Monday, February 22, 2010

Listening Skills for Presenters: 7 Questions

Watch out - now I'm rambling.
  1. Good presenters are good listeners. Do you agree?
  2. People in the audience do not always talk back. However, they provide visual cues. There are nods and smiles. Or claps. Or yawns. Can you think of any more visual cues?
  3. Sometimes the presenter calls a show of hands, asks an open question or initiates a discussion. At other times, someone in the audience asks a question or makes a comment. In either case, interaction gets going. Does interaction always help a presentation along?
  4. You need to know your audience. Will the key takeaways from your presentation differ from one group to the next?
  5. You need to adapt to the audience, and they receive you well. Can you think of some techniques for adaptation you have used in the past?
  6. Sometimes you conduct a presentation online, and audience is remote. How do you listen to your audience in such cases?
  7. Sometimes you simply email a presentation to a group of people, or upload it to a web site. How do you listen to your audience in such cases?
I close this piece with these lines from poet Dylan Thomas: Someone’s boring me. I think it’s me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Interactivity vs Bandwidth

Would you rather have a web page that loads quickly - and offers minimal or no interactivity, or build a nice interactive experience - and hope that the site visitor will not lose patience as the page loads?

A recent article by Poonam on titled The Importance of Web Interactivity: Tips and Examples provides a case in point. The article itself is a remarkable compilation of some of the world's most interesting interactive web sites. Poonam' s radar sweeps from Starbuck's Find My Perfect Coffee quiz to Mercedes, Nokia and Harry Potter. She even talks about Monoface, a site where you can manipulate facial features to create funny faces with mouse clicks.

What's interesting is the numerous comments on this article - presumably from web designers. Several of them loved the ideas in her article, but are not sure they can take the leap of faith in the face of bandwidth constraints many users face.

It will be interesting to see how increasing bandwidths, better compression techniques and improvements in Flash and Silverlight resolve these concerns.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Six Steps to Building Effective Presentations

Harbinger Knowledge Products has recently published a white paper on interactive presentations. This white paper is a must-read for presenters who wish to exploit the power of interactivity. This post is a companion piece for its readers.

The white paper identifies six areas in a presentation that could leverage interactivity:

1. Create a first impression
2. Build instant rapport
3. Drive presentation through audience inputs
4. Simplify complex ideas and educate your audience
5. Make it easy to see your value proposition
6. Facilitate effective meeting closures

For each area, the paper suggests appropriate interactive elements presenters can use. To assess how good a job you are doing with this, here are some questions I suggest you pose yourself.

1. Create a first impression
  • Have I got my audience's attention?
  • Have I got them curious and interested?
  • Do they get a sense that together we are about to explore something interesting?

If you don't have a resounding 'yes' in answer to all these questions, it is time to re-assess your use of interactivity. Maybe what you have is too passive or too overbearing. For example, a video clip may gain attention, but render the audience passive. A witty quote may get a few people very interested but leave out others. A game right at the start may be interesting in itself but may not always build the right expectation.

2. Build instant rapport
  • Have I demonstrated that I care to know my audience?
  • Have I let them open up and talk to me?
  • Have I set the right expectations?
  • Do I have their trust?

Well chosen icebreakers help in building rapport. Polling or surveying the audience is one technique. Getting them to brainstorm ideas is another. The goal should be to build rapport and to create a foundation for the dialog to follow. You have to be careful in choosing your questions. Posing open-ended questions at this stage in presentation can be disastrous because you have not set the momentum and the discussions can go in all directions.

3. Drive presentation through audience inputs
  • Can my audience have a say in where we go next?
  • Is there a way for me to navigate the presentation accordingly?

Give too much information, and only a little will be received and retained. The level of detail required will vary based on the audience. Drill-downs and roll-overs provide the kind of interactivity that helps you calibrate the depth of information being presented.

4. Simplify complex ideas and educate your audience
  • Am I telling good stories?
  • Do I break down complex ideas into simpler ones, explaining them one at a time?

Display a whole slide full of text at once, and you instantly lose your audience. The preferred way is to unfold a story. Several interactive elements serve as excellent visual companions to storytelling. Dynamic flowcharts and other interactivites that build up visuals in a step-by-step fashion work great when you want to simplify complex ideas.

5. Make it easy to see your value proposition
  • Do I use appropriate business visuals?
  • Do the visuals permit interaction, drill-down etc?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, business visuals are pivotal to describing business ideas. Presenters often stress verbal communication too much, and ignore graphics in the process. Watch out for this bias.

6. Facilitate effective meeting closures
  • Does the audience get to take part in summarizing key ideas?
  • Are the takeaways listed in one place?
  • Is there a clear conclusion and action plan articulated?

In the end, it is about leaving an imprint in your audience's mind. The more interactively you summarize the ideas discussed, the better they will be retained. Well designed interactivities can mimic sticky notes that collect key takeaways from the audience. These are then are collated and posted in one place so it is easy to go back and refer to them. The white paper gives an example of such interactivity.

As you start using interactivity in your presentations, you are sure to see increased audience involvement. Feel free to add your own tips and questions to enrich this framework for interactive presentations.