John Zimmer is a Keynote speaker and speaking coach for some of the world's most prestigious corporations and organizations, like Deloitte and the World Health Organization. He is the author behind the popular blog Manner of Speaking, where he talks about public speaking, presenting skills, and other relevant subjects.In April 2022, John Zimmer will be one of the fantastic speakers at the Present to Succeed Conference.

In this episode with him, we talk about the problems with business presentations, public speaking, online presenting, how to make your audience care about your subject, and why you should always keep the ending of your presentation for yourself.

How John landed in the presentation world

John is a trained lawyer who has spent several years practicing corporate commercial litigation and environmental law at one of Canada’s leading full-service law firms. He then went to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1998, where he now resides. He’s worked for the United Nations, the International Organization for Migration, and the World Health Organization, among other organizations.

He has given many talks at conferences and in front of tribunals and courts all along the road. And because he enjoyed it, he was also helping other people with their presentations. He eventually decided to become a full-time professional, and he’s been presenting Keynotes, moderating events, and conducting a lot of corporate training with businesses and individuals ever since. He also teaches at a few Executive MBA programs in Switzerland and Spain.

Mistakes that people in the business world still make

People and organizations, according to John, have grown increasingly conscious of the value of strong presenting and public speaking abilities in the last few years. When the CEO or anyone from the firm speaks in public, they are the face of the company, especially when it comes to mistakes.

For example, people still try to cram too much content into a presentation. It typically comes from a positive place because they want to help the audience by sharing what they know. However, it acts as a tidal wave of information for the audience and has the opposite effect.

Before you start thinking about the slides or the data you’ll need, take a step back and consider the larger picture. Think about who your audience is and how you interact with them. What is the audience’s relationship to the subject? Why does it matter to them? What do they know and don’t know about the topic?

Typically, speakers have a clear message in their heads but haven’t considered why the audience should care. You must provide at least one reason because if you do not, you are either speaking to the wrong audience or you are discussing the wrong topic. It’s a no-no to dump information without first considering why it’s important that those people hear it.

When brainstorming, write down what is most important to your audience, not to you. And you could have eight good reasons for the audience to believe your message. However, depending on how much time you have, discussing all eight isn’t always the greatest option because people can’t remember everything. An easy solution is to state that there are eight compelling reasons for them to listen to you, but that you want to focus on three of them. This way you signal to the audience that there are all these other reasons. And when the audience leaves the room, if they remember those three things, then you’ve done your job well.

How to figure out what your audience cares about

Let’s suppose three hundred people attend. It’ll be difficult to figure out exactly who everyone is. There are, nevertheless, a few things that can assist you. First and foremost, what is the event’s general topic? It should give you some idea of who is interested in it.

When John gives a presentation at a conference, he talks with the organizers and requests a list of participants, if possible. At the very least, you have a list of individuals and their job titles, as well as the firms where they work. And it could help you make sense of things.

For smaller groups, there are tools, like Survey Monkey, where you can create a simple survey that should take less than 5 minutes to complete. You can design the questions to elicit the information that will help you hone the scope of your presentation.

What to do with the information once you have it

You’ve got the information about who the audience is. Now what?

If a significant portion of your audience is in HR, for example, the simple thing you can do is build your presentation in a way that references those people. You can specifically mention that area of expertise and link what you’re talking about to it.

People appreciate such things because it demonstrates that you, the speaker, have considered them. You have tailored the speech to them. And this is a crucial point: when we talk on stage, it is never about you or me. It’s always about the people watching and listening to us. If you go into every presentation without thinking about yourself or how you appear or sound all the time, you will notice an improvement in your speaking. Make sure you provide your audience with something of value in exchange for their time.

John gave one more piece of advice that he always gives to anyone speaking at an event: arrive early. Get acquainted with the space, meet the tech staff, greet the people who come early, introduce yourself, strike up a conversation with them. They are there to listen to you, and they will speak to you. And, even before your presentation begins, you establish a rapport with your audience.

Why preparation is fundamental in today's business world

Preparation, according to John, is the cornerstone of any effective speech or presentation. He also referenced the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, who claimed that all wars are won before they are fought. Although public speaking is not a fight, being prepared will put you in a far better position to deliver on the day.

You should not memorize your presentation, but you should be able to move from A to B to C to D to E without difficulty if you’re going to cover five topics. If you do that, the words will come out differently. Once you’ve got it, you’ll be able to improvise along the way. You can react to the moment and get off the main track and easily get back on.

The fact is that most people do not have much time to prepare. It takes time to think about the content and arrange the presentation with a captivating beginning, logical progression, and a decent conclusion. However, it’s beneficial to set aside some time to consider, rehearse, and prepare so that you can do a good job, especially for audiences who are meeting you for the first time. You want to take maximum advantage of that first impression.

Presenting online

Raising the camera to eye level is one of the simplest things that people can do, and that John is still amazed that more people aren’t doing it after all this time. And don’t talk to the screen when you’re speaking. Instead, lift your eyes to the camera. Little things like that logistically have a significant impact.

John also expressed his opinion that not enough individuals take advantage of what he refers to as an asynchronous presentation. Why call everyone on the team at a specific time to hear you deliver a formal presentation? You could just as easily record yourself giving the presentation, email it to your team members, and tell them to watch it before your Friday meeting. Then, someone will watch it while having breakfast, and someone else will watch it while running on the treadmill. People will see it when it is convenient for them.

And what happens during the Friday meeting? Everybody arrives already familiar with your presentation, and you can immediately start working on it. You can begin directly interacting and sharing ideas and perspectives. So that’s one way many companies might benefit from online presentations.

How to treat your slides better

Тhink of yourself as a sculptor. When you look at a Michelangelo statue, like David, what did he do to the marble to transform it into David? Well, he added his creativity, but it was what he took away that turned it into a piece of art.

When you’re looking at your slides, if there’s anything you can remove that won’t affect the audience’s ability to understand, do it. If you can say it in five words instead of eight – do it as well.

A good rule of thumb is that a slide should include roughly the same amount of information as a highway sign. You glance at it when it appears, and you have approximately three or four seconds to look at that sign, extract the information, and then return your gaze to the road. If a new slide appears, you should be able to swiftly glance at it, make sense of it, then return your attention to the speaker.

Always keep the end for yourself

The beginning is usually well-developed, whereas the ending is less so. But when it comes to remembering, people tend to remember the first and last things they hear, and far too many people waste their endings saying “That’s it. Do you have any questions? Great. Thank you very much. Goodbye.” You can use your ending in a much better way.

First, take it easy. Too many people speed up as they realize the end approaching, thinking, “I can simply walk off the stage and be done.” Please take your time. Make a list of the points you want your audience to remember. A conclusion should not contain any additional information. It should all be a reiteration of the points you’ve made. The ending is also the time to introduce a call to action.

Or try to circle back to the beginning. Many people imagine a presentation as linear, with a beginning, development, and a conclusion. But think of it as circular. You’ve got the beginning, the middle, and the end. So, if you started with a story, you may come back at the end and offer the ending of that story. When you start with a question, you might answer it or give a quotation at the end as an answer.

And then the other idea John shares, which is also paradoxical, is to not end with a Q&A. They provide an opportunity to interact with the audience. But then, if someone in the back asks a question that is off-topic or irrelevant, what can everyone else do? They’re suddenly saying things like, “OK, let me check my email, or is it still speaking hours?” And with that, your presentation ends. Instead, you can leave time for questions just before your conclusion and keep the end to yourself.

Always keep the end for yourself. As the speaker, you regain control that way. And now it’s up to you to determine what will be the final thing they hear. It is the ideal time to make your call to action.


You can connect with John Zimmer on his LinkedIn. Check out his company’s website or follow his Twitter.

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