Presentation social media Twitter

Why You Should Never, Ever Crowdsource Your Presentation Title

  • Intro to X
  • X 101
  • X for Beginners


What presentation titles could possibly be more overused? If you’re going to a presentation with one of these titles, you can be almost certain that the presentation is going to be every bit as boring and cliched as its headline. These kinds of titles are a red flag that show a lack of creativity and imagination on the part of the presenter.

In his hilarious + helpful book Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun states very clearly that taking a strong position in your title is utterly essential. In his chapter titled “Eating the Mike”, Mr.Berkum states that with a weak position, your talk may become…

“Here is everything I know I could cram into the time I have, but since I have no idea if you care, or what I would say if I had less time to talk, you get a half-baked, hard to follow, hard to present, pile of trash.”

No kidding!Presentation Title Do
I’ve had to fight these “Naming the Presentation” battles over the past decade. I’ll come up with a wonderfully effective and entertaining title, and the conference organizer will bill it as “X for Beginners”.

I hate it when my name and face gets positioned next to that turd of a title. I sometimes fantasize about clearing things up with the audience:

“I know you think the title of this session is “Introduction to Social Media for Conference Planners 101”, but that’s a misprint. That was just a description of the TOPIC and AUDIENCE PROFILE that I discussed with the organizers so that I could build a relevant presentation for you. The actual TITLE of my presentation is “The Top 5 Most Horrifying Mistakes Conference Organizers Make and How to Fix Them Fast.”

Yeah, I don’t say anything like that.

What I do instead: Happily, I learned an important lesson from Mr. Berkun’s book. I’ve been enjoying frank conversations with event planners about the importance of the title of the talk. I’ve made it clear that the topic, difficulty level, and audience profile may not have anything to do with the title we choose for the presentation. (They might, but they might not.)

For the moment, this approach seems to be working. Fancy that! Conference planners seem delighted to hear that the person they’ve hired is thinking about the audience, presentation content, marketing viability and title.

It seems that they’re a smart bunch that values professionalism and creativity.

What doesn’t work? Lately, I’ve actually seen speakers try to crowdsource their presentation titles on Twitter! How much of a bad idea is it to tweet:

“I’m giving a 101 presentation to a group of widget manufacturers. What should I call it?”

Honestly. Think about it. How the heck should someone who hasn’t seen the content know what to name the presentation?

I suspect that presenters who crowdsource their titles have constructed a presentation so generic and half-baked that it could actually be named…


How about:

“Here’s some crap I know a little bit more about that you…”

Make no mistake: Cliched titles and crowdsourced titles are huge red flags that the presentation is a stinker. Don’t crowdsource a title. Don’t go to a presentation with a crowdsourced or cliched title.

Instead, take great care to construct your presentation content carefully — and name your presentation effectively. If you don’t know how, read Mr.Berkun’s book. It’s a very entertaining read — but imparts helpful and practical advice along the way.

Presentation public speaking social media Twitter

How Twitter is Like Public Speaking

  • “I just don’t know what I would say…”
  • “I can’t believe anybody would care…”
  • “I think I’ll make a fool out of myself…”

Speechwriters and presentation coaches often hear these three objections from new clients. Today, I hear the same objections from clients when they talk about approaching Twitter.

Stage fright? It’s being replaced with Twitter fright.

It makes sense, in an odd way. Twitter, in part, is a public speaking platform.

It’s much more, of course: it’s a public listening platform as well. And it’s much less, of course: each Twitter utterance is limited to 140 characters.

Fundamentally, Twitter is a new and growing communication platform. Learning to communicate well on Twitter may be every bit as essential as polishing and honing your public speaking and presentation skills.

When I hear someone who has yet to try Twitter say,

“I just don’t know what I would say…” — I often ask them to listen first. Use Twitter Search to find people who are Tweeting about topics that interest you. Or use Twitter Search advanced to find people in your local community who are tweeting about local events and issues. It’s easier to enter a conversation that’s already in progress about something that’s inherently interesting to you – than it is to be the one to start the conversational ball rolling. Eavesdrop on an interesting conversation already in progress. Ask a question or show support. Later, when you’ve developed some rapport, you might find that you have plenty to say — and you’ve got an audience that’s more predisposed to listen.

“I can’t believe anybody would care…”
— Why is this so hard to believe? Here’s a timeless truth: people care about people they know, like, and trust. And people care about their communities. And ideas they find interesting. People like to discuss topics of interest with others. And yes, it sometimes includes recipes and food and music. Sometimes it includes humor, jokes, and talk about the weather. Oh, and from time to time, the conversation turns to talk about business. If you really “can’t believe anybody would care…” — make them care. Get to know them first. Get to like them. Get to understand them. Be a mensch. Get personally involved. Chances are, if you genuinely care about people and let them know it with a few minutes of chat or a link to an interesting idea, they will come to care about what you say.

“I think I’ll make a fool out of myself…”
— Don’t worry. You’ll make a fool of yourself at some point or another in your life. No one’s immune from foolishness. But the people who look like the biggest fools are people who claim knowledge without experience. As in the people who routinely say, “I think Twitter is stupid. It’s a waste of time, so I’m not getting involved. But I will keep telling everyone I know how stupid I think it is…” It’s hard to convince me that Twitter is stupid when millions of people use it to a) find real-world friends b) get breaking news c) brainstorm great ideas d) build relationships that lead to new opportunities e) spread news about great causes and ideas… and a whole bunch more.

You’re a social human being that longs to connect with other people. Twitter is a communication platform that can help you do just that. Don’t be scared or intimidated. You’ll find the people and ideas you care about being discussed on Twitter. Join the conversation, develop rapport, and start building relationships.

Feel free to connect with me on Twitter. I tweet under the handle of @maniactive

design fun PowerPoint Presentation

PowerPoint Deaths Climb in 2009: But at Slower Rate

Every year, I Google the phrase “Death by PowerPoint” (without quotes).

Exactly one year ago today, this “Death by PowerPoint” inquiry yielded 366,000 search results – over 4 times as many results as 2007.

Today, if you Google “Death by PowerPoint”, you’ll see 980,000 results — only about 2.7 times as much as 2008. The year-to-year death rate appears to be dropping.

The PowerPoint death rate keeps climbing — but at a much slower pace than 2007-2008.

Why do you reckon the rate of death mentions is slowing? With more people participating in social media channels, the opportunity to mention this oft-parroted phrase is increasing. Could it be that the phrase itself is becoming passe?

Yet why are overall mentions still increasing? Almost a million search returns – goodness! What will 2010 yield? And what will finally put an end to the carnage? 🙂

Presentation Twitter

Presenting with Twitter – Free Ebook

The Twitter backchannel is changing the way speakers deliver presentations. Twitter is also changing the way conference planners promote and manage events.

What do teachers, trainers, speakers, and conference planners need to know to keep up with these fast-breaking changes?

You can find out in a wonderfully written (and totally free!) ebook written by “Speaking About Presenting” blogger Olivia Mitchell. The comprehensive ebook, How to present with Twitter (and other backchannels) is available today for free download.

Presenting with Twitter ebook by Olivia Mitchell

My one-word review of this e-book?


Olivia gave me the opportunity to review her ebook earlier this month. I was absolutely blown away by how thorough, enjoyable, and helpful her book is as a guide for preparing a presentation or event. Chocked with great tips, if you are planning a presentation, speech, or conference at the moment, here is my 4-step advice:

  1. Drop what you’re doing.
  2. Visit Olivia’s blog.
  3. Download & read this amazing 62-page book.
  4. Discuss — how will the Twitter backchannel change the way you plan & present today?

PS – Be sure to follow Olivia Mitchell on Twitter @OliviaMitchell — she’s the engaging lady in New Zealand who frequently shares great ideas about presentation and speaking best practices.


How to Be a Great Audience Member

When I’m presenting live, I look for a friendly face in the audience. I like to focus on attentive, smiling, thoughtful faces. They give out a good energy that I respond to as a presenter.

Often, just one friendly audience member can make me a better, more confident presenter.

So when it’s my turn to be an audience member, I try to pay the good audience vibe forward. I feel that a presenter will do a better job if someone in the audience gives the performer “good face”. I try to radiate “positive face energy” to the performer. I make eye contact. I smile and nod at the presenter. If it’s supposed to be funny, I’ll laugh or giggle.

great audience membersI like to believe that if I’m a positive audience member, my face and energy will encourage the presenter to give a more enthusiastic performance.

Think about this the next time you’re in a deadly dull presentation. We often hear or read about improving our “presentation skills” — but what are we doing to improve our “audience skills?” How are we helping to co-create the presentation experience with the person who’s on stage?

What part can we play — as audience members– to improve the performance of any presenter?


Halloween Meets the Fear of Public Speaking


Two Tips for Curing the “Trailing So…”

Americans find the word “whatever” annoying.

They find it way more annoying than the phrase “you know” and “it is what it is.”

This factoid comes courtesy of USA Today, as quoted in a recent Marist Poll.


As for me, I have trouble with another pervasive verbal tic.

I call it “The Trailing So.”

Ending Sentences with SOYou might hear “The Trailing So…” in interviews and Q&A sessions. Someone asks a question. The subject answers, but instead of ending the sentence in a period, he or she ends with “so…”

You can actually hear the ellipses after the trailing so! For example:

Question: “How did it feel to come back to Michigan after living in Hawaii?”
Answer: “Hawaii is great – beautiful weather. I like the change of seasons in Michigan, though. So…”

The “trailing so” signals a weak answer, or that the interviewee is too bored to complete the thought to a satisfying conclusion. It’s often a sign that the mouth has started chattering before the brain has had time to think through the answer!

How to cure the trailing so. The first step to finding a cure for the trailing so is to become aware of it. If you find yourself ending a sentence in a trailing so, there are two common situations for why you might have let this verbal tic slip.

1. Habitual Offender. If you find that you’re a repeat “trailing so” offender, it’s likely that you have become accustomed to hearing it, and unconsciously let this sloppy habit slip into your vernacular. You’ll do well to take a moment or two to think through your answer to completion before activating your voice. Taking these silent moments can make you look more thoughtful and reflective. It sure beats babbling around in circles while you try to figure out how you’re going to end your statement!

2. Bored or Tired. Let’s say you’re giving an answer, and find to your horror, that you’ve ended with a trailing so. This is so unlike you, and you’re mortified! You may have done so because you lost interest in your own idea halfway through your statement. Or you may simply be exhausted. At this point, snap awake and firmly state this phrase “Let me summarize!” After you say, “Let me summarize” – quickly and strongly finish your statement as quickly as possible.

For example, “Hawaii is great – beautiful weather. I like the change of seasons in Michigan, though. So…Let me summarize! I’m enjoying the difference!”

The best cure, of course, is to be aware of the trailing so — and to avoid it by thinking through your statement before speaking.

What’s your cure for pervasive verbal tics you find annoying?

content ideas PowerPoint Presentation Twitter

Two Ways to Let Your Audience Co-Create Presentation Content

Your audience has the technology. They’re carrying smart phones. They have net books or note books.

So why not let them use their snazzy tech tools to co-create presentations? Here are two tech-driven ways to let your audience co-create presentation content.

PollEverywhere. Audience interactivity is a big part of the draw of PollEverywhere. You ask your audience a question; they can answer using Twitter, text messages, or the web. The PollEverywhere online service instantly tabulates audience survey results in chart form in your PowerPoint presentation.

PollEverywhereI used PollEverywhere in class earlier this week — it took me only a few minutes to craft a few cheeky surveys using the service. Downloading the poll as a PowerPoint slide (ppt or pptx) was a smooth, one-click operation. When students took the poll, results weren’t exactly immediate — I estimated a 15-20 second lag time before the graph started moving and changing before our eyes. Not bad at all.

PollEverywhere also allows you to ask open-ended questions as well as create bar or column charts. You may download survey results in CSV format, tweak colors and font sizes, and embed polls in web pages. This tool is very simple to use, yet fun and potentially quite powerful. Free for a small audience of 30 or less, PollEverywhere also provides more robust options with its paid services for use with larger audiences.

Twitter Hashtags. In the 1990’s, I would often moderate candidate forums during election years. To keep these town hall meetings civil, we would pass out index cards and ask the audience to write out their candidate questions. Audience members passed their written questions to volunteers who made sure that the most popular and well-framed questions were brought forward to my lectern.

Today’s audience may warm to a similar approach that is more transparent than using index cards. Why not ask a modern audience to Tweet their questions with a special Twitter hashtag for panel discussions? This lets a tech-savvy audience easily see the most popular and well-framed questions, while preventing boors from hijacking the Q&A portion of the program with tiresome or poorly-framed questions. Services like Tweetchat and Twitterfall let the panel and audience easily visualize the scope of questions surrounding the topic at a larger meeting, forum, or conference.

How else have you used technology to encourage audience interaction in your presentations? What works well? What doesn’t?

PowerPoint Presentation Presentation social media Twitter

How do you EARN attention when presenting?

“No computers or handhelds during my presentation,” barks a presenter. “I don’t know whether you’re playing games or paying attention. For the next hour, all eyes up here, on me!”

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ana Marta 7

I ignore this insane outburst, of course. I’m an adult. So is the rest of the audience. I take notes on my notebook PC. If the guy has something pithy to say, I might even rock it out on Twitter, give him credit, and spread his idea further.

After his presentation, the fellow rebuked me for failing to follow his pre-presentation command. I was being rude by typing as he talked, he insisted.

On the contrary, I protested. I was there to learn from him, not to pacify his ego by staring adoringly at him while he ignored the needs of his audience.

In fact, I told him I glanced up from my computer numerous times. I looked at his PowerPoint slides, but the text was too small for me to read, so I looked at him. His body language — back to the audience as he read the text from the slides — didn’t hold my visual interest, so my eyes went back to my computer screen. Because he was long-winded, he didn’t give me any short concepts to Tweet, so his ideas didn’t spread beyond the room.

I have an obligation to be a good audience member. It means that my mobile phone is silenced, so that I don’t annoy others. It means that I give back energy to the presenter — I laugh if something’s funny, applaud if I am moved, nod quietly with agreement, raise my hand to ask questions, make eye contact at times, or participate in activities or discussions when I am asked courteously. Otherwise, I remain silent and take notes.

As a presenter, I note that my audience is often texting or typing while I talk. They might indeed be playing games or doing something non-work related. They also might be taking notes, learning, and sharing ideas.

It’s not about me and my needs, it’s about the audience. A modern audience uses modern tools. As a presenter, I need to learn to adapt my style to fit their needs. Why should the audience have to pacify my selfish needs for their attention? Why should I force my audience to stop using tools that let them learn and share information?

As a presenter, I need to EARN attention. If I’m interesting, the audience is more likely to be interested. They might express their interest in a different way: years back, they might have nodded and jotted down a note. Today, they might nod and type.

Get used to it. Don’t churlishly tell your audience to PAY attention. Instead, be so phenomenally entertaining or interesting that they can’t help but GIVE you their attention!

How do you EARN attention when presenting to a modern, tech-savvy audience?


Just Who Do You Think You Are?

“Just be yourself.”

How many times have you heard this three-word bit of useless advice? Yes, you read that right: I wrote “useless”. Why useless? Two main reasons:

  1. There’s nothing “just” about being yourself. You’re complicated. You’re deep. If you were a rock or a piece of wood, perhaps you could “just” present yourself without thought to your audience.
  2. You can only be yourself. Even if you act as if you’re someone else, you’re being yourself. Apparently, you’re an actor. Or a con artist. Hey, acting like someone else might be exactly who you are!

If someone tells you to “just” be yourself, you might think for a second, “OK, then — who am I?”

cote Azur, France  1482

Creative Commons License photo credit: natamagat

You might find that you’re rather complicated. You’re a thoughtful, intelligent, caring person. You might also be a parent, a dog-lover, a teacher, a business person, a singer, a CEO of a thriving company, a practical jokester, a oenophile, a stamp collector, a martial arts expert, a gardener, a cook — yes, indeed, you may be all this and more. Or you may be something else entirely…

“It is well known that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’.”
-Quote from the Harvard Implicit Association Test Home Page

So, here you are. You’re this fascinating and multi-faceted character, and some vapid goofball thinks you can “just” be yourself, as if you were a bit of plankton or an amoeba.

You can do better. Instead of just being yourself, why not present your very best self to the audience at hand?

For example, let’s say you are a fabulous parent to two toddlers. That’s a big part of “who you are”. When you’re with your children, you take on a tone of voice and project an image that is appropriate for your tots.

Now take that same tone of voice and image that you present to your children and use it to give a business presentation to the board of directors. Or lecture to a class of college students. Or to talk to the guy who’s fixing your car.

Probably not so effective to be your “exceptional-toddler-parent” self for those particular audiences!

If you think you know yourself, think again. So let’s go back to the very essence of “who you are” — who are you, exactly? (For an eye-opener, I recommend taking some of the online tests at the Harvard Implicit Association Test. You may find out that you know yourself very well — or maybe not!)

Let’s say, for example, that you are “a thoughtful, intelligent, caring person.”

No matter which role you take on — parent, martial artist, teacher, business person, dog lover — these characteristics describe the essence of “who you are”. You carry these characteristics with you, regardless of the audience in front of you.

And because you are intelligent and caring, you might decide that your audience will be more enthusiastic if you decide to act like someone else entirely! Someone smarter, funnier, braver, stronger, sillier, dopier, goofier, angrier, more confident…whatever.

“Pretending to be braver than you are” is also a bit of presentation advice you’ll often hear — almost as much as that crazy bit about “being yourself.”

If you have to pick between these two bits of contrary advice — which would you choose?

And “just” how well do you know yourself– really?