presenting

Better Communication with Dirty Rhetoric

Do you write? Present? Communicate with other humans? Need to persuade or share a compelling idea? (hint: the answer is “yes”). Read on.

It’s been said, “When Cicero spoke, people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched.” That’s how I want to write and present. I don’t want people to like my ideas, I want my ideas to inspire people.

If only… writing and speaking, communicating and persuading, are not easy. The difference between good and great, between marveling at a speech and marching because of it, is often subtle. Learning those nuances has been a bludgeoning task of trial and error for me. Hard knocks and underwhelming responses and I still have a long way to go.

So, I was stupidly, geekily excited to receive a set of Dirty Rhetoric cards in the mail. Yep, that’s actually the name and, no, it doesn’t come from an “adult” themed store. Rather, Peter Watts Paskale (@speak2all), a communications coach and analyst, and Gavin McMahon (@powerfulpoint), a communication and presentation consultant, created a card deck to quickly and easily teach the fundamentals of persuasive communication.

The cards are color coded into four categories – persuasion, scaling, description, and memory – and  each card describes one technique (53 in all). Along with the technique’s name in English and Latin, there are icons showing whether the technique connects to Ethos (belief/ideals/credibility), Logos (consistency/logic), or Pathos (emotions/imagination). Plus, each card has a rating system indicating the difficulty of the technique, a simple description, and two examples. Woof, that’s a lot of info on a card only slightly bigger than an average smart phone.

The instructions include six “games” to help incorporate the techniques into your messaging. For example, Aristotle’s Dilemma has you draw four cards from the color category matching the purpose of your speech (persuasion, description, etc.) and then find ways to incorporate those techniques into your draft. Writer’s Block focuses on learning the techniques and asks you to write a sentence or two, shuffle the cards, draw one from the deck, and apply that card’s technique to your writing. There are also games for four to six plus players.

Today is the first chance I’ve had to really open and look at the deck and I can hardly wait to really dig in. I love the premise of Dirty Rhetoric – a simple, practical way of learning and applying effective persuasive techniques to my writing and speaking.

Peter and Gavin were kind enough to send me a pre-production set for review. If you want to learn more or get your own set, check out the Dirty Rhetoric webpage, follow the #dirtyrhetoric hashtag on social media, or participate in the kickstarter campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/99144298/dirty-rhetoric .

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presenting and playing bigger

Would you do it again?

I had just finished my second presentation in two days. In a rare moment of down time at the recent Illinois State SHRM Conference (#ILSHRM13), my friend and fellow presenter Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) was asking if I’d ever again pitch two brand new presentations for one conference.

Sitting there with both presentations finished, I was in a bit of a post-event daze. The past several weeks had been a huge push by me and my co-presenter to have both presentations ready. In truth, they’d been ready to go weeks before but I couldn’t get happy with them and kept making significant changes right up until it was time to present. That perfectionist streak plus personal issues, work issues, and an ever-present desire to play bigger took their toll and left me drained. Even though I was extremely pleased with the participants’ responses, energy, and feedback, my initial thought was, “No, it’s too much effort.” But I know better. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I’d relish the challenge. The tiredness I was feeling was the good exhaustion that comes from giving your all.

Most of my inspiration as a presenter comes from athletes and musicians. Both fields require tremendous mental and physical preparation. There is a Hollywood myth that the truly talented just show up and are naturally great because of their heart and desire. Reality plays out different. Legendary motorcycle racer Bob Hannah once said something to the effect of: “On race day it doesn’t matter who wants to win more. Everyone wants to win. What matters is who wanted to win most six months ago.” Results go to those who gutted out the prep work and practice far away from the glitz and glory.

Several months ago I had the chance to see the Swedish metal band Sabaton and I wrote a bit about the show in rock and roll presentation skills. They are a relatively unknown in the US but big enough to play at and headline festivals in Europe. They’ve performed to audiences of thousands and thousands, yet I saw them in a large bar with maybe 100 or so attending. Rather than being discouraged or thinking it was beneath them, they played like it was the most important show in their careers. Dripping sweat three songs in, there was an enthusiastic, bombastic joy to their playing and an amazing connection with the audience. Big crowd, small crowd, it didn’t matter, they held nothing back. Since then, that performance has been my inspiration when I’m preparing to speak.

I love presenting. Love as in I want to be among the best, yet I’m so far from it that the gap hurts. Love as in it is painful to not yet be able to write and deliver the presentations I see in my mind – I know the beauty of where it could be and I see where it is and get frustrated at the space between the two. Love as in I’m perpetually on an emotional pendulum swinging between the cockiness of thinking I’m pretty good at it and the despair of thinking I’ll never be good enough. Love as in I enjoy that pain, frustration, and heartbreak because I know it’s pushing me to be better.

Although I’ve been a facilitator for years and lead classes in six countries, I’d never really spoken much at conferences. Facilitating and presenting are similar, but different and this has been an amazing year so far. Huge thanks and appreciation to the folks at Louisiana SHRM, Illinois SHRM, Voice of the Customer (VoC) Fusion, and Central Texas HR Management Association for the opportunities to speak, share ideas, learn, and be a part of moving HR and business forward.

I’m excited for the opportunities 2014 will bring. My co-presenter and I both have day jobs so our participation is voluntary and has to be balanced against all of our regular responsibilities. But that’s no reason not to play bigger. In my dream world, we will return to all the conferences above plus some, do a keynote or two, and speak outside the States.

But enough about me. What’s your love? What are you needing, wanting, desiring to do that you may never get paid for doing, yet tickles at your brain? What pushes, drives, burns, torments, and taunts you to be better and play bigger?

hard won lessons on presenting

I really enjoy speaking and facilitating and wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

It’s always about the participants. Always. The worst, most boring, least engaging presenters make it about themselves. And no one cares. The best presenters think through every single aspect from the participants’ point of view.

 They are participants, not an audience. This may be semantics, but in my mind participants are involved in understanding and applying the material to their own lives while an audience is passive and just along for the ride. Great presenters engage everyone in the room.

 The participants don’t know what they don’t know. This was the single most freeing concept I ever learned about speaking. The participants don’t know what you intended to say so they don’t know when you skipped something. No point in getting hung up on your mistake. If it’s important, loop it back in appropriately. If not, let it go.

 “Winging it” is for complete amateurs. There is a huuuuuuge difference between knowing your material so well you are able to adjust to audience needs on the fly and making it up as you go. Very, very few presenters are able to go off the cuff and those who are able to are tapping into years of experience and material. Some people complain that preparing makes it mechanical, but if your presentation is mechanical it means you haven’t prepared enough to truly own the material. Respect your participants (and yourself) enough to prepare.

 PowerPoint is a great enhancement, but a lousy focal point. The best speakers I’ve seen have very, very little content on their slides. By only having the most important points, the slides are used to support the mood and tone and enhance and underscore the most crucial information. Anything more risks becoming a distraction and a crutch. Think of it like a tie – it needs to match the suit, it can stand out but should never be the focal point, and if you took off the tie the suit should still look great without it.

 Technology breaks. I was at a conference recently and watched as a speaker went through three laptops, two connecting cables, and several staff and volunteers before he was able to get his slides on the screen. Fortunately, he wasn’t dependent on his slides and just rolled into the presentation while the staff and volunteers got his presentation to work. Once the projector was working, he smoothly transitioned to using it. Never rely on technology more sophisticated than flipchart and markers. Use the technology, but be ready and able to give a full presentation without it.

Everything has a purpose. Every-little-thing. Everything. Don’t do that activity, don’t tell that funny story, don’t show that slide unless it directly supports your presentation. If it doesn’t have a purpose don’t do it. Ever.

Introverts can be great presenters. Never confuse introversion with shyness. Some of the best presenters I know are introverts and they use it to their advantage because they are naturally good at staying on point, keeping the focus on the participants, and never talking just to hear themselves speak. Introversion doesn’t matter and it’s not an excuse. A good presenter is a good presenter.

Mistakes are the best teachers. We all screw up, forget stuff, get it out of sequence, and say just the wrong thing. I can say I’ve learned the most about presenting and made the biggest improvements to my presentations from my errors, not my successes.

Care. This one is simple. If you don’t care, neither will your participants.

Have fun. Relax and enjoy it. Once you get past the nervousness and adrenalin dump, presenting can be great fun. And your participants will reflect your energy. If you’re enjoying it, they will too.

Your thoughts?