Last weekend I was at The Dells with my kids (no laughing please–I grew up going to the Dells and have a strong affinity for the Upper Midwest’s Redneck Capital!).
As part of that adventure, we hit the Wisconsin Ducks. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check this out.
Our tour guide was a lovely 19-year-old woman who was going to school in Minnesota. She cracked jokes. She was great with the kids (my son got to drive the Duck!). She was affable. She was a perfect tour guide.
Except for one thing.
She started every other sentence with “you guys.”
Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s so pervasive on YouTube, even a search of “you guys” pulls up THIS:
If you’ve watched any “influencer” on YouTube or Instagram, you absolutely know what I’m talking about because they start virtually EVERY sentence with these two words.
That’s the question. And, I think there’s a lot more there to unpack than you might think.
For starters, “you guys” is largely used on social platforms like YouTube and Instagram because of its more informal nature. And let’s be honest, language on social platforms has gotten a lot more informal than this. Punctuation, grammar … it almost feels optional at this point. So, “you guys” is a phrase that’s hardly at the top of the list when it comes to things to get worked up about on the internet. I understand that.
But, I also think there’s some laziness at play here, too. To me, “you guys” feels an awful lot like “um.” People are using it as a crutch. They’re using it because they’re lazy. Instead of using “you guys” every other sentence, work on tightening up your presentation style. I know the influencers of the world would probably say this kind of language is helping them connect with fans. And to that, I guess I would say, you can still connect with fans while being a little more effective presenter.
And, you could also make the argument that this phrase may be killing the future of public speaking.
You have an entire generation of kids now that are watching these influencers and people on YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram and admiring pretty much everything about them. From the products they use and adopt to what they do to the language they use. Hey, I have a 9-year-old and 12-year-old–I’ve seen it first-hand!
My kids actually attempted to create their own mock vlog on our summer road trip this year in the back seat. The first two words out of their mouths to start the vlog: You guessed it–“You guys.”
So yeah, younger people are picking up on the more informal tone and phrases these “influencers” and people on the social web are using. And, it’s part of a larger trend around the erosion of punctuation, grammar and other more formal communications structures. I don’t think these structures are going away anytime soon–but they’re certainly taking some big body blows right now.
And, I think that’s a big threat to the public speaking world.
Think about all the jobs that require you to be a competent (if not above-average) public speaker:
- Government officials
I mean, you could argue public speaking is a skill set anyone should have in any profession. So yeah, public speaking is important in the real world. And I’m just a little worried informal phrases like “you guys” are helping spur the erosion of it.
I know there are far more issues more worthy of my outrage. I get this is pretty small in the grand scheme of things.
But, give it 5-7 years. Let’s see how the next generation of public speakers fares.
I think that will be fascinating to watch.
The last few months, I’ve attended a number of local events here in Minneapolis. Good events put on by great people. And, in all cases, the speakers were solid.
Except for one thing.
They all continue to break a number of public speaking cardinal sins.
Which is surprising, really. I mean, these cardinal sins, they’re kinda common sense. I would think any speaker who’s done any amount of public speaking would know enough not to break these rules.
But there they were, breaking rules left and right.
Let’s look at five of the key cardinal sins I see being broken fairly regularly:
Cardinal Sin #1: Thou shall not spend too much time on your “About Me” slide
A minute or less. That’s my ground rule. In fact, when I speak to groups, I fly through this so quickly, I usually under-sell myself. People don’t care about WHO you are–they care about what you have to say. Get to the “what” and minimize the who.
Cardinal Sin #2: Thou shall not include any slide that uses 8-point font or smaller
My rule: If your audience has to squint to read it, then don’t include it in the damn deck. I’ve seen multiple speakers lately that will show a slide with TONS of copy on it–mostly about 8-point font or smaller–and then say “I know this slide is hard to read, but….”. Nope–there is no “but.” There is no explanation. There is no rationalization. There should only be the sound of you clicking delete on that slide.
Cardinal Sin #3: Thou shall always focus on takeaways for the audience.
I’m constantly amazed at decks that don’t have key takeaways clearly outlined for the audience. A while back, I presented a deck that talked about how to keep up with social media. I was so focused on audience takeaways that I actually SPELLED THEM OUT for the audience. And guess what? A bunch of people were furiously scribbling down notes. Heck, a few of them even took photos of the slides. That’s how you know you’ve outlined takeaways effectively. ALWAYS highlight what you want your audience to learn from you–and SPELL IT OUT.
Cardinal Sin #4: Thou shall always research your audience before the presentation.
As a speaker, I realize it’s easy to get caught up in the ego of the whole thing. People are coming to hear you speak. People are interested in what you have to say. It appeals to our core being–the need to feel important and wanted. But, that doesn’t excuse speakers from the fact that they should always research the audience they’re presenting to. Get a feel for who’s in the crowd. What is THEIR background? What do you think they want to learn? Why are they coming to see you present? Just a teeny bit of research can go a long ways here. It can inform your content. Influence the style of your presentation. And, it can also help you anticipate questions before you get blind-sided on stage.
Earlier this week, I was at the Florida Public Relations Association Annual Conference and #SoloPR Summit in Orlando. It’s the one chance I have each year to get together with my #SoloPR compadres like Dan Farkas, Besty Decillis, Heather Whaling and Kellye Crane.
The conference was one of the better run events I’ve ever attended. Really, a huge kudos to the FPRA and Kellye Crane, founder of #SoloPR Pro. But, what I wanted to talk about today was the challenge of speaking at industry events like this.
Because, despite what some may think, it is a challenge.
I’m not writing this to complain. Or, to drum up sympathy. I’m just writing based on some observations at the event.
A number of factors make speaking at PR/marketing industry conferences pretty darn challenging:
80 percent of the audience is monkeying with their phone during your presentation.
I know, I know, it’s the speaker’s job to get their attention. But, in case you haven’t noticed, people have a hard time paying attention these days. Those phones are so darn addictive. People just can’t seem to put them down. As a result, they’re on them ALL THE TIME during your presentation. Now, in some ways, this is good. They may be tweeting, after all. But, mostly they’re not tweeting. They’re surfing. Or killing time. Basically, not paying attention to the speaker.
Varying levels of knowledge among the audience.
I think about the talk Louis Gray of Google gave at the event. Not surprisingly, it was around Google Analytics. That’s a tough topic to talk about in terms that everyone will understand. Typically, speakers will try to include fairly basic information, so they don’t talk over a large chunk of the audience’s heads. But, what about those who are looking for more advanced content on that topic? They often walk away feeling unfulfilled. This is a challenge for many speakers. How do you craft a deck that hits those with minimum knowledge on the topics, but also gives something to those who might be a little more ahead of the curve?
Everyone’s a critic.
People have high expectations for speakers. I know I do. So, the bar is pretty high anytime you go speak to colleagues in our industry. And, people tend to be fairly critical of speakers. “I thought that session started kinda slow.” “I would have approached that topic from a different perspective.” “The speaker talked way too fast!” I’ve heard all that–and more–at events in the last several years. Hell, I’ve SAID many of those things at events over the last several years. So, standing in front of a room full of critics–that’s not an easy thing to do.
This is a long way of saying, I have a lot of respect for people who speak at industry events–and do it well. People like Shonali Burke (who rocked again in a presentation I watched her give in Florida this week), People like Jennifer Kane, who may be the best person I’ve seen in our industry in front of an audience who’s not a professional speaker.
And, I can tell you another thing. The people who come up to speakers after the presentation is over and say “thanks” or “that was great!”–that doesn’t go unnoticed. In fact, I can tell you from my experience–that makes my day. It makes it all worthwhile. So, the next time you go to an event–make a point to approach the speaker afterward, and simply say “nice job.”
Trust me–it’ll make an impression. And, it’ll make all the hard work that is speaking at a PR/marketing industry event worthwhile.
A few weeks ago, I missed my favorite local event here in Minneapolis/St. Paul: Ignite. I know many other markets have Ignite events around the country, but here in MSP, the event is always a great time. Not so much because I learn a ton (although I usually do learn a thing or two), but more because I have a great time.
The presentations are always a nice mix of humorous, informative and sometimes quite serious. And as an added bonus I always learn a thing or two about presenting from some of the speakers.
You see, each year, there’s also a nice mix of speaking talent–from novices all the way to borderline professional speakers (or at least those who speak more than a dozen times a year). By the way, you can see all this year’s presentations here, and former year’s presentations here.
For those of you who present as part of your day job, I’m of the belief that public speaking is a work-in-progress. We can all get better. And what better way to learn than to emulate those who do it well. Let’s take a look at 7 of my favorite Minneapolis Ignite speakers and the public speaking/presentation lessons we can learn from them:
Speaker: Melissa Berggren (@marketingmama)
Lesson: One good image per slide
A first-time speaker (and admittedly, I didn’t see Missy this go around, although I’ve seen her present plenty in working with her on #mnblogcon), Missy did a great job with a topic that affects more parents than you might think. However, I thought one of the things she did best were her slides. They were simple. They helped her tell a story. And they included only one image per slide. Corporate presenters, take notice. This is how you build a slide deck–resist the urge to put full paragraphs in your slides. I’m begging you.
Killer line: 40 seconds. No clear winner here since all her slides highlight the tip above, but I love this photo of Missy’s daughter since it helps bring home the point that food allergies are very personal for her.
Speaker: Craig Key (@craigsanatomy)
Lesson: Lead with (self-depricating) humor. Close with facts.
From what I heard (and saw), Craig was probably the most entertaining presenter at this year’s Ignite in Minneapolis. Comes as no surprise, really. He’s presented in front of his fair share of clients. But, to get up in front of 400-plus people at the Heights Theater? That’s a bit different. But, Craig succeeded because he deftly understands how to use humor (and, self-depricating humor–the most effective). Keep in mind, Craig’s presentation had a valid point (educating clients around what “viral” means and strategies to pursue instead). It wasn’t merely a humorous presentation. But, by starting with the humor, he warmed the audience up and got them in the right spot to deliver his knockout punch.
Killer line: One minute, 8 seconds. “For the grandparents in the room, we make internet.” (in describing his role at Space 150)
Speaker: Jennifer Kane (@jenkaneco)
Lesson: Non-verbal cues can make or break your presentation.
In my opinion, the best public speaker in the history of Ignite (she’s presented twice). Much like Craig, Jen understands the power of humor. But, watch her prezo from year one (her Douchebag Zen prezo remains one of the top prezos in Ignite Minneapolis history)–note the non-verbal cues she’s giving off. Doesn’t that help make her presentation?
Killer line: 18 seconds. “Basically douchebags are people that just kinda spritz their BS into the cosmic vagina of our world and they need to be stopped.” (maybe the best all-time line at Ignite).
Speaker: Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson)
Lesson: Make every effort to work George Clooney in your presentation
OK, I’m kidding. Don’t work Clooney into your presentation. But, what Kristina did with this prezo is something you can do at the corporate level, too. Make your presentations HUMAN. Give them a personal connection. And, even make a pop culture reference (Clooney) every once in a while. It’ll warm up your talk. And, it’ll allow you to connect with your audience that much more. Now see, if I would have done this presentation, the reference would have been for Jessica Biel, but that’s a whole nother story…
Killer line: One minute, 40 seconds. Note: She doesn’t even mention “his” name…
Speaker: Julio Ojeda-Zapata (@ojezap)
Lesson: Swearing never works (only if your name is Julio Ojeda-Zapata)
Ha–kidding again. What worked for Julio here is this: Julio is a well-respected, long-time reporter in Minneapolis/St. Paul. But, here he comes to Ignite and he drops a couple f-bombs in the first minute of his prezo. That’s out of character for him. He zigged instead of zagging. Think about your presentations the same way. Surprise your audience. Do something unexpected. Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting you swear in your next presentation in front of your boss. Just do the unexpected.
Killer line: 2 minutes; “I’ve been trying to figure out why I like my AeroPress so fucking much” (the visual is actually what kills it here…)
Speaker: Jim Bernard (@bernardjim)
Lesson: Let your images carry a bit of the water
So we talked about the simplicity of slides with Missy’s presentation. But, what Jim did so well with his was allowing the visuals in his slides to do some of the talking for him (which is critical at Ignite, where you only have 15 seconds per slide). Think about how you could use visuals (instead of endless text) in your presentations to help you tell your story. Remember, your deck shouldn’t be a teleprompter–it should be a tool to help you tell a full story to your audience.
Killer line: 56 seconds; great visual that sums up Jim’s entire presentation and the ineptitude of his softball team.
Speaker: Mykl Roventine (@myklroventine)
Lesson: Bring the energy
A hat-tip to one of the founders of our local Ignite, Mykl brought great energy to his presentation on karaoke (a topic of which he is very familiar, for those who know in the Twin Cities). This is one of those lessons that should be obvious, but clearly is not based on the hundreds of presentations I’ve sat in over the course of my 18-plus year career. Even if your deck sucks. Even if you haven’t had that cup of coffee. Even if it is 6:30 a.m. Always. Bring. Energy.
Killer line: 4 seconds; “Hello Minneapolis!!!!!!!!!”