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Improve Your Presentation…One Bit at a Time

I spent three days last week teaching our Technical Demo Presentation Skills program to a wonderful group of Application Engineers. The participants embraced our methodology and worked hard to develop their delivery skills and content. They did a great job, but many revealed that they found it difficult to develop “Touch Points” within their presentations.

What are Touch Points?
“Touch Points” help build captivating and relevant content and are what we traditionally call rhetorical devices. Used by orators since the time of Aristotle, rhetorical devices persuade, inspire, educate, entertain and delight audiences. In today’s world, touch points can include technical information, data, charts and graphs, pictures and images, demonstrations of concepts, or in the case of the technical demo, product functionality. Props, statistics, stories, metaphors, examples, personal quips, quotations, rhetorical and real questions, anecdotes and humor can also be added to the list. Just about everything is fair game when it comes to building presentation content that is vastly more interesting and relevant to your audience than just the facts.

The group struggled to come up with compelling touch points in the content planning phase, but when they delivered their final presentations something magical happened. The moment they were spontaneous and improvised they developed new content and were incredibly engaging. When I saw these new touch points, I told the presenters to keep them in and use them again.

Back in the day, when I was a young actor working in children’s theater, we didn’t call them touch points or rhetorical devices; we simply called them “bits.” And we were always looking for new ones. We knew that great bits could come at any time, and with a little luck we would spot them when they did.

Meet the Easter Bunny and Riding Hood
The creation of one new bit was particularly memorable. Our theater group was performing a two-person Easter show for a group of 60 third and fourth graders. It was a last minute gig, and the director, Richard, was rushing to rehearse and stage the show, as well as assemble costumes and props. In the midst of this, he learned that the female lead became ill and could no longer perform. Richard was desperate for a replacement and asked me to step in.

First, he needed my help getting the costumes. I managed to find a big, white bunny outfit for him to wear, but I came up short for the female character, finding only Little Red Riding Hood for me. At this point in my budding career, I was inexperienced at best and had little time or discipline to memorize my lines. I figured I could wing it. And since we only had time for one quick walk through of the script, when I arrived for the show, I was totally unprepared.

I walked on stage, faced dozens of expectant eyes, and froze. I spotted our only prop, a cardboard stage tree, and without an ounce of pride, I walked over and unceremoniously hid behind that tree. As I stood there hidden from view, I experienced the worst bout of stage fright I have ever known.

Fortunately, Richard had written this show and knew all the lines for both of us. As I stood behind the tree hyperventilating, he took control.

“Come on out little girl,” he coaxed.  

But I couldn’t move. I heard him grunt under his breath. “Little girl, are you there?”

I didn’t respond. Meanwhile, the kids were getting curious and interested. A few of them jumped out of their seats to see who was hiding behind the tree.

In a moment of brilliance, Richard turned to them and said. “She’s afraid I’m the big bad wolf and not the Easter bunny. Will you help me bring her out from behind the tree? When I count to three I want everyone to say, ‘Don’t be afraid; come on out!’”

So the kids started chanting, “Don’t be afraid; come on out. Don’t be afraid; come on out!”

Richard finally came behind the tree to get me. With his back to the audience, he snarled in my face, “What are you doing?” I stood there pitifully. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard. “Come with me,” he hissed.

Slowly, I stepped from behind the tree and walked to the front of the stage. Richard handed me a big basket of colored eggs and then he leaned over and gave me a great, big hug. I managed a smile but fiercely held onto the basket. Then Richard invited a few kids up on stage to give me hugs, and all of a sudden, I was surrounded. All of this was improvised but the kids didn’t know or care. They loved coming on stage and hugging Little Red Riding Hood. This magical moment was such a successful “bit” that Richard kept it in from that day on.

While my stage fright produced this great, new bit for Richard, he never asked me to be a last minute stand in again!

Keep Your Speech Dynamic
So the next time you’re struggling to create great content for your presentation, think about this: Improvise, be creative; and then re-use what worked in the moment. Speeches are dynamic, not static. Give them room to grow with each presentation you give.

Even though you may never find yourself dressed in a silly costume and hiding behind a cardboard tree, no matter what the topic or situation, be open to new bits …and go with them. They can have the power to change your speech—and sometimes your career—for the better.

If you want to learn how to create great content for your presentations, join us at our public seminars this fall:

Encore! Elegant Skills for Powerful Presentations is our video based, two-day, hands-on learning laboratory. With only eight participants per class, you will experience the power of personalized attention and the DeFinis Communications’ signature Line by LineTM coaching process. For a complete program description click here.

  • November 16 & 17, 2010, Palo Alto, CA
  • December 8 & 9, 2010, San Francisco, CA

Our September and October dates sold out fast…and only a few spots remain for our November and December programs. Reserve your seat today! 

October 18th, 2010 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

2 Responses to Improve Your Presentation…One Bit at a Time

  1. Donald Hunter

    As a strategy coach, your concept of “bits” or “touch points” are very similar to what psychologist refer to as “anchors.”
    One helpful tip for your blog readers and students should keep in mind is bits/touchpoints/anchors work best when they create emotions for your audience.
    For example, a really busy chart will probably create the emotions of frustration and fear of not being able to get the meaning. That’s not good.
    Whereas a simple, but clear graphic or photo can create an emotion of clearity and a feeling I get the meaning.
    It’s a subtle tip, but I think it can add huge benefits when the emotional side of your audience is acknowledge.

  2. Matt Gambino

    Great article, Angela. So many software demos seem to fall flat out of the gate unless they include the touch point(s) you describe. That end result-what the software ultimately enables the user to accomplish-would be a great touch point to focus on. Thanks - Matt

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