July 7, 2010

How are your observational skills?

During last night's Tour de France coverage, commentator Craig Hummer made the following segue:

"We should make note of the area's most famous landmark, the coal mine behind us. A lot of riders, Bob, are going to have to dig deep today."

Clever! He managed to give a bit of information about the area, and use the expression "dig deep" as a subtle double entendre, in order to transition to his next idea.

Observational humor is a well-known public speaking tool, where the speaker takes something that has happened or is happening in the room and spontaneously brings it into his presentation for a laugh. Here's an example from John Kinde's Humor Power blog:

"At a company awards luncheon it seemed as though nearly everyone receiving 5, 10 and 15-year service awards had started in the company's telemarketing department and had subsequently worked their way into other jobs. I added a new line to my opening monologue. 'People call me a comedy magician because they laugh at my magic and they're mystified by my jokes. But I wasn't always a comedy magician. I used to work in telemarketing!' It was on target and received a great response. The audience appreciated the fresh, spontaneous nature of the remark."

But what about using observation in a non-humorous way? (Is there a name for this? Observational talking?)

This is simply where you refer to people, events and surroundings throughout your presentation to use as examples and to illustrate your points. You don't necessarily have to be as clever as Craig Hummer, but think about how you can bring back something someone said or did as a way to make a point.

You might find it difficult to use your observational and listening skills during a presentation while you're talking and thinking and trying to stay focused on your topic. However, you will improve the more you try it, and the more you focus on the audience instead of yourself and your need to be liked or your various discomforts.

I recently gave a training to an organization that was using the meeting room at our local zoo. They had about a half-day of training planned, after which they were going to take a train ride around the zoo and visit some of the behind-the-scenes animal living areas.

In my opening to the presentation, I asked two of my typical questions, one about how many people love or dread speaking, and the second about how they rank their skills as a speaker. My third question was "How many people in the room have fed a giraffe?"

This brought a little humor and shook things up a bit with the observation that, not only were we at the zoo, but that the group would very shortly be hanging out in the giraffe's "bedroom." I did have to mention that I was a Zoo Camp counselor 20 years ago and that part of my training in deflecting embarrassment was walking around the zoo day after day, singing songs at the top of my lungs, trailed by a group of six-year-olds (aka The Squirrel Monkeys).

Members of my referrals networking group have become masters of observation. At one meeting, Ellen, whose products include vitamins and healthy cleaning products said, as part of her 30-second "commercial": "We need this kind of excitement every month...so don't get the flu!" At another meeting, Linda talked about looking at people's rings to determine if they might need a wedding photographer -- a segue from our resident jeweler, Calla's commercial.

Listen to your audience. Watch what they do. Notice how they joke amongst themselves. Notice what's happening in the room, outside the room, around your space. The more you focus on the group and the setting, the more you can use observation for both humor and illustration purposes. Your audience likes to know that you're paying attention to them, so there's an added bonus of bonding and connecting with the group through showing that you're in the moment with them.

How have you used your observational skills to liven up your presentations?

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