Earlier this year I was given a golden opportunity. To deliver a Keynote presentation to kick off a European event for a large multi-country software company. There were 500 people in the audience. It was a big stage and I had 40 minutes to fill. I was the first one up. It was quite scary and beyond my comfort zone, but I still said yes. Despite my trepidation It all went well. The key for me was practice. Here’s what I learnt.
So, you’ve written a fabulous speech, with a powerful start and a strong ending. Your slides look great and you’ve practiced endlessly. Now, it’s the day of the big presentation and there’s a lot at stake. No matter how experienced you are, you'll go through a range of emotions. You could be nervous, anxious or super-excited. Adrenalin and cortisol will kick in. Your heartbeat will go up and your palms will get sweaty. So how you do prepare on the day of the presentation? How do you make sure you’re ready to give it your best shot?
We’ve all wasted hours sitting through mediocre Powerpoint presentations. Everyone complains about them. You all know the expression – Death by Powerpoint.
I’m not a designer, but I spend a lot of time writing Powerpoint slides. And, if I’m being honest with myself, some of my presentations could have been a lot better. So, I set myself the goal of raising my game. To make my presentations easier to present from and easier for the audience to listen to. I never want to be accused of delivering dull presentations.
Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’ has had a big influence on me. It’s a manifesto in support of the world’s introverts and how to make the most of their talents. You get a sense of the book from her inspiring TED talk – here. I spend much of my working life facilitating workshops, standing in front of people and telling them what to do. Despite this, I’m an introvert. (really, it’s true!) I have a lot of sympathy for introverts who attend workshops.
A great piece of advice TED’s Chris Anderson gives in his excellent ‘Official Guide to Public Speaking’ is to ‘Start Strong’ and ‘End with Power’. When we deliver presentations we often forget this.
When I facilitate, I have one golden rule. Always give time back, never take it away. I never, ever over-run. Time is such a precious commodity. People have chosen to give this up to take part in your workshop, so you need to treat it with respect. In my view, there’s nothing worse than a facilitator who over-runs. It shows you haven’t planned or you’re losing control of the session. The only time I ever go over the allotted time is when the session owner or the attendees request it.
One of my favourite Ted talks is by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled ‘Your elusive creative genius'. She discusses her creative journey and how she goes about producing her work. She describes the ‘utterly maddening capriciousness of the creative process'. Will she ever produce a piece of work as successful as ‘Eat, Pray Love?', she asks herself. Probably not, she admits.
You’re about to kick off the workshop. You’ve planned it meticulously. You’re in a cool venue. You’ve designed a dynamic, creative workshop process. As a facilitator, the key thing now is to focus on building a rapport with the expectant faces looking at you. You need to create a close, harmonious relationship with everyone in the room.
Persuasion is an essential business skill. Whether we’re convincing our team to adopt a new strategy, or selling a new product, we’re always attempting to bring others round to our point of view. So how do we become more persuasive? What tools and techniques can we can draw upon? Luckily, the work of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is a source of inspiration. His work is as relevant today as it’s ever been.
Back in 2007 I was running a 2 day training programme with the Cadbury’s UK marketing team in one of the usual off-site locations. At the end the Marketing Director said to me, ‘do you mind if I show the team a new Dairy Milk ad that we’re thinking of running’. He put his CD into my laptop and played it on the big screen. It featured a man in a gorilla suit playing along to the Phil Collins song ‘In the Air Tonight’. And that was basically it. Then he turned to the room and asked ‘What do you think? Shall we run this?’’
Idea generation sessions are the workshops I enjoy the most. I love the buzz, the energy and it’s so satisfying to go through the journey of inventing something new. If you were to simply walk into an idea generation session, it may appear chaotic with post-its, magazines, random products and objects strewn all over the place. However, the best sessions are really well organised. Of course they need to be planned properly, but once this is done, this is how you structure them.
Every day we’re bombarded with information via our twitter feeds, news sites and in-boxes. Being able to discern truth from fiction is a constant battle. To help us write persuasive reports, make informed decisions and to clarify our points of view on the world, an ability to spot flaws in arguments is essential. This is what to look out for.
The most successful workshops I’ve been involved in are a result of great planning.. The more time and effort you put into this, the better the session will be. Detailed planning allows you to really understand the brief, design a fabulous process and create a truly bespoke event. By the time the workshop day comes around you’ll be full of confidence and able to adapt, improvise and have fun.
I recently read Daniel H Pink’s book ‘To Sell is Human’. It was written in 2013, but I’ve only just discovered it. One of the many things I really enjoyed about the book is the section on how to pitch ideas. It’s something we all have to do, no matter what our role, so it’s important that we master how to do it well.
Recently I saw a fascinating TED talk by David JP Philips called ‘The Magical Science of Storytelling’, where he explains how certain chemicals in your brain are triggered when we hear a great story. He refers to these chemicals - oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins as ‘The Angel’s Cocktail’, the emotions we all crave when we hear a great story. With practice we can all trigger these emotions when writing or delivering presentations. Here’s how.
I’ve a huge admiration for the creatives of the world, those people who produce work of amazing originality. However, they’re not born creative, they become creative. And like most things in life you develop and grow through the habits you adopt. Here’s a few suggestions of their habits that you could consider adopting.