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3 reasons you blank and what to do about it

 

blankingdog

If blanking had a picture…

Blanking during a presentation is the mental equivalent of your clothes falling off in front of the audience.  It’s the moment you stop speaking, as does your ability to think.  I don’t mean, ‘think clearly’, but actually the ability to think at all.

 

This is sometimes accompanied by the disturbing sensation of floating out of your skin to watch your ‘other self’ helplessly freeze in front of the audience.

 

 

 

The reasons we blank

Here are the three most common reasons for this brain-jam:

  1. Awareness of being looked at:
    sudden awareness that we’re being watched by countless pairs of eyes,  judging performance and personality.
  2. Trying to remember a script:
    the total stress of trying to remember lines, when bullet points acting as ‘landmarks in the road’ would have done fine.  Unless you’re a politician or giving police reporting on the progress on a crime, ditch the script.  It’s a security blanket.
  3. Unnatural introductions:
    beginning a presentation with your name often feels like the equivalent of opening your coat to reveal a target: ‘you know who I am now, so you know who to hit’.

According to reviews in Scientific American, research has recently discovered that stress impacts on the pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex aids short-term memory, concentration on the task in hand and choosing appropriate actions.  It’s the command centre of the brain.

Under stress, the captain of the command centre can misread a situation as one of danger, triggering the hypothalamus, the primitive part of the brain.  The hypothalamus will, in response, release adrenalin causing a ‘fight or flight’ response.

This isn’t very useful if your audience want to understand how the new IT change programme is going to support the company strategy.

 

How to deal with ‘blanking’

 

I’ve read ‘Tell yourself you’re fab/the audience loves you/your presentation is amazing”, and other such nonsense.  Well, I’ve had stage fright and I can tell you this: you can’t tell yourself anything because that part of the brain is out for lunch, given up, shut down.  Dog gawn.

 

  1.  Gesture:
    Gesture to draw out words from your head – something will occur to you until you find the next point.
  2. Move your feet:
    Move from one position to another. If you move you’ll breathe, and this will clear the thought process, buy you time and make you look more confident.  As this action usually builds in a natural pause, it will add presence and control, even as your mind is flipping like a Roladex.
  3. Mentally shift:
    Do what you do when you lose your house keys: retrace your steps.  Recap what you said when the pre-frontal cortex was in control and it will lead you to pinpoint what to say next.  You can do this aloud: the audience will often help you! As it happens to everyone, it actually helps you to become more engaging.  (Please note, however, I’m not encouraging you to make a habit of this.  There are other ways to be engaging!).

 

Now, when you look at the reasons for blanking, such as scripting, there are many ways to avoid it in the first place.

Using theatre improvisation techniques is essential for confident presenting: very little will phase you as the command centre of the pre-frontal brain will always be in control, increasingly unphased by the unexpected.  It won’t go AWOL: you can avoid brain-jams and out of body experiences.

The habit of risk taking in this way, breeds a sense of calm and trust that won’t be read as a disaster situation but as an opportunity to make your point and let your personality shine through freely.

 

 

547 confusing graphs – yippee!

graphThe Devil’s in the Detail

It’s so easy to get trapped in the detail when that’s how you earn your money.  So when presenting to an audience, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a financial analyst, engineer or consultant, PowerPoint can easily become an onslaught of bullet points, dry data and confusing graphs: all qualities that muddy your message.

 

When a picture says a thousands words – or numbers

Research has shown that ideas are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures instead of words or pictures paired with words.

Psychologists call this the Picture Superiority Effect (PSE), the point of which is thus:

 

If information is presented orally, people remember about 10% of the content 72 hours later. That figure goes up to 65% if you add a picture.

 

Visuals that work

A picture saves a thousand words:

rhino

Suzanne, the IT Director of a national retail organisation, knew her audience of in Marketing and Business Development where going to be challenging.  She flashed up her slide of huge white rhino.

 

“So often,” she began, “The IT department are seen like this rhino:  thick-skinned, short-sighted and charging all the time.”.

A barrage of data versus one point

If you’re presenting to those dealing with data every day, seeing more of it in a presentation, can give that audience sort of  data death.  If you’re not there to persuade your audience to act on something, then it’s a report, not a presentation.  Your audience want to see the key message, the one point.

One utilities company that I was training, needed to do a presentation to their investors.  Their point: invest in us: we’re on the up, and you’ll see returns, guarded against risk.

It was a team ‘performance’ to a very financially astute crowd.  They had this brilliantly colourful slide of a ship and lifeboats, a dynamic cartoon, which was a great metaphor for the way they were operating.

We crafted a message around this picture that had such an impact on the audience, that the share prices shot up (so it wasn’t a picture of the Titanic, that’s for sure).

Numbers were mentioned in a way they got remembered but there wasn’t a bar graph or pie chart in sight and the investors loved the refreshing and memorable way this team conveyed a message clearly, with humour and the evidence to prove their success.

There’s nothing to prove so put it away!

If you feel that you need to put so much data on your slides, ask yourself if there’s perhaps a little urge to prove that you’ve done your homework as an analyst/number cruncher?

By shoving so much detail in your audience’s face, they are not only more likely to forget what you’re talking about but why.  The information you give to your audience needs to make a difference to the world in which they function.

If people want more detail, wave your report at them, but don’t give it out until the end.  That way, they’ll know you’ve done your homework, and that they can get to the nitty gritty when they want, but you won’t be hearing the rustling of pages while you present your message.

When you give the facts that your audiences need to make the changes that will impact their world, you’ll be seen as an expert and a trusted advisor.

 

What’s the best use of visuals you’ve seen?  Comment below and we’ll swop tips!

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How to increase your ‘Presence’

 

It's all about connection

It’s all about connection

Some people seem to find catching the attention of others effortless, be it in a job interview, presentation or a meeting.

What is it they’ve got that other people haven’t?

Charisma?

Presence?

What are the qualities that make some people more trustworthy, authoritative and persuasive?

The good news is that these qualities can be learnt…read on if you’re interested in getting other’s attention (without shouting or doing the Shimmy Shake).

Let’s imagine Eugene needs to stand in front of his business partners and persuade them to pool resources on a new venture.  He needs to appear more authoritative, trustworthy and persuasive so what qualities do you think are vital?

According to work conducted at the University of Lausanne. lead by Professor John Antonakis,  there are a set of twelve communication habits that Eugene would need to adopt.

When Antonakis was conducting the study of what would give people like Eugene that extra ‘zing’, he was actually looking at ‘charisma’.

The Latin root of ‘charisma’, ‘charis’ means ‘favour’ and the whole word therefore translates as to ‘exhort favour’.  In other words, ‘being influential’.  Not every leader or manager needs to be – or can be – ‘charismatic’ with its ‘wow the room’ implication but to be engaging is vital.

Eight of the techniques of engaging others, are verbal:

  1. using metaphors;
  2. easy-to-remember three-part lists;
  3. telling stories;
  4. drawing vivid contrasts;
  5. asking rhetorical questions;
  6. expressing moral conviction;
  7. reflecting an audience’s sentiments;
  8. and setting high but achievable goals.

The rest are non-verbal: raising and lowering your voice, letting your feelings show in face and hand gestures to reinforce what you say.

All these skills are based on Aristotle’s theory of rhetoric that can be broken down thus:

  • Ethos – establishing your credentials and building rapport;

This could be done during a presentation, by Eugene sharing his experience through anecdotes, for example, and reflecting the audience’s concerns and language.  Credibility may be established beforehand through reputation. Eugene may have a harder job if his audience think he had his hand in the pension fund, in which case, establishing credentials through colourful stories may be as productive as skiing uphill in slippers.

  •  Logos – persuading through logic

By showing cause and effect, before and after, theory next to experience, Eugene will be using logic to influence.

  • Pathos – persuasion with emotion

Try talking about something your are looking forward to in a flat, unmodulated voice with no movement. Then do this with gesture to underline points your emphasise with vocal colouring.  That is the addition of ‘pathos’.  Do be aware of cultural variations, though.  For example, more open, expressive movement would be expected in southern Europe than Northern Europe.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter,  a Professor from Harvard in her blog ‘Why you need Charisma’,  says that it’s how well you listen as opposed to being heard, that will make you influential.  For her, ‘charisma’ is the quality of silence as well as speech.

According to Professor Kanter, active listening is vital:  the questions you ask to seek understanding, reflecting back key phrases, steering a conversation through non-verbals.

Whether in a presentation or the Q and A afterwards both the verbal and non-verbal engagement will be vital.  In meetings, pitches, and interviews getting the balance between active listening and speaking in an engaging way will mean that you have presence.  Both Professors Antonakis and Kanter are spot on.