In about two weeks I’m chairing the 4th annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference on St. Maarten/St. Martin. I’m often asked for advice by speakers. Here we go….
Many conferences suffer from boring presentations. Killer presentations are absolutely rare. Higher standards should be set. Those higher standards may be quite different than what you think. Get back to basics, be straightforward and use simplicity! Leonardo da Vinci once said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Include unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.
Make the audience look up to you by expressing what you have in your heart and mind rather than making them look on the screen with projected numbers and texts. Tell them about your vision and how you come to conclusions. Tell them how you solve a problem. When the audience notices that you have passion, they will appreciate you. The “ooohs”, “ahas”, and “wows” come from what they didn’t expect, and never heard of before. A superb presentation is when the microphone rocks and the audience gets to the edge of their seats. A killer presentation results in a rush to the stage by the attendees to talk to the speaker once he is finished.
Speaking is branding
You are branding yourself when you speak, so make sure you are unique and memorable. Differentiate yourself! If you don’t create a unique style compared to all the other presenters, the audience won’t remember you. Ask yourself some tough questions! Why would anyone care to come and listen to you? Because you think you are important? Oh boy, you may have a problem. Because you are an expert? Isn’t an expert a person who tells a simple thing in a confused way and in such a fashion as to make the listeners think that the confusion is the listener’s own fault? Imagine if one of the attendees would stand up and interrupt you, “Mr. Speaker, look me straight in the eyes and say that you are convinced that what you are suggesting is right and if you cannot, may I suggest that you put some discipline in your wording.”
While you are preparing your presentation, just imagine that someone in the audience would interrupt you and say: “Mr. Speaker. This session is called “so-and-so”. You have just wasted a lot of time with introductions and things we really already know. You are supposed to have all the knowledge that we don’t have, so could you please offer us your wisdom and experience.” Would you be fireproof if you were grilled in this manner? Attendees make an effort to come to a conference and they are entitled to a top performance.
I had asked a friend of mine, Prissy, to accompany me to a conference where I had a speaking engagement on future aviation developments. While I went on stage to do my presentation, Prissy was searching for the perfect out-of-sight view and situated herself in front of a fire exit behind the audience. Being in the background is quite unusual for her and it is also difficult to go unnoticed anywhere, even standing behind an audience with all eyes on a presentation. She caught the attention of a security guard who approached her tiptoed. “Excuse me lady, but you cannot stand here; you are blocking the fire exit”
“Don’t be ridiculous, young man. I am not blocking anything; I have two legs and know how to use them in case of a fire. I am actually quite aware that I am extremely flammable myself in case of such an emergency, and so, I’ll be the first to escape. Besides, if you’re anticipating a disaster, don’t you think that you are a bit unprepared for a blazing incident? Your uniform will go up in flames just as quickly as my Versace dress. Shouldn’t you be dressed in a fireproof rubber suit with a yellow helmet on your head and an ax in your hand?”
“Lady, don’t underestimate my authority. Do I have to call in re-enforcements to have you removed?”
“You can call in the complete fire department as far as I’m concerned. It’s not me who’s igniting a problem here. It’s your duty to extinguish fires, not create them. You could have asked me politely and discretely to stand in another place, and I would have fairly considered to comply with your request.”
“Lady, you are challenging my patience!”
The commotion in the back of the room had captured the audience’s attention and all eyes were now on Prissy and the fire marshal. To regain the attendees’ interest I cleared my throat, yet, before I could say something, the security guard escorted a resisting Prissy to the other side of the room. Realizing that the entire audience is observing her aggressive escort, Prissy then gives it a toothpaste smile, complies and acts like nothing happened.
As I proceeded with my presentation, the security guard said to Prissy, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Prissy, wanting to slap him for making her look like circus act, replied: “All that was missing was a leash and a whip.”
Challenge your audience
I once had to make a presentation to a UNESCO assembly of scientists in Paris. I began by telling them that if I was not able to communicate the essentials of what my speech was about in 60 seconds, we might as well all go home right away. I sure had their attention from the start.
Limit your introduction. Don’t try to make the audience look up to you by presenting a checklist of achievements, or by quoting reports and conclusions of what others did. Long introductions may result in the audience thinking “half of his life he seemed successful, how come we’ve to listen to the other half?” Don’t over-prepare when making a presentation. Some of the best presentations are by speakers being spontaneous and dynamic along their presentation.
Rhetorical questions encourage the listener to think about what is said. The question is intended as a challenge. Asking questions show self-confidence and that you are in control. Try this in the middle of your presentation: “You don’t believe me, do you?” (break, while looking around in the audience). “Well let me tell you…” and then continue. Or “If it was all up to me, do you know what I would do?” And continue. Rest assured that the audience will listen to the points that you want to get across. You need to show character when presenting. Use sticky, compelling, and memorable messages.
If you cannot speak without a Power Point Presentation, you are like a gourmet chef who cannot cook without a recipe book. A gourmet chef does what he does best: cooking, not reading. PowerPoints can amplify your personality. I admit that if you are a good presenter, a supporting PowerPoint can make things great. Yet, a thing one sees all the time at conferences, that if speakers don’t have much to say for themselves they start using statistics. Worse are the slides with endless texts and then the speaker reads out loud what is seen on the screen. The audience isn’t there to read slides, they are there to listen to what is said. Slides are a primarily visual medium, with very few words. Use text only to label new topics within your discussion or to emphasize a point that you want to make and such in no more than 10 words, and combined with an awesome picture.
Last but not least
Pull all registers and give them all you have. The difference between a presentation and chocolate is that chocolate is always good.
Cdr.Bud Slabbaert is the initiator and coordinator of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference which will be held on St.Maarten/St.Martin, June 11-13 (www.caribavia.com). The international results and solution oriented event brings airlift stakeholders from both aviation and tourism industry, as well as government authorities together. Slabbaert’s background is accentuated by Business Development, Strategic Communication, and Journalism.