Two Memory Techniques to Help Create a Conversation Experience

There are critical achievements that all professional speakers share. You want to be recognized as a subject matter expert in your field. Someone who is a polished speaker, who creates a “conversation experience” and connects with every person in every audience. You want to be the best, and you can achieve those goals. But you need a strategy. One of the strongest strategy techniques for creating conversation experiences with audiences is a form of memorization.

I don’t mean memorizing your entire presentation, repeating it verbatim or reading from a slide presentation. This strategy does involve some actual memorization but also visualization and memory triggers. Fair warning: This technique takes practice.

To begin to learn this technique, write the opening and closing paragraphs for your presentation. They must be meaningful for your audience. You want to grab their attention in the beginning and offer a call-to-action when you close. Then memorize those two paragraphs word-for-word. Practice them until you are able to deliver them perfectly. Knowing your opening paragraph by heart can help calm your nerves which helps increase your level of confidence. Memorizing your closing paragraph will help you “stick the landing” and end your presentation on a high note. Your call-to-action is the key message point, the seed, you have been planting throughout your presentation.  You want the audience to remember it, and act on it.

Now it’s time to learn and incorporate advanced memory techniques.  The method that many speakers use is called the memory palace, and includes the use of mnemonics. We all have used mnemonics to learn new and sometimes complex things. Who doesn’t remember learning the alphabet by singing the ABCs? That’s mnemonics, and it is used to develop your memory palace.

The memory palace “is an imaginary location in your mind where you can store mnemonic images. The most common type of memory palace involves making a journey through a place you know well, like your home or office. Along that trip, there are specific locations you always visit in the same order.” These places are where you put the mnemonic images you want to remember. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Here is how you build your memory palace.

  1. Become an architect and decide on the blueprint for your memory palace.  Personally, I find that using my home’s design is the best – I have lived in the same house for over 20 years.  I am very familiar with the layout and navigating through the house is intuitive, I don’t have to think about it.  Draw your blueprint on a piece of paper showing all the major rooms, entries and exits. You will add details to this blueprint as you develop your palace.
  2. Look at your blueprint and decide on the route you will take every time to get from the entry to the exit.  Be deliberate in your path and create a logical route through your memory palace.
  3. Now memorize the route you will consistently take. For example, I enter my memory palace through the front door of my home, move into the hallway, then head to the family room, then to the kitchen, then to the living room and leave through the back door.
  4. Make a list of the key points in your presentation that you want to remember and list them in the order that you want to present them.
  5. Place one presentation key point in each particular location in your memory palace; actually write that point on your blueprint.  Then list two words that are specific details related to your key points in each location.
  6. Create a mental image of each of your key points and exaggerate the picture to help in memorization.  The use of humor in the exaggeration will help you remember the point you want to make a lot easier.
  7. Then begin to practice by visualizing your path through your memory palace and bring in mnemonics to memorize the list.  Many practice runs will be needed to train your memory and capture your entire presentation.

Put these two memorization methods together and run through your presentation.  Your opening paragraph is represented by the front door, and your closing paragraph is where you exit the building. When you visualize your path through the building, think about the mnemonic memory of the key points and what you want to say about them. Practice your presentation using this method until you comfortable move from the entry to the exit. Keep your blueprint handy as a reference tool so you stay on the planned route through your memory palace.

The day of your presentation, take your written memory palace with you, and put it in a place where only you can see it, maybe on a podium. Use it as a backup plan to keep you on track, just in case you forget where you are in your presentation.

You many need to invest a considerable amount of time to get comfortable with the memory palace method but there is a big payoff: You can move from a lecturer to a conversational presenter.

Seven Platform Tips to Connect With The Audience

When you are in front of an audience, you want them to feel comfortable with your presence and not distracted by your actions.  Once, I was delivering a presentation and wanted to test out some new technology.  There was an app on my cell phone that I could use to advance the slide deck.  How cool was that? I thought the audience would think it was a cool tool. It wasn’t as sexy as I thought because I never told the audience why I had my cell phone in my hand.  They thought I was waiting for an urgent phone call, and were not totally engaged in my presentation.  I know this because after the presentation some people asked me why I kept the phone in my hand – they wondered if my wife was expecting!  I was a distraction to the audience because their focus was on my phone and not my words.

Here are seven platform tips so you can become a better presenter and less of a distraction.

Podium or no podium

Do you like to use a podium when delivering your presentation or do you like to be able to walk around? For those of you who like the podium, is it because it creates a buffer from the audience or it is easier to refer to your notes or script? For those of you who like to walk around, how comfortable are you delivering a presentation from behind a podium?

Personally, I prefer to walk around and stay as far away from the podium as possible.  I did have to deliver one speech from a podium, and it was very uncomfortable.  I don’t like to read from a script, but in this instance, I had a final draft of a speech delivered to me about an hour before the presentation.  This speech had some edits, and I was unable to get familiar with the content.  I was extremely uncomfortable, and you could tell by my voice and body language.

Hands

What to do with those pesky hands is a favorite question asked. Do you let them hang by your side? Do you clasp and unclasp them throughout your presentation?  The one thing you shouldn’t do is to put them into your pants pockets because it looks unprofessional.  Let your hands be part of your presentation to add additional visualization to your point.  But be careful of the large, exaggerated hand and arm gestures.  You don’t want to look like you’re trying to hail a New York City cab or be rescued from a deserted island.  When you practice, keep your hands below an imaginary line just below your chest. Use gestures to enhance your presentation without being a distraction.

Remember to Smile

When you smile it looks like you are enjoying yourself and having fun.  It is also more engaging to the audience.  Think about this, when you watch a presentation, do you connect more to a speaker who is smiling rather than one who is frowning or not showing any emotion?  Smiling wins!  However, we all have “one of those days” and finding a smile is about as likely as winning the lottery.

How do you give an honest smile when you don’t feel like it?  My coach in New York offered great advice.  He said that when you need a smile, all you have to do is say three words in your head : “I love you,” but said in a southern accent.  You read that correctly. It’s an excellent way to get a smile when you need one.  A smile goes a long way to helping you and your audience relax and engage.  Remember, the “I love you” exercise uses inside words, not outside words!

Don’t immediately start your presentation

Your introduction has concluded. Go to the middle of the stage, pause for a second or two, then begin your presentation. Give the audience a chance to see you before you begin.  Let them get familiar with you – you want them to get to know you a bit, to trust you.   It isn’t easy to slow things down. Your body is highly charged with adrenaline, and you want to get started quickly.

You need to slow the adrenaline high, and can do this by taking two or three deep breaths. That will help relax your nerves and calm down the excitement you feel.  If you are off stage and the audience can’t see you, then bend at the waist and breathe deeply for a moment or two.  While doing this, think about slowing your inner clock down to a leisurely pace.  Now you can confidently walk to the middle of the stage, pause for a moment, and begin.

Moving on Stage

Have you ever been to an amusement park that has those games of skill where you can win a big stuffed animal?  One of the games I remember is a shooting gallery.  The objects are in constant movement while the person is aiming at the object.  That constant movement distracts you as you focus on the target. When you are like that on stage you become a pacer.  If you pace back and forth on stage it is because your adrenaline is overflowing or your nerves on high alert. Or even worse, you have not prepared enough.  Breathing, just like we talked about before, helps keep you calm, confident, and prevent pacing.

It’s nice to move around the stage but when you have a point to make, stop, plant and deliver.  When you stop and plant, it tells the audience that what you are about to say is important, and they need to give you their full attention.  You don’t have to stop, plant and deliver in the middle of the stage all the time.  You can be stage right or stage left and address the critical point. Move toward the stage area you have selected, slow down your step and maintain eye contact with the audience.  Then plant and deliver.

The pause

A pause is a powerful tool for every presenter.  The pause can be used just before delivering a punchline, or for dramatic effect, or to let the audience catch up and process what they have heard. I can also be used just to give yourself a quick moment to gather your thoughts.  Many new presenters start their presentation at a fast pace and never slow down.  That is due to nerves or possibly the lack of preparation.

As you practice, practice where you will put the pauses.  Feel the beat of the pause and imagine the faces of the audience when they have that AH! HA! moment or the look they have just before you hit them with the punchline.

Eye Contact

It is very important to make eye contact with the audience.  You don’t have to stare them down and make them feel uncomfortable.  You shouldn’t be focused over the heads to the back of the room or looking down at your shoes.  Just make quick eye contact with attendees across the room.  If they are smiling and looking back at you, you know they are engaged. If they look angry, are sleeping, reading their email, or showing negative body language, you need to a find way to adjust your presentation and change the atmosphere in the room.  Connect with your audience to pick up on the clues they are sending.

Work on these tips and techniques every time you are presenting.  The one that I struggled with early on was pacing. I didn’t realize I was a pacer until I watched the video of my presentation. The next time I did a presentation, I kept in the back of my mind: Slow down, quit pacing, don’t be a distraction.

There is so much that we have to be aware of on top of our technical knowledge when we are presenting. The best presenters know that a subject-matter-expert is not the same as an expert presenter. They work hard to improve all presentation skills so they can be more engaging with their audiences.

Inhaling and Exhaling is Key in Public Speaking

The most important thing to do when you give a presentation is to breathe. That may sound like an obvious statement, but when presenting to a group it is easy to forget to breathe properly. When you forget to take good, deep breaths your lungs can run out of air before you finish a sentence, then your voice becomes soft and even crackles. An acting coach I worked with in New York referred to this as the “shallow breathing syndrom.”

Think about this way, if you are a shallow breather, and the most important point you want to convey to the audience comes at the end of a sentence, it is going to fall flat and limp, just like the dreaded dead fish handshake. With sufficient supply of oxygen in your lungs, your voice cannot project throughout the audience, showing confidence and a command of the stage.

According to Harvard Business Review article titled, “Breathing Is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking,” deep breathing exercises help to harness the power of breathing to speak with confidence and electricity. A deep breathing exercise that will help rid shallow breathing was taught to me by the New York actor coach. He said to stand straight, shoulders back, and chest out. Now take a deep breath through your nose by expanding your stomach and not your chest. Then begin to let out all of the air slowly through your mouth and squeeze every last air molecule out of your lungs. Repeat the exercise again and again and again. Once you are comfortable doing that, take the exercise to the next level. This time when you exhale slowly count: “1…2…3…4…5…” Master that and take it to an even level higher: Exhale saying the words, “Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do.” As you practice and gain confidence, add more words like, “Hello, my name is [insert name].”

Caution! When doing this exercise for the first time, if you begin to feel lightheaded, stop and try another time until you get your stamina up – your lungs need to adapt to this technique. Once you have your stamina up, do ten reps, four times a day for a month. You should see improved results almost over night. Even when you do not have a presentation scheduled practice every day. You can back down to ten reps each day you are not speaking. On presentation days shoot for 20 reps.

In addition to strengthening your voice, proper breathing helps to keep sufficient oxygen in your blood and your brain. Having sufficient oxygen helps you focus on your presentation.

What happens when you blank out and can’t remember what you were going to say next? You are stand there with all of those eyes staring at you, and you begin to panic. When we panic on stage, what do we forget to do? That’s right: We forget how to breathe and become shallow breathers. When this happens, pause for a moment and take a deep breath or two. Chances are you will remember what comes next in your presentation, and you can carry on. If not, be honest with the audience and say, “I just had a brain cloud and forgot what I was about to say.” The audience won’t turn on you because you just showed them that you are a human being and even you, the person on the stage, can make a mistake.

As speakers, presenters and facilitators we need to be very cognizant of our breathing and the effect it is having on our voice. Allison Shapira, the author of the HBR article mentioned earlier, makes the comment that breathing is one of the most critical components in public speaking and it is one of the least taught subjects. Think of it this way, you may be the subject matter expert, but if your voice can’t command an audience and keep them engaged, then the audience can’t act on your words.

With a strong, powerful and confident voice, you will influence people’s lives, so practice your breathing. Inhale and expand your diaphragm. Exhale slowly and squeeze all the air out.

To be the Best You Have to Watch the Best

As a speaker, presenter or facilitator, we are always honing our craft. Making subtle changes and improvements in our delivery, stage persona, or our body language is key to developing a professional presentation.  A member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) once told me, “If you want to be the best, go watch the best. Learn from them but don’t mimic them. Stay authentic to yourself and use what you learned to become one of the best.”  I took that piece of advice to heart and spent countless hours watching past U.S. Presidents, speakers at the NSA Annual Convention and at our local chapter meetings, and TED Talks.

Former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton that were known for their incredible speaking skills.  Both knew how to connect with an audience and capture their imagination.  Watch and listen to their cadence and tone of voice.  Listen for when they pause and the look on their face. Watch what they do with their hands.  Early in Bill Clinton’s political career, when he would speak, he had the tendency to point his finger at the audience.  He was given advice to stop pointing his finger because it makes the audience defensive.  Instead of pointing his finger, he would make a fist and place his thumb on top of his fist and make the pointing gesture without using his finger. I have heard this method to be called the “remote control.”

As a member of the National Speakers Association, you gain access to some of the best speakers, both domestically and internationally – Mike Rayburn, Patricia Fripp, and Derrick Kayongo.  When I see them on stage, I am constantly study their mannerisms, pace, voice, delivery – all the nuances that work together to create a powerful presenation.  This is a challenge because they all have a great message and are excellent in engaging the audience. It can be difficult to dissect pieces of the presentation when you are so focused on the full experience of their presention. The art of a great speaker.

If this happens to you, and I bet it does, right after their presentation start taking notes from what you witnessed. Try to capture their body language, movement on the stage, use of humor, design of their presentation slides, use of the microphone, fluctuation in their voice, eye contact with the audience.  Write it all down.

Another way to watch the best is to watch a TED Talk.  If you are unfamiliar with them, let me explain.  According to the TED.com website, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics, from science to business to global issues.”  Some of the speakers at a TED conference include Bill Gates, Al Gore and Tony Robbins, and to name just a few.

According to their website, the top five TED talks to date are:

  1. Sir Kenneth Robinson – Do schools kill creativity? (over 38 million views)
  2. Amy Cuddy – Your body language may shape who you are (over 32 million views)
  3. Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action (over 26 million views)
  4. Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability (over 24 million views)
  5. Mary Roach – 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm (over 18 million views)

When you study TED talks remember this: These speakers are taking very complex information and presenting it through stories and visual aids. No TED Talk is ever a data dump.  They are evoking an emotion in the audience, whether it is laughter, sadness, or shock.  If they can do this, I am sure you can, too. It does require a lot of work but in the end you have a presentation worthy of sharing.

Go watch The Best of Ronald Reagan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVYtIdUcYqY) and watch him deliver his humor with perfection. Watch Bill Clinton Bids Farewell at the 2000 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M31s0MNKr6Y) and watch his facial expressions, especially when he is discussing writing his resume.  Watch one TED Talk a week.

Become a member of the National Speakers Association.  You want to be the best, go watch the best!

Information You Need When Developing Presentation Slideshow

Words can be very powerful, but not always as powerful as images. As we all know, “a picture is worth a thousand words!”

Microsoft PowerPoint is the most popular presentation software in today’s business environment.  There are other software products such as Apple’s Keynote or prezi.com, but it appears that Microsoft has the corner on the market because, according to Microsoft, there are over 30 million PowerPoint presentations given worldwide every day.” Personally, I am a Mac user so I work with Apple’s Keynote; I have found it to be more user-friendly and to have more creativity components than PowerPoint. My opinion only.

Based on years of experience and research as well as some hard learning lessons, I want to share how I plan and execute the visuals for my presentations.

Make A Visual Impact

Using visual aids in your presentation will create a greater impact and enhance the point you are trying to get across to your audience.  At the TED2009 conference, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was delivering a presentation on malaria and how the disease was transmitted via mosquito bites.  According to multiple accounts, Bill shouted at the audience, “Malaria is spread by mosquitoes.” Then he released non-disease ridden insects into the audience. “I brought some (mosquitos). Here, I’ll let them roam around. There is no reason only poor people should be infected.” I think Bill made his point to those who were in attendance, and the millions who have watched it since.

You can create a similar effect by using pictures, videos, sound bites, charts and graphs in your presentation. John Media, the author of Brain Rules, states, “Vision trumps all other senses.” He goes on to say, ”Our evolutionary history was never dominated by books or email or text messages. It was dominated by trees and saber-toothed tigers.  Vision means so much to us because most of the major threats to our lives in the savannah were apprehended visually.”

Tell your story with fewer words and more visual aids to help the audience visualize the issue at hand. Think about this for a moment: When you read a novel, you create a picture in your mind based on the words you have read. In your presentation, when you create a picture for the audience you give them a gift.  As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap

Your Slides Are Your Friend, Not A Crutch

Business audiences expect a slideshow to coincide with your presentation, no matter if you are speaking at a conference or delivering information at a board meeting. A vast majority of these presentations are developed to be a crutch and not as an aid.  According to dictionary.com, a crutch is “anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; prop.” While an aid is defined as “to provide support for or relief to; help.”

 

Actually, when used properly, your slideshow will act as an aid in helping to get your thoughts and ideas across to your audience.  Remember, YOU are the presentation and not your slideshow.

Here are some examples of how a slideshow becomes a crutch:

  • You pack every word that you want to say on your slides.
  • You have more bullet points on your slides than bullet holes from the St. Valentines Day massacre.
  • Your slides are not visually appealing to your audience .
  • If your font size is smaller than 20 point.
  • Your charts and graphs are confusing because there is too much data on the slide.
  • You overuse transitions and animations.
  • The audience is reading their email and not reading your slides.

When acting as an aid, your slides are notecards  a memory jogger  and allows you to create a conversation with the audience.  That is the goal.  Here are nine tips to help you create a slideshow that will keep you audience engaged.

  1. In the majority of your slides, eliminate bullet points by using one idea and picture(s) per slide.
  2. When bullet points are warranted for a comparison view, limit the number of bullet points to no more than five.
  3. Embed polling questions into your slides to stimulate audience engagement.
  4. Use visual aids to help get your key message points across and to create a more engaging experience.
  5. Use high quality pictures, images and video, and make them large enough so everyone can see.
  6. Choose colors carefully. According to Garr Reynolds, best selling author and speaker,  “Color evokes feelings. Color is emotional. The right color can help persuade and motivate. Studies show that color usage can increase interest and improve learning comprehension and retention.”
  7. Use a font size greater than 20 point so people in the back of the room can see.
  8. Garr Reynolds also suggests that you “choose your fonts carefully. Fonts communicate subtle messages in and of themselves, which is why you should choose fonts deliberately. Use the same font set throughout your entire slide presentation.”
  9. Calculate your slides per minute to ensure you are creating a conversation presentation.

Choosing Your Colors and Fonts

Because I believe visual aids are critical to a successful presentation, I want to share more information with you about selecting colors and fonts. Garr Reynolds has great advice on how to choose the colors in your background and in your fonts. In choosing your colors, he states, “You do not need to be an expert in color theory, but it’s good for business professionals to know at least a bit on the subject. Colors can be divided into two general categories: Cool (such as blue and green) and Warm (such as orange and red). Cool colors work best for backgrounds as they appear to recede away from us into the background. Warm colors generally work best for objects in the foreground (such as text) because they appear to be coming at us.” He goes on to say, “If you will be presenting in a dark room, a dark background (dark blue, grey, etc.) with white or light text will work fine. But if you plan to keep most of the lights on then a white background with black or dark text works much better.”

I have found that in a vast majority of venues the lights will be somewhere between 75 to 100 percent illuminated. So I intentionally design all of my slides with a white background with black font colors with a blue thin stripe down the left margin.

You might think that the color selection conversation is a little picky. That won’t be the case after we discuss choosing your fonts  now this is picky!  Garr suggests, “make sure you know the difference between a Serif font (Times New Roman) and a Sans-Serif font (Arial). Serif fonts were designed to be used in documents filled with lots of text. Serif fonts are said to be easier to read at small point sizes. San-serif fonts are generally best for PowerPoint presentations.”

Avoid Copyright Violation

Let’s discuss a critical point about the use of pictures and videos in your presentation:  Unless it is a photo or video that you shot or have express permission to use, you could be committing copyright violation.  I was accused of a copyright violation once when I got a picture from Google images and used it in a blog posting.  One day, I received a very nasty email informing me that I did not have the rights to use the picture and I needed to remove it from my site AND pay a $700 fine, or I would subject to legal action.  After some research, I concluded that it was legit; I paid the penalty and removed the picture. Because pictures help in increasing the audience’s retention, I purchased a subscription to Getty Images through istockphoto.com.  As to videos, you need to buy a license from the Motion Picture Licensing Company (www.mplc.org).

Calculate Your Slide Per Minute

Wait, there is math involved? Yes, and, this is a crucial calculation. One mis-calculation and you complete your presentation too early, or you run out of time and rush through the many slides remaining in your presentation.  Either way, this is not very respectful to your audience. It reveals your unpreparedness and lack of professionalism.

For example, you are giving a 60-minute presentation, and you have 60 slides which equate to only one minute per slide (this is easy math to do). One minute per slide is considered “the rapid fire approach” with no audience participation.  You are talking at them, not to them. If you have only ten slides for the 60-minute presentation, then you have the opportunity to create a conversation with your audience for six minutes per slide. Six minutes doesn’t seem like a long time until you are giving a presentation and the audience isn’t in the conversation mood.

The dean of the business school at Franklin University gave me the suggestion that the optimum amount of time per slide is two to three minutes.  That equates to about 20 – 30 slides in your presentation, for a 60-minute presentation.  However, there is one important and additional step needed.  Most of the slides are content driven, but some might contain a video. Determine the length of time of the video and adjust your calculation.

Don’t Lose On A Technicality

Most conferences, especially larger ones, will be supply laptop PCs loaded with PowerPoint.  If you are a MAC user, like me, and are allowed to use your laptop, make sure you have all the necessary adapters for VGA, HDMI or any new type of technology.  If you choose to export your Keynote file into PowerPoint, and you have video’s embedded with the file extension of .mov, .qt, or .avi, you will need to convert them to .wmv to play them on a laptop PC.  Early in my career, I learned this the hard way. I had to use the meeting planners laptop PC, and my videos would not work.  I discovered this only minutes before my presentation was to start and didn’t have enough time to delete the slides.  Moving forward, I decided when a conference supplies the laptop PC’s, I will be develop my slideshow using a PC and PowerPoint.

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, YOU are the presentation, not your slideshow, and your slideshow this there to aid in the delivery of your message.  “We have seen so many bad presentations that we get fearful every time we see another one start. In actual fact, it isn’t the tool that we dislike, it is the way that the tool is used that we dislike. Too many presenters think that just by using the PowerPoint tool, they don’t need to properly plan their presentation. Any tool is useful only if it is used properly.”  Presenters that recognize this will stop wasting their audience’s time and start enhancing their learning experience.