Presenting to a Global Audience

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

As you recall, people with good communication skills have mastered three important skills.

  1. They are good conversationalists.
  2. They write well – clearly and succinctly.
  3. They are excellent presenters.

Today, I’d like to concentrate on presentation skills.  A while back, I did a podcast in which I interviewed Steve Roesler, presentation guru extraordinaire.  As we were discussing audience analysis, Steve had some very interesting things to say about presentations in a global economy, and the use of PowerPoint slides.

Here is an excerpt from that interview…

Bud:  Steve, you and I were having an interesting conversation the other day about some of the things that you’ve been seeing changing in your business as we become more of a global economy.  You mentioned some interesting things about a request that you’ve been getting as a presentation coach and how they seem to have changed a little bit over the past year.  And I think this kind of ties into the whole notion of audience analysis.

Steve:  That’s right.  As I recall back in the conversation, we were talking about the whole issue of global audiences.  In large corporations, and in medium sized ones too, seldom do we get a chance to only present to our nationality.  The whole globe has shrunk and we’re always talking with people from other countries.  Probably 15 to 20 years ago, I would guess that the bulk of the requests from global corporations were to teach people who were born and raised in the U.S. how to present more effectively to people in other cultures and in other countries.  In the U.S., we have a very kind of upbeat and enthusiastic, extroverted way of presenting.  There are certain schools that taught us to start off with a joke, that’s how you land the audience.  Well, that’s just not necessarily true, if you think about it.  If you look at how many successful comedians there are versus how many people there are walking the face of the earth, you realize there is a very small percentage of people who are genuinely funny.  But U.S. business people were going overseas or they were having customers come here and they were doing it the “American way” if you will, which works fine here.  But I’ve learned that we (Americans) need to do a little work in toning down for other cultures.  We also need to  pay attention to the amount of time other cultures may want to develop relationships before they get into content.  Well, that was 15-20 years ago.  Now the bulk of the phone calls are “please go over to Europe or Asia or wherever and work with our folks over there when they’re coming here for presentations” because we have so many people coming from outside of the U.S. to participate in activities and we want them to bump up a notch what their presentation style happens to be like.  And for both groups, it’s a little bit uncomfortable, it’s out of the ordinary, it takes them out of their comfort zone, but again, when you make the point that when you, as a speaker, really have to relate to your audience.  It’s your job to kind of put it out there first and make that relationship work, people get on board with it.

Bud:  That’s a great audience analysis point. It ties to the specifics of what you’re talking about in terms of presenting in a global situation, but also just in general.  As a speaker, it’s your job to be able to build a relationship with the audience – it’s not their job to automatically accept you.  Whether that means you’re someone like you and me who might go to Europe or Asia and be seen as maybe bouncing off the walls by some of the audience and we need to tone it down, or whether it’s someone who is Asian or European who comes to the U.S. and might come across as a little bland we need to make sure, they need to turn it up a notch.  In any case it’s important that you understand who’s in your audience, what’s going to appeal to them and be able to then tailor your remarks in that way.   That’s great.  Alright, so now, we have a pretty good idea of who’s in the audience, what they want, and I think now we have to say “okay, how am I going to put this presentation together?”  And I think, as I mentioned, I think most people will do, and I think it’s not such a good idea, is they sit down and they start doing PowerPoint slides. 

Steve:  I do have strong ideas, but we only have like 35 minutes left and I have about 3 hours of strong ideas.

Bud:  Give us a short one here.

Steve:  The way to start off your presentation is to begin at the end.  Here’s what I mean by that.  By beginning at the end, if you can visualize yourself, or even sit down with a piece of paper, depending upon what your style is, and say to yourself “I’m closing my presentation – what are the three things that I want people to walk away with from this presentation”.  And sit there until you come up with the absolute three, or maybe it’s four points that you want people to leave with.  If you can get to that point, you have mentally edited your presentation so that what you have are not only your closing remarks, but you have in those three or four points what the headlines are for your entire presentation.  So you can now go back and plug in the content under each of those main points.  If you have content that doesn’t fall under those three or four points, then it’s probably nice to know information and you don’t need to put it in there.

Bud:  And so this idea of beginning at the end, what I’m hearing you say, is that it creates an opportunity for you to be able to say to yourself “does this piece of information add to what I’m saying, or does it not add to what I’m saying”.  I mean, if it adds to it or helps strengthen the point, you say “yes, I’ll leave it in”; if the answer’s no, then you say “okay, I’ll leave it out”.

Steve:  You’re absolutely right, Bud.  If you begin at the end, you’ll whittle down and you’ll edit what the key information is and what the key points are that you want people to remember.  And try to remember this too:  people are not going to remember more than three to five things from you presentation, so you need to figure out which three to five items you want people to walk away with and 24 hours later talking about or remember or be able to include in their decision-making process.  If you put anything more than five in there, maximum, chances are they’re going to lose the audience.  So there’s where you begin, begin at the end and that will start the editing process and give you key points for your presentation.  After that, let’s go back to the beginning and in the beginning of the presentation, you’ve got to remember that, a couple of things.  First of all, you’ve got to remember when people are coming to your presentation, they want you to be successful, so for those people who may have nerves, which is absolutely normal, just remember that everybody sitting there wants you to be successful, they don’t want their time to be wasted and they want you to be good.  So when you get up in front of a group, you don’t need to worry about whether or not they want you to be speaking, they just want you to be part of them and to convey the information that’s important to them, so if you’ve done your diagnosis, you’re in good shape.  There are three things that people very subconsciously ask themselves at the beginning of a presentation while there getting settled in.  The first is, is this person prepared and is this person going to be interesting.  The second thing they ask themselves is the traditional WIIFM – what’s in it for me.  And the third thing they’re asking themselves is what am I supposed to do with the information.  So knowing that that’s what people are looking for, a way to start off your presentation is by answering those questions for them.  Now here’s what that does.  It does something for you and it does something for them.  First of all, for the presenter, here’s what it does.  All of us, during the first couple minutes of the presentation, have some nerves, and you should.  If you’re totally calm before you get up to speak to people, chances are you’re going to be flatlining during the presentation.  You’ve got to have a little adrenalin pumping there.

Bud:  It’s kind of like butterflies you get before competing in a sporting event.

Steve:  Exactly, exactly.  You’ve got to have a little bit of an edge going on.  By the same token though, that’s also the point of the presentation when, if you have any gestures or mannerisms that come out as a result of being nervous, that’s where they’re going to come out.  And that’s what people are concerned about, but we’ve got a way to make that go away.  And if there are two places in the presentation where you want to be totally scripted, it’s the first two minutes and it’s the closing of the presentation.  Well, you’ve already got your closing, so that’s taken care of.

Bud:  So you’re saying write that closing down.

Steve:  I’m saying write it down.

Bud:  And the opening too, I guess.

Steve:  And the opening too, and basically, with the opening, here’s what you want to do.  I know for business people out there you’ll have your obligatory title slide according to your company’s template, and the second slide should answer the three questions that I just said.  You know, what’s in it for me, why am I here, what are the people supposed to do and show them true your enthusiasm in the topic, what you’re going to be talking about and why you’re excited about it.  So you’ve got three bullet points up there.  First bullet point is telling the people how they’re going to be impacted by this, what’s in it for them.  For example, here’s what you might say.  You might say “I’d like to talk to you today about presentations and there’s three things that I want to start off with here.  First, what’s in it for all of you?  Well, what’s in it for all of you is…and at the end of this, you’ll be able to cut down your prep time by 50 percent and that’s a pretty good reason to stay around”.  So that answers the psychological question for people “what’s in it for me”.

This is some great common sense advice on presenting well from Steve Roesler.  Check out Steve’s blog at www.allthingsworkplace.com.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: www.CommonSenseGuy.com for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Bud

PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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