Many people hate small talk. They’d rather engage in “meaningful" conversation. However, if you think about it, small talk can be quite meaningful. It allows people a safe environment to find common interests, engage with people they don’t know well, and connect with others outside their immediate bubble.
If you aren’t sure how to begin a new conversation, try categorizing small talk into these three categories:
1. Personal — plans, ideas for activities, things to watch, etc.
"Any plans for the holidays?"
"I love exploring the outdoors. Do you have any recommendations on places to visit?"
"I've been watching this great new show _______. Have you seen it?"
2. Professional -- work, research, news articles, etc.
"What do you do?"
"I've been working on this project lately where _______. What are you working on right now?"
"Did you read that article on _______? I found it interesting how _______."
3. Location and environment — things in the area, events, the weather, etc.
"Have you been to any farmer's markets around here?"
"I heard there is a fair coming into town. Have you been before?"
"I love this time of year when it gets a little colder. Do you have a favorite winter activity?"
Now once you start a conversation, the trick is to keep the dialogue going. If someone isn't familiar with the idea you bring up, don't just answer "yes" or "no" and leave it there. Instead, find a way to continue talking until you find common ground.
"Did you watch the baseball game last night?"
"No, I didn't see it. I was busy testing out a new risotto recipe. Do you enjoy cooking?"
It takes a while for people to feel safe enough to open up. Small talk can be an incredible tool to use. You never know who you will meet and where that one interaction can lead.
Conferences are a great way to share your work, meet new people, and hear about the latest updates in your field. In order for everything to run smoothly, everything is delicately scheduled. And yet, most presenters forget this. They think about how to stand out among the other speakers, but there is one factor that can easily overshadow their presentation. That powerful element: time.
1. Presentation Schedule
If your speech is the one before a restroom break or before a meal, end on time. Even if the presenters before you took too long, find a way to condense your presentation. Always have a backup plan ready. People have a schedule in front of them. Once the clock gets to a certain point, no one will be listening to you. Shorten a few slides and end on time. The audience, and the conference coordinators, will thank you.
2. Too Much Content
An audience can always tell when a speaker puts too much content into a presentation. It’s either too complicated for the time allotted, or the speaker speeds up the delivery to get through all their slides. You want your audience to know that you crafted this presentation for them. That you thought about the best way to present this information in this specific time frame. By editing your content, you allow the audience time to think about and absorb your ideas.
3. Being "Almost Done"
Even the best presenters fall into the trap of saying phrases like:
“Just to conclude…”
“To go through this quickly…”
“To wrap up…”
While the phrases themselves aren’t bad, they are if you say them when you have more than 2-3 slides left. Don’t tell the audience you are almost done, if you aren’t. It makes them question you, and therefore the information in your presentation. Instead, just explain your ideas. If you don’t bring it up, people won’t be thinking about it.
Time can easily dominate a presentation. With a little preparation, you can take back that power. You want your audience to focus on what’s most important — you and your ideas.
Music is powerful. It sets the mood for an event before it starts. The tune that plays while you wait for your telephone call to be transferred is strategically picked to keep you calm before talking to a representative. A single song at a wedding can get everyone jumping to their feet. And at a sporting event, a song can ignite everyone clapping together in unison.
For your next speech, consider leveraging the power of music to elevate your presentation.
1. Playlist to listen to before an event
Certain songs get you pumped up. They stop you from playing the to-do list in your mind and help you focus on the present. It can get you into a specific mood. I suggest having a playlist ready before you go to any large speaking event. Baseball players do this all the time. They have “walk-up” music. When they hear a certain song, it gets them in the right headspace to bring their A-game.
2. Music as people enter a space
Before your event starts, have music playing to set the mood. I normally play some type of easy jazz. That way the first few people coming in aren’t walking into a silent room. You want people to feel comfortable enough to turn and start talking to a neighbor without the fear that everything they say will be heard. As a presenter, you want the room to already be buzzing with energy when you start your speech. Music can help you do that.
3. Music during breaks and transitions
I also recommend playing music during breaks or at the end of your talk. It helps keep the energy going throughout the entire event. People feel freer to socialize or chat with friends if there is some sound in the background. As a presenter, you are providing a space for people to feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and learn. Creating an environment where people can chat and mingle with neighbors will elevate their overall impression of an event.
I suggest using music as a tool before, during, and after your presentation.
While all of the content in a presentation is important, there is one part that matters most — the introduction. That is the first moment when the audience can connect with you and form an opinion on whether you are worth listening to.
However, even though this is one of the most critical moments, people rarely practice it! They know how they want to start talking about their content, but actually saying “Hello” to a group is rarely rehearsed. Part of the reason for this is that the way people are introduced is constantly changing. If you aren’t sure how you will be introduced, how can you practice your greeting? The way around this is to practice your introduction for various scenarios.
Here are 5 introductions to prepare:
In all these situations, practice how you will graciously thank the person for inviting you to speak and then transition into your presentation’s content. That first moment is the most critical part of a presentation, and you need to prepare for it.
The video interview is an integral step in the hiring process. Before your next video interview, please read these tips:
1. Have a clean background
You want the interviewer to focus on you, not what is happening around you. You don’t want your weird poster to distract the interviewer. It's always better to have a clean background so that you are the most interesting thing on screen.
2. Different screen widths
Even if you have a clean background, you should remember that Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime all have different screen widths. So, even if your background is clean on a FaceTime call, when you use Skype the blanket you have crumpled up in the corner of the room might be visible. Be sure your background is clean in all video mediums.
3. Put the computer at eye level
Most computer screens are below your chin, which is one of the most unflattering angles possible. Instead, raise your screen so that the camera is at eye level. You want to mimic an in-person conversation as much as possible. Real conversations happen at eye level.
4. Don’t wear stripes
Small stripes are hard to for a camera to capture. You don’t want to look like your shirt is vibrating on screen. Stick with solids or simple patterns over stripes or dynamic patterns. You want the interview to focus on you, not your wardrobe.
5. Plug in your laptop
Video streaming takes up a lot more battery than normal. The last thing you want is for your computer to die during your interview. Always make sure it is plugged in.
6. Have notes
Have your resume, information about the company, questions to ask the interviewer, and any other notes you need easily accessible. Be sure to take advantage of the fact that you can set up your interviewing space however it will benefit you the most.
7. Have water nearby
It’s always better to have water nearby. You don’t want to get a tickle in your throat during your interview and have to go into another room to get a drink of water.
8. Do a test run
Technology is amazing. It’s also notorious for breaking down just when you need it the most. Be sure to test your technology in the room (and in the clothes) you are planning on using for the interview.
9. Look friendly as the call connects
If you are staring at your screen and intensely watching as the call goes through, your face can look worried or frustrated. Instead, as soon as you go online, try smiling so that the first thing your interviewer sees is a friendly face.
10. Know how to share your screen
Sometimes people will ask you to share slides from a presentation. This means you will need to know how to give them access to your desktop. Know where this feature is, and how to use it. You also want to be sure that you minimize any tabs before sharing your screen.
1. Presentation Preparation: Feel Bigger Than You Are
Normally people practice their presentations hunched over in front of the computer. If the main way you’ve practiced saying these words is sitting down, talking quietly to a screen, it will be hard to feel comfortable standing up tall in front of a crowd. In order to effectively command a room, you need to practice feeling bigger than you are, not smaller. An easy way to practice this is to rehearse your speech standing on a stool or chair. Notice how your perspective, posture, and vocal power change.
2. Before You Walk Up: Tense and Release
When you are worried about a presentation, your body reacts by slowly tensing up. This tension accumulates and will affect your performance. Therefore, before your speech, as you’re sitting in your chair try squeezing your feet, legs, stomach, and hands. After about ten seconds, release. Feel that ease. By adding in extra tension and then releasing, you remind your body that it can relax. This will help your nervous system go back to neutral.
3. As You Begin the Presentation: Fully Exhale
Most people hold their breath before starting a presentation. They are so worried about remembering their content, they forget to exhale. To calm yourself down, I suggest exhaling as you walk up to give your presentation. You want to start speaking with a full breath, rather than with one you’ve been holding. You can even think of saying “Hello” as a sigh. This way, you’ve incorporated multiple ways for your body to relax before you give the presentation.
By practicing your speech standing up tall, releasing the tension in your body, and exhaling before you begin, you can start to overcome the nerves you feel before giving a presentation.
With so many people working remotely or traveling for work, they often find themselves having to give presentations over the phone. They either send their PowerPoint ahead of time for their audience to download or don’t use slides at all and give an oral update on their current project’s status. While it can be more convenient to do this, it comes with a unique set of challenges.
Here are 3 things to help you deliver a captivating presentation over the phone.
1. Don’t lean over to speak into a phone or mic
If you are giving your presentation into a phone or Bluetooth conference speaker set, try not to crouch down when delivering your speech. When you hunch over, it affects your posture, which in turn, affects your voice. If your voice is the main tool that you’re depending on for the speech, you want to make sure it is as clear and powerful as possible.
2. Move around
Since you don’t have the benefit of seeing your audience, your presentation can sometimes feel a bit static since there isn’t anything happening in the room. Therefore, try adding in movement. Pretend you’re walking down the hall with someone, or try standing up in your room as you deliver your ideas. Adding movement can help energize your presentation.
3. Visualize the person
It is very hard to give a phone presentation to someone you haven’t met. That’s because you don’t have an image in your head of what they look like. Part of your attention is focused on that unknown. One way to help this is to look up their photo beforehand. Or, if it is a large group of people, decide what a few people look like ahead of time and visualize speaking to them. Then once your meeting starts, you won’t be trying to imagine what these individuals look like, you will have already figured that out.
As phone presentations become more common, you want to be sure you have a box of tools to rely on. Keep these tips in mind next time you have to give a presentation over the phone.
During a speech, speakers use certain phrases over and over again. Unfortunately, many of those expressions do not help presenters. Below I’ve listed five popular phrases to remove from your repertoire to make your presentation more effective.
1. “Don’t look over here.”
We are all little kids at heart and the instant someone tells you not to do something, you do it. Instead of telling people not to look at a certain area, block it out. Then, when you are ready to reveal that information, you can.
2. “I have a lot of slides.”
If you know you have too many slides, edit them. Saying this notifies the audience that they are about to hear a data-dump. You are your best critic and if you think there are too many slides, take out the extra ones.
3. “I’ll talk quickly.”
People try to talk quickly so they can cover a lot of material. However, speaking fast doesn’t give your audience the opportunity to absorb your information. It’s better to distill your presentation ahead of time.
4. “As you can see.”
While you may think the graph or information is obvious, it may not be obvious to everyone in the audience. You don’t want to risk making someone feel unintelligent. Therefore, instead of saying “As you can see”, I suggest simply describing the information. That way, in case it isn’t clear to someone, they still understand what to take away from the image.
5. “I’ll talk about that later.”
If someone asks you a question and you plan on covering that topic later, then this is a completely acceptable phrase. However, many people use this phrase without being prompted. When they do that, the audience is reminded of how much longer the presentation will be. If you’re going to bring it up, talk about it now. Unless you’re using it as a sales tactic, it just disrupts the flow of the speech. It’s better to keep the audience focused on you and the ideas you are revealing.
Next time you are giving a speech, instead of relying on these phrases, explore if there is a more effective way of presenting your information.
I recently had the opportunity to sit in on 15 mock interviews for graduate students and postdocs. While a list of standard interview questions was provided as a resource, each interviewer was encouraged to bring their own spin to the interview process. I was able to take notes and compile the questions below. If you are a student who is about to go on the job market, hopefully these questions will help you prepare.
Questions About Previous Experience
Questions About Teams & Mentoring
Questions About Challenges
Questions About the Future
Laser pointers have become a primary tool for presenters. While their original function was to help the audience follow a presentation and absorb content, they have started having the opposite effect.
Most presenters end up performing what I call the “laser dance”. This is when they circle (over and over) a word, a bullet point or a section on a graph. It is very hard for the human eye to follow a small dot moving at an erratic rate. It is almost like trying to track a fly in a room. It is unsettling and starts to make you feel anxious. An audience shouldn’t spend their energy trying to track a small dot. They should be focusing on the content the presenter wanted to highlight.
Using a laser also causes the presenter to face the screen rather than facing the audience. The screen becomes more important than the people listening to the talk. An audience can sense this, and starts to disconnect with the speaker, and therefore doesn’t listen to the content.
Instead of using a laser, use animations. Try animating a circle around the part you want me to focus on. Or, block out the other part of a graph you don’t want me to see. You can also try bolding a section of text you want me to see.
By utilizing animations, all a presenter has to do is push the advance button on a clicker. They can face their audience and make it easy for the audience to focus on a particular area of the slide. This helps the speaker effectively communicate with their audience.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.