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.
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.
The Olympics are incredibly inspiring. The best of the best from around the world come to compete for the ultimate prize. You watch people who have trained for years, reach deep down and give this moment everything they have.
Presenters can learn a lot from these amazing athletes.
— Take care of your most important tool
Athletes know that their body is their most powerful tool. When they have a competition coming up, they understand the importance of getting enough sleep, eating right, and treating their body with respect. For some reason, many presenters tend to forget this. If you want to be at the top of your game, you have to make sure you are preparing for it inside and out.
— Everyone has an off day
Even the best athletes have an off day. How you handle that disappointment will determine how quickly you can bounce back. You can either let it continue to discourage you, or you can take it as a learning opportunity and decide to get inspired by it.
— It takes a lot of work to craft a great performance
Olympic athletes work very hard to reach this point. They have taken the time to practice every single component of their performance, numerous times. You don’t want to walk up to the front of the room knowing you could have done more to prepare.
— Have a plan but be ready to adapt
Athletes enter a competition with a clear plan in mind. They know which jumps, spins and tricks they want to do. However, they have to be relaxed enough to deal with unexpected circumstances. This is important for a presenter to remember. Being able to stay calm and confident while you think on your feet is a valuable tool for any presenter.
— Enjoy the moment
Many Olympians have spoken about how important it is to take in this special moment. You only have so much control over the outcome of the event, but you do have control over how much you allow yourself to enjoy the opportunity. When you are presenting at an event, make sure you give yourself time to appreciate being there. You get to share your thoughts, opinions and hard work with an audience. Enjoy it.
No matter how hard we try, there will always be instances when we have limited time to practice a presentation. In this situation, it’s critical that you don’t panic or scold yourself for failing to carve out enough time beforehand. Instead, focus on the following game plans:
1st Level: No time to prepare
If you haven't rehearsed your speech, try to stay relaxed. Walk up to the front of the room, breathe and smile. Introduce yourself (if someone hasn’t introduced you). Then, look at your first slide, say the point of the slide, and then go into the details. When you click to the next slide, pause, breathe, and then say the point of the slide and then explain the details. The pattern of 1) Point of slide and 2) Details is very effective if you want to stay on track and look confident as you present.
2nd Level: A few hours of time to prepare
If you only have a little time to prepare, the first thing you should do is practice your introduction. It’s the first time people hear you and it is your premium opportunity to establish a solid connection with your audience. The second thing to do is figure out your transition sentences. When does one idea end and another begin? Plan out each transition and practice it out loud. Last, practice your conclusion. An audience won’t know you haven’t practiced very much if your introduction, transitions, and conclusion are smooth.
3rd Level: At least one day to prepare
When you have a high-stakes project that you are presenting, it is critical to leave time to prepare. For these presentations, in addition to the introduction and conclusion, I suggest knowing the first and last sentence of every slide. This will drastically help the flow of your speech sound professional. If you can look at any slide and know how it begins and ends, you are ready to present.
For more communication tips or to book a workshop, please visit www.activatetocaptivate.com.
One of the hardest tasks when putting together a presentation is figuring out what to edit. At the start, all the information seems necessary. However, an audience can only take in so much. If you overwhelm people with too much information, they start to tune out. Therefore, in order to keep your audience’s attention, it is critical to know how to distill your message.
To help you edit, here are three questions to ask yourself:
1. What do I want the audience to remember?
Too many tangents are hard to follow. Many presenters want to impress their audience and stuff too much information into their presentation. In one sentence, answer the question, “What do I want my audience to remember?” Knowing this statement will help you clarify your message and delete unnecessary information.
2. Will the presentation make sense without this information?
Whenever I am working with a client on a presentation, I always ask them, “Do you need that?” This question helps people distill their message, as well as edit the images on their slides. Remember, wanting to talk about everything and needing to, are two different things. If a piece of information is critical for your overall message, then keep it. If it’s not, get rid of it.
3. Can I remember this without my slides?
Once you’ve done your first round of editing, go through the presentation and see if you can remember the content without looking at your slides. If there is a section that is too hard to recall, this is a good indication that you have included too much information. Because, if you have a hard time remembering your presentation, then your audience will too. Go back through and see if you can make additional changes to distill your message even more.
When you are crafting a compelling presentation, editing is critical.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.