Recording yourself to improve your verbal communication

I’m delivering this post, very aptly, as a video post today in which I talk about recording yourself to improve your verbal communication.

In this video, I cover:

  • The benefits of recording yourself, including getting over the ‘umms…’, getting used to your voice, and being conscious of your body language
  • How the recording set up is easier than you think
  • What to say when you’re recording yourself
  • And the things to avoid.

I’m hoping to do more of these video posts every now and then. Let me know what you think!

 

How to present HR data

Retrieving and disseminating HR management information is one thing but presenting this data to various audiences that engages and informs them, without sending them to sleep, is a different thing altogether. Understandably, the topic of statistics doesn’t tickle everyone’s interest even though we understand that they are crucial to inform decisions, measure impact, and project trends.

So how do we relay metrics to key decision makers and tell them what they mean without losing their attention span within the first 10 seconds?

The answer can be summed up in one word: illustration.

Illustration, in all manner of meanings, can help audiences understand not just what the stats are, but what they’re illustrating. This can be done literally through illustration, that is presenting the data in pictorial format with graphics and charts, or figuratively, that is illustrating the idea of what the stats are saying.

Death by PowerPoint

It’s almost customary to include some sort of PowerPoint-bashing in an article about presenting, and this one is no exception. Granted there are times when PowerPoint or other similar and just-as-useful programmes are appropriate and necessary, and indeed for presenting data in person. But I want to bash the generic, almost primal use of slides that present data in a cold and useless way. White background. Bullet points. Comic Sans. Word-for-Word reciting. Cringe.

Have you ever sat in a presentation when so much data is displayed in monotonous charts, accompanied with labels and figures, and then the presenter reads off each and every single piece of data that is already on there, one by one, as if it adds value to what is already on the screen? Don’t do this. This is a sure way to kill what little attention people might have had prepared themselves for, for a notoriously tedious topic.

What’s worse is that this way of presenting data is also a time killer. This style of presentation could be done by email – the presenter doesn’t need to be there as essentially they will only read off of it anyway. The audience’s attention will in fact be MORE engaged reading it from an email as they don’t have the robotic narration in the background.

So how can we illustrate data and metrics?

The first thing to ascertain is the purpose of this data; how is this data being used? You might have several answers for several audiences from the one set of data, so by determining context before illustrating your data, you as the presenter can add so much more value than reciting numbers and percentage points.

Understand the purpose of the data and you can paint them a picture. By way of example, let’s assume you are presenting on the effectiveness of training, beyond attendee feedback:

Instead of saying:

“15 staff went on line management training in the last quarter, compared to 7 in the previous quarter”

Say:

“The amount of managers developing themselves has rose by more than double in the last quarter than that of the previous.”

These sentences are very similar and I could be accused of being pedantic. But the second sentence explains the data in words that people understand. “More than double” is more easily comprehensible compared to hearing two lots of numbers. Of course 15 is more than double of 7 but the more you recite numbers, the more they lose meaning.

With the above example, you could take the stats a bit further, providing you have the information available:

“Formal grievances raised have reduced by 25% in the same time period suggesting that line managers are more confident in managing conflicts before they escalate.”

This adds relevance to your presentation and adds another measurable dynamic to your illustration. This illustrates the impact behind the figures; there is a possible correlation between the increased uptake in manager training and the decrease of grievances. Although it’s a number, including the figure “25%” adds a quantifiable impact that is easier to mentally digest than reciting numbers like “the number of grievances have reduced from 76 to 57.” When first hearing this, is that a lot, is that a little? They don’t need to know the numbers, just that the numbers have been reduced by 25% – that’s instantly quantifiable.

If they need to know the numbers

When illustrating your data, the objective isn’t to eliminate the numbers entirely – without these there is no presentation. All you’re doing is explaining what the figures mean so the audience is informed on what to do next or assess retrospectively. However keeping these numbers to hand during the presentation means that your presentation is backed up by cold hard statistics when challenged or questioned. They’re handy to have in the background but they’re not necessary to be shared. If the data is being presented through a report or paper, and in other words you’re not there to have these figures to hand, supplying this hard data as an appendix means it’s readily available for those who want to see this but is separate from the main body of the report.

Infographics 

I have written before about my love for infographics. They are the older, much cooler sibling of the pie and bar charts and take data presentation to a new level.

Using infographics to present your data contributes to the relevance of the figures, as touched on above. Depending on how the illustration is put together, it can be easy to instantly portray the impact and effect of figures on a number of variables and other metrics.

Infographics can also skip the unnecessary commentary and narrative as the pictures will speak for themselves in a way that the audience can immediately identify and put into a bigger picture context.

You need to think creatively when jazzing up a cold subject like data so using infographics to present the data gives the audience a break from seeing the same presentation-by-bullet-points they’ve grown to loathe. There are a number of sites that allow you to create infographics in a variety of styles and designs that require no payments, licenses and attributions. There are paid options available but they’re unnecessary for the likes of what you need them for.

Stop reciting!

I cannot emphasise this enough. This advice can be applied to presenting in person in general – do not recite word for word from the slide that is already in front of people if you are presenting the data verbally. If a visual representation of what you are speaking aloud is in front of someone, they are much more likely to read what is in front of them than hearing what you are saying. Worryingly, they are also reading ahead which means assumptions are already being made on something you have yet to say and you lose the impact. Similarly, resist the temptation of swapping or skipping words in an attempt to look like you’re not reading it word for word. Everyone knows what you’re doing and you’re more than likely to stumble over your words.

You can resolve this by using the slides purely to prompt and illustrate what you are saying. As mentioned, data can be a tedious subject to explain so keep the words to your commentary and keep the data on the slides.

Know your audience

After discovering the joys of creating infographics can bring to your life, you’ll be tempted to use infographics for every presentation. Although this can be informative and more useful, certain elements of infographics might not be appropriate for very serious and traditional audiences. Presenting data to a management board for example should be done in a slick and simple manner, almost to the point of being cold. They really want the cold hard facts and although you may want to illustrate the impact etc. in an innovative way, sometimes this can be done simply with a bar chart or diagram.

So now you know there is another way of presenting data, you should be able to add impact to your presentation or report without boring the audience or reader. As long as the illustration is appropriate, your cold data is made available, and the digestible data hasn’t been skewed in the process of making it easier to understand, your data and metrics can go far beyond than just numbers.

 

 

Presentations for introverts: Part 2

In my previous post, I shared 5 tips on what anyone, and particularly introverts, can do before a presentation to put in place some safety nets. We discussed the importance of getting clarity on the point of the presentation, fact-checking, getting your intro right to start things off on the right foot, rehearsing, and the ‘prepare, pause, repeat’ method. In this post I share a further 5 tips on what you can do to keep your cool during the presentation.

  1. When you mess up

Allow yourself to mess up. Unless you are a political or power figure who needs to deliver a flawless speech, you are a person telling people about something at work that they need to know about. Simple as that. So if you mess up your words, just stop, excuse yourself, dust yourself off and try again. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Would you feel embarrassed if you did that in a one-to-one conversation? Like I said, this is work, with people, who just need information given to them, not a flawless production. Lost your train of thought? Then say that. Don’t pretend you haven’t and bluff your way through it, it will look really obvious. Admit it and make a joke out of it – prepare one if needs be – ‘sorry, I’m that excited about this glamorous subject, my mind’s raced ahead to the next slide! Where was I?’.

If you are stumbling your words or rushing, make yourself aware that you could be afraid of silence. Some people feel they need to fill silent gaps as quickly as possible, making them panic and stumble. Taking time to punctuate your presentation with a suitably timed pause actually looks and sounds better than rushing from one topic or sentence to the next. The silences can be a conscious decision, or a natural pause of concentration. The 2 or 3 seconds of silence (even though it might seem longer to you!) is enough time to compose yourself and gather your thoughts for the next sentence.

  1. Offer experienced people to share their view

I understand the intimidating feeling of presenting to people who are more experienced than you. If they have been given the objective of the presentation and they still felt the need to attend the presentation, then that’s one victory already achieved – they want to hear what you have to say. If you know in advance who these people are, do a bit of a background check into their experience (don’t be creepy about it) and find out what they do. That way if they really do know more about the subject, find a way of letting them offer their thoughts into the presentation. Ask them what their views are or relate a certain point to them.

‘…and this is why the figures look to be so low in the next quarter. Susan, I believe you worked with Finance a lot on this, would you care to share what your thoughts are on this? Is there anything you would like to add that I might not have covered?’

You have given Susan less imaginary power to challenge or embarrassing you by controlling the situation. You’ve practically told her ‘I acknowledge you know a lot about this, I’m not trying to say I know more. Please can we use your knowledge and share your experience with the group’.

Of course, Susan doesn’t actually want to challenge or embarrass you, she’s actually quite lovely.

  1. Visual aids

Now, as I mentioned, I will be writing about putting together a presentation at a later date, but the reason I have included visual aids to help you overcome your nerves is because they’re a great place for eyes to rest. In other words, everyone is looking at something other than you! Be it a PowerPoint slide, a physical handout or infographic, give the group somewhere they can rest their eyes on, taking the focus away from you.

Some, if not most, introverts feel uncomfortable with attention on them, so having a bunch of eyes ‘judging’ you while you’re going through your already nerve-racking presentation adds to our worries! Give them something else to look at.

  1. Check in regularly

Make sure you check that everyone is happy with the presentation at regular points, or in corporate lingo, ‘checking the temperature’. Not to a point where it’s annoying, but maybe after each big topic or every 20 minutes or so. Sometimes your nerves can build up throughout the presentation if you are the only one talking. If no one is saying anything and you just see a sea of faces looking blankly at your presentation, firstly remind yourself this could be just their resting faces as they’re digesting the information; it might not have anything to do with you boring them.

Secondly, by checking in on them, you can gauge how they’re feeling about it. If asking them has snapped them out of a trance and they all confirm they’re happy with the pace, information etc. then you can carry on with a bit more confidence. If they’re struggling to keep up or digest the information, then checking in on them early means not only can the presentation be readjusted or re-explained in another way for the audience to really get the most out of the presentation, but it’s also good to find this out now rather than get through to the end and no one not knowing what the hell’s just happened. This causes embarrassment and will hit your confidence unnecessarily.

  1. Open the presentation to the floor a lot

Not only does this keep your audience engaged or give you 5 minutes to recompose yourself, you get to know a bit more about the people you’re talking to when you make them part of the presentation. Sometimes it could be not knowing someone, or being intimidated by them because you’re not familiar with how they act with colleagues that puts you off presenting to people. By asking for input and open discussion throughout the presentation, you get an understanding of their character and you’re more than likely going to realise they’re not as scary as you imagined.

Make sure to not stick with the same person or selected few; try and get everyone involved so that you get the maximum group contribution. Edging quiet people to share their views also helps if there is someone dominating the discussions.

Giving presentations is scary to begin with. But admitting that alone will really help you, and bring yourself to terms that this is the way it is, and not necessarily a sign of danger or something that you shouldn’t be doing. Remind yourself this is a professional environment and no one will boo you off stage or think any less of you if you trip over your words. Remember to breath, take your time, and in time, you’ll become better and better.

 

Presentations for introverts: Part 1

“I have to give a presentation to a group of around 20 people but I’m really scared of public speaking. What’s more, there are a couple of people in the group more experienced than me who probably know a lot more about the stuff I’m going to talk about anyway. As an introvert, I haven’t got a lot of confidence with having all eyes on me and I’m just dreading making a mess of it. I know I need to develop this skill to grow professionally, so any advice would be much appreciated!”

I hear that. As an introvert myself  I can’t tell you that the nerves will go away anytime soon. Believe me when I say though that it does get easier with practice though, as with probably every other challenging task in existence. So it’s great that you acknowledge this is something you need to do. To get ahead in your career, it’s an important thing to learn, whether you’re comfortable with it or not, and approaching it head on rips off the proverbial plaster. I’m much more confident with them now and once the momentum picks up, it’s really (nerdily) enjoyable!

My approach is having a number of safety nets in place before and throughout the presentation in 10 simple steps. The first 5 talk about what you can do before the presentation. I will then talk about the other 5 in the next post, where I explain what you can do during the presentation. These are tips on delivering a presentation – I will write another post later about how to put one together.

  1. What’s the point…

…of the presentation? To avoid wasted effort and time, clarify what the presentation needs to be about. To use a corporate word for it, what is its ‘objective’? What does the audience need to take away from the presentation? Who are the audience? And if this has been commissioned by someone else like your line manager, confirm the point with them so that you’re both on the same page before work starts. This saves you embarrassment if you’re pulled up in mid-presentation that you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

  1. Fact check

Always routinely fact check your presentation. Even if you are pretty sure a certain fact is correct, double check this from a reliable source. Odds are the one fact you didn’t check will be brought up by someone who will challenge you. Scary right? Check your facts.

  1. Get your intro right

While conquering my fear of public speaking, I find that the best way to start a presentation is a really good and well-rehearsed introduction. Starting off on a trip or stumble (verbally of course, although physically is just as humiliating) will really knock your confidence and you run the risk of this setting the tone for the rest of the presentation. Only a risk though, not a guarantee.

Knowing exactly what you’re going to say at the beginning and how you’re going to say it will really get you on the right foot and build confidence-momentum. This will involve writing down the tiny detail, even an ice breaker, of what you’re going to say to hush people to attention. Practise what you’re going to say, you need this in your ammo. For example:

Right everyone? Excuse me, everyone? [you need to choose specific wording otherwise you won’t feel comfortable using a hushing expression on the spot without knowing what the words sound like in the air]. I think it’s time we all crack on with this if we’re going to make the best of our time so if we could just settle, we can begin.

‘Right, thank you everyone. My name is Bob, and today I will be talking about X so that by the end of the presentation, we will get a really clear understanding of what we need to do next, while also opening the floor for any comments’.

  1. Rehearse

Go through the presentation a number of times and make sure the flow is right. You don’t want to write an entire script down that you read off, which sounds like a safe option, but it’s really awkward hearing it. And once you start and you realise people know what you’re doing, it’s incredibly hard (and more awkward) to break out of it mid-presentation.

  1. Prepare, pause, repeat.

Preparing for a presentation might sound like an obvious step, and rightly so as without preparing for the presentation, you feel less in control, and that’s where the fear kicks in. What you need to be cautious about though is preparing too much. That might sound a little odd, but you can actually prepare so much that you play out the same presentation over and over again so rigidly but in your head. Come the day you present, it’s more likely not going to turn out the way you planned, and frankly, you can never be 100% sure how it will go. Preparing too much gives you a false sense of security.

Instead, give my ‘prepare, pause, repeat’ method a go. What I do it prepare a lot for a presentation then ‘pause’, or just put it away out of my mind and not think about it for a day or two. Then I prepare again, be it a rehearsal or quick fact-check, and then I put it away out of my mind again. This stops you preparing so much that you overwhelm yourself with such a rigid perception of how it will go while also giving you the opportunity to not be so heavily involved that you can’t spot grammatical errors or inaccuracies.

So these are 5 things you can do to put some safety nets in place before the presentation. In my next post I will share 5 further tips in what you can do during the presentation.