The Art of Positive Presentation

… For Prezis, Interviews, Team Calls, and more!

By Blake Marggraff

Note: These thoughts and stories, and whatever messages or lessons they may convey, are not limited to the experiences of University Innovation Fellows. Perhaps one of the most significant strengths of the Fellows program is its ability to quite accurately simulate student entrepreneurship; the two terms are not mutually exclusive!

Before we dive into these useful and immediately applicable tips, I’d like to point out an intentional wording choice: I use “presentation” instead of “communication.” I believe that communication, while often benefiting from a positive style, need not be constantly soaked with positivity as so many self-help experts would have you believe. Presenting, on the other hand, almost universally occurs in order to promote an idea, convert an observer, or express a point of view.

With this in mind, let’s dive into some simple, helpful pointers that you can apply right after reading! Woohoo!

Wording

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This is nothing groundbreaking, but wording during verbal presentation has a tremendous bearing on how the presentation is received. Almost always, positive words and phrases foster the strongest connection and, thus, greatest bandwidth between presenter and audience. I break down my thought process before and during a presentation into three discrete parts:

Part 1: Pick your notch. Are you going for ultra-peppy, or subtly enthused? No need to figure out which words you’re specifically going to use; just decide and internalize the right level of positivity.

Part 2: Avoid “downer” words. Following is the simplest chart in the world. When you’re about to use a word or phrase from the left, try, just try, swapping it out with its positive relative on the right.

Negative “downer” words

Positive “friendly” words

but

and

however

also

they

we

them

us

theirs

ours

Sure, there are plenty of cases where “however” is harmless and “theirs” is requisite, although I would surmise that such cases aren’t as frequent as you suspect. In short, the friendlier the wording, the warmer (and more successful) the presentation.

Part 3: Use the appropriate level of complexity. Sometimes, as you might guess, my complexity of communication (oh, okay, “wordiness”) can get away from me. While this might not be something everyone keeps in mind, I always remind myself to stick with a professional, but not intimidating, speaking style. Needless to say, this style varies from one audience to another, although once my sentences begin to fade into short essays, I know it’s time to reign myself in.

Body Language

Part 1: Mirror your audience. Most readers will recognize the technique of mirroring, in which one communicating party acts and speaks similarly to his or her audience. Did you know that you can do the same thing during phone calls, video conferences, and real-life presentations? The trick is understanding that mirroring works both ways, such that if you “mirror” a desired reflection, the observer will likely begin to “reflect” that action! This is my favorite way to involve bored, zoned-out audience members. I once transformed a student in the fourth row from a half-asleep zombie to an edge-of-his-seat audience member, just by making eye contact, smiling broadly, raising my eyebrows, and leaning further forward myself! (Good thing I wasn’t too close to the edge of the stage…)

Part 2: Learn (and practice) the Neutral Position. This is another basic, oft-cited tip, but it surprises me how slowly many new presenters and speakers adopt it. From your very first presentation, using the neutral position will do two things: it will help you relax, and it will make your audience feel more comfortable watching you. Here’s how to do it:

Good body language

Bad body language

  • Hands comfortably at your sides! None of this hands-in-pockets, wrap them around your chest, try to look like a shirt model bologne.

  • Shoulder-width stance, with slightly more weight on one foot than the other. Nobody wants to watch you stand at attention the whole time. Don’t pace or “wobble” from one leg to another.

  • When you use your arms to gesture, make sure you flow with them. Don’t just keep your elbows bent the whole time. And, for the sanity of all of us audience members in the world, do NOT shake the webcam if you’re presenting during a presentation! It never fails to amaze me that otherwise savvy presenters think they can really emphasize a point by strangling their poor monitor and attached camera.

Part 3: Record yourself. Then do it again. And again. And again. And again. A mentor once told me that before every presentation, he forces himself to run through the speech and associated materials no fewer than 20 times. I chuckled, thinking, “Oh, the poor sap. It must just not come naturally to him.” Well, I’ll concede that I find 10 rehearsals a bit superfluous, but there’s no doubt that I improve with every single run-through. I highly recommend catching yourself on video once or twice, and certainly listen to an audio recording. Put yourself in the shoes of your “captive” audience, be it listeners on a conference call or 2,000 elementary school students in an enormous auditorium. One caveat: please, don’t memorize your speech. Get the bullet points, then find enough ways to say them comfortably that you can fluidly transition from one phrase to the next. Punchy conclusions, witty one-liners, and short, intentionally repeated phrases are the only exceptions. Not memorizing will also help you stay engaged, and at the end of the day, everyone will be better off for it.

What’s your experience as a student leader? Post your comments below…

IMG_9202Blake Marggraff is a University Innovation Fellow and currently a sophomore and Biochemistry major at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is enjoying a life of academics, multiple business ventures, and the occasional hiking or camping trip. Prior to attending Washington University, Blake won the top award at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair with a project that used pegylated tin to augment the efficacy of radiation therapy for treatment of simulated cancer cells with low to mid-energy X-ray sources. Blake’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship began with his success in numerous public speaking competitions, and was furthered by his work as a leader of local National Youth Leadership Training courses. Looking toward the future, Blake intends to help shape the bioethics and consumer biotechnology industries, while inspiring peers to engage in entrepreneurship. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Three Critical Remote Leadership Skills I Learned as a University Innovation Fellow

Three Critical Remote Leadership Skills I Learned as a University Innovation Fellow

(Useful, since my cofounder lives 500 miles away!)

By Blake Margraff

Note: These thoughts and stories, and whatever messages or lessons they may convey, are not limited to the experiences of University Innovation Fellows (formerly Student Ambassadors Program). Perhaps one of the most significant strengths of the University Innovation Fellowship is its ability to quite accurately simulate student entrepreneurship; the two are not mutually exclusive!

Part I: Accessibility keeps a team transparent and energized (as long as you have well-established limits!)

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????During my trip to the Stanford d.school following the University Innovation Fellow training, I remember Elliot Roth (read his articles!) turning to me and excitedly saying, “I love it when my team sends me emails.” This simple statement is more profound than it might seem at first. Elliot, a strong leader and budding entrepreneur, inadvertently hit upon one of the most important pillars of remote leadership: keep yourself accessible! By receiving and (if necessary) acting upon the emails we receive, leading a team suddenly becomes quite rewarding, even invigorating, and the benefit is mirrored right back onto the team itself.

However, as with most habits, accessibility in moderation is the best bet. If you’re getting calls and “urgent” emails in the wee hours of the morning on a daily basis, the simple solution is to establish working hours. Mine are from 7:30am to 11:00pm in whatever time zone I’m currently living. I can hear it now: “Blake, you crazy fool, I’ll never receive that many emails! And certainly not at those hours!” My only advice–wait and watch. As you pursue more exciting and intense projects and even companies, you’ll need to balance new parameters within your life. On that note, a few tips!

Three tips to make it happen:
1. Understand your smartphone’s “notifications” settings. Many a missed Skype call can be chalked up to the wrong alert preference. Other side of the coin, turn off your damn social alerts, especially Facebook and Snapchat; they’re timesucks (on which I’ll write another article).
2. Create an Office Hours chart for you and your team, in which everyone can simply list his or her free hours every week. It’s a pretty great feeling to be able to call up a cofounder in another state knowing that he’s probably free to chat!
3. Share your calendar with free/busy visibility (here’s how), and turn your phone on (and off) when you’ve said you will!

Part II: Timeliness becomes vital, tardiness becomes inexcusable

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????When you’re the only person within hundreds of miles working on (or even leading) a project, an uncanny sensation of surrealism can sometimes sneak up on you. This, at least, has been my experience, particularly during my first startup. One cofounder was in California, another in Illinois, and there I was, out on the east side of Missouri all by my lonesome! I learned very quickly that the only way to keep the team together was through frequent communication. Perhaps surprisingly, setting up calls and shooting emails back and forth wasn’t too tricky. One of the most difficult part each week’s call, aside from agreeing upon strong, SMART goals, was getting everybody on the call and underway each time, on time.

As soon as I noticed what was happening, I did something that I firmly believe everyone leading a team call or videochat should do: start the call with a quick, 30-second update from everyone on the call. People enjoy talking about their own work, and the shame of missing your update is quite a motivator. I also started to insert calendar invites in any email related to scheduling, and soon, the whole team caught on and communicated much more effectively.

Three tips to make it happen:
1. Use your technology. Set reminders, become familiar with the calendar applications on your phone and computer. I have a default reminder set for 15 minutes prior to every event that’s helped me not miss many a business call.
2. Insert a calendar invite directly into any schedule-related email! This helps avoid the “I didn’t know we had a call!” excuse, and automatically corrects for time-zone confusion.
3. Start with a 30-second update from everyone on the team. Everyone likes to share personal progress, and nobody wants to the “the one who missed out.”

Part III: Message-crafting is an art worth mastering, and is most powerful when combined with careful listening

webexshotThe story for this section is short and to-the-point. Back during my second Prezi presentation to the other University Innovation Fellow candidates and NCIIA leadership (a.k.a. Humera), I knew from the beginning that my Prezi was not the fanciest, most beautiful thing I’d ever created. With that in mind, I spent the half hour leading up to the call crafting my message instead of simply focusing on adding bells and whistles to a rather skeletal visual presentation. By picking the right words (“and,” “also,” “we,” “ours,” instead of “but,” “however,” “they,” “theirs”), and deciding what exactly you want to convey, even a quick 2-4 minute presentation can become punctuated with positive phrases, enjoyable articulation, and emotionally evocative messages.

Three tips to make it happen:
1. Pick a [real] message! You know you’ve gone too far when you’re rambling on about your dog’s recent bout of food poisoning, but sometimes presenters get off track without seeming to realize they’ve done so. If your message is “my school needs a physical space for innovation and creativity,” jot it down on a notecard and glance at that card every half minute.
2. Know your audience. This is the most basic one in the book. If you’re talking to students, keep the discussion student-centric. Kindergarteners and PhDs, on the other hand, will require unique (and respectively different) styles of communication.
3. Spark a dialogue when possible, if you’re comfortable with that format of communication. Making one’s self the moderator of a positive, productive discussion is a very rewarding and efficient way to convey ideas.

What’s your experience as a student leader? Post your comments below…

IMG_9202

Blake Marggraff is a University Innovation Fellow and currently a sophomore and Biochemistry major at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is enjoying a life of academics, multiple business ventures, and the occasional hiking or camping trip. Prior to attending Washington University, Blake won the top award at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair with a project that used pegylated tin to augment the efficacy of radiation therapy for treatment of simulated cancer cells with low to mid-energy X-ray sources. Blake’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship began with his success in numerous public speaking competitions, and was furthered by his work as a leader of local National Youth Leadership Training courses. Looking toward the future, Blake intends to help shape the bioethics and consumer biotechnology industries, while inspiring peers to engage in entrepreneurship. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Four Student Ambassadors Launch Innovation Space Venture, BetaVersity

Congratulations to Student Ambassadors Sean Maroni (NCSU), Lucas Arzola (UC Davis), Blake Marggraff (Washington University St. Louis), and Jared Karp (UC Berkeley) who launched BetaVersity this past April. BetaVersity designs and installs prototyping labs and ‘design kitchens’ for students to not only cook up new ideas, but also to make them a reality.
betaversity

For a fee, campuses can be up and running with a space and brand that draws students from all disciplines to design and bring their idea to life. For their investment, campuses receive training and support for student leaders and campus officials who are increasingly recognizing the importance of supporting a ‘maker culture’ to support the anticipated demand in manufacturing jobs (summarized well in this Forbes piece: The End of Chinese Manufacturing and Rebirth of U.S. Industry).

Within a month, the team landed their first customer UC Davis and now lists UC Berkeley and North Carolina State University as BetaVersity sites. These happen to represent three of the four locations where the founders go to school, so my guess is that Washington University at St. Louis will take advantage of their ‘in’ before BetaVersity has a backlog.

Tim Huntley’s piece BetaVersity – Taking Innovation to School, in An Entrepreneurial Life, credits the team’s visit to Stanford E-Week. There, the founding team met for the first time learning about the value of innovation spaces like Stanford’s D.Lab or ‘The Garage’ on Google’s campus. Imagine the power of connected innovation spaces on each of the nation’s 350 undergraduate engineering schools. Now THAT would make for an economically competitive future. To learn more, visit their website at www.betaversity.com.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Bottling the Bay Area and Stanford Magic

Student Ambassadors travel to Bay Area, attend Stanford E-Week

Nine top-performing Student Ambassadors had an immersive experience in Silicon Valley last week to bring back best practices to their campuses. Some may say, “What happens at Stanford can’t be replicated in our region!” Perhaps not in its entirety. But, we think by breaking down the constituent parts of the magic that is at Stanford and its surrounding area, Student Ambassadors learned valuable new tools that will enhance their own Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E&I) ecosystems.

Student Ambassadors reported that the trip was life-changing for them and as one student described, it was a “completely tremendous experience, exceeded literally every other leadership/entrepreneurship event I’ve ever had the chance to attend.” They learned about several key-ingredients in the secret sauce at Stanford, including the importance of optimizing SPACE for creative thinking, to “unencumber the mind from constraints”. They learned about being EMPATHETIC, which allows them to get at the root of the source of the problems for people instead of just treating symptoms of assumed problems. They were involved in 2-hour and 12-hour DESIGN CHALLENGES saying, “it was cool to work with a team of strangers to get something done.” They attended a lecture with Tom Byers that “broke down entrepreneurship” and spent some one-on-one time with Byers who inspired them to lead an E&I movement on their campuses.

Off-campus, they met examples of rising-star INTRAPRENEURS at Google and EBay/PayPal and saw first-hand how Google’s open workspaces, casual atmosphere, and amenities like free food and laundry service maintain happy/healthy/productive people who foster an their inherent culture of design thinking, creativity and innovation. Students returned to the d.lab to have a one-on-one with CEO Rick Klau of Google Ventures who imparted words of wisdom like “beware of small successes”, and kicked-off roundtables with 12 portfolio company CEOs. Student Ambassadors also attended lectures and signature classes like the Entrepreneurship Thought Leaders Series (top download from iTunes U) with the four founders of SkyBox Imaging, followed by a discussion of their backstories with the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Class, taught by Draper Fisher Jurvetson Partner Heidi Roizen.

All-in-all, the trip was amazing, exhausting and inspiring. Students Ambassadors are all digesting the experience and returning to their campuses having bottled a bit of the magic. Stay tuned for more as we develop step-by-step materials that teach Student Ambassador how to implement the implementable on their campuses. In the meantime, recruit a Student Ambassador to attend our Spring Training, which begins at the OPEN Conference on March 21st of this month (register here: Apply).

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

UPDATE 3/26/13: View additional photos at the Epicenter Facebook Album.