Presentation Skills: Introverts and Extroverts

I really liked the TED version of this presentation because of the way that Susan Cain talked about her own struggles as an introvert with public speaking. That’s not in this condensed version, but some of my other favorite parts are, including the research that shows that audiences find extroverts to be more persuasive and believable than more introverted speakers.

I love this kind of science, but the idea that extroverts are more convincing is understandable even on a common-sense level. Extroverts tend to be much more engaging and more enthusiastic, both of which help an audience pay attention and stay focused on what’s being said. Enthusiasm is particularly powerful because it can be quite contagious and help win people over to a presenter’s point of view. If you think about it, the RSA videos are kind of like the “extroverted” versions of the original talks. They’ve been edited and animated to make them more engaging and entertaining.

As a closet introvert myself, I know that I’m a much more effective public speaker because I make a conscious effort to be more extroverted. I try to bring as much energy as I can to every presentation, I tell my best jokes and stories in an attempt to be entertaining, and I talk to people that I don’t know in a way I’d probably never do if we were random guests at a party.

The difference between being an introvert and at least being able to act like an extrovert is often the difference between success and failure in a presentation. Maybe you’re not a natural extrovert, but a lot of people (including Susan Cain and myself) aren’t, and we’re doing passable jobs at public speaking. Can you manage to be an extrovert for 30 minutes? An hour? Try giving it a shot. If you’re still having a hard time, try co-presenting with someone who is more outgoing than you are. I find that I’m even more successful when I’m paired with someone who is an extrovert (or seems like they are one).

That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to be fake, to put on a personality that isn’t your own. Audiences react badly when they perceive that someone is acting “phony.” What you want to do instead is be the best, most interesting and energetic version of yourself.

RSA Shorts–The Power of Quiet

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Visual Aids: Cute Kittens Increase Attention and Productivity

Don’t You Feel More Productive?

Think all of those cat ladies browsing Cute Overload are just wasting their time? You’re wrong.

They’re really preparing to out-compete you. A recent study shows that people are more productive when they’ve been looking at pictures of cute animals. As reported by the Washington Post:

…researchers at Hiroshima University recently conducted a study where they showed university students pictures of baby animals before completing various tasks. What they found, in research published today, was that those who saw the baby animal pictures did more productive work after seeing those photographs – even more than those who saw a picture of an adult animal or a pleasant food.

Sometimes these esoteric studies seem utterly ridiculous, but I totally buy this one. If nothing else, I think that looking at cute images serves to grab a viewer’s attention and provoke an emotional response that makes them more likely to focus on a task or remember a presentation targeted at them. I’m not saying that kitty pictures are appropriate for every presentation. But anything that makes an audience laugh or feel good can be very effective.

One of the most successful presentations I’ve ever done is one that almost never happened. I spent a couple of years trying to get a presentation I called “The Worst Mistake I Ever Made” approved at a conference. The idea was that panelists would talk about what they’d learned from their mistakes and tell the audience what they’d change if they had it all to do over again. But conference organizers kept telling me it was too negative.

So when I finally got it accepted I inserted pictures of cute baby animals throughout the deck of slides. I thought it would add some humor, but I was also being a bit of a jerk. After talking about a failed project I’d say something like, “Is that too depressing? Well here’s a picture of a baby panda.” And people loved it. The presentation got the best evaluations of any talk from the week-long conference and I still have people tell me how much they enjoyed it years later.

Should you put a picture of a baby walrus in your financial presentations? Probably not. But anything you can do to entertain your audience and make them enjoy being there will also make your presentation interesting and memorable. It’s up to you to determine what’s appropriate within the context of your talk.

Presentation Tips: Do Something Unexpected

Do you remember anything the speakers said at your high school graduation? Or even who the speakers were?

I don’t. As a matter of fact, I can’t tell you anything about any of the many graduation ceremonies I’ve been to over the years except for the fact that I was overheated and anxious about getting sunburned at a lot of them.

Chances are you’d remember if the speaker told you and all of your classmates “None of you is special. You are not special. None of you is exceptional,” as Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough did in his speech. Of course his point wasn’t to dishearten these poor kids, but to remind them of the virtues of selflessness. And they’re much more likely to remember his advice than they would have been if he had just given the standard uplifting talk meant to inspire young people.

You can read more about his speech here.

Let’s face it, your presentations and meetings are probably much, much, less memorable than the average commencement speech. One of the best ways to change this and make an impact on your audience is to do something unexpected–like tell them they aren’t as special as they think they are. Next time you have an important presentation to give, think about what you can do to surprise them or challenge their assumptions. It’s a riskier strategy than having another boring, forgettable meeting, but the payoff can be huge.

Using Storytelling to Make Your Presentations Memorable

I’ve mentioned before that storytelling may be the closest thing to a secret weapon when it come to creating a great presentation. Telling your presentation in narrative form gives it a natural structure, makes it more memorable for your audience, and helps you overcome any fear that you might have about not being able to remember your talk.

One example I’ve used is the storytelling techniques that competitors in memory contests employ in order to recall seemingly impossible quantities of information and Joshua Foer’s account in Moonwalking with Einstein of how he used these methods to become a memory champion. Now everything seems to have come full-circle and Foer has a TED talk describing the experience. You should still buy his book, but this is a great introduction.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/en//id/1443