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    Make your next presentation stick with your audience

    Shot of a diverse group of young business professionals brainstorming in a meeting In a world saturated with information and presentations, being memorable is critical. One recent survey reported that technology workers hear on average one presentation a day. You need to make your presentations memorable if you are to have any chance of having your ideas live on and get traction. By invoking two key tools—variation and emotion—you can help your audience to remember your content and call to action. Your job as a presenter is to engage your audience, to pull them forward in their seats. Unfortunately, audiences can be easily distracted, and they habituate quickly. To counter these natural tendencies, you must diversify your material to keep people’s attention, with variation in your voice, variation in your evidence, and variation in your visuals. If you are speaking about a big opportunity – then speak in a “big” way You have likely been the victim of a monotonous speaker who drones on in a flat vocal style, like Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Vary your volume and speaking rate to help keep your audience’s attention and motivate them to listen. And by speaking expressively, your passion for your topic comes through. However, for many presenters, especially those newer to English, this type of speaking is not natural. I often instruct less expressive speakers to infuse their presentations with emotive words, such as “excited,” “valuable,” and “challenging,“ and to inflect their voice to reflect the meaning of these words. If you are speaking about a big opportunity, then speak “big” in a big way. With practice, you will feel more comfortable with this type of vocal variety. Use three different types of evidence to support claims Varying the type of evidence you use to support the claims in your presentation is equally important. Too often, presenters exclusively use their favorite type of evidence. You might over-rely on data or on anecdotes. But both qualitative and quantitative academic research have found that when you triangulate your support you provide more compelling and memorable results. So, try providing three different types of evidence, such as a data point, a testimonial, and an anecdote. This triangulation neatly reinforces your point, and it allows your audience multiple opportunities to connect with your idea and remember it, which is why it’s a technique often used by advertisers to reinforce that you should buy their product. By varying your voice and evidence, you will make the words you speak more memorable. Help your audience focus – they struggle to multitask. But what your audience sees is also critical. Just as a monotonous speaker can cause mental shutdown in an audience, repetitive body movements, and slides jammed with words can fatigue and distract an audience. People are very poor multitaskers. When distracted by spurious gestures or a wall of bullet points, audience members have fewer cognitive resources available to remember the content of what you’re saying. To increase the variety of your nonverbal delivery (e.g., gestures and movement), audio record yourself delivering your presentation, then play the recording while you move and practice your gestures. Since you do not have to think about what to say, you can play with adding variation to your body movement without the distraction of speaking. Using authentic emotion can help your message stick Emotion sticks. People remember emotionally charged messages much more readily than fact-based ones. In fact, modern scientists are finding that our emotional responses have a fast track to our long-term memory. So when possible, try to bring some emotion into your presentation, whether in the form of your delivery or the content itself. This emotion will bolster engagement in the moment and memory in the future. To help your audience remember your message, work to have your tone and delivery match the emotional impact you desire. You must take time to reflect on the emotional response you want and then work to make sure that your delivery is congruent with the emotional impact you desire. However, be careful not to be too scripted or theatrical. For emotion to help you, it must be authentic and credible. I am often challenged when I assert that emotion is an important ingredient for engagement and memory. My technical and scientific clients and students claim that their presentations need to be highly detailed and descriptive, and, thus, emotion is antithetical and incompatible to their speaking goals. I fully believe that even the most technical and scientific talks can have emotion infused in them. Further, I have seen first-hand how emotion can elevate the involvement, impact, and memory of these types of presentations. The best way to bring emotion in is to focus on benefits and implications of the technology or science. Benefits are inherently emotional….saving time, saving money, saving trees, saving lives…these are emotional. I recently worked with a large graphics chip maker whose standard presentations are jammed full of technical detail, jargon, and data. These presentations lead to what one of my former students termed “verbal anesthesia.” Audience members were overwhelmed with the presenters’ information and underwhelmed in their comprehension and retention. However, once the presenters focused on the benefits of the graphics chips to the audience’s lives, such as powering their mobile devices, car navigation systems, etc., the presentations had more impact. By including an emotional component to your presentations via your tone, delivery, and connection to your audience, you can expedite engagement and increase long-tern retention. By invoking specific techniques and practices, you can deliver a presentation that is memorable for your audience, no matter your presentation environment or topic. When used, these tools will lead to confident, compelling, and connected presentations.

      Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 5 Techniques to help manage the fear of public speaking

      The Book of Lists has repeatedly reported that the fear of speaking in public is the most frequent answer to the question “What scares you most?” These results were recently echoed in Chapman University’s survey on American fears, which rated speaking in public among the top 5 fears Americans report. In fact, people rate speaking anxiety 10 to 20 percent higher than the fear of death, the fear of heights, the fear of spiders, and the fear of fire. As a student of mine once joked: “People would rather stand naked while on fire, overlooking a 30-story fall, covered with spiders and snakes than give a presentation.” However, it doesn’t need to be this way. By leveraging academically validated anxiety management techniques, you can deliver your presentation in a confident and compelling manner. To celebrate the recent release of my book’s 3rd edition – Speaking Up without Freaking Out, I would like to provide you with five anxiety management techniques that you can employ to help you feel more at ease about presenting. To help you remember these techniques, I will use the acronym BRAVE. Breathe. Take time to breathe slowly and deeply. “Belly breathing”—filling your lower abdomen by inhaling slowly through your nose and filling your lower abdomen —can reduce your nervous symptoms (e.g., lowering heart rate, calming your jittery arms and legs, etc.). Additionally, to quiet the mental noise that anxiety often causes, slowly count to three as you inhale and then again as you exhale. Focuse your attention on the counting. Repeat this type of breathing several times. Recite your core message. Most people fear forgetting. One way to bolster your confidence is to make sure you know your central point well. You should be able to repeat your core message in one clear, concise declarative sentence. Say this to yourself a few times. Being sure that you know your key point will help you feel confident that you are prepared to speak. Also, if you do forget a part of your presentation, restating your central point is one way to help you get back on track. Acknowledge your jitters. The physical, emotional, and mental anxiety reactions you may be treated with likely experience prior to speaking are typical. These sensations do not show anything beyond your body’s normal response to something that is challenging or threatening. Avoid giving these natural responses special significance. In fact, you can greet or accept these reactions by saying to yourself: “Here are those anxiety feelings again. It makes sense that I feel nervous; I am about to do something of consequence and importance.” This type of acknowledgement is empowering and quells your anxiety response. Vocally warm up. Being anxious can wreak havoc on your voice. Relax your voice and yourself by vocally warming. An athlete would not begin his or her sport without stretching, nor should you begin speaking with out preparing your voice. Start by drinking some warm water. Next, speak your core message out loud. Finally, repeat tongue twisters, such as “I slit a sheet. A sheet I slit. And, on that slitted sheet, I sit.” In addition to tongue twisters getting your voice prepared, they also help you become present oriented so that you worry less about the future consequences of your presentation (e.g., getting the job, being funded, having your idea supported, or achieving the good grade). Expect success. To often, speakers worry about making mistakes and messing up, rather than embracing their speaking opportunity. When you think that you have a great chance to share your ideas, you are likely to feel positive, which in turn, makes you more empowered and relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to give a good presentation. You are using self-fulfilling prophecy to obtain a positive outcome. One way to capitalize on this self-fulfilling prophecy is to use positive affirmations. Before you speak, you can silently say an affirmation you created. Affirmations should not be long sayings or contain too many concepts. Research on sports performance has found that simple, one-word mantras (e.g., focus, calm, fun) confer benefits because they eliminate overthinking and reduce negative thoughts. It takes practice and patience, but by being BRAVE you will definitely manage your speaking anxiety and present in a more confident and compelling way. To learn more speaking anxiety management techniques, please check out this infographic from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business or visit

        Hacking Your Anxiety

        In conjunction with the release of my 3rd edition of Speaking Up without Freaking Out, Stanford's Graduate School of Business released this new infographic on Hacking Your Anxiety that derives its content from my book. hackAnxiety

          How to Handle Audience Skepticism

          Anyone with a novel idea, from an entrepreneur to a product marketer, should know how to handle a suspicious audience. by Matt Forrest Abrahams and Burt Alper
          Listen to This Story:
          By nature, human beings are risk averse. People will go to great lengths to avoid potential negative outcomes — much greater lengths than they will go to attain potential positive ones. This orientation toward the status quo often compels us to be suspicious of new things. Anyone in the business of presenting novel ideas, from entrepreneurs to product marketers, must be prepared for these objections and questions. Often, how we respond to these doubts dictates how our ideas will be received. So how do you prepare? It’s more than thinking about potential objections and questions beforehand (although that certainly helps). There are specific techniques you can use to deftly respond to these challenging situations without sounding defensive, evasive, or dismissive. Here we offer a few key tips for how to handle objections, challenging questions, and skepticism with aplomb.

          Framing Is the Key

          We’ve all heard the trite phrase, “Challenges are opportunities in disguise.” It’s a classic example of framing. Calling problems “opportunities” changes the way people approach them. Language matters. How you position your topic can guide the way people see it. For example, to short-circuit an audience’s suspicion of new ideas, whenever possible use language that highlights the positive aspects of your subject, such as the potential benefits and successes. Think of how auto dealers frame a car someone else owned as “certified previously owned” rather than “used” in order to get people to pay more for the car. The simple word choice and framing affects perception, which in turn affects attitudes and behaviors.

          Framing Types and Techniques

          While no two audience objection scenarios are ever the same, we’ve found it helpful to break the world of skepticism into two primary categories: those that are based on more subjective or emotional concerns and those that are more objective or factual. Learning techniques to handle each type can help presenters deal with a wide array of naysayers. Objections of the Heart You can recognize emotional objections by their inherent lack of data or their focus on what might happen at some point in the future. These kinds of objections tend to be more knee-jerk, spontaneous concerns. Here are a few telltale phrases that indicate an emotional foundation:
          • "I'm not sure why … I just don’t like it."
          • "That doesn't feel right to me."
          • "What if …"
          • "That might lead to ..."
          In terms of formulating an effective response, think of logic as water to emotion’s fire — it’s imperative that you bring logic into your response to defuse the objection. Using an emotional response to an emotional objection does nothing to resolve the issue and can actually fan the flames of objection, in the process reducing your credibility in your audience’s eyes. Paraphrase to address emotional skepticism. Paraphrasing is a listening tool where you reflect back what others say in your own words. Effective paraphrasing affords you several benefits (e.g., ensures that you heard someone correctly, values the other person’s contribution, allows you time to think, etc.). As a framing technique, paraphrasing allows you to acknowledge the emotion of someone’s question/objection, then pivot your response to the world of logic. For example, if someone were to angrily question you on how your proposal will affect a process inefficiency, you can use your paraphrase to acknowledge the emotion, then get to the logical crux of the issue. For example, you might say, “I hear your passion, and believe me, I want nothing more than for us to address the disconnect between our corporate and satellite offices, which is why my plan …” By acknowledging the questioner’s emotion, you validate his or her feeling and allow yourself to get to the facts at hand. (Note: It’s a good idea to avoid labeling the specific emotion in your paraphrase, which does little to defuse it and can actually escalate it.) Perhaps the most useful function of paraphrasing is that it can make questions or objections more comfortable for you to answer. The most striking example we have come across was in a sales situation where a prospect asked the presenter: “How come your prices are ridiculously expensive?” Clearly, the response, “So you’re asking about our ridiculous pricing” is not the way to go. Rather, you can reframe the issue in your paraphrase to be about a topic you are better prepared to address. For example, “So you’d like to know about our product’s value.” Price is clearly part of value, but you start by describing the value and return on investment, which will likely soften the blow of the price. For this type of reframing, finding a higher order concept is often the key to an effective response to a challenge. For example, challenges about release dates can become issues of feature prioritization, and questions about cost can translate to an explanation of overall investments. Spending time thinking about these higher order links in advance of your presentation will enable you to more readily and smoothly invoke them during your paraphrasing. Try one of the following lines to help you start your paraphrase:
          • "So what you are saying/asking is …"
          • "What is important to you is ..."
          • "You'd like to know more about ..."
          • "The central idea of your question/comment is ..."
          Objections of the Mind In some ways, the fact-based objections are easier to manage because these concerns are based on logical reasoning. Often, fact-based objections result from previous experience with your idea, or at least with the category of your idea. Here are a few telltale phrases that indicate a more fact-based concern:
          • “We just don’t have the resources.”
          • “We don’t have enough time”
          • Your idea will cost too much.”
          If someone says there isn’t enough budget for your idea, they have to know how much budget is available in order to raise the objection in the first place. In addressing these fact-based objections, you usually can’t just come up with alternate facts — arguing over whose information is “right” often is futile and negatively affects your credibility. Instead, you need to reframe the objection to change the person’s perception of the situation. Use analogies to address factual skepticism. Analogies not only activate the audience’s existing mental constructs, which allows for quicker information processing and understanding, but they also provide a particular point of view for the discussion to ensue. For example, when confronted with an objection to your idea of implementing stricter policies, you could compare the situation to transitioning from playing intramural to varsity sports. In so doing, you focus the conversation on rules, scrutiny, and increasing competition. Spend time in advance of your presentations and meetings considering a few possible analogies you can use so they’re at the ready. When thinking of possible analogies, don’t shy away from clichés, which are essentially trite analogies. Since they’re so universally understood, they often can quickly manage questions/objections by putting common wisdom on your side. For example, when confronted with an accusation that your approach is too timid and slow, you could reply with “we purposely aren’t trying to boil the ocean” or “we are simply trying to be penny wise, and not pound foolish.” In either case, the cliché provides you with a rationale for your action that sits easily with your audience. Of course, you must not use too many of these cliché sayings in one interaction.

          Pre- and Post-Presentation Framing Techniques

          In addition to framing in the moment, when you find yourself addressing challenging questions or objections during your presentation, there are things you can do prior to — and after — your interactions. Prior to Interaction Before your discussion even happens, you can seed your description of what will be said with language to focus your audience’s attention and set your direction. For meetings, send out an agenda in advance that lists your goals, as well as your intended plan to accomplish them and what your audience will get out of your presentation. For both presentations and meetings, it can be helpful to provide your audience with questions to consider prior to attending your event. Additionally, take time to set boundaries (i.e., ground rules) and expectations (i.e., preview). Not only does this make you appear more confident and commanding, but it establishes what is available for discussion and how it will be discussed. Post-Interaction The way you summarize and disseminate results or takeaways affords you another opportunity to position your point of view. Regardless of the channel you use to follow up (e.g., email, web posting, call, etc.), identify the key ideas you wish to reinforce or potentially reinterpret. Spend time crafting your message, focusing on your specific verbiage. Be sure to use language that signals involvement and agreement, such as the inclusive pronouns “us” and “we,” as you report outcomes and decisions. Finally, define next steps in a clear and concise way, taking care to link them to a higher-order goal. Together, all of these reframing techniques can help you address emotional and factual skepticism during every facet of your interaction, all while helping you reduce any anxiety you may have over how others might respond to your ideas and proposals.

            Announcing the 3rd edition of my book Speaking Up without Freaking Out!

            I am thrilled to announce the release of the 3rd edition of my book Speaking Up without Freaking Out! This new edition contains even more anxiety management techniques (as well as updates to those in the previous edition) along with one new chapter and one new appendix. To celebrate, I am including a link to the revised fourth chapter on using audience connection to both help manage speaking anxiety and increase audience engagement.

              Mesmerizing and Sanitizing Can Reduce Your Agonizing: Two new anxiety management techniques for addressing speaking anxiety

              I am always on the look out for easy-to-implement public speaking anxiety reduction techniques, and I recently came across two that I hope can be of value to you. Conversational Hypnosis Anesthesiologists often calm the nerves of surgical patients prior to surgery with medication. And while effective, researchers have been exploring other non-medicinal means of allaying surgical fears. Doctor Emmanuel Boselli recently reported success with a technique he terms “conversational hypnosis.” This technique has the doctor quietly and positively instructing the patient to be calm and focused on the here and now. By briefly focusing the patient’s attention away from the stressor of surgery, Dr. Boselli’s data show an equivalent amount of anxiety reduction when compared to medication. I believe this approach will benefit presenters as well. In the minutes leading up to your speech, you can ask a colleague or friend to deliver some calming, supportive words. When listening, you should focus on your friend and quietly acknowledge their support and help. Mindfulness in Action Recent research demonstrated that physical activities as mundane as everyday household activities –think folding clothes, vacuuming, etc. – can reduce people’s stress level. The study explored washing dishes as a way to alleviate anxiety. Participants were instructed to be mindful in their behavior; that is, they were to focus on getting the dishes clean, feeling the soapsuds on their hands, and being fully engaged. As a result of this focused activity, participants reported less stress. This research manipulation reminds me of other work that has demonstrated washing your hands after a negative event, such as giving a poor presentation due to anxiety, can alleviate the post-event shame and anxiety that often accompanies such an experience. You literally wash away the negative affect associated with your event. When presenting, you can take time before hand to do some type of physical activity on which you can focus intently. Things as simple as tying your shoes or folding a napkin should do the trick and help address your anxiety. The Bottom Line I believe these two techniques afford some anxiety relief due to the present focus required. By intently attending to a colleague’s supportive, caring phrases or noticing how the warm water cascades over your hands, you no longer fixate on the future, which is full of uncertainty and potential negative consequences. By being in the moment, you have an opportunity to tune out all of the potential future fears. These and other present-oriented behaviors have been shown to help reduce speaking anxiety and enhance confidence. I hope you can find value in some of them.

                The #1 Work Skill You Need

                Believe it or not, my advice appeared in Glamour magazine. Here is the one-page article that gives good public speaking management advice from several sources.

                  Providing effective constructive feedback using the 4 I’s method

                  Providing constructive feedback can very challenging. Recipients often get defensive and retreat. This video discusses how to communicate a critical/constructive message in a supportive and inviting manner using the 4 I's approach (Information, Importance, Invitation, and Implication).