Telling Your Story Effectively–Communications Coach Carmine Gallo on How to Make an Effective Virtual Presentation–What’s Your Twitter Pitch?

  • 5 min read
  • Oct 07, 2010

Carmine Gallo knows that the future is clear–physical events will have at least some virtual elements, and many will have a lot of virtual elements. As a professional who specializes in presentations, he knows how to engage a virtual audience.

Not a technology expert, Gallo, president of Gallo Communications, is, in his own words, “a communications coach for some of the world’s largest brands.”

What he does is help executives tell their stories in a way that is clear, interesting, and engaging. The author of several books including “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” and one to be released this month titled “The Innovation Stages of Steve Jobs”, Gallo pulls no punches when educating people about presentations.

“You can have a great idea, but if you can’t communicate it, you’re in trouble,” Gallo says. “When it comes to virtual presentations and virtual events, the technology is there. However, if you have a bad virtual event it’s most likely the people involved.” Gallo said it used to be that you could blame the technology. There are some issues like lighting, which is a little trickier with a virtual audience but overall, its just not that hard.

“It’s just amazing to me how people post videos even if it’s not a virtual thing like a webinar but even posting a video on YouTube that’s supposed to look professional and there’s not sufficient or correct lighting,” he says. “Sometimes you wonder, if they even looked at it before posting it? So, yes, there are these kinds of technical issues but what this really comes down to is how do you take those engagement aspects of public speaking and translate that into communicating in an impactful kind of presentation in a virtual environment.”

How does Gallo recommend doing this? His first rule of thumb is this–know your audience. Gallo’s audience, for example, includes event and meeting producers, teaching professionals, people who manage plan and produces internal meetings, partner meetings, analyst meetings and trade show conferences.

When hired as a consultant by Fortune 500 companies, Gallo works with his client on not only content strategy but also delivery. It is not only about the presentation, he says, but about story.

“Some clients don’t have a compelling story to tell or they may have a story but they don’t know how to tell it in an engaging way. So that’s the first thing we work on,” he notes. “What is your story? How do you tell that message in a way that is clear, precise, interesting, emotional, inspiring? There are ways of doing that. There are techniques to do that.”

Simply, Gallo says PowerPoint slides should compliment not dominate a virtual presentation. Great presenters in every company start outside the slides.

“They start on the white board or on a notepad and they sketch and they brainstorm and they think,” Gallo says. “How am I going to present this information visually and in an interesting way? The slides are backdrops. If you want me to focus on you, then have a slide that compliments what you’re saying.”

When folks are too caught up in slides audiences become overwhelmed with too much data, charts and information. “People have told me ‘I don’t like watching PowerPoint and I don’t like watching slides.’ It’s what I call death by PowerPoint,” Gallo adds.

Gallo’s biggest lesson? Challenging people to think differently about how they create a visual story. What they come back with, he says, does not look anything like what they had before.

Gallo even brings up science in his pleas for change, originality and creative thinking.

“Neuroscientists have found that when you put too many words on a slide it’s actually very difficult for the brain to follow,” he says. “Because the brain interprets every letter like a picture. The brain interprets letters as images, which means you are bombarding the brain. It’s like literally choking the brain on text.”

Additional pointers from Gallo include: 1) the ideal length of a virtual presentation is 18-20 minutes; 2) the brain gets bored every ten minutes so re-engage the audience; 3) nothing but data-packed slides all the time is boring; 4) stimulate the audience; 5) present memorable visuals; 6) use tools that allow real time questions from the audience; 7) involve a second person and the audience and then it’s okay to go from 20 minutes to 45; 8) use concise statements.

Gallo also speaks with investors and venture capitalists about presentations and they say, “Just give me the gist. The gist is typically that one sentence, 10 words or less that summarizes your presentation,” he says. “That’s what is good about Twitter. It makes people communicate in just 140 characters. I call that your Twitter quote.”

Next Gallo spoke about delivery. Verbal delivery. He suggests practicing, pausing, stopping, and using inflections and intonations when talking. “You’ve got to practice your delivery,” he says. “Get some animation in your voice; pause, speed up, slow down, have some inflection. The worst is a monotone for one hour.”

Doing these things, and following Gallo’s tips will set you and your presentation apart from the work everyone else is doing.

“Put yourself on video and watch yourself,” Gallo says. “You’ve got to see yourself, how you’re coming across, especially if you’re going to be on camera.”

Next up was gestures. What are your gestures like? Do you have your hands in your pockets the whole time? Are you slouching?

“If a person doesn’t follow these tips the main take away is this guy or gal is boring,” Gallo says. “Part of the problem is that they don’t think about this stuff.”

In the virtual world, body language, Gallo notes, becomes important too.“You need to think about body language. All too often, I see people stroll on up there thinking the virtual presentation is a casual environment, people are just watching on the Internet. I got my hands in my pockets, I am slouching. You should not do this. You don’t look engaging.”

Having written about Steve Jobs, Gallo frequently used him as an example of what works. He also mentioned John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. “Chambers is one of the most electrified speakers I’ve ever seen,” he says. “His body language is substantially more animated and engaged than anybody. He uses hand gestures and big presence gestures. He leans forward, in your face. It is a very engaging body language. He looks like a leader.”

Gallo himself was on CNN and worked with Lou Dobbs on Money Line. So he knows about camera angles and positioning too. “If the camera is on you, then what you should be doing is sitting near the edge of your chair, leaning forward,” he says. “People find that a little awkward but when you see it on camera, it looks great. And face the camera directly. Do not be afraid to use hand gestures. But try to use your hands as naturally as you can. Remember, the camera is only capturing so much. It should feel a little awkward. If you’re recording a live web report and you’re seated and you’re totally laid back and comfortable, you may feel comfortable but it’s not going to look that engaging.”

Chambers is always forward, if he has his hand in his pocket, its only one, the other is always out, open, expressive, talking to people, always making eye contact. One hand in the pocket is powerful two is not.

“Think of a presentation three ways,” Gallo suggests. “It should inform, educate, and entertain. And you should have fun with it. Steve Jobs has a lot of fun. He always has a smile on his face. Steve takes it a couple steps further. He educates. Why do we need this new product? What’s the problem going on right now that we need to solve? Then he has fun with it.”