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Speaking Practically: Conversation with Kelly Vandever

Friday, January 27, 2012
posted by Geetesh at 9:30 AM IST

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Kelly VandeverIn an attention-deficient, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-my-Facebook-page kind of world, the typical business presentation is lame. Professional speaker, trainer, coach, tweeter and blogger Kelly Vandever works with organizations who want to take their strategic business presentations from Lame to Fame! An award winning speaker herself, Kelly helps organizations crank up their content to connect and interact with their audiences using old school and hi-tech techniques all the while annihilating bullet points and making this world a better place for business audiences everywhere. You can contact Kelly at her Speaking Practically site or @KellyVandever.

In this conversation, Kelly discusses visible changes in the world of presentations, and the use of Twitter as a means to interact with their audience.

Geetesh: In the last 5 years, what has been the most visible change in the world of presentations, and what are things that never change?

Kelly: The most visible change in the world of presentations comes from technology. Smart phones give audiences access to any piece of information a presenter shares -- or doesn't share. My first day teaching public speaking at a local university, one of my students piped up in the middle of my review of the syllabus to ask "are you the Kelly Vandever who's a stand up comedian?" He'd Googled my name and found a YouTube video of my performance at the Punch Line Comedy club in Atlanta. Audiences don't have to take a speaker's word for it. They've got their phones handy and aren't afraid to use them!

Another change is the phenomenon of people tweeting while speakers are talking. When I first heard about the Sarah Lacey – Mark Zuckerberg interview at SXSW in 2007, where a frustrated audience started tweeting about how badly the interview was going, my stomach sank. People tweeting while speakers are speaking?! No good could possibly come from this! I've since changed my mind, but a tweeting audience can still be a threat to speakers who aren't prepared.

I think overall the fact that today's audiences can verify, publicize or criticize anything a speaker says actually elevates what's expected of speakers and is in the best interest of audiences. Speakers need good content, they need to be prepared and they need to connect with their audiences authentically. You asked what hasn't changed. Those things haven't changed. Aristotle first said it more than 300 years BC -- We trust speakers and their message based on a combination of ethos – the character of the presenter, pathos – the emotional appeal of the message, and logos – the logical reasoning of the information presented. Technology allows audiences to hold the speaker accountable for their message and their integrity.

The other most impactful change I've seen has to do with presentation slides. When presentation software first came out, the software taught us, through the default settings, that we should use presentation slides like a document outline. In the past few years, we see more and more presenters stepping away from the bullet points and going toward images with just a few words on the screen. In my experience, audiences prefer this approach. And the cool thing is, that it also works better. Research from Richard Mayer at University of California in Santa Barbara and others demonstrates that having the words on the screen as they're being spoken by the presenter is actually less effective for retention and transfer of the information than using pictures and two or three words. I certainly hope this trend will continue as more presenters experience the results from their happier audiences.

Other technological impacts include the ease with which we can add videos to presentations and use video to record and watch practice sessions. Tools like Prezi can add movement and a "gee whiz" effect to a presentation – though for me the jury is still out as to whether or not the "gee whiz" effect actually improves or detracts from the message. Sales forces can load presentations on their tablets and use them on sales calls. It's fascinating to see how technology is morphing presentation techniques. But we should never forget that some things never change - presentations will always be about our audiences and the connections we make between us, our audience and our message.

Geetesh: You use and help others use Twitter as a means to interact with their audience and improve their presentations – can you explain this in more detail?

Kelly: Audiences love interaction because they want to be engaged. For a speaker who speaks to audiences that have a tendency to tweet, Twitter is a great way to interact with larger audiences before, during, and after a presentation.

Before a presentation, Twitter gives the speaker another way to research their audience by following the conference hashtag and seeing out what's important in their world. Using the conference hashtag, the speaker can also ask questions of the audience and adjust their presentation accordingly.

During a presentation, speakers can encourage their shy audience members to tweet questions, then build in "Twitter breaks" to check for questions. I recommend using a Twitter moderator who monitors the hashtag for the presenter, then poses the questions to the speaker during the Twitter breaks. I do not recommend posting the Twitter stream behind the presenter as it distracts from the presentation. If audience members want to follow the stream, they can do it on their phones. If the stream is broadcast behind a speaker, the audience don't have any options -– the distraction is there whether they're able to tune it out or not.

Twitter can be used to do informal polling with an audience. To publicize links mentioned during the presentation and more. Let's face it, the speaker is probably not going to have time to answer all questions during the time allotted. Having the audience ask questions on Twitter gives the speaker a way to follow up later and answer those questions which ordinarily might have gone unanswered.

I recommend using the conference hashtag and, at large conferences, a session hashtag too. Using the conference hashtag is important so those that are following the conference from the Twitter can see what's being said and can pop in with their comments and questions too. Using a session specific hashtag makes it easier to find the questions and comments specific to the session so you can respond while in the session or when following up.

After the presentation, as mentioned above the speaker can answer unanswered questions. But I think the real benefit for the speaker is being able to see what the audience is thinking while the speaker is speaking. What resonated with the audience? What comments did they tweet and retweet? Is there anything unexpected, like a point you thought was minor but is getting a lot of buzz on Twitter? How is the message going over? What do you need to do to improve your presentation?

Yes, Twitter can add a little more complexity and yes, you give up some control with your audience. But come on, control is an illusion. Audiences are using their phones anyway. The benefits when using Twitter right far outweigh the negatives. I hope more speakers start taking advantage!

Categories: interviews, powerpoint, presentation_skills, twitter

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