Part III: Can You Present?

I’ve waited until now to post the final part of this series for a couple of reasons, but mainly I didn’t want to get to the conclusion too fast. There is something to be said for remaining in the ‘swirl’ of things for a period of time. The chaos, the uneasiness, and the general feeling of being overwhelmed may have a negative impact but when you have hope things will be better, you tend to rest and accept the ‘swirl’. For some of my readers, I have let you swirl probably longer than you wanted and to you, I want to say thank you for your patience. Others may have lost interest, waiting for the final submission of this series, and to you, I say patience is something we need to learn – especially when it comes to presenting and sharing, so I do hope you come back and read this final submission of this series, Can You Present?

In the first two parts, we talked about the nervous reader and the skilled but skeptical – today we talk about how to turn the corner to become a master storyteller.

Tell me a joke

How comfortable are you telling a joke to a friend, more than two friends, a small group, a large group? If you have no problem with any size group, then you are ready to jump into becoming a master storyteller, but, if you are like most, you have a bit of hesitancy as the group increases in size. Here are some of the feelings I believe bubble up.

Clearly, 1:1 time with a friend, telling jokes, catching up, and just enjoying each other’s company is rarely something that makes you feel less confident about yourself and your abilities. As you add more and more people to the mix, you may begin to feel a bit timid or think about the “what ifs”

  1. What if, no one laughs?
  2. What if, I offend someone?
  3. What if, I stumble and mess up the punch line?
  4. What if, I forget how it goes?

All of these are valid and by no means do I want to ignore these very real issues, but let’s face it you cannot be 100% perfect but you can practice, yes, rehearse. Years ago, a friend of mine was about to take the stage at a technical conference and wanted a joke to warm the crowd. He was nervous because of the 200+ people in attendance. He asked me, and I suggested the “expert” joke, the one I shared in the last blog entry. The set up is easy since event coordinators like to introduce their speakers as an “expert”, it makes the flow of this joke very easy.

Event Coordinator: “Now I would like to welcome to the stage, Mr. C. Wilfred Caston, a well rounded technical consultant with 10 years in the industry and considered an expert in backup and recovery”

**Applause, applause, applause**

Caston: “Thank you, [looking at the coordinator] but I really have a hard time with the expert moniker. [Looking at the audience] Do you know the word expert actually is the combination of two words? Sure, it is ex and spert. An ex is a has-been and a spert is a drip under pressure. If you think about it, when you reach that “expert” status, you have done something to get there and every time you open your mouth you need to continue to prove you are worthy, hence the drip under pressure.”

This usually gets the audience not only laughing but also agreeing with you. Unfortunately for my friend, his delivery was horrid. There is a thing called comedic timing, which he had none.

In reality, he should have just gone up and been himself and not try to put on someone else’s persona, unless of course, he was a trained actor/comedian, but alas, he is not.

If however, he was able to internalize it, practice it, and “own it”, chances are the outcome would have been much different. Reaching the “master storyteller” level of presenting takes this “skill”. I put skill in quotes because it is something that may be learned, for some it is honing what is already a natural ability, while others will need to build it up, but it is possible.

Weaving a Story

Early in my career after one of my presentations a co-worker came up to me and said, “you are a natural storyteller.” She continued, “I never know where you are going with these stories but then you pull it all together once you have everyone on the edge of their seat and relate it to our products and solutions. How do you do it?” For me, I never analyzed what I did when I presented I just did it. Her question, however, stayed with me all these years and in 2004, I decided to do just that, analyze what I do.

Here is the basic recipe.

  1. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care
  2. Telling a story is like plumbing, you must have a good connection, consistent flow, and no leaks. In other words, if you go way off topic, know how you plan to return.
  3. Personal stories of empathy versus sympathy, are more compelling and engaging.
  4. Remember the three “Es” of becoming a master storyteller.
    1. Engage
    2. Educate
    3. Entertain
  5. Learn Timing or the “power pause”
    1. Johnny Carson was a master at the power pause, otherwise known as comedic timing
    2. Like anything, overuse will desensitize your audience, use it wisely
    3. Find your comfort zone in the silence.

When you are delivering any information you want your audience to understand and follow, you need to know where and when to use and the “power pause”.  Taking your time, delivering your message with clear intent, and using the Power Pause quotepause to allow it to sink in, is critical.  Never feel you have to fill the emptiness or silence with your own voice.  If you feel uncomfortable with the pause, then make sure you have a glass of water at the podium, so you can take a drink.  The time it takes for you to drink the water is enough of a pause to reinforce your point.  Often times, the power pause, followed by a scan of the room, and perhaps some eye contact is all you need to make it absolutely effective!  Remember not to scan as though you are a teacher looking for the culprit who just threw the paper airplane, makes sure you are looking and scanning with concern and intent.  Practice this in front of a mirror, or have someone video record you.  This is a technique used by coaches to help athletes improve form, and performance.  It is a great way for you to improve your form and performance, as well.  Find a colleague to give you feedback on your presentation skills, or find a coach who can offer you more specific critique.  The #1 rule, do not just critique yourself, we are either too hard or not hard enough on ourselves.

 Building your message

I’m creating a video training series on building a relevant and compelling message and will post on my blog when it is available, but I wanted to give you a few highlights of what I will be covering. When you build your message, find a personal connection, or at least a contemporary connection in your message.  For example, if you are presenting on the subject of the challenges when baking wedding cakes, think of an example when you were a baker and some of the challenges you faced with these cakes.  If you have never been a baker, per se, then have knowledge of one of your recent baker customers who has had an experience you can convey.  When you create these connections, you engage your audience, you build an affinity between your listeners and yourself.

Next, what nuggets of knowledge will you deliver to your listeners or audience during your presentation?  Remember, they are investing time to listen to your presentation, so make sure you provide the audience value through education.  It could be educating on your product portfolio, how to improve business, or in my case focused on storage technologies.  Whatever it is for you, roll this into your presentation and message.  Remember you have to “give to get” – giving without the expectation of getting anything back, but when you give something of value, you will find you get the results you are looking for with your presentation.  So, remember to educate.

Use your personality, be yourself, feel free to use humor.  Humor breaks down barriers, often times this is the most powerful of techniques.  Place yourself in the shoes of the attendees, how did you feel the last time you attended an event where there were a whole host of presenters?  You walk in with a bit of skepticism.  Right?  Same with your audience.  Many times, I have looked out to see a great majority with their arms folded, head cocked to one side, leaning back in the chair, and perhaps a smirk on the face.

Reading the body language, is important as a presenter – this tells you what you must do before you can really deliver the quality message you have created.

If you have ever done any kind of workout or participated in sports, you know warming up the muscles and stretching is important to avoid and cramps and tension.  Same is true with your audience, think about it, at many of the sitcoms that do live tapings, they will have a comic stand before the live audience and perform for 15-20 minutes.  Why?  It gets them warmed up, they are now loose and are more likely to laugh at the jokes.  There is much more science behind this, but I’ll save that for another blog.  Point being, if you have a somewhat stiff audience, you may need to insert some humor, to get those arms to fall, the smile to appear and the body to lean forward.  Don’t be afraid, but use good judgment too.

This is all about building your message, as you think about how you want it to flow, what you want to say, and what you need to do at the moment.  Critical.  Often times, I am creating a brand new presentation from nothing, and it takes a great deal of time and research.  Use a note pad, create a storyboard for your plan, and begin to build and refine.  I’ll cover the storyboard idea much more in my video series.

Where to start?

  • What is your headline?
    • If someone were to write about your presentation, what would the headline be for the article?  Use this as your inspiration and even consider using it as your title.
  • When developing your message, begin with the end
    • What do you want to leave your audience with, an emotion, a call to action, uneasiness?
    • Whatever it is, decide for your self and let the journey begin
  • What is your theme?
    • Are you selling cookies, tires, or technology? What sub-category will you address? Is it a very high-level overview?
  • Why should people care?
    • Why should your audience listen? What about your message is critically important and differentiated from your competition?
  • Proof points
    • Using self-described proof points is okay, but finding third-party proof points help makes your case.
  • Making it real
    • Personalize your message with first-hand experiences, or experiences from a customer case study. Know the situation, apply it to your content, and tell the story.

What if you already have the content, but it is a standard company presentation?  Well, just about every company will typically have a “corporate deck” for all to use when presenting, these are terrific for consistency and accuracy. However, it may not have your fingerprints, and your fingerprints are what make it unique, memorable, and compelling, without compromising the consistency and accuracy of the content.

Use your content as a roadmap and the slides as the guideposts.  It is okay to go off your slides; it is much better to connect with your audience than it is to just read the slides.  Use your slides to provide you the memory trigger to deliver high valued content to your audience.  Most important to any story, is having a solid beginning, middle, and end.

Lights, Camera, Action

So what do you do when there is no audience, only a camera, a green screen, and hot stage lights?  You have to get yourself into character, as though you are looking out at a room full of people, eager to hear your message, and are attentively waiting for the next golden nugget of information you will share.

In Character

This can take some practice, becoming comfortable in front of a camera.  Remember the lens is the eye of the attendee, scanning your room, means looking slightly left, slightly right – no big sweeping head movements or gestures.  And the most important thing to remember when on camera, stay on your mark.  The mark is where you need to remain, not pacing back and forth like Groucho Marx, as I mentioned earlier, but remaining on this mark and delivering your content.  Before you record a video or do any camera work, make sure you work out the production details with your team prior to scheduling time on camera.  Some examples would be, will they cut to the slides during the video, will it be a split-screen with you on one side and your slides on another, or will it be like a newscast with you sitting at a desk and reporting versus presenting?  There are a whole host of other things to consider when doing camera work, but this should get you on the right path.

Becoming a Master Storyteller

Some have mastered storytelling; others continue to evolve their skills. In fact, I consider myself on the “continue to evolve the skills” part of this discussion. It doesn’t matter where you fit on this continuum if building this skill is what you desire, then just continue to work, practice, and experience. Sometimes telling a story is about looking at a subject differently than anyone else before, other times it is about sharing the virtues of a story or particular content with your own personal touch but not compromising the consistency and accuracy of this story. Just like building muscle takes dedication, sweat, and hard work, so it is to become a master storyteller. Next time someone asks you, “Can you present?” perhaps you will remember this blog series and be much more prepared to deliver a compelling message that will leave not only your audience but your company, wanting you back again to do the same.

Look for my next blog, 10 Tips to becoming a more effective presenter.

Chapa, signing off.


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