Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #15: Expect People to be Supremely Interested in Your Story

February 4, 2010

Here’s the situation:  It was a big networking event, and the speaker was introduced as a networking guru, brought in from another state.  The speaker began her presentation with a funny story about how someone bored her by talking only about himself over a get-to-know-you lunch.  The speaker then announced that she would share five important networking tips with the audience.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  “But,” the speaker said, “first I have to tell you more about my personal story.”  The audience members let out a collective sigh.  Fifteen minutes later, the audience still  hadn’t heard the five tips, and people began to discreetly leave the room.  I confess that I was one of the ones who left.  A person I met just outside the room gave me an unsolicited comment.  “I don’t care a bit about her personal story!”  The speaker had broken her own rule about considering herself a bit too interesting!

Here’s the solution:  Organize your comments, spoken or written,  by beginning with whatever is most relevant to the receiver.  Give the punchline first or as soon as you possibly can.  The temptation to present a message chronologically is a trap.  People don’t care how you came to know something.  They just want you to tell them what you know and why it is important.

 Yes, your personal story can add some interest and context–when it is kept to the minimum.   Avoid leading up to your key points–start with them!   Once you’ve established the message, you can add examples, illustrations, or humor.  This is the way to keep your audience members “present” and engaged.


Don’t Make this Stupid Mistake #10: Too Much Info Too Soon

August 13, 2009

Here’s the situation:  John was eager to make a good impression.  A  highly qualified individual,  John was was interviewing  for a desirable position.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  John told me the mistake in his own words:  “I just blew an interview,” John said. “I droned on and on about my background for 45 minutes and bored the interviewer. The guy’s eyes glazed over, and I didn’t get called back.” 

In their eagerness to make a good impression, job seekers often provide too much information too soon. They miss the opportunity for a dialogue and the chance to make an impression by targeting the interests of the other party.

Salespeople make the exact same mistake. So do project managers reporting on the outcome of a project. Chances are you make the very same mistake on a regular basis–in e-mails, presentations and proposals. Providing too much information too soon is the top communication mistake.

Here’s the solution:  One of the strategies I recommend to my clients comes from Garr Reynolds–on the topic of simplicity.

Reynolds is right when he says that simplicity is an exercise in subtraction. Conciseness is an exercise in subtraction as well. As you plan a presentation, a project report, an e-mail, a proposal or an interview, ask yourself what is essential to your receiver understanding your message. Subtract everything else.

Once you subtract the nonessential, your communication will become more clear, concise and powerful. What’s more, you’ll open up communication “space” in the situation, which allows you to receive and respond to the interests and concerns of the other party. This is the heart of persuasion.

Powerful Presentation and Influence Tip: Treat the Context as Critical to Success

July 8, 2008

Today I was reminded of a critical presentation skill while watching Gene Veno, Executive Vice President of the PA Chiropractic Association.  Veno had a mere 10 minutes to state his position about a proposed insurance merger before the PA Department of Insurance.  Since I had consulted with Veno regarding his testimony, I took the opportunity to see him in action.  Veno’s testimony was a success, and in this case at least, his success had very little to do with my consultation.

Veno submitted the written testimony we had worked on, then he used his 10 minutes to extemporaneously address his three main points.  Veno was clear, concise, and on-target.  These things contributed to his success, but none was the essence of his success. 

At the end of Veno’s testimony, Pennsylvania’s Insurance Commissioner, Joel Ario, said how much he appreciated Veno’s involvement with his committee. The Commissioner said something like this, “We appreciate that you bring up specific issues  we need to deal with.  What’s more, you come with solutions and experience that we can apply to those issues.”

Essentially, the Commissioner said to Veno, “We listen to what you say because you are positive, specific, practical, and helpful.  We pay attention to individual pieces of communication you send our way because of the context you have established.”  

It’s a powerful presentation and influence tip:  any individual presentation, no matter how perfect or polished, can stand or fall because of the overall context of the relationship.  The context you establish is critical to success.

Powerful Presentation Lesson from Stanley Cup Final

June 4, 2008

As a speech coach in Pittsburgh, I’m doing what everyone else in Pittsburgh is doing on June 2nd in 2008:  cheering for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their unlikely fight for the Stanley Cup.  Commentators are saying the Pens Game 5 performance (winning in the third round of overtime) is one of the most inspiring performances in the finals’ history. 

One example involves Ryan Malone, who was playing this critical game with a broken nose.  During the game, Malone got a puck-shot to the face that could have killed him.  After a brief absence, Malone returned to the game! 

As a speech coach watching an inspiring performance, I found a lesson in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ situation for myself and my clients.

A winning goal in a third round of overtime means the Pens battled through nearly two full games back-to-back, finally winning in the wee hours of the morning.  They have a mere 43 hours to recover before game 6 back in Pittsburgh.  While the physical preparation is daunting, it’s the mental preparation that interests me as a speech coach. 

According to Al Green, chairperson of the National Athletic Trainers Association public-relations committee, both the mind and the body have to be ready for the challenging game 6.  Here’s a quote by Green from today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  “The athletes need to get in that zone.  If you can get mentally ready to play, the endorphins and all those fun chemicals can kick in and get an athlete [physically] ready to play the game.  That becomes a big factor because your mental really controls your physical.”

Obviously, playing in a Stanley Cup final is an experience outside of the ordinary.  Given that speaking in public is consistently voted people’s #1 fear, giving a presentation is outside the ordinary as well.  Power speaking has its physical elements:  voice projection, quick adjustments and responses, embracing gestures, and moving across a stage.  To speak with true power, a person must be mentally ready. 

Professional speakers seek the jitters that amateur presenters try to avoid.  Those jitters are the endorphins and other fun chemicals we need to be ready to present with power.  The mental controls the physical.

Be careful with your jitters.  Don’t seek to get rid of them.  Seek to learn the skill of mentally managing your endorphins so you are ready to play your best game. 


Organize Your Business Writing or Presentation with a Strategy You Can Count On

April 6, 2008

Have you ever had the task of engaging people with differing needs in the same message?  Do you wonder how to address executives and technical specialists with the same message?  Here’s a strategy you can count on.

At first, provide the material as an overview.  In presentations, use a short description, perhaps illustrated by an uncluttered slide.  In documents, discipline yourself to provide an executive summary (even if there are no executives involved).   Make this overview both concise and complete, so that if a person receives only this piece, it will provide the essential information or argument.

Follow the overview with a deeper layer.  Use the skeleton of the overview, but add supporting explanations, examples, flow charts, or statistics, as needed.  In a document, this layer follows the executive summary. In a presentation, this layer is the heart of your message. 

When finished with the second layer, summarize the skeleton of the overview.  Reiterate the importance of the information or the action you request.  End with power and action.

As take-away material, provide a detailed handout, an appendix, or a link to in-depth content a skeptic or a technical specialist will require.

This strategy allows the listener or reader to grasp key concepts quickly and to process supporting material with the bigger picture in mind.  It allows the receiver to make an initial judgment about the priority or feasibility of your information.  It provides the detail needed, but allows the receiver to access that material on his or her own terms.

Use this strategy to shape your next message.  You’ll engage the executives, technical specialists, and the folks in between.

© 2008 by Bonnie Budzowski, InCredible Messages, LP

I invite you to download a free “before and after” of a persuasive business document at . You’ll find lots of free articles on powerful presentations as well.

Stupid Mistake #9: Conclude Your Speech Abruptly

March 29, 2008

Here’s the situation:  As my husband and I were watching a movie, I was reminded of an important rule about how to conclude a presentation.  We were watching the movie, The Manchurian Candidate.  As this film came to its close, I felt my jaw drop open. Beside me, my husband shook his head in disbelief, “Is that all?” The movie had ended abruptly. The hero (Denzel Washington) stood gazing blankly over the ocean, his feelings and his future unresolved. There we were, still on the edge of our seats, and the movie was over. It had stopped on a dime.

Shuffling out of the theater, I felt dissatisfied and frustrated. A thoroughly suspenseful movie had left me hanging at the end. Testing out a theory, I asked my husband about his feelings, “Do you feel angry?” “Yes,” he answered, “I do.” I realized that I felt angry too.

Here’s the stupid mistake:  What holds true in a movie holds true in a presentation. An audience expects an ending. In fact, an audience expects a cohesive package that moves smoothly from beginning to middle to end. A good presentation does not end on a dime.

Here’s the solution:  As you prepare the close of a presentation, keep the following points in mind:

  • Audience members expect you to provide closure or tie things together at the end.
  • Audience’s perceive an unspoken contract with speakers.  When you start a story or a line of logic, they expect it to come to a satisfactory conclusion.  
  • The conclusion is the final impression of your speech.  If you do a great job throughout and then flub the conclusion, the audience is left with a negative impression.
  • The most powerful speeeches end with an action statement.

Now I invite you to view a free longer version of this article–with practical suggestions for closings:

 For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, check out this special report:

Add Power to Speech with the 7-Second Rule

March 25, 2008

On television, images change approximately every 7 seconds.  Yet, in organizational settings and conference presentations, we expect audience members to watch the stationery body of a presenter, speaking from behind a podium, for an hour or more.  No wonder people dread these presentations!

To be effective as a speaker, you have to recognize that our culture is increasing fast-paced and increasingly visual.  Here are some tips to build changes into your next presentation:

  Give up the podium.   It’s okay to use the podium as a home base.  Just don’t plant yourself there!  When you move with purpose, you add interest and variety for your audience.  For example, try moving away from the podium when you make a key point, or when you ask for audience participation. Of course, random pacing, due to nervousness, doesn’t count as purposeful movement.  Think:  walk, plant your feet; walk again, plant your feet again.      

Make your PowerPoint visual.   An agenda for the presentation is helpful for the audience as well as the speaker.  Overall, however, words on a slide don’t work as visual stimulation—no matter how often you change them.  If you choose to use PowerPoint, add changes with photographs and dramatic graphs.  Show brief video clips that support your points.  Just make sure that everything you use is relevant and easy for the audience to grasp.        

 Add vocal or auditory changes.  Raise the volume of your voice to emphasize a point.  Try a stage whisper to draw the audience into a little-known fact.  Practice a powerful pause.  If possible, add brief musical transitions between points.

Give your stories the stage.  Concrete examples, brief case studies, and stories are powerful ways to add variety, interest, and practicality to presentations.  Make these gems stand out in the midst of a PowerPoint presentation by hitting the “b” key on your laptop.  “B” will give you a blank slide, so that you, the presenter, can move forward and connect with your audience in a powerful way.  The change will be refreshing to audience members.  When you wish to return to the slides.  Simply hit the “b” key again.

Use natural gestures.  Use the gestures that come naturally in conversations.  These include suggestive gestures like shaking your head and demonstrative gestures like showing the height of an object.  Even a shrug will create a brief change for the audience.  For a bigger change, consider using a prop or two as natural extensions of your gestures.

It’s hard to compete with a change every 7 seconds.  Unfortunately, this is what your audience members have come to expect, even if they don’t realize it.  Build changes into the content and the delivery of your next presentation.  You’ll be rewarded with a more engaged and attentive audience.