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Dave Hill Presentation Skills Article

Imagine you are flying to Brazil for a few weeks. The business trip involves a 20 minute introductory speech to inform the audience about the scope of the visit. There will be over 100 people in the audience. The people you visit will be a bit nervous since you are visiting from the corporate office. You want to make a big impression but the primary hurdle is that you do not speak Portuguese and they speak broken English.

You are enthusiastic and creative. You decide that with the limited time available to learn the basics of the language, you will rely on Google Translator to convert the English words on your slides to Portuguese. Your accompanying speech will involve using the audio tool in Google Translator to try and get the pronunciation, intonation, and accent correct.

At this point, I should ask you to reflect on the nuances and problems that Microsoft applications have provided us over the years. Could this translation tact have even a remote chance of success? How this presentation played out is a great lesson to any presenter seeking excellence.

I was part of the group of people visiting Brazil and when he told me what he was going to do, the words that came to my mind included “interesting”, “risky”, and “different”.

The conference room was filled to capacity, the speaker was introduced, and he began his presentation. Each slide had been translated, and he elaborated on the content of the slides. He used note cards to help him remember the Portuguese words and the pronunciation. Every now and again he looked up from his notes to make eye contact with the audience and nervously smile at them. Out of the corner of my eye, I observed the audience; the smiles, raised eyebrows, and glances gave an indication that foreign language translations and audio pronunciations may not be Microsoft’s strong point.

Later on, the presenter asked his host for feedback on his presentation. The host smiled and diplomatically said, “We have had lots of visitors coming here over the years, you are the first person to make an effort to speak our language and we all really appreciated it.”

The reason I tell you this is to not only recognize the presenter for his enthusiasm and efforts, but to remind fellow presenters of the importance of using different techniques to set the stage for success and form a bond with the audience as quickly as possible. Here are some other opening techniques that I have seen used successfully in recent years:

Initial Interactions – Success Strategies for Presentations and Meetings:

  1. Earlier on this year, I attended a presentation by Ed Tufte. He was teaching different visual methods of presenting information and data. About half an hour prior to his presentation, he had a visual slideshow with embedded music that related to information he would be presenting. The slideshow was set up to automatically transition from slide to slide with enough intervals to absorb the content of the individual slides. The pictures on the slides were mind catching, and the accompanying music was soothing. If you are conducting a training session, think about the things you could do to set the mood for the occasion.
  2. Recently I was receiving some online training via webinar. I linked to the webinar about 15 minutes ahead of time to make sure I could access it. The webinar had some music in the background and a slide that gave the following information:
  • The title of the presentation (to make sure people were connected to the correct webinar)
  • A statement: “You should now hear music from your computer speakers” and also gave instructions on what to do if you could not hear anything
  • A countdown clock showing the amount of time remaining before the webinar would start
  1. I attended an engineering awards ceremony dinner event in 2011 to watch a friend deliver his humorous keynote speech and to videotape it for him. He was scheduled to speak after the awards ceremony. As the awards were being presented, I watched him write down a few notes including the awardees names. At the beginning of his keynote, he incorporated a brief section where he paid homage to the elderly award recipients. It was very tactful and the audience appreciated the customization.
  2. Before I deliver speeches or presentations, I like to stand near the entrance and greet people as they enter. I also like to have some lighthearted conversations with audience members and build rapport. This interaction has many benefits:
  • Reduces my anxiety
  • Gives me an opportunity to build likeability with audience members
  • Provides an opportunity to learn a few audience members’ names. If I am using an audience interaction technique I can make it more personal e.g. “John, have you ever envisioned that you would be able to get promoted because of your exceptional presentation skills?”
  • You might stumble on great stories or examples that relate to some points in your presentation

Closing Comments:

My acquaintance’s opening presentation in Portuguese using online translator tools seemed interesting, risky, and different to me. The thought to keep in mind is that creativity, risk taking, and a passion to stand out from the norm is what will drive your success. The atmosphere you create before your presentation and the ensuing bond you form with your audience can significantly enhance your presentation experience, your likeability, and your ability to convince audiences to agree with your concepts and take action.