Wednesday, November 19, 2014

11 Deadly Presentation Sins - Rob Biesenbach: Book 30 of 52 in 52

Back to reading a bit of material about what I do in life - speaking, and helping others speak...and deliver.

I've had this book for a LONG time - Rob actually sent it to me in hopes I'd review in time for his launch, which I was unable to do. Since I missed that date, I admittedly put it on the back burner. Since I only have it in .pdf form, it was going to take some focused time in front of my computer to get through, despite its brief 125 page format (apparently it's only 90 pages on Kindle). Finally, last night, as I sat outside the church while my daughter went to youth group, I dove in.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins was a lot of fun to read. Conversational, relatable, and occasionally irreverent. Reading the Introduction, 'Stuck in Power Point Hell', it's easy to believe this is a book solely about avoiding Death by Power Point - and slide decks do get their share of attention in the book. But ultimately it just seems to be a bit of a tool to link Hell and Sins and create a cohesive theme.

He also build his own credibility as an actor and a speechwriter, and boldly declares that 'every communication is a performance', which I very much disagree with, and yet totally understand his point, all at the same time.

I'm going to briefly review each chapter, so hang on tight.

Sin #1: Failure to Understand Your Audience - a fairly standard chapter about 'knowing your audience' culminating in an Apple example that he admits doesn't exactly fit (would this be comparing Apples to oranges).

Sin #2: A Flat Opening - includes a nice list of opening options, what to do and what NOT to do. My favorite is the 'Fish Out of Water', ie 'Stranger in a Strange Land' opening. He also gives some good advice on creating an introduction, though he doesn't mention my favorite device in an intro: HUMOR. Only other caveat: when he suggests opening with a startling statistic, his example is that 'studies show that people's number one fear is public speaking'. No, no it's not. Sigh...

Sin #3: Lack of Focus - while chapter one focuses on knowing the audience, this one centers around the audience knowing you. That is, connecting with what you say, how you say it, what you want them to do. He discusses shorter formats, finding a way to stand apart from others, and even provides a basic outline of a keynote, along with some examples of how it can be used.

Sin #4: Bad Storytelling - filled with suggestions for both telling stories and FINDING stories, as well as rationale behind why we should use them. The story he includes about Estela and the Candy Factory is worth buying the book all by itself.

Sin #5: No Emotional Pull - well, he certainly got my emotional attention in this chapter, using a Star Trek episode as a primary example throughout. 'Audiences will forgive a multitude of presentation sins for speaker who open themselves up and show their humanity' - a great line which gives the reader a reason to take everything in this chapter to heart. He even takes a bit of a risk and speaks to how emotional may be TOO emotional for women speakers. That takes bravery - hope you aren't wearing a red shirt, Rob.

Sin #6: Dull, Ugly Visuals - here we go - Death by Power Point, clearly a passion. If you don't have time to read Presentation Zen, this chapter hits the high point of that and most other books on the subjects, and includes some great resources for finding usable pictures for your presentations while still adhering to copyright law.

Sin #7: Low-Energy Delivery - oh so important - I was coaching a client on this just yesterday. His acting background shines through in this section, as he provides a few preparation suggestions, and discusses both the strategy and the rationale of 'being present' in your presentation.

Sin #8: No Audience Interaction - covers all types of audience interaction, including some I'm not always open to as an audience member. Still, his tips on Q&A are strong, especially his concept of 'prompting', and make a good quick reference.

Sin #9: Buying into Body Language Myths - ahhhhh, debunking Mehrabian Myth. Good stuff, but hey, where's the link to the interview with the man himself telling us how 93% of communication coming via body language is total malarkey?

Author Rob Biesenbach
Sin #10: Inadequate Rehearsal - 30 hours of rehearsal for a single hours speech? Holy cow. But yeah, if you want to be good, he's right. He offers some practice tips - nothing outlandish - but all sound ideas.

Sin #11: A Weak Finish - just as he offered valuable suggestions for opening your speech, he offers even MORE valuable ideas and architectures for your close. A technique he delves into that I personally use is 'finish an earlier story' - basically bookend the speech with a story you can come back to in your conclusion.

In his closing chapter, he quickly hits a few extra sins, I'm not sure if they're worse or 'not-so-bad' sins - after all, all sins are equal. Or so I'm told in church.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins was a joy to finally read, and a great reminder of many of the best strategies I've learned over the years. It would make a great airplane read, and makes a good primer for the newbie, and refresher for the crusty old expert who doesn't want to read through 10 different books, but wants more of a 'sampler' approach.

4 stars out of 5 - give it a read, and keep it top of mind the next time you need a little speaking strategy reinforcement!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Toastmasters Friday: Taking a Break doesn't mean Breaking Up

Yes, I took a break. Even though I didn't want to.

It's actually a bit of a pattern - I win the International Contest in the Spring, then either lose at the Semi-Finals or the Finals, and come home exhausted, a bit dispirited, and ready to just sit home and lick my wounds. Usually lasts two months or so.

This year, I was determined for that not to happen, and I gave a speech at my club the very next week after returning from Malaysia. Then...Life Happened. Back surgery. Pain. Life in a walker, which, frankly, was less than a confidence building endeavor for me. Combine that with starting a new church which had youth group activities on Thursday nights, and I actually resigned from my club, with the intention of finding another.

What have I been doing in the interim? Lots of PT, for one. Blogging, podcasting, as usual. Thankfully, I have acquired a few clients during the break, which is great, but I haven't been up and speaking at all. And as much as I love (and I mean REALLY LOVE) coaching, I love speaking even that much more.

It only took a few weeks to find out that youth group wasn't going to be an issue anymore - the new church had listed their activities in a very confusing manner, and youth group is actually on Tuesday for Middle Schoolers, and Wednesday for High School, while they have just a regular 'Sunday Service' on Thursday. And this week, my physical therapist told me to put the walker aside and just start walking again, and we'd deal with any muscle pain that went along with that plan. I'll be honest and admit that returning to any club using my walker was not something I wanted to do.

So...with no more excuses, after a two and half month break, I returned to my club last night.

Going back last night to a club that had embraced its new leadership, created new systems, added many new members, was refreshing. And getting up to do a relatively impromptu Educational Minute and later Table Topics, was invigorating after being dormant for so long. I felt hopeful and positive about Toastmasters again, and was ready to embrace the changes in style and personality. And ready to help again - their VP of Ed dropped out last week, so I'm coming back into the role - and learning all the new ways they have of doing it.

While I didn't want to take a break this time around - it was forced upon me to some degree - I believe it was a good break to take. After months of going to 5-10 clubs a week practicing, after years of being an officer, and being the 'goto' guy as Club VP of Ed, Club President, and Area Governor, I was more tired than I thought. I had grown a bit negative, and was dangerously close to becoming a 'Crusty Old Toastmaster' - stuck in the old ways, unwilling to accept change, and sitting in the back corner of the room slowly shaking his head at the future.

Taking a break, however, doesn't mean breaking up. Heck, I'm still officially a member, thanks to the grace period.

I'm going to make sure this 'refreshing, open-minded feeling' extends beyond the club - to District activities, to adapting to the upcoming changes in the education program, to how I balance my Toastmaster life with my professional life. Toastmasters is just too valuable, and too important for me to ever stay away from it for long, but a 'sabbatical', planned or otherwise, can be perspective changing. Even if only to shake off the 'crustiness'!

If you've been in TM more than a couple of years, if you've immersed yourself in the program, and are starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, or even starting to feel the crustiness set in, consider taking a sabbatical on your own terms vs. the being forced into one via the 'I'm exhausted' or the 'Major Surgery' scenario. Plan your time away, and the date of your return (this is important - respectful for your club, and helps prevent you from permanently filling that time slot with something else).

When you return, you might just find yourself a better person and ready to become a better Toastmaster. Ready, as I like to say, to Speak...and Deliver!

If you've had similar experiences, please tell me about them by commenting below, or replying via whatever Social Media brought you here!


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