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Know Your Inner Dialogue

You have practiced out loud. You feel confident. You know the subject. You have answered the questions you may be asked. But you are still uneasy. Often you feel good before a presentation but part way through, you lose confidence and just want to get it over with and sit down.

Sometimes I see this phenomenon with the people I coach. I watch them closely and then ask, “Do you have a voice that is critiquing everything you are saying and telling you that what you just said is not exactly correct?” The presenter looks surprised and responds, “Yes.” Then I say, “This is what I like to call the overworked helper.”

I go on to explain that this voice feels it is helping. But, when you are in front of a group of people, it is only making it more difficult for you to relax and connect to your audience. The voice was essential during your practice, but when you are doing the talk for real, it must take a back-row seat and stop talking. You need a different voice that says, “Yes, you are doing wonderful. Yes, that was a good point you made.” Or more ideally, you need to still all inner voices and just have quiet inside.

Voices in your head? What is she talking about? Many of you reading this will know exactly what I mean. In a wonderful book called Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model, author Robert Swartz explains, “The point is that we have ongoing, complex relationships with many different inner voices, thought patterns, and emotions that are similar to relationships we have with people.” I see these voices in action as I watch people present.

Start to pay attention to your inner voices when you talk in front of a group of people. Are you hearing from the “overworked helper” or the “constant judge”? Neither one is good to have activated when you are speaking. Amazingly enough, when I have suggested to presenters that they simply ask their disruptive inner voice to pipe down, to stop judging and making sarcastic comments, the voice does calm down.

Let me add one caveat. If you have not practiced out loud and if you are unprepared, I doubt this voice will calm down. It knows you have not done the necessary preparation and is actually trying to help you. But during the actual talk is not the time for it to start coaching you with incessant criticism.

So do yourself and your nerves a favor. Check in with this voice several days before a talk and find out what it has to say. Just ask, “Are you satisfied? Have I prepared well enough? What else should I do?” You may be amazed that it will answer you. Do what it suggests and you will discover that you can be calm, energized, and confident when speaking. You owe that to yourself – and to your inner critic.

Use Dialogue to Enhance Your Story

I have been encouraging my clients to use examples or stories. They frequently just describe what happened in a given situation. This does not have the same power as creating a dialogue.

For example, Sarah is trying to convince department managers to stop using roaming plans. To give her discussion of cell phone charges more impact, here is what she can say:

You’ve said to me about these roaming charges, “But I’m traveling. It’s just a business cost.”  “Yes,that’s true, but you can change your phone plan so you don’t have to pay a roaming fee.”  Then some of you responded, “Listen, you may be right, but I don’t have time to figure out another plan.”  Here’s my response, “I totally agree with you. You don’t have time. Here’s a small chart. All you have to do is look at the chart and tell me the plan you want. I’ll do the rest. Just think of me as your drive through phone plan.”

Another comment I hear a lot is, “I’m not going to carry two phones when I go overseas. That is ridiculous and too much trouble.”   “You are right, I agree with you. You don’t have to. I have made a deal with our phone company so all you need is one phone for all your business, at home and overseas.”

I will be coming by your office to take five minutes of your time to figure out what works best for you. I guarantee in two months you will be saying to me, “Hey, you were right. This is not a big deal. And I see we are saving money.”

The dialogue makes a boring topic more interesting and fun to give and also hits home with your audience,

Next time you want to convince your audience, use dialogue. You will be happily surprised with the results.

Answer the Question Asked

What happens to presenters who are nervous when it’s time for questions? Often the presenter is simply too nervous to listen to the query, and just starts talking without providing a specific response. Or the presenter may not address the question at all, instead speaking about something else that is a “hot topic” and defending a particular position. Now the presenter is really in trouble: the questioner did not get an answer and a topic has been brought up that many people were hoping would not have to be discussed.

How do you stop this behavior? First, you must learn to ignore the chatter in your head that is saying:

  • What if I don’t know the answer?
  • That’s not a very good question.
  • The person asking me that question is out to put me down.
  • How dare she ask me that? I know what I’m doing!

This self-defeating internal dialogue prevents you from answering a question concisely and to the point. Instead, you should be saying to yourself:

  • Calm down. You know the subject.
  • People are curious and it’s their job to ask questions. Relax.
  • Answer the question and stop talking. Then ask, Do you need more information about this now?

Here are some other techniques that work, depending on the situation:

  • Sometimes you can rephrase the question a bit and inquire, “Is this what you are asking?” You can also say, “I’m not exactly sure what you are asking. Can you rephrase your question?”
  • Use a lead-in phrase to relax yourself. Try: “Yes, I know that has been a concern of yours.” Or “Yes, we are considering how to handle this particular problem if it occurs. Here is one idea.” Or “Your question deserves two different responses. The first response has to do with how we are working given the state of the project now. The second response has to do with how we will work when we get three new people.”

Finally, to be concise, to-the-point, and brief, you need to practice being asked questions and answering them, out loud.

12 Most Engaging Presenter Behaviors…to Keep Your Audience Awake

“I want to engage my audience,” is what over half of the presenters I coach tell me. Here’s what I tell them. First, many people in your audience are tired—probably at least a third of them just don’t get enough sleep. They’re sitting there hoping they won’t embarrass themselves by nodding off. Part of your job is to help them stay awake, to actually pay attention and consider what you are saying. Next time you practice a presentation, note how many of the following strategies you actually use. Then add a couple more. You don’t want your audience to look like this.

  1. Start by telling your audience what they will take away from your talk. What are three things worth paying attention to and remembering? One of my talks starts with: “When you leave after two hour workshop, you will know how to (1) organize a talk and save hours of time; (2) use my professionally designed slides to categorize information on your slides and keep your audience engaged; and (3) feel more confident and excited about giving a presentation.
  2. Speak less than the time allotted. When you begin, say, “I know I have 30 minutes. I will only talk for 15, and then let’s discuss what I’ve said.” Your audience will think to themselves, “OK, I can listen for 15 minutes.” Plus, they will be happy not to have to listen as long as they expected.
  3. Use silence effectively. When you are playing catch and you throw the ball to someone, you find yourself waiting—will the other player catch it, and how? You don’t throw ball after ball without looking to see if the person caught one of them. When you make a statement, it’s like playing ball—you have to wait in silence to see how people receive it. Don’t keep throwing more and more words without giving your audience the chance to catch each sentence.
  4. Pause periodically. Silence not only gives your audience a chance to digest your information—it also gives them permission to participate. When you pause, you non-verbally tell your audience that they can interrupt you. Your pause makes people feel comfortable—that you are encouraging them to jump in and speak. If you talk nonstop, you will never engage your audience.
  5. Emphasize key words. If you speak in the same voice tone throughout the entire presentation, no one knows what is really important. Make it obvious to your audience what they really need to pay attention to.
  6. Use numbers, and emphasize them. A person can pay attention better when you say, “There are three strategies to solve this situation. Number 1 is… Number 2 is… Number 3 is…” Every time you say a number, it reengages your audience’s attention and helps their brains to listen.
  7. Remind your audience of the benefits of what you just told them. I frequently say something like, “By using these professionally designed slides you will feel more confident when speaking, and you’ll be able to make eye contact with your audience because you won’t be reading the slides.”
  8. Add some emotion or humor to your talk. People can only sit and listen to someone spouting facts at them for so long. You have to engage the “child” part of your audience by using emotional words. “I’m excited today to be here to tell you some good news.” Or “The TEAM did some hard grueling work and came up with this amazing new way to visualize the product.”
  9. Tell a story that interests your audience. We all love stories—especially ones that have some emotion connected to them. Tell a story within 5 to 8 minutes of starting your talk.
  10. Say these words: “You, Your”. When starting say, “I am delighted to see all of you here.” Later on say, “As you know, we have this situation. First, you will hear some ideas and then please give your opinions about how we can change this situation.”
  11. Do something unexpected. One of my clients stopped talking in the middle of his presentation, blanked out the screen and said, “OK, you’ve heard enough of the possibilities of using this new program, let’s discuss your views so far.” The energy changed in the room. People started talking and came to some understandings before he went on. Another presenter passed out several products and asked people to talk about them.
  12. Give people “brain food”. Literally, give them food, and I don’t mean donuts. Here are some ideas: almonds, walnuts, cashews, small cups of bananas and blueberries, dark chocolate, small turkey sandwiches, yogurt (without the sugar), green tea. These foods will help them concentrate, which means they will be more engaged with you.

One last word: If you yourself aren’t engaged, then you might as well forget it. Find some way to motivate yourself to be excited about your talk—you can’t expect your audience to carry you or motivate you. You are the one in front of the group, so it’s up to you to bring the interest and curiosity into the room. You don’t have to be an over-the-top enthused presenter. By using these strategies, you can exude quiet engagement.
Which ones will you start with?
PS: You may think you do these things already, but until you record yourself and watch, or ask someone else to critique you, you may just be fooling yourself.

12 Most Ingenious Ways to Respond to an “Unusual” Idea

Frequently, my clients ask me what to do when someone in the audience brings up an idea that just does not make sense, at least at the moment. They really do not think it is appropriate to say to the person: “I don’t know where you got that idea, but it does not make any sense at all to me….. “ or “I don’t see how anyone in their right mind would think this is a good idea.”
So let’s assume then that the idea does not really sound viable and that you have managed to quell your initial tendencies to summarily dismiss it. How can you use this situation an opportunity to gain support from your audience? Here are some options.

Go for the logic. Stand in the logical way of discussing the idea.

  1. Ask for elaboration: “How do you see that working in this situation?” Let the person give a broader view of how this idea might work. Frequently, you may find the person does not have the view of how it might work in real life. Or the person may really have an idea you just never considered.
  2. Ask for proof: “Where have you seen that working in another situation?” Maybe they know about something you have not yet discovered.
  3. Ask for consequences: “What positive or negative consequences do you see if we go down this path?” You can ask this to the questioner or you can ask this to the audience.
  4. Ask for others to chip in: “How does someone else see this idea—any additions or changes to it that you want to discuss?”
  5. Bring up a goal: “Our goal is x. How do you see this idea getting us to our goal?”
  6. State the “big issue” you see with this idea. “At the moment as I consider this idea, here is one big issue that might occur. Would this be acceptable?”

Go for the “Yes, Maybe” and Feeling

  1. Agree diplomatically: “Yes, that is a possibility. Let’s discuss how we might carry out this idea.” You are sending a positive feeling to the person who brought this up. Most of us like to be agreed with before we are told that our idea may not work.
  2. Agree hesitantly with a feeling reservation: “I’m not sure about this, it doesn’t feel quite right to me but let’s go into more detail and discuss.” Here you are not giving a “yes” right away, but you are sending a message that you want to discuss this more. You are also saying from a feeling standpoint you are not sure about it.
  3. Agree with certain conditions: Add some detail that might make the idea work. For example, you might say: “Well, if you also do x and y, then it might work.” Then discuss whether it makes sense to do x and y.

Go for the opinions

  1. State your opinion: “In my opinion this will not work, but let me suspend that and let’s discuss.”
  2. Ask for person’s opinion: “In your opinion, do you believe we could really do this and make it work?”
  3. Ask the group’s opinion: “Let me ask the group. What are your opinions about this working”?

These responses help you establish an open commutation channel. You don’t want anyone to lose face.You don’t want to come off as dogmatic and not open to ideas. Use the opinion questions to separate the facts from the opinions. Be open because what sounds like a lousy idea can sometimes turn into a really good idea. The way to be open is to encourage a dialogue. Pick several of these ideas and use them next time in a meeting.

Talk and Add Value–Don’t Read the Slide

Talk! Add Value! Reading and Conveying Data is Not a Presentation

A typical boring PowerPoint presentation includes the speaker reading the slide and that’s usually about it. That is backwards. This upside-down pyramid shows how conveying the data itself is one small piece – and perhaps the smallest – of your presentation. Your task as a speaker is to communicate information that is not on the slide. Stop reading the slide. Start adding value and interest as you speak. Let’s start at the bottom of the pyramid.

Convey: First, convey your data, which may mean reading the numbers or text on the slide. You might tell your audience that the purchase of a new production machine will cost $500, 000. Most times you don’t even have to read the numbers; your audience can see them.

Add to: Second, add information to the data by telling your audience that this machine will allow the company to increase its inventory, which is critical because the manufacturing plant is now running at capacity. If you don’t add to and explain the number you are conveying, your audience does not know how to think or feel about agreeing to purchase a new machine.

Interpret: Third, interpret the data and give it meaning. Help your audience make a decision by telling them why the information is important and what it means to them. For example, your audience may be wondering if this machine really is necessary right now. You can help them make up their minds by stating, “The sales group is about to sign an agreement for an alliance with a vendor who wants to sell our products. We will need more inventory.” Now you are interpreting the data and giving it meaning.

Share your vision: Fourth, if appropriate, share a vision: “I know that this investment will pay off and lead to increased revenue when our partner starts to sell for us. They have already ordered more products than we have on hand.”

When you as the speaker actually “add value” to what you are showing on the slide, your audience stays engaged. The slide has the job to convey, but you have the other “3” jobs on the communication pyramid. To convince your audience, you must add to the data, interpret it, and share your vision. Then they will want to listen.