Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Presentation Training - Your Number's Up.

I like words, words can do what you want them to do; they can swirl around forming pictures in the sky, they can transmit emotion, they can bring people together, they can start arguments, they can do anything.

Words are the modelling clay of meaning...

Numbers are not.

Numbers are cold and hard and they mean one thing, 4 will always be 4, but fore, for, and four are very different.

Or at least that's how modern culture looks at numbers, as fixed moments in our minds.

The problem is that numbers have been leading a double life, they have been moonlighting as escorts who are ready to let you do terrible, terrible, dirty things to them.

Take the % symbol. It's used as a fairground mirror to make things look bigger or smaller or just different... "100% increase in users!" you trumpet... that means you now have 2 users rather than 1...




When you present numbers what should you remember?

1) Vague percentages mean nothing unless you put them into context.
Tell me the starting point for any rise or fall, don't just get excited by the big percentage. That said....

2) Avoid Percentages...
They may be the icing on your cake, or the way that you're able to show a good thing (or a bad) but my brain likes fractions. I can understand a quarter or "1 in four" better than 25%.

3) Remember your audience.
Are you presenting annual figures to a department or are you talking to a group of potential clients? The annual figures need to be in there for the report but do you need so many numbers talking to potential clients? Probably not, they want the business benefits and to see if you're the type of person they can do business with.

4) Very big and very small are incomprehensible.
If you're talking billions, trillions or on the other end of the scale, nanos or picos, my brain goes mushy.

That's why (in the UK) we like the Wales scale; as in "an area 3 times the size of Wales*" or "the height of 12 Nelson's Columns". We like comparisons with solid things. I don't know how big Wales is, but I can picture it on a map and if it's 3 times bigger then that must be very big... don't forget that even the great writer Dorothy Parker compared length, she said "If all the girls who attended the Yale Prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised"

5) Headline numbers get remembered the subheadings don't. Use numbers sparingly.

The main thing is that you don't forget the reason for your presentation which is the passing on of UNDERSTANDABLE information. If the audience just get the information without understanding it, you'll need a 100% rewrite.

*62,283 Square Kilometres if you must know.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Presentation Training - Why Are You Here?

You walk up to the dais, you know why you’re there; you’re there to give a presentation. You’ve edited, pared down and you’ve prepared and prepared and prepared. You know what you’re going to say and you say it…

And yet, everyone still looks bored.

How can this be?

Do you lack charisma?

Is there something about you that’s just dull?

No, you’ve made one of the most common mistakes in presentation; you forgot to think about the audience.

Why are the audience there? Here are a few of the common reasons.

·         They’ve been told to be there.
·         They’ve come to hear bad news.
·         It’s all part of a new initiative; that they don’t like.
·         They NEED to be there but would rather not be.
·         They’re marking time before the keynote speaker that they WANT to see.
·         They feel obliged because you’re a client.
·         They feel obliged because they couldn’t tell you face to face that they don’t want your product and they’re stringing you along before telling you that the budget (that wasn’t there in the first place) has been cut.
·         They want the CPD points.
·         They want to be proved right and given the ammunition to go back to their workplaces and tell management that they were right all along
·         It was free and it gave them a legitimate day off.
·         They want to learn something.

The list could go on.

Without thinking about the reasons that your audience is there, your presentation will always be just about good enough, but never great.

When you’re putting your presentation together thing about the majority of the audience, put them in to context, and try to take your ego out of the equation.

It’s very difficult to be honest with yourself when (chances are), they’re not there to see you speak… or at least, that’s not the whole reason they’re there.

Presentation Training - Telling Tales.

The human brain is a remarkable thing.

It takes in information at a phenomenal rate and then forgets most of it.

Our eyes see that we’ve put our car keys on the table, our brain registers that information pops it in to short term storage and we then think about cake.

Mmmmm cake…

After a few moments thinking about cake our brains return to the problem of where the car keys are and… nope, it’s gone. It never made it into the, you know, thingy, the bit that does the whatsit…

So why do some things stay and some things go?

One of the ways that our brains have evolved is through the creation and understanding of stories.

Stories have given Homo-sapiens an advantage over other animals. Animals with higher brain function (not worms and jellyfish) learn from experience, they do something, get hurt or scared or have a positive reaction and they learn from it. Even goldfish will learn to take food at specific times from specific places; they learn that there will be a positive outcome of their actions.

We don’t bother with that, we just tell each other.

For example “my friend ate that berry and was very ill, so now we don’t eat that berry” or “I just killed a tiger, and this is how I did it.” The primitive human group now stops getting poisoned and stops getting eaten by tigers.


Our brains crave stories, we look for them when they aren’t there, we build coincidence to explain difficult statistics, we create religion to explain living together, we write novels and screenplays and lie about things.

We need context and narrative to remember… it’s what our brains were built for.

Humans ARE stories.

So why has that presentation just been information?

The list of figures goes in and falls straight back out again.

So what can you do to be memorable?
  • ·         Build a narrative around your information, why is it there, why is it important, what lead to this, what does it mean for me.

  • ·         Give your information context

  • ·         Think about your beginning, middle and end.
The audience is looking for all of these things, and needs these things otherwise they won’t remember why you were there in the first place.

Presentation Training - PowerPoint is not your friend.

PowerPoint has killed the art of presentation.

That’s a bold statement, but it has truth in it.

Look at some of the great orators, some of the great movie scenes, some of the most inspiring speeches ever given; do they have a large PowerPoint slide behind them?
No, no they don’t.

Think of Alec Baldwin in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ what would that scene have looked like with a PowerPoint presentation? Yes he does have a black board with a couple of acronyms but he certainly doesn’t have a sophisticated set of slides. No, he just has a sophisticated way of swearing… and brass balls.

PowerPoint is a very powerful tool… but that’s what it is, it’s a tool.

The problem is it’s a seductive creature that allows you to make things appear and fly out and fade and wipe and appear and whirl off into the distance and jump sideways and change colour and and and….

It’s remarkable how many people in business think that PowerPoint will do their job for them.

It’s remarkable how many people in business complain about boring PowerPoint presentations and don’t recognise their own cognitive dissonance.

‘I can’t stop using slides…’ you say. ‘I have too much information to get across…’ you say.

I’m not demanding that PowerPoint should be thrown out; what I am saying is use PowerPoint properly.
  • ·         One thought per slide.
  • ·         If it can be said with an image then say it with an image.
  • ·         Be visual.
  • ·         Keep text to a minimum.
Let PowerPoint be the back-up for what you’re saying, the added impact to reinforce your presentation…

PowerPoint is the tool, not you.

Presentation Training - Eye Contact

I am British, I don’t know the name of the person who lives next door, I don’t like to be touched, I am reserved and polite.

I have been introduced to people on my first day at work, forgotten their name, and been too British to ask again. When I left that job, I still wasn’t sure what their names were.

However, one thing that sets me apart from most of the British is that I’m really good at eye contact.

When someone is speaking I look them in the eye and I listen, when I’m telling someone something important I look them in the eye, when I present I look around the room making eye contact with as many people as possible.

How did I develop this skill? Was I born in to a strange sub-species or communicative Brits? No, I forced myself to look people in the eye because as a journalist and radio presenter I knew that eye contact was one of the most powerful tools I could use.

If someone is listening to you, you want them to keep eye contact; it helps you gage their interest and it shows empathy. Eye contact keeps you talking, it makes you say the things that you may not have said to someone who looks away… it’s great from a journalistic point of view.

It’s also vital when you are talking.

Keeping eye contact that means that you have something worth saying, something that you believe, something that the listener needs to hear.

If you’re presenting eye contact can mean the difference between being presented at and being presented to; use sweeping contact, change the person you’re looking at as you pause or start a new sentence. If you’re posing questions look as many people in the eye as possible to show that it’s not rhetorical. Ask someone to answer directly, if they can’t move on. Invite people in to your world by looking at them.

Practice your eye contact today… just don’t stare at people on busses… that can end badly.

Presentation Training - Put The Notes Down

In 2005 a poll was conducted and its results stated that the top 5 fears in America were Terrorist Attacks, Spiders, Death, Failure and War.

Unless your latest intern is a psychotic extremist arachnid, with access to weapons grade plutonium, and a working knowledge of the geopolitical situation, you’re not going to see these things at work.

You ARE going to have to deal with the fear of failure, especially when doing something you haven’t been trained to do – Presenting.

Most business people at one time or another have to present to groups; and whether it’s to colleagues or pitching for a contract it’s one of the scariest things many people have to do.

That’s why we like notes… notes are our security blanket.

My son is four years old, and he loves his muzzy. 

His muzzy is any square of muslin cloth that he can chew on during the night. My wife and I know that he’s tired because he wants his muzzy…

He’s four years old… he’s allowed a security blanket.

You are in business… you’re not.

So what do you do?

This may sound stupid, but you put the notes down.

There is no excuse for lack of preparation, you know that you’re going to have to present so you prepare. Work out what you’re going to say with the help of notes, script if you want, and then pare back... Turn your script into sub headings and brief paragraphs, then pare back and turn your brief paragraphs into bullet points, then pare back and turn your bullet points into single words.

Throughout this process you’re still working from the ideas within the original script but you’re entering it into long term storage. Don’t worry about being word for word; this is a presentation not a play.

Once you have the single words that can guide you through the presentation place them on a single card. 

This is your tiny square of muzzy. It’s there if you need it, to re-set what you’re talking about.

Don’t forget that most of what you’re talking about is on a PowerPoint behind you, and on a screen in front of you.

How will putting your notes away help you?

It will stop you reading, it will stop you being flustered finding your place and killing the presentation; it will stop your brain abdicating the responsibility of remembering.
 Adrenaline is your friend, without your notes your brain has to do the work and recall the information it would otherwise not bother doing.

You are a professional; you’re being asked to talk about something that you know.So why do you need notes?

Interview Of The Week

listen to ‘Winifred Robinson Vs. Tesco Pt3’ on Audioboo

I am rapidly becoming Winifred Robinsons biggest fan.

Which is odd, as I really don't like the programme that she works on. "You and Yours" used to be half an hour every week, then it became an hour a day of 'consumer' radio, or in other words people moaning about stuff...

Not my thing at all, and then I started driving more during the programme and found that I'd listen if Winifred was there.


Because she is a very, very good interviewer.

Which is a problem if you happen to be George Gordon from Tesco.

We begin from a position of dissonance; Tesco wants to flag up social good while Winifred wants to make the point that during all of the coverage of consumer complaints and bad practice in the supermarket industry, Tesco are never available for comment.

It doesn't get much better for Tesco. Through the interview George tries to show what the company are doing to cut food waste and Winifred accuses them of causing the food waste in the first place with B.O.G.O.F. deals on food.

So what should you take from this as a business.

1) Be Familiar - if you expect good coverage when you want it, engage with bad coverage when you don't. By refusing to respond when the journalists come to you they stop trusting you.

2) Ask What Is The Story? - To Tesco the story is that they are being cuddly and responsible, to The You And Yours listeners the story is that a giant company many of them HAVE to deal with are chiding them for something that isn't their fault. Before appearing ask what the story is from the point of view of the audience.

3) Be Prepared - George Gordon from Tesco seems to think that Winifred Robinson is a wet behind the ears ingénue. She isn't, she's one of the best broadcast interviewers out there and any press office setting this interview up should have been listening to that programme for weeks before approaching them with this initiative.

4) Make It Good - The people behind this story don't seem to have figured out the major flaw. Tesco encourages customers to cut food waste, whilst pushing customers to buy more food as it's often cheaper to buy bulk in Tescos' Shops, blaming customers for wasting half of what they are forced to buy... Yeh, that reads well doesn't it.

Not A Blog.

There is very little I can say about this that isn't already self evident.

If your company is in crisis...

I would continue by saying that a business should never post things on-line that they wouldn't say to a customers face, but after watching the show... erm, they WOULD and DO say it to the customers faces. However as they have over 77,000 search results for their business you could assume that their internet notoriety will do them good, people will use their restaurant in an ironic 'I'm here to be insulted' kind of way.

Forget the adage that no publicity is bad publicity, sometimes it is, it really really is.

Oh, and today (15/05/13) they claim their account was hacked and they are in touch with the FBI.

Which has now inspired a new Facebook Group who will try and track down the hackers.

A meme is born!

Come & Have A Go.

This was originally Published November 2011

There are certain things that any PR professional should never resort to and certain things that journalists should never report... but they do.

Whether it's dressed up to be 'encouraging discussion' of 'sparking a lively debate' we all know what you really want to do. You want to start a great big row and place your clients PR right in the middle of it.

DON'T I beg you, don't just stop it. It's shallow, it's easy and for any newsroom (that can call itself a newsroom) yet another survey goes in the bin marked Lands End To John O'Groats.

Most of the 'surveys' that are produced for PR purposes carry the weight of argument with them. They are the like crack to the sort of journalists who just can't be bothered to find some news. Try this one for example, The Sun has got together with Migration Watch an Anti-Immigration organisation and they have produced a survey that says 80% of people questioned think that England is too crowded.

Soooo, the anti-immigration group have found that England is too crowded. Funny that...

The YouGov survey questioned 1,561 adults who are part of a self selected group who are happy to do surveys The YouGov Panel.

So what do we actually have? A right wing newspaper gets together with an Anti-Immigration (though self proclaimed 'non political') organisation. They get a little over 1,500 people (who are self selecting and the sort of people who want to fill in surveys) to see if they think that England is over crowded. Plus, It looks like 144 of those questioned were in Scotland (some others were in Wales).

Right, this will have been done to spark a great big argument.

Not a debate.

Not a conversation.

A great big stinking, running for ever and ever, argument that puts The Sun right in the middle of it... this is how it will play out...

"The survey produced by The Sun and Migration Watch found that.... to discuss the findings here's Lefty McLeaner Leader of the Open Door Party and Shouty Redface-Toff representing the Send 'Em All Back Coalition..."

And BANG all hell breaks loose.

In the mean time the PR people have dropped that campaign because it's now got it's own legs and they're looking for the next way to start a big argument; The Lazy Journalists will love it because the message boards and twitter and facebook will be full of people arguing about it and they'll feel listened to.

I'm not angry, I'm disappointed.

Disappointed in the PR industry, disappointed in Journalists, disappointed in the world for not asking 'Who are the people who get surveyed, because I'm not one of them'.

What's the answer? I don't know. As long as we have lazy PR spinning a survey for their clients needs, Clients who are happy to put their names to it, and credulous and complicit journalists happy to report any old survey because it makes good copy then we'll never get to the point that we can believe any of them.

Sugar, Coke, Health & Business.

Photo Credit: RєRє via Compfight cc

On the 9th of May James Quincey the President of Coca-Cola Europe appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'PM'. He was interviewed by regular presenter Eddie Mair. The interview is available here...

listen to ‘PM Programme Coke Interview pt2’ on Audioboo

I think that this is a great example of a large organisation doing something to break their 'default narrative' which simply reinforces their 'default narrative'...

The Coke default narrative in this case is...
"Coke is full of sugar and sugar makes us fat"

The result of Coke getting involved in anti obesity campaigns (and involved in this interview) changes the narrative to...
"We know Coke is full of sugar, but we're not going to admit that it contributes to obesity; by the way here are our anti obesity measures, which we're taking EVEN THOUGH Coke doesn't contribute to that obesity" 

We're left with a modified default that portrays the organisation in an even worse light...
"Coke is full of sugar, sugar makes us fat, and The Coca-Cola Corporation doesn't care."

As the interview progresses Mr Quincey states that people 'struggle to balance what goes in and what goes out... [low calorie and sugar free options] allow people to get the balance right.' Or in other words 'sorry fatty, you're too stupid to drink our drinks so we're going to offer you something else, because you've been struggling".

From the moment Mr Quincey enters the studio he has been stitched up like a kipper.

Coke is part of our collective food based cognitive dissonance. It's bad but we like to have it and we're not sure about the morality of the manufacturers. By approaching this dissonance the organisation attempts to mitigate its responsibility and (some would say) liability; they are doing good things so the problems are the consumers fault. It's not guns that kill people it's people that kill people... It's not coke that makes you fat it's YOU that makes YOU fat; you shouldn't blame the manufacturers of the tools.

Engaging the media on your core difficulty will often end badly.

When engaging someone as skilled as Eddie Mair it will end very badly.

He's prepared with multiple studies, he's prepared with the killer questions, he's prepared with 9 sugar cubes.

The challenge to eat 9 sugar cubes is a classic ploy, in this case it's the "would you feed this to your children?" question. It's side stepped and then returned to, it's the question that won't go away.

So, where does this leave an organisation that has an elephant in their room? (in this case it was a tasty sugary elephant... mmmm sugar elephant)

Weigh up the reputational risk between doing something and doing nothing. Doing nothing allows the default narrative to continue, you can acknowledge it, you can even monitor it, but it's unlikely to change rapidly without other circumstances coming into play. If you find there is a sector story you're dragged in to you need to reassess your default in that light.

Doing something attempts to change the default for the better, but the influential (in the UK) PM Programme is not the place to do it. What was the Coke Comms team thinking? Mr Quincey walked into the lions den and got delicately mauled. The key A + B demographic who hang on Eddie Mair's every word will have been delighted by the result and suddenly opinion formers are looking at the Coke initiatives and branding them 'fat wash'.

Do something you can make it worse, do nothing and it can get worse all by itself...

Which will you choose?

FYI Diabetes UK have covered sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes in this article regardless of what Mr Quincey may have said.

Truth About Talk Radio

Charities Vs. Journalists.

I need to redress the balance.

In my last blog I concentrated on the slightly angry relationship that journalists have with charities looking to place stories with them; the event that needs publicising, the campaign that needs a push, the general outward facing PR generated by any given charity.

A friend, who's an ex-journalist and now does some expert PR for charities, reminded me that it's not just charities who need journalists... 

Actually she said "can you then do a post for journos to appreciate what charities provide them with and not take the piss?"

Yes... yes I can.

So what do charities provide journalists?

Content - "I need something for the 20 past slot, get a charity on!"
Comment - "Benefits are being cut, quick get a charity to comment!"

Context - "The government have released some figures... can we get a charity who works in the sector to put their side?"
Clever People - "Anyone know what the situation is like on the ground? Get an aid organisation!"

Conversation - "We need to populate this debate programme, get a charity involved"

Looking at the current most read stories on the BBC News website (10.52 Monday the 29th of April) 50% of them mention or quote charitable organisations directly, the others could be widened, localised or moved on by a journalist contacting a charity for comment.

Yes, journalists don't want to do the "awareness raising" stories... but what would they do if charities refused to do the things the journalist wants?

Charities and Journalists are in a dysfunctional, co-dependant relationship, so just be nice to each other.

What Do Charities Want?

 It is a truth universally acknowledged that a charity, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of awareness raising.

I'd like to apologise to Jane Austin for that, there really was no good reason for me to savage that quote...

Well, there was...

Because anything to sugar coat the next bit of information is good.

If you work for, in or around a charity in any territory you want to raise awareness, and any journalist working in any territory couldn't care less.

Seriously, there are small patches of mildew on a face cloth, in a bathroom on the outskirts of Baku, that hold more interest for the average journalist involved in daily news media. Each and every one of them could programme a radio station or fill a newspaper with the stories from charities that want to raise awareness... and no one would care.

The big problem is that this is what a charity is for; to raise awareness of their chosen cause, it's built into the organisational DNA of 'Charity'.

So how do you get round this?

You supply stories, you supply comment of current issues, you supply heart breaking case studies, you supply NEWS.

The fact that you're trying to 'raise awareness' is the last thing you should say.

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