Do you know how to prepare and deliver a compelling presentation? Guest expert Andrew Musselman shares presenters’ most common mistakes, what to do if you think you’re losing your audience, and how to successfully incorporate video clips, humour, and storytelling into your talk.



 (Note this is episode 1of2 on COMPELLING PRESENTATIONS.  Episode #48 will include a summary of both episodes.)

Andrew Musselman 

Books & Resources

  • Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential by John Neffinger & Matthew Kohut –

Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki


Dr. Andrea Wojnicki:Thank you very much, Andrew, for joining us here today to talk about how to give a compelling presentation.

Andrew Musselman: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

AW:I want to start with a question about the best, most compelling presentation that you’ve ever seen. Can you share with me and the listeners – What’s the most compelling presentation you’ve ever witnessed?

AM: Amy Cuddy, I think of Bryan Stevenson, and Brene Brown, all of whom were talking about subjects that interested me and that resonate with me. So that helps, but I think the main ingredient that makes those presentations stand out with their listeners is passion. There’s a great book, actually, Carmine Gallo wrote this book called Talk Like Tedwherehe looks at the highest viewed TED Talks, and he says – here’s why they work. Here’s the skills that these people are employing.

And his first chapter is all about passion. And he says, you know, that is the ingredient what you’re really sharing with your listeners. The reason that you’re giving a presentation, as opposed to just emailing it to people, is you’re sharing your connection to it. We want to see how it lives in you.And so that’s what made those presentations in particular really stand out. In the case of Amy Cuddy and Brene Brown as well, they weren’t afraid to show their emotion that they were speaking about something that they had a deep connection to, which I find so compelling as a viewer as a listener.

AW:It’s hard to actually talk about Brene Brown without using the word vulnerable, but she does make herself vulnerable on stage doesn’t she?

AM: Yeah. And I think you know, authenticityis a big word, right? It’s a bit of a buzzword. I mean, I use it myself. I don’t – I’m not anti the word authenticity, but it’s something that you want to see in presentations. You want to see people being authentic, but that takes a lot of courage, because it does make you vulnerable if you’re revealing a part of yourself. And I think really great presentations, no matter what the topic, even if it’s a business presentation, those compelling presentations do show the listeners that you know how the speaker relates to it, how the speaker connects to the material. It’s so important I think. So passion and authenticity.

AW:I thought you were gonna say storytelling

AM: storytelling as well. I’m a big, big, big fan of storytelling.

AW:I know you are. That’s why I say that!

AM: I think you know, with storytelling, also cohesiveness. We’ll start there, because the thing about a lot of presentations is, presentations that don’t go so well, are presentations that I find lack an overarching message. So presentations that don’t have that clear message. What above all else do I want my listeners to take away from this? What’s the one ideain my training when I work with clients, I call that the main message. Not an original title. But that one key idea. So that’s what I look for. And then in terms of storytelling with any presentation that incorporates storytelling is going to connect with the listeners on a much more personal level. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard about storytelling. Somebody said, it’s like a Trojan horse for your point of view.

AW:Oh, Brilliant.

AM: Yeah.

AW:I love the metaphor.

AM: You know, it sneaks up on your listeners because you are conveying information in a way that connects with them emotionally. And I think that for me is where the storytelling piece really comes into play. So yes, storytelling is it is a big one. But passion, I think is the is the main one.

AW:It’s like the baseline, I guess, right? Don’t bother telling a story unless you’re passionate, right?

AM: What I think people discount a lot is how much time it takes to write something well, and the first step in giving any presentation is figuring out what you’re going to say. That process that’s that Ernest Hemingway quote about writing. He says, you know, writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.And you know, it’s that sort of thing have to sit down and really figure out – what is my message? What am I saying? really figuring out first, what’s a message that I can get behind? what’s the message that I care about? And once you have that, then I think it’s much easier to get to the passion and to be telling a compelling story.

AW:So we before we move on to getting into how to create this (how to bleed!) can you share with us one of the most epic failsthat you’ve witnessed?

AM: To me, what sets a presentation up as a failure is when there’s just there’s no clear message. I think of two presentations when I think of epic fails. And both of them did the same thing. Funnily enough, they both did a very specific thing, which is they give us a chronology of their life. So they said, You know, I started, this is where I’m from. And then I went here, and then I went to this school, and then I got this job. And as a listener, you’re sitting there thinking, why are you telling me?

AW: Yeah, I don’t care.

AM: Exactly. And I don’t understand what I am supposed to take from all of this information.

AW:Sorry to interrupt, but one of the things that I’ve learned from podcasting that I’ve heard is a “do not do ,”is do not ask your guests share their biography with the listeners, because the listeners don’t even know why they’re listening!

AM: Yeah, same thing, right. I think that’s, I mean, I think it’s absolutely right. We’re all so pressed for time. You know, human beings, we’re lazy listeners, we crave meaning. We want everything to mean something when we’re listening to a speaker, but we don’t want to have to do that work ourselves. And that’s something that you see, it’s a sin that I think you see a lot in presentations: presentations that begin with a simple topic statement.

So you say, you know, Hello, my name is Andrew Musselman. And I’m here to talk to you today about breakfast. And the problem of starting with a topic statement is it sets up an expectation with your listeners that they’re going to get a bunch of data, and they’re going to have to make sense of it all.Whereas we want to start with a message you say, I’m going to tell you why breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s a very clear baseline of this is what you’re going to get out of my presentation. And when you know that as a listener, it really incentivizes you to keep listening. You say okay, I know what I’m going to get out of this.

AW:So you’re queuing them with the question that they’re going to learn the answer to from you.

AM: Yeah, there’s that old adage. Have you ever heard this?  Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you just told them. And when you find that message, that main message of yours that should act like a touchstone, I think that you keep coming back to. So in an ideal world throughout the presentation, we should know right away what your main idea is. And throughout the presentation, we should feel like our understanding of that idea is deepening. So that was one big sin that I saw in those in those epic fail presentations was there was just no it was in this case, specifically all biography and no meaning no message to it.

AW:No take away.

AM: Yes. It’s never taking for granted that they’re going to find you interesting. You know, it’s never taking for granted that they just want to hear you talk for a while. You constantly have to be adding value and think about you know, specifically, again, this my main message now I keep touching back on it. But what is that idea or key takeaway? What’s the big idea that ties all this together?

AW:So I want to focus us here on specific context, which is when we are on stage, and we have an audience in real life in front of us, and a screen behind us. It’s probably PowerPoint or whatever it is just for content. This is where we’re focusing. And we’re first going to focus on preparation and the pulling together the content, and then we’ll move into the delivery.

So how to deliver the presentation. And my first question is really just about the preparation. And I know from my own experience, when I have lots of time, and when I spend lots of time, it really pays off. But we all have time constraints. So what are some of the most important things that we need to absolutely do to adequately prepare for giving a compelling presentation?

AM: I think, you know, what you’re saying completely resonates with me because I always advocate, you know, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. But that’s not always the reality. People don’t have that time always. So I think if you’re under time constraints that my key piece of advice would be just getting very clear on your message, just really know what your idea what your one main idea is, and your three or four supporting ideasthat you want your listeners to take away.

And if you get very clear on that, it at least gives you you at least feel anchored in what you’re going to say. Just feel like okay, I know what I want to leave them with.

And I also think that’s a great structuring hack to I mean, in terms of saving time, if you just think of that old pyramid principle, one message, three supporting points that come out of that message.And then you just develop point one, develop point two, develop point three, constantly tying back to the message. It’s a great way to structure a cohesive presentation, but it’s also a great way to save some time when you’re structuring your compelling presentation. So that’d be my first advice is just really be clear on your message. I can think of a client in the finance industry that I worked with.

And I mean, that was absolutely one of those cases where he got told, okay, you have to deliver a 25 minute pitch tomorrow and the night before he gets the deck sent to him. So we’re working on this deck, just trying to figure out okay, how can you go in there and be and keep your calm and make sure that you present a compelling cohesive case?

And we did that very back to basics work of what is the main message here? What is the one idea you want them to leave with? And then what are the three subcategories that develop that idea? And an exercise that we did? I don’t advocate presentations that go slide by slide by slide by slide because I think that can low your listeners into a bit of a sleep.

AW:Yeah. Which they’re probably used to in the finance industry.

AM: Absolutely. Yes. But I think you know, in this case, this guy got his deck the night before. So there we were having to figure out, okay, how do you speak to this deck? Which in some ways is a backwards workflow, if you ask me, but we you know –  you work with what you got. We looked at each slide with complex financial data on the slide.

And our thing was, what’s the main message of this slide? So why is this slide here? What do your listeners need to gain from this slide? Because if you know that, and if you have just that one little sentence written on each slide, at the very least, you avoid just simply reading the details of the slide right, which makes your listener go, why are we here? I can read these myself resend it to me and I’ll do my own time right here that a lot.

One other thing I’ll say is reminding yourself to pause. If people are under time constraints, and they have an hour to write the presentation and they may be read through it once they don’t have as much time to repeat and rehearsed and it’s very rare the person who responds to adrenaline by speaking too slowly. Most of us when we’re in front of a crowd, the nerves get going We race through it. So a big thing when you don’t have a lot of time to prepare is just reminding yourself pause, pause, pause in the middle of that compelling presentation. You’re never going to pause as much as you’re worried that you’re pausing, if that makes sense.

AW:And there’s so many reasons to do it right? As you’re saying that – I was just working on a podcast about breathing. It helps you relax and it let’s the audience internalize the message. They can read what’s on the slide!

AM: right. There’s great advice – she comes from the theater as well. Actually, her name’s Caroline Goyder, and she was a voice coach for years and years and she coached actors,. She coached at the Central School of Speech and Drama. And now she works with corporate clients. The way she articulates what you just said is :in speeches, you speak in the out breath. The in breath is thought. Taking that time to breathe in, it grounds, it centers you.

It dissipates the nervous energy, but it also just gives you time to think about what you’re going to say next. And it almost as importantly, if not, more importantly, gives your listeners time to think about what you just said so they can feel a part of it.So they’re not feeling like it’s just a transmission of non-stop information. So yeah, breathing and pausing. hugely important.

AW:And if you’re exhaling when you’re speaking, you are literally projecting, right? physically projecting.

AM: Yeah, that’s it. That’s a really interesting way of thinking about it. I mean, we’ll talk a little bit about this when we get to the delivery part of it. But I think what is so key in a presentation is feeling like it’s that two way dynamic, you know, feeling like it’s not just, I’m going to dump a whole bunch of data on you. And thanks very much. See you later, but that you’re speaking and at the very least, inviting the listeners to think and to respond. Right? So that you have that two way dynamic, that receiver driven dynamic.

AW:So you were talking about the structure of the presentation and the pyramid, which I love. Let’s move into creating slides or maybe I should just say creating the flow of the presentation. Do you have any general suggestions or basic do’s and don’ts?  Number of words on a slide or maybe…?

AM:  I can’t remember where I read this, but I did read somewhere that 40 words is the most you should have on a slide. I think that might have been Nancy Duarte,her claim to fame was she designed the PowerPoint for An Inconvenient Truth. She’s kind of the slide guru.

AW:That was incredibly visually compelling.

AM: Yes.

AW:And especially at the time, it was also very novel, the way it was presented.

AM: Yes. And I think that’s been a big shift. Since then, I mean, you could credit that presentation as being what caused the shift. But now, you know, you watch TED Talks, or you watch other presentations, there will be those slides. That is it’s an image reinforcing the message that the speaker is saying, so no words at all, just a picture. And I think that’s a great strategy. And there’s all kinds of data that you probably know this a lot better than I do, but a message that is reinforced with a visual, it leads to much greater comprehension and retention.

AW:Messages are better internalized through multimedia, right?

AM: basically. So In terms of designing the slides, going back to those epic fails, you asked me about both of the presentations I have in mind. They also had troubling visuals. And they were troubling for two reasons. One, the visuals themselves were complicated way too much information on each slide. And number two, way too many slides in general. So I think the big advice that I would have for slides is less is more.


AM: Less is more. And I would always advocate, not everyone does this and it’s, you know, it’s okay. Everybody has their different style. I would always advocate get a pen and paper, write your message out first. A lot of people who say, I use PowerPoint to think it’s my it’s the way that I get into a presentation.

AW:I’ve heard that actually

AM: yes, and the trouble is, if that’s what you’re using it for, you’re going down a dangerous path of – it’s slide by slide by slide and you don’t have that overarching message. You don’t have that story that you’re telling, and that the slides are reinforcing. And that’s the other key thing. You the speaker are the primary vehicle for the information, the slides are there to back you up.So you don’t want to become you know, the human aid to your visuals. You should be making the point and having those visuals backing you up.

AW:You get to choose what they see and what they hear and what they don’t see and what they don’t hear. And you don’t have to share everything with them. Right? I mean, less is more is such a – it’s a great piece of advice.

AM: When you’re structuring your message, it’s a great piece of advice. When you’re writing out your content, it’s a great piece of advice. When you’re putting your visuals together. Just always, if there’s something you have a suspicion you could cut, cut it.

AW:What about incorporating audio and or video clips into a PowerPoint presentation? What do you think about that?

AM: I’m a big fan of incorporating audio and video. I would never say you should do it just for the sake of doing, you want to be absolutely clear that this is again – that it’s reinforcing your message.That it’s rising organically from the messageyou’re sharing with your listeners. But if there is a clip that you like, and that you feel really does a good job of either setting up something you want to talk about  or reinforcing something you’ve spoken about, I think it’s a great way to break up the flow of the presentation in a good way, a way to create a bit of nuance that just keeps people interested.

When I started up my company, one of the first things that I did, I had to go and speak to this real estate brokerage. A friend of mine, she invited me in, and she said to me, okay, here’s what you’re going to do: start with a video. And I said, Well, I mean, I’m here to talk about speaking. So I feel like I should just speak. And she said, nine times out of 10 if there’s no video content in the presentation, these agents they check out.

So I went and I found this video and I started with a video and I was thinking, I’m just doing this to appease this friend of mine. She knows best. And I enjoyed it so much that I have incorporated that video into a lot of other talks. Like when I’m introducing myself and telling people what’s my value proposition as a coach, I often will start with a video.

AW:So can I ask you what is in this video clipthat you share?

AM: Yeah, it’s a US politician by the name of Phil Davison. And he was running for county treasurer, I think. And it’s him delivering – he launched his campaign. He is so nervous. The passion, the adrenaline just completely consumed him. So he’s pacing around the stage, waving his finger around, pointing at his audience, screaming and shouting, because he’s just trying to convey passion, but it just completely overtakes him. Usually I do it as a fun introduction.

AW:so “I’m going to prevent you from doing this”?

AM: Yes. A reminder that it’s not just what you say. It’s also how you say it.

AW:Love it. So you talked about how incorporating the multimedia elements, the video and the audio, how it needs to be organic and natural. And I, I’m thinking of some presentations that I’ve witnessed where there’s sometimes a comic or a cartoon on one of the first few slides and it’s like, check, they’re trying to be funny, or they’ll try to tell a joke. Do you have any advice about incorporating humorand whether we should? especially if we’re not funny?

AM: Yes, this comes up in acting all the time too, because you go out for an audition and the description when you see this in the character description, you know, the character is extremely funny. It’s like a death knell.


AM: I always say stay in your lane. Remember, you’re there to share information and share a message with people. You’re not there simply to entertain them. I wouldn’t advocate ever putting pressure on yourself that you have to be funny in a presentation. I think to that, trusting: if there’s something that you find funny if there’s something that is humorous to you. And again, it doesn’t have to be Chris Rock funny where people are rolling around in the aisles. If there’s something, an anecdote from your family or a pet or something like that, and you find it humorous, chances are people are going to find it humorous as well.

AW:Well, this is reminding me of what you said about authenticity. You’re being authentic when you’re sharing your funny story if you find it funny.

AM: Yes, and I think there’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s a great icebreaker. It’s a great way to break down the barriers and instill some trust in your listeners because they see as you say, they see a bit of a small piece of your authentic self you are. So I would say incorporate the humor as long as you feel it naturally flows with your presentation. And as long as you genuinely find it funny. Don’t just do it for the sake of doing.

AW:Okay, so this is a perfect segue to the storytellingthing. Nowadays, especially and I don’t know what brought this on. But storytelling is such a hot topic and I feel like every presenter is compelled to include at least one story into their presentation? Can you talk about whether it’s necessary and if it is, how to do it?

AM: If you have a point that you’re trying to make, and you can illustrate that with a story, then I think, go for it, go for it 10 times out of 10, it’s always going to be more effective telling a story, rather than just giving information. There’s an old saying, connect first, then convince, and that’s what stories do stories connect with listeners on an emotional level first, and when you have listeners, when you’ve touched them emotionally, when you’ve connected with them on that level, then they’re primed and ready to receive information. And they’re primed and ready to see the world the way you want them to see it to see the world through your eyes.

AW:You’ve changed them a little bit.

AM: Yes. And there’s all kinds of great data as to why, how and why stories are effective. There’s this fascinating research that’s been done and it’s called brain to brain coupling, in which they hooked a bunch of people up to fMRI machines. The person telling the story, and then a bunch of people listening to the story. And the first thing they found was that our brains are much more active when we’re hearing a storyas opposed to when we’re just receiving information. When we’re receiving information that it’s the language processing part of the brain that lights up.

But when we’re hearing a story, it’s the language processing part. It’s also the emotional part, right? There’s the sensory part. It’s the motor skills part. There’s the same brain activity as if we were experiencing an event. But the really fascinating thing that they found in this exercise was: watching the brain activity was in the person telling the story, they saw that simultaneously the identical brain activity was happening in the listeners.

So you’re creating like a Vulcan-mind-meld with your listeners. Yeah, you are literally getting them to see the world through your eyes and that in that moment, you’re getting them to see the world in the same way. And then there’s also a lot of data around stories produce oxytocin, which is associated with empathy and cooperation, yeah.

AW:yeah. I was thinking the word Connect before. you’re connecting with them.

AM: absolutely. So there’s two strategies. One, incorporate stories into your presentation. But also when you’re thinking of how to structure a presentation – At its core, a story is a hero in pursuit of a goal in the face of great challenges. That’s it. I mean, it’s a formula that we’ve been using for thousands of years. So we know it works. And the reason it works is we like watching people or hearing about people who are striving for somethingwho are trying to affect change, trying to affect big change – survival or changing the way the world works, in a way.

So what you’re doing when you incorporate that element that that structure in your presentation, you’re giving your listeners something that they can root for, you know, you’re saying here’s who we are. This is what we’re really trying to do. This is the change we’re trying to affect or whatever the case may be. And when you get to that level, you give your listeners somebody to root for, or to put it another way, you Give them a reason to care.

AW:I was I think rationally convinced the storytelling is the right thing to do. I am 100% convinced now!

AM: Yeah, well, good.

AW:So, so one of the reasons that we tell stories, as you said, is to connect with them, but also to engage them. If we move on now to the delivering the presentation, one of the, I suppose many things that people are afraid of when they’re delivering, especially a really big important presentation is that they’re just going to lose the audience.

And you know, that feeling that maybe most of us have had at some point in our careers when we’re looking out at the audience. We see people picking up their phones, and texting and we see maybe a few people in the back of the room start to wander off, and maybe even chit chatting with each other. They’re definitely not making eye contact with you anymore. What are some of the tactics that we can employ to try to maintain engagement of the audience, assuming that we’ve already structured this presentation right?

AM: Well. one of the things you can think of with your delivery is nuance. So just varyinghow you’re speaking, you know, I mean, I’m a big heart on the sleeve guy. It’s a first thing we talked about in this interview was passion, you know, passion, energy conviction, but you can also think about having different levels. You don’t want everything to be up here where you’re, you know, frothing at the mouth and really, where you know, you don’t want everything to be fire and brimstone. You don’t want …

AW:right because then that becomes the baseline.

AM: Yes, and where do you go from there? Exactly. And anything that lacks nuance, no matter how compelling it is, at the outset, it’ll always lose the audience’s focus, they’ll stop paying attention if it’s all the same thing. So you can think of varying your style, your tone your rhythm, for no other reason than to just keep it interesting. And there are four P’s. This comes from the acting world.  

Four Ps that you can think of when it comes to new ones, and that’s pitch, pace, posture and projection. So pitch high or low, you know, you speaking in your normal register, you can say, however, there is an interesting thing, varying the pitch. It’s amazing how many presentations in the professional world have that monotone delivery? Mostly because we’re programmed to think I don’t want to be rude. I don’t want to intrude on anyone. So we think that showing emotion is a little bit taboo. We think it’s unprofessional.

AW:I was gonna say people think it’s unprofessional. Yeah.

AM: So that’s pitch. Paceis faster, slow, you know, you could slow certain parts down, take longer pauses when you want to emphasize points, your posture, you can literally if you’re a different section of your presentation, you can move to a different part of the stage or just vary the way you’re standing if you’re standing still in one one place, and then projectionis loud and soft. You know, obviously you want to always be heard, but sometimes if you want things to be really compelling, you can you can quiet your voice down. So nuance is a way to really get some of that audience engagement.

If things are going really dire, if you’re up there and you feel you know that you’re really losing them, and you want to skip a section or skip ahead, I would caution people against that, because you don’t want to skip ahead in a way where you then lose where you are in your speech and you and you get completely lost in it. But if you’re going to do that, if you’re if you’re feeling like they’re really not with me here, yeah, I need to skip ahead. I need to shut this down, basically. The one thing you should do before you move to the next section, is remind us of what the point was, and remind us of what your message is.

AW:So you know, for example, you mean the top level message?

AM: Yes. So, for example, you know, if you were giving a speech about the economy, and you were talking, it was, let’s say you were talking to a group of investors, and you’re talking about the current economic climate, your main idea is this is a time to shore up risk. Well, you might have a whole lot of data that backs them up, and you may be feeling that that data is losing them. So you think, Okay, I’m going to skip the rest of the data points and move on to the next section. But before you do that, you need to remind us that so again, because of the current economic climate, this is a time to shore up risk. Really, here’s why I’m telling you all this, and I’m going to skip all of this.

AW:Do you tell them what do you tell them that or does it depend?

AM: I always whenever you develop one of your main points, the last thing you should do, remind us of the point, tie it to your main message and then move on.

AW:But do you tell them about the point that you’re skipping? Do you say I’m going to go ahead now?

AM: Well, you know what? I say no, right away. But just the way you said that there.  Hmm. One of the best acting lessons I ever got was a teacher who said, you know, all we want from you on stage is to know that you’re in control.We feel that will go anywhere with you. So if somebody were to say, you know what, I’m going to skip ahead. If we don’t feel like they’re flustered. If we don’t feel like that has crushed them on the inside a little bit. That’s fine. I don’t think you’d need to say it. But if you do say it, keep your confidence, and just roll on.

AW:It depends on your tone. Right?

AM: Yes.

AW:not in an angry way. You’re just saying, based on what I’m seeing here, we should move ahead, not “you people,” shaming them.

AM: You know, and actually that that’s a really good point that you make – that by doing that ,what you’re really doing is showing empathy with your listeners that you’re really creating that connection of saying it’s a sort of a servant-leadershipmodel. Hey, I’m here for you. So if we’re not liking this, that’s okay. Let’s move on.

AW:You reminded me of some board speeches that I’ve heard where the person who’s giving the presentation is actually doing so just before a meal, just before dinner, or just before lunch? And they’ll say I’m sure you’ve heard this. I know I’m the only thing that’s standing between you and lunch. So I’m going to make this snappy, right? And everyone’s like, Oh, thank you.

AM: Yeah, yeah. There’s a book called Compelling People. And one of the things that the author talked about is “getting into the circle.” They say the first thing you need to do with your listeners is get inside their circle, show them that you empathize with them, show them that you understand their point of view, whatever the case may be. But their point is when you do that, when you start with that little bit of a connection with them, then they’re much they’ll trust you. Really that’s what you’re doing – earning their trust. And you’re sort of basically saying, I got you, I’ve got you through this, our interests are aligned.

AW:That makes sense.

AM: The other thing I’ll say is that you should also trust yourself when it comes to: Am I losing the audience’s focus and attention? One of the things that nerves does to us is it affects our mindset. And we are our own harshest critics. So when we’re up there, our read on that particular situation may not always be accurate. You know, I’m sure we’ve all had moments. I know, I’ve had many moments where I think, oh, that was a disaster. And then somebody comes up and tells you how great it was. I mean, unfortunately, there are less common but times where you think, Hey, that was great. And somebody goes, not so much, right? But I think you know, really trusting in what you preparedis also something I would advocate that that being up there and saying, hey, somebody checked their phone.

Maybe it’s not about me, maybe they got a lot going on and they just really need to check their phone right no. Maybe the other 90% of the room is still really with me. So I’m going to trust what I prepared and move through it. You don’t want to be too at the whim of the audience in that respect. You want to be the one who’s in control. And so I think that’s another piece of it is trusting what you’ve prepared and trusting that it’s resonate.

AW:It’s a real fine balance, right? being empathetic and getting into their circle, but then also being in control of what’s going on.

AM: hmm. It is. And it that makes me think, and I want to see if I can answer that because it’s a real fine balance. You know, it’s a little bit like the humor aspect to that you mentioned. If something’s funny to you, trust that it’s going to be funny to your listeners. If you’ve done that work and structured something that you think this is a valuable message and these are ideas that I really want to share with them. Then trust that this is going to land with them.

You know, we’re not usually that poor at our gauging of what people will and won’t find interesting. If it’s interesting to you, it’s probably going to be interesting to somebody else. And another thing that I can say about keeping your audience engaged and the biggest thing, but something that we should all remind ourselves is to be conversational, when we’re giving a presentation.

What that really means is creating that two way dynamic where you’re making the listeners feel like they’re a part of what you’re saying. The two big ways you can do that are pausing, and eye contact, you know, eye contact, to show them your personality, show them that you’re connected to them, but also to show them that you’re checking in with them, that if you deliver an idea, you’re taking that pause to let them think about it.

AW:You care about their response.

AM: Yes, exactly. Right. There’s a tactic in the book that I mentioned before Compelling Peoplewhere they say, when you smile at people. It encourages them to smile back.

AW: mirroring. And nodding is the same way.

AM: That’s right.

AW:So we’re both sitting here nodding and smiling at each other!

AM: But there’s worse things than to have a room full of people smiling and nodding, when you’re up there delivering a presentation. Absolutely. So if you can find that pausing and that eye contact, marry that with a smile. You’re just really encouraging the listeners to be with you. You’re creating that two way dynamic.

AW:And that reminds me, I’ve heard this, and I heard this advice, actually, years ago, decades ago, find the person in the room that smiles and nods at you. It may be a nervous tic, but just appreciate them and look at them whenever you need them.

AM: Right. I was giving a workshop the other day and there was somebody in the in the workshop who you know (and this is so common), has a pretty debilitating fear of this stuff – of speaking in front of people. And she said, Every time I present, I pick one or two allies in the room, and I tell them beforehand, I’m going to be looking at you the entire time. And then she even will sometimes choreograph where they sit so she says you sit over here and you sit over here.


AM: She said to me, what do you think about that? And I said, I think it’s great. Yeah, anything that helps, I mean, that future version of yourself that has to stand up in front of people and give a presentation. That’s the person who has the difficult job. So anything that makes that person’s job easier, go for it.

AW:So you were talking about creating a feeling of almost having a conversation with the audience and doing that by pausing and creating eye contact? What about encouraging explicit interaction? so encouraging questions,and I’m assuming interaction is a good thing, but why do some presenters say please hold your questions to the end? I always wonder about that.

AM: I wonder about that, too. Okay. I mean, I think it depends on the format. You know, if you’re giving a presentation that is a little bit more formal, you know, you’re in front of a couple of hundred people. That’s probably a presentation where you want to speak for your 15 or 20 minutes and then field questions after having said that, I still don’t think it’s necessary to say hold your questions to me.

AW:It sounds so administrative almost.

AM: it’s like you’re admonishing the audience right off the top.

AW:So yeah, I think that’s what bothered me about it, actually, because I understand in some contexts, you’re right. If you’re in an auditorium, if you’re giving a lecture at a university, and it is actually a lecture format, and then there’s a Q&A, people know that. And if someone puts their hand up, you can say, I would love to answer your question, but I’ve just got three more minutes, and then you’ll be the first person. And then, everybody knows you’re paying attention to them.

AM: Actually, that’s great, I mean, I hadn’t thought of doing that. But if somebody doesn’t know that they shouldn’t ask Qs, which I’m with you, that’s very rare. People usually get the gist of it. Oh, this is not interactive. But yeah, same thing. Keep the control. You’re up there, you see it. Don’t ignore that the person’s hand has gone up, but just politely say,

No, I think we’ll wait. Regardless of the format. One way you can encourage interaction is by asking for it. I know that sounds so basic.  But I liked that tactic, provided again, that it works with your message and that doesn’t feel forced. You could also ask your audience a question. Ask them to picture something or imagine something. Take a poll with a show of hands. That kind of thing.

AW:I like that, you know, it gets them engaged, gets them feeling like they’re part of it. While you’re still keeping the control. You’re not letting them talk about whatever they want to talk about. You just answered the next question that I was going to ask you, which is what happens if you are encouraging people to ask questions, and they don’t. And I think what I’m hearing is, you could change it to be a more specific question. Like, how many of you think -whatever – motivating people to raise their hands?

AM: And yeah, I think that’s a great one.  But full disclosure. I’ve never advocated that until just now. But I think it is a great Q&A strategy that maybe the speaker comes prepared with some questions. You know, obviously you want to address questions that are there, but if there aren’t questions, you can always ask questions that are variation on the theme.

What did you take from that?You know, you don’t want to obviously say what do you think of my presentation? Right? Really what you’re saying is, look, this was the idea. How does that idea resonate with you? or What did you think about this statistic when I gave it or — you can kind of steer that interaction. And there’s also, if you’re talking about a  Q&A at the end, I mean, if nobody asks a question, you can also just move on, and say, thanks very much. That’s it.

AW:Yeah. I’ve seen that too. And sometimes it’s, it’s, I think, some speakers who asked if there’s any questions, and the answer is basically no, there aren’t and they can skillfully say, Well, I guess that went well. Then they’re just saying, Okay, everyone got it. Great. Yeah.

AM: That’s a great tactic.

AW:Yeah, that’s excellent. If you can deliver it without sounding arrogant. So what are some of the most common mistakes that speakers make when they’re on stage?

AM: I think again, I’m going to talk about pausing. Conversational styleis always the first thing I’ve worked on with clients whether I’m doing private coaching or in a group or workshop, because when we’re up there, it is so difficult to remember to pause because our adrenaline is coursing through us and our time perception is off.

So we think we’ve paused but we haven’t really paused. If I were to name those two sins, it’s running your thoughts together. So where you don’t give your listeners time to think about what you’ve said, it’s also talking while thinking, – you’re just kind of on autopilot, rambling through your slides. And that is what sets up for the listeners to think,what am I doing here?

AW:Yeah, I don’t need to be here. I could be reading something instead.

AM: Right. Why don’t you just email me this and I’ll do this on my own time? So that’s a big sin. I think another sin there’s in terms of how we’re perceived, it all comes back to our most primal survival instincts. You know, we take the non verbal data that we get from people, and we use it to put people into one of four categories. We see them as potential friendpotential threat, potential mate, or we’re indifferentto them.

AM: AW:I hadn’t heard that. That’s great. I love these frameworks.

AM: Yeah. So you take those four and you say, Okay, well, there’s only one category when I’m up in front of people that I want to get myself into. And that’s potential friend. And even that can create a bit of a mindset shift for some speakers, because we often put this pressure on ourselves, I’ve got to be impressive. No, you’ve got to be relatable.

AW:Yeah, that’d be trustworthy?

AM: And there’s two criteria that we evaluate people on to put them into those categories. The first one is strength.And that probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many people. Because if you say, what do you think makes somebody a good public speaker? Nine times out of 10, the answer you’ll get immediately is confidence.And we’re going to get into that. So, confidence that’s the strength, peace, confidence and capability.

The other criteria that we evaluate people on is warmth.And we actually again, thinking about our primal survival instincts, we evaluate warmth. First, we put more emphasis on warmth. If you think about it, somebody who is projecting a lot of strength and no warmth, that’s a person that can actually be quite dangerous. And that can represent a threat to us. So you want to think about projecting both strength and warmth.And the interesting thing is when you think about warmth, it conjures up kind of a Mr. Rogers type of image you think, you know, gentle and soft and kind, and that’s part of it.

But warmth is also energy. Warmth is passion, warmth, is dedication, warmth is commitment,. I’s anything that makes you listen. I really care about what I’m saying. And that leads me in a very roundabout way to another big sin that I see. A big kind of mistake that you see in presentations is people are afraid to reveal that connection to their material. They think that if they show any emotion at all, it’s unprofessional.


AM: Yes. And I think people want to just be factual and professional. And you know, you don’t want to be delivering the speech from the movie Braveheart, but having a bit of I care about this, and letting your listeners know that it means something to you. I mean, if you want to have your listeners be engaged, the first step is you have to be engaged. Right? So that has to do with your voice. It has to do with your energy or your focus, all of that. All of that I think is tremendously important.

AW:I really like that framework. I feel like you’ve got the passion, you’ve got the authenticity, you’ve got your cohesive message, before you start actually writing it out. You want to remind yourself, you are the friend and you are the friend because you have strength and you have warmth. In other words, I’m going to say the strength is capability or knowledge or expertise, right?

AM: Yes.

AW:And then the warmth is the positive affect. And speaking as a psychologist, right?

AM: yeah. And you know, if you think you’re absolutely right, if you think back to when we were cave people, the warmthis: I mean you no harm, and the strengthis: I can be a benefit to you.Those are people we want to welcome into our circle. Somebody who has high warmth and not a lot strength. That’s somebody you might think, well, they don’t mean any threat, but I’ll be indifferent to that person that I don’t need them in my circle. There’s actually I mean, it’s pretty fascinating.

There’s corresponding emotionsthat they pinpoint with this to high strength, low warmth, that instills fear or envy. And high warm flow strength instills pity. The one that I found really surprising was low strength, low warmth. Again that I would think that was pity but in actual fact, it’s contempt. It’s awful to think of, you know, you think, those poor people, but no, no, the physiological emotional response that we have is contempt.


AM: And people who are high strength, high warmth, they project — they say– admiration. I say trustworthinessbecause I think the key to being persuasive is winning your listeners trust. So if you show them, I mean you no harm, and I can be a benefit to you. You’ve got the trust right away.

AW:Yeah, I like your trustworthiness. Yeah, that’s good. Thank you… So you said that nine out of 10 people are really concerned about their confidence. And I have to tell you that I’ve asked many of my friends and colleagues, what to ask you about how to give a compelling presentation and 100% of them, the first thing that they said was, how to exude confidence. So actually how to feel confident, but then also how to demonstrate confidence. Do you have any pointers for the listeners on that?

AM: I do.


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