Monday, August 30, 2010

Are You "Sorta" Presenting?

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

At a client meeting in New York, I heard an executive say to the audience, "Leslie and I are sorta the champions for this project." You either are the champions or you aren't. He should have said, "Leslie and I are the champions for this project."

I've heard this weak pseudo-word a lot lately.  It originally derived as slang from "sort of" (meaning "somewhat") and has now become a frequently-used part of common vocabulary, even during formal presentations.

"Sorta" sounds indecisive, like you're not confident about what you're saying. And it's only a filler word since it doesn't communicate anything.

Other examples I've heard recently:
• From a sales manager at a networking event: "I'm sorta responsible for bringing in new clients."
• From a movie reviewer on television: "The director sorta explained his whole directing style."
• From an athlete who had just won a race: "It's really sorta an invigorating experience."

Listen for how often you use "sorta" and then work to eliminate it from your vocabulary. Instead, use unambiguous language that will help you communicate your message clearly and confidently.

(And yes, also eliminate similar culprits like "kinda," "coulda" and "shoulda.")

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Friday, August 27, 2010

Susan RoAne & the Importance of Small Talk

One of my earliest blog posts was about the importance of small talk (Sometimes Small Talk is Anything But Small- November 2008)

Best-selling author and Mingling Maven® Susan RoAne has a great article on the importance of small talk in building business relationships.  She provides helpful tips such as:

"DO NOT follow the advice of ‘small talk’ experts who say, “Just ask people questions because people love to talk about themselves.” IF all you do is ask questions, you bring nothing to the banquet and people will think you are prying, probing busybody.

Ask questions, but be aware that some experts suggest questions that are inappropriate, contrived and cheesy. IF the question doesn’t feel right to you, it isn’t."

Read the full article, "BIG Deal About SMALL Talk" here -

Susan literally "wrote the book" on networking. Her best-selling classic book is How to Work a Room, Revised Edition: Your Essential Guide to Savvy Socializing (Amazon affiliate link), which I use in all my How to Schmooze classes.

You can see Susan RoAne in person, when she presents "Networking Face-to-Face in a Digital World" for the CT chapter of the National Speakers Association - Monday, September 20, 2010, 6 PM, at the Hilton Garden Inn, Shelton, CT.   Register or find out more at

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

3 Tips for Effective Storytelling

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Storytelling can be a very effective tool in presentations. Evocative, relevant stories can engage your audience and help you clearly communicate your message. Here are three tips for effective storytelling:

1. Make it relevant
In order to manage the vast amount of information they receive, people decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore. That means that when they're listening to your presentation, everyone in your audience is thinking, "what's in it for me?" and trying to figure out what is relevant for them. Therefore, your story should have a pertinent point that clearly relates to your message – and your message should be meaningful for that audience.

As you're preparing your presentation and practicing your story, think about it from the audience's point of view. An irrelevant story, no matter how funny or unusual, will only distract from your message. And if the point of the story is not obvious, be clear in explaining it to the audience.

With fairy tales, fables and parables (some of the oldest stories we have), there is often a line at the end, "and the moral of the story is…" In your story, substitute "message" or "point" for "moral," and make sure it's relevant.

2. Include vivid, memorable details
A good story should have vivid, memorable details. Specific details are more memorable than general descriptions. For example, if you're telling a story about an employee problem, saying, "he came into work 2 hours late, with bloodshot eyes and slurring his words," is more effective and memorable than saying, "he came in drunk." The details help the audience visualize the story in their minds and will help them remember it.

Use your five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste - to craft the details. For example, if you're sharing a story about your six-year-old son's soccer game as an example of how even inexperienced people can overcome obstacles, describe the smell of the wood fire in the air during an autumn soccer game, the sound of the leaves crunching under your feet or the taste of the mint chocolate chip ice cream at the postgame celebration party. Choose whichever senses help paint the picture most clearly.

3. Vary your body language
When you're telling a story, another way to add life and interest to it is by varying your body language, the non-verbal part of your communication. Body language includes elements such as facial expression, gestures, eye contact, voice, posture and movement.

These elements should change so your body language matches the words that you or the characters you're portraying in the story are saying. If you've ever read a bedtime story to a child, you have varied your body language instinctively by making your voice loud and harsh when you're the Big Bad Wolf and softer and higher-pitched when you're Little Red Riding Hood.

At first, varying your voice while telling a story during a business presentation may feel silly, but you can become more comfortable with it by practicing. Even small variations in your body language can make a difference. For example, if you're telling a story about how your teenager always responded to your questions by saying "whatever," you can say "whatever" in a monotone, shrug your shoulders, roll your eyes and then look at the floor. That change in body language will help the audience envision your teenager and understand when he or she is speaking in the story.

To engage the audience even more, you can make them part of the story by repeating the body language pattern, such as the "whatever" sequence, a few times and letting them fill in the blank. The third or fourth time you say, "and then I asked him another question and he said [pause]…" the audience will fill in the blank with "whatever."

Stories can be an effective tool to use when giving a presentation and using these tips will make your stories more relevant, interesting and memorable.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Presenting Via Teleconference

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

With the rise of global teams and telecommuting, many people now have to present over the phone via teleconference to audience members who are not in the same room with them, and in fact, may be in different countries or time zones. While the essential rules of presentations still apply, there are some specific things to do to ensure that your presentation via teleconference is effective and that you can convey your message within the time limit:

• Use the power of your voice.
Over the phone, there is no opportunity for eye contact, gestures or movement, so the only nonverbal communication you have is your voice. Vary your volume, tone and pitch to convey your meaning and keep the audience's attention.

• Smile.
Even though the audience cannot see your facial expression, they can "hear" it – when you smile, it sounds like you are smiling. Use a mirror so you can be aware of your facial expressions and how they affect your energy and voice.

• Stand up and move.
You have to convey more energy and enthusiasm than you would in person and moving around helps.

• Number your slides/pages.
If you are using documents or slides, make sure they are clearly numbered so people can follow along with you. And mention the page or slide number that you're on as you go through the presentation.

• Use more slides than usual.
If you're using slides, it's a good idea to use more than during an in-person presentation so you can keep the audience's attention by changing slides more frequently. (However, that doesn't mean you put more on each slide).

• Build in interaction.
It's a good idea to build in some interaction so you can ensure the audience is engaged and paying attention. For example, ask questions or have them write down a few points to help them remember.

• Check the logistics first.
Just like you check out a room's logistics before you present in person, make sure you've tested the teleconference logistics before the call. Figure out if you will have the ability to mute all callers or individual callers, how you will handle any technical difficulties and what will be your backup plan if the phone connection gets dropped or is unclear.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't Present to the Screen and 5 Other FAQs on Presenting with Slides

by Gilda Bonanno LLC
Question: If I'm giving a presentation using slides, should I face the audience or the screen onto which my slides are being projected?

Answer: If your goal is to communicate effectively to the audience, resist the urge to face the screen and instead, turn your body to face the people in the room and speak directly to them.

(I get asked this question a lot and I often see presenters make the mistake of facing the screen rather than the audience.)

Here are answers to 5 other frequently asked questions about how to present with slides:

1. Why is eye contact with the audience important?
Eye contact helps you determine if the audience is attentive and if they understand your message. It also expresses your respect for them and demonstrates your confidence, since you know the information without having to read it.

2. What if I can't remember my content without reading my slides?
Practice is the best way to ensure that you remember your content. Practice by standing up and saying the words out loud as you go through your slides, paying particular attention to how you transition from one slide to the next. The goal is not to memorize every word, but to become comfortable enough with the material that you can say it several different ways without getting flustered.

In addition to practicing, you can also position your computer screen as a "confidence monitor" so you can face the audience and still glance at the slides on your laptop screen, which can help you remember what you want to say next.

3. How much information should go on each slide?
Not as much as you think. Your slides should have only a few phrases or high-quality images for you to build on and to reinforce what you are saying. You are more important than the slides and you should be viewed as the source of the information – so you should also seriously consider whether you need slides at all.

Don't write out your entire presentation on your slides and then read it word for word to the audience; then there would no need for a presentation or a meeting – you could just send out the slides and everyone could read them at their desks.

And be sure that the font size, colors, contrast, etc. make the slides easy to read from all parts of the room. I've seen too many presentations where the slides were difficult to read and the presenter had to start off by saying, "I know you can't read this…"

4. What if when I look at the audience, they're all looking at my slides on the screen?
That's ok; they need time to read your slides (another reason why your slides shouldn't be too busy or hard to read) and eventually, when they look at you, it will be helpful if you are looking back at them.

5. Where should I stand?
Stand to the side of the screen so you don't block the audience's view. Also be careful not to stand in the way of the projector light so your silhouette doesn't appear on the screen. Using a remote control will allow you to advance your slides without having to hover over the laptop. Many remotes now include laser pointers so you can highlight items on the slide.

Presenting with slides is not necessarily easy, but with preparation and practice, you can deliver an effective presentation even when you use slides.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Friday, August 13, 2010

Public Speaking Takes More Than You Think

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Public speaking is a skill that can be improved with practice over time... and sometimes, it takes more than you think:

1. Speak louder than you think you need to

2. Speak slower than you think you have to

3. Edit your content more than you think is required

4. Organize your material more clearly than you think you should

5. Use more relevant, engaging stories than you think you need to

6. Make the font on your slides larger than you think is necessary

7. Practice more than you think is needed

8. Spend more time preparing than you think you have to

9. Be more confident than you think you are

10. Present better than you think you are capable of

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Garr Reynolds and "Inspiring, Contagious Presentations"

I've linked to Garr Reynolds and his wonderful Presentation Zen blog many times - he is my inspiration for creating engaging and beautiful presentations. If you haven't read it yet, get a copy of
Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Amazon affiliate link)

Here's a quote from his post: "In my search for presentations with a strong message and delivered in the naked style (honest, transparent, engaging, inspiring, simple visuals and approach, etc.), I stumbled upon two TED talks from TEDIndia held last November."

Read the rest of his post and view the two TED talks that he highlights:

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don't Speak Too Little

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

One of the most common mistakes that speakers make is to go over their time limit. However, sometimes a speaker makes the opposite mistake, by not speaking long enough. A colleague recently sent me the following email describing her experience with a speaker who spoke too little:

"Hi, Gilda. I went to hear an author speak at a local independent bookstore. It wasn’t a book signing—it was a presentation. The author spoke for less than 10 minutes—I’d say about 7 minutes. Since it was a Saturday night and my husband and I had driven 20 minutes one way to see her, we were shocked. We expected much more—something like a few minutes talking about her background and writing the book, then reading a chapter from the book, then a bit more about the topic of the book."

Here are three things that you can do to ensure you're not the speaker who shocks and annoys the audience by speaking too little:

1. Be clear about your time limit.
If you're speaking at a meeting, event or conference, check with the organizer about how long you have to present. And check with the organizer again as the day approaches because things may have changed. Also check any marketing materials or invitations that were sent out to ensure that attendees' expectations match your expectation of the time limit. In the above case, the speaker should have spoken longer or the event should have been advertised as "meet the author" only rather than as a "presentation by the author."

2. Practice.
In order to know how long your presentation will take, you have to practice. And practice doesn't mean sitting at your desk thinking about your presentation, looking at your notes or flipping through your slides. Practice means you say your presentation out loud, in as close to the real environment as possible. So if you're going to give your presentation standing up at the front of the room, you should practice standing up at the front of a similar room, or ideally, the actual room that you will present in.

You are not trying to memorize your presentation word for word; your goals are to become comfortable with the content, be prepared to say it a few different ways and get a good idea of how long it will take.

3. Have extra material ready.
While it's acceptable and even preferable to end a few minutes early, sometimes your presentation takes substantially less time than you practiced. This may happen because another speaker unexpectedly covered much of your content or the organizer reduced the scope of your presentation at the last minute. Whatever the reason, you should have extra content ready just in case. Have some good questions to ask, an additional exercise or handout, or a separate section of slides to use if needed.

When you're trying to decide whether you should go to your extra material or just get done early, use the audience and the meeting organizer as your guides. Are the participants required to be in the meeting or conference session for a certain amount of time so they can get credit? Will they be shocked and annoyed if you end early? And if you decide to use your extra material, it shouldn't be perceived as "fluff" or just filler material with no value.

If you follow these three tips, you won't be the speaker who shocks and annoys the audience by speaking for substantially less time than expected. And you'll be better prepared to meet the audience's expectations of high-value content within the expected time frame.

Gilda Bonanno's blog