Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Better Conference Presentations

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of providing a two-hour "train-the-presenter" workshop´┐╝ for the 9th Annual Opportunities Conference for the Ontario Alliance of Career Development Practitioners (OACDP). The purpose of the workshop was to provide those who attended with insights they can use to develop and deliver effective presentations at the conference.

Participants received a handout that provided a format for taking notes. An outside supplier recorded the presentation, which has been divided into number of sections and made available as mp3 files on the website.

Please feel free to take advantage of this article, the handout, the post-workshop information and the recorded files to improve your next conference presentation.

The workshop was divided into a number of sections:

  • Introduction

  • Developing content

  • Using visual aids

  • Applying principles of face-to-face communication

  • Mastering the skill of answering questions

  • Conclusion

The introduction set the tone for the workshop. The stated goal was to help participants communicate more effectively in the medium of face-to-face communication, so they can present more effectively, and thereby add value to the conference program.

Principles of adult education were examined, and that standard was applied to the "average" conference presentation. When compared to best practices in adult education, the question becomes: how do most conference presentations fare?

Participants were encouraged to obtain additional resources from the website: a booklet entitled Presenting With Ease, which provides insights into developing strategy, content and delivery for effective presentations; a workbook to accompany the booklet; and other resources.

Listen to the introduction.

Developing Content
This segment turned traditional content development 180 degrees. Often, presenters gather large amounts of information and put that information into the centre of a (literal or figurative) table, or a software program (most often PowerPoint), divide the information into sections, and present that information to the audience.

The difficulty with this approach is that it becomes impossible to adhere to the important principle of "less is more."

Instead, the approach discussed during this section of the workshop advocates developing a framework of six sentences that represent the entire presentation, from start to finish. And, during the workshop, this framework was developed for one of the participants.

Listen to the content development section.

Using Visual Aids
This is the smallest section of the handout that workshop participants received, and for good reason. When it comes to visual aids, less is more.

There are two important principles related the use of visual aids:
  • People cannot read and listen at the same time.

  • If faced with a choice between taking information through their ears or their eyes, conference attendees (like all humans) will choose their eyes every time.

  • Using a program like PowerPoint to carry content, and then projecting that information onto a screen and providing handouts of the same information to each participant, increases the number of distractions. This creates barriers between the presenter and audience, reducing presentation effectiveness and overall conference value.

    If a presenter does use PowerPoint, he or she should develop slides as the very last step of the content development process, not the first. This section also makes the point that role playing, case studies, simulations and problem-solving are excellent tools to help people learn.

    Listen to the section on visual aids.

    Principles of Face-to-Face Communication
    Every presenter needs to achieve two goals every time he or she presents: convey a message; and convey his or her personality. If the medium truly is the message, the presenter's personality is the window through which the message must travel to be received, understood and acted upon by the audience.

    Each of us conveys our message and personality every day of our lives in relaxed conversation. The premise of this segment, therefore, is that relaxed conversation is your best possible presentation style. It draws on skills you've spent your life developing. And it feeds into the audience's ability to learn and retain information.

    This section discusses one-on-one conversation and relates it to the presentation process by highlighting a number of principles. You must be yourself. The presentation must be two-way and receiver driven. Less is more. And silence is critical to your success.

    Listen to the section on principles of face-to-face communication.

    Answering Questions
    This segment examines the skill of answering questions effectively, both from the perspectives of interpersonal communication and presentation effectiveness. It introduces P-A-S as a critical component of conference presentation success, and outlines how many questions could be asked, versus how many tend to be asked.

    Near the end of the segment, the group discusses strategies for handling conference attendees who seem to dominate the Q&A at the expense of participation from others.

    Listen to the section on answering questions effectively.

    The conclusion wraps up the workshop and provides insights into improving overall effectiveness.

    Listen to the conclusion.

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    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    P-A-S: The Most Important Step

    After more than 12 years of examining the concept, and after teaching it successfully for more than 10 years, I am completely convinced that the most important thing we can teach presenters and spokespeople alike is to pause, answer the question and stop talking.

    First of all, it offers protection. If you've ever given evidence at a trial or examination for discovery -- and you were coached by a lawyer prior to giving that evidence -- you were undoubtedly told to pause and think about the question asked prior to ever opening your mouth. You were then told to answer that question and that question only. Then you were told to stop talking. (Although a lawyer may tell you to "shut up," the net result is exactly the same.)

    Does your legal counsel tell you to P-A-S because he or she wants you to reduce or eliminate your credibility as a witness? No, the lawyer wants you to protect yourself and protect your credibility.

    Does the lawyer want you to P-A-S so that you can put the case or organization at risk, which will then translate into increased billable hours? No. Although that's a bit tougher to answer, the lawyer tells you to P-A-S so you can protect the organization.

    If this advice offers protection in a court of law, why wouldn't it offer similar protection in a court of public opinion when someone is answering questions from a print reporter, or when a presenter is answering questions from a hostile community group, a semi-hostile management team or a board of directors?

    It can. And it does.

    But beyond that, P-A-S enables someone to communicate more effectively. Quite simply, by asking more questions the person receiving the information can create better understanding.

    About a year ago, my wife and I decided to put ceramic tile in our entranceway and kitchen. We were undecided about whether to do the job ourselves or to hire a contractor.

    One evening, I went to Home Depot to do some research. I had the good fortune of encountering a very confident young man who had obviously installed a lot of ceramic tile. How did I know he was confident? He did not feel compelled to talk endlessly whenever I asked him a question.

    In fact, he simply answered each question and stopped talking, waiting patiently for the next question.

    In the 15 or 20 minutes that we chatted, I bet I easily asked more than 100 questions. My 18-year-old son was with me and, as we were walking out of the store he remarked: "Dad, that was amazing. I can't believe how much I learned. I know exactly how to install tiles and what needs to be done. You asked great questions."

    Actually, I didn't ask great questions. I was simply given the opportunity to ask a lot of questions -- which I would never have gotten if the person answering did not P-A-S.

    We ended up hiring someone to install the tiles, so some could argue that he lost a sale and didn't achieve his organization's objectives.

    However, that's short-sighted. The reason? Based on that experience, my local Home Depot is my first stop whenever I'm even thinking about any kind of improvement to our home.

    The same applies to other situations. Want a reporter to trust you? Want the management team or board of directors to trust that you'll deliver? Teach yourself the same simple tactic.

    Pause. Answer the question. Stop talking.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Banking on Knowledge

    I had a conversation with Pietie Mackenzie of First National Bank Contact Centres in Johannesburg, South Africa, this summer about a project that earned her (and the bank, of course) an IABC Gold Quill award in 2006.

    The project began when the new CEO took over in August and had "an idea." If you've been in our business for any length of time, you know that "an idea" can sometimes be an opportunity, or just the opposite. In Pietie's case, it was an opportunity that turned into a fantastic launch event and generated long-term positive results in staff retention and customer service.

    The idea was for First National Bank to work with a local university to set up an education program for contact centre staff members that would enhance their financial services knowledge and ultimately achieve two results: improve knowledge among contact centre staff about banking issues as a means of enhancing customer service; and opening up a new range of career opportunities in the financial services industry to contact centre staff.

    To introduce the program, Pietie elected to use industrial theatre. A script was written and actors were hired to illustrate that there are opportunities beyond the walls nearest us, and if you shed light on a better future, there's no reason to be afraid of what you can achieve.

    With the fantastic results the program achieved, it certain deserved the accolades it has received.

    Listen to Show 4.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    City of Edmonton Flood Prevention Strategy

    In 2004, a major storm flooded over 4,000 homes in specific areas of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. To deal with emotional homeowners, the City of Edmonton hired Godfrey Huybregts, ABC, of Marcomm Works to assist with the challenge of communicating with those affected by the flood. The resulting program earned Godfrey, along with Romana Kabalin and Elaine Trudeau of the City of Edmonton, a Gold Quill Award from IABC and an Award of Excellence from CPRS in 2006. In this conversation, Godfrey talks about how the communications team encouraged the client group to listen before they talked, with excellent results!

    Listen to Show #3.

    Sunday, September 24, 2006

    How To Deliver Tough Messages Effectively

    Andy Szpekman talks about how individuals and organizations can use the challenge of delivering tough messages to enhance credibility and build trust. This is a recap of a workshop that he delivered for Communitelligence in mid-2006.

    Listen to Show #1.

    Reducing Accidents & Saving Lives at BP Lubricants

    This conversation with Jacqui Hitt of The JMH Consultancy discusses the IABC Gold Quill Award she earned with Jeff Davies of the BP Lubricants division. This communication program focused on changing behavior to reduce accidents and ultimately save lives. It is a perfect example of how to deal with what she calls "the fallacy of communication," in which people focus more on the message going in than the desired behaviors coming out. She focused on what came out and the result was an IABC Gold Quill Award.

    Listen to Show #2.