Thursday, September 30, 2010

Public Speaking Fundamentals: Knowing Them Is Not Enough

by Gilda Bonanno

Several years when I was teaching a public speaking class, a few of the participants remarked, "we already know this stuff." However, when I watched their presentations later that day, it was clear that whatever their claims about knowing "this stuff," they hadn't put it into practice.

Their presentations were full of filler words, like "um" and "ah," the organization of their information was jumbled and hard to follow, their slides were overcrowded with too many words in tiny font and their body language didn't support their message.

It's not enough to know something intellectually about effective presentation skills – you have to practice it consistently in order for it to become a habit and a normal part of how you present.

For example, it's not enough to know that you should avoid using filler words and pause words such as "um" and "ah" when presenting because too many can interrupt the flow of your ideas and distract the audience. Just knowing that won't help you avoid using them - you have to practice speaking without using them in order to make it a consistent and regular part of your speaking skills.

(An effective way to practice is to count pause words and fillers in other people's presentations and in your own. In fact, Toastmasters,, an international organization dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking skills, has an Um and Ah Counter at each meeting to count each person's pause words and filler words. The goal is not to embarrass you, but to help you become conscious of when you're using them, which is the first step in eliminating them from your presentations.)

Your goal is to master the fundamentals of presentation content and delivery through repeated practice so you can integrate them into how you normally and naturally present. Knowledge is not enough – you have to apply your knowledge. And then you're ready to say "I know this stuff" and "I do it consistently."

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Public Speaking: Movement When Presenting PowerPoint Slides

by Gilda Bonanno

I love responding to reader's questions. Recently, my colleague, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, emailed me a question about moving in the front of the room while presenting slides.  Lynn is a business writing expert and grammar guru (check out her website at and this question came up when she was teaching a class in an MBA program:

Sunlight and moonlight are the only lights you
should ever be bathed in - never "slide light"!
"Several students have walked across the room in front of their slides [while presenting], and it has caused them to be bathed in "slide light." I have suggested that they only move purposefully, for example, to shift to their next point or tell a story. I also suggested that they black out their slides when they do so, if they are using slides.

Anything else you would add on moving from one side of the room to another? Thanks, Lynn."

This is a great question - here's how I responded:

"You're "right on the money" regarding walking in front of the room. Presenters should move with purpose - to walk to the flipchart, to move to the other side  of the room so they can face that part of the audience more comfortably, etc. Most of the time they should "stand and deliver" (as I was told by one of the Toastmasters World Champions of Public Speaking, Mark Brown).

Blacking out the screen is a great idea to avoid being "bathed in slide light." (I love the way you phrased that!).

Another option is to insert a black slide into your presentation that will remind you when it's time to move (for example, to hand something out or tell a story from the other side of the room). Just create a blank slide and format it with a solid-fill black background - I learned this tip from Garr Reynolds and his wonderful Presentation Zen blog

And if you are emailing the presentation to people or it will be posted on a website, remember to remove the black slides or they will confuse people and use up a lot of ink if printed."

Do you have any additional suggestions or horror stories of "movement gone bad" when presenting slides? Post them here on my blog - and feel free to post additional questions for me to answer.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Terry Paulson & The Optimism Advantage

by Gilda Bonanno

While attending the National Speakers Association Convention (NSA) in Orlando a few weeks ago, I attended a session by Dr. Terry Paulson. He's a renowned motivational speaker, Ph.D. psychologist and a leading authority on change management.

The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into ResultsOne of the things that stuck with me the most from his presentation was how he described optimism as "earned" since it "comes from a track record of overcoming obstacles."

I think this description of optimism applies to life in general and specifically to public speaking - the more positive experiences you have speaking in public, the more confidence you will have and the better you will present the next time.

And even small steps count as positive experiences; for example, introducing yourself clearly and concisely at a networking event or answering a question with confidence at a staff meeting.

So rather than berating yourself for not being a better speaker, commit to developing your public speaking skills and look for opportunities to have positive experiences that will build your confidence.

To find out more about Dr. Paulson, check out his website or his new book, The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results (Amazon affiliate link) which I look forward to reading.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When Presenting, Give Signs Like Nature

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Today is the first day of autumn.  Even without looking at the calendar, I know that here in the New England region of the United States, winter is not too far behind. How do I know? The leaves have turned from green to gold and red, there is frost on the grass in the morning and the days are getting shorter.

Nature gives clues that signal the end of one season and the coming of the next. These signs tell me what to expect and they help me get ready to rake the leaves, pull out my winter coat and set the clocks back. When you present, you can be like Nature – and give your audience signs as to what's coming next. When you set your audience's expectations, it allows them to follow your message more easily.

• In your introduction, share your message – what is the point of what you're going to say and why is it important to them? If you're clear about you want them to get out of your presentation, it's easier for them to focus on hearing that message

• It may help to remind the audience how long you will speak. For example, you can say, "in the next 10 minutes, I will share…" or " as we work together over the next hour…" That clue helps them to calibrate their time, especially if there is a full schedule of presenters.

• Be clear in your organization. Try to group your material into a few sections to make it easier to follow. For example, tell the audience if you're going to cover three case studies or four reasons or five steps.

• Make it clear how one section of your presentation is related to the next. Give the audience clues: are you continuing in the same theme, presenting the opposite point of view, focusing on a different company or talking about a different time period?

The End is Near
• Give the audience a sign that you're nearing your conclusion. For example, "the third and final reason you should consider Jimmy's Jammies for all your pajama needs is… " or "the last story that I'd like to share with you about the bride and groom is…"

Don't Tease
• If you give a sign that you're almost done, for example, by saying "in conclusion…," don't go on for another 20 minutes. The audience will get restless and may stop listening.

If you act like Nature and give your audience signs and clues when you speak, it will be easier for them to follow your presentation and make sense of it. Setting their expectations will help them understand and retain your message.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Friday, September 17, 2010

Giving a Business Presentation? Don't Include Everything in Your PowerPoint Slides

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

When you are creating PowerPoint slides for your presentation, don't cram them full of everything you know about the topic. The slides are there to support your presentation, not replace you or replicate your brain.

Focus on Your Message
Just because you know all the details doesn't mean you have to include them in your slides. Instead, focus on your message – the one thing you want the audience to take away from your presentation – and include only the specific details that will help you convey your message to this audience. Keep everything else in your brain or your notes to answer questions.

Good Slides Take Time
In order to create slides that are clear, focused, easy to understand and supportive of your message, you have to plan ahead and ensure you have enough preparation time.

Use Phrases or Images
Don't copy-paste entire paragraphs of text or full Excel spreadsheets into your slides. One of two things will happen; either a) the audience won't be able to read the small font so they will be frustrated or b) they will read it to themselves faster than you can read it aloud to them, which will leave them wondering why they needed you to present in the first place. Neither is a good way for you to engage your audience.

Instead, use short phrases or high-quality images that are easy to read, even from the back of the room. Then you can provide the voiceover that builds on the information in the slide.

Why Do You Need This Slide?
For each slide, ask yourself: What is the point of this slide? How is this slide related to the slide before it and the slide after it? If you can't answer these questions, edit the slide or cut it out of your presentation.

Keep Extra Info to Answer Questions
Be open to audience questions (while also being mindful of your time limit). Use all the extra information that you didn't include in your slides to answer the questions, which will demonstrate your command of the topic.

The next time you have to give a presentation using PowerPoint slides, remember that the slides just play a supporting role - make sure they do their job by making them clear, focused and supportive of your message.

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Power of Emotional Intelligence

If you live or work in the Southwestern Connecticut region, you're invited to the September meeting of the Southern CT chapter of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD-SCC):

PROGRAM: "Harnessing the Power of Emotional Intelligence in Organizations"
PRESENTER: Bob Anderson of Leading Challenges LLC
DATE: Monday, September 27, 5:45 - 8:00 PM

LOCATION:  The Norwalk Inn and Conference Center
Please register and pay online:
(I am the immediate Past President of ASTD-SCC)

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes of derailment in executives involve deficits in Emotional Intelligence (EQ). In addition, studies continue to show us that EQ is the key to excellence in leadership and a predictor of future success.

Attend the September 27th meeting with Bob Anderson of Leading Challenges LLC and learn:
• The business case for assessing and developing EQ in leaders.
• How to save time, energy and money by understanding our emotions and those of others.
• How to access rational thought, creativity and effective problem solving.
• The benefits of using a cognitive approach to stress and conflict.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Bob Anderson is part of the leadership faculty and GE Global Learning, Crotonville, where he introduces the business case for assessing and developing EQ and EQ's role in the ability to influence effectively without positional power.

Other clients Bob has worked with include Abbott Laboratories, Northwest Airlines, Electrolux/Husqvarna, Brown University, Georgetown University, Clif Bar and the National Sports Academy of Qatar. Bob is an individual executive coach to C-Level executives and Olympic coaches, in addition to being a dynamic presenter and facilitator.

Monday, September 27, 2010
5:45 PM Networking/Registration
6:15 PM - 8:00 PM Dinner and Program

$35 Chapter Members
$50 Guests
$20 Students

Reservation Deadline: Thursday, September 23, 2010
Meeting Location: Norwalk Inn and Conference Center, 99 East Avenue, Norwalk, CT

Please register and pay online:

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Presentation Skills Lessons from the U.S. Open Tennis Grand Slam

by Gilda Bonanno LLC
Last week, I attended the U.S. Open tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY. I saw some great matches and players, including Rafael Nadal, Sam Querrey, David Nalbandian, Samantha Stosur, James Blake (from Fairfield, CT!) and John Isner.

A photo I took of John Isner serving - he practices this serve daily!
I love watching tennis - and I think there are lessons from tennis that can apply to presentation skills:

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the best tennis players in the world and they practice for several hours a day. They never say, "I'm good enough, I don't need to practice anymore."

The same is true for presentations – if you want to give a powerful and effective presentation, you have to practice. The more comfortable you become at giving presentations, the more focused your practice becomes as you learn what specific aspect of the presentation you still have to work on.

A photo I took of James Blake (from CT!) - focused and determined
During a match, what the player tells himself or herself is important, especially when they're down a set and facing a tough opponent. If a player thinks, "I can't beat this opponent; I'm going to lose," it will be very difficult to overcome that mindset and win. Instead, when a player uses positive self-talk, "Yes, I can do this!" along with an energetic fist pump in the air, he or she is better able to access their skills, step up their game and have a shot at winning.

Likewise, what you tell yourself when you present is also important.  If you drown out the negative voice in your head and instead, use a positive phrase or mantra, you'll be able to present more effectively and confidently.

Two of my favorite tennis commentators, John and Patrick McEnroe, are always pointing out the players' body language – how players act between points, how they walk to the other side of the court, how they respond when they lose a point, etc. Negative body language sends a message to their opponent that they are giving up and don't believe they can win.

When you're presenting, your body language also sends a message to the audience – it should match the words you're saying and convey confidence and competence. For example, make eye contact with the audience, use appropriate gestures to illustrate your points, speak loudly enough to be heard and avoid nervous pacing.

The next time you have to give a presentation, remember these lessons from tennis to help you ace it.

And today is the Finals for the U.S. Open Men's Singles. It's going to be a great match and I can't wait to watch it!

Gilda Bonanno's blog

Friday, September 10, 2010

Public Speaking: Six Mistakes to Avoid When Answering Questions

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

How do you handle the questions that come up during or after your presentation?

Handled effectively, questions can be an important part of your presentation, allowing you to clarify a point, expand on your ideas or provide another example. They also can demonstrate that the audience members were paying attention to you and are interested in your opinion. Handled poorly, however, questions can expose your lack of preparation, disconnect you from your audience and derail your presentation.

Here are six mistakes to AVOID during Q&A:

1) Forgetting that you're still "on stage" when answering questions. The presentation is not over until every member of the audience has left the room. Answering questions is not the time for you to lose focus or let your energy level drop. Your words and your non-verbal communication (voice, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and movement) should demonstrate that you are listening to the question, eager to answer and respectful of the questioner.

2) Letting questions take you completely off topic. While you want to be respectful of the questioners and answer as many questions as possible, be careful not to answer so many questions early on in your presentation that you run out of time to handle your planned material.

I once saw a speaker answer so many basic questions about her topic (most of which were irrelevant to everyone else in the audience) that she didn't get through half of her material, leaving the audience disappointed and frustrated. Don't be afraid to say "let's handle that question off-line" or "in the interest of time, I don't want to go into great detail on that topic, but here's a quick answer." You can also make it clear at the start that the audience should hold all questions until the end. (If it happens to be one of the company's executives who is taking you off topic, the meeting facilitator should step in to help get you back on track.)

3) Being unprepared for questions. When you give a presentation, expect questions and prepare for them with the same diligence and care that you use to prepare the presentation itself. Put yourself in your audience's shoes and think of possible questions they might ask. You can also practice your presentation in front of others and have them come up with likely questions.

4) Bluffing or lying when you don't know the answer. Not only is it unethical, but it's unwise, because you'll get caught and you'll lose your credibility. If you don't know the answer, don't bluff or guess. Instead, admit that you don't know and if it's important enough, say, "I don’t know but I’ll find out and get back to you.” Then do it.

5) Not restating the question. It's important that you restate the question in your own words before you answer it to ensure that you understood it correctly and that everyone in the audience can hear it. It also gives you time to think of an answer. And in the case of those long-winded comments-as-questions, restating the question succinctly makes it clear to everyone which elements you are going to focus on and answer.

6) Getting into a fight with a hostile questioner. If you get a clearly hostile question, keep your answer brief, direct it to the entire audience and when you're done, move your eye contact away from that questioner. It's not usually a good idea to attack the questioner head-on because it's difficult to win those exchanges, it can distract you from your topic and you risk turning the audience against you.

If you avoid these six mistakes, you'll be better able to handle questions with confidence and ease – and deliver an effective presentation.

Gilda Bonanno's blog