Two Major Mistakes to Avoid While Planning to Moderate a Panel

As a speech coach in New York City, I am frequently called to help people who are preparing to moderate a panel. I often see the same two mistakes made as clients prepare; the first is making the panel discussion too long, and the second is making it too complex. Here is what you can do to avoid these critical errors.

First, make sure that you’re panel discussion is ONE HOUR, and ONE HOUR ONLY. Even the most lively panel discussion will begin to drag after an hour. Science has shown that our attention span is worse than that of a goldfish, so be sure to keep things moving!

Second, don’t muddy the water by having presentations woven into the event.  If you find dynamic enough panelists, and you are careful to be sure they represent opposing viewpoints (conflict and controversy are good!), your panel should be interesting enough.

If you want to moderate a successful panel discussion, keep it simple; dynamic panelists with opposing views, great curated stories (you do the curating), and a single, simple powerpoint slide to display your event information.


Two Small Nuances that can Make or Break a TED Talk

I recently poised the question, “is it possible to speak too slow while presenting“?  My answer was “no”, but Brian Little’s pace of speaking would challenge that assumption. I think he picks up the pace adequately around the middle of his TED Talk, but I found my mind wandering off at the beginning.  This is because he is speaking just a bit too slowly, and because he doesn’t have a good story up front in order to attract the audience’s attention.

This changes dramatically half way through the speech. At about the ten minute mark, we get a series of wonderful, hilarious stories, starting with this gem, and the speech really comes to life. Its amazing how a few small changes can lift a speech from good to great. When it comes to presenting, the devil is in the details.

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.

Analyzing One of the Most-Watched TED Talks of 2016

This is one of the most watched TED talks of 2016.  What makes Tim Urban so engaging?

To start with, his speech is about one simple subject: procrastination and how to beat it. From there, he gives us a great opener.  He contrasts two mock-charts: one that analyzes his flow of work when he procrastinates, and one that analyzes his flow of work when he does not.  What’s cool about this is it allows him to use his PowerPoint slides as punch lines to his jokes.  And there are a lot of jokes.  Little, pithy, observational-humor-type jokes.  These self-directed bon mots keep his material light, and engaging.

This does not mean he skips out on philosophy and data.  A good TED talk should be well researched, and very thoughtful.  Mr. Urban has thought (and read) a lot about his subject, and he comes up with some interesting conclusions, specifically on the topic of long-term vs. short-term procrastinating.

Finally, what makes this Ted Talk so delightful, is Mr. Urban’s use of gesture, and pacing.  If you are going to craft a lot of jokes in your speech, you need to know how to deliver them.  Notice the way he emphasizes content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) in his punch lines, and pauses at the ends of his jokes to give his audience time to laugh.  All this craft makes his call to action well earned.

Tips for Preparing a Ted Talk

imagesI’m pleased to announce that I will be coaching the speakers at TedXNavesink again this year!  I’m thrilled to be a part of this wonderful event.

A good Ted Talk has many components to it.  How you prepare will certainly influence your talk.  Here are a few tips:

1) Start Preparing Early – A Ted talk is a high-pressure event.  There are large audiences to contend with, and video cameras as well.  It’s imperative that you know your material inside and out.  Start gathering all the information you need for your topic as soon as you can.

2)  Have a Plan for Your Anxiety – Expect your heart to race and don’t push away the fear.  Try to accept your anxiety; it’s a natural part of public speaking.  Don’t, however, follow the mistaken advice to “use” your anxiety.  Bad idea.  You’ll just end up sounding like Howard Dean circa 2006.  Pause if you’re tense.  Take a sip of water and let there be silence.  Gently tell yourself “it’s natural”, and let the moment pass.  Resume speaking.

3) Have A Structure – A good speech is generally composed of three parts: an introduction, a discussion section and a closing section.  The intro tells the audience what the speech is about in a sentence or two, the discussion section is your main points arraigned logically (the discussion section is 75% of your speech), and your closing section is where you review your main points, or call the audience to action.

4) Video Record Yourself – If you record yourself, you can check your non-verbal communication.  Eighty percent of the audience’s impression of a speaker is non-verbal. See if you are moving in a way that is organic to you.  Try to reduce fidgeting.  Notice your articulation.  Use open gestures.  The more effective your non-verbal communication, the more impactful your speech will be.

5) Work with a Speech CoachGetting feedback on your speech is essential.  A good coach can help you craft your material, offer tips to handle your anxiety, and help you convey confident non-verbal communication.  Be sure that you bring your full speech or at least an outline to your coaching session.

6) Read “Presentation Zen” – Simply put, this is the best book on the market regarding presenting and Power Point design.  Give it a read.