Friday, June 10, 2011

What To Do When You're Losing Your Audience

Losing the audience is one of the most terrifying experiences all presenters want to avoid. First of all, you have to make sure you know it's even happening. It's great to focus on your message but as you're delivering your message, make sure you simultaneously scan your audience looking for "clues" indicating boredom, negative body language, etc.  "Salvage" techniques you use as you're losing your audience depends on the audience, purpose of the talk, and topic. For example, techniques you use to "wake up" a group of high schoolers are different from those you use when speaking to a Board of Directors.

In any case, realizing you're losing your audience and doing something about it early on, is critical. Once you've lost the audience, however, it's next to impossible to bring it  back and you can kiss the lectern goodbye. If that's the case, determining why you lost your audience in the first place, is the key to preventing it from happening in the future. Was it because of a poor delivery or was it because of a presentation that was  unorganized, hard to follow or not relevant to the interests of the audience?  Rather than beating yourself up, learn from the experience and focus on the future using these tips before you get behind the lectern:

  • Ask an SME, colleage or someone who is successful in getting his/her message across to evaluate you.  Make sure this person knows what to look for and has a proven record of presentation saavy and know-how.
  • Seek someone who will be candid and honest with their evaluation of your presentation and delivery. Often what we think and do is usually very different from what the audience sees, perceives and thinks.  Take the suggestions seriously, smooth out the rough edges, and rehearse in front of a mirror or use a video camera or audio recorder.   Keep rehearsing until you feel confident with yourself and your material.  You want to flow effortlessly.
  • Welcome the feedback, good or bad.  The feedback can be invaluable and, if taken seriously, you'll definitely reap the reward of a great applause.   How can you grow and improve as a presenter if you don't know what areas need improvement? This is not the time to be thin-skinned. Don't take it personal. It's not about you, it's about your message.
Getting good feedback as you develop your skills in the creation of a dynamic presentation and in it's delivery, definitely increases the chances that your listeners will stay engaged and interested when the big day comes to present.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is a Program Agenda?

Before getting into the details about a Program Agenda, I thought it best to define it. First of all, the overall schedule of events that occur during an event gathering is called a Program.  The written schedule of planned activities, their duration, and person(s) assigned to present or lead that activity within the Program, is called the Agenda or the agenda of the program itself.

The Program Agenda serves two purposes:  1) as an outline or roadmap of the activities that the attendees can expect to occur during the gathering and 2)  as a visual guide for the presenters themselves, to help them know where they fit in the overall Program and how much time is allotted for their respective presentation or activity.  A Program Agenda shows the duration of each activity on the Program so that it starts and finishes on time, and flows.

From start to closing, the entire Program can take anywhere from an hour to a full day or more, depending on its purpose. The gathering can take the form of a meeting or a more formal event that is usually put together by an organization or company.  Program Agendas are often used in functions that include a sit down meal.  A Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) is often used as a coordinator or orchestrator of the Program.  He/she serves as the glue between each activity, helping the attendees enjoy the Program by explaining who or what's up next on the Agenda.  A good Emcee follows a carefully designed Program Agenda, keeping the Program flowing and on time, while maintaining an upbeat mood. The Program Agenda acts as a roadmap for the Emcee (and presenters) to follow and a framework for attendees as to what is going on in real time. 

With careful  planning and dynamic execution of your Program Agenda, chances are you will "nail it" and all the participants, sponsors and attendees will be looking forward to next year's event.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Formal Training Always Trumps Experience

While attending a networker recently, I met, Phil, a born and raised Texan, who was President and founder of a medium-sized company where he had carved a niche in the real estate commercial market. He came across as confident, knowledgeable about his service. We immediately dived into the usual small talk. I went first, asking the usual questions, like "What do you do there?" and "How old is your company?" He had started his company 5 years earlier and, after conquering many challenges, a lot of hard work and persistence, he boasted his best year's earnings of $2 million, after which he asked me "...and what do you do?"

I gave my elevator speech ending with "We help executives at all levels, gain the confidence and professionalism they need to present before any group, any size, any where." I then handed him my card. He looked at it saying, "Public Speaking Coaching and Training. Well, Sir, that's something many people's a good skill to know." I agreed. He then added while looking at my card, "Why...I've been speakin'  for 15 years in front of all kinda groups and I make presentations at events that I sponsor in the community and to my employees all the time, and you know what? ...I don't get nervous and nobody has ever told me my presentations stink. In fact, I get asked to come to speak to community groups all the time. While I don't need coaching or training myself, this is a great skill to know." Then he smiled, saying it was good meeting me as he put my card in his pocket.

This is common dialogue when it comes to the subject of  public speaking formal training.  Experience is great and should never be belittled, BUT knowledge through formal training by a professional expert in the field of public speaking, coupled with experience, contributes to one's success in delivering an effective and powerful presentation.  Given a choice, formal public speaking training always trumps experience in "winging it" or "just getting out there over and over".  Other speakers believe that it's who they are, that's important.

Unfortunately, "experience only" advocates and the "who they are" proponents, don't know, that they don't know about what to do, what to say and how to say it properly, in front of an audience when it comes to making a presentation.  This can be a very painful experience for the audience.

Here are some considerations:

1. If you are the President and large contributor of sponsorships to an organization, do you actually believe that people are going to approach you after your "marginal quality" presentation and tell you that your presentation was awful? Nope. Most people are kind and save their remarks about your presentation for later discussions among themselves. You heard them before, like, "Geez! That was boring!" or "Did you follow that?" or "What a waste of time!"

2. If you've never had formal training, have you ever noticed how you get an anxiety attack just before the presentation no matter how much you have rehearsed?  Every wonder why? All the rehearsing in the world will not fool your subconscious into thinking that you know what you're doing.  No one likes to feel that they're making a fool of themselves in front of people, especially if they don't realize that it's happening!  It's the Don't-know-that-you-don't-know Syndrome attacking from your subconscious.

Trying to convince yourself that "Practice makes perfect" won't help either because, as your subconscious will remind you, "you don't even know if you are rehearsing the right things!" Every speaker's worst nightmare is being unaware of mistakes in delivery that are causing a loss of credibility in front of the audience. Cure: Big dose of knowledge by an expert that can coach you in what to do, what to say and how to say it, so that you do know-that-you-know what you're doing, will free you to focus on the presentation itself and not on how you're going to come across to the audience.

3. Then there's complacency. As an example, there is John, IT Manager, for a large software company who's worked his way up the ladder through numerous certifications, hard work and experience.  Although he's had no formal presentation skills training, he presents before the CEO, CIO, and VP often and feels he doesn't need formal training because management, he says, doesn't care about "ah's" or gestures or pretty slides.  Management wants facts and updates of viable information. Period. He believes he's doing just fine, thank you. John's is doing great...for now. He's in a comfort zone. Yes, he's doing a great job...inside the confines of that company world. Outside that company, things could be quite different. Sooner or later, there will come an opportunity to present to that outside world (at a conference, to a potential client, or to a potential employer) which will require a different set of delivery skills and approaches. What then?

4. It's very likely that there are people in your audience who have had formal presentation training and are aware of the in's and out's of a good presentation and its delivery. Odds are pretty good that these are heads of corporations, companies or organizations that may be your next business client, associate or sponsor. Impressions here can be critical.

For sure, once acquired, excellent oral communication skills become part of your "brand" as a professional, no matter where you are. A dynamic presentation is always a great way to make a good impression, demonstrating your professionalism, knowledge, self-confidence and expertise. Experience is always good, but when coupled with knowledge about formal public speaking techniques, your credibility in any field is enhanced - even yours, Phil.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development
©2011 VerbaCom®

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

6 Critical Questions to Ask When Preparing Your Program Agenda

Critical Questions to ask to avoid disastrous Program Events. When creating your Program Agenda, there are several elements that you need to know about, whether it’s a simple Event or a more complex Program involving several presenters. Here are some critical questions you will need to resolve before creating your Program Agenda:

  1. How much time will be allotted for the Event? What are the start and ending times?
  2. What type of function is it? Is it an awards banquet with several recipients? Is it a reception honoring a person or persons? A dinner program highlighting a Keynote speaker’s expertise or simply to entertain? Or is it an extended Event with various presenters throughout the day in a Conference setting? The type will determine not only time related issues but also the logistics of sequencing and grouping of presenters.
  3. Who are your primary sponsors? Usually there are one or two “top” funders of your Event with others involved at a second or third tier level. Primary sponsors usually are recognized and asked to say a few words at the opening and second tier sponsors are recognized at the closing portion of the Event. Key sponsor representatives who are seated in the audience are sometimes asked to stand up for recognition and applause. In more sophisticated Events, sponsors are highlighted via pre-recorded videos on screens shown at strategic times during the Event.
  4. Who is the CEO, Director or President of the organization hosting this program? Will he/she be present at the Event? What is his/her correct title? Is he/she planning to be on the Program?
  5. Will there be a Keynote speaker? He/she is usually the highlight of the Event. Make sure this speaker doesn’t steal the limelight from the purpose of the Event and celebrated persons (like award recipients) in the program. Correct placement on the Agenda is everything here.
  6. Will there be a special mention of someone or some thing?

The answers to these questions are going to determine the structure and timing of the events in your Agenda.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Master of Ceremonies Toolkit: Planning a Flawless Program

Have you attended a formal luncheon or banquet lately? Did you enjoy the program? What feeling did you have when you left the event? Was it positive (glad you attended), negative (boring and a waste of time and money), neither (your body was there, you think)? Have you attended an event lately and found that most of the "audience" consisted of glasses filled with iced tea and salads ready to listen quietly?

We all attend banquets, luncheons, and other public speaking events for a variety of reasons. Some are great, some are far from it. We all have busy schedules and we usually have better things to do than to sit through a boring, long-winded speaker in a program that is poorly executed and unprofessional. Whether we are participating in the program as a speaker, being recognized for something, or part of the audience, paying for the meal ticket to help promote the cause or organization, we want to feel that our time was well spent, rather than wish we had made an excuse not to be there.

So, what separates the "ho-hums" from the "hurrahs"? What makes an event that is well-executed, professional, and energized? Two very important elements: a well thought-out and professionally-planned program and an experienced Master/Mistress of Ceremonies (Emcee).

A well thought-out and professionally-planned program

A good agenda takes into consideration the length and timing of the entire program. A well-planned agenda strategically places the sequence of the speakers for maximum effect and allocates the speaking times accordingly, while tightly weaving the entire program with lectern protocol and choreography of program participants. A good agenda considers the purpose, credibility, and reputation of speakers, as well as the purpose, goal, and direction of the program, so that the audience leaves the event feeling the purpose for attending was satisfied and the time was well spent.

An experienced Master/Mistress of Ceremonies

An experienced Emcee can enhance any program by keeping the various elements of the program in check and flowing smoothly by monitoring:

  • Program length - The Emcee is the timekeeper making sure the program stays on schedule.
  • Program execution - An Emcee, experienced in elocution and articulation, can make a program flow smoothly, seemingly without effort and without embarrassing delays or confusion as to what comes next, or worse, who comes next in the program.
  • Perceived professionalism - A program poorly executed is not only a direct reflection on the Chair of the event and the event committee, but may also impact the audience's perception of the sponsor in terms of professionalism and credibility. A less than professional program could damage a sponsor's image rather than enhance it.
  • Audience mood - Irrespective of the type of event, the audience expects to be entertained by a well-executed, professional program that fulfills the purpose for which they attended. An experienced Emcee adds color and vitality, holding the audience's attention and managing the mood so that attendees have an enjoyable experience and a sense of satisfaction.
  • Program pace - A program that drags on endlessly, is filled with empty pockets of silence or features self-centered, rambling speakers can be disastrous. A reputation of poorly executed, boring, or waste of time programs gets around in the community. For annual events, this may result in poor attendance and support for the event. A good Emcee monitors the pace of the program to avoid slow periods, maintain energy, and keep the audience from wanting to slip out the door during a strategic pause.

The importance of these very basic and crucial elements of any public speaking event are often overlooked. The results are manifested in the quality of the program. Can your event afford to be less than energetic, well-executed and professional? Is your event worth the effort to attend? Your credibility and professional image, or that of your client or organization, may be on the line.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Three Keys to Creating a Winning Event Program

Congratulations! You have been assigned the task of putting together this year’s Annual Appreciation event for your company or organization. Before you think that it’s no big deal since you plan to copy last year’s Program Agenda and hope for the best, you might consider putting yourself in the place of a typical program attendee.

Have you attended a formal awards banquet luncheon or dinner recently? Was the experience positive (glad you attended, interesting and memorable) or negative (a torturous boring waste of your time, with long-winded speakers and an unprofessional execution)? Or have you found yourself at a sparsely attended fundraising event and considered for a moment, just sending in a contribution and coming up with some excuse for not attending?

Attending a poorly executed program or event can make you not only regret coming to the event but can also discourage you from attending next year’s. Attendees are not the only ones impacted. An event that is not up to par, speaks volumes about the organization itself. A Board of Directors that allows a mediocre program (or worse) to showcase its organization sends a message about how the organization itself is operating within. Sponsors, on the other hand, are happy to tie their brand with an organization and will continue to do so as long as it puts them in a positive light.

Still think that it’s no big deal? Think again. Fact is, at the end of the day, whether your program was a success or a flop, it will reflect on you, the person responsible for putting it all together. You will take the heat or be the hero. Rather than getting anxious about it, see this as your opportunity to make your event something that everyone will remember in a positive light, one that brings the quality, professionalism and organization to a new level, and generates interest for next year’s event in terms of sponsorships and attendance.

Here are three critical areas to consider that can help you create a successful formal event:

1) Substance and quality is everything. Remember, your program will only be as good as the people on the program’s lineup. Period. All the hoopla surrounding all the presenters is just icing on the cake. Whether your event has one high level speaker as the highlight of your event or whether you have several presenters in the program, make sure that they are interesting, relevant, exciting people, famous or even controversial. Use them as enticements or draws that make people want to come to your event. As a backdrop, use topical programs, fun entertainment and great food that says this is a “can’t miss event”. You should shoot high, but based on your budget, you may need a plan “B” or “C”, etc. You get what you pay for still goes but negotiations savvy goes a long way here. Start looking early.

2) A well thought-out, strategically planned program is critical. A well thought-out agenda strategically places the sequence of the speakers for maximum effect and allocates the speaking times accordingly, as it helps the Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) tightly weave the entire program, with choreography, proper etiquette and protocol around the lectern. When planning the event, always keep in mind the purpose, goal and direction of the program so that it never looses focus and maintains the excitement of the audience. This will be the surest way of putting your organization’s best foot forward in front of your sponsors and attendees.

3) Acquire an experienced Emcee. A great Emcee enhances any program by keeping the various elements and dynamics of the program on track and controls the tone of the event, keeping it positive and energized. Experience with a great track record speaks volumes. Choose an Emcee carefully, besides being energetic, positive and upbeat, he/she should be familiar with proper lectern etiquette and protocol. Remember, just because the person may be a well known individual, doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a good Emcee. Equally important, just because he or she is the Chair of the event, doesn’t automatically qualify them as the best person for the Emcee’s job.

The combination of great content, a well thought-out plan, coupled with an experienced Emcee who can pull it all together, are the elements needed for creating a professional, well-executed Program for your luncheon, banquet or dinner. The quality results you get will be closely tied to your efforts made towards quality, professionalism and substance that you have put into it. People will notice you and your team’s hard work, as it manifests in a smoothly run, dynamic and professional event that leaves attendees looking forward to next year’s event. It will reflect well on your organization, sponsors and yourself, building everyone’s credibility and brand. Isn’t your event worth the effort?

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®