MIT’s Patrick Winston offers some useful tactics and tips for academic lecturers that might also be useful for people who give a lot of sales presentations, speak at conferences, or lead training seminars. Among the highlights:
- Cycle over the difficult ideas.
- Use examples, analogies, and exceptions to delineate the concept.
- Use verbal punctuation to help people follow your argument.
- Ask real and rhetorical questions to keep people’s brains actively engaged.
- Have an eccentricity.
- Cultivate gestures.
- Look people in the eye.
- Be with the people.
- Deflect obstructionists.
I think two of the recommendations bear further consideration. First — notice how I’m using verbal punctuation? — “Have an eccentricity.”
Make it fun for people to talk about you. Chew tobacco or wear a rope belt. Erase with both hands. Tousle your hair. Pull out your shirttail. But note that extreme eccentricity is bad form for younger people. Something cute and endearing in a full professor may be pretentious in an assistant professor.
While I think it’s good to have something that people remember about you — a la the Brand Called You — I’m not so sure being branded an an eccentric is the best strategy. Over at the Nub, Jon holds up Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff as a successful “character,” citing a USA Today profile that points out that Benioff brings his dog to work, does yoga, signs his emails “Aloha,” and misappropriates the image of the Dalai Lama for advertisements. Is that the stuff of a successful leader? Time will tell.
Secondly, “Deflect obstrictionists.”
Tell them you will deal with their question after class because it is a detail, tangential, has a long answer, has already been explained, or you have to think about it. In any event, do not annoy the others by getting sidetracked into something.
This could require more tact in a sales meeting or training setting, but it’s important to keep in mind — and is something that comes up in executive media training. Don’t let people derail you. If something doesn’t seem to fit into the meeting, proposed project, or topic of discussion, instead of just stiff-arming an “obstructionist,” consider asking how that relates to what’s being talked about. If it seems totally tangential — and you should be able to gauge how others in the meeting feel — recommend discussing that at another time.