Presentation Training: Tips and Tricks

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We’ve called upon our resident body language expert, Sharon Merrill EVP and Partner David Calusdian, to teach us to become better speakers – whether at meetings, investor conferences or in more personal settings. This four-part conversation provides a taste of the good, and bad, habits of executive presenters, with a few tips for improvement along the way. Today’s post is the finale in the series.

The Podium: Well, David. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, when you share your deepest presentation secrets. What are common mistakes you’ve seen presenters make over the years?

DC: Let’s start with nervous habits. Nervous speakers will fiddle or fidget with anything. The reason is that many people do not know what to do with their hands. Some put their hands in their pockets, making them look stiff. Others fiddle with the keys in their pocket, a pen, a wedding ring or other jewelry.

The Podium: What does it mean?

DC: It’s a bad habit, and it sends a nervous signal to the audience.

The Podium: On a related note, we often hear that speakers should not pace. Why is that?

DC: When you get out from behind the podium, some people stand in one spot, and some walk around. But presenters need to be certain they aren’t just pacing back and forth repeatedly, or shifting nervously from side to side.

The Podium: What positive actions can we implement to improve our presentations?

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Presentation Training: Do You Hear What I Hear?

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We’ve called upon our resident body language expert, Sharon Merrill EVP and Partner David Calusdian, to teach us to become better speakers – whether at meetings, investor conferences or in more personal settings. This four-part conversation provides a taste of the good, and bad, habits of executive presenters, with a few tips for improvement along the way. Today’s post is Part III in the series.

The Podium: As always, thanks again for joining us, David. We’ve had a highly informative series thus far. Today, we’d like to talk about voice. Let’s start from the beginning.

DC: First, I always tell people to speak loudly, clearly and use vocal variety. That may sound obvious, but most speakers aren’t aware that they are being monotone or are not annunciating until they see and hear themselves on video. On a related note, a common voice problem people have is that they drop off their voices at the ends of sentences. They speak loudly for a period, and then suddenly fall off.

The extreme version of the trailing voice is “vocal fry” – a raspy sound you make when you run out of breath, as if you were fighting to get the air to finish each sentence. Either way, your message loses its impact. And without that, there’s really no point.

The Podium: It seems counterintuitive that a speaker would not want to be heard. Why does this happen?

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Presentation Training: Are You Looking at Me?

Eyes

We’ve called upon our resident body language expert, Sharon Merrill EVP & Partner David Calusdian, to teach us to become better speakers – whether at meetings, investor conferences or in more personal settings. This four-part conversation provides a taste of the good, and bad, habits of executive presenters, with a few tips for improvement along the way. Today’s post is Part II in the series.

The Podium: Hello, David. Today we’re going to discuss eye contact and how we can use it effectively during our presentations. Why don’t we start with improving eye contact when using a projection screen, as with a PowerPoint presentation?

DC: Maintaining good eye contact with the audience is a necessity. You should look at a screen only if you need to see the bullet points or graphic on the slide in order to speak to it. Glance very quickly to the screen, then back to your audience — so that you can direct the audience to the screen but maintain their attention.

The Podium: You mentioned eye contact is good. We’ve probably all heard that, but why is it true?

DC: By using eye contact, you as a speaker are forcing the audience to pay attention to you. Some people try to simulate this by looking at a “dot” at the back of a room or by scanning across an audience to reach as many people as possible. In actuality, neither of these is effective. Don’t look at a dot, and don’t scan. Instead, look at individual people. Think of it this way: If there are 100 people in the room, have 100 individual conversations by establishing eye contact with each one, versus having one conversation with 100 people.

The Podium: That’s an interesting way of thinking about a group presentation. So, by increasing eye contact, you’re getting people to pay attention to what you’re saying. What are the benefits of that?

DC: Most importantly, it creates a connection to the audience. Subconsciously, they are more interested in what you have to say, because they really feel you are talking to them. Besides, they are less likely to look at their phones if they know you’re about to look at them!

The Podium: That actually sounds relatively easy, then. What would be a poor use of eye contact?

DC: Shifting your eyes back and forth is one. That can send a negative signal, showing a speaker is nervous.

The Podium: I’ve read that shifty eyes also indicate defensiveness or that you’re untrustworthy. Snake oil comes to mind.

DC: By definition, if you’re shifting your eyes, you’re not making eye contact. And if someone’s not looking you in the eyes, you tend to wonder what they’re up to.

The Podium: Thanks for taking the time today, David. We’re looking forward to our next conversation, when we’ll be discussing the use of voice.

David Calusdian, an executive vice president and partner at Sharon Merrilloversees the implementation of investor relations programs, coaches senior executives in presentation skills and provides strategic counsel to clients on numerous communications issues.

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Presentation Training: What Do I Do With My Hands?

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We’ve called upon our resident body language expert, Sharon Merrill EVP and Partner David Calusdian, to teach us to become better speakers – whether at meetings, investor conferences or in more personal settings. This four-part conversation provides a taste of the good, and bad, habits of executive presenters, with a few tips for improvement along the way. Today’s post is Part I in the series.

The Podium: Thanks so much for joining us, David. Many readers of The Podium are frequent speakers at conferences or company events, so we’re hoping you can share some of your presentation insights with them.

We thought for today’s conversation we would discuss that most perplexing of body parts for public speakers: the hands.

DC: The hands, and the arms, for that matter, can stump a lot of speakers. Many speakers have no idea what to do with them, and frequently ask me where they should put their hands during a speech or presentation. The answer is that the hands shouldn’t be in one place at all. Speakers are more dynamic when they are free-flowing with their hands. You don’t want them to be too fast and going all over the place, but you also don’t want to look reallystiff and have them constantly by your side.

The Podium: That sounds simple enough. How do we do that?

DC: To start, I try to get people to use their hands as they would in a normal conversation. Try to think about your speaking situation as you would if you were just having a friendly conversation — versus being in “presenting mode.” If you were speaking normally to someone, you would use your hands to emphasize a point. You would make gestures around key words. Likewise, during a presentation we want to use our hands in a very natural way and to emphasize key points.

The Podium: Are there any signals we should avoid with our hands, other than the obvious?

DC: There are some very negative things you can do with your hands. Body language experts say that covering your mouth while you are speaking, for example, can mean that you subconsciously do not want to say the words that are coming out of your mouth. This can be a sign of deception.

The Podium: That’s a great tip. What are some other signals?

DC: There are several. If you put your hands behind your back while speaking, you are figuratively hiding something behind your back – another deception signal. That’s not the body language you want to use if you’re trying to build trust and communicate sincerity.

Also, as your mother probably taught you as a child, never point – whether at the audience or anything else. This can be very off-putting. If you need to gesture with your hands, use your whole hand with all of your fingers together, or use the knuckle of your index finger with the rest of your hand in a closed-fist position.

The Podium: How about folding your arms across your chest? I always read that is a negative signal. Why is that?

DC: When you fold your arms in front of you, it is basically creating a barrier between you and your audience. It’s a very defensive posture.

The Podium: OK, so “arms folded” is closed because it’s a barrier. What else might create that barrier?

DC: Depending on how you use it, a podium can definitely be a barrier. I often see people gripping the podium, holding on for dear life when they’re talking – as if they are on a roller coaster and can’t wait for the ride to end. One, it’s a bad thing to do with your hands, because now you’re stiff. Two, you just look nervous. Nothing is more distracting to an audience than a nervous speaker. And three, you’re accentuating that barrier between you and the audience.

The Podium: Do you recommend people not stand behind a podium?

DC: Yes, if the situation allows it. When someone comes out from behind the podium, they appear to be more engaged with the audience. Automatically, the speaker gets a more positive reaction – because they’ve eliminated any barrier between them and the audience. And when you’re out from behind the podium, it means that you’re probably well-rehearsed and able to have more of a conversation with the audience.

The Podium: One reason people don’t use their hands correctly is that they worry about using their hands too much. Is that possible, or is that an unfounded fear?

DC: Usually not, but it’s probably the No. 1 fear. Occasionally I’ll work with someone who has very big hand gestures that make them look a little out of control. At that point, I’ll give them a “strike zone” to keep their hand gestures within.

The Podium: This has been a great opening to our series. Thanks so much for joining us today, David. We’re looking forward to our next conversation, when we’ll be discussing eyes.

David Calusdian, an executive vice president and partner at Sharon Merrilloversees the implementation of investor relations programs, coaches senior executives in presentation skills and provides strategic counsel to clients on numerous communications issues.

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What’s In / What’s Out for IR In 2015

By Andrew Blazier, Senior Associate

It’s once again time for our tongue-in-cheek roadmap of what’s in and what’s out in investor relations, and more, for the upcoming year. We hope you enjoy, and have a happy and successful 2015.

In Out
Video earnings calls Audio-only earnings calls
Taking activist shareholders’ calls Hiding under your desk
Instagram and Snapchat Facebook
LinkedIn job postings Everything else
Serial Siri
Open letters Paper
Breakfast meetings Lunch meetings
Financial highlights on earnings calls Reading earnings releases verbatim
More Q&A time on earnings calls Gadfly questions
IPOs Tax inversions
Posting call transcripts Hunting on third-party sites
Crisis communications plans Flying by the seat of your pants
Small caps Salary caps
Social media Social Distortion
Republicans Democrats
Board diversity Grumpy Old Men
Third-string quarterbacks Nick Saban
Grexit Ancient Greek
Shareholder activism Eric Holder
Sequels Sequins
Biometrics The metric system

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Press Conferences in a Crisis: Belichick and Deflate-Gate

By David Calusdian, Executive Vice President & Partner

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New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick held two press conferences to address the “deflate-gate” controversy that has taken over sports headlines since the Patriot’s dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots, and Belichick as its head coach, are accused of underinflating game-day footballs against league rules.

After nearly a week of increasing hype and Patriot’s silence, Bill Belichick took the podium on Thursday morning in an attempt to quell the deflate-gate firestorm. His performance was lacking both in content and delivery and, thus, only fanned the sports talk radio flames that had been raging since the crisis broke. Then, in a surprising move, Belichick returned to face the cameras again on Saturday. He performed better in his second press conference and public reaction was more positive. Let’s take a look at some “lessons learned” from both of Belichick’s press conferences during the Patriot’s deflate-gate crisis. 

Be Prepared (and have something to say): 

Belichick’s ill-fated press conference on Thursday was a rambling, disorganized seemingly off-the-cuff performance. His overall message was that he had no idea what had happened to the footballs, and he offered only vague denials of the Patriot’s culpability. During his prepared remarks, he included the point that he forces the Patriots to practice with footballs that are as “bad as they can be.” This was a completely irrelevant point that had little to do with the current controversy. It served only to further the impression that he was trying to obfuscate rather than provide the facts of the situation as he knew them. Overall, his lack of a real message frustrated the media and created further doubt among football fans who already were skeptical of the coach due to prior transgressions.

In contrast to his first performance, Belichick’s prepared remarks on Saturday were very organized. He explained the Patriot’s investigation into the matter, and what they believed to be the factors that may have caused the footballs’ deflationary condition.  While he offered no proof of the Patriot’s innocence, his message had direction and purpose.

Speak Confidently

Belichick appeared uncharacteristically unsure of himself at Thursday’s press conference.  He spoke in halting phrases and constantly looked down at the podium. In contrast, on Saturday the coach held a confident speaking tone throughout the press conference. One powerful reason to hold a press conference during a crisis is to display confidence and build credibility. If you are going to put yourself in front of the media you must speak with authority. Otherwise, just issue a simple written media statement and eliminate the risk of a crisis-escalating gaffe.

Watch your Body Language

Belichick is known for his dour “I don’t care what you think” speaking style. Even within that context, Belichick could have displayed better credibility and confidence using more effective body language at both press conferences (but especially Thursday). First, he demonstrated poor eye contact, frequently looking down at the podium. Not only does this lower credibility, it reduces the connection with the audience. He also frequently pursed his lips, which is seen by some body language experts as a sign of shame – not good for someone trying to defend his reputation. His body language on Saturday was incrementally better, with improved eye contact and less negative body language gestures.

The Truth Matters

Belichick took a stand on Saturday, declaring that he and his team had “followed every rule to the letter.” Making such declarative statements can be a powerful way to build credibility in a crisis…unless it comes back to bite you. If it is eventually revealed that the Patriots were, in fact, guilty of football tampering, Belichick’s reputation will be damaged beyond repair. Think of all-star baseball player Raphael Palmeiro waving his finger at congress categorically denying that he ever took performance enhancing drugs: “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” Less than six months later, Palmeiro was suspended for testing positive for steroids, and his reputation was forever ruined.

Belichick entered his Thursday press conference ill-prepared to address the media — both in terms of content and delivery. As a result, his attempt to quell the deflate-gate controversy backfired. On Saturday, he returned with a focused message and a much more credible delivery. As of the writing of this blog, the crisis is far from over, but Belichick’s follow-up press conference performance was a much better attempt at mitigating the hit to the Patriot’s reputation.  When you are in crisis (whether you are accused of underinflating, overinflating or tampering with football, basketballs, baseballs or foosballs in any way), remember to organize your prepared remarks with a focused message, and deliver that message with a credible speaking style.

 

Sharon Merrill Executive VP and Partner and (in the interest of full disclosure) life-long Patriots fan David Calusdian provides presentation training and message development for company executives facing a range of crises.

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Let them Know

By Andrew Blazier, Senior Associate


Holiday 2014(to the tune of “Let it Snow”)

Oh, the markets worldwide are frightful

But your messaging’s so delightful

Since the company outlook can grow,

Let them know! Let them know! Let them know!

 

Your strategy isn’t popping

Though commodities are dropping

Although growth, it has been slow,

Let them know! Let them know! Let them know! Continue reading

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