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Using Data to Tell Your Story

By Michele Trent
Public Speaking Coach

Facts and figures don’t lie. However, they also do not necessarily tell the whole store. When you present data, you select the facts and figures that support the specific point of view or the story you want to tell. When you do research, you are looking at the data to give you answers. Then you craft a narrative to sell that answer or solution. The data is then used to communicate to the organization in a way that supports your recommendation.

In Nancy Duarte’s new book, “Data Story,” she shares important guidance on creating a story using data. You need to “Transform Numbers into Narratives.” One of the ways you do this is by making the numbers relatable. In and of themselves, numbers are just numbers. Larger numbers and very small numbers, in particular, can lose their meaning when you toss them into your remarks. Instead, strive to relate the numbers to something your audience understands. I recently heard that “Air Force One is roughly the size of a football field.” Hearing this comparison instead of “Air Force One is a really big plane,” added much more meaning. It made an impact because I have seen a football field many times and consequently, I have a sense of how big a football field is. To say a plane is that big really landed the point (pun intended!).

The trick is to make sure the comparison is understandable by your audience.  You may have heard comparisons such as – it’s like going back and forth to the moon 2-1/2 times. That statement does indicate a far distance. However, do you really have a sense of how far it is to the moon and back? Unless you are an astronaut, probably not. In Nancy Duarte’s book, she has one of the best comparisons for the distance to the moon that I’ve ever heard. It takes this vast distance and makes it relatable. Here’s how it’s stated in the book, “According to cosmologist Fred Hoyle, if you drove a car upward at 60 mph, in about an hour, you’d be in space. To get to the Moon, it’d take 4,000 hours of nonstop driving (or almost half a year).” Now that’s a heck of a road trip! Why this works is because we can all imagine driving an hour or multiple hours to get to a destination. And, we all have some sense of how long a half a year is. This comparison is relatable and secures in our minds the point that the moon is far away.

The next time you share data, think through the various ways you can make the numbers relatable. Connect the numbers to something your audience can imagine or easily recognize. Once you do, you will have an even greater chance of selling through your point of view and the data will help you do it.

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The Power of Your Words

By Michele Trent
Phoenix Public Speaking Coach

After having spent a summer studying for and then attending an intensive Neuro-Linguistic Programming Certification Training, I am clearer now than ever about the importance of language and public speaking. As a communicator, words are the raw materials from which you construct a bridge between yourself and your audience. What you say and how you say it mean…quite literally…everything in terms of your effectiveness. Without immersing yourself in an NLP course, what words might you use to better communicate your message?

Here are two thoughts about how to do that:

(1) Know Your Audience! This cannot be overstated. Once you know your audience, you will begin to speak in their language. Every business, every workgroup, every social group, has words, acronyms, and phrases that they use. To the extent that you can learn and apply these will make you come across as “one of them” and consequently, give you more credibility. However, don’t just throw in a bunch of terms that you don’t understand and hope for the best. If you do, you are likely to come across as silly and inauthentic. However, you don’t have to be an expert in the arena to use words and phrases familiar with the audience. Once you have uncovered what some of those words and phrases are that resonate with your audience, your attempt to relate and incorporate them just might be enough. Consider when you travel overseas and you attempt the native language of the country you are visiting. You are often given a courtesy smile just for having tried. At least you made the effort to find the words and use them. You made an effort to connect and assimilate. Do the same when presenting. Find out about the company or group and attempt to use their language.

(2) Use Your Imagination. Imagination is a terrific tool for you as a speaker. When your audience is imaging themselves in a scenario, they are actively using their minds and creating more meaning from what you say. I recently watched a speaker do this effectively. He was talking about his role as a commercial real estate agent. He invited the audience to come along with him as he showed a property. Of course, we were all still sitting in our seats. Yet, when he guided us to imagine ourselves on the tour, it all became more real. The next time you speak, invite your audience in by inviting them to imagine themselves benefitting or participating in what you are sharing.

Your words can have great power. Think through what you say in addition to how you say it. Doing so will make you an even more effective communicator.

Public Speaking Quick Tip: Smile

“Smile: It is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

Want to know the fastest and easiest way to connect with an audience? Answer: Smile. Yep, whether you’re in a 1-on-1 interaction or on stage in front of a large audience, a friendly smile will help you connect with your audience right away.

But wait – there’s more! A smile will help YOU feel more confident as well. That’s right, your body language can affect how you feel. We call this “the Jedi mind trick you play on yourself.”

So, before you walk on stage, take a smiling selfie or pre-engage audience members with a warm smile as they enter the room. Give it a try. When you do, you’ll put yourself in a better frame of mind and start to engage your audience in the crucial first 90 seconds of your presentation.

Public Speaking Quick Tip: Remove Distractions

Do you fidget with a ring, fuss with your hair, or fiddle with car keys in your pocket when you’re nervous and speaking in front of a group? These distracting, nervous habits can ruin an otherwise good business presentation. They chip away at your credibility and take away from the impact of your message.

So what should you do to avoid such distractions? Well, you could try to remember not to do these distracting things, but you’ve got enough on your mind. A better strategy is to simply remove as many distractions as possible so that you can focus on your content and delivery. If you fidget with your ring, remove it (but be sure to put it in a VERY safe place). If you fuss with your hair, tie it back. If you fiddle with your car keys, empty your pocket.

The more your audience can focus on your content and on your confident delivery, the more effective you will be as a public speaker or business presenter.

3 Ways to unNumb Numbers

Data is an important part of business and business presentations. But numbers can make your audience disengage if you don’t present them in an understandable and relatable way.

Here are 3 ways to take the numb out of your numbers in public speaking:

1) Remove data that are not part of your main point. Sometimes an entire spreadsheet is put on a slide when only one data point is really important. If you have to put all the data on the slide, try putting the relevant data in a different color or put a circle around it.

2) Provide context. Explain to your audience why the data you’re presenting matters? How will it impact the business? How will it impact the future? Tell a short story to illustrates the point. Stories give life to data and make the point you are trying to make more memorable. Show some passion for the key points you are making about your data. If you’re not excited about your data, your audience won’t be either. Data combined with a story are a powerful 1-2 punch.

3) Make numbers comparable to something familiar. Show your audience what you’re talking about by comparing your data to something that the audience can easily relate to. Here’s one of my favorite comparisons that really makes the point: “If every dollar equals 1 second, then $1 million is about 11 hours. By comparison, $1 billion would be about 32 years.”

When you take the numb out of the numbers, you’ll have a more impactful business presentation that will turn heads, win hearts, and get results.

Use a Presentation Remote Control or a Helper

As in all public speaking endeavors, it’s crucial when making a business presentation to connect with your audience. That becomes more difficult if you find yourself trapped behind a lectern running PowerPoint slides. A lectern is a piece of furniture that comes between you and your audience and anything that separates you from your audience detracts from your ability to connect with them.

Solution: Get yourself a presentation remote control and a fresh set of batteries. This will allow you to move about the room freely and better interact and connect with your audience.

Before your presentation, test the remote to make sure it will work from the sides and back of the room. Make sure you know what all the buttons do.

What do you do if you don’t have a presentation remote control? Ask a colleague or friend to handle the keyboard and advance slides for you. When doing so, avoid overusing saying “next slide please” and instead cue your helper with a simple head nod or “the look.”

Remember: presentations are always, always, always about connecting with your audience. A presentation remote or a trusted helper will give you a better chance to connect with your audience and deliver a more powerful message.

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Add a Little P.R.E.P. to Your Unscripted Speaking

By Michele Trent
Public Speaking Coach

RECENTLY, I was at an event and the headline speaker gave a remarkable speech. It was fitting for the event, emotionally stirring, beautifully descriptive. He finished, we all clapped. Well done indeed. Then, this same speaker was asked to share an announcement with the crowd. He sounded like a completely different person. Once he no longer had the crutch of reading his exquisitely crafted remarks, he stuttered and stammered. He repeated himself and tried to explain over and again the one point he was tasked to deliver. It was awkward. And this after such a tremendous speech. What happened?

Delivering written remarks is a vastly different skill than impromptu or extemporaneous speaking. Both have their place but they are different. Have you ever been to a concert and watched amazing performers dancing and doing tricks all while singing flawlessly? Well, that’s because they are lip-syncing. Once the song is over and the mic is turned back on so that they can speak to the crowd directly, then you hear him or her huffing and puffing and gasping for breath after the high energy routine. They can dance and do acrobatic moves but that does not lend itself to singing. Same with speaking. While you might deliver your written and rehearsed speech well, what happens when you’re forced to tap into a different skill set?

Unscripted Speaking

Delivering written remarks is a skill. There is no doubt about that. You need to be familiar with what you are saying. You need to be concerned with pacing and tone. It’s rehearsed. In some instances, it is completely fitting to read your remarks. Impromptu (delivered without preparation) and extemporaneous (prepared but without a script) speaking require a different set of skills. While many people find it “scary,” it really need not be. Unscripted speaking is what you do every day, all day, when you interact with your friends and colleagues. What you will want to be most mindful of when you are called upon to speak with little or no notice is what point do you want to make?

This might sound overly simplistic. Of course, you will have a point! However, you’d be surprised at how masked your point can become when you are nervous, and you just start saying all kinds of other things to fill time and space. It is better to be succinct and simply stop talking than to ramble in such a way that your point is lost. This is what happened to the speaker I referred to at the beginning. His point got lost in all kinds of other weird and unrelated statements.

P.R.E.P. Formula

So, what do you do and how can you make your point well? Here’s a simple formula used by Phoenix Public Speaking, Toastmasters and others that you can employ in a business setting to make your point. The next time a meeting starts and your boss says, “hey, can you give a quick rundown of where we’re at for your project,” remember the acronym P.R.E.P.

  • The first P in P.R.E.P. stands for “Point.” Start with your main point.
  • Then “Relate” (or “Reason”). Why you are the one qualified to make this point.
  • The E stands for “Example,” give an example (such as a short story) to support your point.
  • And then “P,” make your point again with a recommendation.

When you put it all together, it might sound something like this:

“We have too many signs in our stores, they are costly, create clutter, and confuse the customer. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jane Smith and I lead the Signage Strategy Team. We recently concluded an expansive research project to identify the value of signs within our stores. The result of the study concludes that we could reduce the amount of signage in-store by 30% and expect an increase in customer purchases as a result. How could this be? We allocate up to 30 hours a week of manpower to put up and take down signs if this time was reallocated to customer service, associates could greet customers and be available to answer crucial customer questions regarding delivery and custom color options. In our test store with 30% fewer signs, sales increased 5% due to this increased customer interaction. Additionally, have you ever noticed how overwhelming our stores appear when you walk through the front door? The boldness of our signs diverts attention from our products and overwhelm our customers. With fewer signs and less information to take in, customers buy more. In short, we recommend reducing the overall number of signs in our store by 30% as a way of reducing costs, creating a more favorable aesthetic and increasing overall sales.”

This is a made-up example but you get the point – make your point, support your point, and make your point again. And then, stop talking. Don’t dilute what you have to say by adding information that could create confusion. If people have questions, invite them to ask those. Your job is to make the point.

Now, the next time you are called upon to give remarks with very little notice, what you have to say will be as clear as what you have rehearsed. You will simply be tapping into a slightly different set of skills.


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5 Tips to Make Your Accent More Understandable

By Paul Barton
Principal Consultant

I get approached from time to time by business professionals who are seeking help because they believe their accent is a detriment to their public speaking or business presentations. This usually surprises me because I find accents to be charming and at times even mesmerizing to listen to (my wife’s Filipino accent for instance).

But whether it’s charming, mesmerizing or something else, your accent is a part of who you are and attempting to change it dramatically would be disingenuous to your audience, and indeed, yourself.

That said, the real question becomes this: Can you be clearly understood by your audience? If the answer is “yes,” then embrace your accent! The problem was probably mostly in your head to begin with. Be yourself and speak with confidence.

However, if the answer is “no” and you are not being clearly understood, there are a few tips you can try to improve the way you speak:

  1. If you speak fast, try speaking slower.
  2. Practice pronouncing words that are used frequently in your business. Make sure you are enunciating the words you are having trouble with and stress the correct syllables.
  3. Record yourself reading a script or a book out loud and listen carefully to see what words aren’t being pronounced correctly.
  4. Listen carefully to TV newscasters and radio announcers. They are trained to speak clearly and typically speak without glaring accents.
  5. Try singing karaoke, watch the lyrics scroll across the screen, and note how the syllables are pronounced. A different part of your brain is engaged with music and often great learning can occur. After all, how did you learn your ABCs and why do you remember that ridiculous radio jingle you haven’t heard in decades?

If after trying these “home remedies” for a few weeks and you aren’t seeing any appreciable improvement, you may want to seek the help of a speech pathologist.

But whatever you do, please don’t try to lose your accent! Accents add a little spice to you and your presentation. Make sure you’re being understood and you will be great!

Don’t Wing It. Nail it!

By Michele Trent
Public Speaking Coach

WHAT DO YOU do when you are asked to give a business presentation to a group? Do you calmly say “yes” and then jump up and down internally with excitement? Or perhaps you calmly say “yes” and then your stomach drops and the chills begin. You dread that day on the calendar and chastise yourself for agreeing to speak in the first place. Or perhaps you are in between those two extremes. You feel OK about presenting but you feel like you don’t have time to put something together that is good. You resolve to just “wing it.” After all, who knows your business or your role in the company better than you do? Well, likely no one.

However, unless you are a fabulously skilled presenter who can organize your thoughts on the fly, you should give time and attention to put together your remarks. Speaking in front of an audience is a privilege. Connecting face-to-face is powerful and when all eyes are on you, you want to be ready. You want to ensure that those who come to hear you speak feel like the time or money they spent was well worth it.

Audience Considerations

There are many things to consider as you prepare for a presentation. For purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on one – the audience. As you sit down to think through your presentation, you should first consider who your audience is. What do you know about them? What are their needs? What might they fear? What victories of theirs can you reinforce? What do they already know about the subject matter? What is it the audience needs to know the most.

Just thinking through these questions will give you all kinds of intelligence you can incorporate in your remarks. Think back to a time when you heard a powerful speaker whom really connected with you. You probably felt as though they were speaking right to you. What made it seem this way? Most likely, that speaker did their due diligence. They understood who would be in the audience and they crafted their remarks accordingly. It is not a coincidence that the speaker connected with you. Nope. It is because they did their homework and understood who you were. You can do the same.

Craft your remarks with your audience in mind. It sounds so simple and yet it means so much. What if you don’t know who’s going to be in your audience? Put on your detective hat and find out. Who invited you to speak? Ask them about the audience. Does this group meet regularly? If so, try and visit a meeting prior to the one when you are the featured speaker. How about a survey? Can you send something in advance with a few relevant questions? Let your contact know that you want to customize your remarks and ask if they would be willing to send out a short survey on your behalf. Incorporate your learnings into your presentation. Is there any information online about the group? What can you learn from their online presence?

Connecting with Your Audience

As you learn more about your audience, your confidence will grow. What was unknown and perhaps scary becomes more known and comfortable. Instead of “winging it” and maybe connecting with a few people in a haphazard way, draft your content in terms of your audience and increase your chance of connection. Your audience will know that you care about them when they hear content that is meaningful to them, shared in a relatable way.

When it comes to making a presentation, don’t “wing it.” Instead, “nail it!”


Phoenix Public Speaking coachingNeed help to prepare for your upcoming business presentation? Check out our 1-on-1 personal coaching packages.

7 Presentation Tips from a Workshop Pro

By Jeff Herrington
Guest Blogger

Your industry has asked you to present on your field of expertise. But the thought of presenting makes your palms sweat.

Calm your nerves. Follow these seven tips and you’ll likely get applause from your audience, not rotten tomatoes.

  1. Remind yourself nobody’s going to throw rotten tomatoes at you – Your audience is rooting for you. Still, establishing rapport up front helps. Ask about someone’s lapel pin or laptop case. Don’t glad-hand everyone – that comes across needy. Be friendly but be authentic.
  2. Don’t let a slip break your stride – Correct your malapropism (or excuse your cough) and keep on presenting. People care more about how a presenter reacts to a snafu than the fact they made one. Just smile, say “oops,” and offer your next key point. Your audience will be impressed you withstood a faux pas far better than they would have.
  3. Move around. But don’t make people seasick – When you start, anchor in a location and remain there for several minutes. Once you’re into your presentation, however, feel free to gently roam. Audiences like to know their presenter isn’t some remote-controlled robot. But you’re not a thoroughbred vying for the Triple Crown, either. Glide. Stop. Present for a while. Glide again.
  4. Dialogue more, monologue less – Engagement is the goal. People learn more through conversation (and are less likely to doze off). Pitch questions: ‘Who has encountered this challenge and how did YOU solve it?’ Even let your audience answer one another’s questions. But control the room. This is YOUR presentation, not The Jerry Springer Show.
  5. One point per slide – I’m stunned some presenters still put six bullet points on one slide. Like there’s a dearth of PowerPoint slides out there and we need to conserve them. Deliver your points one at a time, visually as well as orally. You’ll more easily recall what you have to say and your audience will more easily recall what you said.
  6. Expect pushback. Know how to manage it – Challenging authority has replaced baseball as our national pastime. Expect someone to dispute some point you’re making. Here’s where “getting along” must transcend “proving you’re right.” Ask challengers how they derived their view (you may find some truth in their perspective, allowing you to then show how nuanced your topic is). If their view’s incorrect, or outdated, don’t say that. Focus on what the evidence reveals (“We used to think the world was flat, but explorers have disproven that by sailing around the world.”) That moves the dispute from one of opinions to facts.
  7. Conclude by asking for questions. And, for enlightenment – In wrapping up, I ask what surprised the group most about what they heard. What they learned that they hadn’t expected to. What they’ll do differently as a result of my talk or continue to do with greater passion. Their answers should convince your hosts that you got your points across well. And, that they should invite you back to present on another topic.

ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER

Jeff Herrington has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in the U. S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., and Germany. Companies that have been brought Jeff’s workshops on-site include JPMorgan Chase, American Century Investments, Arizona Public Service, IBM, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Jeff also has provided consulting expertise for such companies as Coca-Cola France, Whirlpool, John Deere and Wausau Insurance.

In addition to his consulting, coaching and workshops, Jeff also has composed several crossword puzzles that have been published in The New York Times, and he writes under the name of Jeffrey Eaton as a murder mystery author.

You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn or on his Jeff Herrington Communications website.