Marijuana, Comedy and Presentation Skills

Audiences have become so distracted that keeping their attention has become more challenging than ever.

Hollywood comedy writers now find that to hold their audience’s attention they need to provide a new punch line or gag every fourteen seconds. A study by the institute of psychiatry in London found that participants who were interrupted with emails performed worse on IQ tests than participants who were under the influence of marijuana. (Abela 2013, p. 2)

Here are three things we can do:

  1. Only focus on a problem your audience has that you can help solve.
  2. Don’t have a presentation if everyone knows and agrees on the answer to a problem.  Send out an email with suggested next steps instead.
  3. If you have really interesting information that you want to share, but it doesn’t help the audience, put it in an appendix, on a shared drive or email it out before hand. Or just leave it out all together.

If we can focus only on the specific needs of the audience, then we are more likely to hold their attention.

Abela, AV 2013, Advanced presentations by design : creating communication that drives action, 2ndedn., Pfeiffer, San Francisco.

Pitch Competitor Analysis

Like any methodology the EPM framework is a guide, the amount of time you spend on each step is dependent on a presentation’s importance. I often adapt steps depending on the task at hand. For example, I adapt the solution evaluation section to be a competitor evaluation table. Down the left-hand side, I list the criteria that the client will use to evaluate each of the bidders, starting with the most important and then weight them.  Across the top I name each of the competitors including my client.  Its then a matter of giving each bidder a score out of ten for each of the criteria. We are then able to highlight where our strengths and weaknesses are and develop strategies for dealing with each. Just for illustration purposes I have only weighted the totals, you could display the weights for each criterion for deeper analysis.

 WeightingMy ClientComp A.Comp B.Comp C.Comp D.
Team Availability11091076
On time delivery0.7579879
Problem Solving0.758871010
Average weighted total

126 to 6? Don’t start with 126 in the first place – start with 1!

Here’s ten questions Andrew Abela suggests you ask yourself or others when preparing and designing your presentation to get you off on the right foot.

  1. Who are the most important members audience?  
  2. What you want your audience to think and do differently as a result of your presentation?
  3. What’s the most important problem that your audience has, and what’s your contribution towards a solution to it?
  4. Do you have a wide range of evidence?
  5. Are you supporting your evidence with well-structured anecdotes?
  6. Is every important new piece of information in your presentation sequence preceded by a Complication that creates the need for that information in your audience?
  7. Have you selected the best chart for communicating each data-supported point, and are you showing enough detail?
  8. Does the layout of each page reinforce the main message of that page?
  9. Have you identified all stakeholders that could affect the success of your recommendations, and do you have a plan for dealing with each?
  10. Do you know how you will measure the success of your presentation?

Abela, AV 2013, Advanced presentations by design : creating communication that drives action, 2nd edn, Pfeiffer, San Francisco. p152

How Not to Choke Under Pressure – Public Speaking

Missfire #1 #2 #3 KaBOOM!

Conquering the fear of public speaking from Scatterbrain by Henning Beck.

The perfect storm of presentation poor performance presents itself when

#1 we focus on every single step making the very thing we don’t want to do top of mind,

#2 worrying so much about non-performance that we forget why we are there and

#3 letting our emotions run riot to the extent we would rather be dead.

And don’t forget we are doing all this under the watchful eye of an audience who are distracting our brains further!

So what can we do?

We need to realise that our brains stress response is doing exactly what we want it do.  It’s just that sometimes we are either pumping too much fuel into the engine or not enough, which results in under performance. It’s this realisation that is important.

The next thing we can do is practice under pressure.  So if we are rehearsing, rehearse without stopping – just keep going, errors included. Think about it, if you are presenting in front of an audience you cant just say “sorry I made a mistake I need to go back to the beginning”

Don’t learn your presentation word for word. If you miss out a phrase or a word you may become distracted and send your presentation into an abyss. Instead break your presentation down into main messages or key phrases and then link them together.  It’s much more interesting for you and your audience.

If your fear is failing in front of an audience, then Henning Beck suggests “you should try to visualise the pressure situation  as intensively as possible before it takes place….You should then play out the various scenarios in your mind in order to break down your fear of them”

One last helpful point Henning makes is not to cover up mistakes. If you lose your way, let the audience know, regain your place by checking your notes and then continue. For example, say “I may have jumped an important point let me just check my notes” or “I’ve gotten off track a bit, let me just see where I am”.

In addressing the fear of public speaking we need not only strategies for developing, designing and delivering our presentation,  just as importantly we need strategies for when our brain misfires!

How Not to Choke Under Pressure #3

Mental misfire #3 “The Over Excitement Trap” from Scatterbrain by Henning Beck.

Most of us have felt this over excitement at some stage of our careers – typically when giving a presentation. Here our autonomic nervous system is getting our body ready for the fight, flight or freeze response and pumping a cocktail of chemicals through our body including adrenaline.

But what causes our body to respond in this way? Henning Beck suggest that it’s the thought of either punishment or reward that contributes to this response. The reward might be winning an account or pitch and interestingly the higher the stakes the higher the error rate. Beck goes on to say “one of the most violent forms of punishment is social rejection.”  People are afraid of what others might say.

There are two things we can do here.

First, realise that this excitement or pressure is a good thing – it’s getting us ready to perform. Hans Selye said “it’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”  Likewise Susan David says in her book Emotional Agility, “We own our emotions, they don’t own us.” So we need to turn the table on this over excitement and realise we can mange it.

However as Beck notes “too little pressure and we perform just as poorly as when the pressure increases tenfold.” So rather than trying to rid ourselves of the excitement all together just pare it back enough so that we are more focused. 

One way we can pare it back is to practice paced breathing. If you don’t already, practice paced breathing everyday and before your event. Paced breathing is simply gently breath in on a count of 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4 and repeat for 5 or 10 minutes.

The effect of this breathing is it will balance the autonomic nervous system, so we can become more focused and alert and less over excited!