You have five minutes to make an impact. The slides are controlled by a timer. You are terrified and nervous and you have way too much to say for five minutes. What do you do?
Take a page from Mary Longacre's
playbook and face your fears head on. Bring those debilitating fears, the ones we all have, into the light and thereby remove their power. Share photos from your past, memories of being the shyest kid in the room, and add heart and humor to your delivery. The result? A memorable, heartwarming, rockstar presentation at Doug Sleeter's Accounting Solutions Conference
in Las Vegas. Mary's presentation was just one in an amazing line up of 13 presenters in the Sage Ignite session but in my view, it was the best.
Here's what makes a presentation like Mary's , delivered in 5 minutes, memorable:
Mary shared pictures of her own life that supported her message. She didn't use a bunch of bullet points to tell the story.
She spoke from the heart, she was real and vulnerable. We all wanted Mary, at one time the "second shyest person in her class", to succeed as a presenter. We were with her every step of the way.
Mary's story had a beginning a middle and an end just like every good story. And it included a happy ending - Mary being on that stage.
In addition to being a fabulous presenter, Mary happens to be one of the smartest people on the planet and an expert in QuickBooks and Method. She shares her insights in a quietly understated but powerful way. We could all learn a lot from Mary.
Have you ever thought about using a washing machine to make your point?
It certainly worked out well for this TED presenter.
Rosling could have started off with a bunch of boring statistics. But he didn't. He made it personal by first connecting his message to his family history and then he brought in the data. As a result, he made his point, kept you entertained and clearly had a good time.
I will never look at my dirty laundry the same way again.
Do you lock yourself in a room, chain yourself to your desk and try to force a new idea to appear? Occasionally, I find myself resorting to what I like to call 'teeth grinding" exercises where I attempt to force a new idea to appear. What happens instead is that I find a million and one ways to procrastinate at my desk and end up avoiding the task entirely. Occasionally, I can latch on to a good idea this way, but they are seldom my best.
It is often when I leave my desk, go out and shop, take a drive, a walk or just meet people for lunch that the ideas appear. Your brain needs stimulation. It needs room to expand. As far as I know, creating enamel sawdust by grinding your teeth isn't going to lead to any new ideas. Maybe you should consider this an investment. Perhaps down the road, the quiet time you spend in the dentist's chair getting your fancy veneers will lead you to some new creative insights. Or maybe the laughing gas will inspire you in a new direction.
But I wouldn't count on it if I were you.
When it comes to making a great speech, there are a couple of important elements:
- Great delivery.
- Connecting with your audience.
- Snappy visuals.
But if you don't have a story to tell, none of that matters.
I can't count the number of times I have watched amazing, likeable presenters who had incredible delivery, great visuals, and an audience full of supporters fail miserably on stage.
How in the world is that possible?
It's all about their story.
Their message didn't take me anywhere. They rambled around different images, charts, graphs or content but when the walk through their words ended, I didn't know what they wanted me to know, do, or feel. I wanted to follow them but they weren't going anywhere.
There was no ending,no wrap up, no point. They had a lot to say but it didn't MEAN anything. When you make a presentation, give a talk, or write a story, start at the beginning, folks.
What is your point? What do you want to say? Why does your talk matter? Narrow down your presentation and your message so there is a single theme - not 5 or 6 little ideas you want to share.
You only need one theme with three supporting points and you are finished.
What's the big deal about giving a TED(x) talk, anyway? It's just another talk, right?
Well, kind of. But the premise of TED and TEDx (independently organized TED events) are to spread ideas worth sharing. That imposes two big burdens on you as a presenter: 1. You need an idea. 2. It needs to be worth spreading.
Extra pressure if you have ever watched any TED.com video and noticed the 3,000,000 views and the incredibly talented presenters who earn that kind of following. When you first agree to give the presentation, (in my case there was wine involved) you kind of get swept up in the moment. And then, once you have been accepted to speak it hits you. There is no way in the world you can do it. It's impossible. Because :
A. You don't have any ideas. B. Who in the world is going to want to spread your idea, if you can in fact actually come up with one? C. You have to stand on an actual stage and memorize your entire presentation. D. You haven't done anything that changed the world: you don't have a PhD, you haven't cured halitosis, and you haven't built an MRI machine out of tin foil and an orange can in the middle of the desert.
But that is precisely why you will be good at your talk. You are a normal person with ideas that CAN change the world. They needn't be grand ideas. They just need to touch one person at a time. Don't you relate best to someone like you who has overcome ordinary limitations? I don't know about the world you live in, but the one I currently inhabit is filled with people just like me. My friends aren't CEOs or brain surgeons, inventors, or even the United States Poet Laureate. They are people facing the ups and downs of life and doing the best they can. So get crafting that killer talk of yours:
And it doesn't have to be perfect! Mine certainly wasn't.
- Tell a story that matters to you.
- Practice until you bore yourself to death with your subject matter.
- Record yourself giving your speech. (Try not to gag at the sound of your own voice. Ignore that speech impediment that you have developed overnight.)
- Find impactful visuals for the live audience.
- Practice some more with sound and visuals together.
- Give your speech to one or more honest friends.
- Refine 1,000 times, being sure to eliminate any words that don't roll off your tongue easily.
- Relax and enjoy the moment.
- Drink some wine (preferably from the Napa Valley). It may or may not improve your talk but hey, we need to make a living out here.
- Visualize the end of your talk and the feeling of mastery that you will have.
- Go forth and conquer the world.
Did you notice the moments when I forgot my next words? When I spoke, I was looking at just the images you saw behind me with no notes or prompts. Occasionally the exact words left me. I just kept going until they reappeared, which thankfully they did. That's where the practice comes in.
I had the pleasure of attending the CPA Practice Advisor's Thought Leader's Symposium in Dallas last weekend. 25 members of the accounting and tax profession were invited for a weekend of discussion, learning, and vendor presentations. I found myself in the midst of every single one of my mentors.
At the awards dinner presentation, we heard each recipient's brief biography. It was mind boggling to think of the impact made on the profession by the people in that room. My companion at dinner Donny Shimamoto said, "Wow, all of these people have a personal brand. "
"Wow, all of these people have a personal brand."
Donny's words were like a bolt of lightening. The reason any of us were in that room was absolutely due to that personal brand. It's how I found myself there. We had all invested a great deal of time and energy in building our brand, sharing our perspectives and trying to move the accounting profession forward. This was a room full of speakers, writers, bloggers and Tweeters.
We had each spent countless hours (often at no pay) just to share our thoughts with the world.
We all shared a passion that moved us forward:
From applied technology, to practice management, to planning for the future, to marketing, messaging, trashing time sheets, to firm automation, to providing value-added services, to mastering accounting software, to QuickBooks expertise, to leading firms of the future, to cloud infrastructure, to gadgets, devices, and techniques, to leadership coaching, to mentoring, we all had a unique view of the accounting profession.
And none of us were afraid to share it. (You can pity the poor presenter who tried to keep us quiet.)
While we didn't always agree on the approach, we are all united in our passion for the accounting profession and the opportunities that lie ahead.
Imagine where you could go if you invested time and energy in building your personal brand. Today's unknown blogger is tomorrow's thought leader.
Last year, LinkedIn asked me to be one of 150 "influencers" who post content on their site. I have no idea how they found me or what their criteria is, but they said they needed more content related to accounting. I don't think they knew what they were getting themselves into as few of my posts have had anything to do with accounting and when they do, no one reads them. Needless to say, it is quite an honor to have been asked and also quite intimidating to write content that might actually get read. (They promote content to their audience and elsewhere.) Near the end of 2012, they asked me to write a post as part of a topic shared by all influencers namely, my "BIG Ideas for 2013."
I didn't have any Big Ideas to share.
You see, I don't think in big ideas.
Rather I have a million little ideas. I think (hope) that is okay. From Kaizen and all of my years in accounting, I have learned that there is plenty of value to be had when you think small. Before you can achieve your revenue goals, you have to sell something. Each sale moves you closer to your goal.
You don't always need a BHAG or "big hairy audacious goal". Sometimes you just need to do something, or fix one thing and see what happens. If it doesn't work, you change something else. Before you know it, you end up with results. When it comes to teams, you need to show tiny successes on the road to bigger ones.
I love innovation and helping execute on other people's grand vision. Sure, I have big dreams and aspirations. I want to make a difference.
But I just don't see myself as the big ideas type.
Are you a big ideas person?
And don't get me started on "Big Data". I'm still trying to help people get a handle on "little data". BTW, I waited until the LinkedIn editors came up with this idea for a team post. This month's topic is where do you work? I was all over that one.
I just listened to Poet Billy Collins talking about creativity in the TED hour on NPR radio. His talk at TED 2012 was one of my favorites. During the NPR interview, he talked about the importance of knowing when to stop when he is writing one of his poems.
That idea hit me right between the eyes. It just so happens that today is the day before a group of very talented folks will be speaking at TEDxNapaValley on December 2. I have been fortunate enough to be a volunteer on this year-long project and have had the pleasure of working, along with Jeff Prather and the rest of the committee, with speakers during this whole process - from selection to their appearance on stage tomorrow. Having been a speaker at this same event last year, I know exactly how it feels to try to cram your important, wonderful, funny, heart-breaking, humble but inspiring, educated but approachable, powerful, local with global implications, energy-efficient, exciting, peaceful, actionable, sustainable, vulnerable, authentic message into a tiny, less than 18 minute hole. The pressure to deliver in a format like this is immense. Not only is there a live audience, but you are being recorded for a video that could potentially find its way to TED.com. Your first inclination, in designing your talk, is to keep adding more stuff. You want to provide more and more proof of your message and theme. Maybe I should add another photo here, a few more thoughts there, an extra word or maybe even a couple of new ideas over there. Do I have enough slides? Maybe I should add a video or some music?As the final hours approach, these speakers will likely question their slides, doubt their abilities, and wonder why in the world they volunteered (for no pay) to subject themselves to the pressure of speaking on a stage in front of 400 people. (Or maybe that was just me. These guys are pros!)But I am here to tell you, and tomorrow's event will prove, that what they have created so far is absolutely perfect. It is time to stop. Is it time for you to stop working on your creative pursuit and let it go?
Photo via Peter Kaminski
And not just because of the pratfalls. There is nothing better than a good joke. And who doesn't love the ole slip-on-a-banana-peel gag every once in a while?The trouble with humor is that it can be divisive. Humor forces you to choose a side. You are either on the side of the guy falling on the banana peel (in which case you feel concern) or you are against him (in which case you laugh). In the moment you are observing that person slipping, humor will be a relative thing. If it is your child who has made the unfortunate contact with said banana peel and you are worried about his safety, his painful descent to the floor might not be the least bit funny. To a casual observer with no concern for the feelings of the banana peel, that slip is probably going to be funny.
When I took stand-up comedy training, one of the rules shared by the amazing instructor, Jeff Justice, was that you can't make fun of people who are in a position below yours. The president of a company, for example, shouldn't poke fun at the mail room clerk. It might be seen as offensive. If that same company president makes fun of the Chairman of the Board, however, everyone is likely to enjoy the joke. It's easier than you think to offend someone.
When I use humor, I try to aim the jokes at myself, so no one can be offended. I also have some self-imposed style restrictions: I avoid off-color jokes and four letter words. There are still cases when the thing that makes me laugh hurts someone else's feelings.
That is a risk you have to be willing to take if you want to use humor. You have to go for the moment and be willing to face the consequences. You have to take a stand (and grab the mike) or go home. You have to draw a line in the sand. Some of the best humor comes from people like Don Rickles, Lewis Black, and Chris Rock who provide a no- holds-barred kind of humor. They are funny precisely because they alienate some people. I wish I could be that brave. I can't stop guffawing when I read Greg Kyte's writing precisely because he is willing to go for broke. In my opinion, his stuff is not only smart, but absolutely hilarious.
I bet it's a conscious decision. Greg knows when he writes for Going Concern not everyone is going to like his choice of words or his imagery. But here's the payoff - the people who end up listening to him are precisely the kind of people he wants to reach. The readers of Going Concern magazine know exactly what they are in for when he writes and they can't get enough. I bet Greg isn't staying up late at night worrying about who likes him.
That would be me with the nightlight still on obsessing over that one negative evaluation I got. And I am also worrying about one of my children slipping on that darn banana peel.
Photo via Roland
Back in the olden days, when young entry-level accountants at Big 8 firms (YES, there used to be 8 and we had actual pencils and paper too) were still called "grunts", I was a staff accountant at Deloitte. (Yes I used to be young, y'all 40 under 40 peeps.) One day, I decided to join one of my co-workers for a game of tennis. I wasn't great at that or any other sport, but I could hold my own on the court. Until the moment said co-worker told me I had "Big Mo" on my side. That's when I lost it. I thought he was making a reference to certain physical characteristics that were better left unnoticed. As it turned out, he was actually talking about Momentum. He was commenting that I was in good scoring position to win. Once the blushing (did I mention I'm from the South) subsided and the laughter began, I could barely hit the ball over the net. That's when "Big Mo" took up residence on the other side of the court. Lately I've been thinking about Big Mo. I was starting to wonder where he'd gone. I seemed to have lost contact with him after all of these years. I started to wonder if I still had what it takes to create interesting stuff. I wasn't accessing the creative juice that I needed to write, to present, to even have a decent conversation. I started to feel old, out of touch, a relic of a time when there were still 8 big CPA firms. I felt alone and irrelevant. I was scared and unable to move.
And then Big Mo came a callin'. Actually I think he sent one of his less important relatives, Sasha Mo, to my doorstep. That day, I got a FaceBook message from a casting director who is making a TV show about transplanted rednecks and he thought I might be a fit. (And you think I'm kidding.) He found me via my www.redneckincalifornia.com website. The real story is that he was "doing a new show that focuses on people who originate in "redneck" communities and have relocated themselves to more metropolitan areas. " I had hit pay dirt, people. I could just see the piles of cash and endorsement opportunities that were going to start rolling in. I could learn to use chewin tobacco if necessary. I would become "Geni", the redneck version of "Nini", that famous real housewife from Atlanta. Of course, my darn family let me down. It seems they just aren't redneck enough to make an interesting family reunion story and so I didn't make the cut for the show. But here's where Sasha and Big Mo entered my life. Someone had read my blog! Can you believe it? They read my blog, y'all. This casting dude actually reached out to me on Facebook because of the story I told on my (redneck) website.
I might be a redneck, but at least I was being heard. And then things started happening. It's been a great week. Thank you Big Mo. Welcome home. Don't ever give up y'all. And if you happen to have a redneck family you want to rent me for just one short season of TV, give me a call. I'll trade you my bunch of smart, fully toothed relatives, who don't own a single pair of overalls.