Tag Archives: presentation

Presentation pie

Pie: what unexpectedly lands on your face when you’re trying to be cool.

I was the “preacher” stand-in on Sunday, speaking at a Unitarian church about 60 miles from here while their minister was on vacation. It was the second time I’ve presented this particular sermon. The first time, about five years ago, was at my home church and it went over very well.

In the ensuing years I have gotten much more skillful not only at speaking but at crafting a tight speech/sermon. I reworked the old speech, lightened it up with some humorous quips and images, and added a rousing call to action at the end. It was definitely improved, so I felt confident all would be well.

After what happened on Sunday I can tell I need to go back to improv class, because those skills would have been handy.

Before I was to speak, the Sunday School director invited the kids to come forward for story time.  She started telling them a tale that seemed surprisingly similar to what I was about to talk about. At first I thought, “This is good – I can refer back to a couple of her ideas when I speak.”

But she went on and on, pretty much summarizing in kid’s language what I was going to talk about. As she finished she looked back at me and said, “Heheh, I hope I didn’t spoil your story….”

In Toastmasters we are warned in our introductions never to give away the speaker’s main points. For example you might say, “Today Mary will tell us the story of Goldilocks.” But you’d never say, “Today Mary is going to tell about how a little girl happened into a bear’s home while they were out and had to try every chair, bowl, and bed before she found one that was just right. Mary?”

OK, this woman’s version of the story lacked the depth, detail and brilliance of mine, and she missed some of the juicy parts, but still, she left me holding a half-eaten sandwich.

So I got up to speak and noticed that this was a crowd that likes to keep its distance. Most folks sat as far back as possible; the front five rows were empty. I thought I was in Missouri with the “show-me” congregation. Crossed arms, implacable faces.

Still, I wasn’t worried because most audiences respond fairly quickly to the warmth of my manner (not bragging; it’s true).

Ah yes. The congregation soaked up my words like a sponge. That is to say, my words landed on the congregants and disappeared without a trace.  It was like talking to acoustical tile.

I plowed on regardless and I guess it was all right. Next time I’ll bring bagels to toss into the crowd at the end of every page of text. That would get a rise out of them. But if it didn’t I’d add lox.

Afterwards I talked with a friend who had belonged to my church before she moved to this community. She noted that there were a lot of old folks in the group and said that this was their usual “response” to the sermon.

It made me really appreciate the pleasure of speaking to a responsive audience.  My home congregation really hangs in there with the minister or any guest speaker.   At Toastmasters we are totally attentive to and appreciative of the speaker, even if it’s crap. We know that soon enough we’ll be up front and want that kind of support for ourselves.

On behalf of speakers and teachers everywhere, the next time you’re in an audience, do your part by giving the person up front the gift of your full attention. Laugh, frown, cry in response. You’re there anyway; might as well be fully present.

Powerpoint Potentate! Presentation Priestess!

Powerpoint: a Microsoft presentation program that allows public speakers to put their audience to sleep within five minutes

Potentate: one who wields great power or sway

All sorts of Powerpoint horror stories circulate in the public speaking realm. [Here’s a funny PPT presentation spoofing bad PPT presentations (is that laughter canned??? it’s not THAT funny).] I’ve seen many poor presentations myself.

But certain topics really can’t be done well without illustration – especially when the subject is something visual: art, architecture, design, travel, to name a few. You can use Powerpoint to organize your “slide show”, which is what I did last night to talk about feng shui.

Pictures are worth a thousand words when you’re describing befores and afters, the five elements, yin and yang, color, the bagua map.  The challenge is not bullet-pointitis, but locating the right pictures to project, building a narrative around them. And for me it was figuring out how to talk to the audience instead of the screen while managing the remote control and laser pointer.

Thank god my son was home for the week. I don’t watch TV and have never learned how to manage a remote control (though many women who DO watch TV can’t manage the remote either.

I feel like my skill as a public speaker has just taken a big leap with this new tool. I promise not to overuse it. Which shouldn’t be too hard because it’s still a pain in the butt to haul a laptop, projector and screen.

Precipice postponed: procrastination #3

Precipice: the edge of an extremely dangerous situation; a cliff with a steep dropoff

Postpone: to delay until a future time, put off

I can breathe again. I made my maiden Powerpoint voyage and managed to stay afloat for the duration of the presentation.  Obviously I should have done another run-thru on a wall more than 2 feet wide, because if I had, I’d have noticed that the right-hand 25% of each slide was truncated… for reasons I don’t yet know.

I talked to the screen rather than the audience more than I should have, and I had some issues with the remote control…   Fortunately, I know my feng shui material well enough that I could talk my way through the glitches, and my Toastmasters club is very supportive of anyone trying something challenging.

As I said earlier, I put off preparing this presentation until the last possible moment…  I usually love putting together presentations, but this one filled me with the desire to change my sheets, reorganize my file drawer, clean the toilets…. ANYTHING else.  And all this when I absolutely LUSTED for the projector which would enable me to do illustrated presentations.

According to the study center at Cal Poly there are four reasons we procrastinate:

1. Difficult – the task seems hard to do; we naturally tend to avoid difficult things in favor of those which seem easy to us. [this would explain my desire to clean toilets]

2. Time-consuming – the task will take large blocks of time, and large blocks of time are unavailable until the weekend. [especially if you have no idea how you’re going to structure the talk to take advantage of a new medium]

3. Lack of knowledge or skills – no one wants to make mistakes, so wait until you learn how before you start. [I’ve heard so many horror stories about AV equipment failures that I was scared even to try the projector!]

4. Fears – everyone will know how you screwed up. [This didn’t bother me for the Toastmasters talk, but I am preparing for a much lengthier illustrated talk for paying customers next week and screw-ups aren’t really cool.]

Cal Poly suggests the following steps to cure yourself:

  1. Realize you are delaying something unnecessarily. (Duh… but maybe it’s the “unnecessarily” we need to come to grips with. You have to realize this before days and weeks have passed – like as soon as you feel that twinge of uneasiness.)
  2. Discover the real reasons for your delay. List them.
  3. Dispute those real reasons and overcome them. Be vigorous.
  4. Begin the task.

I do think the secret is just to start anywhere.  Set a timer and commit to working at it for 15 minutes.  Wait awhile and do it again.  This is the swiss cheese approach. Once you’ve eaten a few holes in the project it suddenly seems like no big deal, and you’re halfway there.

What’s your formula?