The Science Behind Successful Presenting

I was recently asked by a fantastic education company in Silicon Valley to teach a module on customer presentations for one of their workshops.  I decided to dig a bit into current trends.  I was quite shocked at some of the information I unearthed.  Did you know…

  1. Between 80 and 90% of the information that our brain processes comes in through our eyes.
  2. In a study conducted by the Management Information Systems Research Center at the University of Minnesota and the 3M Corporation, researchers found that the simple act of adding visuals to a presentation can have a dramatic impact on audience response.
  3. Personal stories make up 65% of our conversations—a fact that is rooted in the ways that stories engage our brains.
  4. Research has shown that people are more likely to remember which brands are  associated with certain products when first presented with the information in an  interactive format versus a static format.

Hmmm. So what does this research tell us about presenting?  A few things. First, visuals are a must.  So break out your PowerPoint, right? Well, sort of.  Keep in mind, the type of visual matters.  Bullet points don’t count as “visuals” and, research shows, detracts from our ability to process information. Using full bleed pictures that stimulate the senses, however, is a great way to engage your audience.

Next, storytelling is key.  But what types of stories?  Science tells us that stories that stimulate the senses, and use phrases like “smelled like perfume” or “skin as soft as velvet” tend to stick more than “static” stories that do not engage the senses.

Finally, flexibility is imperative.  You are more likely to impress a customer if you give them options.  After you’ve determined what information is most important to your audience, create a “road map” of your presentation, and let them drive.  Choose three products they might like information on, and then ask which ones are most pertinent to them.  Make an interactive game out of the choice by allowing your audience to choose the topic from their Ipads.

To illustrate, if I were giving a customer presentation on a new line of cars, I might start by researching what types of cars my client might need.  From there, I would design some sexy visuals, using sleek imagery that engages the senses.  Next, I would unify my visuals under a few theme words that link to each car, like, “in command” or “on the road”, and build stories around each theme.  Finally, I would give my customer the option of choosing which cars, and thus which presentation, they would like to view.   By utilizing storytelling, visual aids, and an interactive format, I’ve upped my game, and crafter a stellar presentation.

How To Give A Toast At Your Holiday Party

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and toasts.  Do you find yourself reaching for the spiked eggnog before you speak?  Consider these tips to ease your mind, and give a great toast:

  1. Take a deep breath – taking a simple, deep, diaphragmatic breath before you speak is the best way to ease your nerves.  Flop a hand on your belly in order to ensure that you are truly breathing from your diaphragm.
  2. Speak early in the evening – Everyone will be drunk toward the end of the night!  Try to get the groups attention early to ensure your message gets across.
  3. Keep it short – brevity is the soul of wit…and toasting.  Try not to ramble on.  Have a short attention getter, perhaps a personal story, and then get to the meat of your toast.
  4. Thank your employees – the point of a holiday toast is to praise your employees and thank them for their hard work.  Challenge yourself to think of personal stories for each of the employees you wish to thank.  Talk about how they overcame obstacles, displayed strength, and rallied the troops.
  5. Mention your successes – this is the best time to toot your horn.  Mention the higher sales numbers, cut costs, and gains in productivity.  Make sure to give shout outs to the department heads responsible for each gain.

Mistakes to Avoid While Finding a Topic for Your Ted Speech


You may have been there before; halfway through your talk or lecture and you realize… I’VE LOST THEM!  Glazed eyes. Glancing at watches.  Big yawns.  Oh crap.  While there are ways to get your audience back if you’ve lost them, it’s a difficult thing to pull off.   It’s best to create a vivid topic while crafting your speech to avoid boredom. Here are three mistakes to avoid while creating a topic for a TED speech (or a TED-style speech):

  1. Don’t use your TED Talk as a way to plug your business – I’m shocked at how many people think that their TED speech is really just an opportunity to sell themselves.  Great TED talkers find a unique, original, spin on a topic, and delve into with great detail. Often they are professors, educators, or tech wizards.  You will not be able to hold your audience if you are merely trying to plug your company.  Think about what you know well, what is arcane in that subject matter, and get curious!
  2. Keep things personal – The quickest, easiest way to win an audience is to add your story, your life, to your topic.  Don’t get me wrong, your topic needs to be thoroughly researched, have an intellectual spin, and be highly unique (see #1), but you can use your life as a way of shaping the material.   Jill Bolte Taylor’s speech “My Stroke of Insight” is a great example of this.  She uses her story of a health crisis to illuminate fascinating details about the working of the brain.
  3. Test it out – Challenge yourself to write your topic down.  Use active verbs and focus on what you would like your audience to DO after hearing the speech.  Call them to action.  Then test it out.  Run your topic by co-workers, peers, and friends.  Run it by strangers at Starbucks.  Run it by your in-laws (ok maybe just SOME of your in-laws).  Run it by everyone you meet.  Get FEEDBACK.  See if there is interest in what you have to say BEFORE you say it.  The applause will make it worth the while.

Five Powerful Public Speaking Tips Gleaned from TED’s Biggest Star


Simon Sinek is one of the most watched TED Talk presenters of all time.  An introvert by nature, Sinek honed his public speaking craft through hard work and trial and error.  His speeches are a favorite of many of my public speaking clients in New York City and New Jersey.  Here are some of the techniques he learned to perfect his craft, and speak with confidence:

  1. Wait to talk – Sinek says that most people begin a speech by speaking out of a sense of nervousness and anxiety.  It’s best to pause at the beginning of your speech, settle, take a breath, and then speak.  The silence may seem like an eternity to you, but it won’t feel that way to your audience.
  2. Make eye contact with audience members one by one – It’s a simple truism to say that making eye contact is important, but do you really look into the eyes of those you are speaking to? Or do you just pan across the audience, as if they were so many heads of cattle?  Sinek says it is best to give each person you are speaking to an entire sentence or thought.
  3. Speak VERY slowly – I’ve always said that if you are ok with a pause onstage, your audience will be ok with it as well.  Sinek believes it’s impossible to speak too slowly on stage:
  4. “It’s incredible that you can stand on stage and speak so slowly that there are several seconds between each of your words and people… will… hang… on… your… every… word. It really works.

    Turn nervousness into excitement – Sinek learned this trick from watching the Olympics. Every time an athlete was interviewed, he was asked if he was nervous.  “No, I was excited.” was the answer.  The athletes interpreted the bodies’ response to stress as excitement rather than anxiety.  This gave them the competitive advantage.

  5. Always thank the audience – This should be a no brainer, but it is often overlooked.  The audience is there to support you, they deserve your attention.  Give them the respect they deserve!  A simple “Thank you for your time” at the end of your speech will do.

Three Presenting Tips for Sales Executives

sales pitch blog picI recently did a presentation skills workshop in New York City for a group of ten sales executives.  I’ve come to the conclusion that sales executives face unique challenges when it comes to presentations.  Here are some tips for handling those challenges:

  1. Be Ready to Change Direction – Be sure you are checking in on your audience’s non-verbal communication while pitching.  If you are getting folded arms, and quizzical looks… for the Love of God Stop!  Ask if there are questions. Get some feedback.  It might be that your audience wants information about a different product, or got lost half way through.  Be flexible.
  2. Start with an Icebreaker – One of my workshop attendees was feeling that her delivery was too canned while pitching her products (organic condiments).  To help her, I asked her to think of the pitch as a conversation and just start talking to her audience.  She started with a series of questions; “What are your favorite restaurants? What type of condiments do you like?”.  Her delivery was smoothe and conversational.
  3.  Project your Voice More – I have noticed that people tend to be a little soft with their vocal projection.  Try doing some breathing and vocal warm up exercises before presenting.  It’s important to have great articulation.