The 4 Most Important Elephants of Presentation

In grad school, a marketing professor insisted on an oral report. One student in class did not speak English as her first language.

When she gave her report, she began talking about “The Most Important Elephants of International Marketing”. We all thought, of course, that she mispronounced “elements”. After the first time, most audience members, including myself, merely smiled.

But after a few minutes, it became clear that she was going to repeat the word “elephants” — multiple times — for the remainder of her presentation! So our professor interrupted the speaker.

“Excuse me,” he said kindly. “I hate to interrupt you. Your speech content, so far, is very good. But one small thing is unclear.”

He explained that an elephant was a huge animal with a trunk, tusks, and floppy ears. The speaker looked bewildered.

So the professor pantomimed the trunk and made a strange elephant noise. The professor suggested that perhaps the word she wanted was “element”.

Down for a drink!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mara 1

The speaker looked embarrassed. She blushed and stammered. Trying to recover, she asked the laughing audience:

“So elephants are very big, powerful animals, yes?”

Of course, we all agreed with her.

“My ideas are big, powerful ideas. Just like elephants. So please continue to think of my elements as elephants.”

For the remainder of her report, she would say the word “elephant”, then excuse herself and carefully say “element”.

It became clear to me that she had rehearsed her report, and used the word “elephant” in rehearsal . For her speech, the wrong word was ingrained in her brain. It wasn’t going away any time soon! Nonetheless, she recovered nicely. She delivered a wonderful presentation, elephants and all!

I learned four unintended lessons from her talk:

  1. Practice doesn’t make perfect. If you’re rehearsing incorrectly, you can count on faulty delivery. Rehearsing alone is fine – but not forever. Get feedback.
  2. Mistakes can be endearing. No one thought the speaker was an idiot for making a mistake. The audience empathized with her, and found her mistake charming.
  3. Preparation pays. Even though the speaker bobbled one word, it was clear she knew her material. She recovered, and delivered a report that likely earned her an “A”.
  4. The unexpected can rivet attention. Because of one mispronounced word, I remember a 15 minute speech — 20 years later. Why not use a homophone — or other unexpected technique! — to make your next presentation more memorable?

What’s your most important elephant when you deliver a presentation? Or rather, what unexpected technique do you like to employ to make your presentation content stick?


PowerPoint Presentation Twitter

PowerPoint Pet Peeve: The Passive Voice

Which sentence do you like better?

  • A PowerPoint presentation was given by the CEO.
  • The CEO gave a PowerPoint presentation.

Both sentences relay the same information. So why do you like the second one better?

  • The first sentence is longer. It uses the passive voice.
  • The second sentence is shorter. It uses the active voice.

When I listen to speakers who almost exclusively rely upon the passive voice, I go a little bonkers. Why?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jacob Garcia

The passive voice is mushy and weaselly. It signals that the speaker is trying to hide something. When someone says, “Mistakes were made ,” I instantly want to spring up and scream, “By whom?”

If one more benefit shakes out of using Twitter, let it be a giant reduction in people using the passive voice. Active voice is shorter, swifter, and more powerful. It takes responsibility. It’s the stronger, nobler choice.

I have no idea why so many presenters use the passive voice. Do you?

And what are your grammatical presentation pet peeves?

(Of course, it might be a fun exercise to write your blog comments, exclusively using the passive voice. That might help me exorcise my peevishness!)

Presentation social media Twitter

How Twitter Can Enhance Your Presentation

Much ado over a Twittering Congress. Last week during the President’s address to the joint session of Congress, some members Twittered through the speech. Almost immediately, two basic attitude camps sprang up among pundits:

1. How dare they! Congress should be paying rapt attention, not providing color commentary.
2. Kudos! Now, the public gets to immediately know what’s going on in the minds of elected officials.


Creative Commons License photo credit: ydhsu

How dare they! The “How dare they” camp comes across as quaint, old-fashioned. Traditional presenters bristled with comments like: “if someone is Twittering during a presentation, it means that the speaker is not keeping their interest and attention. They’re failures as presenters!” Another “how dare they” comment reflected the cell phone disruptions from the 1990’s – remember the days when presenters reminded everyone to turn off their cell phones and pagers?

The kudos camp. People who embrace the Congressional Tweetstream are facing the inevitable: more and more people WILL Tweet during your presentation. People have been making color commentary behind the speaker’s back for ages — with Twitter, it all becomes immediate and public. And it’s not going to stop any time soon. In fact, Twitter backchannel behavior only going to grow and thrive. Instead of fighting it, learn to embrace it! Plan on it!

Three Quick Ways to Harness the Power of Twitter to Enhance Your Presentation.

1. Think in terms of one-liners and sound bites. Unlike a cell phone ringing, Tweeting during a speech is not disruptive. It is akin to a laugh line or an applause line. Think of it this way: when a comedian drops a one-liner, he or she waits a beat for the audience to process the joke. After the beat, the audience bursts out in laughter. When you give a presentation to a Twittering audience, you’ll want to think in terms of sound bites and one liners, too. Drop a few Twitter liners into your speech, then pause. Wait for the audience to process the thought. Then, resume speaking when the sounds of thumbs clattering away on mobile texting devices die down.

2. Plan for Tweeting audiences. Over at the Speaking About Presenting blog, Olivia Mitchell shares her experiences of presenting live to a Twittering audience. Ms. Mitchell outlines 8 key points she learned while presenting to a Twittering audience. Rather than reiterate them here, go read them! Olivia and other presenters are embracing Twitter, and inventing new methods to connect with a socially savvy audience. The advantages of connecting with your audience’s preferred way of communication are clear. The bonus? You can spread your messages farther & faster when you communicate appropriately for a Tweeting audience!

3. Devise hashtags for your presentation. Hopefully, your conference or meeting organizer will assign a hashtag for the conference. If they haven’t, make sure you come up with one that’s short, memorable, and unique. Encourage your audience to tag their Tweets. When you later search for tagged Tweets , you’ll get a stream of your backchannel commentary. You’ll know which lines worked, which didn’t, and which spread like wildfire. Hashtags let you more effectively spread your presentation to an audience beyond the room. Hashtags also let you critique your presentation, so that you can become a better speaker.
What other ways might you change your presentation style to more positively connect with a Twittering audience?

Presentation social media

How Public Speaking Can Make You Richer, Thinner, and Better in Bed

Bill Gates released a container of mosquitoes as part of his presentation schtick at the exclusive TED conference last week. Apparently, his gimmick intended to teach a privileged TED audience that mosquitoes cause malaria.
However, what happens at TED doesn’t stay at TED. Gates’ stunt earned major media buzz. The worldwide backchannel chatter is that Microsoft unleashes bugs on unsuspecting people.
This gives us two public speaking lessons to think about.
  1. Blowing Smoke: Outrageous acts and claims get attention.
  2. The Larger Audience: The folks in front of you may not be your primary audience.
Blowing Smoke. Check your email inbox – especially the junk folder. Flip on a TV or glance at a magazine rack. How many outrageous headlines and claims do you see?

Many of us are bombarded daily with outrageous claims. A pervasive part of our daily landscape, we suck in outrage as if it were oxygen.
Details? Features? Specificity? Facts? Information? Not so much. Those tend to get buried.
Due to overexposure, are many of us becoming just a little immune to this approach? Or at least more weary? A wee bit more skeptical?

Or are we as happy as ever just to know we’re going to be richer, thinner, and better in bed — never mind the nagging details about how all of these benefits are going to come to fruition?

The answer, of course, is apparent. People talked about Gates’ outrageous act — they didn’t chat about the facts and figures he presented to support his claims.
Are you with me, camera guy? Outrageous stunts and outrageous claims get attention. People talk about them. So they spread like malaria.
The Larger Audience. The live audience of rich people at TED wasn’t Gates’ primary audience. Gates got his message out to a much larger worldwide audience.
Similarly, the audience in front of you may not be your real target. How can you effectively combine outrage and social media to make sure people talk about your ideas — so that you can gain a much larger audience?
Remember the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Stephen Colbert was the speaker — and he gave a satirical presentation that did not, um, resonate comfortably with the live audience in front of him. However, Colbert’s performance quickly went viral online. His message reached a much larger audience that seemed to cherish his performance.
By combining outrageous acts with the power of social media channels, your message can go out to a much bigger audience.
You, too, can use social media and public speaking to become richer, thinner, and better in bed.
(If you really want to help someone with malaria become better in bed, consider the Nothing But Nets program)