no idea how the “warm-up joke” became part of conventional business wisdom. Most of the time, the “joke” consists a weak attempt at situational humor (like “why are these meetings always on Monday?”) that merely communicates that you’re nervous and unsure of yourself. The rest of the time, the “joke” is a long story with an obvious punch line that tries everyone’s patience.

3. Do not begin with “background.”

Many presentations begin with a corporate background that’s intended to build credibility. (Example: “Our company has 100 years of expertise!”) The problem here is that at the start of a presentation nobody cares about your company. You’re asking them to translate your background information into something that’s meaningful to them and their business. Why should they bother?

4. Open with a startling and relevant fact.

To get an audience focused on what you’re going to tell them, you must first break through the “mental noise” that causes their attention to waver. This is best accomplished by a slide showing a fact that is new to the audience and important enough to capture their attention. Build the rest of your presentation to answer the business questions that this initial fact has raised in their minds.

Here are two samples presentations to help explain these points:

BAD:

“Hi, I’m John Doe from Acme and I’ve been working in the widget industry for 20 years. And boy, has it been an exiting time (just kidding!) Acme is the industry leader in widgets with over a million satisfied customers!! I’m here today to talk to you about how we can help you save big money on your purchases of high quality widgets.”

BETTER:

“Yes, one million dollars.” (Pause.) “That’s how much money you’re losing every year because of widget failure. Fortunately, there IS a better way and I’m going to explain how you can easily save that money rather than waste it.”

Needless to say, the slides in the above example are simplistic. The “better” example could probably be made more visually rich, perhaps with an illustration of money going down a drain (along with the $1m).

What’s important here is that you realize why the surprising and relevant first slide is far more likely to capture the audience’s attention than the typical rambling intro.

Please note that the “startling and relevant” fact need not be an attempt to generate fear.  The fact could just as easily be about possible opportunity, the achievement of a long held goal, or something else that inspires. As long as it’s surprising and relevant, the audience will listen.

Duarte Done

A few days ago I finished the latest Nancy Duarte book, Persuasive Presentations, published by Harvard Business Review.  See my earlier post, Presentations… Inspired, for some additional background on this.

Photo courtesy of Alex Rister who also wrote about this book.

Persuasive Presentations was a very fast paced read.  I love the format of this book.  It was composed of a number of mini chapters, each only two to three pages long.  Nancy is no hypocrite – she practices what she preaches.  While a book is no presentation, many of the concepts regarding habits of adult learners, attention spans, etc., still apply.  Therefore, she chopped her content up into small manageable bites.  No long drawn out chapters here.  No complicated explanations.  It was all very straight forward.To help drive home the point, she makes external references, provides graphics and illustrations, and cross references within the book.  She covers everything from the needs assessment (audience and topic), to development, design, format and medium, reading the audience, presenting via video, incorporating social media, and follow-up.  This is a great book for the new presenter or trainer, or the seasoned professional.  I can even see it as reading for an undergraduate level course on communications and presentations.  Nancy covers all the relevant topics including contemporary subject matter.  A great read – highly recommended.  Thanks Nancy!