Tag Archives: preparation

Participation: Action Speaks Louder than Your Words


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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Do you Ignite?



This week, my students will be organizing, designing, and delivering their Ignite presentations. Ignite is a speedy, fixed-format presentation similar to PechaKucha. The differences between the structure of the two types are minimal. PechaKucha was envisioned by Astrid Kline and Mark Dytham, two designers working in Japan, as a way for artists and designers to share their ideas. The basic stipulation of a PK is that it be 20 slides, each timed to automatically move forward after 20 seconds for a total of six minutes, 40 seconds. PK has grown to become a worldwide phenomenon. I had the pleasure of presenting at PechaKucha Night Orlando vol. 2 and the experience changed how I think about and approach presentations. Ignite was developed by O’Reilly Media and is dubbed the “nerd” presentation. Ignite topics tend to be less artistic and more scientific. Ignite’s only stipulation is 20 slides, each timed to automatically move forward after 15 seconds for a total of five minutes. While Ignite is not as prolific as PechaKucha, it is also performed in over 100 cities worldwide.

Ignites are characterized by three important qualities:

1. Ignites are story-driven



The best Ignites are structured as stories, the story of how the presenter recovered from a concussion by making it a game, as in the case of Jane McGonigal’s the concussion slayer.

2. Ignites are original



Just like PechaKucha, it is more important for an Ignite presentation to be utterly original and unique in focus. There are no “legalize marijuana” Ignites. Sorry, that’s played out! Instead, presenters talk about a range of topics from flash mobs and giraffe pics to how to use cartoons to get 5 million views on your website from my favorite, Matt Inman of The Oatmeal.

3. Ignites are the purest version of your idea

With only five minutes to get a point across, an Ignite challenges presenters to weed out tangential elements and get to the point. This is a fantastically challenging exercise for my students–what really matters to your topic? What’s going to plant that seed of change in your audience?

When Alex Rister and I revised the course structure for Professional Communication and Presentation, we made the decision to switch to the Ignite model. Five minutes is a nice round number, was more manageable for larger classes, and also forces presenters to truly enlighten their audiences, but make it quick (Ignite’s mantra). For a brief introduction to Ignite, check out Alex’s article, “What is an Ignite and why you should try it” as well as the official Ignite site.

In the past few months, two students have provided me with invaluable assets related to the subject of putting together a strong Ignite presentation. I’ve shared one of them above in my new favorite Ignite example, “How to Buy a Car” by Rob Gruhl (man, do I wish I’d watched this before buying my first car…). The second is an excellent guide to an Ignite by Scott Berkun, author of such excellent books as Confessions of a Public Speaker, an irreverent guide to what public speakers actually do/think. In this article, Berkun shares tips to giving a great Ignite, including an Ignite on how to give an Ignite (LOVE!).

My favorite takeaways from Berkun’s article are:

Figure out your points before you make slides



Nothing makes me cringe like a student who’s already built 15 slides for a presentation he’s done no audience analysis and analog planning on first. Preparation matters more than sweet slides. Again and for the one billionth time from someone who is pigeon holed by students and faculty alike as “the girl who hates bullet points”, content matters more than slides! As Berkun says, “you’ll quickly discover how unlikely it is to run out of things to say during an ignite talk. Once you know the 4 major points you want to make, only then work on finding images and slides to support what you’re going to say.”

Make your talk fault tolerant

My students biggest source of anxiety is always what they should do if a slide moves forward while they are still delivering content from the previous slide. This anxiety comes from the perception that this speech  is different from every other type of presentation. It’s not. It’s exactly the same–by structuring bridges and transitions between ideas and devoting sections of a presentation to the supporting points of your big idea, you create a structure that is fault-tolerant. So what if you are a bit ahead or behind? Your ideas are all interconnected, so it’s ok if you are wrapping up a point or waiting for audience reaction before moving on to your next idea. Don’t think of an Ignite as 20 separate and disconnected chunks. This is one presentation, one idea. Berkun’s advice is this: …”build your talk into 4 of 5 pieces, where each piece could stand alone. Then if you fall behind, or something goes wrong, when the first slide for the next part comes up, you can easily recover.”

Thank you to Thiet Ngo and Elah Ruth Abi Saab for their excellent links. You’ve given future students some great information to draw from, superstudents!

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When presentations go wrong, think preparation and grit

Earlier this week, I blogged about what could be described as one of the top ten worst rounds of presentations I’ve witnessed in the five years I’ve taught Professional Communication and Presentation. While the students definitely grasped some aspects of visual design and put a week and a half worth of effort into brainstorming, organizing, designing, and submitting the project, several students produced less than mediocre work (no image sources, nine slides for a 15-30 slide project, super noisy slides), disregarded my advice (and extra credit points) to meet with me or my teaching assistant for a design consultation, and delivered abysmal at worst, forgettable at best “approach explanations” in class. I received this very thoughtful message from Cory Jim of Empowered Presentations. In this response, Cory helped me to ask the types of questions I needed to determine what really happened on presentation day:

…Is the student just going through the motion to get a passing grade? Are they afraid of public speaking. Did they get the right instruction. Did they have enough time. Are they excited to do it. Would they rather do something else instead.

He also gave me some excellent ideas for reframing how I teach the visual resume in class:

There are many many factors that one must take in to consideration such as:

A clear purpose to in fact land a job. How to use keynote/powerpoint effectively. The power of the perfect picture. How to storyboard. How to place fonts. Font Legibility. How to create a color palette. What branding is. What marketing is. A call to action. Engagement. The sales process. Different personalities. How much is too much. Where to emphasis a point. How to stand out. And many more…

I appreciate Cory’s insights, advice, and encouragement. After analyzing the situation further and speaking to several students, I think this comment sums up what happened on presentation day. Despite guidance, in class time, meetings, and reviews, a lack of preparation and drive for excellence led to the class-wide failure.

What I have found is that sometimes one does not have the excellence mentality, drive, passion, and just finishes the project going through the motions just to get it over with. Those are the ones that don’t quite get it (yet). Do we spend the time nurturing them to get better, or do we seek out better talent that is passionate for presentations? We let them go as it is not what they are self motivated to do.

One of the hardest things for me to accept as a teacher is that not everyone will get or care about the power and importance of a strong presentation, not everyone understands without being explicitly forced to that every presentation is high stakes (Duarte 2008). Not everyone, even when his or her grade depends on it, will treat his or her audience as king (Duarte 2009) and put his or her all into preparation and execution. It’s my job as teacher to give students tools, not hold their hands through every step; it’s my job as teacher to trust students to use their critical thinking skills and act autonomously and know that any and every presentation in a presentation class counts!

I could tell from observing presentations later in the class week that several students got this. However, several more still just don’t care. It’s time to let those go and focus on the ones motivated to truly achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the course. Without preparation, a presentation will go poorly–I promise. Without a growth mindset, a life will go poorly–I promise! I’ll leave you with the same inspiration I will draw from as I revise and rework this assignment in the future, Angela Duckworth’s “The key to success, grit”:

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Where do we go from here? When presentations just go wrong.

Today was visual resume showcase day in Professional Communication and Presentation. I am happy to say that my students created lovely decks/visual stories that represented who they want to be as professionals and the steps they are taking to achieve those goals. Here are a few of my favorites:

I love Crystal’s sense of aesthetic and design; as a trained and capable artist and illustrator, Crystal created these visuals herself in the Adobe Creative suite, included many of her own works and images, and told a succinct story. My favorite is slide is number 7!

Mikayla did such a wonderful job of integrating her own images and using her own aesthetic to convey personality and passion for her chosen industry. Her entire look is cohesive, well structured, and engaging.

Andy is my favorite student this month, I cannot lie. His bravery and willingness to push past his anxieties about presenting make me smile. What I love about his visual resume is his use of personal imagery and storytelling. You can really see how he’s progressed from dreamy boy to dream maker.

Check out the rest of this month’s visual resume’s below



Now, on to the part of today that had me nearly in presentation teacher tears….out of 28 students, only a handful were prepared to effectively execute the other important part of this visual resume assignment, a brief presentation explaining their approach to the presentation (how they chose their brand mantra, how they chose their target audience, how they made their design decisions, and what the project overall has to say about them as professionals).

As I sat watching one presentation after another, many of which simply involved students reading the question and then answering each one, staring at their slides, fumbling through ideas, and closing with the dreaded phrase “that’s it”, I thought, “where did I go wrong?” Was it in focusing all class time on developing the project and not enough on what would actually be presented in class, the explanation of how the project came together? Was it in allowing students the option of showing their slides as they explained their project? Was it in not asking for an outline of their rationale speech before class? In speaking to students, despite explaining both in person and in writing that on presentation day they would not be presenting every slide of their visual resume but would instead present an explanation of their process and approach, the resounding answer was I didn’t know that’s what you wanted me to do, or I thought just answering the questions would be enough.

I feel discouraged as a teacher and know that this not working in execution is my fault. What I don’t know is how to go from here? Return to preparation? Move on to the next project? What would you do in this situation? How do I reinvigorate the spirit of learning and growth in my class?

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Six Minutes to the Rescue: Audience Analysis 101

Six Minutes Audience Analysis Post.001

For the past few weeks, I’ve been revamping my lectures in preparation for my first on campus class since November. In preparation for that, I blogged a bit about one of the areas of public speaking most often brushed over by presenters-audience analysis and audience segmentation. While students and presenters have a plethora of resources available to them, and we use Nancy Duarte’s Audience Needs Map in class as well as her audience questions in Resonate, it’s always wonderful to find succinct yet comprehensive resources that are full of practical tools and application. One of the best resources out there that fits these criteria is Six Minutes, curated, edited, and written by Andrew Dlugan. I have turned to Six Minutes for their “how to” guide on rhetoric in developing my presentations and in teaching my students how to develop theirs. Now, I can add his wonderfully practical series on audience analysis to the resources I provide to students and presenters.

Thoughtful audience analysis is one of the best habits you can develop as a speaker. It will help you understand your audience’s perspective and provide maximum value for them. If done well, your audience analysis will provide insights that will help you focus your message, select the most effective content and visuals, and tailor your delivery to suit this particular target audience. –Andrew Dlugan, Six Minutes

Dlugan begins his series with an introduction to audience analysis and follows it up with an article explaining how to conduct it. He then turns his focus to how one can use the data gathered in the audience analysis process to improve one’s speech. Through in-depth audience analysis, one can design an entire presentation that is goes beyond connection and actually reaches resonance. By creating a presentation for the audience (dress, presentation format, supporting points, vocabulary/language, etc.), speaker can move closer to true identification. As rhetorician Kenneth Burke asserted, when an audience can sense analogy or similarity with the audience, the audience is more likely to be persuaded by the speaker’s argument.

Dlugan’s latest offering in the series is an Audience Analysis Worksheet. I, like Dlugan, appreciate the worksheet, checklist, and storyboard template–anything that helps presenters delve further into those often ignored parts of our presentation. A worksheet can “help focus your energy and make a seemingly complex task simple to perform” (Dlugan 2013). So, in the case of audience analysis, which one can talk about ad nauseum but never actually practice or conduct, a worksheet can help turn a theoretical best practice of public speaking into an actionable task whose data is now easier to analyze and apply. I’ll be adding this eries to the list of resources I draw from in preparing lectures and can’t wait to engage in some audience analysis in class using Dlugan’s worksheet. Check out the entire series on audience analysis at Six Minutes!


On a side note: I’d like to thank Andrew for giving me the opportunity to guest write for Six Minutes in 2012. Andrew is a wonderful editor and pushed me to get out of my analytical zone when writing. Thanks Andrew and thanks Six Minutes!

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Embrace constraints and let go: Preparing for a Pecha Kucha

So, I love Pecha Kucha. I loved the word the first time I heard it, and the concept of a global network of communicators who gather to share ideas in a dynamic way spoke to the newly born public speaking nerd in me. I have asked my on campus and online students for the past two years to prepare and present their own Pecha Kuchas. Today, my class worked on developing (even finalizing) their slides, speaking points, and ideas. Presentations are Tuesday, and I am stoked.

I gave myself the challenge of preparing and presenting my own PK, which I presented at PechaKucha Orlando Vol. 2. I was scared to death. But, I also realized after it was over that I love speaking in front of others, and I couldn’t wait to do it again! I am working on my second PK, tentatively titled The Universe is Half Full: A Trekkie’s Guide to Life, which will be all about what I believe Star Trek can teach us about living and being.

Because PK is fast-paced and dynamic by design (presenters develop and present with 20 slides which automatically advance after 20 seconds–no exceptions), one must approach preparing and practicing a bit differently from other types of presentations. I give my students the following advice as they gear up for presentation day; thanks to Felix Jung for developing such an awesome guide to preparing, developing, and rehearsing a PK over at avoision.com.

#1: Be you, but kick it up a notch!

Presenting is performing to an extent. Dress like yourself, but show your audience you care by leaving the tattered jeans and booty shorts at home. While you don’t have to wear a suit to present at your best, there’s nothing like a little polish to give you that much needed boost of confidence.

#2: Focus most of your tweaking energy on the opening and closing.

At a typical PK night, presenters have to combat a noisy atmosphere, inebriated patrons, and our ever shortening attention spans. After watching thousands of student presentations over the past three years, I can sincerely say that my students have a tough job–presenting to their disinterested, nervous peers cannot be easy. In either context, it’s likely that the audience will quickly forget all but the opening and closing of the presentation, as these are the moments that, when successfully executed, strike an emotional chord with the audience. That emotion lingers far longer than a chart or statistic.

#3: Forget about the slides.

No, you don't have a clicker. No, you can't stare at your slides. The first means you have to practice. The second demands that you focus on your audience.

One of the biggest anxieties of this medium is the perceived lack of control over our pace and content that comes with the pre-timed slide. That anxiety is misdirected; if anything, a PK demands complete control over your pace and content. It is this control that enables you to narrow you subject down to what can be accomplished in the short time given. Control also allows you to adapt the message to the PK pace. Where you go, how long you stay there, and how you get there are entirely in your control.

#4: Write a speaking outline, not a speech.

Common sense indicates that if you write something out and practice only from that prewritten essay-turned-speech, when presentation day comes, you will sound robotic, even monotone, you will likely freak if you make a mistake, and you will lose that very important tool of engagement–eye contact.

These strategies helped me in shaping my presentation. When it came time to rehearse, I turned to Felix Jung’s excellent guide:

#5: Practice against a timed version.

You have no clicker on presentation day, so get your mind and body conditioned to this loss of manual control. Familiarize yourself with what 20 seconds sounds and feels like.

#6: Practice standing up and looking around the room.

Many of us have the tendency to rehearse sitting down in front of our visuals, but that’s not the way anyone should or hopefully would present the information, so why practice this way? Instead, find an audience of peers you trust to give you constructive feedback and practice making eye contact and building rapport with a live audience.

#7: Let the slides do some of the work.

I’ll let Felix handle this one…

One of the most important things I learned when practicing was that I didn’t need to fill in all the details. I didn’t need to give all the backstory – just enough to establish context, and enough to be able to make my point.

Remember that your slides can do a lot of your talking for you. As an example, let’s say you wanted to talk about your younger self, and your slide is a photo of you as a kid.

Instead of saying “This is a photograph of me when I was a child,” jump immediately to the point you want to make. When the image appears, assume that people will pick up much of what’s already in the photograph.

#8: Break your talk into sets.

Splitting your presentation up into manageable chunks (Intro. Body 1. Body 2. Body 3. Conclusion, for instance) is a good practice for any type of presentation, but it especially works when rehearsing for a PK. I practiced each of the chunks of my presentation separately, slowly ironing out my actual points. I then put them all together. Having a clear sense of how each section worked on its own helped me better connect each piece by looking for actual connections. The Romans used the concept of architectural structure to help break their speeches up into manageable chunks. They visualized their speech as a building or structure, and each part of the speech as a room in that structure. Creating a mental structure (in my case, I saw my presentation as a funnel, through which information trickled more narrowly as the speech went along until I arrived at the core of my speech, Sylvia Plath’s “Metaphors.”

#9: Practice cold.

If you can present well when you are at your worst (for me, that’s late at night–I am a daywalker), imagine what you can do when you have prepared, conditions are ideal, and you can turn those nerves into positive energy!

#10: Listen to yourself speak.

I know that the process of listening to or watching oneself can be torturous (I am painfully aware that I sound like Kelly from The Office), but there was no better tool to me when practicing this speech than recording my speech and then repeatedly listening to myself. By the time I presented (about a week after I began practicing), I had the pattern and cadence of my speech down. I knew what I wanted to say without worrying about the slides going faster or slower. I caught parts that were weak in my speech and bolstered them with better support, and when it came time for me to present, I was able to focus on maintaining engagement with my audience, as opposed to glancing at notes or the screen to keep my place.

I strongly encourage you to seek out a Pecha Kucha night in your city. Breaking through your death by Power Point comfort zone and into a place where engaging and dynamic presenting IS your comfort zone takes practice and consistent work. You are given a chance to talk about what drives you, what you care about, what you want others to join you in supporting. PK’s have even become vehicles for humanitarian aid and social change. Besides all that, Pecha Kucha nights are excellent opportunities to learn and know. PK Orlando Vol. 4 is December 2nd. See you there!

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