Thursday, October 6, 2016

What if the speaker is bored? 5 solutions for your tired presentation

"The real problem," said the executive as we watched a video of his most recent presentation, "is that I'm bored here."

I could almost tell that without his insight. He looked uninspired, even a little vacant. No smiles, no expression. Not much energy. And I could imagine the audience looking the same way. One thing I know for sure: When the speaker is bored, so is the audience. In this case, that's in part because most of the people working in this area felt they had seen, heard, and said it all before. That means it's time to switch up your approach to your next talk. Try these five fixes to get out of the boredom rut:
  1. Embrace questions, part 1: If you're tired of your prepared fodder, turn to questions. Start your presentation by taking five minutes' worth of questions, and answering right away those which have short answers. Promise that the rest will be answered in your presentation or immediately following it, and ask the audience to keep you honest so you do track back to answer them. This is an electrifying way to start a presentation. You also might do an all-Q&A format, which requires you to be ready for many things; it, too, captivates audiences and ensures that many more questions will get answered, a win for everyone. My advice? Ask someone to write down every question you get, as those can help you revise your standing presentations going forward. Think of it as crowdsourcing relevant content. 
  2. Get a new structure: If your job is to persuade, try fitting your preso into Monroe's motivated sequence to see how it changes. This approach is highly effective for pitches or presentations designed to prime decision-makers to take an action, and its five steps--including my favorite, where you help the listeners visualize what will happen with your solution, or without it--may be just what you need to keep yourself motivated as well.
  3. Embrace questions, part 2: If your audience, and you, *really* have plowed all the ground there is to plow on this topic, consider constructing your talk as all questions--in other words, your talk will pose all the questions that are out there, big and small, including questions about what we're all doing here giving the same talks as usual. It's a novel way to express all the unsaid things your audience is thinking, while getting them to think about the topic in a new way. Provocative and audience-focused, this is a winning tactic.
  4. Tell a fable: Fables have fallen by the wayside in storytelling, more's the pity. But that means this approach will be fresh for you and for your audience. If you can structure your point or pitch in the form of a fable--a tale that ends with a clear lesson, using other characters, often animals, as proxies for the people involved--you'll have a neat, clear package of a presentation, and one that is likely easier for you and for the audience to remember. Aesop's fables are the classics, but if you want a look at some modern fables, try Friedman's Fables by psychologist Ed Friedman. They're thought-provoking, and come with discussion questions, a reminder that your own fable can lead up to a provocative discussion and Q&A afterward.
  5. Find a metaphor to weave throughout: When we use metaphor, we often do so in a throwaway fashion, in one sentence, moving on to another later on. Instead, try to find a metaphor you can weave throughout your presentation. This so-called "extended use" metaphor gives your audience some consistency on which to hang its attention. And if you want to learn more about metaphor in speeches and presentations, come to my workshop in Edinburgh in October; the links are below.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

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