Tagged ‘public speaking‘

Get to the Point FAST!

Jan 2013 Portrait BW

How much is too much?

This morning I was asked to talk to a governing board about scores on a federal funding application. I’d prepared a briefing memo because I NEVER speak to a group without paper. I was also ready to speak at much greater length and provide more detail than what I’d included in the memo. I really know the topic so I was, as per usual, ready to rock.

The chairperson of the group started off the day’s agenda with this caution: “When people have reports or presentations to make, let’s keep those brief, just the major points. Especially when we have a written document,” he said, looking over at me. “We can all read.”

He repeated this a couple of times and it occurred to me that the caution might have been the direct result of my presentation at last month’s meeting of the same governing board. I’d presented the results of a program evaluation. Members seemed very attentive and interested and that was all the encouragement I needed to delve into the topic chapter and verse. I thought they had appreciated the level of detail and the discussion but maybe it had been too much.

I pride myself on being able to speak without constantly referring to notes and to highlight the things that need special attention rather than hiding those things in a long list. But I have to say the chairperson’s caution to me this morning hit home.

What are three most important things this group needs to know, I asked myself. Just talk about those. And do it clearly and forcefully. It will keep the time short and convey a needed sense of urgency.

This was a good reminder for me. Decide what’s really important and zero in on that.

Even if you are in love with the topic and know a huge amount about it, prioritize.  More can always be added later when people have had a chance to see what’s most important.

It occurred to me this morning that people aren’t paying me as a consultant to walk them through a long report like they were first-graders. They wanted me to tell them where to focus their resources and energy, recognizing that both are in limited supply.

Are you a practitioner of the detailed report? Maybe it’s time to rethink your approach.

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Spruce Up Your Look!

There is a school of thought that says PowerPoint presentations are passé. Today’s audiences need more dynamic presentation media. I agree with that in the abstract. But in the day to day world where I do most of my work, PowerPoint still has a function – a big function.

A PowerPoint presentation:

1. Keeps me as the speaker on track.

2. Keeps the audience focused on the most important content.

3. Allows discussions to revolve around something everyone is seeing at the same time.

So for those reasons, I still like PowerPoint presentations. And because I’m not a genius at organizing and manipulating new, more dynamic media, I’s sticking with PowerPoint presentations for when I have to convey complex information to a diverse audience.

That doesn’t mean that presentations have to be boring.

Let’s not talk about content right now. That can be a topic for another blog. Today, let’s just talk about the look, namely, customized slide formats.

For several years, I have been working with Tessera Design on virtually every product that leaves my office – proposals, reports, and PowerPoint presentations. I find that Tessera’s customized designs elevate my presentations. Through the artwork and formatting, a consistent theme and message are created and conveyed. It’s a big plus.

This format helped me present a potentially touchy analysis of Milwaukee’s shelter system. Created by Tessera in 2010, the design had the effect of conveying that the system was itself embarking on a path of self-improvement.

At the front door1The theme was repeated with the presentations slides, reinforcing the notion that the purpose of the analysis was to drive process improvements rather than criticize.

At the front door2One of my favorite slide formats was put together for a presentation to WISCAP (2012) on developing Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) Plans. The NRSA designation is a creation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that enables a local government to use federal funding much more flexibly in accordance with a plan developed collaboratively with neighborhood residents, business, and other stakeholders. It sounds like a dry, boring process but it’s actually terrific fun. A good NRSA has a lot of community involvement, a lot of people who love their neighborhood come together to make it better.

What better than a beautiful fall scene to make people see the promise of a NRSA?


Can’t you just see the neighbors out raking leaves and hear kids playing basketball in the background? The companion format for this gave just a thread of the same feel.


These are just two examples of many customized looks created by Tessera Design. They are offered here just to spark your thinking about what extra could be added to your PowerPoint. How can you make your PowerPoint pop? How can you separate yourself and your important project from the ‘ho-hum’ of PowerPoint presentations.

This is one way. No singing ducks or interactive surveys. Just good, clear information presented in a new, interesting way.

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Tell a Good Story

Last week, it hit me.  What I like to hear from a speaker is a good story.

I had the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin Commercial Real Estate Women’s (WCREW) Annual Awards Dinner.  There, I listened to a dozen award winners thank WCREW; and then thank their funders, family, friends, neighbors, the beat cop and the mailman.  Well, you get the idea.  It was yawn, triple yawn.

Then Howard Snyder from the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation (CDC) went to the podium to accept an award for Villard Square, the city’s first grandfamily housing development with a new City of Milwaukee library on the first floor.  (Full disclosure: we’re related.)

In the space of two minutes, he told four stories.  First, he recognized the City Housing Authority for the award it had just won for the renovation of West Lawn, noting that he worked there for six years as a youth worker and loved driving by and seeing how beautiful it was now.  Then, he noted that it took eight years for the neighborhood’s demands for a new Villard Library to be realized and talked about how happy he was when he looked in the window of the new library and saw a father reading to his daughter.  Then he told the crowd that every Saturday he takes his granddaughter to the library to check out books and puppets.  And he closed by saying that the event organizers asked him to speak about what he was proud of.  So he did.

Afterward, person after person came up to Howard to tell him how much they liked his remarks, how he gave the best speech of the evening, and how it made them think about why they were really doing real estate projects, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

It hadn’t hit me until then.  The difference between ‘ho-hum, when is this going to be over?’ and ‘hey, this person is really interesting, I hope he talks for a while longer’ is telling a good story.

Next time, you’re called upon for a speech or remarks, remember this.  It could make people sit still and listen.


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Who Should Do the Talking?


It’s a tough one, all right.  The person in charge, the executive director or program director, has great content knowledge but is a lousy public speaker.  He or she knows every detail of the operation but couldn’t inspire a flea to jump on a furry dog.  But because status has its privileges, many talented public speakers, more junior in rank, must step aside, all the while trying to hide their involuntary wincing and eye-rolling every time the boss winds up to give another ‘great speech.’

Sorting out the difference between knowing stuff and being able to present it well confounds a lot of organizations.  Sometimes I sit at meetings, knowing that a person who is the soul and inspiration of a point of view is sitting quietly in the audience while his or her boss talks.  If I wasn’t the extremely well-mannered person I am, I’d want to stand up and say, “Hey, why don’t you let So and So talk?  That’s how you could really sell this idea.”

Who is the best person to sell an organization’s ideas to supporters and funders?  Is it always the person in charge or is it sometimes the person not in charge but with tremendous talent and ability to inspire and engage an audience?

It’s tough for the person in charge to delegate the public speaking role to someone junior to him/her.  To do this requires, first, a level of objectivity about one’s own talents and shortcomings that is very rare, and second, the willingness to trust someone else with the organization’s message.  But if the organization has a true commitment to insuring that each staff person has the opportunity to do what he/she does well then it makes sense to distribute the public speaking roles and really think critically about who is best able to connect to which audience.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some executive directors who are so smart, so compelling, and so connected to their constituencies that they probably ought not be replaced by other staff members.  Yet even these folks need to take a hard, honest look at all their organization’s talent and make sure that talent really gets used to maximum advantage.

That’s being smart.

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