February 7, 2012

Are you giving the audience tools they can use?

One of the things I find lacking in many presentations is the useful take-home tool. Sure, I hear lots of good ideas from speakers, but I don't often go home with action steps rather than concepts. I don't often go home with concrete things I can DO to improve my business, my presentations or my life.

That's why I enjoyed Jason Womack's presentation so much last week, based on his book Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.

First, I'll share my thoughts on why Jason's presentation was effective from a public speaking perspective.

I can be a bit jaded when I watch presenters, as sometimes I feel that I'm seeing recycled bits from other presenters, over and over and over, not even presented in a fresh way. I do a lot of internal eye-rolling, especially when speakers say things or try to get me to do things that feel contrived.

1. From the get-go, Jason's authenticity was transparent. His energy was infectious. And when it wasn't infectious (sometimes you can't help that it's 5:00 on a Friday afternoon or that a joke falls flat), he didn't let that get in his way, but used it as a moment of humor.

2. He was constantly asking the audience questions, inviting our participation. Occasionally, he had us turn to our neighbor and have a conversation. The first time, I was expecting to be asked to report back and wasn't. That was a little disappointing, and it reminded me how much audience members like to share! When given the right environment -- open, friendly, energetic -- people want to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. I was glad we got to share our conversations the second time.

3. Jason asked us for our "aha!" moments, and with the abundance of mind-twisting concepts he shared, people started having and calling out "aha!" moments. If you don't ask, how do they know what you want from them?

4. He used great examples and analogies. For example, he broke down a day into 96 15-minute segments, to demonstrate how much time we really do have to get things done that are important to us. And then suggested that, when someone is 15 minutes late to an appointment, they've just stolen 1% of my day. Quantifying our time, and dividing it up into 15-minute segments, also made sense in the larger picture that Jason was painting, that time spent waiting for the next thing, or after the meeting has been cancelled, can be used to accomplish tasks and goals. His examples were practical and relevant.

5. I also appreciated that Jason wasn't afraid to share his own process. At one point, he asked the audience a question, and commented afterward that sometimes he asks it at the beginning of the presentation and sometimes at the end, and that he hasn't yet analyzed whether the results are different.

6. A couple more things I noticed: He incorporated a lot of humor, some of it silly -- my favorite kind. He used a stool as a place to sit, to break up his movement on stage, and also as a prop to represent an office. He used pauses well, letting ideas sink in, and at one time taking a moment for a photo op. And he took a nice long time to think about questions before answering them, giving real thought to his answers. Sometimes my clients tell me that they fear looking like they don't have an answer, and so rush to say something -- anything -- without taking the time to think first. Jason's method shows that the audience is patient, and will wait for you.

Now, to some of the practical and useful ideas I brought home.

1. Make a list of four 15-minute things I could do if I had some time free up in my day. (Vacuum and sweep -- cats drag a lot of litter around; have a cup of tea; send a message to my 12for12 group members to see how they're doing; watch one or several of the short instructional videos I save but never "have time to" watch.)

2. I noticed that one of Jason's screenshots showed his use of Remember the Milk, and I had been meaning to check it out as an alternative to Evernote. Signed up and I'll see where that takes me.

3. Biggest time suck and productivity impediment: Interruptions. A USA Today study found that people (I'm assuming in a typical corporate environment) are interrupted 180 times a day. Well, I'm my own biggest interrupter. Something to remember as I flit from project to project.

4. "Three or more" -- the practice of saving up comments, e-mails, texts, conversations until there are three or more. Rather than send an individual e-mail every time I think of something to say to someone, wait until I have three things to tell them. Now if only I could get other people to adopt this practice!

5. Jason's use of a variety of domains to try out experiments was intriguing to me. He mentioned one domain that points to a blog post about a particular topic, that then leads to a PDF download. What a quick and simple way to test out an idea for a business, a product, or a service. And yes, I'm aware that others are doing this, but this is the first time it sounded like something that would work for me. As a speaker, you are frequently repeating information that is not new. It's how you deliver the information in a way that resonates with your audience that makes the difference between your audience taking action and your ideas flowing in one ear and out the other.

The presentation was a lot of fun for me, as speaker and as an audience member. If I can take something home, in addition to material for this blog, I'm especially happy. How can you provide more useful, relevant and practical tools for your audiences?

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