Fundamentals

Simplify Your Slides

When you deliver a presentation, your audience members will be able to process only one source of information at any given moment. That is, they will either listen to your speech or read your slides, but they will not be able to do both at the same time.

Here is a short paragraph on attention, written by Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist and the author of the book, Brain Rules:

“Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention. It is the resource you forcibly deploy while trying to listen to a boring lecture at school. This attentional ability is not capable of multitasking.”

If you are using a presentation software like PowerPoint, Keynote or similar, make sure that your audience can perceive and understand your slides almost instantly. This way, they will comprehend your visual message and still continue paying attention to what you are saying.

Treat your slides as if they are billboard signs next to a highway. Drivers usually have less than 3 seconds to read the contents of roadside billboards. How much attention would you give one with loads of written information on it? Similarly, you should have your audience be able to focus on you as the speaker, instead of investing too much time and cognitive resources on a slide with heavy text.

Here are 3 quick tips on how to achieve simplicity in your slide design:

1) Create breathing space.

Start with empty slides, instead of the software defaults. Presentation software usually greets you with a template that asks for a) title b) subtitle(s). This is almost a recipe for disaster. When you start with a completely empty slide, you will want to make sure that everything you put there will have a reason to take visual real-estate. Do you really need to put your logo on every slide? Can you do without the flying banners that came with the predesigned template? If whatever you put on the slide does not add any meaning, don’t place them in the first place.

2) Bigger is better.

When placing text on slides, keep it as short and as large as possible. It should be quick to read. It should also be easily readable by people in the back of the audience. Use non-serif typefaces with a font size of 30 or more.

3) Simplify. And then simplify some more.

If you are working on an existing presentation, look at the slides and see if they contain anything that can be removed without losing its meaning. Also, consider dividing a heavy information slide into 2 or more separate slides. It will make it easier for the audience to digest small bites of visual data instead of large blocks of text.

About Alper Rozanes

Alper graduated from Baruch College in New York with a degree in management information systems. He loves to cook (his specialty is oven-baked honey mustard salmon). Among his other hobbies are tennis, bowling, and jumping from known flying objects at 10.000 feet.

“B” is for Magic

sunum-ofisi-b-key-closeupWhen delivering a presentation, it is a good idea to keep the audience’s focus and attention on ourselves. In fact, keeping the attention on ourselves it is one of the main pillars of a successful speech or presentation. So much so, that at certain times you may not want to share your audience’s attention even with your own slides. For example, you may be stressing a very important point in your speech and you would like to have your audience’s full focus on you and nothing else. But if you have some slides still on display behind you, your listeners have the option of remaining focused on them instead of you as the speaker.

In the past, when we wanted to keep the attention totally on ourselves and hide the slides temporarily, we would fold a sheet of paper and put it in front of the projector device. Sometimes this would work. Rarely though, the heat from the lamp would start burning the paper and we would end up with even more attention breakers to deal with.

Thanks to modern technology, we don’t need to walk into a presentation armed with a fire extinguisher anymore. When delivering a computer based presentation, simply hitting the “B” key on the computer keyboard will black out the screen and show nothing. Armed with this new tool, you can keep on talking on and on, confident that your audience has nothing else to stare at but you on the stage. When finished, you can hit the “B” key again to come back to the presentation.

IMPORTANT: This function works only when actively delivering slides. Your presentation software must be running the slideshow to recognize the “B” key.

About Alper Rozanes

Alper graduated from Baruch College in New York with a degree in management information systems. He loves to cook (his specialty is oven-baked honey mustard salmon). Among his other hobbies are tennis, bowling, and jumping from known flying objects at 10.000 feet.

Stick to the delta

When you’re organizing your presentation, the Rule of Three is a good place to start. For example:

  1. We’re going to do A.
  2. We’re going to do B.
  3. 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. Hit your three points, and only those three points, and then sit down.

But what’s another organizational technique you can use?

You can stick to the delta.

What does “stick to the delta” mean?

I don’t mean delta as in “the place where a river reaches an ocean.” I mean delta as in “change,” or “difference.”
When I say stick to the delta, I mean describe the change.

For example:

  • This is how things were before, and this is how they are now, OR…
  • This is how things are now, and this is how I want to change them.

Why does this work? Remember the earlier lesson, Lesson #3, about the Curse of Knowledge. Remember that the human brain thinks in patterns, and one of the best ways to hold an audience’s attention is to break the patterns, and then let the audience watch as you restore order to the world. Describe how things are, and then how they’ll change; then describe how things are, and then how they’ll change; etc etc.

If you combine these two organizational techniques (the Rule of Three and “stick to the delta”), you get the best of both worlds: a pattern of threes, which the human brain loves, and enough activity, motion, and change to keep it interested.

For example:

  1. This is how A was, and this is what A’s future looks like.
  2. This is how B was, and this is what B’s future looks like.
  3. This is how C was, and this is what C’s future looks like.

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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 it, too.

For example:

Tell a story about how, years ago, when you first started in this line of work, you didn’t know the answer. Get specific. Tell the audience a funny story about how you were a stupid kid when you started out.

(Don’t worry, they know you’re not a stupid kid anymore, that’s why they asked you to speak.)

Then tell a story about how you found XYZ, and how you realized it could solve the problem.

Then tell a story about how it did solve the problem, and now you love XYZ, and you want to tell the whole world about XYZ.

Remember, you’re not God Almighty, standing up there dispensing wisdom to a bunch of children. Some of your audience members know your subject almost as well as you do. In fact, they might even know it better, or at least better from a different angle.

What you are doing is telling your audience that you understand them, that you think about the same things they do, and that you can help them. Do that, and they will be thinking, “This is the man (or woman) I need to talk to, this is the one who can help me solve my problem.”

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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 quick tips to get you started…

First, hold them up to the sky and start praying.

Just kidding.

Seriously:

First, bend your elbows and hold your hands close together. Don’t raise your hands so high you touch your nose, just hold them a little higher than your elbows, kind of like you’re discreetly praying. Be careful about clasping your hands — once you get up on stage, you might get really nervous, and your hands will end up desperately holding onto each other, and that tightness will spread through your body.

Here’s the second tip:

Drop your hands to your sides. Touch your index fingers to your thumbs.

And here’s a third, bonus tip. Perhaps it’s the best tip of all, the start of all that is good:

Hold your hands in front of you, about belly height, and face your palms up. In almost all countries, this is a gesture of openness, of invitation. It invites your audience to participate in your speech, not just listen to it.

Combine that last gesture with some eye contact, and you’re golden. Your audience will be eating out of your palm (no pun intended).

Why is that the start of all that is good? Well, that’s a more complicated issue, and so we reserve it for more advanced courses.

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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 break a couple times a day. At one of these coffee breaks, spend a few minutes chatting with some of the audience members.

Remember, your audience members are people, and they probably get nervous speaking in front of groups, just like you do. In fact, while you’re making small talk and thinking about how nervous you are, they’re probably thinking, “I wish I had courage like this guy, he’s going to get up on stage and give a speech, but here he is, coming up to me and saying hello.”

Get to know your audience members in the same way you would if you were at a party with them.

You wouldn’t say, “Hi, my name is John, what’s your company’s biggest pain point?”

You would say, “Hi, my name is John, where are you from?”

“What brings you here?”

“How has the conference been so far?”

“There’s a big dinner and dance tonight. Are you going?”

Make small talk like this with a few of the people before your presentation. You’ll be less nervous when the time comes for your speech. You’ll know some of the people in the audience already.

In fact, you can even reduce your nervousness by greeting your new friends when your speech starts. “Thank you for inviting me here today, I’m going to talk about XYZ. But first, let me say hi to a couple people. Bill, where are you? Hello Bill, welcome, good to see you again. And Susan, where are you? Oh, Susan’s not here, she probably had to step out to take a very important call from her boss. Anyway, we’re here today to talk about XYZ, so let’s get started…”

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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 forget what it was like to not have that knowledge.

For example, we regularly work with bankers whose field is so specialized that in a city of 15 million people, they can hold industry-wide networking meetings in someone’s living room.

When they tell each other what they do (“I do X”), they understand each other immediately. But when they try to explain what they do to others, no one can understand. One of them even told us once, “I’ve been married to my wife for 10 years, and even she doesn’t understand what I do.”

That’s the Curse of Knowledge. No matter how many times you try to explain yourself, no matter how well you know the other person, you… just… can’t… get… your… point… across.

But don’t worry, there are 6 very specific things you can do to overcome the Curse of Knowledge.

By the way, the benefit of overcoming the Curse of Knowledge can be huge. It becomes so much easier to explain your ideas clearly. It becomes so much easier to get the support you need. When you overcome the Curse of Knowledge, you can see the lights go on in your audience’s heads — “Oh, THAT’S what she’s talking about!”

What are those six things? They are:

  1. Make your message simple. Strip it to its core. A tip: use things people already know about. For example, if your audience knows the movie Die Hard, you could describe the movie Speed as “Die Hard on a bus.”
  2. Say it in an unexpected way. Humans like to think in patterns. Break those patterns, and your audience will pay attention while you put the pieces back together. An example: flight attendants at Southwest are famous for doing something different with the mandatory safety announcement.
  3. Make your message concrete. Use simple, sensual, tangible words. Use words and phrases like “bicycle,” “cherry,” and “rotten smell of garbage,” instead of abstract words like “justice” and “liberty.”
  4. Make your message credible. Ideally, of course, you could say things like, “I understand rocket propulsion, because I am a Harvard-educated rocket scientist,” or “I understand this law, because I am an attorney.” But what do you do when you can’t say that? Use an anti-hero (tell a story about a dying smoker to strengthen your anti-smoking speech), or use the audience’s own knowledge of a subject (everyone is an expert on himself): Ronald Reagan’s famous campaign line, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
  5. Use emotions. You don’t have to cry on stage. Just make people care. Why are people in the room with you? What problem do they want to solve? What will their lives look like if they solve that problem? Telling people they’re going to make more money is good (almost everyone wants a bigger house, a nicer car, etc), but don’t forget the emotional power of reminding them of their sense of duty, or how nice it feels to get an admiring gaze from one’s spouse.
  6. Use stories. People tend to remember stories much better than abstract facts. For example: “Subway sandwiches are healthy. There are 6 different sandwiches with less than 7 grams of fat each.” Compare that to: “Jared was really fat, and he couldn’t get a date to save his life, but he ate Subway sandwiches every day for a year, and now he’s thin and he has a hot girlfriend.”

It’s easy to list these 6 things, or to say, “Yes, of course, that’s good advice.” But it’s very hard to actually do these 6 things, and people can almost never do them alone. That’s why we work on them intensively with our face-to-face clients and in the Community membership program.

By the way, there’s an excellent book about overcoming the Curse of Knowledge, Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. In fact, these 6 tips were taken directly from that book. We highly recommend that book. Thank you Chip and Dan!

Click here for Method #7. It’s one of Matt’s personal favorites!

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

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 and unrehearsed. One tiny move, over and over and over, for five… MONTHS!

Even improv comedy actors practice. They don’t practice their lines, of course, but they practice the skills of improv. Rest assured that behind every brilliant impromptu skit is hours, days, months, perhaps years of practice.

Trust me, for years I’ve heard people say, “I’m better when I don’t practice,” or “I sound more natural when I don’t practice,” or even the seemingly logical, “If I rehearse I won’t look spontaneous.”

And then they stand up to speak and they show themselves to be painfully awkward amateurs. The audience often responds by taking out their cell phones, at first pretending to respond to “urgent” text messages, but then moving on to simply refreshing their Facebook page. After all, they’re thinking, if the speaker didn’t respect us enough to prepare, why should we respect him or her enough to listen?

Practicing doesn’t mean practicing a little.

For a 10-minute speech, most people need to practice 10 times before their body develops “muscle memory” — the ability to physically deliver the speech even when distracted.

After those 10 practice runs however, they usually find that their spirit is gone. Their body remembers the words, but they feel like a piece of wood, a bag of boring flesh with no spirit, and they are usually quite correct.

It might sound strange, but the key to getting your spirit back is to keep practicing. Think of crossing a river. If you are going to cross a river, go all the way. Don’t go to the middle, say, “I don’t like being wet,” and then turn around and go back.

For most people, the spirit starts to come back in practice rounds 10-15. However, during those practice rounds (10-15), your brain and your spirit will fight for control. You might get tired during the speech. You might even feel like you are doing worse, and it might be true — you might actually start getting worse.

But keep going. Push through these practice rounds.

Usually, around practice round 16, your brain will start to relax and surrender. Your spirit will take over, and your natural body language will return. Now you’ll be even more relaxed though, because you don’t have to think about the words anymore. Your spirit can express itself freely.

Keep practicing, even though you’re feeling better. In practice rounds 16-25, you will be teaching your spirit how to fly around the room. You will be teaching it to look into people’s eyes, to watch their faces, to get into their heads and their hearts. You will be teaching it how to make them smile, or frown, or laugh, or cry. And then, around practice round 25, you will realize you have taught your body and spirit how to do something they didn’t know how to do 25 practice rounds ago.

The audience will watch your speech and marvel at how great it is, and they will wish they could stand up there and speak like you do. They’ll remark on how natural and spontaneous you are, and, unless you tell them, only you will know that the reason you look so spontaneous is because you practiced so much.

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.

SO Fundamentals index

There are 9 lessons in the SO Fundamentals course. They are:

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, Bucharest, and Sofia for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.