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The Brown Bag: A Lesson about Presentation Delivery and Perception

Author: Scott Schwertly

Date Created: November 14th 2007
Last Updated: June 14th 2012

Scott SchwertlyScott Schwertly is a presentation expert. He has spent the last eight years working for television network affiliates helping them create story-telling visuals and has worked in marketing for both the private and public sector. Today, Scott works with a wide spectrum of clients that includes Silicon Valley start-ups, publishing houses, authors, and various companies throughout the world. Helping individuals and businesses build, design, and deliver captivating presentations is his passion.

He currently serves as both Founder and CEO of Ethos3 Communications – A Presentation Design and Training Company, and is the author of an award winning blog - Presentation Revolution and a Top 100 ChangeThis.com manifesto. Scott has a B.A. in Communications and an M.B.A. from Harding University.

Thirteen-year-old Gary woke up with anxiety. Today is the day, he thought. I have to bring it with me. Mom told me it was what I needed, so it must be okay, he assured himself. However, even that small effort of self-assurance was not enough to calm the doubt that plagued his adolescent mind.

Gary quickly got ready, gathered all his schoolbooks, some change for lunch, and “it” – The Brown Bag. “Boy, this is heavy”, he thought. He didn’t remember it being that massive the night before. His mother calmly assured him everything was okay and encouraged him out the door.

Upon arriving at school, Gary became immediately self-conscious. Where are all the other brown bags, he thought? Did I miss something, he wondered? Out of fear of embarrassment, he darted to his destination. Now at his planned location, Gary slowly pushed the door open as he made his way to make his delivery. He was given a task, a task that he was anxious to complete – to drop off the contents of the brown bag. The task was simple, place the item in the brown bag on the table and walk away.

What Gary saw that day was a neatly stacked row of what appeared to be the smallest urine samples of his peers for the school’s annual health examination – each small in size with the name of its owner. What was buried in his brown bag was the large mayonnaise jar his mother provided him the night before with his name in the boldest black font. Gary lifted the behemoth sample from the bag, quickly turned his boldly printed name to face the wall, and walked away in utter horror as his sample glistened in the fluorescent light of the nurse’s waiting room.

He wasn’t intending to outdo his peers, but the size of his contribution was obviously far superior. It communicated passion for the project and diligence with the task. In all seriousness, the perception that day was that Gary approached the task with an extra level of seriousness or maybe a misunderstanding of instructions. Either way, he was judged by the size of his contribution, but that is a story for another day.

Gary learned a valuable lesson that day – in a world of judges, the game of life is all about perception. As humans, we all get judged for what we present to others and the world. The delivery of a presentation is just the same – it is all about perception. Here are some tips to help develop a positive perception of you the next time you step up to the podium.

The Power of Silence

Sam Rayburn, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, once said, “No one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut.” The best way to begin any talk is with silence. Silence builds anticipation. Silence demonstrates command. Silence is the strongest start.

Talk Like a Human Being

Generally, there are two kinds of speakers: the untrained and trained. The untrained speakers often deliver presentations that are unmemorable, difficult to follow, and wasteful of one’s time. The trained speaker comes across as memorized, rehearsed, and unnatural. Both fail in that they don’t talk like a human being. They lack authenticity and a natural voice. Great speakers are conversationalists. They understand that they are unique, different, and have a story to tell. They aren’t untrained or trained, they are sincere with their delivery.

Focus on a Child

It’s amazing how many presenters use “business talk” that often leaves their audience guessing, wondering, and confused. Great speakers know how to deliver messages that are clear, concise, and simple. Here’s a great rule of thumb: If an eight-year-old cannot recite your three main points at the conclusion of your talk, you’ve delivered an unclear message. Keep it simple and you will keep it memorable.

The lesson here is that we live in a world full of judges. Keep your message concise. Keep it clear. Keep it simple. And most importantly, be yourself. People will judge you. That is the fact of life. However, let them judge you for who you really are – not a poser, but an authentic voice.

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