Employ any one of these methods to instantly grab your audience’s attention.

Audiences pay attention at the start of every presentation. They want to know the context and objective of your presentation and what they can get out of it—before they continue to listen. Even with a compelling reason to pay attention, they also want to determine if it is worthwhile to listen… to you.

stone-house-dockYou can determine when you have your audience’s attention simply by listening to their nonverbal clues—their body language: they are sitting upright, looking at you, alert, bright-eyed. Ever look around while presenting and see the tops of people’s heads? Their heads are not bowed in deference; they are fiddling with their cell phones. And not listening to you.

You must connect your audience from the very start, employing an engaging and memorable opening, and giving them a compelling reason to listen. An effective opening:

  • Captures, and retains, your audience’s attention.
  • States your objective and its benefit to your audience.
  • Previews your call to action—what you want them to do when the presentation is over.

Consider using one of these techniques to open your next presentation with purpose.

A relevant story or anecdote. Audiences love stories. Telling a story or an anecdote that is directly related to your presentation, especially one that makes the point you are trying to make, can be especially powerful and motivating (no ‘war’ stories though). Tell your story so that your audience not only hears your words, but more importantly, can visualize the story and action. In my experience, opening with a story is far and away the best start you can make. It is, however, also the most difficult.

Continue reading Nine Engaging Ways to Open a Presentation

Read more

Stories engage and resonate, and lead to successful, profitable presentations

Because I enjoy telling stories, especially in business situations, my first thought was to begin this treatise with a story about a poor method for opening a presentation so that you can learn how dreadful this kind of opening can be.

This opening, one that you probably see and hear far too often and most likely bores you to doze off, seems to pervade far too many presentations. But I figured you would be so bored reading about it that you would not even make it to the end of this first paragraph. Understandable.

columns-disneyStory. Instead, I’m going to start by telling you a story about one of the first times I ever gave a presentation, and how I quickly learned how to start with an engaging opening.

The day before, I was practicing my presentation in front of a valued colleague, Philip. So I started:

“Good evening. Thank you all for coming here tonight. It’s so good to see all of you. I’m excited to speak to you about…”

“Stop!” Philip exclaimed.

I stopped. And looked at him. “What?”

“Rich, that is just about the most boring way to start. Everybody is so used to hearing that crap, that they immediately stop listening.”

“But,” I protested. “I want to welcome them.”

Philip frowned. “And fall asleep,” he continued

“And thank them,” I feebly added.

Continue reading Open Your Presentation with Pizzazz — Tell a Story

Read more

Too many presentations focus on the speaker or the slides — focus yours on the audience

The best communication focuses on your audience. This is especially true when giving presentations. Too often, speakers are temped to call attention to themselves, thinking—erroneously—that they are the star of the show. Other times (although far less often), the focus is on the slides. While both are important components of presentations, they nonetheless must take a back seat to the needs of your audience.

Bottom line: you must discover what your audience wants and needs, then deliver it to them on their terms.

irifuneLet’s look at this from a different perspective. Consider the last time you spoke to a preschooler. Chances are you crouched down on one knee to bring yourself eye to eye with the tyke. You might have gently touched the child’s arm to establish a connection. You used the child’s lexicon, choosing your words carefully. You spoke slowly and enunciated clearly. All this to ensure that the child—your audience—would readily understand. In other words, you communicated on their level, focusing the conversation on their needs.

Follow this example when presenting. Focus on the needs of your audience.

Making your audience paramount is the most difficult aspect of your presentation. Your audience is not completely under your control, whereas you, the speaker, and your materials are. A little planning together with some hard work, however, eases the path. Here are some ways to better understand your audience, discover their needs, and connect with them during your presentation.

Do your homework. Invest some time to learn about your audience. Find out where they work and what they do. At the very minimum, find out what they expect to get out of your presentation; in other words, what are they going to do with the information you impart to them. When you know that, you can directly address that during your presentation. Discover what they already know about the topic, and perhaps how you can tap into that knowledge.

Continue reading It’s All About Your Audience

Read more

Your ability to visualize—to see— information greatly enhances comprehension

Anyone who has watched a teenager take driver’s ed can empathize—even if that teen isn’t your own. The angst, the “omg, not my car!”. That’s one of the beauties of driver’s ed: the teen learns on someone else’s car. As is my teen. Yesterday, when he came home from school, I was pleased that was the case.

“How was school?” I asked.

park-boy“Good.” (Don’t you just love those informative one-word answers?)

“How was driver’s ed?” I persisted.

Pause. Then finally, “It was okay.”

The story. Now, as any parent worth their salt knows, when there is a pause, there is trouble.

“What happened?” I asked matter-of-factly, cutting right to the core.

My son just looked at me with wary eyes. I could see that he was measuring his words in his mind, struggling to decide just what to say.

“The car broke down.” He ventured in a slightly hesitating voice.

Now I knew immediately that this was just the title of the story, that there was much more to hear. The question remained though: could I coax that story out of him? Worth a try. I had a feeling this was going to be good.

Continue reading Yes, I See That

Read more

The design of your communication must be on par with its content

This past June, I was attending my son’s lacrosse tournament. We wanted a down-to-earth place to eat breakfast. The locals recommended a nearby diner. Now you know what a diner looks like: silver façade, booths with plastic seats, counter and stools, coffee machines and blenders and that little window into the kitchen, slightly cramped. You can picture it, right? Sounded perfect, so we went.

breakfast-clubWe walked in and looked around. Lots of people, but no waitresses. After a few moments, the swinging doors from the kitchen popped open. Out walked an elegantly dressed man, tux and bow tie, replete with cummerbund and gleaming black shoes. He approached, bowed, and said in a proper tone, “Good morning gentlemen. Have you a reservation?” I raised my eyebrows. “Apparently not,” he intoned flatly. “Fortunately,” he said in a brighter tone, “we’ve just had a cancellation. Please, follow me.” Turning crisply, he walked toward an empty booth. After we sat, he pompously handed us each a stylish menu. Then addressed me formally: “Could I interest you in our reserve wine list? A crisp white would prove a fanciful accouterment for this lovely Sunday morn.”

Confused? Well, if this had been reality, we would have been too. When you walk into a diner, you expect things a certain way. But not this way. To put it another way, this diner’s look did not match its content.

A more pertinent perspective. A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far away), I was approached by a software company to work on their documentation. The docs were basic reference and how-to manuals, describing their menu and explaining their function. They were written by an engineer—who also had a penchant toward inserting references to popular cultural philosophies and weaving their ideologies into the text. Interesting since this ersatz writer-engineer took pains to make the context of these fairy tales relevant; most ended up mild rants.

Continue reading How Does It Look?

Read more

More and more, Web surfing, iPod listening, and texting is replacing reading

“Reading is dead.”

I had just parked my car in the local library’s parking lot. My seventeen-year-old son, who I just picked up from his lacrosse practice, happily sat next to me. Until I told him of my agenda in the library. That’s when he looked at me with that withering expression teenagers perfect, shrugged apathetically, and returned to his iPod earphoned bliss. As I was alighting to proceed through my attendant tasks, he exploded that ‘reading is dead’ bomb on me.

mirror-lake.rocksBeing a teenager, I thought he was just being provocative, toying with his Poppa. Except…

Ten minutes later, I got back into the van and laid down my materials. He looked down at what I borrowed, looked at me, and said, “See. I told you reading was dead.” I smiled. I had borrowed two CD audio books and a DVD.

“Okay, Mr Smart Teenager”, I retorted. “If I don’t get information from reading, how do I?”

Quick was his counter. “The Web. Audio and video feeds.” He paused. “That’s why YouTube is so huge.” He smiled at me. “You know, that’s where the computer shows you movies and talks to you.”

I had to smile at that.

What could I say. He was right: YouTube is the number two search engine on the web.

But as we drove, he backed off a bit. This was after I pointed out that he was exchanging text messages. “See,” I said, “You’re engaging in a dead act.” (Don’t you just love payback as a parent?)

Continue reading Reading Is Dead

Read more

An e-reader changes ones perspective on the ageless act of reading.

I received a Kindle for Christmas — a gift from my oldest son. He thoughtfully bought me the 3G version, and took the time to explain why this more robust version would be more versatile for me.

library-patronIt’s a handy gadget, especially when I travel. It’s nice too. I’m slowly getting used to using it. Still, it is a big change from reading a book.

Just like our cell phones, the Kindle (and any other e-reader) has taken a common task and, in some respects, made it much more difficult. To be sure, its features are far more robust than that of a book. Still, there is a learning curve. To begin, I had to sift through a rather extensive user guide just to learn how to use it. There is a basic skill set and an aptitude I had to gain before I could use it for its intended purpose: reading.

I find browsing for books online with brief summaries and small avatars a bit constraining, versus flipping through a book’s pages and easily seeing other books on the same topic at a bookstore. There’s a tactile part that is completely missing. But oh, is it convenient. I don’t have to travel to a bookstore, I can locate more books, no out-of-stocks, and get them immediately. (No café for coffee drinks though. Oh well.)

Continue reading My Kindle, For Better or Worse

Read more

Immediately impress your clients and prospects with strategic three-dimensional marketing

“The nut” arrived in the mail, as is, without a box, for a deep visual impact. The postal carrier was so impressed, she had to stop in and hand it to me personally. Why? Because “the nut” is a coconut!—a three-dimensional fruit sent to gain my attention. And that it did.

the-nutHand-written quotes from numerous famous and influential people cover “the nut”. Karl Schweitzer, president and founder of MobiRez, a client, colleague, and friend, sent me “the nut” to honor our relationship and to make an impression. For him, it was the perfect marketing device.

Consider, for a moment, the effectiveness of your marketing if you sent your version of “the nut” to tightly targeted prospects. It most definitely would be remembered; people would stop to admire and inspect it. It could even become the buzz of the office. On thing is for sure—it would make an impact.

Imagine sending these three-dimensional mailings to your current clients, to thank them. Karl wanted to further solidify what was an already sound relationship. That he accomplished.

Three-dimensional marketing. At a marketing conference a few years ago, one pundit told us of the value of three-dimensional marketing. “We’re partial to sending blocks of wood,” he said. I asked my Art Director what she thought of that idea. She said simply, “out of context”. She continued. “A block of wood has nothing to do with what we do, there is no connection, no context. What would be more effective is a 3-D mailer with a direct connection to who we are and what our prospects gain from collaborating with us.”

Continue reading The Nut as an Effective Marketing Tool

Read more

When at first you founder, persistence and determination can win the day

“Press on”, said President Calvin Coolidge. “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Recently, my son Torin and I were returning to Vermont after a week’s stay at Walt Disney World. We arose at 3:00 am on a Saturday to catch Disney’s Transport bus, to arrive two hours ahead of our scheduled 6:25 am flight (Disney’s rules) out of Orlando airport. We arrived at 3:45, in line at Continental’s counter at 3:50 — and waited until 4:30 for it to open!

north-end-alleyWe got out of line to sleep a bit in an alcove, only to find, 20 minutes later, that the line was now over two bends in the mouse maze. So, back in line again to stand, and wait. When we were third, a Continental agent approached  the first person in the queue. We overheard: “Where are you going?”

“Burlington, Vermont.”


“Hmmm. Let me look.” After a bit of rustling came “Newark”.

“Flight 193?”

Another quick look. “Yes.”

“That flight’s been cancelled,” stated the agent matter-of-factly, as if she was telling the time, then moved on to us.

I turned to Torin. “That’s our flight!” Torin’s eyes bugged out. “What!” He was incredulous. “What the…”

“OMG,” I muttered, looking at him, ours eyes locked, my mind racing, considering the ramifications, drifting, then coming back quickly when I heard the agent impatiently say to us, “I’ll come back,” and continued her walk down the line.

Over the next 45 minutes, our cadre of stranded Flight 193 passengers grew, while others continued to bypass us and check in.

At 5:15, finally, the counter, to get re-booked. The agent, continually clicking on her keyboard, hunting for seats, only to discover flights to Burlington were booked for the rest of the day — and the next — and Monday, and Tuesday. The next available flight with seats: Wednesday, four days away!

Continue reading Communication Sometimes Requires Persistence

Read more

Technical communicators help you every day; most times, you don’t even realize it.

Last night, just before dark, they arrived at my house in Essex, Vermont. Raymond and Leah. They delivered two cords of fire wood from their business property in Glover, a distance over back roads of about 70 miles. Now Glover truly qualifies as being in the middle of nowhere, however, I live on a dirt road that isn’t all that easy to find either.

When Leah and I made the arrangements for the firewood, I asked if she needed directions. After all, they had never been here before. But she demurred. “We have GPS,” she said. “Raymond relies on it, so I’m sure we won’t have any difficulties.”

tulipsAnd so, through the help of their GPS device, they arrived. Leah got out of the truck first, introduced herself, and shook my hand. She had a kind face, a quiet confidence about her, and was clearly in charge of the financial aspects of the business—she had a standard invoice form in her hand with the details of our transaction hand printed clearly. Raymond, a tall, slightly gangling man, ebullient by nature with a winning smile, came around the side of the truck and held out his hand. “This is Raymond,” Leah said. We shook hands. Firmly.

“So Raymond,” I asked, “Did you have any trouble finding my house?”

“Oh no,” he said with that Vermont drawl. “My GPS gets me anywhere.” He pulled the device out of his pocket and began showing me how he used it for directions from Glover to my house. The device was well labeled, with a clean interface and clear maps that directed him, without misadventure. Raymond was very proud of this GPS, and his ability to use it.

I thought, “Raymond. Thank a technical communicator.”

Continue reading You Can’t Live Without Them

Read more