Monday, May 24, 2010

5 Tips for Dressing for Success While Presenting

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

"What should I wear when I present?" One of my coaching clients asked me this question recently. While it might sound more like a question for a style consultant, like my colleague Teresa Morisco on her Wardrobe 911 blog, it's also an appropriate question for a presentation skills coach like me.

In addition to your presentation content and delivery, how you dress and present yourself can affect the success of your presentation. Like your non-verbal communications, how you dress should support the message you are communicating and not distract from it. What you wear is particularly important in a high-stakes presentation, but it's also important in any presentation, especially if it's your first time speaking to this audience or you're very nervous.

Here are 5 tips for dressing for success while presenting, no matter what the occasion:

1. Dress appropriately
What is considered appropriate depends on the audience and the venue. For example, if I'm performing improv comedy for entertainment at the monthly meeting of a women's social club, I usually wear nice jeans. If I'm doing an improv workshop at a Fortune 500 company, however, I wear a business suit. If you're not sure what is appropriate, ask the meeting planner or the person who invited you to speak. And if you're not sure what looks good on you or what is age-appropriate, consult a style expert like Teresa or work with the personal shopping service at any major department store.

2. Dress comfortably
No, I'm not talking about wearing sweats or pajamas, but appropriate clothes that allow you to breathe and feel comfortable. For example, if you're wearing high-heeled shoes that hurt your feet or pants with a tight waistband, you will not be focused on communicating your message. I have a client who feels very warm when she's nervous – so I suggested she avoid heavy sweaters and instead, wear layers so she can remove a layer (like a jacket) if she's feeling too warm.

3. Do a dress rehearsal
If your outfit is not something you're used to wearing, practice wearing it while delivering your presentation. For example, if you normally wear khaki pants and a polo shirt, practice wearing the suit and tie so you're not fidgeting with the tie or your shirt collar instead of focusing on your message. (for more on how to do a dress rehearsal for your presentation, check out my blog post).

4. Consider your props
If you'll be wearing a lavaliere or clip-on microphone, plan ahead how you will wear it. Lavaliere microphones can be clipped easily on a tie or jacket lapel, but if you don't have one of those, you have to figure out where else you can clip it. Also plan where you will put the microphone unit, especially if you don't have a pocket or sturdy waistband.

5. Bring or wear something meaningful
Many of my clients find it helpful to have with them an item with special meaning. Especially if you're nervous, having some kind of physical reminder of something special can help calm your nerves. For example, you could wear a necklace that your husband gave you, the watch you received when you got promoted or the ring you bought on your vacation to Hawaii. You could even keep something in your pocket, like a religious medal, or bring a special pen or business card case. Of course, you should not play with the item while speaking and it shouldn't be distracting (no bracelets that clink loudly when you move your arm). The item is not a superstitious good luck charm, but a reminder of support and a boost of confidence.

When you do a final check in the mirror before you present, you should be able to smile at yourself and feel confident. If you follow these 5 tips, you  and your audience will be able to focus on your presentation rather than being distracted by your clothes.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dress Rehearsal for Your Presentation

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

A few days before a play or musical opens, the entire cast and crew conduct a dress rehearsal. They do a complete run-through of the script on stage, dressed in their costumes, with the full scenery and lighting in place and the pit orchestra playing. The purpose of the dress rehearsal is to make sure everything goes smoothly when the curtain goes up on opening night.

The dress rehearsal is a great idea to borrow when you have to give a presentation. If you haven't presented in a while (or ever) or you've never presented to this particular audience (for example, the budget committee) or in that space (for example, the Boardroom), a dress rehearsal can make the difference between success and failure. Even if you don't get in costume or practice in the actual space, the point is to prepare for all aspects of the environment so nothing trips up your presentation.

Here are some things for you to think about in the dress rehearsal for your presentation:

Where will you present? The room should be arranged so you can see everyone easily and so you won't trip over any computer cables or have to cross frequently in front of the projector.

How are the lights and heating/cooling system controlled? If you're using a projector and screen, does the lighting allow the audience to see the screen and also have enough light to stay awake? What is going on in the room next door or outside the window? If you have to compete with a jackhammer, frequent sirens or cute kids on the playground outside the window, you should be prepared for it.

COMPUTER (if applicable)
How will you advance the slides? If you will be standing to deliver your presentation, I recommend using a remote control (inexpensive and easily available at office supply or electronics stores) so you are not tied to your computer.

Do you have a long-enough power cable or enough battery power? Have you disabled your computer's automatic updates so your computer is not automatically shut down and restarted during the presentation? (This actually happened to me a few minutes before I began a training session - luckily, I had time to restart the computer).

Wear something comfortable AND powerful. To take an extreme example, pajamas are comfortable but they are not powerful. Clothes can help you communicate the professional image that you want to convey.  Your clothing should have nothing you have to tug at, pull at, fix, etc., that will distract you or your audience.  And your shoes must be comfortable even if you're only presenting for a few minutes.

Get enough sleep the night before you have to present. Make sure you have time to eat whatever food you need to present effectively - you don't want to be overfull, but you also want to avoid a growling stomach or light-headedness.

Do you have everything you might need with you - things like cough drops, antacids, other medicines, glasses in case you get something in your contacts, etc.? This is the time to think like a Boy Scout and be prepared. If you're speaking in front of the entire department, including management, at an offsite retreat, wouldn't you prefer to have your glasses with you in case you lost your left contact?

If you're not in your regular office building, who is your onsite go-to person in case you need something? When I was stung by a wasp for the first time in my life shortly before I had to present a workshop at a new location, I needed my on-site contact to get me medical attention quickly to ensure I wasn't having an allergic reaction (she was great and no, I didn't have a reaction).

Yes, thinking about these environmental factors and preparing for them takes time. But like a dress rehearsal, it's time well spent. As a result, you'll be comfortable enough with your environment so you can avoid preventable glitches and deliver your presentation effectively - and handle any unexpected obstacles with ease.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Love You, Mom

by Gilda Bonanno

Today is Mother's Day so I wrote a blog post about my Mom and all the wonderful things I have learned from her. Here they are, in random order:

Snacking is good. Mom loves to snack and had a simple rule for my brother and I when we were growing up: as long as you brush your teeth, it's ok to eat potato chips, ice cream and chocolate. When we played outside, Mom would call us in to give us ice cream. And during our marathon Scrabble sessions, there was always a snack break or two. No snacks were forbidden and no food was "evil," so we developed a healthy relationship with food. And all that teeth-brushing must have worked because I have never had a cavity in my life!

Talking to strangers is ok. Mom talks to anyone, especially in the grocery store. All it takes to start a conversation is an observation about the size of the iceberg lettuce or shared commiseration about the long checkout line—and then the conversation is off and running. Today it would be called "networking."

Dollars are stretchable. Growing up, we did not have a lot of money. Mom managed to keep a family of four afloat on very, very little money. She did this by working hard and spending only on necessities. And even when we didn't have a lot, she enjoyed volunteering at church to make food baskets for people who had less than we did. She made sacrifices for us; in fact, I don't recall her ever buying anything for herself. We often joke that we should send her to Washington, D.C. to help the government balance the budget.

Coupon clipping is an art. Mom checks the sale papers and clips coupons religiously. Then she calls and tells me how much money she saved in the store. I expect to get a phone call from the police one of these days, informing me that they've arrested her because she saved so much on one item that the store had to pay HER for it.

Projects can be fun. Organizing the file cabinet? Unpacking boxes? Cleaning out the basement? Call Mom. She loves doing work around the house especially if she gets to use the paper shredder or go to the dump (or "transfer station," as it's called in my town). During her last visit, she helped me organize my office closet, which had been so crammed with stuff that I hated opening it. It took hours. And when I inevitably got tired of doing it, looked at all the junk that we had piled on the floor and the desk and said "I don't want to play this game anymore," Mom said "it's ok, we're almost done" and kept me going. Now everything is neatly labeled in its place and I love opening the closet. And some of the neighbors want to rent her out to help with their projects.

Humor helps. Mom always has a positive attitude and loves a good laugh. She loves the Pink Panther movies and recently laughed hysterically at the dance scene in Johnny English, a spoof on spy movies starring Rowan Atkinson (from the Mr. Bean series). We played the scene over and over, just to make her laugh more. She will be delighted to know they are releasing a sequel. She also has the unfortunate habit of laughing whenever I am up on a chair, taking a box down from the closet – I don't know why. She is supposed to be holding the chair for me and instead, she starts giggling just as I'm trying to lift a heavy box and then of course, I start laughing… luckily, no one has gotten hurt…

Simple things can make you happy. Mom doesn't need a "spa day" or a meal at a fancy restaurant to be happy. She is what we fondly call "low maintenance." She enjoys the little things – like watching an old movie starring Robert Taylor or Joseph Cotten (extra points if it's set during World War II), going grocery-shopping at the Shop-Rite store near my house, eating ice cream outside on a warm day and of course, eating a Hershey's chocolate bar.

Complaining is not helpful. Not complaining is easy when life is easy, but Mom never complained even when life got hard. When family members were sick, when things didn't work out as expected or even when my father died, Mom didn't complain or ask, "why me?" She just kept going forward, with a strong spirit, a smile and a desire to help other people. I'm still learning that lesson.

A few weeks ago, I received a big envelope from Mom in the mail. Inside were packages of one of my favorite candies – dots of colored sugar stuck to long strips of paper. (Yes, you get some of the paper stuck in your teeth when you eat them, but that's half the fun.) She knows that I couldn't find them locally, so she looked for them on one of her grocery trips and sent them to me.

I'll be seeing Mom today for Mother's Day. What am I bringing her? Flowers? A gift certificate for a massage? Nope. I'm bringing her all my love – and chocolate brownies. Thanks, Mom, and I love you.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Think on Your Toes - and Watch out for the Wasp!

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

A few years ago, I was scheduled to speak about "Thinking on Your Toes" to a group of 50 administrative professionals, in honor of Administrative Professionals Day. I was well-prepared; I had interviewed several people from the audience over the phone and I had my notes, timer and driving directions ready.

I arrived more than an hour early in order to have lunch with the participants. On the way to the room where the event was being held, I stopped in the restroom. A few seconds later, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my leg, as if I had been poked by a needle. In shock, I looked down at the floor and saw a black-winged insect - and realized that it was a wasp! I stared at it; it was fully grown and looked like it had been reared on steroids and protein shakes! Then I crushed it with my foot.

I had never been stung by a wasp or a bee in my life. Ever. So I had no idea whether or not I was allergic.

I considered the situation. There were 50 people in the room next door getting ready to have lunch and then listen to me speak. And I had planned an interactive session that included improvisational exercises. What if my leg swelled up, or the sting hurt too much to stand comfortably? How could I lead a session on "Thinking on Your Toes," when I was sitting down? Or worse, what if I had a severe allergic reaction and went into shock right in front of the audience?

I looked at my watch - I still had time to get the sting checked out before my time to speak. So I went out to the hallway, told one of the program organizers what had happened and asked if there were any medical personnel on duty. She looked shocked and then quickly made a phone call. In less than 3 minutes, the security guard who had let me into the building earlier arrived with his little black bag - he was a certified EMT.

I explained the situation and he decided it was best to take me to the first aid room. So off we went - Joe the EMT, the program organizer and me, limping along, getting the grand tour of the building because of course, the first aid room was on the other side of the building.

I kept saying, "This is going to make a great story! I am so going to use this story!" It's what a trainer calls a "teachable moment" - when something happens that you can't ignore and you use it to make a point. (It's what a speaker calls a "Murphy's Law moment" and an improv comedian calls a perfect opportunity!)

Joe gathered my medical history and checked to ensure that my breathing, blood pressure and heart rate were all normal. After administering topical cream and an ice pack, he concluded that I showed no signs of a severe allergic reaction and that I could go ahead with the program as scheduled.

So, at 1 PM, I went on as scheduled, with only some soreness and mild swelling. I led the participants through a series of improv exercises, including Half-Life, that helped them get comfortable thinking on their toes, which is a crucial part of their roles as administrative professionals. Of course, I shared the wasp story with them, showed off my ice pack and made the connection to "Thinking on Your Toes."

The next day, one of the organizers emailed me: "Your presentation was filled with interactive fun and useful information. The activities you planned encouraged us to go beyond our comfort zones and, as made obvious by the laughter that filled the room, your games were engaging and thoroughly enjoyed." Then she added, "My, what extent you go through to give examples of 'thinking on your toes! "

What is the moral of the story? Despite your best plans and preparations for a presentation or anything else, sometimes things just happen that are outside your control. Then you have to think on your toes. Rely on your experience and your skills, and ask for help when needed. Be confident and trust that you will say and do the "right" thing - and the "right" thing is defined as the best that you can do in that moment, given those circumstances.

So the next time the unexpected happens and you have to think on your toes, be confident that you can handle it - just watch out for the wasp!

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Monday, May 3, 2010

Presenting with Power and Passion

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

How to Use a Microphone Like a Pro

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

If you have the option of using a microphone for your next presentation, use it. You will be able to speak at your normal volume while also allowing the audience to hear you without difficulty. Here are five tips on how to use a microphone effectively, without it being distracting:

1. Practice.
If you've never used a microphone before, using it flawlessly for the first time in front of a live audience will be difficult. Instead, make the time to practice so you can get used to the sound of your voice coming through the speakers; it may sound strange to you at first. And be sure to test out the microphone in the actual space to make sure there is no speaker feedback (that awful, high-pitched whistling sound that will have your audience scrambling to cover their ears).

2. How to Wear a Clip-On Microphone
Clip it to the center of your shirt or jacket where it can pick up your voice regardless of which way you turn your head. The rest of the unit can clip to your waistband or slip into your pocket, with the wire coiled so it doesn't get in your way. Practice wearing the microphone so it doesn't distract you from your presentation. Once while competing in a Toastmasters Tall Tale speech contest, I jumped across the stage as I was shaken out of my car and taken into an alien space ship (yes, this was a TALL TALE). The microphone flew out of my pocket and across the stage while the rest of it was still clipped to my jacket lapel. I kept speaking while I walked over and picked it up; thankfully, it kept working!

3. How to Hold a Handheld Microphone
If you're using a handheld microphone, remember to hold it close enough to your mouth so it picks up your voice. Practice holding your notes or the remote in your other hand without hitting the microphone and producing a resounding "thud."

4. Check the Battery
Before you use a microphone, check the battery. Nothing is worse than having the battery die in the middle of your presentation and not knowing where to get a replacement. Ideally, someone in the room should have an extra battery handy and know how to change it.

5. Turn it Off
Always turn the microphone off when you're finished speaking or at break time. This sounds obvious, but sometimes people forget to switch it off. In a class that I attended in graduate school, a teaching assistant who forgot to turn off his clip-on microphone walked down the hall, cursing out the professor who had sent him to the department office to fetch some handouts. The entire auditorium of students – and the professor – heard him. That's what we refer to as a "career-limiting move."

If you follow these five tips, you'll be able to use a microphone like a professional. And it will be easier for your audience to hear you and understand your message

Gilda Bonanno's blog