Category Archives: Tweak your Speech

They Key to Credibility is…

Empathy! Yep, that’s right–not credentials, expertise, title, or extensive research. The key to achieving strong credibility with your audience is to empathize with them. Why is this? Because, empathizing with the audience helps speakers achieve the type of true credibility Aristotle describes in Rhetoric:

“We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. . . his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.” Aristotle, Rhetoric

True credibility comes from a person who is “good,” a person of good character. Empathy, the ability to become your audience’s needs, wants, values, fears, and desires, is key to conveying good character. A presenter who can empathize with his or her audience is truthful–no one likes to be lied to; a presenter who is empathetic conveys his or her expertise–he or she knows her audience will trust a presenter who is wise an experienced; a presenter who can empathize will focus on shared values and goodwill–no subject is one-sided, all perspectives matter; and finally, an presenter who is empathetic has a good reputation–no one will believe a speaker whose reputation is questionable or whose intentions are self-centered.

Achieving each of these qualities: truthfulness, expertise, goodwill, and reputation requires empathy. But, how do we work to truly become empathetic speakers and humans? The RSA and their RSA Animates and RSA Shorts series provides a good starting point. According to Jeremy Rifkin, empathy begins at birth. We are empathetic creatures, driven by our soft-wiring by the “drive to belong” (Source). Empathy is what leads us to not only be aware of our own mortality but also be aware that others are mortal and fragile.

Dr. Brene Brown adds depth to this definition in her RSA Animates short, created by amazing animator Katy Davis (find her at Gobblyne).

For Brown, empathy is what “fuels connection,” the very thing that we are trying to achieve through credibility in the first place–connection from one human to another, connection that helps us bridge divides and conquer opposition. Further, empathy is a conscious process each presenter must engage in. It is a process characterized by perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in others, and then communicating that emotion. Our job as presenters is to make the world better for our audiences, and “what makes something better is connection” (Source). Credibility isn’t about credentials, expertise, or experience. It’s about showing the audience you are a good person–empathy is the key to achieving this goal!

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3 As of an A+ Web Source

This week is spring break at my school, which means it’s time to spend some time attending continuing education workshops, making a big dent in the Professional Communication and Presentation reboot, and working on creative projects (along with a small side trip to the beach and another to the Salvador Dali museum). In addition to working on revising rubrics and creating lessons for the reboot, I’ve been working on two new infographics. The first is a teaching tool I’ll use in class; the second is an infographic exploring the concept of superteacher, something both Alex Rister and myself have talked about before on our respective blogs. Today, I’ll share with you the first.

For many people (students, teachers, and professionals), the web is a primary place to seek out information quickly. The web is a vast source of information and can be a great place to find relevant, useful content. But, the web is also a perfect example of information gone wrong. Information that began as “truth” is diluted, repeated, degraded, and misrepresented. While most teachers encourage or require students to avoid web sources found through Google and other search engines, asking students instead to use library resources–books and database articles–the truth is, most students will still Google their topic, choose the first five articles on the first page of results and call it a day. I find that for students, research is often a cursory part of the presentation or composition process (I often hear, “I hate the library databases; I can’t ever find anything in there!”). They understand why they need it, but are often frustrated because they don’t have the tools they need to seek out the best information.

Now, some of this stems from a need for further instruction on what search terms to use, how to best use a site like Google to filter out unusable information, and a habitual belief that good information should be instantaneous (how often do you have a conversation involving the name of this or that movie star? how often do you simply look the information up quickly on your phone, landing on the answer in the first two or three Google hits?). But, part of what makes the process of researching frustrating for students is not knowing exactly what is a credible, worthwhile source of information.

Today’s infographic, “The 3As of an A+ Web Source” is meant to address this specific need–isolate specific qualities that make a source credible and present them in a way that is visually engaging but also information rich. The infographic focuses on three core characteristics of a strong web source: authority, applicability, and aim. Within these are other categories commonly used in determining strong research: credibility, reliability, accuracy, purpose, bias, currency, and audience. I’ll be adding this as a downloadable file to the current and future iterations of PCP. In class, I’ll pair this infographic with an already existing lesson on research that includes the deck below and a series of analysis and application activities. Note that this deck is specific to using sources in a presentation, though it could easily be adapted for research in writing:

Check out the infographic below, and feel free to share with others!

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How Eno Can Jumpstart Your Creativity

Brian Eno is one of the most prolific, creative, and influential artists and producers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Eno began as part of glam rock band, Roxy Music.  After becoming a solo artist, he experimented, grew his craft, and was responsible for founding and growing the ambient music genre. Eno’s prolific influence and impact are in great part due to Eno’s ability to think conceptually, to consistently evolve his creativity, and his willingness to think differently and actualize his wild imaginings.

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Image courtesy of cinetech

Eno was the first to introduce “chance music” to popular audiences; he produced work for greats like U2, Coldplay, and David Bowie; and his work extends beyond music to include art installations, writing, and today’s focus, “Oblique Strategies,” card game he created intended to resolve studio conflicts via randomness.  I learned about Oblique Strategies today and right away started thinking of ways I could integrate this into the classroom, specifically as a part of the creative process in presentations. For teams, Oblique Strategies helps put members outside of the conflict zone, which helps them resolve conflicts.

This image by Flickr user Rusty Sheriff is of an Oblique Strategies card. Seems fitting for sparking presentation-based creativity!

This image by Flickr user Rusty Sheriff is of an Oblique Strategies card. Seems fitting for sparking presentation-based creativity!

For individuals struggling with themselves (or their lizard brain) to choose or develop a topic, Oblique Strategies can help reposition that internal conflict, recharge the creative process, and lead to growth. Oblique Strategies decks are still rare, but lucky for us, there are web versions available. Oblicard.com is a random card generator available free on the web; it contains many of the cards created by Eno and creative partner Peter Schmidt. Next time you face conflict, whether internal or external, try generating a random topic. It could be the spark that jumpstarts creativity nirvana!

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Participation: Action Speaks Louder than Your Words

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One of the marks of an engaging, “naked” presenter is the ability to engage his or her audience in such a way that the audience retains, carries forward, and applies the speaker’s message. When an audience can move beyond passive absorption of information or even active visualization of an idea, that audience is more likely to not only remember the idea, but pass it along to others (whether it is through action, word of mouth, or influence). A message come alive in the audience’s hearts and minds creates that ripple effect speakers need to gain traction for their ideas.

There are many ways a speaker can achieve engagement and retention. Author Olivia Mitchell of Speaking About Presenting states that a speaker’s role is to nurture attention and transform it to engagement (Source). For Mitchell, attention is the passive reception of information; engagement is the active desire for more information. It’s active nature makes engagement “more valuable than attention” (Source). In the article, “4 ways to move people from attention to engagement,” Mitchell isolates four techniques that move an audience towards engagement:

1. Sell Your Presentation (show the audience what’s in it for them and appeal to audience needs)

2. Evoke curiosity (use the copywriter technique of “fascinations”, short ideas that tease an audience ala a magazine cover)

3. Be Bold (don’t be afraid of a little controversy)

4. Build Rapport (empathize with the audience and tune to their frequencies)

According to Dr. Nick Morgan, author of Public Words, audiences want an experience. They want to feel that they’ve been a part of something meaningful (Source). Audiences want to know you’ve taken the time to create a unique and authentic experience that differs from other similar experiences on your subject. For the majority of a speech, the audience is a passive passenger on a journey a speaker has carefully mapped out. However, as Dr. Morgan asserts, an audience is made up of people–flesh and blood bioelectric engines–audiences are “naturally active.  And if you’ve done your job right, they’re ready to give back.  More than that, they’re ready to get started implementing your ideas” (Source). To capitalize on this natural tendency to act, Dr. Morgan suggests giving the audience something to do beyond the cliche call to action:

“I’m talking about an actual, physical activity.  A modest one, but something real, concrete, and deliberate.

So, it seems that moving beyond words can help your audience not only retain information but can also tap into their natural tendency to act. This is the true power of an activity in a presentation. In Professional Communication and Presentation, I task my students with leading discussion for 5-10 minutes on a core topic for that day’s class. Each group chooses a discussion prompt, conducts research on the prompt, and delivers their perspective to the class. In the past, I gave students the option of developing either a discussion question or an activity to help the class apply the group’s idea to presenting. This month, though, I was curious to see if activity alone would yield different results in terms of audience retention of the concepts being discussed, so I nixed the discussion option, as Alex Rister did with her students. Overall, presentations are stronger, more memorable, and much more engaging.

Creating a strong activity is a subject for a different post, but all in all, the groups have moved their topics much closer to that action center by creating relevant activities that bring their perspectives to life. For instance, one group was tasked with discussing how to conduct strong research and what the difference is between credible information and unreliable information. They wanted us to understand that while the web has become our primary source of information and there is much information on the web that is relevant and worthwhile, much of the information we find on the web has been diluted and distorted from a primary source.

To bring this to life in the audience, they asked us to play the telephone game. One student was given a sentence to whisper into her neighbor’s ear; the neighbor then repeated the idea to the next student. The process was repeated until the last student, who then wrote what he had heard on the board. What the student wrote down contained a few of the elements of the original, but the specifics were lost, altered, or misrepresented. This brief activity helped the class see just how easy it is to get the wrong information on the web, where information is distorted, filtered, and amended the further it is away from the original source.

A well-developed, well-placed, and well-executed activity can be the key to true audience retention, internalization, and action. Consider how you can integrate activity in your next presentation. For a bit of inspiration, check out these 7 moments of audience participation from TED. My favorite is Jane McGonigal’s, whose game can literally give you 10 years of life!


 

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Want to Change your World? Present better!

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a current online student who works as a data analyst. She called to share her amazing news with me. After taking Professional Communication and Presentation this month and learning how to develop, design, and deliver a presentation inspired by the work of today’s presentation revolution leaders like Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, TED, and the Heath brothers, she was inspired to create a cinematic presentation for her company. Her task was to inform and train others on new software being used. She’d previously shared with the class that her company was firmly in the “death by PowerPoint” abyss Andrew Dlugan describes on Six Minutes. Presentations were tedious, forgettable, pointless, and sterile. But, for this student, being aware of these revolutionary ideas made it impossible for her to create yet another boring presentation.

Instead, she created a well-structured, well-designed presentation, and she delivered that presentation in a way that was natural and engaging. The results were remarkable. One attendee commented that in 20 years with this company, it was the first time he had felt engaged during a presentation. The student has been asked to visit other offices, present the information to the rest of the company’s employees, and even conduct future webinars based on her presentation. Not only was this student’s world changed by a strong presentation, but she has begun the great work of revolutionizing a company’s communication culture. This is not something that happened by accident or because the student was inherently already a strong presenter. A world-changing moment like this takes preparation, practice, contemplation, and a true empathy for a target audience.

If your ideas matter–if your business plans, your research results, or your cause are worth spreading–then design and presentation matter. –Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen Design

Within my own institution, I often hear students and faculty complain about yet another boring presentation, another bullet-riddled death machine, another wasted hour. It’s clear that audiences don’t respond to the standard operating procedure; however, in speaking to those presenting the information, it’s clear that they perceive what makes for a strong presentation to be a matter of opinion or preference. I often hear, “students love my slides,” or “yeah, Chiara, that’s YOUR way of doing it, but we are not you,” or “Bullets work for me; people need this information!”, or “I don’t have time to put into presenting; I’m already good at presenting.” Internally, sometimes I feel frustrated, as if I am a small voice in a giant void called the status quo. But, as an eternal optimist, my response is to try to share with them the irrefutable work of brain scientists like John Medina, the Zen philosophy of contemplation before action created by Garr Reynolds, and the multitude of case studies, examples, and stories that prove that engaging in presenting as a process truly helps propel ideas forward and is the only way to reach an audience.

Where does a strong presentation’s power come from? In part, it is the clear experiential difference an audience feels when they participate in a well-developed presentation. But, more than this, a well-designed presentation harnesses the power each and every one of us has to connect with another person, be inspired by an idea, and find ways to actualize that idea. As Nancy Duarte says, “Presentations create a catalyst for meaningful change by using human contact in a way that no other medium can” (Source). I am not talking about opinion–this perspective is designed to tap into what appeals to people, how people think, and what leads people to internalizing an idea. Creating yet another poorly prepared, cookie cutter, boring presentation squanders that power in each of us to be a catalyst for change.

Your idea becomes alive when it is adopted by another person, then another, and another, until it reaches a tipping point and eventually obtains a groundswell of support. –Nancy Duarte, Resonate

It cannot be denied–proper preparation, thorough content development, design-centered thinking, and deliberate practice are the keys to a strong presentationand a strong presentation can change the world. If you want to change your world, you must present better!

 

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Are your communication habits killing your credibility?

In studying the three modes of persuasion, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic and evidence, we learn that strong persuasion is about creating a balance between these three essentials to effective rhetoric, the art of persuading others.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

While the dominant mode may change depending on the speaking context, and while many disagree on which mode of persuasion is truly the most important, it cannot be denied that an imbalance between these three can negatively affect your audience’s reception of your message. Too much pathos and the audience may feel manipulated, too much logos and the audience is disconnected from the humanity of the topic. What happens when we don’t tend to ethos or credibility though?

According to the article “8 Conversational Habits that Kill Credibility” by Geoffrey James, credibility often comes down not to dress or decorum but language (also definitely the realm of logos and pathos). What we say can either show we are credible, trustworthy, and have the audience’s best interest in mind, or leave our audience feeling we are biased, pompous, or untrustworthy. So, what are the 8 habits you need to avoid to build strong credibility?

1. Avoid Shop Talk

Jargon may make you feel better and you’ll assume your audience sees you as a knowledgable fount of information and wisdom, your audience is over business speak. A colleague recently expressed his disgust at the word “followship” used as a replacement for “leadership”. Why do we need to redefine leadership as anything but what it is?

2. Avoid Overused “Truisms”

The cliche “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” was awesome…100 years ago. Now, it’s an instant sign to your audience that they should stop listening to you because you are out of touch at best or lazy at worst.

3. Avoid Fancy Language

Verbose diatribes infrequently engage participatory assemblages… in other words, the bigger the words you use, the less likely that your audience will listen to or retain your message. Keep it simple!

4. Avoid Verbal Fillers

Non-fluencies like “um” or “uh” can be difficult to filter out, particularly because they are part of our conversational structure, so from my perspective a random uh or um won’t necessarily kill your credibility. However, when they become so frequent that they are noticeable or when those fillers include words such as “like” or “basically”, they communicate to your audience that you are not confident in your message or ideas.

5. Avoid Statements as Questions

James calls these “upticks”. When one raises the pitch at the end of what should be a statement and phrases it instead as a question. This one is a subtle credibility killer. The raising of your voice can communicate a lack of confidence in your ideas and message. Much of our credibility comes from an ability to phrase ideas assertively and with confidence.

6. Avoid Doublespeak

The term doublespeak was first introduced in George Orwell’s 1984. Doublespeak is language that deliberately seeks to distort and confuse meaning. The purpose is to often make difficult truths more palatable (aka, lying by omission). James refers to these as weasel words–no one trusts a weasel. One of the biggest challenges of strong persuasion is presenting ideas as they are, no matter how ugly or difficult.

7. Avoid Blaming your Audience

Placing blame on the audience by way of a “fake apology” (I’m sorry you didn’t get the point) is disingenuous . It also shows a lack of empathy for your audience, a definite necessity of a credible speaker.

8. Avoid Useless Information

Often times, when we don’t know what we are talking about, we rely on information overload–a barrage of mostly useless (to the audience) information that works to actually increase anxiety in most speakers. Focus on audience relevance and audience centeredness to ensure your information is useful.

What is your biggest credibility pet peeve? Take the poll and compare your results to other readers. 

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Tweak Your Speech: 9 Great Speaker Habits from Business Insider

It always warms my heart when a former superstudent shares a link to an awesome public speaking, presenting, or design article (for instance, my favorite new typeface, Intro, comes by way of superstudent Alexandria Pham). Today’s “Tweak Your Speech” share comes from Bernardo Simoes. Jeff Haden, Business Insider, INC. contributor, and author of over 30 non-fiction books brings us his “9 Simple Things Great Speakers Always Do.” In this article, Haden shares the nine things great speakers do consistently. He draws from the expertise of entrepreneur  Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten in developing his nine tips. Three that are particularly relevant to the PCP reboot and to the course I teach in general are “reinforce who you are,” “time it perfectly,” and feel free to repeat.

Reinforce Who You Are

One of the best parts of a TED talk is when the speaker shares a bit of his or her story. Learning more about a speaker can help build connection with an audience.

One of the best parts of a TED talk is when the speaker shares a bit of his or her story. Learning more about a speaker can help build connection with an audience.

While Nancy Duarte warns Resonate readers against starting a presentation with too much “me-ness,” (Source) she also reinforces that the audience does need to know something about you–enough to help you establish your credibility, shared values, and common ground. van Zanten reinforces this in the article when he states that you as a speaker shouldn’t “overload everyone with information, but in one or two sentences explain how your background matters and makes you the perfect person to share what you’re about to say” (Source). Focusing on establishing credibility from the beginning of a presentation is key to establishing rapport and connection with an audience.

Time it Perfectly

Your audience can only retain so much information; even if you are engaging, keep it shorter than the time given to you.

Your audience can only retain so much information; even if you are engaging, keep it shorter than the time given to you.

Every public speaking and presentation teacher focuses on and values different parts of the presentation stool (content, visual story, delivery). While most people would assume that my main focus is visual story, in reality I value content development and organization most. Students are often surprised when I deduct points for both going over time and organization when they exceed their time limits. In reality, time is an indicator of more than just a failure of execution. To me, going over time in a presentation is an indication that you don’t care enough about your message or your audience to stick to your pre-set time limits. It also says to me more focus needs to be placed on organization and rehearsal. As van Zanten says, “[y]our primary goal is to entertain, inform, and make your audience’s investment in time worthwhile. Your goal is not to use up every available minute” (Source).

Feel Free to Repeat

Repetition reinforces and motivates. It's only ineffective when used to mask a lack of preparation.

Repetition reinforces and motivates. It’s only ineffective when used to mask a lack of preparation.

Another common source of anxiety for students and presenters is the fear that they are repeating themselves and how audiences perceive repetition. But, there’s a difference between repeating something because you have no idea what to say next or because you are lost and repetition for emphasis and for a purpose. As Andrew Dlugan explains in his analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream,” repetition can be a great way to build momentum and reinforce important ideas. Would we remember that speech as readily without the repetition of that key phrase? Maybe not. van Zanten provides another use of repetition in the article. Repetition helps you cut through that internal dialogue your audience is having while you present: “In reality, people hear about 30 percent of what you say, and of that they’re constantly translating it to fit their own perspectives or agendas” (Source).

Read the rest of the article and learn the other 6 things great speakers do here.

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What makes a STAR moment shine?

Your audience should always leave your presentation with something they’ll always remember. But, what does it actually take to create a memorable STAR moment?

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In her landmark text on developing persuasive and engaging content, Resonate, Nancy Duarte devotes an entire chapter to what she calls STAR moments, those moments in a presentation when an audience truly achieves shared meaning with a presenter. According to Duarte, a STAR moment should “dramatically drive the big idea home” (Source), and it should be a “significant, sincere, and enlightening” (Source) moment that imprints the audience so much so that they spread and share the big idea long after the presentation ends. In teaching this particular presentation strategy, I’ve found that one can codify and define the types of actions that serve as STAR moments: memorable dramatizations, like Bill Gates releasing mosquitos on a TED conference audience; emotive storytelling, like Jill Bolte Taylor’s dynamic recreation of her massive brain stroke; evocative visuals, like Lisa Kristine’s hauntingly beautiful images of a few of the 28 million people enslaved throughout the world; repeatable sound bites like Martin Luther King, Jr.s “I have a dream…”; and shocking statistics, like Michael Pollan’s revelation that 28 oz of crude oil go into making each and every one of those quarter pounders with cheese sold at McDonalds every day. But, I’ve also learned that one can define a set of qualities that all of these strategies embody.

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So, these are excellent examples of types of STAR moments, but what makes a STAR moment actually memorable? What is it about what these and other great speakers do that leads to that mental hook in the audience? A former student, Elianna Bentz, led a class discussion several months ago that really helped put the qualities of a strong STAR moment into an easily digestible format. A STAR Moment should be Simple, Transferable, Audience-centered, Repeatable, and Meaningful.

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Simple

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The job of the STAR moment is often to take a very complicated problem and break it down to its simplest, most human, most transparent form. Chip and Dan Heath believe simplicity starts by removing superfluous elements and getting to the core of an idea. They compare it to the way a journalist writes an article–the lead comes first, and is not buried by complexities (Source). In the same way, a STAR moment has to be straightforward and evocative. Take for example Benjamin Zander’s STAR moment in the TED talk below. To help the audience understand the technicality of music, he demoes what piano playing is like at different ages and breaks down a prelude by Chopin note by note. But, to help the audience understand just how impacting classical music can be, before he plays the piece a second time, he asks the audience to imagine a lost loved one. The first time I did this, I was in tears. I’ve watched the speech now each month for four years and its impact is never the same unless I succumb to Zander’s request.

Transferable

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A STAR moment cannot exist in the vacuum of the speaker’s own mind and heart; it’s emotional impact has to be transferred to the audience so that they can internalize it. According to Duarte, a STAR moment is “rehearsed and planned to have just the right amount of analytical and emotional appeal to engage both the minds and hearts of an audience” (Source). Bill Gates’ 2009 TED talk contains such a moment. After establishing the problem–malaria is a worldwide problem (200 million are affected), but because the people affected do not have the wealth and resources to stop the problem, not enough is being done. To transfer the impact of this problem to a room full of TEDsters, wealthy folks who cannot necessarily relate to or understand the problem, he releases mosquitos into the audience, stating “there’s no reason only poor people should have the experience” (Source). Brilliant transference!

Audience-centered

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A great STAR moment requires audience-analysis and audience adaptation.Why? Because without audience analysis and adaptation, how can a speaker truly know what will impact his or her target audience, what will push through the wall of bias and resistance present in each audience member, what will be easily understood by the audience? The last day of Professional Communication and Presentation is Ignite presentation day. Two days ago, I witnessed one of the strongest STAR moments. Shayna wanted to communicate to her classmates that while they are all a product of the environments they came from, such a truth does not necessarily mean one has to be a slave to that idea or to what one learned as a result of one’s upbringing. She began her presentation by describing what it means to be a slave; she wore chains around her arms while she described this concept. For the next two minutes of her presentation she established her big idea, used storytelling, statistics, facts, and examples to support her big idea. She then told the story of having lost friends and family to drug abuse and how these experiences led her to act, to break her chains. She then threw the chains wrapped around her arms down. The reaction from her classmates was audible–the air literally went out of the room. By the end of her presentation, she had her audience in tears, fired up and ready to take control of their destinies.

Repeatable and Meaningful

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Finally, a STAR moment (if it embodies the first three qualities) must be easily repeatable/describable and also meaningful enough that the audience must repeat it. According to Duarte, “a carefully crafted sound bite can work as a STAR moment–not only for those who attend your presentation, but also for those who encounter it second hand” (Source). One of the most beautiful, repeatable, and meaningful STAR moments of our time is the repetition in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” Dr. King, who spoke this portion of the speech extemporaneously and without a pre-written set of points (Clarence Jones describes the moment when King pushed his speech aside and spoke from the heart in this NPR interview). What made it repeatable was the simplicity of the phrase; what made it meaningful is that he was vocalizing America’s collective dream of the future. In order to help the audience visualize a positive future, motivate them to action, inspire their waning spirits, and tie the dream of desegregation to the long line of America’s dream, King repeats the phrase and follows it with what Nancy Duarte calls “new bliss,” a visualization of the world with his idea in place. This phrase has become part of our cultural consciousness in the United States and it helped reinvigorate the hearts and minds of King’s followers.

So, by choosing a type of STAR moment and then ensuring it meets the qualities above, you too can create a moment that shines on long after you say “Thank you for your time. Any questions?”

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Storyboarding: Four Patterns of Organization

Now, let’s talk about ways to actually take that storyboarding method and apply it to both classic and new methods of organizing persuasion. I am purposely avoiding the standard categorical style of organizing a presentation, in which you “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em; tell ’em; then  tell ’em what you told ’em” because, frankly, it sucks after watching 3 years worth of speeches mostly organized in this way. Most audiences respond to arguments that are structured around them and those that adapt based on context and situation. I find that the four following patterns help both novice and experience speakers develop effective PechaKuchas.

Inverted Triangle Structure or Problem/Cause/Solution

We will start with my pk, which I presented at PechaKucha Orlando, vol. 2.

My presentation is really informative and not persuasive, though I am asking the audience to accept my analysis of Plath’s “Metaphors” as truth.

I visualized my presentation as a triangle, as a shape that moved from the general subject of language to the specific topic of Plath’s poem. I moved from a general concept to a specific application of that concept.

In a similar way, students can begin with a general problem and then move into the individual real-life applications of that problem and the specific solution the presenter is focusing on.

This structure would be based on problem, cause, and solution.

Nancy Duarte’s Sparkline

I encourage students to develop a shape for their presentations, and we review Duarte’s sparkline as another example of shape. I referenced this in the previous post on Storyboarding, but I’ll go ahead and give you another chance to learn about this excellent organizational and analytical structure for persuasive speech. Duarte’s model essentially structures the presentation around this idea of constant contrast between what is, the status quo, the sucky competition, the way things are, and what could be, your solution, the intrepid solution, the way things could be. She also blends story structure and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey into this model.

Her sparkline happens to be the pattern all great speeches follow, from Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch in 2007 to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Were you to storyboard using Duarte’s sparkline structure, your storyboard might take on this shape.

In this case, SUCESS is Chip and Dan Heath’s acronym for an idea that sticks: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories

Criteria Application

Another possible pattern of organization is criteria application. This pattern essentially establishes criteria for a general idea and then applies that criteria to a specific case. It is a pattern often used when one is supporting a value claim, or one that is based on the relative merits of an idea.

For instance, arguing that something is morally right or wrong, or persuading us to see a particular film as the best example of its genre. Organizing what is essentially a supported opinion can be difficult–after all, some of this seems like an issue of preference or moral/value based judgment calls. However, using that criteria application pattern can enable you to take your supported opinion and present it in a way that is reasonable to your audience.

I use this example in class: “Volunteering is an integral part of the well-rounded college experience.” In order for me to prove this, I am first going to have to define what I mean by “well-rounded” and “integral” college experiences. I am going to have to establish some criteria. So, for instance, I could say that:

  1. A well-rounded college experience should help you grow as an individual.
  2. A well-rounded college experience provides you with valuable work experience.
  3. A well-rounded college experience increases your knowledge of others.
  4. A well-rounded college experience helps you contribute to society.

I would then illustrate and prove that volunteering can help add to that experience, in fact, it’s integral to that experience, providing you with what you can gain through no other similar experience.

  1. Volunteering helps you reach self-actualization.
  2. Volunteering is work in and of itself.
  3. Volunteering allows you to interact with a diverse group of people.
  4. Volunteering is community service–it betters society.

I could tell I’d taught those kids about unity and they’d listened when a student pointed out that this example was not very unified in terms of theme. I concurred, admitting I’d put the sample together quickly to give the class a visual example to hold on to.

Motivated Sequence

A final and very useful pattern of organization is Monroe’s motivated sequence. Alan Monroe developed the sequence or pattern for organizing information after studying John Dewey’s work on psycho-logic for human problem solving and combining it with our human tendency to be self-motivated and self-centered.

In pitching his ingenious ideas for ads, Don Draper uses Monroe’s motivated sequence beautifully. Check out one of my favorite scenes here.

In essence, people solve problems by first becoming aware of a problem related to themselves, then analyzing it’s scope and causes, searching out solutions, picking the solution that works best to solve the problem.

The motivated sequence follows the problem-cause-solution pattern, but it is focused on an audience’s specific needs. This pattern has been so successful in motivating action, that it’s basically the pattern we see in every infomercial and commercial. My favorite example? The Snuggie.

Want to keep warm but don’t want your energy bill to go up? Pesky blanket moving around too much?

The motivated sequence is broken up into these steps:

Hook–get the audience’s attention. 

This is the part in the snuggie commercial where the announcer asks you, “have you ever experience this…”

Need–isolate the audience’s problem.

Monroe indicates that we will not listen to an argument that isolates a problem we cannot see as relatable to ourselves. The problem has to correspond with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–lower level first. In the Snuggie commercial, the problem is both a matter of physiological and security needs, but also those of self-esteem (I feel better about myself; the Snuggie lets me read unencumbered) and even self-actualization (my snuggie stops the infighting between me and my family at baseball games, thus bringing us closer together).

The lesser known hierarchy of robot needs.

Satisfaction–the solution must then be presented in an actionable way.

Solve the audience’s problem by providing a tangible, practical, and doable solution.

To me, this spells satisfaction.

In the snuggie commercial, the solution IS the snuggie.

It’s a blanket with arms! Eureka!

Visualization–Monroe also realized that it wasn’t enough for people to hear a solution. They have to believe it works

Audiences have to be able to test the solution, see it work in other instances. It’s essentially the doubting Thomas step.

If I can’t see it, it doesn’t work, sayeth the doubting Thomas that is your audience.

In the Snuggie commercial, the visualization step takes our previously incompetent commercial family and shows them joyfully basking in the light of their own self-generated blanket-with-arms glow.

Oh, the joys of being warm, fashionable, and literate.

Now, it’s time to call your audience to action.

They understand what they need, you’ve provided them with a solution, you’ve shown them it works. Now, use the momentum you built to inspire action (Throw in an extra Snuggie for good measure)!

Garr Reynolds on Presentation Anxiety

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Digital Arts and Design teacher Suzy Johnson’s class. I talked with her class about the meat of the REAL Delivery approach, which is derived from both Nancy Duarte (my students know her as the fairy godmother of presenting) and Garr Reynolds (known as the master of Zen).

I chose the more relevant pieces of information for this group (and presenting this time around taught me much about how I’ll adapt the message to the audience in future visits–more focus on audience) and spent some time discussing the lizard brain portion of REAl Delivery. In researching yesterday’s class, I ran across this article from Presentation Zen titled, “Coping with Presentation Anxiety & Stage Fright”. In the article, Garr discusses the quickly infamous Michael Bay appearance at CES in early January. I’d heard my students talk about this derisively and then took a moment to watch the video myself:

I have to agree with Reynolds in saying that this is not really an instance in which to be unkind to Bay (this is actually much of what drives our anxiety about presenting–the idea that those in the public eye are somehow just naturally better at this than the rest of us). Instead, it’s more important to remember the three takeaways Reynolds highlights:

1. Presenting is not easy

Presenting takes in-depth preparation, contemplation, and deliberate action. It's only good if it's a challenge!

Presenting takes in-depth preparation, contemplation, and deliberate action. It’s only good if it’s a challenge! Click image for source.

For anyone. Every presentation is high stakes (Duarte 2008): the death or life of your idea, company, livelihood, followers’ commitment to your cause, and it’s your job to devote 36-90 hours of time (Duarte 2008) to pre-production, content development, idea visualization, and rehearsal.This is no small or easy task. Any and every one of us when placed into a particular context will face a challenging speaking situation.

As you become accustomed to public speaking and presenting over time you will grow more comfortable and able to be more natural, letting “the real you” come out. But if you are still quite nervous about the idea of presenting in front of others, don’t worry, virtually every confident and engaging presenter you see today was at some point earlier in their careers much less sure of themselves in front of a live audience. –Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen

2. Everyone deals with presentation anxiety

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The lizard brain or amygdala was early human’s best friend, but it can sabotage even the people we perceive as masters of public speaking. Click image for source.

The lizard brain or amygdala has kept us alive for a good long time and it’s this that kicks into high gear when we are faced with a public speaking situation. The lizard brain is what tells you you need to fly or run from this situation (or from the self-created anxieties related to this situation–the what ifs), but it’s also what gives your body energy and adrenaline to brave a difficult situation. Every single one of us has a lizard brain trigger point (unless you are a zombie, a robot, or a mutant), and every one of us has to find the way to push past that trigger point and be awesome.

3. It’s better to prepare well and speak from the heart than speak off of a teleprompter or script.

This is a common scenario--a presenter begins speaking and faces the crowd, as he or she progresses, the dependency on slides or script as security blanket grows. By the end of the presentation, the presenter's back is to the audience, the focus entirely on the teleprompter.

This is a common scenario–a presenter begins speaking and faces the crowd, as he or she progresses, the dependency on slides or script as security blanket grows. By the end of the presentation, the presenter’s back is to the audience, the focus entirely on the teleprompter. Click image for source.

The biggest single trigger of Bay’s fight or flight reflex was that he was reading a script and worse than that a script he hadn’t written himself. It’s impossible to feel comfortable in someone else’s skin–unless you have years of practice and training as a speaker and performer. For most of us, speaking off of a script (even if it’s our own ideas, there’s a lack of genuineness that comes from the way we write vs. the way we speak) or using someone else’s presentation is an anxiety-causing nightmare. Comfort and confidence comes from the sharing of one’s unique ideas and perspectives.

Check out the rest of the article on Presentation Zen for tips on calming presentation nerves and reassurance that yes, this may happen to everyone, but there’s a way to win in the end!

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