Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Overcoming Presentation Nerves

While everyone knows that fear of public speaking is common, you may think that your nervousness is much worse because you get nervous just presenting to a few people.  When you are speaking to a small group, it is hard to call it “public” speaking.  It is just a meeting!  You may think you are the only one suffering, since your coworkers don’t seem to be having the same problem.

The fact is that most people get nervous presenting at some point in their career.  For the past 15 years we have been asking workshop attendees if they ever feel nervous.  More often than not, the majority of hands are raised.  One day I was coaching at an advertising agency where people are required to present frequently.  When the HR person discovered that I had a spare hour to run a discussion, they put out an online request for who would like to attend a discussion on handling nerves?  Two hours later, there were 50 people in the room.  

How can this be when it seems most people around you don’t look nervous?  The reason is some people don’t show outward signs of nervousness.  Some people just get a little formal or soft spoken, or they speak too quickly.  Some lose their personality and warmth.  If you had the opportunity to ask them, they might tell you they thought they did a horrible job and they were trembling inside.

So the first step in addressing nerves is focusing on the physical signs of nerves: Do you speak too fast, too softly, do you scan the room or break eye contact and talk to the screen for too long? Do you use fillers such as um, like, sort of, kind of?  Do your hands shake or do you rock back and forth or flush?

If you are not sure what makes you look nervous, take a video of yourself and take a good look at it.  Pick out one area to address. For example if you fidget, don’t clasp your hands together.  Instead  use a one handed rest position such as putting one hand in your pocket or on a chair so you don’t trigger the fidgeting . You might also be pleasantly surprised that you are not as terrible as you think.  Sometimes we are our own worst critics. 
If you do see some problems, your goal should be to focus on one area at a time so it doesn’t become overwhelming.  Also, don't worry about getting it perfect.  Concentrate on getting it better.  For example, if in your video you notice 32 ums during your five minute presentation, this will create the impression that you are not confident in your material. Work on eliminating those filler words by pausing more often.  Perhaps in the first week you can eliminate 50% of them.  Some people can do it in a day while others may take a month.  Once you cut the fillers in half continue reducing another 50% would bring your total to 8 ums.  At our starting point of 32 ums, it is safe to say that you did not come across as confident or knowledgeable …and you seemed nervous.   At just 8 fillers in your presentation, no one will notice. This is simply a physical speaking habit that is creating a bad impression.  
Another option is to work on addressing ums in the first minute of your presentation.  The way that you start a presentation sets the tone for the entire presentation.  By addressing ums in the first minute of you presentation, you can set the tone for a much better presentation even if the ums creep back in during the balance of the presentation.

Remember, it is not about perfection.  It is about improvement. Trying to be perfect might be one of the mental triggers for your stress in the first place.  Striving for perfection can be demoralizing and can get in the way of real progress.  I realize that videoing your presentation is scary but no one is going to watch it but you.  Push through the fear and you will be happy with your progress.

Take a before and after video so you can see your improvement. This alone will start to build your confidence. When you see that you can feel nervous yet project confidence, you will start to FEEL less nervous and more confident. 

Pam Bloore
Co-Founder and Partner
Filament Inc.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Different is a better bet than better

by Mark Schnurman
President - Filament Inc.

If the goal is to differentiate ourselves from our agency competition, then why do agencies spend so much time just telling their clients and prospects how much better they are than the competition? Better is not the same as different. The difficulty with focusing on what you do better than the competition is that the agency can rarely back up its claims. As a result, it just sounds like sales puffery that clients politely listen to and completely ignore.

Many agencies sell themselves as “full-service” and/or “integrated.” However, what they are basically saying is that we all do the same thing. The result of all of our effort is that we have created non-differentiated agencies and commoditized our product offering. When clients have a difficult time distinguishing one agency from another, there’s just one thing they use as a differentiator: price. This is not the situation any agency wants to be in, but it is where many agencies find themselves right now.

The key to a point of differentiation is that it is provable. Saying you’re better is mostly just stating an opinion. Differentiation always has a point of proof.

“Our creative is better” is an opinion. Your agency’s creative may in fact be better, but unless you have a shelf full of awards, you have no proof. And recognize that every agency has won a creative award or two, so unless you have a shelf full of awards, your claim is just your opinion and will not resonate with your prospects.

“Our agency has better experience than any agency in the business when it comes to financial service” is an opinion. Nearly every agency has financial service experience. “Our agency won Financial Services Agency of the Year three years in a row from Financial Service Monthly Magazine” is a fact (albeit a made up fact).

The reason that agencies say “we are better…” is that simply claiming to be better is easier, and as a result more agencies go down that path. It is easier to simply claim to be better than to go through the difficult work of actually making the agency different in some way. The question for agencies is, what is it that you can own in the marketplace? Odds are it is not about what you do better. These types of claims have difficulty gaining traction. It is more likely a controversial point of view or a method for executing some part of the advertising process that will help to put some distance between you and the competition.

One most popular differentiating claim is that an agency’s people make them different. While it is wonderful for morale, it probably is not true. If you are based in the New York area, those people that you claim make you so different probably worked for your competitor just one or two years ago. You could claim that your culture makes you different, but you would need to point out the specifics of the culture before the claim had much of a chance of sticking.

As if this were not difficult enough, the next danger is giving something a name and claiming it is different only to have the client say, “I have seen that before.” An agency’s branding process typically falls into this category. Having seen hundreds of agency new business pitches, from consumer, digital, media and pharma agencies, I know that if your agency has a process that includes concentric circles, a pyramid, or some kind of structure with columns supporting a roof … it is not unique or differentiating. Just because you have a pithy name for the process does not mean that the underlying process is different. It just means that the name is different.

So where does that leave an agency? There are still plenty of ways to carve out your own niche in the marketplace. One way is do primary research and uncover a hidden insight about the market. This is probably the oldest PR trick in the book. In the absence of news, make your own news. You can than build upon this research to become the expert on the topic.

Another strategy would be to develop a unique point of view about the role of the agency, the role of promotion, or the direction of the industry. Anything that gives you a platform to discuss your topic as an industry leader and not just another agency in a sea of similar agencies could work.

A sure fire way to differentiate your agency in a pitch is to not focus on the agency’s brand at all.  Focus on the work that your agency will do for the prospect’s brand.  Your approach to their marketing challenges will almost certainly be different from your competitor’s approach.

While none of the solutions to the conundrum are quick or easy, the value of being different is immeasurable. It may seem silly to preach the value of differentiation to an agency, but sometimes we all need to listen to our own advice.

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