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Three Ways To Bring The Spice Of Opinion Into Your Next Presentation

By Peter Paskale (1748 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on May 9, 2013

There are (12) comments permalink

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By Peter Paskale, Writer, Coach & Trainer, The Presenters' Blog 

Every time you make a presentation, you commit a blatant act of opinion, and that's good. That's exactly as it should be. Opinion makes challenging. Opinion makes distinctive. Opinion makes memorable.


As business presenters however, we try to stick to the facts, and do all that we can to eliminate any accusation of speaking from opinion. Nobody wants to be accused of being "opinionated", and that makes us shy. To be seen as having strong opinions would make a person stand-out, and we'd rather not do that. We'd rather blend innocuously back into the wall.


Well, I have news. You're the one standing at the front of the room and speaking, while everybody else is sitting down and listening, so you already stand-out. While you're up there, why not enjoy it?


In this piece I'm going to argue that exercising and owning your opinion is a vital part of presenting. That it's an unavoidable aspect of presenting. And that when something is unavoidable, it's best embraced in a great big hug. That's my opinion anyway!


First of all, why as presenters do so many of us feel it's best to avoid sharing our opinions?


It's because opinions are comprised of our personal interpretations of the world around us. Others might disagree with those interpretations, and public disagreement is something that most presenters would rather avoid. Given this, it's easier to stick to the facts as much as possible. Plain and unadulterated delivery makes safe.


Facts are to presenters as raw ingredients are to chefs. A skilled chef will select the perfect ingredients in just the right quantities to produce the dish that they want to create for their audience.


When you make a presentation, you too chose ingredients from which you will create a dish for an audience.


Let's say that you're attempting to avoid the accusation of opinion, and therefore are keeping exclusively to fact-based raw-food. Fair enough. But how though will you select which food to include? You'll make a value call on it. In other words, you'll select the facts, that in your opinion, best serve the purpose.


Even when sticking to the facts, you can't help but exercise opinion.


Few chefs would prosper for long though if all they did was to take raw ingredients and just plop them onto a plate. Even beautiful garden-fresh vegetables need to be washed, maybe peeled, and then arranged to look appealing to the eye. A little olive oil is introduced. Maybe some fresh basil leaves.


This is the art of arrangement. Would you just dump a load of raw facts onto an audience? No. You would arrange them into a logical sequence that supports what you want the facts to say, and in doing so, you are expressing your opinion. It really is quite unavoidable you see.


But why did our chef add that drizzle of olive oil and those fresh leaves of basil? It was to bring out the flavor, to beat-off the bland, and that's what goes wrong with so many corporate presentations. We are afraid to get out the herbs and spices and to add our own signature to the dish; the signature flavor of our opinions.


One morning last year, I was in a Chicago hotel room, getting ready for a day on stage presenting at a conference. I have an odd habit in that I will wander around while cleaning my teeth, and my wanderings that morning took me past the TV. Four presenters were clustered cheerily on bar-stools around a counter and going hammer and tongs at each other about their interpretations of events in the day's news.


It made good watching, and after a quick trip back to the bathroom to rinse the Colgate from my molars, I took a few minutes to watch. I wanted to understand what made this discussion so compelling, and also to understand why this collection of non-journalists were undoubtedly being paid good bucks to appear on a news show.


The answer that I came to was that there, on national television, they were each completely uninhibited about stomping their personal opinions all over whatever the talking point might happen to be. It made the discussion meaty, and it made it dynamic.


I asked myself whom I would rather find myself sitting next to in the hotel bar that evening? One of these talking heads or the newsreader? Talking head every time! They were way more interesting. Even the ones that I disagreed with.


This exercise in unabashed opinion had captivated my attention, and was distinctive in a way that the fact-based newsreader wasn't.


Exercise of opinion is compelling to the audience. Opinion is the spice that takes a dish from wholesome but bland into something that people will actually come back for again and again, and then write a Grade A review about on restaurant.com.


Three Ways To Bring The Spice Of Opinion Into Your Next Presentation


First, accept that merely by choosing the facts you will present and the order in which you will present them, you have already committed an unavoidable B-list act of opinion. Who wants to be a B-lister? Let's go for the A-list and add some spice!  Here’s how:


1:  Own It - It's Not "WE", It's "ME"

Unless you are taking part in a team presentation, make sure that the pronouns "I" and "my" are front and center. There's a sound reason why the sound of I's and My's are good things to go for: Skilled job interviewers are trained to listen-out for candidates who continuously say "We" rather than "I". "We" is used to conceal either a lack of conviction or a lack of evidence. After all, it's not "me" that's saying it, it's "we" that's saying it.


In this presentation, these are your opinions, so use "I":

  • I believe that....
  • I think that.....
  • In my opinion....
  • My view is that.....


2: Have an Emotional Intent

What is the emotion that you want to convey with these facts? Here are a few ideas. Do you want:


  • To congratulate?
  • To criticize?
  • To encourage?
  • To warn?
  • To celebrate?
  • To commiserate?
  • To reassure?
  • To make nervous?


In business presentations, your goal is to persuade others of a course of action, and the driver to action is emotion. Facts seldom drive anything. It's the emotional interpretation of those facts that creates intention. Therefore don't be afraid to use emotional words when presenting.


Share your feelings. If an opportunity excites you then say that you are excited. If a set of results delights you, then say that you are delighted. If a negative forecast concerns you then say that you are concerned. And if outstanding performance has amazed you, then say that you are amazed! Words like these give emotion, and emotion is spice. Spice is color. Color is paprika, bright red with a fabulous flavor. Flavor is opinion!


3: Bring Your Face Into the Act

If it's good news, smile. If it's bad news, frown. That might sound like common sense, but when we stand up to present, that urge to blend opinion-less into the podium can lead us to adopt a passionately bland expression. Many Chief Executives, completely unbeknown to themselves, will go onto the stage with their faces meticulously locked into neutral. They think they are expressing powerful opinions, and indeed, their scripts often do express powerful opinions, but the fact that the faces delivering those opinions remain as blank as  storefront mannequins will rip the plasticky stuffing right out of the speech.


When planning your next presentation, go through your notes, and wherever a big smile would be appropriate, slam yellow highlighter across the page. If a frown or a look of concern would be better suited, use blue. Build those expressions into your presentation. They are part of the show.


The French philosopher Rene Descartes famously said "I think, therefore I am". Thinking is a process of interpretation. Interpretation involves opinion.


You are your opinions, and your business presentations are expressions of those opinions.


Own them. Enjoy them. Let them bring the spice that propels your presentations direct to the A-list.


{#/pub/images/PeterWatts.jpg}Written by Peter Paskale, writer, coach, and trainer guiding presenters to be at their best when on the stage. Following a 15 year career within the technology sector that included 11 years working for Dell, Peter became a consultant specializing in training and coaching business presenters. Today he works with teams around America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to help multinational organizations to bring their message to their customers through the spoken word.Peter is based in the UK. In addition to training under his own Speak2All brand and as an Associate Trainer, he also writes a weekly blog of ideas for presenters, and can be followed daily on Twitter.



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Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 

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Comments (12)

Jennifer Vesp posted on: May 10, 2013

Because so many people don't want to hear anything different - and they hate having to even fathom some sort of change from the norm even though it may help in the long run.

Maxwell P. posted on: May 10, 2013

That is your Opinion! [;o)-

broc.edwards posted on: May 10, 2013

So often we try to offend no one, but doing that also means we'll never inspire anyone. We try to the the insanely impossible act of standing out by fitting in and it becomes instantly forgettable.

The only trouble I've ever run into when presenting opinion is when I'm not clear that it is opinion. We lose credibility whenever the audience thinks we're presenting opinion as fact. (And far too many speakers confuse their opinion with capital-F Fact.)

Lauren Hug posted on: May 11, 2013

Interesting question ... especially since I have never had any problem with sharing my opinions. In my younger years, my problem was learning to listen in order to make sure the way I chose to express my opinion would resonate with those I was seeking to convince. When presenting anything, it's important to remember that the ultimate goal is to convince the audience to act. You can't convince people if you don't understand them and where they are coming from. When you do understand them, expressing an opinion is less daunting, because it can be delivered in the spirit of dialogue and discussion instead of preaching or brow-beating.

Excellent choice of including Peter Watts as an expert panelist. He's wonderful.

Vivek Tuljapurkar posted on: May 11, 2013

My favorite quip about opinions comes from Dirty Harry Callahan. "Opinions are like axxxoles. Everyone's got one."

If your opinion is not well researched and based on solid facts and intelligent observations, why should anyone care to hear about it? But then, let us not forget about Dunning Kruger Effect.

Carl Byron Rodgers posted on: May 11, 2013

Very interesting article.Thank you.
Because the fear of our opinions being at best not excepted and at worst stolen by others.
I have seen in certain situations where empirical data has supported a presentation and still was not excepted.

Craig A. Agneberg posted on: May 12, 2013

I begin my presentations by asking the participants "is it OK if I share my thoughts and opinions with you today?" They always say "yes," and I now have the opening to share my opinions when and if I so choose. And when I share my opinions I do use first person and always reiterate--this is my opinion or what has worked for me in the past.

Maria Belen Rotelli posted on: May 12, 2013

Completely agree. Facts can be shown by everyone.. but what to do with that is what make you different. Stand-up!

Marion I. Lipshutz, MA, MSLIS posted on: May 13, 2013

Without an effective means to share opinions, presentations can become trite and flat.

Louisa Chan posted on: May 16, 2013

Sounds like I just need to be me! Really, just being authentic and congruent will make you shine, love the post and thanks for sharing!

Laura Camacho posted on: May 23, 2013

Hey Peter! Love your point about opinions. Quite refreshing as usual. Another opinion I'd like to share with you is this: If you're writing for "managingamericans" then I should be writing for "managingbrits". :)

Arpit Daniel Das posted on: June 26, 2013

Thanks for sharing these great tips with us. It is true that your facial expressions are very important the moment you step up on the stage. Your speech can only be expressive and attention grabbing only when it is backed by the appropriate facial expressions.
Thanks for sharing this article
authorSTREAM Team

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