TEACH & TRAIN

Präsentieren bedeutet, mit Menschen zu sprechen.

Monat: September, 2010

Dress for success

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Lisa from Speak Schmeak had an interesting post yesterday on physical comfort and dressing for public speaking.

Lisa talks about dressing appropriately. That pretty much says it all. She also talks about shoes :)

When dressing for public speaking, usually other things matter than when you are dressing for a night out.

This is especially true when it comes to shoes. You need to be well balanced in order to give a good talk. And some shoes simply work better than others.

You may think you are cool and comfortable on high heels, but they stress your muscles and knee caps and that stress moves all the way through your body until it reaches your vocal cords. Wearing the wrong shoes may result in that high pitched, tense, stressed voice we all feel so uncomfortable with.

Being comfortable is important. For both you and your audience.

High heels were made for sitting (or lying down), not for giving speeches. Apart from Oscar acceptance speeches, maybe, and they usually don’t impress me much.

A small heel or slightly raised sole is better than an all flat pair of ballerinas. I also firmly believe Audrey Hepburn was the only woman ever who could wear ballerinas without walking like a duck.

So dressing for success is less about what is comfortable or not for you but about what may stand in the way between you and your audience. Not everybody is comfortable looking at your underpants’ waistband. And no matter how great your legs may look: they will always stand between you and and what you have to say. Unless you are talking about legs, of course.

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Clothing is about respect.

Wearing a pin stripe business suit while preparing a group of unemployed 50somethings for an uncertain future shows how little you really understand their circumstances.
 
Clothing is about good manners.

Irritation is a great tool to spark a discussion, so irritate others as much as you want, but learn how to live with the consequences. There is no need to dress like an istockphoto.com model, but you may want to take off your mirrored sunglasses while you’re talking.

Clothing is posture.

Find something that is you, but that is also appropriate for the situation. Don’t be sloppy. Sloppiness is for being alone at home, with a cup of tea, on the couch, with the cats, and even then it may make you feel miserable. Sloppy clothes make your body slouch. Don’t slouch.

(In 1983, Cynthia Heimel gave golden advice on how to speed up getting into a tantrum: Don’t brush your teeth and wear your pajamas until 2 pm. I once tried it. It worked.)

Clothing is a statement. Clothing has a voice.

You don’t want your clothes to scream. But you don’t want them to whisper either.

Clothing, like make-up, can enhance your strong features or cover you up completely, and turn you a very light shade of grey or sepia. There are clothes that help or hinder a talk. Some clothes make you almost invisible, while large, dangling earrrings and noisy bracelets may be louder than you think. Literally.

Clothes are second skin.

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Girlie tops with overlong sleeves invite nervous female speakers to »crawl« inside. Add a phrase like »I want to tell you a little bit about..« and you’ve got a walking cliché of insecurity.

Long or thick scarves take away from your silhouette and may muffle your voice: Little Ms I’m-not-really-here.

Do not wear an out-door jacket that looks as if you are only visiting. One of my students did that once. It was the first thing the group commented on: »You looked as if you did not want to be here.« And they were right. Body talk. Our clothing is part of that.

So go get video feedback. And someone to talk you through the video. Get someone to help you translate what you see. Look into a mirror. Talk to the mirror. Look again.

Clothes are memories.

When I put on my »school« blazer in the morning (and yes, it is a comfortable one, two, three), I put on an attitude as well. I put on my trainer/speaker me, which happens to be my most comfortable me, because it knows what it is doing.

With it, I put on trust that things will work well, because they worked well before when I was wearing that same blazer. I still own the old blue one with padded shoulders that landed me my current job at college, back in 1992. Clothes are stories from our past. Clothes are memories. Clothes can be an anchor that does not weigh you down. A piece of clothing can be your personal invisible lucky charm or a destroyer of talks.

Sometimes, clothes don’t matter.

And as so often, if the talk is great, nothing else matters but your talk.

So why should you care?

Because the more your clothing gets in the way of your message, the more effort you have to make to reach your audience.

Clothing only matters if you let it.

Do you remember Barry Schwartz, 2005, in socks and shorts? And how people talked about his appearance? They talked much more about the content of his TED talk, though.

That’s what counts.

Building bridges

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You have learned to use images on slides. You know images carry messages and emotions. You understand how important an image can be. And you probably have asked yourself at one time or another: »Where will I find the perfect picture for my slides?« The answer is pretty simple.

You won’t find it.

There is no perfect picture. If there was, photographers would be the most depressed species on Earth.

The answer is even simpler. It does not matter which picture you choose. Yeah, some images may fit your message better than others, some will be clearer, some will be faster, some will be more »connected«.

And of course there is cheesy and artsy and surprising and comforting and aesthetic and gritty and shocking and touching and cliché and everything else an image can be.

But what it all comes down to is that you, as a presenter, make the connection between image and message, between visual and words. You build the bridge. You are the bridge. You can have the image ask a question, or make a bold statement. You choose the frame, you provide the context.

So choose fast, choose quickly and if you dare, choose blindly.

In my class room I have a box full of art postcards I collect pretty much wherever I go. Each term at the end of a class I ask my students to pick a card. They can choose whatever they take a fancy to, for whatever reason. The mind is a beautiful maze. Later I ask them to connect their postcard to the topic of presenting. They find that extremely hard to do, at first.

»Look closely«, I say. »Look at the colors, at shapes, at faces, at patterns. And then count to three and begin to talk.« And that is how we begin our journey; slowly, stumbling at first.

Susan holds up a Victorian sepia-colored engraving with a group of ice skaters.

»Presenting is like dancing«, she says. »If everyone is moving at the same rhythm, it is a good talk.«

We keep finding more bridges. Presenting can be dangerous, there are traps, there may be thin ice. You need an ice breaker, with some people, we continue. And could go on for a while from here.

Carola’s card is a commercial for a brand of blue jeans. A young woman is leaning against a door; she is just wearing a bra and a pair of faded jeans.

»We talked about presenting naked«, Carola says. »And about not having to be see-through. About the fact that most of your fears are invisible. That you can learn to be more comfortable as a presenter.« »And making your audience comfortable«, Melanie adds. This is an all women class, and we have managed to build a very friendly and open atmosphere.

And so we move on and connect  and associate and build bridges where there were no bridges before, just picture postcards.

Presenting well is not about finding the perfect picture for your slides. It is about building bridges.

You can spend hours searching and only lose valuable time. If you are not sure what may work, why not let chance help you? You have been thinking so much about your topic, pretty much everything will connect itself to it, if you let it.

The picture at the top is one I took a few summers ago. I was having brunch with my best friend and we were watching the September wasps eat half of it.

I did not choose that image just now, I simply opened Picasa and randomly let my mouse open a folder. I order my images by date, so my folder names are simply dates: 2007-09-05. Oh, September, I said to myself, what a coincidence. Coincidence just smiles, as always.

A folder usually contains something between twenty and fifty images, often a series, so there were some twenty hungry wasps on food, and I simply picked one image. Not the best, not the cutest, not the most interesting, simply the first one my eye focused on.

And now it’s your turn. How do wasps connect to to this blog post? How do they connect to presenting? Can they carry the message of working with any given image?

Of course they can.

Wasps are choosy. They will carefully circle a slice of ham or apple pie and only then decide. Just like us, the like to take their time.

On the other hand, wasps are greedy. They just can’t get enough and often grab too big a bite and can hardly take off with it. Just like us, with our many images, with our talent for wasting time and energy by choosing from simply too wide a range of choices.

Then there is the image itself. I might use the one above to talk about focusing. About team work. About color contrast. About fear. About annoying audience members. About sweet nothings. About getting caught in a trap. About happy endings.

Use it to talk about whatever you like. Concentrate on your message. Focus on your words. Connect to your audience.

Use your image to build bridges. But don’t waste hours in search of perfection. Perfection is overrated. Perfection is always only in the hunting, never the finding.

Does it ring a bell?

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»Ich habe die Paprika schon mal zum Käse geklebt,« sage ich zu meinem Biomann an der Kasse. Ich mag keine Zettel auf meinem Gemüse. Auch nicht auf meinem Finger oder dem Einkaufskorb. (So machen das nämlich hier die meisten Kunden.) Natürlich könnte ich die Paprikaschoten in eine Tüte und dann den Zettel auf die Tüte … aber man kauft ja Bio auch, um weniger Tüten.

Obwohl es inzwischen auch in meinem Bioladen von Plastik nur so wimmelt. Kennen Sie Sesamkrokant, einzeln bio-zellophanverhüllt?  Aber das ist schon wieder eine andere Geschichte. Bleiben wir also bei Paprika und Käse.

»Vielen Dank,« sagt mein Biomann. »Macht zusammen 4,45.«

Erst als ich einpacken will, fällt ihm auf, das etwas nicht stimmen kann. Er nimmt die Finger zu Hilfe, murmelt Unverständliches (zwei Preise, drei Positionen?), Butter hatte ich auch, stimmt, mild gesäuert, 1,99, und dann ist alles klar, der Käse ist noch offen.

»Okay,« sage ich, zahle nach und lasse mir die Berichtserlaubnis geben, für meine Studierenden und für hier.

Und was genau haben nun Paprika, Butter und Käse mit Präsentationen gemein?

1. Aufmerksamkeit ist begrenzt. Reden Sie nicht dazwischen, wenn andere lesen. Das stört.

2. Aufmerksamkeit ist begrenzt. Wenn Sie mit dem Finger auf den Posten »Paprika« deuten, wird der Käse verhältnismäßig unsichtbar. Achten Sie also bei Folien darauf, dass das hervorgehoben ist, was wichtig ist. Malen Sie paprikarote Kringel um das, was zählt. Es zahlt sich aus.

3. Präsentieren lernen Sie auch im Bioladen. Oder an der Bushaltestelle. Präsentieren hat etwas mit Menschen zu tun.

4. Morgen Bilder mit dem Datum von heute zu benutzen ist immer schöner als Bilder von vorgestern. Andererseits bleiben Geschichten auch wahr, wenn man sie mehrfach erzählt. Relevanz hat nicht immer etwas mit dem Datum zu tun.

5. Was relevant ist, entscheiden Sie, indem Sie das Bild in den Kontext einer Geschichte stellen. Das Bild selber sagt nicht viel. Aufmerksamkeit ist begrenzt. Wenn ich auf einer Folie nicht weiß, worauf ich achten soll, achte ich im Zweifelsfall auf gar nichts. Sie könnten das Foto auch ganz weglassen. Aber mit ist so eine Geschichte natürlich immer gleich ein bisschen wahrer. Selbst wenn sie erfunden ist/wäre/sein könnte.

6. Geben Sie den Akteuren in Ihren Geschichten Farbe, Namen und Gesichter. Sagen Sie: Paprika und Käse, nicht: Lebensmittel.

7. Suchen Sie nicht nach mehr als sechs Gründen für eine Geschichte. Sechs Gründe sind mehr als genug. Schreiben Sie sie lieber auf, damit Sie sie nicht vergessen und überlegen Sie, was genau Sie damit sagen wollen. Eine Geschichte → eine Botschaft. Überfrachten Sie sie nicht. Sie ahnen es schon: Aufmerksamkeit ist begrenzt.