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The Little Man That Sits On Your Shoulder

1 Mar

The little man that sits on your shoulder is usually a mischief maker.  He whispers naughty things in your ear and urges you to do no good.

Shoulder Devil

But a different kind of little man is described in The Art of The Start, one who doesn’t tempt you to make trouble, but keeps you on track during your presentations.

When I present, I’m constantly reminding myself that what others get of my presentation is my #1 consideration—that the audience is all that matters.  But when we start talking, it’s VERY easy to lose sight of this.  We begin to ramble, the focus on our audience disappearing.  We say everything we want to say, not just what the audience needs to hear.  Soon, the session is more about us, and less about everyone else in the room.

Here are two guards against this mistake:

  1. Write an e on the back of your hand.
  2. Guy Kawasaki’s little man trick.  When he gives a presentation, Kawasaki imagines that there’s a little man sitting on his shoulder, asking him “So What?” after everything he says.  “How does this help the audience?  Why is it important?  How can they use it?”  If the talking point is important, it’s worth explaining further and making crystal-clear.  If it doesn’t help the audience in some way, cut it.  Simple as that.

Two little tricks, same result: a presentation that’s not only focused on your audience, but moves others to action.  I use both now.  So should you.


The e on my wrist

26 Jan

I get a tattoo before every presentation.  It’s a self-scribbled e on the back of my hand.  I ink myself when I first start generating ideas and only wash it off after I deliver the presentation. It’s temporary, but the imprint sears into my mind what’s most important.  It stands for two things that I must remember throughout the presentation process:

  • Everyone else—The only thing that matters during my presentations is my audience.  Is everyone else in the room getting what they need out of my talk?  Am I assuming knowledge my audience doesn’t yet have?  How do I simplify my message?  The e is a reminder that it’s everyone else that matters, not the person standing in the front of the room.
  • Ego—I want so badly to be a star presenter.  I want to be a comedian, a preacher, a TED talker who makes his audience gasp with insight.  No wonder we’re nervous when we put so much pressure on ourselves.  The e reminds me to leave my ego out of the presentation.  I don’t have to be a stand-up comedian.  Or change the world in my twenty minute talk (although that’s something to aspire to!).  I just need to help my audience, because what they’ll remember is what they got out of the presentation, not me.


Write an e on your hand when you start planning your presentations and don’t wash if off until the presentation is over.  Your thinking will be clearer.  You won’t be as nervous.  And you’ll remember what matters: not your ego, but everyone else.

Tag Teaming Your Audience

20 Jan

How long will an audience tolerate you talking at them before they zone you out?  Five minutes?  Fifteen minutes?  Fifty minutes?

From my experience, it’s about three.  

I’m not talking about an audience full of kindergarteners, either.  I’m talking about colleagues and potential customers—I’ve lost the attention of both after just three minutes.

This problem of attention span is irrespective of our skill as orators.  Everyone gets zoned out  eventually.  The soothing baritone of James Earl Jones or the wit of Jim Carrey doesn’t save them.  If you simply talk at people, they will stop paying attention…it’s just a matter of when.

Given the three minute attention span of our audience, we as presenters can:

1)      Just not show up. 

2)      Ignore the problem and continue to orate for as long as feel we need.

3)     Make changes to our presenting style that lead to better engagement.

If you chose #3, you’re like me.  One of the biggest changes I made was a very simple one.  When I present with a team, I construct my presentation script so no one talks for longer than three minutes in a row. 

A change in presenters jolts the audiences, reinforcing the focus of those that are still listening and stirring those that we’ve lost back to attention. 

When we present, we’re battling technology, social media, and even sleep for our audience’s attention.  Use well-timed jolts, like switching presenters, in your quest to engage listeners.

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