For Those Who Tilt Toward Words, Here’s How to Improve Your Presentations

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a senior exec at a Fortune 500 company or manage the A1 Car Wash in Albuquerque, the ability to communicate impacts job performance. For many, this extends to the dreaded presentation.

You can find advice on this topic rivaling how to lose weight and make money selling timeshare condos.

Here’s the problem. These so-called gurus always the say same thing.

  • Use visuals, not bullets (oops)
  • Stop jingling coins in your pocket.
  • Don’t read your slides.
  • If you use enough visuals, you won’t read your slides because there isn’t enough to read.

For those of us wired by words, this is a little like suggesting a tortoise would move faster using a skateboard.

That’s why I found Gavin McMahon’s recent webinar, #PresentBetter, so refreshing. Finally, here’s a roadmap and tips that didn’t require an MFA from Pratt to implement.

I encourage you to take in Gavin’s webinar which is available for playback on SlideShare. In the meantime, here are my CliffsNotes from the session.

Harmonize Words, Pictures and Structure

Gavin McMahon’s webinar on Slideshare

Words on slides aren’t the devil. You just need to use them the right way. Rather than skewer PowerPoint, use the platform to fill in the gaps on the area you don’t do particularly well. For example, if you’re an introverted soul, you might depend on the slide rather than oral communications to express a touch of levity in your storytelling.

I used the slide below in an internal presentation last year that absolutely bombed!

Man-T internal presentation

It’s OK.

Take a chance or two understanding that not everything will work.

Start with the Question, Why Are You Presenting?

There are really only two reasons that people present, either to frame the way people see the world or to move people to action. In either case, recognize that the audience is asking, “What’s in it for me?” The alignment between the answers to the two questions becomes the foundation for your presentation.

Humans Aren’t Rational But They are Great Rationalizers

Gavin McMahon’s recent webinar on how to deliver a great presentation

If you gravitate toward logic – I certainly count myself in this category – it can take a conscious effort to insert emotion into a presentation. Yet, it’s a must. As Gavin puts it, “Reason leads to judgment; emotion leads to action.” Again for introverts, emotive language on the actual slide might be a better approach than trying to channel a Meryl Streep performance.

Looks Count

I won’t numb you with studies from the wonderful world of neurology. In short, the science says If something looks good, we think it’s more truthful.

Create Visuals From Words

I’ve touched on this area before. Even though the vast majority of those in PR come to the profession through words, the right design touch can transform words into visuals (Just don’t expect “a word is worth a thousand pictures” to come to pass).

Look at how Gavin visually depicts what’s behind every presentation.

Gavin McMahon’s recent webinar on how to deliver a great presentation

We’re talking 17 words and two interlocking circles.

Presentation Training 101 squeezes the discomfort out of people by putting them in uncomfortable situations again and again under the premise that they eventually will get comfortable.

Personally, I prefer the Gavin approach.

Then again, I’m an introvert.

Side note: For more on visual storytelling, you might check out “Visual Lessons from BusinessWeek.”

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What Does a Cold and Heartless Narrative Look Like in the Business World?

Glass heart in relations to heartless narative in the business world

Such storytelling isn’t easy to find.

When organizations and consultants go through branding exercises and come to be part of associating words with their brands, they rarely highlight “cold” or “heartless” (suppose someone selling ice fishing equipment might go for “cold.”).

After scouring the Web I finally found one.

Meet Nick Murray, a self-professed “premier speaker” on the financial services industry.

I don’t know Mr. Murray. He could be great at his profession and the second warmest human being in the world behind the Dali Lama.

But if you want information on Mr. Murray speaking at your fine organization, you’ll come to his speaking page structured with five core sections: Fee, Deposit, Expenses, NO-NOs and Conference Calls.

In spirit of analyzing how to suffocate storytelling techniques, let’s examine each module.

Nick Murray speaking fee on his website

That’s big of Nick to be open (no guarantee) to allowing the client to fork over another $4,500 for him to speak a second time on the same day.

I always get a kick out of someone talking about himself/herself in the third person. Famous athletes employ this technique, “It wasn’t a good night for LeBron.”

Nick Murray Deposit request for speaking opportunity

I suppose Mr. Murray figured a clause like “Nick will NOT return the deposit if he has to cancel the engagement at any time for any reason” might not go over well.

Nick Murray Expenses for speaking opportunity

Glad we’re clear on who keeps the original receipts and who receives the photocopies. I can’t even count the number of business relationships that have soured from this issue.

To Mr. Murray’s credit, he doesn’t make any weird requests like insisting that a six-ounce jar of watermelon Jelly Bellies must be in a hotel room upon arrival.

Nick Murray list of No-nos

No question, this is the section where Mr. Murray bears his soul.

First, I love the use of informal language in the subhead, which softens the point. Going with the formal “What Nick Will Not Do” might put off potential buyers.

Still, if I am a potential buyer, I would find some of this language confusing.

Like what is the difference between people are drinking and people who were just drinking alcohol?

And while I appreciate that Mr. Murray wants all attention on him, the section on speaking at breakfast or lunch leaves too much open for interpretation. If he’s speaking in front of 100 people over lunch, must every single person be finished? What if just two people are slow polishing off the peach cobbler? Does sipping coffee count as eating? If the waitstaff can stand perfectly still like statures on the perimeter, are they allowed to listen, and if yes, does this incur an extra cost?

Nick Murray conference calls information

Savvy pricing strategy.

If $10K for a keynote is too high, you can still get Mr. Murray on a conference call at half the price point.

Knowing the audience will be so captivated they will insist on the 30-day audio playback for another $5K, Nick ends up with the same fee and with zero risk of running into people “who were just drinking.”


Obviously, I don’t have any insights into Mr. Murray’s operation.

It could be that the cold and heartless business communications serve as a filter to keep the speaker requests at a manageable level.

But I’m guessing that’s not the case.

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Does Your Public Relations Effort Include a Mobile Strategy?

You don’t need to be a data scientist to figure out that the world is going mobile.

The sales of mobile phones and tablets tell this story as does Apple’s cash hoard, $158 billion as of January 2014.

Along a similar line, eMarketeer projects that mobile ad revenue will triple over the next three years.

eMarketeer mobile ad review growth prediction 2012

Drilling down to what’s important to PR, are consumers and B2B buyers getting their news and information on mobile devices?

Again, check the box.

A Pew Research Center study from last year shows well over half of smartphone and tablet users consume news on mobile devices.

Pew Research study on growth of mobile landscape 2013

OK, this isn’t exactly a breaking insight.

But it’s the velocity of the mobile movement that I’m not so sure is well understood by PR. This velocity becomes clear in plotting out the percent of mobile views of my blog going back to 2011.

Ishmael's Corner percent of views from mobile devices 2011-2014

After watch-the-grass-grow numbers for 13 quarters, the pace has doubled during the past six months with 33 percent of views now on mobile devices.

As the communications function continues to come up the curve on business storytelling, it now needs to also consider how to shape this storytelling so it plays on mobile devices.

This means jumping on the responsive design bandwagon and making sure your owned media assets, especially blogs, deliver mobile-friendly content. If your blogs reside on WordPress, there are plugins that make it easy to deploy responsive functionality. In spite of my own blog’s hurting design, I was pleasantly shocked to find it actually looks better on a smartphone.

It also means thinking through the type of content that works best on mobile devices. It’s too early for best practices to emerge, though common sense says shorter stories and greater use of visuals resonate with mobile users.

Yet there’s nuance to the issue as reflected in the Pew research called out earlier that noted:

  • 73 percent of tablet owners  and 61 percent of smartphone news consumers read longer stories at least sometimes.

That’s why it’s important to experiment and learn from the experimentation of others, particularly media properties like Quartz, The Verge and and BuzzFeed built from the start to deliver an online experience.

I think it’s fair to say that the time has come for PR to bake mobile into campaigns and launches.

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Transmedia Branding E-book from USC Professor Delivers Excellent Primer

USC professor Burghardt Tenderich e-book Trans media branding

“Branding is in a state of disruption and re-invention. Recent advances in Internet and consumer technologies have put professional branding tools in the hands of consumers. Everyday people – as individuals and as communities – are appropriating, remixing and recirculating brand icons beyond the control of those who have historically shepherded the brand.”

So states the Transmedia Branding e-book penned by Burghardt Tenderich, associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

As belies his experience as a communications practitioner in the real world – Siebel Systems, Applied Communications and Bite Communications – Tenderich’s e-book is more than an academic treatise for the tweed jacket set. His narrative blends the theoretical with examples ranging from Intel to Old Spice to President Obama.

Tenderich defines transmedia branding as “a communication process in which information about a brand is packaged into an integrated narrative, which is dispersed across multiple media channels for the purpose of creating an interactive and engaging brand experience.” While most associate transmedia branding with the consumer world and Hollywood – think Spider-Man in your kid’s Happy Meal and selling Buicks – Tenderich’s definition works for the B2B world as well, though the interactive component might be a stretch.

The e-book pays homage to one of the best-known example of transmedia branding, the Old Spice campaign in which a standard 30-second commercial morphs into YouTube videos featuring Isaiah Mustafa as the “Old Spice Guy” answering questions from the “audience.”

My favorite is Mustafa responding to a Kevin Rose (founder of Digg and now a partner at Google Ventures) tweet on being sick.

“Can you imagine if your smart brain could team up with my strong muscle body and wildly handsome face parts … no, you can’t.”

Yes, levity has a place in transmedia branding as it does in all forms of business storytelling.

On this topic, I’ve discussed in previous posts the value of atomizing content earmarked for journalists, an approach that underlies transmedia storytelling:

“… the pieces of content are dispersed in unique bits and collectively make up a narrative. It’s not that you tell the same story again and again, just in a different medium. It’s that you tell a story a bit at a time in each medium, and, taken together, they create a full story.”

Does the book show you how to create a campaign for an enterprise storage company that will have Mattel knocking on your door wanting to create an action figure called the Storage Stooge?

Of course not (and that’s a good thing).

It’s fair to say that developing storytelling for multiple channels/platforms that also delivers an interactive experience lends itself to the consumer world. Still, the overarching concept has relevance to B2B companies if for nothing else than to find touch points with their target audience where they don’t share the stage with competitors (like in trade publications).

All in all, Tenderich’s e-book on transmedia branding serves as the perfect starting point for anyone coming up the curve on the topic. You can access the e-book  for free here.

As someone who has railed against the logo jockeys holding the keys to the branding kingdom, I believe that transmedia branding offers yet another opportunity for communication professionals to expand their playing field.

As long as communication professionals recognize that going down this path requires experimentation.

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What Came First in Business, the Story or the Deed?

Bloomberg Businessweek published an article by Ty Montague back in September, “Is Your Company a Storyteller? Or a Storydoer?”

After a quick scan, I determined the piece focused on storytelling in business and tweeted out the link.

In a weird juxtaposition of social sharing, a retweet of my original missive (thank you Runar from Oslo) prompted me to actually read the article.

Runar B. Maeland Re-tweet of businessweek article on storytelling

I should have read it the first time.

I’m all for contrarian viewpoints, but the idea that successful companies are “storydoers” – not storytellers – carries the absurdity of watching the emperor minus clothes.

Storytelling is a means, not an end. It can help the outside world get to know a corporation or organization. Storytelling can inspire. In the right hands, it builds equity in the brand. At the very least, it pushes an organization a smidgen closer to the interesting quadrant.

But storytelling is not a product. It doesn’t send a surge of dopamine through the customer (unless you’re a communications consultancy with enlightened clients).

Let’s break down the Businessweek article –

The old way to market a business was storytelling. Today, telling your story isn’t enough. In the rising number of brands and unending din of social media, it is increasingly difficult—and expensive—for companies to shout loud enough and long enough to be heard through the megaphone of paid advertising. In response, a new kind of company, one with a clear narrative conveyed through action, not communication, is breaking through the clutter.

I’m lost. The companies shouting “me, me, me” aren’t telling stories. And if Mr. Montague’s premise that actions alone break through the clutter were true, how do you explain Warren Buffett spending so much time on CNBC, “a touch more powder on the nose?”

Today’s most successful businesses are storydoers.

Storydoing companies create products and services that are manifestations of an authentic and meaningful narrative. They learn to organize themselves around this narrative and then express it through product design, customer service, and even how they reward and encourage employees. Whereas in storytelling companies, a brand’s story is the domain of the marketing department, in storydoing companies the story is weaved into all aspects of an organization’s culture.

As a result, storydoing firms are more nimble, adaptive to change, and, growing evidence suggests, more efficient businesses. Reebok and Adidas are storytellers; they make ads to sell shoes. Toms Shoes, on the other hand, is a storydoer. Through its one-for-one movement (for every pair purchased, a pair is donated), Toms sells more than shoes. It sells a belief system. Similarly, in the cleaning category, Tide and Clorox are storytellers. Their ads are designed to sell cleaning products and nothing more. Method is a storydoer that sells more than soap, it sells a worldview: people against dirty.

The directions didn’t work. I’m lost again. Storytelling and advertising are not one and the same. But there is a word for what Toms Shoes does. It’s called philanthropy.

Toms website

What makes these storydoing companies so interesting isn’t the fact they’re unique. It’s that they aren’t unique at all. Today, dozens of companies in multiple sectors are building large businesses by pursuing the principles of storydoing: from startups beginning with a new idea and a clean slate, to large multinational corporations beginning to do the difficult but necessary work of restructuring themselves to behave in this new way.

I challenge you to find one startup pitching venture capitalists with a business model called “Storydoing.” Now, that would get a rise from the gang at Andreessen Horowitz.

When it is done correctly, storydoing is simply better business. For instance, the best storydoing companies can reduce their cost of paid media. Sometimes to zero. Red Bull is a great example of a company that spends almost no money on paid advertising but instead conveys its story through events and experiences created and owned by the company (Flugtag, the Red Bull Air Races, content like the snowboarding film The Art of Flight).

Finally, a line that’s kind of true. When companies apply storytelling techniques to their communications, more people gravitate to what they have to say, including journalists. This can allow a company to reduce its paid media spend.

There are other benefits as well. One core attribute of storydoing companies is that they have a clearly defined purpose, transcending “creating shareholder value” and “maximizing profits.” This characteristic creates intense loyalty among customers and employees alike. Storydoing companies don’t just practice what they preach—they preach by practicing. JetBlue (JBLU), for instance, is a storydoing airline in a business sector full of long-established storytelling competitors. JetBlue’s higher purpose is “to bring humanity back to air travel.” JetBlue “tells” that story by creating better customer experiences at every possible point of contact. Its story has always been spread primarily by word of mouth—it does very little advertising, and it only advertises in cities it flies to or from. This has led to some unusual outcomes. Several years ago, as JetBlue contemplated expansion into new markets, it commissioned a national survey. One of the most notable findings of the survey was that it was the most beloved airline in the city of Chicago. JetBlue didn’t even fly to Chicago at the time.

No question, everyone wants a higher purpose than just causing the cash register to go ka-ching. That’s why organizations including public companies strive to carve out a mission that’s meaningful and relevant to its employee base. I’ll bet not even JetBlue has a chapter in its employee handbook called “storydoer.” Yet, the same handbook does explain the behavior and actions expected from the company’s employees.

Fanatical loyalty and devotion like this can have obvious quantitative business benefits, like greater pricing power, lower salary requirements for staff retention, and higher employee morale. There is a qualitative difference to storydoing companies as well, harder to measure, but just as meaningful for the customers and employees who experience it: Storydoing companies have a feeling of authenticity and humanity about them that has been lost at many traditional companies today. It makes them magnetic.

Again, there’s already a word for this in the English language: “culture.”

The future belongs to these storydoers. To survive, companies must learn to do their stories, or they will be disrupted and replaced by storydoing competitors.

Peter Drucker he’s not.

One final thought on the subject –

There have been companies that put the story before the deed. One immediately comes to mind.

Remember Enron?

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