Let’s run through a scenario that you have most likely experienced. You’re up front, ready to knock everyone over with your great presentation. As you get deeper and deeper into it, you notice that things are not going as hoped. All of your information is coming out properly but the group isn’t responding. Your main points are falling flat and you’re not receiving the usual head nods. Basically, the mood is off.
You try your best but uneasiness takes over and you realize that your presentation lacks excitement and was like many of the boring meetings you have attended. In my opinion and hopefully yours, average isn’t good enough, so I’ll assume you were upset and wondering what happened. To give you insight into what causes these lapses in execution, I am going to take you on a journey back to elementary school. One of the first things we all learned in school was to write papers and give small presentations. We’re talking the basics here, but at its core, this is where our presentation skills developed and affect what we do now. The first thing we learned was to brainstorm and devise a topic. As we became more advanced, we learned to generate themes. After that, we integrated the topic and themes and made an outline. From there, we laid out our paper and filled in the outline and eventually wrote our paper. Once that was practiced many times, we finally moved into presenting our papers, first by just reading them. Eventually, by the end of the sixth grade, we used our papers to work within groups and present topics to the class. Sometimes we even memorized lines, and occasionally, the whole presentation. Once into middle school and high school, we learned how to treat an audience and speak to the crowd.
As we progressed in our education, the assignments became more challenging. But if you notice carefully, the base system for presenting never changes. We were taught this basic formula as little tykes, and it remains with most of us into our careers and adult lives:
Come up with a Topic (or be given one)
Write out paper, speech, meeting, etc.
Proofing Final Draft
Set up room and prepare delivery
I’ll be the first one to admit that this isn’t a bad system as it has been used with some success for years and years. However, I do have a few major concerns with the order of things and one huge presentation MUST that this format omits! I want you to go back to the opening situation where there was a great presentation conceptually but it totally fell flat. Think about the preparation and steps taken to get to the actual event. I am sure most of you would agree that the above mentioned order of preparation is probably similar to what would have been done. Why do the crowds that we speak to so often react quite differently than we expect? Why is it that our content and delivery can be amazing and yet the presentation can still fail? The answer is what I call Swing Mood.
Everyone is familiar with mood swings, whether we are talking about a particular person or the changes in a mood of a group of people. If you look up Wikipedia and search mood, you’ll find this caption, “Moods generally have either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people typically speak of being in a good mood or a bad mood.” If this is true, then it’s imperative that we make sure people are in a good mood while listening to us speak, and especially that the overall mood of the room is in our favor.
If we break down everything we’ve just talked about we are essentially saying that if you put the time in and develop a phenomenal presentation but the overall vibe or mood of your group is not good, it’s going to be a long day! This needs repeating because it is so important to understand that the overall feeling in the room and the mood of your group will make or break your presentation REGARDLESS of the outlines, agenda, PowerPoint, leader guides and participants guides that you created. Go back and look at that list again. Where on the list is “overall room feeling” or “group attitude” or “mood”??? It’s not there. In fact, it’s not usually on anyone’s list when preparing for a presentation. What we typically get are the last couple steps:
Set up room
And prepare delivery
Hopefully, if you have had a good mentor along the way, it was explained to you that when setting up the room it is important to make sure your audience is comfortable and that you give yourself every possible advantage for success. Even in doing that you are not guaranteeing that the mood will be good. Practicing your delivery is important, but as we stated, even the best delivery can fail without a good overall mood in the room. So what are we missing? For the answer I need you to focus on the image below.
Obviously you were looking at my upside down design. In this exercise, the action is the answer. What I mean is that the “upside down” concept is the driving force behind Swing mood. Since the learning of our presenting skills began, we started with the topic or concept and continued to spend hours upon hours outlining, formulating, and finalizing our presentations. At the end we started to work out the details for our delivery and when it was all said and done, we hoped for our desired outcome connection with the audience.
The first phase of reinventing our presentations is to realize that feeling or emotion is THE most crucial element. No matter the preparation, outline or topic, if we lose them and they don’t care emotionally or connect on some level, we will not succeed. So you MUST flip everything over and turn it upside down. No more starting with brainstorming topics, no more themes, no more outlines! Those are a byproduct of the “feeling” you are trying to achieve. So scrap what you knew and reorganize the list starting with this:
“Before you do anything else, you need to come up with how you want the audience to feel as you’re giving your presentation.”
This is the first and most important step to reinventing yourself as a presenter. Before you go thinking you’ve invested time into reading some crazy Blog, relax and think about this. What is the real rush of presenting?
“Is it the information you’re sharing, or is it the people with whom you share the information?
When it comes to meetings, CHANGE can be your biggest ally. We all know the story of Pavlov’s dog and our natural conformity to similarity and repetition. If you plan on changing the way you present, it has to start with room environment. It doesn’t matter how diligently you planned the meeting or how eloquent the speech is if your colleagues walk into the same boring office with the same white board, flip chart and stale donuts. Like Pavlov’s dog, they will automatically associate the upcoming meeting with every other meeting and put themselves in a frame of mind to check out and not get the most out of whatever you have to offer.
Here are three things that you can start doing tomorrow to ensure the Swing Mood is in your favor.
1. First, you need music. It’s that simple. When people walk into the room and there is music in the background, it completely eases the tension. It encourages people to talk and have conversations because the room doesn’t seem so silent. You can influence the mood of the room by your song choices, and get your audience in the right frame of mind prior to starting. This is done not only prior to the meeting, but during any dead air time during the meeting/class/speech as well. If you break up your group into teams for an exercise, there should be music. If you have a break in the meeting, there should be music. Either you’re talking, someone in the room is talking or music is playing. Silence can be a mood killer, so avoid it if at all possible!
Personal Tip - I actually download the same playlist to listen to leading up to a presentation that I am going to play for the class, that way I get in the same mood! An example was a speech I gave once where it was a very motivational in nature. The songs I had playing in the room before I spoke were Eye of the Tiger, Jump Around, Thunderstruck, etc. I got on stage ready to rock.
2. Secondly, you need visual distractions for your group when they arrive. We will discuss different learning modalities in a later Blog, but the majority of any group will be made up of people who need to see and act in order to learn, so every presentation room should have that in mind. Here are some ideas you could implement that will give attendees numerous opportunities to be engaged prior to the meeting. Have timed, rotating questions and answers on the screen that people can try to decipher and discuss with each other. There should be handouts and flip charts with thought provoking materials, and quotes up on the walls. Even if you are in a setting where there are no projectors, AV, etc. you can always bring props.
Personal Tip – I once used a manikin body for a presentation. My colleagues and I broke up all the body parts and had them lying around the room. As we went through the presentation we would write key points on the body parts and start assembling her. By the end of the day we had a full manikin with all the major concepts from the day. People can still remember that one!
3. The final aspect of Swing Mood is potentially the most important, and could be the largest hurdle for some of you to achieve. There is nothing better to warm up a crowd and get people on your side prior to a presentation than good old fashioned physical contact. I’m going to dive into this much more in my next Blog entry titled, “Touching is Good” but I wanted to make sure you understand the importance of setting the right mood through transferring your positive energy to the crowd. You set the tone, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. You should be shaking hands, high fiving, meeting people, giving compliments and making as much contact as possible. This will loosen up the crowd but also loosen you up as the speaker.
Personal Tip – if I am speaking somewhere and I don’t know anyone there, I will literally go across the entire front row introducing myself at the beginning of the speech. The most important people to win over in your audience are the front row! I make it a goal to remember one or two names and then weave them into my speech.
To wrap up this idea of Swing Mood, imagine you are a stick figure standing next to a mountain. Your presentation is a snowball. If you spend the first part of your presentation trying to build the mood it’s like you are trying to roll that snowball uphill. If you make it there half way through your presentation, it will typically loosen up and start rolling down the back side of the hill. There are two main problems with this. The first is that it takes a great deal of effort on your part. Secondly, and most critically, you spend half your time speaking to a group that is still trying to decide whether or not what you have to say is important or relevant to them. Imagine the effect that has on your content and your transference of the materials when people take so long to buy in.
Imagine now the stick figure standing at the top of the mountain with the snowball. That image should be the goal of every presentation you ever make. Start off at the top of the mountain and go full speed downhill the entire time. When you set the correct mood, tone and energy level in the room and connect with the audience prior to starting to speak you have already won half the battle. You have done all the work up front with individualized room set up, music, visuals, pre-work, etc. and now the actual presentation should be the easy part! My greatest moments speaking were out of this particular sweet spot and I recommend getting there as fast as you can. If you do, you will never be the same presenter again!