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.

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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 http://www.inCredibleMessages.com . 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: http://www.incrediblemessages.com/Articles/pp-10-dime.htm.

 For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, check out this special report: http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.


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.


Need Power in Your Speech? A Quick Lesson from MLK Jr.

January 21, 2008

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, I always reflect a bit on his “I have a dream” speech and how that speech left its mark on our nation. I feel a little guilt because I don’t want my passion for a good speech to eclipse King’s continuing call to our nation.  That said, have you ever thought about the power of King’s “I have a dream” speech?  

Among other things, King was a dynamic and powerful presenter.  Most people don’t feel they hold a whisper of a chance to match King’s passion.  At the same time, this speech uses a technique that is available to anyone!

King inspired a mixed audience of 200,000 when he gave this speech in Washington in 1963, and today people recognize the refrain and connect it with his name.  Not many remember the details of the speech, but almost every American, from school child to senior citizen, can connect “I have a dream” with the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King knew his listeners wanted to believe in the hope of justice, but the obstacles were daunting.  History had been ugly on this point.  Yet, King knew he spoke to people with deep convictions; he made a connection between his cause and the deep dreams of his audience for themselves, their children, and their nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. wove a golden thread of America’s promise and the dream of freedom for all.  In the center of the speech, he repeated a golden refrain, “I have a dream…,” finishing the statement each time with concrete images of racial equality and harmony. 

In a song, it’s the refrain that connects the different verses together; it’s the refrain that sticks in our heads.  In King’s speech, it’s the refrain, “I have a dream” that rings with passion in our nation even today.  We remember it, and it still has power to move us.  This is part of King’s legacy.

As I honor Martin Luther King Jr. today, I am well aware that his example of an outstanding orator is not the most important gift he gave to our nation.  Even so, as a professional speaker and speech coach, I can’t help but appreciate this gift. 

Chances are that your next business presentation won’t be about something as important as racial justice.  Even so, you could make your point with concrete images that touch the priorities of your audience.  You could create a refrain that rings in their ears as they leave the room.  Your speech, while it might not change a nation, could be memorable.  It could make a difference in your sphere of the world.  That’s worth a little effort.  What is your refrain?