Friday, June 12, 2015

Qualities of a great presentation: Part 1 -- Caring

Following-up from my post last week, a fellow traveler in the world of communications strategy and training asked a question that stopped me short. It took a few long moments to respond which means that it was a good question for me. And it was simple, as most of the best questions are.
What do you look for in a presentation?
The response I gave my friend is this: I look for caring. One of my early gurus, the risk communication expert Vince Covello, teaches that up to half of the credibility an audience gives a speaker is based on whether or not she seems to have empathy and caring. "People need to know that you care, before they care what you know," I remember him saying, and I've often repeated this to those I work with on presentations, stakeholder dialogues and other important in-person interactions.
To me, there's at least two levels to a speaker's care.
First, does the speaker care about her audience? Has she taken the time to find out where we come from? Does she know what level of familiarity we have with the topic and its technical language, if any? Has she prepared in order to communicate as effectively as possible within the timeframe given by the organizer, thus demonstrating care and respect for our time? Does she care enough to show up early, and stay after her own speaking slot, in order to take questions, listen to other speakers, and participate in discussion? Does she tap away at her keyboard or smart phone while others are talking, or does she listen? Does she refer to comments of viewpoints of others in her own remarks?
Second, I'm equally interested in how much the speaker cares about her own message. I believe it was Nancy Duarte's book Resonance where I was first confronted with this question: How badly do you want your idea to live? If a speaker is committed to sharing her information -- if she really cares about it as an idea -- then I expect that she will have thought long and hard about how to explain and organize her ideas in the most powerful way. She will have prepared her messages so that they are as clear as possible, with no distracting images or side-topics. If a talk is rote reading of prepared remarks, or difficult to follow from point to point, or messy, I think it's fair to question the speaker's care for the message.
So if a speaker wants me to care, then she has to show me that she cares about her audience and her message.
Upon reflection as this week went on, I realized there is another important ingredient of a good talk for me: Meaning. More on that later!

Friday, June 5, 2015

What I learned at the conference: Advancing Professional Speaking in Asia

Over the past year, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the opportunity for connection when we communicate with each other in person. Whether it's giving a presentation, participating on a panel, or taking part in a stakeholder dialogue -- being face-to-face with others allows us to be heard, understood and persuasive in ways that are impossible in writing or online. No need for following, clicking, downloading, streaming or liking! 

When I found out that the Asia Professional Speakers-Singapore association was having their annual conference down the road from me a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to attend.  The two-day agenda was stuffed with experts who are so valued for their ability to connect with audiences that they get paid to speak about motivation, organization, diversity, marketing and a host of other interesting topics. 

Here are the top three lessons I took away from the conference, together with some connections to agriculture advocacy:

1.       True does not equal compelling. Quite a few speakers spoke about the need to have a unique perspective or point of view, but Dave Avrin made the strongest case. He said that to be remark-able, we have to say something so unique that it’s worthy of being talked about long after we’ve finished our talk.
·         In our world, agriculture policy has become a noisy discussion recently. So when we speak about the need for good agriculture policy and tools in developing countries, what observation can we make that no one else has heard before? How can we be more interesting, so that others will be more interested  -- and hopefully more supportive – of our work?

2.       The power of posing a moral question. In the middle of a terrific talk on engagement, Axe Rawlinson brought the entire audience into a state of focused reflection by telling part of a dramatic story about an expedition to Mount Everest, then asking what we would do if we’d been there. After a few moments of sober silence, he told the rest of the story, revealing other facts that changed the picture completely. Another speaker referred to this tactic as ‘opening a loop’ in the minds of the audience, which motivates them to resolve the story for themselves.  
·         Are there moral questions that we could be posing to audiences of agriculture policy, to make the stakes more clear? Perhaps we can somehow urge our audiences to imagine themselves in the shoes of farmers in developing countries? 

3.       Each audience member is a culture of one. Knowing one’s audience is a fundamental step in preparing presentations, but many of us look no further than the hosting organization or perhaps a participants list beforehand. Lenora Billings-Harris provided a wealth of practical tools for making audience members feel seen and included in our messages. Some are relatively simple: using culturally appropriate images, referring to local news media or landmarks, and selecting quotes from people who are admired by our audience. All of this can help people ‘lean in’ to what we say. But she also used other so-called ‘inclusion techniques’ so subtle that we were hardly aware of them at the time – we just knew that it felt like she was talking to each of us as individuals.
·         For those of us communicating and engaging with audiences on agriculture topics that are sometimes divisive, it’s only too easy to make assumptions someone who asks a tough question. Can we take the time to appreciate and acknowledge the different histories and perspectives of everyone in the room? Being able to relate to each other is the true foundation for connection. 

We have much to learn, and much to share. Let’s all speak up! 

by Jill Kuehnert