One of my favorite scenes in the movie Moonstruck is when the grandfather played by Feodor Chaliapin Jr. is walking his dogs. When they arrive at the bridge, the full moon shines down on them and the old man asks, “Why do you keep me waiting? Come on, howl! Howl!”
The dogs stare at him as if he is speaking to them in human, which he is. Then he lifts his head and begins to howl. Immediately the dogs follow suit and begin howling as a pack. That’s because something in their DNA is hard-wired to communicate in this manner.
Humans are set apart from all the other animals by the ability to communicate verbally. We are hard-wired to be story–tellers. Our culture has minimized that need in individuals. Instead of sitting around the campfire telling of our exploits, we are content to sit around the television and be passively entertained. We rarely exercise our story-telling muscles.
In November of 2009, Fratelli Bologna was contracted to consult with Hewlett Packard for the National Retail Federation Conference in New York in January of 2010. Our assignment was to coach six subject matter experts on how best to tell the HP/retail story.
Each of the presenters had authored their presentations accompanied by PowerPoint slides. Some were veteran public speakers, others were new to the task. In a series of phone conferences, we worked on the content they wanted to deliver, but I knew that my job would truly begin on the exhibit floor.
The day before the conference opened, we had scheduled six run-throughs. It would be my only chance to watch and coach the presenters before the public saw them. The resulting rehearsals yielded impressive results. Following are the points for which the greatest gains in skills were made.
- Many presenters feel it necessary to move about the “stage” area while they make their presentations. Movement must always be motivated by something specific. Stillness equals authority. Wandering is distracting.
Eye contact is essential.
- Try to look your audience in the eyes when you speak. Even though you may not entertain questions during your presentation, it is a dialogue nonetheless. Your ability to make eye-contact with your audience assures that they are engaged in the dialogue.
You are your audience.
- Try to establish a commonality with your audience. Speak directly to them by name, if you can read their show-badges. Ask them questions about their experiences. Show that you have empathy and understanding of their challenges. In short, you are their proxy.
Use hand gestures to your advantage.
- Gesturing can be a strong way to make a point. Two-handed gestures are stronger than one handed. Thus, wearing a headset mike frees at least one hand for gestures. I prefer them.
Graphics don’t tell the story, you do.
- Be careful how you use PowerPoint slides. Don’t depend on the graphic to tell your story, only use them to illustrate your point. When you speak and the slide changes, your audience will briefly scan the graphic, maybe they will read it. If you gesture with your eyes towards the graphic, you give the audience permission to glance at it too. If you point at the graphic, you encourage them to read it. If you put your hand to the screen, you command the audience to look. Then you must command them to focus back on you. This is best done with a question to your audience.
Who is the hero?
- Always remember who the Hero is. It is not you, it is the benefit your company provides. Your message: We are all in the soup together, but the XYZ Company has already solved this challenge for us and now we can offer it to you.
Be a master of your message, not a slave to your text.
- If all the technology fails and you have no slides and no audio, you must still be able to tell your story. Therefore you must know your story from every angle.
Summarization, or why people love bumper-stickers.
- Summarize and really try to remember the “bumper-sticker” of your message. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. If you summarize for your audience, they will have a stronger “take-away” for each part of your story. Don’t be afraid to ask your audience to mirror back your summary points. After all, all you are doing is asking them to howl when you do…