The seventh method

In the Fundamentals we mentioned the Curse of Knowledge, and six ways to overcome it. My personal favorite, though, isn’t on that list. It is: #7: Ask questions. Specifically, ask your audience to describe back to you what you just said. Ask them to describe your world back to you, and see how close they

Reduce your ahh count

For you, as a listener, what’s easier to understand? “I… went… to… the… store…” …or… “Uhhh, I, uhhh… went, uhhh… to, uhhh… the, uhhh… store, uhhh.”? Which one was easier to understand? Probably the first one, right? Both of them took the same amount of time — the first one wasn’t any faster — but

Stick to the delta

When you’re organizing your presentation, the Rule of Three is a good place to start. For example: We’re going to do A. We’re going to do B. We’re going to do C. The human brain loves things that are organized into threes. It tends to forget point #4, but it can always remember three things.

How to make your audience feel like they’re in the right place

Remember the One Question, the one thing that’s on everyone’s mind. The one problem they’re trying to solve, the reason they asked you to speak. Then tell a story that basically goes, A. I had that question myself once, and B. here’s how I solved it, and C. now I’m here to help you solve

What should I do with my hands?

When you’re on stage, what do you do with your hands? It’s one of the most common questions we get. Personally, I suspect you already know what to do with your hands, but the best answer is actually kind of zen, so we reserve it for more advanced courses. In the meantime, here are two

Chat with a couple audience members

Before your speech, meet some of the members of your audience. Talk to them, get to know them a little. It’ll make you a lot less nervous when you’re speaking, because you’ll be talking to friends, not a bunch of nameless, faceless strangers. How can you do this? At almost every conference, there’s a coffee

Video yourself

Have a friend video you while you’re speaking. And yes, watch it! I’ve never met a person who liked to watch himself speaking. Not once. But there’s something magic about it. Every person who ever watches himself on video decides to become a better speaker. It’s like it lights some huge fire inside of people.

The Curse of Knowledge

The “Curse of Knowledge” is the inability to clearly explain something to another person, because you know the subject so well. Not a clear explanation as defined by you. A clear explanation as defined by the other person. Why is it so hard to clearly explain something you know so well? Because it’s easy to

Practice 25 times

When professional actors prepare for a role, they usually rehearse for hours, or days or weeks, learning how to make a particular facial tick appear at just the right time. When she was preparing for the movie Gravity, Sandra Bullock practiced one of the moves for five months, in order to make it look natural

The first three questions

Opening PowerPoint is one of the first things people do when preparing a presentation. However, it’s the wrong place to start. Opening PowerPoint first is like buying paint for the living room before you’ve even started building the house. Asking three particular questions is a much better place to start. Here’s the first one: “Who

SO Fundamentals index

There are 9 lessons in the SO Fundamentals course. They are: Lesson 1 :  The First Three Questions Lesson 2 :  Practice 25 Times Lesson 3 :  The Curse of Knowledge Lesson 4 :  Reduce Your Ahh Count Lesson 5 :  “B” is for Magic Lesson 6 :  Video Yourself Lesson 7 :  Chat With

How does this person think?

“How does this person think?” Maybe your audience members don’t know who you are. They might not even care about your subject. But they probably want to know how you think. It’s a natural human impulse: We want to know how other people solve problems, because maybe they can solve problems we can’t. If you

Doing the Bob Dole

We all have “tics,” little things that we do, little habits. Some presentation trainers tell people to get rid of their tics, but tics aren’t always that bad. Take, for example, Bob Dole. Bob Dole was a famous United States Senator in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He fought in World War II. During the

To change the world

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Wow, that’s a high bar to set.” People who change the world are people like Winston Churchill, or Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi. Not me. The thing is, “changing

Are you sure you want to use that picture?

Yesterday I saw this ad in the subway station… At first I thought, “Oh, that’s such a pretty picture there on the screen… fish, water, blue, nature, sun, how nice!” But then I saw something completely different: A herd, moving in unthinking unison, swimming, spiraling, like brainless automatons towards a bright light, towards a god

And then we did this, and it was cool

Recently I was watching a TEDx speech video with a client of mine. The speaker was a designer with a doctorate from MIT, talking about research he’s doing into innovative mechanical solutions. Here’s the video: Neither my client nor I liked the speech. We both came away with a vague feeling that the speaker was

The Joe Black Chair

Sometimes our clients ask us to sit in on their “real life” presentations. We love opportunities like that. Seeing our clients operate live, “in the wild,” helps us do our jobs so much better. When a client lets us watch them give a real-life presentation we can help them so much more than when we

Don’t stare at people

People are like dogs. If you stare at one long enough, he’ll attack. When you are giving a presentation, if an audience member gets aggressive and starts challenging you, resist the urge to spend too much time looking at that one person. Address his questions, but look at the other audience members, too, while you’re

Slow down

The other day someone asked me for advice. He had wanted to give a speech that would last about 4-6 minutes, but instead the speech went for almost eight minutes. “What should I do?” he asked. “Slow down,” I said. Wait a second, shouldn’t I have told him to talk faster? Why did I tell

The famous 70%

The other day, a few of a client’s employees went to a presentation skills training. The trainer told them 70% of presentation is body language, voice tone, etc. My client asked me if I agree. This is what I told her: That 70% figure is bullshit. It’s not bullshit because it’s inaccurate. Maybe that 70%

Your speech will never be the same twice

You know the saying, “You never cross the same river twice”? That applies to speeches too. The other day I was speaking about my walk across Turkey. Because of a timing mixup, I ended up giving the same speech to two different audiences. To my surprise, the two speeches were completely different. The first speech

What do you want your audience to do?

New Service: Test My Presentation. You send us your presentation, we suggest how you can improve it. Click here for more info. Pro Tip: Use this service once a month, and watch your presentation skills rise up to the next level. It’ll be like your own personal communications seminar! Transcript: Rule number two. Something to

Three questions

When you start preparing a presentation, don’t you dare start by opening PowerPoint. Mull over these three questions first: Who are you talking to? What do you want them to do? Why should they care? Ask these questions because a good presentation doesn’t happen in the head of the speaker, it happens in the heads

Dealing with fear

There are many ways of dealing with fear. Here are two of them: 1. Conquer your fear Try to wrestle your fear to the ground. Try to beat it. Try to control it. 2. Look at something else Your job is not to conquer fear, your job is to do something else. Don’t look at

Fear makes bad things seem more real than they are

A couple years ago there was a woman who walked from Spain south to Morocco, and then east across Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, then north into Jordan, and then into Jerusalem. She walked alone, and she didn’t spend any money. When I talk about my walk across Turkey, someone invariably pipes up and says, “Yeah,

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

“The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea.” What is the idea? The idea is that “[i]deas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” In addition to describing how the spread of ideas is like the spread of viruses, Gladwell describes three kinds of people who are necessary for the

The edge and the center

There are different ways to see the world. One of them is “What can I do on the edge?” Another is “How do I get to the middle?” Before you ever open your mouth, before you even start thinking about a problem, you will, consciously or unconsciously, pick one of these, and your choice will

Some examples of Stage’s formatting…

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Eye contact is good, but sometimes not

As presentation trainers we tell our clients over and over, “More eye contact, more eye contact.” But sometimes you’ve got other stuff to do, and it’s okay to look away. Not to read your slides or look at your shoes, no. But to visualize something you’re talking about. Like when you’re telling a story. Sometimes

No soggy noodles

The other day I was working with a client on her PowerPoint slides. We looked at the first slide, then the second slide, then the third slide. She asked me what I thought. “Should we add this?” “Should we take that out?” The thing is, she had an even more basic problem: her slides were

Idiom: to put one’s foot in one’s mouth

Definition: to say something awkward or inappropriate Examples: I saw my boss on the street yesterday. He was with a woman. I said I loved his wife’s dress, but she wasn’t his wife. She was his girlfriend. I definitely put my foot in my mouth that time. I thought the customer was about 65 years

Idiom: to dig in one’s heels

Definition: to be stubborn, to refuse to move Examples: We tried to renegotiate the contract, but the customer dug in his heels. He said no, we could not discuss the contract again. I wanted to go to the beach, but my wife wanted to go to the mountains. She dug in her heels, so maybe

A Google story

Some years ago I heard a story about Google. I forget the details, but the gist of the story sticks with me, and I think of it often… In Google’s early days, before “google” became a verb, when the founders of Google were still just grad students at Stanford, they would periodically get an email.

Idiom: to have the floor

Definition: to have permission to speak in a meeting Examples: The CEO had the floor for almost an hour during the meeting, but he didn’t have anything interesting to say. I fell asleep. Excuse me, but I have the floor. Please wait until I’m finished speaking, and then you can say whatever you want.

Idiom: all hands on deck

Definition: a job or task requires everyone’s attention or help Examples: This new client is our biggest client so far. It’s really important that we serve them well. It’ll be all hands on deck for a while. It’s August, and many people are on vacation, so our office staff is short this month. For the

First, Break All The Rules, by Buckingham and Coffman

I threw this book across the room. Couldn’t read more than a third of it. Why? I’m no statistician, but, if I understand correctly, analyzing large amounts of data (which is the technique the authors used) is a great way to find a population’s average. However, it is not a great way to understand a

If you can’t explain it simply…

If you can’t explain it simply, you probably don’t understand it well enough. Students come to me often and say, “I want to use more complicated sentences, like a native speaker.” Huh? Expressing yourself well does not mean using complicated sentences. Actually, it usually means the opposite. Expressing yourself well means understanding your idea so

The Dip, by Seth Godin

The upshot: If you want to get to the high points, you’re going to have to push through the low points. Most people don’t push through the low points, so the playing field will be nice and clear when you get to the good times. I recommend Seth Godin all the time. I love his

The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The upshot: Sometimes big, disruptive things happen, and they can’t be planned for, because you don’t know what they’ll be. They will end life as you know it (or as your business knows it), and that’s just the way it is.

Resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Do not look for a summary of this book. In my opinion, this is one of those books you should either submit to, allowing it to change the way you think, or don’t even bother picking it up. Go big or go home. In other words, I loved it. The thing I liked most about

How to be a Presentation God, by Scott Schwertly

The upshot: Blah blah blah, a bunch of stuff. When you are preparing a presentation, segment your audience. Blah blah blah, a bunch more stuff. That one part, the reminder to segment your audience, alone makes the book worth it. All too often, presentation books tell us to know our audiences, but they don’t tell

Spill your blood onto the floor

There’s a scene I love from the movie Cadillac Records. Beyonce plays Etta James, and she is in the studio recording the famous tune “All I Could Do Is Cry.” The producer tells her it’s not good enough, that she isn’t putting enough emotion into it. Beyonce (Etta James) records it one more time, this

No visual aids

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You’ll probably never not be nervous

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Talk to the wall

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Why practice 25 times?

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Feel, sense, describe – don’t just tell!

New Service: Test My Presentation. You send us your presentation, we suggest how you can improve it. Click here for more info. Pro Tip: Use this service once a month, and watch your presentation skills rise up to the next level. It’ll be like your own personal communications seminar! Transcript: When you’re practicing and when

Put some Tuba in it!

New Service: Test My Presentation. You send us your presentation, we suggest how you can improve it. Click here for more info. Pro Tip: Use this service once a month, and watch your presentation skills rise up to the next level. Transcript: This one is called, “Put Some Tuba in It.” When you’re mentoring somebody,