Tag Archives: speech preparation

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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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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Six Minutes to the Rescue: Audience Analysis 101

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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!

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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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