Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Presentation Skills Lessons From Teaching College History

by Gilda Bonanno

One of my first jobs after graduate school was as an instructor at a community college. My course load included teaching American History 102 (1865-present) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:00-8:50 A.M. It was a required course for most of the 35 students and history was not their major. So my challenge was how to communicate to the students while keeping them awake and interested.

That experience taught me many lessons about effective presentation skills - lessons I still use today in my own presentations and when I teach presentation skills. And these same lessons can help you become a more effective presenter:

Those were low-tech days – just me and the chalkboard, and occasionally a few pull-down maps hooked onto the chalkboard. I learned that I was the presentation and that any visual aids were only there to help, but not required. And no visual aid could make up for a lack of preparation on my part.

Where is it written that presentations must include slides? If the slides have compelling, memorable visuals, then they can help the audience understand and remember the information. Unfortunately, most slides are endless lists of bullet points in small font; those kinds of slides actually hinder the audience's understanding and even distract their attention away from you.

I learned that it is possible to capture the attention of a potentially bored or distracted audience – yes, even 35 teenagers and young adults in a required class at 8 AM on a Friday morning. In order to make class interesting, I told stories that made the "boring names and dates" come alive and helped them see the historical figures as real people instead of presenting a tedious list of facts to be memorized.

Stories work even in a business setting. Try sharing a quick story of how a customer uses your product or how your new software helped a specific department get work done faster.

I had to be more energetic than the students and I didn't drink coffee! It helped that I loved my subject and loved teaching - and most students responded positively. Even if they didn't come to love the subject like I did, they could at least appreciate and respect my enthusiasm for it.

Are you excited about your topic? Are you energetic? While it's not always possible to love the topic you are presenting, your energy and enthusiasm will help engage your audience.

In order to keep the students engaged and interested, I asked questions, walked up and down the aisles, had them work together in pairs and small groups and encouraged their questions.

Try using some of these techniques with your audience. You can also ask them for examples, give them an exercise to work on individually or ask for a volunteer to come forward and help you with a demonstration.

I realized on the first day that I had to earn the respect of the students. They didn't care about my credentials. It wasn't about me; it was about them and how I could help meet their learning needs. I learned not to talk down to my audience or to insult them. I learned not to lie if I didn't know the answer – but to admit it and find the answer for them before the next class. I met them at their level, showed interest in their lives and didn't pretend to know a lot about their world or their music.

You can show your respect for your audience by taking the time to prepare and by not speaking for longer than expected. You can also make it clear why your message is relevant to them.

The greatest compliment I received from students was that after taking my class, they realized history was interesting, relevant and even fun. And some who thought they were "stupid" at history realized they were not stupid and that they could understand and "do" history.

I transferred those early lessons to my current career, where I work with corporate professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners and enable them to realize that they're not "stupid" at presentation skills – and with practice, they can learn to be more effective presenters.

The next time you have to present, whatever your topic or environment, try these lessons to keep your audience engaged and involved.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Sunday, June 27, 2010

6 Questions to Ask Yourself After Giving a Presentation

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

What do you do when you finish giving a presentation? Do you breathe a sigh of relief, congratulate yourself on having made it through and move on to your next task?

Before you move on to something else, take a few minutes to think about the presentation while the experience is fresh in your mind. Those who work in project management or IT might call it Lessons Learned, a Post-Mortem or Post-Project Review. Whatever it's called, the purpose is to learn from the experience.

Writing down the answers to the following six questions will help you review the presentation and having those notes will make it easier for you to prepare for your next presentation.

These questions are applicable to any type of presentation. I have used them with coaching clients ranging from a client who gave a 5-minute presentation at an awards banquet to a client who presented for 90 minutes at a national convention.

1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how did it go? (1 being awful, 10 being wonderful)

2. What worked well?

3. What could have worked better?

4. What would you do differently next time?

5. What would you do the same next time?

6. How will you use what you've learned from this experience?

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Public Speaking is Like Exercising

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Exercising and public speaking have a lot in common. Both become easier over time when you practice them regularly using the correct techniques. Everyone is capable of exercising and public speaking, although initially they may be a cause of pain for some people. The results of exercising and public speaking are worthwhile, but they'll have more lasting positive effects and be more fun if you enjoy the experience.

Here are some suggestions about exercising that I've found can help you improve your public speaking:

1. Focus on Your Goals.
You may have several goals when you exercise: to feel better, to be healthier, to look better, to lose weight or gain energy. You have to keep those goals in mind, especially on those cold winter mornings when you'd rather stay in your warm bed than go to the gym. With public speaking, your goal may be to educate, inform, persuade, inspire or entertain the audience and you have to focus on that goal when you're preparing your presentation. It definitely helps to focus on that goal when your nerves kick in, you get cold feet and you're thinking, "why did I say yes to giving this presentation?"

2. Thinking About it is NOT Enough – Do It!
Thinking about exercising is not the same as actually putting on your sneakers and sweats and going for a walk. Unless you actually exercise, you won't see any benefit from it to your health and waistline.

The same is true with public speaking. Just thinking about public speaking is not the same as volunteering to speak at an upcoming meeting. And when you have a presentation to give, just thinking about you're going to say is not enough – it's not as effective as doing a dress rehearsal where you say the words out loud in as close to the actual setting as possible.

3. Make it a Habit.
Exercising once a month is not going to yield the results you want. In fact, it will probably leave you feeling very sore and less motivated to exercise again. Likewise, if you only speak once in a while, it's hard to see improvement in your skills and abilities. And if you have a bad experience in one of those rare public speaking opportunities, it may be more difficult for you to stand up and speak again.

4. Get Feedback.
Feedback when you're exercising can come in many forms. Most gyms have a mirror so you can check your yoga pose or ensure you're using correct form when lifting weights. Or you may work out with a personal trainer to help you take your exercise to the next level and focus on your goals.

With public speaking, you can get feedback by asking a trusted friend to listen to your presentation, audiotaping or videotaping yourself and reviewing it, or working with a presentation skills coach. This feedback can help identify what you are doing that is effective so you can continue it, and also what you're doing that interferes with your ability to communicate your message effectively to your audience.

5. Take it Slow.
You wouldn't run a marathon the week after you start jogging for the first time; that would be a recipe for pain and injury. Likewise, it's probably not a good idea to give a one-hour speech in front of five hundred executives as your first public speaking experience. Take it in small steps: first give a quick status update at a small team meeting, then stand and present for 10 minutes on your project results at a department meeting, etc. As you get more comfortable, you will gradually strengthen your public speaking muscle.

Exercising and public speaking have a lot in common. While they may seem painful at first, with continued practice and persistence, they become easier. And in the case of public speaking, you will become a more effective communicator.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stop the Negative Self-Talk When Presenting

by Gilda Bonanno

When I work with people who are nervous about public speaking, I ask them to describe the voice they hear in their heads when they have to give a presentation. Usually, they describe it as a negative voice saying things like:
• "Don't mess up!"
• "Who do you think you are?"
• "You're gonna make a fool of yourself!"

Sound familiar? Does the voice in your head sound like this? I call this voice the "Joy-Sucker" because it sucks the joy out of your work and your life.

Now imagine a child comes to you and says, "I'm scared about the dance recital [or the baseball game or the school play]." Would you say:
• "Don't mess up!"
• "Who do you think you are?"
• "You're gonna make a fool of yourself!"

Never! Instead, you would be supportive, encouraging and positive – you would help him or her practice and prepare.

Now imagine a good friend says to you, "I'm so nervous about that big presentation I have to give next week." Would you say:
• "Don't mess up!"
• "Who do you think you are?"
• "You're gonna make a fool of yourself!"

Never! You would be supportive, encouraging and positive. You would say:
• "It will be ok."
• "They selected you to present because you know your stuff."
• "I'll help you practice."

So why do you think it's ok to speak to yourself with negative, critical words that you would never say to a child or a friend?

The next time you start spewing negatives at yourself before you have to present, think of the helpful and supportive words you would say to a child or a friend – and then use them on yourself.  Replacing your negative self-talk with positive self-talk will help you feel more confident and allow you to access your knowledge and experience so you can be a more effective presenter.

(For more on how to develop a positive mantra to replace the Joy-Sucker voice, see

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gilda to Speak at NSA Convention in Orlando

I'm so excited to be presenting again this year at the National Speakers Association (NSA) Convention in July in Orlando.

I'm presenting during the "Meet the Pros" where each mini-breakout session is in an up-close and personal setting limited to nine attendees, so you can ask the questions that have always been on your mind, meet speakers with similar concerns, or just soak up the information.

My session is:
Improv Comedy Rules! Applying the Five Rules of Improv Comedy to Make Your Presentations More Powerful and Engaging
Improv comedy success is all about being present, trusting yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone. Improv comedian and professional speaker Gilda Bonanno will share the five rules of improv comedy and how to apply them to make your presentations more imaginative and compelling.

If you're attending the NSA Convention, you can attend three Meet the Pros sessions.  Visit to sign up for my session and browse the other sessions that are available.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

3 Tips for Being an Effective Charity Spokesperson

by Gilda Bonanno

Recently, I have attended several events where people from well-known charities have spoken to ask for money or volunteers. One of the presenters asked me how she could improve her presentation. So I developed three quick tips that could help her become a more effective charity spokesperson. (And even if you're not in that role, these tips can help your presentations be more compelling and clear.)

1. Be selective with statistics.
One charity spokesperson used at least twenty statistics in a five- minute presentation. The result was that the audience was overwhelmed and confused; there were too many statistics to remember and it was not clear how they related to each other or the presenter's overall message. Use only a handful of statistics that are the most impactful and most relevant to your audience. For example, if you're asking for large donations, tell the audience the breakdown of how each dollar is spent.

2. Use stories.
Another spokesperson shared a moving story of how he lost a family member to the disease for which the charity was working to find a cure. Even if you don't have a personal story of your own to share, tell a story representative of a typical client that your charity helps. The story should be true, short and relevant to your message.

3. Be clear about your message.
What is the call to action? Do you want the audience to donate money, volunteer time or do something else? Don't leave them guessing as to how they can help. Mention your message at the beginning of your presentation, give examples or share stories that relate to it during your presentation and then remind the audience of it at the end of your presentation. Make it easy for them to remember.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Dress Rehearsal" post in Blog Carnivals

I’m excited that my blog post, Dress Rehearsal for Your Presentation, was included in three Blog Carnivals. My blog post explains how to conduct a dress rehearsal of your presentation so you can avoid preventable glitches and prepare for potential obstacles.

What's a Blog Carnival? It's a collection of blog posts on a given topic, all gathered into a blog post called a carnival. It's like a special edition of a magazine, with articles focused on just one area.

My post, Dress Rehearsal for Your Presentation, was included in the following carnivals: (check them out for other interesting posts by other bloggers on related topics):

Leadership Development Blog Carnival - June 2010

Work at Home/Home Business Blog Carnival

Small Business Advice Blog Carnival

To find more carnivals to read or to submit your posts to, browse

(Thanks to internet marketer Kim Roach for introducing me to blog carnivals!)

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, June 3, 2010

4 Presenter Mistakes to Avoid, Or, Please Don't "Vomit" on Your Audience

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

At the end of my session at a conference, one of the audience members came up to tell me about a bad session she had attended. She said, "The presenter vomited his content on the audience. It was awful. I would have walked out if I wasn't sitting in the front row." That's pretty strong language! Of course, I had to ask for the details of what made her feel "vomited" on by the presenter.

Here are that presenter's top four mistakes, as described by the audience member - and what you can do to avoid them:

Presenter Mistake #1: "The content was disorganized."
Your presentation should have a clear beginning, middle or end. It sounds so simple, yet so many presenters fail to organize their material clearly. Follow the old adage, "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them." It should be easy for the audience to follow you and understand how your points relate to each other and your overall message.

Presenter Mistake #2: "The slides were crowded and hard to read."
If the audience has to struggle to read your slides, they will struggle to understand your presentation. Please, for the sake of your audience members' eyesight, use large font (larger than you think you need to use) and only a few bullet points on each slide. If you find yourself saying, "I know some of you can't read this…," then your slides are too crowded. Or go one step better and use only high-quality photos or images (not cheesy clip art) and a few words in very large font. Or be radical and don't use slides at all; remember, you are the message and the slides are just the visual aids.

Presenter Mistake #3: "He only used examples from one area, which wasn't applicable to many in the audience."
The first rule of presentations is to know your audience, and in this case, the presenter doesn't seem to have done that. Be sure that some of your examples come from the industries or fields represented in the audience. For example, if you are speaking to an audience of accountants, avoid using examples only from sales. Or if you're presenting to small business owners, don't just use stories from the corporate world. To find relevant examples and stories, check out the industry websites, read the publications and talk to people in that field. If there is an attendee list, interview a few audience members ahead of time

Presenter Mistake #4: "He said he wanted to make it interactive, but there was no opportunity for interactivity."
I've seen many presenters make this same mistake and the solution here is simple: don't claim that you want your presentation to be interactive unless you really mean it and have planned for the interactivity with specific questions, exercises or activities. And just asking, "Is everyone with me?" does not count as being interactive – and anyway, it's rare that anyone will speak up and say "no."

If you avoid these four common presenter mistakes, you will be less likely to "vomit" your content on your audience!

Gilda Bonanno's blog