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Are your staff instructions setting the right tone?

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This is just a quick post to get you thinking. Messages from management and staff, be they notices or emails, are an important communication channel that can bring you closer to your staff and create a team spirit. However, if they are written badly, they can put distance between colleagues of different levels. The days of ‘top-down, us and them’ management are pretty much over, but do your messages reflect this?

You probably speak to those you supervise in a friendly, we’re-all-on-the-same-team kind of way, with a friendly hand on the shoulder and a personal, “Can you help me out and do this for me?” Notices and other messages should be the same, using the same, equal-level words. One particular message brought this whole subject to my mind the other day. It was to do with front-line, customer service dress codes and although it was trying to be friendly, the choice of words created distance.

The notice read: “Please make sure that shirts and trousers are cleaned and neatly pressed.” The writer has fallen into the trap of using the ‘official’ language of notices – he or she would not say this to a friend. This may seem like a small thing, but look at the message itself. Even the supervisors themselves do not have their clothes cleaned and pressed, they wash and iron them like the rest of us. Only the very top people get their laundry ‘done’. Are you one of these top people? Or are you actually a member of the team?

Presentation Tips 5 – Say it thrice

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This is a very important rule as regards giving presentations. By the way, ‘thrice’ means ‘three times’, as ‘twice’ means ‘two times’ – I hoped the word would catch your eye and your interest. However, it is rather an old word, not much used in modern English. Whoever you are giving your presentation to, you will need to repeat important points and, if possible, use different words each time, so any misunderstood word can be replaced by a more familiar one. This is what you must do also if you really need to use technical or other uncommon words. Again, it is back to remembering your audience. Anyway, the main message of your presentation, and any other important points too, need to be repeated.

The presentation itself should be in three parts: introduction, body and summary or conclusion. This ‘rule of three’ works on smaller levels too, so in your introduction the main message should be introduced, expanded on a little and then summarised. In this way, the audience will:

1. Be able to locate the main message.
2. Catch up, if they weren’t paying attention.
3. Remember the message.

All important points should be treated in the same way. A presentation is not like a book, where you can flick back a couple pages when you realise that your mind had wandered off into the forest for a bit. Don’t expect your audience to be totally focused on you all the time. I’ll bet that you have had the same problem when listening to someone else giving a presentation.

We have a lot on our minds these days, and it is rare that we are totally focussed on anything for long. The mind drifts off, you check your watch, then you think about the next appointment and what you should have prepared for it, then you remember the gas bill that needs paying … oh yes, and what did the speaker just say? It sounded important. Don’t have a ‘they should be listening’ attitude – have an ‘I’ll get them to understand if it kills me’ one.

As a presenter, you need to keep a close eye on your audience. Watch out for the glassy eyes of the chap who’s lost his concentration for a moment. Get his attention back and summarise for everyone what you just said. You are giving the presentation, and it is entirely up to you whether the audience gets the message!

Watch out for fidgeting, this person may have lost interest – try and get it back.

Watch out for yawns, they can simply indicate tiredness, but they also show when someone didn’t understand something a short while back. Part of the brain is still back there, analysing and trying to grasp the point, while the rest is trying to focus on the words currently being spoken. It can be as simple as an unfamiliar word – go back and say it in another way.

Watch out for the folded arms of someone who may not agree with your point. You could even politely single them out and ask their opinion. This provides you with another tool to use to repeat your message.

So, remember the rule of three and say it thrice.

This short extract has been taken from my eBookHow to Create and Deliver a Great Presentation“.

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Abbreviations – mike or mic?

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This little puzzle came to my attention today and got me thinking – is mike or mic short for microphone. Well, in common usage, both are correct. Pubs advertise ‘open mike’ and ‘open mic’ – but publicans are not so often also grammarians, so lets have a look at this sticky problem.

If one is going to be pedantic, and I often am, ‘mike’ is the short form of microphone, and ‘mic’ is the abbreviation of it (used a lot in the audio world). ‘Mike’ is a word, ‘mic’ is not. Bicycle is shortened to ‘bike’, and definitely not ‘bic’ (the latter being a generic name for a ball-point pen).

Which is right and which is wrong? It depends on the world you are working in and writing about. Was that helpful? Probably not. Language is not a science …

Presentation Tips 4 – Stance and Body Language

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© Freds | Dreamstime Stock Photos In most of the western world this is a strong, positive signal, but in some countries you might just have lost your customer!

© Freds | Dreamstime Stock Photos
In most of the western world this is a strong, positive signal, but in some countries you might just have lost your customer!

Here we enter an area which can depend on your own personality. If you are naturally animated and use a lot of hand gestures, you have an advantage. If you are nervous and your hands are shaking, then holding your notes is not a good idea, as the papers will shake even more than your hands! In fact, what to do with your hands is a common problem and many speakers grip the podium or microphone stand, or plunge their hands into their pockets, in order to keep things under control.

However, the hands can be used most effectively to emphasise points, like counting off important list items on one hand with the index finger of the other.

NOTE: Be very careful with hand gestures if you are presenting abroad, or if there are foreign nationals in your audience. I lived for many years in Finland and was repeatedly surprised when my students indicated ‘two’ with a gesture that means ‘up yours’ in the UK, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. I was polite enough to point out to them that it would not be the best way to order a couple of beers in a British bar.

In Thailand, a good old thumbs up sign can be interpreted as a childish stuck-out tongue. In Iran and Afghanistan it means, again, something like ‘up yours’.

In Greece, a palm-outward stop gesture is an insult.

In Vietnam, crossing your fingers to indicate hope for a lucky result will be interpreted as an insult referring to female genitalia.

Raising your clenched fist in victory will be misunderstood in several countries.

Also, pointing your finger directly at people can seem quite aggressive, and I would avoid it anywhere.

There are very many of these cultural idiosyncrasies, so it is well worth researching the country you are either visiting, or that you are receiving guests from. For example (and this is relevant to greeting your presentation attendees), it is a common habit for westerners to receive a business card with just one hand, glance at it briefly and then stuff it unceremoniously into their top pocket. The Chinese do things differently. The card is offered with both hands, with the text facing the recipient. It should be received in the same way, with both hands. It is then polite to actually read the card and make some comment about its owner, like, “Ah, I see you are the department manager, this is a very good position.” The card can now be placed on the table in front of you, as if it has significant value.

There are far too many countries and cultures in the world to expand on this further; in fact, it would provide material for quite a large book. Luckily, there are many good-quality business-oriented sites on the Internet where you can find such information.

However, it is estimated that between 70% to 90% of communication is non-verbal, so using your hands, facial expressions and whole body to help get your message across is an important skill to practice. Having your hands in your pockets can suit the stand-up comedian with a dry sense of humour, but is ill suited to a sales presentation. Standing with your arms folded suggests an attitude closed to audience participation.

This is an extract from my book “How to Create and Deliver a Great Presentation”. More details can be found HERE.

Presentation Tips 3 – The Venue

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All venues are different - assume nothing!

All venues are different – assume nothing!

Check with the organisers what facilities will be available to you. Don’t assume anything, or you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Is there a podium, a microphone, can you make use of your own laptop, or do you have to take a memory stick and use their computer? Is there, indeed, a digital projector at all, or a decent screen? If you are using other formats, do they have a flip-chart stand, a back-projector, or even a whiteboard? Plan to arrive good and early, with plenty of time to deal with unexpected technical problems. The audience’s first sight of you should not be of your rear end, as you crawl under a table to connect a cable!

If you are using a microphone, what type is it? If you have a mic on a podium or stand, you may have to stay put and face the audience all the time you are speaking. Can you remove the mic from the stand and move around? If there is a radio mic available, you can move around, approaching the audience more closely and then striding back to the screen to pinpoint some important issue. If it’s a lapel mic you can even use both hands to express yourself. However, if you are spotlit, you just might have to stand still anyway – you don’t want to be wandering in and out of view. Find out all of this as early as practical, as there are knock-on effects to think about. For example, if you are making use of the full stage, are you going to be far from your laptop when it’s time for the next slide? Is there a remote control available?

Check out where you will be in relation to the audience. What will they see behind you? If you are in a room with windows, will you be silhouetted in front of a bright outside scene, or even worse – half-open venetian blinds? This is important, because I have only ever once given a presentation when I, the presenter, was actually lit by a spotlight. Usually, lighting is fairly subdued so that the screen is the focus – make sure that you can be seen too. Try and position yourself so that you have a plain backdrop, with no house-plants growing out of the top of your head.

For the full picture, so to speak, click HERE to check out my book “How to Create and Deliver a Great Presentation”.

Presentation Tips 2 – Clothes for Film and TV

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Don't forget your skin tone - it affects the kind of clothing colours that will work for you on the screen.

Don’t forget your skin tone – it affects the kind of clothing colours that will work for you on the screen.

The difference between the human eye and the camera lens:

Actually it is the brain behind the eye which makes all the difference. Both the eye and the camera lens have automatic functions which require no ‘manual’ controls. Of course, the camera lens can be set to full manual mode, but in real life situations, once the white balance is set, the camera operator often relies on automatic focus and exposure. The human eye will automatically focus on what you are looking at, and adjust the exposure accordingly, all without any conscious input on your behalf.

Again, in real life, things can happen pretty fast. The brain must deal with a massive amount of information, and reject most of it as unimportant. The brain must also ‘guess’ or interpret a great deal of this visual information, based on past experience, previous similar images etc etc etc. My point is that the brain doesn’t seem to see things exactly as they come through the eyes. It works on impressions and memories, a kind of ‘looks like’ software is running in the background.

Finally, have you ever taken a photograph of what appeared to be a fabulous landscape, with rolling hills, sunlit slopes and cute cottages? So, when you checked out the image later on your computer, did it look the same? Probably not. The camera sensor sees what it sees and records it pretty faithfully – you do not. You look at this breathtaking panorama and unconsciously zoom in on the cottages, using your brain’s 3D software to note differences in the height and depth of the hills behind. The camera’s image can seem pretty flat in comparison.

So, what does this have to do with giving presentations? The main issue here is impressions. Ask a member of the audience later what exactly you were wearing, and they may not be able to give a full answer. However, they did form an impression based on their interpretation of visual data. They would be able to answer whether you looked smart, or not. They are much more likely to remember some imperfection in this image, such as ill-matched clothes, dirty shoes, whether a man had fashionable designer-stubble, or whether he just appeared unshaven.

They are more likely to remember if you were badly lit, or silhouetted against half-open venetian blinds, than if all the lighting and backgrounds were perfect. Strangely enough, we don’t notice so much when everything is as it should be, we are too busy focussing on the action. It’s like watching a TV programme or movie – when everything is done right, we just enjoy it and spread the good news to our friends. When some imperfection in the plot, scenery, props or acting spoils this enjoyment, that is the news that gets spread around. So, be a professional, get it right!

You will be wearing your ‘uniform’ – a collection of clothes which say who you are and give credibility to your message. Imagine yourself sitting in the audience watching yourself. Are your clothes giving off the right message?

As your presentation is going to be televised or filmed, then you will need to consider some special points as, for example, stripes and bright red cloth can come out really badly on TV. Of course, it really depends on what you are presenting, but these 10 points apply to all. If the film crew is professional, they will give you advice on this, but if you turn up in the wrong clothes, it may just be too late to change certain things.
 
1. White is too bright for TV. It presents a challenge for the camera operator as regards his white balance.

2. Black is just too dark. It reflects little or no light – which is why it appears black of course. Again, black makes life more difficult for the camera operator, and makes the wearer rather invisible. However, as is shown by the picture of the presenter above, black can work with darker skin tones, especially with just a splash of white collar.

3. Reds are garish and, on a TV screen, tend to glow unpleasantly.

4. Blue and pastel shades are best.

5. Checks and stripes (particularly horizontal) confuse the auto focus on automated cameras.

6. Jewelry – small is tasteful, large can be distracting. Bracelets or complex earrings which jingle will be picked up beautifully by the microphone, and you might sound like a Morris dancer or a Christmas reindeer. It does, of course, depend on the subject of your presentation, but perhaps you’d prefer the audience to be concentrating on your face and message, rather than the beautiful pendant resting in your cleavage.

7. Iron it – safety-pin it – zip it! Your presentation is going to be recorded and perhaps shown over and over again. It’s particularly important that some imperfection in your dress (or do they call it ‘wardrobe oops’ these days) is not the thing that makes you a household celebrity on the Internet. If you have an unreliable zip on your trousers, pin it up, just to be safe. Iron that shirt, press those trousers, shine those shoes!

8. Gentlemen, pay attention to your trousers. Those of the suit variety can look really weird when you sit down and cross your legs – and even worse with a low camera angle. The turn-ups which were hanging at just the right height when you were standing are now halfway up your calves, exposing socks and hairy legs. Women seem to pay more attention to such detail, typically wearing tights or having bare (and probably less hairy and more attractive) legs.

9. Short skirts may detract from your message, depending on what the message is, and depending on the quality of the TV programme (perhaps the camera operator has instructions to lower his angle to increase ratings).

10. Logos – various company and clothing brand logos may be seen as advertising, and therefore may not be permitted on certain channels.

For much more on the subject of presentations, click HERE.

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