Powerful presentations, event with PowerPoint

This is a guest post by David Lindelöf. David obtained his PhD in Physics at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. From 2010 to 2018, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Neurobat. Since 2018 he has been the Senior Data Scientist at Expedia in Geneva. He shares his thoughts on learning, computers and other interesting topics on his blog.

I recently had the pleasure of joining David and around 100 of his colleagues at their annual off-site meeting. At the event, I gave a keynote address on public speaking. And Daire O’Doherty, one of my improv troupe partners, joined me and together we ran four workshops on the benefits of improv for business.

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Dear student of public speaking,

Have you ever watched a TED Talk and wondered how the speaker did it? How can anyone give a perfect delivery to an audience without notes? How can you speak confidently on topics frequently unfamiliar to the audience and share information that they will remember years later?

You can deliver a powerful presentation

It’s not an easy feat, but neither is it a skill reserved for a chosen few. It’s a skill that you can practise and learn—which is probably why you are reading this blog in the first place.

But perhaps you think that the powerpoint-heavy presentations that you have to give on a weekly basis have nothing in common with TED Talks. You present business studies, analyses, scientific reports and other “serious” subjects. You are even expected to provide a PowerPoint deck, compliant with the local brand guidelines, and which can be forwarded to those who couldn’t attend your presentation. It must be full of details, numbers, and text; a standalone document. Surely the highly visual, minimalist, pithy slides seen at TED Talks have no place in a business setting.

Surely, that is, unless you want your presentation to be effective.

My company’s analytics business unit, about 100 people, convened for our annual two-day offsite meeting in May. Remarkably for such a highly technical and analytic community, there was a strong desire this year to focus on soft skills. People wanted to hear about stakeholder management, fear of failure and, you guessed it, public presentations.

John Zimmer, the creator of this blog, was a natural choice for an external trainer on public speaking. He gave a keynote full of actionable tips and techniques to deliver powerful, impactful presentations—even in a business environment.

A lesson from Aristotle

I cannot give a full summary of all the advice John gave, but the one thing I will remember the most was the importance of having every single presentation contain the right mixture of Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion:

    • Logos: facts, figures, and logic
    • Ethos: persuasion through the credibility of the speaker (authority, expertise, trustworthiness)
    • Pathosemotion (stories, surprise, humour)

Most presentations, like mine, tend to be excessively burdened with logos at the expense of the other two elements. So the next time you give a presentation, don’t forget to establish your credibility and infuse your presentation with some human element. The latter doesn’t have to be silly, cute, or involve cats; but instead of presenting dry, boring facts, consider trying to tell stories with your data.

A post-event survey showed that John’s intervention (and the theatrical improvisation workshops his Renegade Saints troupe gave) were the two most highly rated events during the offsite. It’s easy to understand why.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 313) – Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet (famously known as Voltaire) (1694 – 1778) French Philosopher and Writer

“The secret of being boring is to say everything.”

— Voltaire

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Message from the Berlin Wall

I regularly travel to Berlin, Germany to work with a client there. My client’s offices are located close to the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, so I know that part of the city well.

It is always a humbling experience to walk along the Wall and reflect on what life in Berlin must have been like when the city was divided for more than 10,000 days. It seems like a long time ago, but the Wall only came down 30 years ago.

Today, Berlin is a vibrant city that bustles with energy. It is always a pleasure to visit. Recently, I made a short video about the Berlin Wall – and something else – with my good friend and fellow speaker, Olivia Schofield.

As mentioned in the video, the “something else” is Spectacular Speaking, a two-day public speaking boot camp where a small group of people will have the opportunity to give their speaking skills a major boost, working with four professional speakers. I have been a part of Spectacular Speaking since the first edition in 2012.

Over the years, we have held the boot camp in Antwerp, Barcelona, Cologne, Poznan and Warsaw. But for the past few years, we have made Berlin our home base.

If you are interested in taking your speaking to another level, why not join us for two days of learning and personal growth on 26 and 27 September 2019? We will cover storytelling, connection, presence, persuasion and much more. You will give short speeches to your peers and receive concreted feedback.

For more details, please visit our website.

Bis bald in Berlin!

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 312) – Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah – South African Comedian and Television Host

I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say.

“We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. ‘What if…’ ‘If only…’ ‘I wonder what would have…’ You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

— Trevor Noah

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A lesson from the Toronto Raptors

Congratulations to the Toronto Raptors! They are the 2019 NBA Champions. I am delighted for Toronto — where I lived for over 15 years — and for all of Canada. 

In a thrilling Final, the Raptors defeated the defending Champion Golden State Warriors 4 games to 2. For the Warriors, it was their fifth straight appearance in the Finals and they had won three of the past four years.

There are many reasons for Toronto’s success, but without a doubt, the biggest was Kawhi Leonard. One year ago, the Raptor’s organization made a bold move. In a blockbuster trade, they sent DeMar DeRozan — a fan favourite in Toronto and arguably the best player in the history of the franchise to that point — to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Leonard. (Other players and a draft pick were involved but Leonard and DeRozan were the centrepieces.)

A Bold Move

It was a big risk for the Raptors. DeRozan is an excellent player and was popular in Toronto. By contrast, Leonard had only played nine games the previous season because of an injury. Plus, he only had one year left on his contract and could be lost to the Raptors in free agency; indeed, the Raptors might still lose him this summer. And, there were rumours that he was not easy to get along with in San Antonio. So in a very real way, the Raptors were taking an enormous gamble for a shot at the title.

The gamble paid off.

Leonard shone. He had an incredible season and was a powerhouse throughout the playoffs. Other members of the Raptors played terrific basketball, but Leonard was the best. He won the NBA Finals MVP – the second time he has done so – and he led the Raptors to their first title.

Before the trade for Leonard, the Raptors were a good team. After the trade, they became a Championship team. They took a chance on Leonard and it was a massive success.

The Lesson

The lesson in all of this for public speakers? Sometimes, you have to take a risk if you want to take your speaking to the next level.

Taking risks isn’t easy. It’s not comfortable. But that is precisely where your biggest opportunities for growth are: beyond our comfort zone. So if you’ve been playing it safe with your speeches and presentations, maybe it’s time to take a chance and do something different.

For example:

  • Speak to an audience that is different from your usual audience.
  • Give a presentation without slides.
  • Be more vulnerable on stage.
  • Tell more stories.
  • Interact with the audience.

These are just suggestions. What feels risky for one speaker will feel fine for another. You know what feels like a risk for you. That’s the direction you should go.

So once more, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors! I will drink a toast in your honour. Now, if only the Toronto Maple Leafs can do the same thing in hockey!

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 311) – Simone Weil

Image of Simone Weil

Simone Weil (1909 – 1943) French Philosopher and Political Activist

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

— Simone Weil

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3 tips to deal with the room where you speak

When we give a speech or presentation, we usually don’t have any control over the room where we speak. We might be able to move chairs and tables or adjust the lighting, but in general, we have to deal with the room as we find it.

Last week, I went for a walk around the village of Collex in Switzerland where I live. When you walk to from Collex to the neighbouring village of Bossy, the elevation rises noticeably. Because most of the surrounding land is agricultural, you have a magnificent view to the south of the French Alps and the Mont Blanc.

If the sun is shining.

Which it wasn’t.

No, when I went for my walk, it was cloudy and a storm front was moving in. A wind was starting to blow and the mountains were obscured in cloud. It was too bad, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

It made me think of times when I spoke in room where the conditions were suboptimal or worse. I couldn’t change rooms, so there was no point in complaining; I just had to deal with the situation.

As I reflected, I realized that there were parallels between speaking in a bad room and going for a walk on a day when the weather is overcast. So I shot the short video below. In it, I offer three tips to help you deal with the room where you speak.

There will be times when you speak in amazing rooms and there will be times when you speak in awful rooms. Either way, the audience has to deal with the same room as you.

You must ensure that the room is set up in the best way possible. Then, forget about it and give the audience something that is worth their time.

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At the end of the video, you will see some information about an event at which I will be speaking in Berlin in September 2019 called Spectacular Speaking. I will be writing a post about it in the near future. In the meantime, you can learn more here.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 310) – Epictetus

Epictetus (55 - 135) Greek Stoic Philosopher

Epictetus (55 – 135) Greek Stoic Philosopher

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

— Epictetus

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4 lessons from my 20-year-old cat

Today, 15 May 2019, is a big day in our family. Our cat Pico is now 20 years old. A significant milestone. According to generally agreed conversion rates, if Pico were human, she would be 96. Most cats don’t make it this far.

In some ways, Pico is showing her age. She is about 90% deaf; her hips and spine are bony; and she occasionally yowls a plaintiff moan at nothing in particular. Nevertheless, overall she is in great shape. She eats well; her eyesight is excellent; she still goes outside in the backyard; she can still dart up and down the stairs when she wants; and she is still incredibly social. 

We got Pico as a kitten from a former colleague. I had never had a cat before and I did not consider myself to be a cat person. Twenty years later, that has changed.

I still love dogs, but cats will always have a special place in my heart. That’s why I get a kick out of this scene from Meet the Parents in which Robert De Niro sets Ben Stiller straight on the issue of cats and dogs.

Pico has given us a lot of joy over the years. In many ways, she has also been a great example. If you observe cats long enough, you can learn a lot from them. Here are four lessons from Pico that will benefit any public speaker.

Focus

cat

When she was younger, Pico was a champion hunter. Over the years she has caught countless bugs, dozens of mice, five or six birds, and two bats. (She caught the bats while prowling along the rooftop at night and brought them back — alive — into the house through the skylight. This meant that I got to catch the bats in the house and then release them outside.)

Whenever Pico spotted prey, she would focus 100% on it as she slowly stalked it. She doesn’t hunt much these days, but her focus is as keen as ever. When she sees a bird or another cat or even a human, she is completely focused on them. She will look out the same window she has looked out for 20 years and still find something to focus on.

As speakers, we need to bring the same intensity of focus every time we step on stage. We need to forget about ourselves and focus 100% on the audience. When we do that, we become engaged, we become much more natural on stage and we have a better chance to make an impact.

Curiosity

Put anything new where Pico can reach it and she will be all over it. She’ll walk around, sniff it, scratch it, bat at it. Pull open dresser drawer or closet door and in she goes. Her curiosity is extraordinary. She is always interested in new things.

I admire her curiosity. It’s good to be curious. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent; I am only passionately curious.” Well, if it’s good enough for Pico (and Einstein), it’s good enough for me.

Whenever I have the time, I try new things, read from a wide range of sources on an eclectic range of subjects, watch different documentaries and try to meet new people. That’s how you learn. And learning new things makes you a more interesting speaker.

I have been able to incorporate ideas in this blog from sources as diverse as fashion, rock climbing, furniture, technology and now, my cat.

If you want to be a better speaker, stay curious. Read trade magazines; keep abreast of the news; learn a new skill; visit a new country if you can; and have meaningful conversations. Every bit of knowledge is something that you can draw on for your speeches and presentations.

Persistence

We have an alarm clock at home but we don’t need it. We have Pico.

When it’s 5:15, you can be sure that she will be scratching on your door or, if the door is open, jumping on the bed and meowing a storm. Because she’s hungry and damn it, she wants to eat.

She’ll meow non-stop for five minutes and if you refuse to move, she’ll leave for a minute or two, lull you into a false sense of security and then come back and meow non-stop for another five minutes. Let’s just say that I have become an early riser out of habit.

Pico the cat

Public speakers need to be persistent as well. We need to work constantly to perfect our craft. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

It might be speaking about a new subject or to a new audience. It could be mastering a new technology such as slide presentation software or interactive polls. Or it might be overcoming a bad habit such as speaking too fast. There is always room for improvement and we have to work for that improvement. But it requires persistence.

Sleep

On average, cats sleep 15 or 16 hours a day. Some sleep even more. Pico is every inch a cat. Sometimes she just has a light “cat nap” and can be easily awakened; sometimes she is in such a deep sleep that you can pet her a long time and she won’t budge. But she does get her sleep.

Sleeping catSleeping cat Sleeping cat Sleeping cat

For years, I thought it was a sign of weakness to have to sleep. I could not have been more wrong. Numerous studies and articles show that getting sufficient sleep — 7 to 8 hours a night — is critical for good performance. 

I don’t always get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, but in general I do. I also take a 20- to 25-minute nap in the afternoon if my schedule permits. It’s just enough sleep to recharge for the afternoon and evening.

Getting sufficient sleep before a speaking engagement is important. You will be sharper and more present if you are rested. My advice for the night before a big speech or presentation is to get 30 minutes more sleep than usual in order to be well rested. And if your speech is in the evening, try to take a nap in the afternoon if you can.

If you are nervous about the speech and are having trouble falling asleep, here are some tips that can help:

    • Have a light supper.
  •  
    • Avoid the computer or your smartphone or the television for at least one hour before you go to bed.
  •  
    • Take a warm bath or shower.
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    • Drink herbal tea.
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    • Read fiction.
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    • Meditate.
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    • Have warm blankets but cool air in the room.

There’s much more that I could tell you about Pico, but these four characteristics: focus; curiosity; persistence; and sleep will stand any speaker in good stead.

Happy Birthday, little cat. May you have many more!

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Transitions in a speech or presentation

Arrow transition

Have you ever been in the audience listening to a speaker and found yourself lost? You weren’t exactly sure where the speaker was going or how the different points in a speech were connected?

There are many possible reasons for such a situation, but one of them is faulty, or non-existent, transitions.

What is a transition?

Transitions are words or sentences that help your audience understand the flow of your speech or presentation. They make it easy for your audience to follow along.

A transition is a signpost that tells the audience where you are going, just like signposts along the highway tell you which direction you are heading. When a speaker says, “You’ve seen what the product can do, let’s now look at market opportunity”, the audience knows that the speaker is leaving one topic and moving on to the next.

A transition can be a single word or a phrase or even a sentence or two. It connects one idea to another and helps the audience follow along. Never forget the curse of knowledge. Things that are obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to your audience. Transitions can help.

Types of Transitions

There are many types of transitions in a speech or presentation. Below are some of the most common ones, with examples.

The overview

This transition is used to go from the opening of a talk (during which you should have grabbed the audience’s attention) to the main part.

    • Today, we will look at the reasons for [X] and what we can do about it.
  •  
    • In the next 45 minutes, I will share with you four ways that you can [X].
  •  
    • As a team, we need to [X] for the following three reasons …

Moving between main points

These transitions are used to signal a change between one point and another. Too often, they are absent and the different points blur together.

    • The first reason is [X] …; the second reason is [Y] …; the third reason is [Z] …
  •  
    • Now that we’ve seen the problem, let’s examine what we can do to solve it.
  •  
    • That was the past; let’s look at what we have planned for the future.

Comparison of similar ideas

Sometimes you will want to compare ideas that are the same or similar. A simple transition can help.

    • Likewise …
  •  
    • Similarly …
  •  
    • In the same manner …
    • In the same way …
    • We can also see this …

Comparison contrasting ideas

When comparing contrasting or conflicting ideas, transitions are important to signal a counterargument.

    • However …
    • But …
  •  
    • On the other hand …
  •  
    • On the contrary …
  •  
    • Nevertheless …
  •  
    • Notwithstanding the forgoing …

Expanding on a point

If you use several reasons to support a point, transitions such as these are useful:

    • Furthermore …
  •  
    • In addition …
  •  
    • On top of the that …
    • Also …

For emphasis

When you reach a key moment in your presentation, it is essential that the audience understand how important it is.

    • And the most important reason is …
  •  
    • Most importantly …
  •  
    • Even if we put aside all the other reasons …
  •  
    • Above all else …

Discussing consequences

If you are discussing a causal relationship between two things or events, use transitions such as the following:

    • Therefore …
  •  
    • As a result …
  •  
    • As a consequence …
  •  
    • For these reasons …

To conclude

It is important to transition smoothly from the main body of your speech or presentation to the conclusion. Depending on how long or complex your talk was, you may wish to repeat the main points that you covered.

    • In conclusion …
  •  
    • In summary …
  •  
    • To sum up …
  •  
    • I’d like to leave you with …

A word about team presentations

Transitions in a team presentation are important and something that must be practiced. Why? Because the way in which a team performs on stage sends a signal to the audience about the cohesiveness of the team members.

I tell my clients that when the audience watches a team presentation, it wants to see one team, not two or three or four individuals. Yet mistakes are made all the time.

Too often, a speaker will finish his part of the presentation and just signal to his partner to come on stage without a word. Or he will say something banal such as, “I’ll now hand over to my colleague.” It doesn’t look good and it can easily be avoided.

The key points to cover in a transition to the another speaker are as follows:

    • Brief conclusion of your part
  •  
    • Name and position of the next speaker
      • if speaking to an audience of strangers, use the first and last name
      • if speaking to an audience that already knows the team, you can drop the last name and possibly the position
  •  
    • Brief statement about what they will cover

A good format is as follows: “I’ve shown you [X]. I’d like to hand over to [NAME and POSITION] to talk about [Y].

Here are some examples:

    • “I’ve shown you the challenges that the new legislation poses. Sara Jones, the Head of our Accounting Department, will discuss the steps we’ve taken to adapt.”
  •  
    • “Now that you’ve heard the reasons for the office move, I’d like to invite Martin Smith, our logistics expert, to explain what we have to do next.”
  •  
    • “I’ve set out the cost-benefit analysis of the first option. Melanie will now do the same for the second option.”

“In conclusion”

Transitions in a speech or presentation are like the stitching in a fine suit or dress. They take up a relatively small part of the whole and when they work well, you don’t really notice them. But when they are loose and of poor quality, they stick out.

You want your suit or dress to be stitched together properly. You should want the same thing for your speech or presentation.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 309) – Pablo Picasso

Phote of Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Spanish Painter, Sculptor and Poet

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Pablo Picasso

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 308) – Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek speaking

Simon Sinek – British-American Author and Motivational Speaker

“We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”

— Simon Sinek

Photo courtesy of StartwithWhy
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