Best of…

These are some of our favorite posts. Most are listed here because they address some important aspect of presenting yourself. A few of them are listed because they address why we do what we do.

Kill your darlings

Before all the other important stuff you might want to know about presenting, the single most important step is a brutal one:

“Kill your darlings.”

This phrase, often attributed to author William Faulkner, means get rid of the things that mean a lot to you, but that are harming the greater good of your presentation.

Your presentation probably describes a key part of your work, your blood, sweat, and tears. It’s tempting to get up there and talk about all the little details that you think are important.

And those details are important, but they’re important to you, not to the mission of your presentation. They are not important to the second of The First Three Questions (what do I want my audience to do), and so they need to be cut out of your presentation.

Not having the discipline to kill your darlings leads to weak presentations and bored audiences. A good rule of thumb is that if your presentation is taking up more than 66% of the time allotted to you, you haven’t killed enough of your darlings.

Killing your darlings will be difficult for you, but your audience will appreciate it.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

It’s not that faces are good or bad

It’s not that faces are good or bad, it’s just that they’re very distracting.

One thing that we see often in almost every corporate presentation is there’s an introduction of the company. In that introduction, there will usually be a couple of slides with pictures of human faces.

We call these slides “happy workers slides.” A “happy workers slide” often shows an ethnically-diverse assortment of smiling people holding clipboards or gathering around a conference call speakerphone.

While this slide is up on the screen, the speaker will be introducing himself (“Hello, my name is XYZ. I work for company ABC. Blah blah blah.”).

The thing to keep in mind is that the human eye is naturally drawn to faces. It’s a human instinct with millions of years of evolution behind it.

And remember that you’re competing for attention with your slides.

So if your slides include faces of people, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll lose in that competition.

No amount of presentation brilliance is going to allow you to overcome the pull of that instinct to look at other faces.

It’s not that human faces on a slide are always good or always bad, and it’s not that eye contact with your audience is always good and things that interfere with it are always bad.

Just keep in mind that if there is a slide showing a human face looking at the audience, it is almost guaranteed, as long as that face is up there, that the audience will look at that face, not at you, and, for a few seconds at least, will not listen to what you are saying.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

Yes, X, but the bigger picture is Y

When you want to persuade somebody to choose your argument over another, one of the things that you can do is tie your argument to a bigger picture.

For example, we had a client recently who worked for a European bank, and there was an internal debate within the bank about whether to close the branches in Pakistan, since those branches were unprofitable.

However, our client wanted to argue, we should keep the branches open, because customers in the surrounding countries say that one of the things they like about the bank is that it has branches in the region, and so they know the bank is committed to the region.

Our client wanted to point out that if the bank closed the Pakistan branches, it would save X, but it would endanger another business line worth 10X, since the customers would question the bank’s commitment to the region.

Our client ended up winning the argument, and one of the reasons he won the argument was he tied his perspective to the bigger picture. “Yes, the Pakistan branches are losing money, but the bigger picture is that having them protects business that is 10x larger, and if we close them we risk losing that larger business.”

The key phrase to use in this argument is “but the bigger picture is.” You have to use that phrase. Don’t just think it, actually say it.

Why?

Very few people would say that they are small picture people. In fact, I have never in my life met a person who said, “Yeah, the big picture is nice, but I’m a small picture kind of guy.” So when you use this phrase, especially when there are multiple people in the room, it causes people to begin to favor your argument, because if they don’t, they might look like small picture kind of people.

The argument is basically, “Yes, X, but the bigger picture is Y.”

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

Fielding challenges from an angry audience member

Sometimes when an emotionally-stated challenge comes from an audience member, as much as 50% of the emotion behind the challenge might be the audience member feeling unheard. They don’t feel like their opinion is understood or being listened to, even if you think it is.

You, the speaker, start to feel under attack now too, because not only is someone asking you a challenging question, they’re doing it in an angry way.

Often, you can calm their anger by structuring your response like this:

1. I hear you. / I understand you. / That’s a good point.
2. Repeat their concern in your own words.
3. But we also have to… / But in order to… / But at the same time we…

The first two parts, the opening sentences, defuse the situation. They tell the angry person you understand their opinion, you know they disagree, and in fact you understand their opinion well enough that you can put it in your own words, you are not just saying an empty “I understand you.”

Then the third part, the “meat” of your response, shows the other side of the argument and tells them your position.

Sure, you will still have to deal with the substance of the challenge. But the explosive emotional part will be defused. You might even find you have a new friend in the audience, someone who just seconds ago was an angry protester.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

Unlock the skills you already have

The most effective presentations aren’t presentations at all. They are conversations, and you probably already have all the skills you need, you’ve been using them since the day you were born.

Let’s say the big boss is coming to your regional office and he’s going to have a full day of all the department heads presenting their annual plans to him.

Your end goal is that you want to stand out, so the big boss remembers you in particular.

The easiest way to stand out is to do what other people are not doing.

Start out by thinking about what are the other department heads doing? What they’re usually doing, if their presentation is to be thirty minutes, is start out with about an hour of content, and then gradually cut things out until they get down closer and closer to forty minutes.

Once they get to 40 minutes, they often say we can’t cut anymore, so they take that forty minutes and they try to cram it into thirty minutes.

Now remember, for a second, who these people are. They, like you, are the world’s experts on their subjects. They spend all day, every day, working deep in their subjects. The big boss is not deep in their subjects — he or she has a million other things to worry about.

So they are the world’s experts, but they end up speaking too fast and doing everything they’re not good at, because they’re trying to use unfamiliar “presentation skills” to cram 30 minutes of content into 40 minutes. Their presentation ends up being terrible, and they go home knowing the big boss doesn’t realize how brilliant they are.

You, however, go the other way. You, like the presenters before and after you, know your subject better than anybody in the world, so distill it into a couple sentences. We’ve even seen one of our clients take an entire year’s strategic plan and distill it into six words.

The result is that the others will get up there and start presenting to the big boss, and their messages will get lost, and they’ll disappear into the crowd, and they’ll be trying to do a million other “presentation things,” but they won’t be doing what they’re really good at, which is talking about the subject they’ve spent years working on.

You, however, get to get up there and confidently talk about the things you’re really good at, using the skills you’ve already been practicing every day for your whole life.

Instead of trying to smoothly cram 40 minutes of content into 30 minutes (which never works, by the way), and using a bunch of unfamiliar “presentation skills” to do it, you walk into that room knowing how to distill your entire message into a few words, and the rest of the time you get to use the same communication skills you’ve already been working on your whole life.

Yes, it’s kind of counter-intuitive, but the best way to present is the way that doesn’t use “presentation skills” at all, and instead unlocks the skills you already have: the communication skills you’ve already been practicing your whole life, and the subject matter expertise you bury yourself in every day at work.

Now, distilling your message into a few words does not mean you get to be lazy, or that you’re going to oversimplify things. You’re not going to walk into that presentation room, magically deliver your entire message in 15 seconds, and then confidently strut out of the room while everyone says, “Oh my god, that was the most amazing presentation I ever saw!”

In fact, learning how to express yourself in just a few words is at least as hard as trying to remember 30 minutes of presentation, and it often results in conversations that last the full 30 minutes.

Because the big boss is going to want to ask followup questions. He’s definitely going to want to drill down into more detail. So those 30 minutes of slides that you made, all that data, all those charts, you’re probably going to need those. You’re not going to be able to magically throw them all away.

This approach is going to do two things:

1. It’s going to remind you that you are the world’s expert on this subject, and you will find yourself finding the confidence that comes from knowing it.
2. More importantly, it allows you to spend most of those 30 minutes having a genuine two-way conversation with the big boss.

Remember that the point of this presentation is to stand out. And what is the key to standing out? Doing things that others are not doing.

What are others doing? Puking out a bunch of data, and then leaving the room, and then someone else comes in and does the exact same thing, and then they leave the room, and then someone else comes in and they do the exact same thing.

And then you come in, and you’ve focused your message so much that you can cover it in just a few minutes, and then you get to spend the rest of the time having a natural two-way conversation with the big boss.

And your competitors, the other department heads, they’re not going to be able to do this, because they are going to be rushing through, and every time the big boss asks them a question, it’s going to slow them down and interrupt their train of thought, and they are going to be rushing through their answers to the big boss, because they are thinking, every moment I spend talking about this is a moment I don’t get to spend talking about one of the other initiatives in my 30-minute presentation.

They will not be present while they are responding to questions from the most important person in the room. You, however, will be.

We guarantee, the big boss is going to have questions for you.

We’ve never seen it not happen.

We guarantee that he is going to drill down deep. We guarantee that you are going to walk out of that room feeling drained, like you have drawn on every mental resource available to you.

The difference is, now answering the big boss’s questions is a conversation, not a presentation, and you’ve been practicing your conversation skills since the day you were born.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

They don’t know nearly as much as you think they do

Our clients often think that when audience members are high up in the industry or in the company, they already know everything.

This is completely wrong.

Yes, they are experts in something you are not. But you are an expert in something that they are not. That’s why they hired you.

They need you to explain your world, and what you’re going to do about it, clearly.

For starters, they probably know 70% of your jargon. But that means they don’t know 30% of your jargon. Explaining things with jargon and theories might work with your buddies back at the office, but it’s not going to work with these people.

What these people are almost always looking for is people who know they have the Curse of Knowledge and know how to overcome it.

Here’s what the Curse of Knowledge is, and six excellent tips for what you can do to overcome it.

Matt’s personal favorite is #6, using stories and specific examples. Click here to read more.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

Swim in my ocean, or splash in my puddle

Before they realize there is huge power in deep preparation, some of our clients at first resist the idea of practicing a lot. They think practicing a lot is going to kill the spontaneity in their speech.

What they haven’t realized yet is that you will never give the same speech twice. Every time you give the speech, dig deep and find something fresh and new to give the audience. Maybe the “dig deep” that you’re going to do is explore a part of the story you’ve never explored before. Or maybe the “dig deep” is experimenting with humor, and seeing if you can get the audience to laugh out loud at that one particular sentence that they’ve never laughed at before.

Audiences love this little bit of extra attention from speakers. Not only have you shown that you respect their time by preparing for them, you ALSO show them that you care enough to find something special just for them.

The thing is, most people can’t explore a speech that deeply the first time they give it. They’re just trying to hold it together — to not explode on stage, basically.

Michael Phelps didn’t show up at the Olympics and say, “I didn’t swim at all this year, because I wanted to be fresh.” He also didn’t show up at the Olympics and say, “I’m going to swim this race exactly like every other race I’ve ever swum.” He showed up at the Olympics and said, “I’ve been training for this for years, AND I’m going to dig deep and find something new to say.”

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

The wrong question

All day long, I am surrounded by people who are fluent speakers of English, or nearly fluent speakers of English.

One of the main questions people ask me is how can I speak better English?

I tell them, if you are a fluent or near fluent speaker of English, then asking how can I speak better English is the wrong question to be asking.

Once you get to that level, it’s not a question of speaking better English anymore, it’s about putting more vivid images into the audience’s head.

A key idea to remember here is that good stories happen in the reader’s head, not in the writer’s head.

Or, for speakers: a good speech happens in the listener’s head, not in the speaker’s head.

Your job as a speaker is to off-load as much of the processing power into the audience as possible, because the images they create in their heads will be far better and much more vivid than any images you could describe in any language. As a speaker, your job is not to find the right words per se. Your job is to kick off images in people’s heads.

A couple of ways that you can kick off these images in people’s heads:

One is to tell a story, preferably a story about yourself. A common story structure goes like this: Today I want you to X. I remember years ago, I wanted to X too. Here are the challenges I faced and how I met them.

Another way that you can cause these images to happen in people’s heads is to ask questions. One of the great benefits of this tactic is that your speech actually becomes really easy, because you basically just get to stand up there and be silent and listen while the audience does the talking.

For example, if you are talking about the process of starting a business, questions might be: Have you ever tried to start a business? Why did you think about starting your own business? What kind of business did you think about starting?

The minute you stop asking questions, the audience just kind of gets to sit there passively and listen to you and maybe think about other stuff. When you stop asking questions, you bring the cognitive processing responsibility, the heavy lifting, back onto yourself.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

And that’s how it’s done, folks!

Don Draper shows us how presentations are done right…

Notice three things in particular:

  1. He starts his story with “my first job” — time-shifting phrases (“my first job,” “a couple years ago,” “once upon a time”) tend to relax people and briefly draw attention to the speaker.
  2. He includes a few tangential details (“old,” “Greek,” “Teddy,” etc). Small details (names, places, colors) start the audience painting a picture in their heads, so they can imagine what you’re talking about. The details are not there to convey information, they are there to start the picture-painting process in your audience’s heads, so you don’t need a lot of details, just a few.
  3. He speaks slowly and pauses between words. His audience uses this time to paint a picture in their heads — if he spoke too quickly, or used a lot of filler words (ahh, emm, etc), the audience would have no time to paint pictures, and his speech would be boring.

One more thing: Notice that he gets his audience’s attention first, and then he starts using his slides. Remember that you almost always, always, compete with your slides for attention.

Oh, and notice that when he starts using his slides, he starts talking even slower. He knows that if he throws too much data at his audience, they’ll absorb nothing.

By the way, this scene is Don Draper from the show Mad Men. It’s one of my favorite scenes from TV. The presentation only lasts about two minutes, but it’s one of the best presentation examples I’ve ever seen — timing, pacing, imagery, storytelling, communications efficiency, etc, almost everything is in there.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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% is true, maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

That 70% figure is bullshit because of the effect it has on people. It causes them to think their ideas don’t matter. It causes them to get lazy with their content.

It causes them to think the key to a good presentation is having good posture, or good voice tone, or lots of eye contact.

Those things are important, of course. But the key to a good presentation is having something to say. If you have nothing to say, you’re just a pretty face up there on stage, a well-trained performing monkey at best.

In our trainings we typically spend the first few sessions working on nothing but content: what are you going to say, and why will your audience care?

Those first few sessions are the hardest. But if you don’t do that hard work up front, you can get the other 70% perfect, but your speech will be empty, forgotten by the next morning.

Say something that needs to be heard. A roomful of people are listening to the words coming out of your mouth. Rock their world. If you’re not going to do that, you’re wasting everybody’s time, including your own.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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 time with just a little more feeling than she’s comfortable with. She actually tears up during the song. The producer deems it a good recording, and they use it for the record.

It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about. It doesn’t matter where you are. Maybe you’re delivering a dry quarterly sales report. Let your geek flag fly. Take a little risk. Dig a little deeper than you’re used to. Give your audience just a little more than you feel comfortable giving. They will appreciate your effort, and they will start looking for that passion in themselves, too. You might feel embarrassed and exposed, but your audience will be thinking, “I wish I could do that, too.”

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

Perception is not reality

It’s a popular phrase: "Perception is reality".

However, it is completely untrue.

Perception is how you see things, how you feel about things.  It is your opinion about things.

Reality is how things really exist, outside of your head.

Sure, perception influences reality.  Perception often becomes reality.  But perception is not reality.

If you understand perception, you have one powerful tool.  

If you understand reality, you have another powerful tool.

If you understand both perception, and reality, you have two powerful tools, and you can work more creatively than someone who only has access to one tool.

If you say "perception is reality", you are being intellectually lazy.  You are telling the world, "I only want to understand one thing, my brain is not strong enough to manipulate two separate ideas at the same time".

Why would you handicap yourself like that?

read more…

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their investors and clients better. His clients work in Istanbul, London, and Madrid for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.