Archive | Presentation Skills for Professional Services

Why You Need To Add Influence to Expertise

It isn’t the attorney who knows the most about the law who is always the most successful. Nor is it the insurance professional who best understands his products that makes the most
sales. What about the financial planner who is an expert in her field? Sadly, expertise doesn’t
really matter—unless you can communicate it to others. Some of the very brightest
professionals are less successful than they could be simply because they can’t communicate
their expertise.

In their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip & Dan Heath
introduce the concept of the “Curse of Knowledge.” They describe it as a situation where you
know so much about something, you forget what it was like not to know it. My own take
centers on a slightly different concept I call the “Curse of Expertise.” It results in fewer clients,
lower productivity and less credibility. Here are five manifestations of the curse of expertise:

  1. Experts believe facts speak for themselves. They believe that if you just lay out the
    information, reasonable people will all come to the same conclusion. They sometimes don’t
    realize facts need interpretation, context and explanation to be effective. Someone unversed in
    investing won’t understand what a good return on investment is without some explanation of
    risk and performance. Doctors and other medical professionals sometimes report test results
    without giving lay people the context in which to understand them. Many times, facts have
    contradictory interpretations, so it’s important to guide people to the interpretation you wish
    them to have.
  2. Experts don’t like the thought of selling ideas. Many experts find the whole notion of
    selling and persuasion distasteful and unprofessional. But persuasion is at the very heart of
    healthy interpersonal relationships. Professionals who believe they have a product or service of
    genuine benefit to their prospects should feel a sense of obligation to persuade them to
    become clients. Persuasion is only a tool. Whether it’s employed ethically depends on how a
    person uses it.
  3. Experts sometimes focus on the message at the expense of the listeners. The
    most successful communication focuses on the listener rather than the speaker or the message.
    Message-centered communication tends toward the very technical, contains lots of information
    and revolves around the activity of communication rather than the results you can achieve from
    it. It’s important to consider the frame of reference, background and knowledge so you can
    adapt your message to specific listeners.
  4. Experts often think you can beat someone into mental submission with the stick
    of logic. People are persuaded through different means including logic, emotion and
    credibility. Experts often focus heavily on data and statistics even though an individual may be
    more persuaded by emotion, narrative or case studies. Simply throwing more data at that
    individual won’t be any more effective. If you’re working with a hammer and it isn’t doing the
    job you want, don’t switch to a bigger hammer–use a different tool. The poet Samuel Butler
    wrote “He that complies against his will is of the same opinion still.” Piling logic on someone may
    gain you the appearance of agreement, but it probably won’t get you buy-in.
  5. Experts sometimes rely too much on their credentials and too little on providing
    proof of concept. Let’s face facts—the designations bestowed by professional organizations
    may be recognition for hard-won achievements within the organization, but mean little to most
    potential clients. When you have to spend time explaining how prestigious and exclusive the
    designation is, you’re engaged in obvious self-promotion. Demonstrate your experience and
    expertise through the use of examples, case studies and an understanding of client issues.
    Showing your expertise, rather than telling about it, will establish much greater believability.

In today’s economy, expertise is just the price of admission. Success depends on your ability to
communicate clearly and persuasively. Facts sometimes need explanation and ideas sometimes
need to be sold. The best communication is listener-focused and savvy professionals
understand that different things persuade different listeners. When you keep these points in
mind, you’ll be sure to add influence to your expertise.

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7 Deadly Sins of Presentation Technology

Presenters today tend to rely heavily on the latest technology to deliver their message.
Overhead projectors have joined the Jurassic age, replaced by slick notebook computers and
multimedia projectors. While this new technology has the potential to enhance your
presentations, it also carries its own risks. Remember Murphy’s Law? “Things will go wrong in
any given situation if you give them a chance” holds especially true for gadgets and gizmos during a
presentation. You can keep an already stressful situation from worsening if you’ll avoid these 7
Deadly Sins of Presentation Technology.

  1. Missing connections. Make certain you have all the connections you’ll need for two
    devices to communicate. For example, to connect an Apple notebook to a multimedia
    projector requires a mini-DVI adaptor. If you’re connecting a video camera to a
    television monitor or projector, you’ll need to determine whether you’ll be using Svideo,
    component or composite interfaces.
  2. Cords that are too short. The optimal room set-up should determine the placement of
    your notebook, not the length of any projection cords or power cords. Bring, or
    arrange for, extension cords so you aren’t limited by an arbitrary standard. Also, be
    sure to bring any adapters needed for power cords.
  3. Incompatible formats. Video formats vary around the world. The U.S. uses NTSC,
    much of Asia uses PAL and several countries in Europe use SECAM. This means a video
    tape from the U.S. wouldn’t play in standard equipment in Asia. If you’re giving
    international presentations, or hosting them, resolve any format issues and arrange for
    multi-system equipment to be available. If you’re using a DVD, make sure the necessary
    hardware and software is available and installed.
  4. Unfamiliarity with software programs or remote devices. Most people have a basic
    knowledge of slide presentation software, but to use advanced features, you’ll need
    practice and an awareness of any cross-platform issues. I prefer to bring my own
    wireless presentation remote because I know its features. I’ve seen presenters press
    too hard on the advance button of an unfamiliar remote and burn through thirty slides
    before they even knew what was happening. Older remotes use IR technology that
    requires more precise line of sight positioning. Presenters who move around the room
    sometimes exhibit contortionist behavior to get their remotes lined up with the USB
  5. No backup. If you present enough times, eventually you’ll find yourself in the position of
    not having your presentation loaded on the computer you’ll be presenting from.
    Without backup, you’re doomed. Have a copy of your presentation slide show on both
    a USB flash drive and available online. The advantages of these two media over a CD is
    that you can edit the slide show.
  6. No spares. Always carry spare batteries with you for any peripherals such as your
    remote, external speakers, timers, recorders, laser pointers and wireless microphones.
    Replacement bulbs for projectors are expensive, but if you’re bringing your own
    equipment, having a spare could save the presentation.
  7. Not practicing. Never wait until the start of your presentation to begin interacting with
    the technology. If you’re giving your presentation offsite, arrive early to test equipment
    and review placement of the projector. The image should fill the screen and be in sharp
    focus. Avoid “keystoning” (an image that is smaller at the top or bottom) by adjusting
    the height of the projector. Avoid lateral distortion by making sure the projector is
    perpendicular to the screen.

You can prevent most of these technology mishaps if you supply your own equipment. Offsite
presentations sometimes make it impractical, so when that’s the case, remember the three
“P’s.” Plan for the best. Prepare for the worst. Practice with what’s available.

A final word of warning for presentation road warriors: Despite your best efforts, technology
will still sometimes fail. When it happens, keep in mind that slide shows are support for
presentations, not replacements. Cicero didn’t have PowerPoint. Nor did Lincoln, Churchill or
Martin Luther King Jr. They all delivered some of the most powerful messages in history.

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Persuasion is a Process, Not a Magic Bullet

People often forget that persuasion is a process rather than an on/off switch. Audiences aren’t
unconvinced one moment and suddenly committed the next because you’ve found a verbal
“magic bullet.” Moving them to action involves a gradual and sequential approach. You’ll be
much more effective persuading prospects to take action when you implement the principle of
“psychological progression.” This organizing principle divides a presentation into discrete steps
designed to move listeners toward a desired outcome. Each step serves a specific purpose in
the process of persuasion by creating a mental state in the minds of the audience. Here are the
five steps, along with an example key message for each.

Listen. A presenter’s first task involves rising above all the mental clutter in the audience’s
mind to be heard. Techniques to capture attention include humor, narratives, uniqueness, props
and provocative statements. I’m sorry to have to inform all of you that you’re dying. In fact, we are.
It’s going to happen to everyone eventually. But I hope it doesn’t happen to you before you’ve planned
for it because I’m sincerely worried about your family.

Feel. Next, you must make them feel some pain or inadequacy in their current state of affairs.
Its purpose is to create an appetite for resolution. Have you prepared for the unexpected? Could
your family go on living in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed? Would they be able to
attend to meet financial responsibilities, to get the education they need and be able to live free of worry,
stress and debt?

See: You must then satisfy the appetite with your recommendation for action. The purpose is
to create congruence between their pain and your solution. In other words, you’re showing
them how to solve the problem you’ve made them aware of. When you’re prepared for the future,
I can guarantee you’ll never have to worry about your family being taken care of, ever. Our policies
solve exactly those kinds of problems.

Believe. They must also believe your solution will work. You create this belief through
examples, case studies and analogies. This step serves to remove any doubts or skepticism both
about your solution and about your personal ability to deliver it. For over 120 years, we’ve been
providing peace of mind and a sound plan for the future. And, in the tens of thousands of policies we’ve
written, we’ve never had a claim turned down. In fact, our customer satisfaction ratings are the highest
in the industry, bar none.

Act. The final step involves getting the audience to act on your recommendations. One of the
keys to an effective call to action is not overwhelming the audience with choice. The fewer options available, the more likely they are to act on one. You can get started immediately by going
to our Website and using the no obligation interactive calculator to customize a plan for your specific

Three keys will help increase your effectiveness: First, the order in which you introduce these
steps is crucial to their success. At each stage, people must experience the previous step
before moving on to the next. The effect is cumulative. Second, focus less on what you say and
more on the intellectual and emotional state you’re trying to create in the minds of the
audience. Third, don’t neglect the presentation of these messages. They must be delivered in a
way that reinforces your sincerity and authenticity. In addition to a higher conversion rate,
organizing your presentation on the principle of psychological progression guarantees prospects
will be more committed to action.

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Lost in Translation

At initial meetings, prospects will only have a few moments to size you up. After looking at
how you’re dressed and how you carry yourself, the next bit of data they’ll use to make
judgments about you is what you say. Prospects use your interactions as a barometer of what
they can expect from you. Consequently, your language choices take on a significance that
transcends the moment. Even interactions that occur much later will be filtered through that
initial perception.

A translator must sort through numerous subtleties when choosing possible interpretations.
Likewise, your goal when communicating with prospects should be to make sure your
professionalism, expertise and credibility are translated into language the prospect can easily
understand and that you avoid miscommunication. Here are seven principles that will keep you
from getting lost in translation.

Keep jargon to a minimum. Jargon can build either bridges or walls. It builds bridges when
used as an economical way of communicating with those inside your profession. It’s often your
default language for describing your products and services. It builds walls when used with
prospects from outside your own profession who may be unfamiliar with terms you use on a
daily basis. Keep explanations simple and make certain prospects understand any industry
standard acronyms or abbreviations. Consider writing a glossary of key terms or a quick guide
to jargon in your industry and making it available to prospects.

Speak the language of service instead of the language of obligation. Have you ever
heard that someone providing service to you is busy? How did it make you feel? Remember
that one definition of busy is “full of activity.” Telling someone you’re busy could be
interpreted as “You’re adding to my burden.” Also, when you’re giving reasons why something
isn’t proceeding as planned, be sure to offer explanations instead of excuses.

Don’t let teaching get confused with patronizing. Avoid using phrases such as “what you
don’t know is,” or “you don’t understand.” It’s the same as saying “I’m smarter than you.”
Show less certainty when you’re about to educate prospects. Give them the benefit of the
doubt by using phrases like “We’ve found that people usually ask about this aspect of the policy,
but please stop me if you’re already learned about it.” Avoid telling people you’re providing an
“idiot’s guide” or a “dummy’s guide.”

Focus on what you achieve rather than what you do. Instead of describing the activity
you’re engaged in, describe the results you get for clients. People care very little about what you do, but they care passionately what you can do for them. Which of these two statements would appeal more to you? “I’m a realtor.” “I help people find their dream home quickly and at
a price that means a good investment.” You should be able to describe in a single sentence, the
results you get for your target market.

Avoid clichés like the plague. A salesman was once observed asking a business owner for
the name of the person responsible for benefits in the company. When the owner replied that
he was a sole proprietor, the agent responded that he was happy to talk to the “chief cook and
bottle washer.” Although commonly used as a cliché for sole proprietorships, the business
owner was offended because he felt the hard work he’d put into building his business was being
denigrated. Avoid cliché’s for two reasons: First, they may have unintended negative
consequences. Second, if you have fresh ideas, don’t diminish them by stuffing them in worn
out phrases.

Stand out instead of blending in. Have you ever questioned a policy or procedure only to
be told “Everybody does it that way”? It’s the same as saying “We’re as bad as everyone else.”
Rather than an explanation, such a phrase usually only reinforces the inflexibility of the system.
If everybody does it that way because it’s an industry standard, explain the benefits of the
standard. If everybody does it that way simply because they can get away with it, find a new
product or service to sell.

Recognize the difference between what you say and what people hear. There’s often
a tremendous disconnect between what you say and what people hear. This is a direct result
of being message-centered instead of prospect centered. Here are some examples. Said:
Someone in our office should have informed you about that. Heard: Someone in our office
isn’t doing his job. Said: I hoped to have more brochures for our meeting, but didn’t have
time to collect them. Heard: I’m not prepared. Said: I had a difficult time finding your house.
Heard: You gave very poor directions.

To avoid being lost in translation, shift your perspective toward your prospects. Think about
their needs, their level of familiarity with your product, their financial literacy and their unique
situations. Focus less on what you say and more and what they’re likely to hear. A willingness
to put yourself in their shoes will often put their account in your book of business.

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We Communicate More Than Information

25148354_sAt the beginning of my seminars I ask participants to list some of the things they communicate. Inevitably, their responses include things such as “changes in the tax code, different investment products, how to choose a business structure, why disability insurance is necessary to protect
income, new compliance rules and regulatory changes.” I then point out that all the things they’ve listed have something in common—they’re examples of information. It becomes the first thing they focus on because that’s what they intend to communicate. But we communicate
much more than simply information. More careful attention to the larger aspects of the message will help ensure what we say is what people hear.

We communicate congruency between what we say and what people see. I recall attending a networking function where I met a woman attempting to drum up business for her professional services firm. After we were introduced, I asked her what she did. She proceeded to tell me about her business, about how she founded her business, about her  business marketing strategy and about her great communication skills. She stopped only because the
featured speaker was about to begin. He started his presentation by asking; “Do you know what the single most important thing in networking is?” The woman who’d been talking to me raised her hand and responded “Listening”! She lacked congruency between her actions and her
words. We’ll also lack congruency when we say a concept is easy to understand, but have a difficult time explaining it or say a policy is straightforward but list out several exceptions.

We communicate an attitude towards those we communicate with. On a trip back to
Houston from Singapore I had a stopover in Tokyo. Shortly after takeoff, I noticed the man
sitting next to me periodically taking a scented letter out of his jacket and holding it to his nose.
When he wasn’t busy enjoying the olfactory experience, he was reading the Bible and drinking
miniatures of Jack Daniels. I hypothesized that the three events were somehow related, but I
didn’t know if he was consoling himself over the separation from a significant other or was
afraid of flying and couldn’t decide whether love, prayer or inebriation would produce the best
results. After we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendant assigned to our section came to
take drink orders. Of course the man sitting next to me ordered Jack Daniels. “No” was her
reply. “I don’t have any liquor on this cart. You’ll have to wait until I can get to one that does.”
About an hour later, I heard her corralling passengers in the main cabin. “We’re trying to serve
the meal. It’s very difficult to get these service trays down the aisle when so many of you are
moving around. If you want to eat, you need to sit down.” She was certainly conveying
information, but it was the attitude that spoke loudest. What attitude comes through when
you present?

We communicate professionalism. Part of being professional involves keeping your cool
under taxing conditions. Another part involves how people see us treat others. In my search
for a new health insurance policy, I phoned some area agents to see what they had to offer. At
one office, the agent picked up the phone after the fifth ring, asked how he could help, listened
to my brief reply, then said; “Let me put you on hold while I get rid of this guy on the other
line.” Even though his policy was competitive, I didn’t give him my business because I thought
eventually, I would simply become the “guy on the other line.”
We communicate these aspects of our professional lives through our tone of voice, our word
choices and our actions. They’re part of the larger message we send. Experts must be careful
that the information they’re trying to communicate doesn’t become eclipsed by the other
aspects people see and hear.

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Why You Should Be Using Presentations As Marketing Tools

If you’re not using presentations to promote your expertise, you’re missing out on one of the
most powerful marketing tools available to professionals. Here are five reasons presentations
should be at the top of your list for marketing activities.

Presentations cast you in a different role. Instead of being seen as a salesperson or a
marketer, you’re seen as an expert and an advisor. Presentations provide an especially effective
way to make an audience aware of needs they might not even realize they have. With the right
presentation, you immediately establish your professional reputation and credibility. The wellexecuted
presentation provides an excellent start to building the relationships crucial to
success in professional selling. Just as writing a book or article lends credibility to the author,
speaking helps you build your status as an expert. Presentations also provide a key point of
differentiation. The person who can clearly express her ideas is seen as more intelligent and
more self-confident than the person who stumbles through a disorganized presentation. When
you’re competing for business, a well-crafted presentation can give you the advantage because
better presenters are more persuasive. An architect once reported in one of my seminars that
he was sure his firm was more successful in getting business because the people they chose to
pitch for the business were highly trained in presentation skills.

Presentations allow you to customize your material. Unlike a print run of brochures or
postcards, you can customize your talk for each specific audience you address. You can take
advantage of a system of marketing that highlights the most effective approach for particular
audiences. You can choose when to use examples, case studies or testimonials that will appeal
to very specific audiences. Further, based on the feedback you receive, you can make on-thespot
adjustments to create the most effective message.

Presentations create opportunities for audience interaction. The interactive nature of
presentations works to your advantage. In a face-to-face setting you can engage all three
channels of communication–the verbal, the visual and the vocal. When these three channels
reinforce one another, you’ll be even more effective in making your message heard. The
feedback you receive allows you to adjust your material and tackle objections as they arise.
Presentation audiences are not passive sponges soaking up your message. They are involved
participants in the communication process. Because they already want to be there, you can
focus on moving them further along the sales process. Imagine having 30 minutes to educate
your prospects about your services with no interruptions! Your audience often contains highlyqualified prospects. People choose to attend a sales presentation, product demonstration or
continuing education course because there’s something of interest to them.

Presentations furnish high-value marketing at a lower cost. Compared to almost any
kind of advertising, presentations produce a higher ratio of qualified prospects. What would 30
minutes of airtime on a radio or television station cost? When you send out 5000 pieces of
direct mail, how much of it ends up in the recycle bin? Presentations require an investment in
time, but if you plan properly, you’ll receive a very high return on that investment. Presentations also lower the cost of acquiring new clients. This is the most direct way to be in
front of your prospects. When you speak to a group, you’ll often get three opportunities for
publicity. First, when the event is advertised, you can provide a brief synopsis of your talk for
brochures, mailers, the website and even a newsletter. Second, if your talk is newsworthy, you
may receive some media coverage during the event itself. Third, there is an opportunity for
exposure in a summary of the event for the organization’s newsletter or annual report.

Presentations offer prospects the opportunity to “try before they buy.” When
prospects see you present, they get an idea of what it would be like to work with you. They get
the opportunity to see your unique take on issues and to see how you interact with others.
Past experience always influences the choice of a professional service provider. Also, because
someone has seen you present, they often feel they can safely refer you to friends and

Granted, crafting an effective presentation takes planning, preparation and thought. It’s an
investment of your time, but one that can provide significant returns.

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

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Lose Less Business With Better Presentation Skills

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

16486365_sPresentations offer a variety of benefits as a prospecting tool. They’re low-cost, they position you as an advisor rather than as a salesperson and they can be highly-leveraged. But when delivered without a carefully thought out strategy, presentations can actually damage your credibility with prospects. Here are five common mistakes to avoid that will help you lose less business.

  • Concentrating on what you want to say instead of what you want to accomplish. A focus on what you want to say usually results in information overload. You’ll be tempted to include irrelevant or extraneous information just because it’s available. You should approach each speaking opportunity with a clear goal in mind. What do you want the audience to understand or act upon after you speak? Is it to set an appointment, request additional resources or something else? Without goals, you’ll have no way of measuring the success of your efforts. A strategic goal drives the content of the presentation by serving as its architecture. It will guide you in developing your key messages, proof points and supporting visuals. Until you can state your goal in a single, simple, declarative sentence, you haven’t clearly defined your goal.
  • Wasting time in your introduction building your firm’s credibility. If they’re in
    the seats, the initial sale has already been made. I’ve seen far too many introductions
    where the presenter squandered valuable time talking about his firm and himself instead
    of overcoming preoccupation and outlining benefits. Realize the audience cares far less
    about how long you’ve been in business, how many partners and associates the firm has
    and how many credentials they boast than they care about what you can do for them.
    Experts say the most effective storytellers show rather than tell. The same holds true
    for credibility. Don’t tell the audience why you’re credible; let it show through your use
    of examples, case studies and experience. You’ll gain far more rhetorical currency with
    the second approach.
  • Letting expertise get in the way of influence. In today’s market, expertise only
    pays the price of admission—it’s the expectation. By itself, it’s insufficient to
    differentiate you from others or position you uniquely. After all, it’s not the engineer
    with the greatest command of math and physics or the insurance professional who best
    understands the nuances of different policies who brings in the most business. Instead,
    it’s the expert who can best explain the value he brings to the table who turns out to be
    the firm’s true rainmaker. Experts too often believe the facts will speak for themselves and fail to provide an adequate context and frame of reference to make those facts
    understandable and actionable.
  • Using PowerPoint inappropriately. Electronic slide shows have their place, but
    things have spun out of control to the point they need to be put back in their place.
    Unfortunately, many presenters have begun to use PowerPoint shows as electronic
    speechwriters. Slides have morphed from visual aids to content creation tools—a
    function they’re ill suited for. The most effective presenters begin by conceptualizing
    the development of their ideas along some hierarchical structure or other thought
    pattern. Merely dumping text in a blank slide makes a poor substitute. PowerPoint
    shows also make poor teleprompters, although the word apparently hasn’t leaked out
    given the number of presenters who actually use them as such. A straightforward
    perceptual principle applies here; we can read faster than someone speaks. The
    audience leaves anyone who simply reads his slides word for word in the mental dust.
  • Focusing on yourself or the message instead of the audience. Presentations are
    designed and delivered from one of three focal points, the speaker, the message or the
    audience. Speaker focused presentations tend to rely only on the speaker’s frame of
    reference (which the audience may not share), contain lot’s of “I’s” and “me’s” and are
    often interpreted as arrogant or patronizing. Message focused presentations can be too
    heavily data-laden, too technical and too full of facts and statistics at the expense of
    examples and illustrations. If we accept the definition of effective communication as
    gaining the desired response from an audience, it follows that you’ll develop the most
    effective presentations by focusing on the audience. That means using language,
    examples stories that resonate with them.

The payoff from a presentation may not always be immediate, but keep the bigger picture in
view. It can help establish your credibility, increase your visibility and start to build
relationships. The keys to success involve planning, providing value, adapting to the audience
frame of reference and keeping your PowerPoint in the back set instead of the driver’s seat.

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Tips For Speaking To An International Audience

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

umbrellaI’ve had the opportunity to deliver, coach and witness numerous international presentations.
This experience all points to one lesson—in addition to the careful preparation required for
any presentation, those for an international audience demand extra attention.

In any presentation, one of the keys to success remains a focus on the audience’s frame of
reference. However, when that audience is international, you’ll need to step out of your own
frame of reference and focus on making the presentation salient for your target group. The
saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is excellent advice. The goal is to “localize.”
Here are five key areas where you can apply the localization principle:

  1. Language: Even if most of your audience speaks English, it may not be their first language or
    “mother tongue.” Avoid using cliché’s, slang and acronyms that may have meaning in your own
    culture, but not theirs. Remember that even in English-speaking countries, there are a number
    of differences. An American “elevator” is a “lift” in the UK. Spelling is also different. “Center” in
    the US is “centre” in British English. “Judgment” is “Judgement” and “organize” is “organise.”
    To make matters even more confusing, some countries in Southeast Asia use the American
    spellings while others use the British spellings. In the preparation for your presentation, find out
    what the accepted practice for your venue (place) is and adapt both oral and written materials.
  2. Measurement: I once attended a presentation in Manila where German publishing company
    presenters talked about cost-benefit analysis solely in terms of deutschmarks. It made little
    sense to the Filipinos, who had infrequent experience with this currency. It’s always a good idea
    to translate monetary units into the currency of the country you’re speaking in. This shows
    sensitivity to the culture as well as respect. If your audience will contain people of several
    nationalities, the US dollar and the Euro are widely understood and usually provide an effective
    way to express monetary units.
    Unlike the US, the rest of the world uses the metric system for measurement. Use the
    measurement system your audience understands. For example, if you’re talking about the
    amount of land needed to erect a new building, they will probably understand “4 hectares”
    more easily than “10 acres.” If you’re talking about distance, “480 kilometres” will make more
    sense than “300 miles.” The same is true with measuring temperature in Celsius rather than
    Fahrenheit. There are several good conversion programs you can download to your computer
    or handheld device. They make translating information into different frameworks quick and
    effective. You’ll find several at
  3. Visuals: Visuals often transcend cultural differences because they rely on proportion,
    balance and quantity. Use visuals that are truly “visual” in nature—don’t simply read from a series of text-heavy slides. The strategic use of visuals may also help compensate for language
    problems. Be sure to pay attention to details.
    At a seminar where the national flags of participants were to be displayed as a sign of courtesy,
    I noticed that the Indian flag was hanging upside-down. It was an easy mistake to make, since
    the tripartite colors of the Indian flag don’t make the correct orientation obvious. Had it not
    been corrected in time, it would have been a serious insult to the Indian participants. Small
    details can have big consequences.
  4. Equipment: Presenting in a different country can introduce a number of technical
    difficulties. There are different types of plugs, different voltage requirements, and different
    video formats. In the US, the standard video format is NTSC. In many countries in Asia, the
    format is PAL. If you are showing a video, it means you must have a monitor, VCR and
    videotape that are all compatible. Outside the US “multisystem” equipment that will play both
    formats is common, but request it before you arrive. Also, make certain you have the
    appropriate conversion plugs and adaptors for all your electrical equipment.
  5. Support Materials: Baseball, basketball and football may be fertile ground for sports
    analogies when speaking to an American audience, but soccer is probably more appropriate for
    many international audiences. Try to use examples that are geographically close, stories that
    will have cultural relevance and expert opinion that has credibility with your audience. Humor
    is a risky proposition even at home, so be doubly cautious when using it in front of an
    international audience. Be sure to test its effectiveness with a small sample before the

Remember, the more you are able to localize your presentation, the greater are your chances
for achieving results. When you focus on the audience’s own frame of reference, you are
acknowledging their importance. Apply that principle in these five areas and you’ll be on your
way to becoming an international success. For Internet resources that focus on cross-cultural
issues, go to

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Tuning in to the Generational Zeitgeist

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

While it’s always been true that audiences respond best when your presentation is tuned into
their radio station WIIFT (What’s In It For Them), younger audiences present an increasingly
challenging demographic for today’s presenters. A generational zeitgeist now defines many
audiences you may find yourself presenting to. With four generations (baby boomers,
generation X, generation Y and millennials) present among the working population, it becomes
increasingly difficult to adapt messages to generationally diverse audiences. Success in
presenting to these audiences will depend largely on your ability to adapt your messages to
their frame of reference.

Each generation has its own priority for work/life balance, its own understanding of company
loyalty and its own preference for a medium of communication. We’ve witnessed an evolution
from the letter to the phone call to the email to the text message. Millennials have even
created their own language to provide a shorthand form of communication for text messaging.
This language has drifted over into offline conversation as well. What has become a natural
extension of their communication habits for Millennials has become a foreign language for
earlier generations.

Attempts to create a connection with the audience must take these generational zeitgeists into
account as well. As a baby boomer, I grew up with The Andy Griffith Show and Gilligan’s
Island. I quickly learned that in speaking to younger generations, references to foibles of Barney
Fife were falling upon deaf ears.

We have familiarity with historical events that younger audiences may not share. That means
using historical references and analogies for support of key messages in a presentation may not
be as persuasive for younger audiences. You’re more likely to create a connection with such
audiences by references to popular culture such as movies, songs and television shows.
Although voracious media consumers when it comes to popular culture, their diet of news
pales by comparison. They typically show less interest in current events and are less aware of
newsworthy stories.

Younger people also tend to be less “future-focused.” I’ve seen any number of financial
planners illustrate the fact that if people would start even a modest savings program in their
early twenties and maintain it throughout their working career, they could easily retire as
millionaires. But people in their early twenties seldom prioritize retirement planning. Instead,
they’re focused on issues such as repayment of student loans, buying a home and starting a

The Greek Poet Hesiod wrote: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are
dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words.
When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present
youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.” It’s a sentiment many might share
today. But you’ll be more successful in getting your message heard if you suspend such
evaluations and focus instead on adapting to the differences.

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Dealing With a Hostile Audience

Deliver enough presentations and you’ll inevitably face an audience that is at best indifferent,
and at worst, hostile to your point of view. You’ll sometimes face the task of delivering bad
news or explaining an unpopular policy. When you’re prepared for such an eventuality, you’ll
be less likely to lose your cool and more successful in getting your message across.

The first step when facing such an audience is to choose the overall strategy to best manage
your position. Sometimes, an audience simply has false information that serves as the basis of
their hostility. In this case, choose a correcting strategy. Your goal is to set the record straight
without making people feel uniformed or inadequate. When extenuating circumstances require
an unpopular policy, let the audience know that some things are beyond your control. Be
careful when using this conditional strategy not to appear to be shirking responsibility. Often,
good reasons exist for a policy or position that is disliked. Help your audience understand how
it was developed and why it’s in place. This is a justification strategy. You can enlist audience
support by asking for alternatives and making a commitment to consider them. Finally, you or
your organization will sometimes be in the wrong and an apology is called for. When you make
an apology, make certain your regret and sincerity are evident. Explain what you’ll do to keep
the same things from happening in the future.

Whichever strategy you choose, there are certain steps you can take that will help you maintain
control and keep the atmosphere civil.

  1. Separate the person from the issue.
    Make certain you are seen as a human being and not an extension of the
    contentious issue. Show the audience you have similar concerns.
  2. Ask them not to kill the messenger.
    Tell them why delivering the unpleasant news is your job, not your
    enjoyment. Let them know you realize you have an unpleasant task, but they
    deserve to be kept “in the loop.”
  3. Don’t argue with a heckler.
    A friend of mine was president of a private club. During the annual meetings,
    there was always a heckler or two. His strategy was to be polite. Eventually,
    the audience will take care of the heckler. It worked for him every time.
  4. Remain calm.
    People take their lead about how to react to a situation based on the person
    in the front of the room. If you are visibly angry, upset or defensive, they’ll
    take that as the appropriate mindset and behavior as well.
  5. Recognize concerns rather than trivializing them.
    Nothing will make an audience turn against you faster than when they believe
    you are trivializing or making light of something important to them.
  6. Use objective evidence rather than personal opinion.
    Instead of saying “I feel” or “I believe” say “Research shows us” or “The facts
    are these.” Position yourself as the conduit for bad news rather than the
    source of it.
  7. Remove anonymity. When an audience member asks a hostile question,
    ask him to identify himself, the organization he represents and to repeat the
    question. Without the protection of anonymity, people will be much more
    civil and moderate in their approach.
  8. Ask if there is something you or your organization has done to
    upset a person. appreciate your willingness to listen. You’re giving the
    person an opportunity to make a case. If a person is being unreasonable or
    over-emotional others will quickly see it. If not, the rest of the audience will
    appreciate your openness.
  9. Be certain to show the benefits of attending the presentation.
    Some of the most hostile audiences are people who attend compulsory
    training or briefings. They feel like hostages. The best way to win them over
    is to show them what they have to gain by being there.
  10. Defuse the emotional wording.
    Complex issues are often distilled into simplistic terms. For example, when
    you’re asked “Have you stopped polluting the environment yet,” rephrase to
    “the question was about our environmental policy.”

Initially hostile audiences don’t have to equate to unsuccessful presentations. Choose the
appropriate strategy, manage the atmosphere and maintain your composure. When you do,
you can often salvage the situation.

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