fun social media video

When to use social search to supplement Google search…

You can ask Google almost anything. But at the moment, you have to use your words.

Today, I can’t show Google a photo of an unknown thing and ask, “What is this thing?”

For such queries, social search might be a better option. You can post a photo on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, on Flickr — and ask your friends. After wading through guesses and jokes, you might want to use Google to verify the answers!

Before the popularity of online social search, I used my favorite social network: face-to-face. I’d ask friends and colleagues, “What is this?” In the case of the unknown object seen in the YouTube video posted below, it took about 5 years of lighthearted cocktail party conversations before I found a correct answer.

Today, I’m posting the object online for the first time. I’m going to guess that it’s going to take a considerably shorter amount of time than 5 years for someone to see this and correctly identify the object.

My three questions to you are:

1) how long before we’re able to show Google a photo of an object and have Google correctly identify the object?

2) under what other circumstances might you use social search to supplement Google search?

3) what is the ‘thing’ in the video?

fun Presentation

Why do people love the positive-attitude presenter?

We have different feelings about that guy. Who’s that guy?

Oh, you know that guy. He’s that presenter that’s very pumped up in front of his audience. He’s idiotically happy, and demands that you act that that way, too.

HE: Good morning!
HE: I can’t hear you! Gooood MORNING! Let me hear you say GOOD MORNING! C’mon! It’s a beautiful day! Let’s make this the start of a super positive day! GOOD MORNING!

fake a smile.

photo by Lauren Garza

Yeah. I don’t like that guy. Most everybody else in the audience hated that guy, too. Can you blame us? It was 8am. We were all easing into  our days with mugs of coffee in a corporate training room. The forced cheerfulness made everyone feel hostile toward the outside training guy almost immediately. Frowns, groans, and eye rolls all around.

Afterwards, connecting with colleagues, we agreed. The presenter was insufferable. Corny, cheesy, fake-positive awful. For hours.

When I told the story of our unanimous dislike for the faux-cheerful speaker to other colleagues, I was reprimanded.

“What’s wrong with you? I love positive attitude guys. They give me a lift. You should have given him a chance.”

In all fairness, I gave him a chance. I felt insulted. So did most of the people in the room.

As a presenter, I need to gauge the mood of the audience and adjust my tone and style. Most of the time, a business presenter needs to be slightly more peppy than the audience. (There are exceptions.) Displaying a little more energy than your audience demonstrates courtesy. Without words, a slightly amped energy level says that you acknowledge the feelings of the audience while being mindful that you’re enthusiastic about your content.

If you go way overboard and fake an egregiously cheerful attitude, you cross a line. It says that you don’t care about the feelings of the audience: you’re going to try to force them to be as falsely cheerful as you’re pretending to be. It even sends a message that your content isn’t that good — instead of being genuinely enthusiastic, you have to fake your enthusiasm.

So yeah, I don’t like that guy. But my question is: why on earth do other people seem to love this guy?


In business, do looks matter? Really?

When I was introduced to a man at a business meeting, I felt shocked. As I shook his hand, I stared into the face of an infamous serial killer.

The man wasn’t really a mass murderer. Unfortunately, he looked exactly like him.

As the man spoke to me, I tried to listen. Really. But I couldn’t. I felt distracted.

After a few minutes, I also couldn’t help but feel annoyed. The man didn’t have to look like a criminal: he chose to look that way. With a  few subtle hair, wardrobe, and grooming alterations — he wouldn’t look horrifying at all.

present yourselfphoto by Henry Spencer

Whether you like it or not, your appearance matters. People judge you based on how you choose to present yourself.

Our personal grooming, fashion, and style choices perform three basic functions:

  1. The first is health related. We dress to protect our bodies from the elements. We shower and wash ourselves to prevent disease and stay healthy.
  2. The second function is to express our individuality. We make hair, makeup, jewelry, and wardrobe choices that express our unique senses of style.
  3. The third is to show respect for the people around us. Our personal grooming and fashion choices send signals about how much we care about connecting with others socially.

For many young people, finding an appropriate balance between these three functions can be challenging. Worse, merely talking about function #3 can make many people — even middle-aged professionals — hotly defensive.

To be clear: when I say “looks matter”, I don’t mean the genetic or accidental stuff that you can’t help. Rather, I’m talking about the way you choose to present yourself: hair, nails, clothing, makeup, jewelry, body art & language, facial gestures, etc.

Quite a few young people I’ve interacted with lately haven’t grasped the importance of the third function. To them, their personal style choices are just that: personal. You can recognize an adolescent mindset towards personal style by three verbal brands:

  • I look the way I look. If other people don’t like it, well, that’s their problem!
  • People shouldn’t judge others on how they look. It’s wrong. I never do that.
  • Good hygiene and personal comfort are all that really all that count.

These views reveal a curious blend of self-righteous hostility, naive idealism, and low-level carelessness. When I hear it from a teenager, I’m not surprised. But when I hear these statements from mid-career professionals?

Wow. What a disconnect! I can’t believe I have to say this, but — a professional look that worked for you twenty years ago may not be serving you very well today! Your body, face, and hair have changed. Styles change. Social mores change. You need to be open to discussing changes in your personal style, too.

How you present yourself matters. People will judge you on the way you look. You can command or lose respect with your personal presentation choices.

You may not like this. You may wish that as humans, we were more highly evolved. Less judgmental. Less superficial.

And as much as you may like to believe that you don’t judge others based on their appearance — you do. You can’t help it. To claim otherwise sends the perception of self-delusion or self-righteousness.

I can understand why this concept of “looks matter” can be a difficult and disappointing realization for a naive young person. But honestly — why is this concept so difficult for many mid-career professionals?

When have you ever encountered a professional situation where how you presented yourself didn’t matter?

design PowerPoint Presentation

Slide Design: Try this ‘Simple’ Game…

I love working with talented professional designers. They can help you create slides that not only look beautiful, but really help enhance your presentation.

However, most of the time, I don’t have the luxury or budget to hire a design team to produce my slides. For many business presentations, slide design becomes a do-it-yourself effort.

When designing slides, I need to remember my limitations! I’m not a professional designer, so I need to keep my slides simple. And as luck would have it,  simplicity makes for great slide design.

Stingy Design Restrictions

Ironically, simplicity isn’t as simple as it sounds. It often means using restraint. Holding back can be really difficult when you’re using slideware that offers you zillions of design options. Like a kid in a toy store, you can be tempted to play with all these distracting features — and forget to connect to your audience with solid content and excellent presentation skills!

And that’s a key concept when designing with simplicity — avoiding distractions. When you approach your slideware, try playing this eye-opening little game. Start by giving yourself some very restrictive rules.

To begin, let me give you a set of design rules that may seem really harsh. Remember, think of this as a game. Your goal is to design your presentation using 5 very spartan rules:

  • Use 1 font types and 2 font sizes, max.
  • Use black, white, and grey: no color on your slides.
  • No bullet points or 3D.
  • No more than 10 words on any slide.
  • No pre-packaged design templates, clipart, animation, & transitions.

That’s pretty harsh, right? Go ahead and give it a try. You’ll find that giving yourself some very restrictive rules can really open up your creativity. You may or may not like the way this presentation looks in the end, but this is only round one of the game. Save your presentation, and let’s try round two.

Open up your B&W presentation, and save it as another name — maybe something with Part 2 in it. Now, let’s loosen up the rules a bit. This time, you can follow these 5 rules, instead.

Loosen Up Design Rules

  • Use 2 font types and 3 font sizes, max.
  • Only one color other than black, white, and grey.
  • Use up to 3 bullet points — but on one slide only.
  • No more than 14 words on any slide.
  • No pre-packaged design templates, clipart, animation, & transitions.

That’s only a little less harsh, right? But notice what happens when you start from a place of restriction and gradually open yourself up to a few new features. You’ll start to see what’s really essential — and what might be distracting.

This approach is almost in direct opposition to what we see with most slideware. Instead of giving yourself access to every tool in your design toolbox, start by limiting yourself. Gradually, add a few techniques in each iteration.

For your third and final iteration, go a little crazy. Open up your design restrictions to these rules:

  • Use up to 2 font types and 3 font sizes.
  • Use unlimited amounts of color on your slides.
  • Limit yourself to seven bullet points on three slides.
  • You can put up to 20 words on any slide.
  • Still no pre-packaged design templates, clipart, animation, or transitions.
Go nuts with design

photo by Euromagic

Try this exercise. You’ll discover some surprising insights when you do. You may even find that you like your black and white presentation so much, you’ll be inclined to keep it!

Remember, simplicity is often best in slide design. You may feel that it’s impossible to keep to the stringent rules I’ve outlined. But, your mind will love a creative challenge. And remember that giving yourself design limitations may help you design a more polished presentation.

fun social media

How are you using improv skills to build credibility?

True story: I haven’t formally interviewed for a job since 1999.

So when a local university called to ask if I could conduct a training session about interviewing skills, I politely declined. I haven’t interviewed for a real job since 1999. I don’t feel qualified to speak to a modern audience about interviewing for a job. I can personally claim no first-hand expertise in successfully interviewing in this job market — in this century!

For me, it’s all about credibility. If I don’t have experience or knowledge about the topic — why would I agree to talk about it? I told the event coordinator that I’d be happy to talk about body language or confidence building — but not interviewing skills.

Interviewing skills

Image by bpsusf, on Flickr

It was one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls that lasted 5 minutes — but it stuck in my mind in a glib, offhand way. I often use this anecdote to offer an important lesson on developing credibility: don’t agree to speak on a topic if you don’t have knowledge or experience in said topic!

But I thought about it a little more last week. I fell to wondering: who did the university get to speak on the topic?

It strikes me that job seekers who have interviewed extensively throughout this decade may have experience with interviewing. However, their experience may not necessarily be successful! After all, they haven’t landed a job.

As it turns out, the university hired an HR person from a large company to speak. And he received rave reviews.

Apparently, the speaker ran an improv session. He asked students to come up and fake interview with him. Brilliant approach! The HR person offered critiques, and the audience chimed in with their comments, as well. It was a lively and interactive show, with lots of actual learning taking place.

I’m a huge fan of using improv skills in business presentations. Improvisation shows that you know the material well enough to think on your feet. You can adapt your content on the fly. Done well, improv demonstrates competence and confidence.

Improv skills

by gaelenh, on Flickr

Often closely associated with raucous comedy shows, improv is also a critical skill in a business context. After all, listening is at the heart of improv. Instead of sticking firmly to a script, you listen and react to the other performers on stage, as well as the audience. You put aside your ego, and engage in public conversations.

As we enter into the era of greater social media use, business improv skills are becoming increasingly important. Gone are the days of using a corporate voice and sticking to the company script.

Boring, pompous, one-way conversations are officially OVER. I’ve been discussing the need for developing more improv skills in business communications for the past few years. In corporate training sessions, I often lead sessions by inviting the audience to participate and react. As a result — we all learn.

I see the need for more improv training in business communication. You?

And how are you currently using improv techniques in your business presentations?

Coaching Presentation

How to Effectively Coach a Public Speaker: try the “ONE” thing…

You can read a ton of books and blogs that offer advice on how to become an effective public speaker. However, you don’t have the capacity to implement all the advice at once.

Instead, let’s look at the core of the word “presentation”. It’s the word “present”.

I know I’m at my best when I’m truly present for my audience. I’m mindful.

When I’m present, I’m not worrying about what I’m doing with my hands. I’m not wondering whether the look on my face is serious enough or if that bit of mouth noise was too distracting…

Instead, I’m in the moment. I’m present for my presentation.

That’s why, as a coach, I like to focus on only one technique for a student or client to work on for every speech or presentation. A singular focus helps with presence.

When I’m coaching someone — especially someone who’s a novice presenter and very nervous — I’m not going to destroy their confidence. I won’t work on every single aspect of their public speaking performance!

If presenters work on too many things at once, they’re not fully present… and it shows. A speaker who’s trying to work on everything will look distracted. They may come across as overly self-conscious and unnatural.

As far as I know, no one on the face of the planet has ever delivered a perfect presentation. Thank goodness!

You’re supposed to be human. Humans make mistakes. And ironically, making mistakes can often help you to better connect emotionally with your audience.

If you’re coaching people on their presentations, please keep this in mind. Don’t try to fix everything, all at once. You’ll end up destroying the very essence of their presentation — their confidence and their ability to be fully present for the audience.

Instead, try this coaching approach. I call it “The One Thing.”

Find one thing you appreciated about the presentation. What worked?

You’re going to let the speaker know what that one core strength is. And you’re going to work with them to build their presentation around that strength.

Next, find one thing they can improve. Sure, you may have found 20 things they can do better.

But here’s the mark of a good coach: prioritization.

Find only one thing they can work on for each presentation. Don’t aim for complete mastery in one session.

Layer in new techniques and skills over time. Time and practice and coaching and feedback – that’s how you build mastery.

And here’s the magic of only working on “the one thing”. By focusing on only the most important issue, you may find that you’ve radically improved 5 other issues — without even trying! As a novice speaker gains more experience with public speaking, they can keep working on new areas.

Even seasoned speakers never stop learning. We keep looking for ways to better connect with our audiences. Technology changes — and we need to adapt our style.

Or we can sometimes get too comfortable in front of an audience — and we start to get sloppy and lose technique. There’s always at least “one thing” to work on in every presentation!

So please — continue to devour all the public speaking tips you can! But when it comes to your next presentation, try working on only one of those insights.

When you learn and grow from a place of confidence, you’re on a continuing path to becoming a more mindful, present, and effective public speaker.

Laura Bergells writes, teaches, coaches, and speaks. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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PowerPoint Presentation Presentation

Bullet Points Equal Um, Ah, and Er

The next time you watch someone deliver a presentation that’s bullet point heavy – make a mental note. The speaker will often verbalize the bullet point with a filler word like “um, uh, ah, so, or like”.

They’ll actually say “um” where the bullet point is!

Bullet Points Equal Um

When I ask students to share the results of their group brainstorming sessions, most begin by reading their lists. Before every item on their list, they usually say, “um’ or ‘ah’.

However, when I ask a student to tell me a story that illustrates a point from the list — the verbal fillers almost disappear! When we share stories, we’re less likely to use filler words. However, when we read lists, we are far more likely to add filler words.

Go through your presentation and find any areas where you might be reading a list or using bullet points. How you can transform a bullet point list into a story or a even a series of stories?

Look for those opportunities. Eliminating bullet points not only eliminates the ‘ums’ from your presentation — it helps you to better engage your audience with more powerful storytelling.

fun Presentation

When was the last time you flipped someone the bird?

Earlier this week, I showed this image of an adorable baby during a body language training segment.

I asked the class, “Is this baby angry?”

Baby Flips the Bird

The class smirked. Sure, the baby’s flipping the bird, but the infant’s not angry. A baby has no idea that showing the middle finger might be an obscene or angry gesture.

However, the photo inspired another thought-provoking discussion. One student commented that he couldn’t remember a time when someone seriously flipped him the bird. The bird is seen as more of a “fun and friendly” gesture than an obscene one.

I had to agree. I can’t remember the last time someone flipped me the bird in anger! However, I can recall a number of times when friends flipped me the bird ironically or in mock outrage — and vice versa.

The context for ironic bird flipping usually occurs when you say something obtuse, challenging, or intentionally provocative to a pal or colleague. Your chum cheerfully acknowledges your japing remark with a friendly, ironic bird flip and a half-grin.

It’s all in good fun, and no one is legitimately appalled or hurt. Example:

Work colleague:
“What do you say we organize a company golf scramble for June?”

“Really? You still want to play golf after last year’s event when you lost 4 balls in the pond?”

Work colleague:
Flips you the bird with a twisted, tortured smile.

Don’t call the HR Department for harassment. Don’t throw fisticuffs. Instead, recognize that you and your colleague are deepening your relationship with a little smack talk…and a hand gesture.

Groovy. Epic. Awesome. Gnarly. Many words and phrases lose their emotional significance due to overuse (see Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words for more ‘amazing’ examples). However, we seldom look at gestures to see if they’ve lost their ability to provoke.

It’s 2012. Has ‘the bird’ lost its emotional power to inspire anger or outrage?

fun Presentation

I can haz mad communication skillz…

If you say you have excellent communication skills, you’re demonstrating that you don’t. Communication skills are self evident, not self described.

I can haz cat

Yet many hiring managers persistently write “strong communication skills” as a requirement in job descriptions. Sadly, savvy job hunters must include the vile term “excellent communication skills” in their résumés …or risk being rejected by an automated résumé keyword scanner.

The automated résumé keyword scanner is a nasty robot that scans your résumé before humans get a chance to review it. If your résumé fails to include all the requirements in the posted job description, you’ll get an automated rejection letter. A human being who has the power to hire you may never even see your résumé.

Therefore, in order to prove that you possess excellent communication skills, your résumé must demonstrate poor written communication skills. Blind to the finer nuances of communication (sentence structure, word choice, posture, tone of voice, etc.), an adroitly programmed robot will systematically reject the most exceptional candidates.

How Orwellian and twisted has job hunting become in 2012? And how might an excellent communicator get around the robot?

The fault lies squarely with hiring managers. Why put “excellent communication skills” in a job description at all? It’s not like “an absence of communication skills” would ever be desirable. And when HR departments use robots to eliminate people, don’t be surprised when résumés include spammy, meta keyword-loaded sections titled “FOR AUTOMATED KEYWORD SCANNING ROBOTS ONLY”. You asked for it!

After all, ‘audience identification & analysis’ is one of the first tasks a skilled communicator will perform!

design fun PowerPoint Presentation Presentation

Three vital presentation lessons learned…from a walk in the woods

For close to two decades, I take an almost-daily walk near my office. It helps the creative process to get out and clear my head. My office is located in an old forest. A creek runs through it, creating a sizable gully. I’ve seen deer, coyotes, rabbits, and all sorts of birds on my constitutional.

As one of the more civilized creatures, I walk on the sidewalk that cuts through the forest. No sense muddying my shoes on the way to and from work.

A few weeks ago, something new caught my eye on my daily walk. Someone had crawled down into the depths of the gully to place a red sign on a tree. The bright red spot caught my eye and raised my curiosity.

Sign from the sidewalk
The sign, as seen from the sidewalk

Squinting, I gathered that there were words on the sign. However, the sign was too far down the hill for me to read. An innately curious person, I simply had to know what the sign was trying to communicate. In a typical January, the forest would be filled with drifts of snow, making it near impossible for me to get close to the sign. Even so, the forest floor was filled with slick leaves, so I half slid down the gully to get a closer look. Halfway down, I snapped another photo:

Sign, halfway down the hill, with zoom.
Sign, halfway down the hill, with zoom.

Curses! I still could not read the sign. Determined, I continued to slide down the hill until I got a few feet away from the tree.

No Hunting or Trespassing.
I'm going to be prosecuted.

I felt entrapped. Twenty years, and I never once think to wander down a steep hill to go into the forest. A bright sign inflames my curiosity, and boom. I’m a trespasser.

Vexed, I trudged back up the slippery hill. A Pileated woodpecker gave me a stern lecture, then banged his head on a rotted tree top. The judge banged his gavel. I had been dismissed. Case closed.

What three presentation lessons had I been reminded of from my foray into the forest?

The unexpected will rivet audience attention. Breaking a pattern is a very basic way to grab attention. I was accustomed to seeing only forest: the red sign caught my interest because it was different than what I had expected to see. How can you break a visual or sensory pattern in your next presentation to grab attention and get your audience to take action?

Be careful with negative instructions. If you don’t want your audience to do something, don’t even put the idea into their heads. If I tell you to NOT think about woodpeckers right now, guess what you’re going to do? You’re visualizing woodpeckers right now, aren’t you? Yet, you had no intention of doing so… until I told you NOT to do it.

Take words seriously. If you want me to take your words seriously, how about making your font size huge and clearly visible? What about placing your sign (or your PowerPoint) almost smack in front of me, instead of making me peer down a gully or around a post or from the side or through someone’s head?

I’m pleased to report that the woodpecker let me off with only a warning. I will be doing no serious time or paying a hefty fine for my trespass  — other than scraping what appears to be an unpleasant mix of mud and coyote dung off the bottom of my shoes.