The Standup Trainer Newsletter

July 2005


Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.


This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)


Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!


In this issue:


1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month

You can be a FABULOUS presenter and still not be "right."


2. Presentation Hall of Shame

Sometimes it's just a really bad idea to tell a joke in a presentation.


3. Presentation Skills Book Review

Beyond Bullet Points will take you where few presenters have gone before.


1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month


[Editor's Note: Have you a good story to tell about the time SOMETHING WENT TERRIBLY WRONG at a presentation you were giving (or attending)? We are soliciting submissions for this segment of our newsletter. If your story is chosen, you will receive a FREE copy of either of Ellen's two books, The Standup Trainer or Presenting with Style (your choice). Simply send your story (just a couple of paragraphs will be fine) to]


The winner of this month's contest is Dr. Barthy Byrd, AssociateProfessor of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso. Dr. Byrd is already in possession of Ellen's book, Presenting with Style (and was kind enough to review it for, so she will receive instead a copy of the novel, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. (This novel has nothing to do with presentation skills; Ellen just thinks it's the best novel she's read in ages.)


Long, long ago when I was an earnest, brash, confident (o.k., maybe arrogant) college student, I made a very serious presentation to the professor teaching "Modern American Drama" at my university. I had worked on this presentation for days because I knew I could not tell a respected professor that he was teaching the wrong plays without a lot of evidence and an excellent, well-prepared argument.


I went to his office, he cordially invited me in, and politely listened to my well-prepared, well-rehearsed argument. I told him I respected him greatly but I thought he was out of touch with modern theater. He, although surprised, accepted this criticism graciously and asked me why I thought he was out of touch. I asked him how any college course in modern theater could ignore, as one example of many, Harold Pinter who, although controversial, had to be considered a major modern playwright.


He, without laughing, said very seriously, "Because this is Modern American Drama and Harold Pinter is British."


I can't remember what I said after that.What was there to say?††


2. Presentation Hall of Shame


"A funny thing happened to me on the way to this presentation . . . ."


It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that telling jokes is the best way to add humor to a presentation. Where they get this idea from, I don't know, but I have seen quite a few people try to be the Jay Leno of presenters, only to find themselves using the podium as a shield against the slings and arrows of audiences who were NOT AMUSED. "Dying is easy," said the great 18th century English actor Sir Edmund Kean. "Comedy is hard." Would that some of the would-be "comedians" I've seen would have listened to Sir Edmund.


A case in point: Some years back, I was teaching my Presenting with Style class to a group of tenónine women and one man. I talked about the benefits of using humor to enliven a technical presentation and encouraged my students to think about ways to add something funny to their own presentations. When it came time for them to be videotaped, the lone man in the group started his presentation by saying, "How are statistics like a woman in a bikini?"


Well, my dear friends, at first you could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the room as all ten of us women just STARED at this guy in disbelief. What?! He's not only telling a jokeóhe's telling a SEXIST joke to boot?!?!?! The gaping quickly turned to hissing and I silently pleaded with him, "Pleaseódo not do this. LOOK at your audience! Do they look like they will be receptive to this kind of humor? Are you nuts?" Oblivious to the snarling, he continued with the punch line: "What they reveal is less interesting than what they conceal."


The hook! The hook! Get this guy off the stage!


OK, I'm not going to say that ALL jokes are this bad. But before you consider ever using one in your own presentation, please be sure the joke you choose meets these three criteria:


1. It is tried and true funny. (Youíve told it several times before, and it always gets a laugh.)

2. It is actually relevant to a key point in your presentation.

3. It is completely, 100% not offensive to any person on any basis whatsoever.


If you can't make it work, don't use it. Tell a story instead.


(For more on the use of storytelling to add humor to presentations, see Presenting with Style: Advanced Strategies for Superior Presentations.)


3. Presentation Skills Book Review

For any of you who have been subjected to "death by PowerPoint" (and who hasn't?), here is a book that will gladden your heart and bolster your hopes: Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations that Inform, Motivate, and Inspire (Microsoft Press, 2005).


"It's almost as if bullet points take aim at whatever is interesting and lively in a room and silently kill it," says Atkinson. "As the number of presentations dramatically increases, it is clear that all of us who use PowerPoint to communicate need to remember what Hollywood has never forgotten: it's all about the story."


Those of you who have downloaded (or have seen in person) my 5 Ways for Overcoming "Death by PowerPoint" presentation will not be surprised that I completely agree with Atkinson when he says, "The best way to create engagement is to present only the right information the audience needs to know in the right quantity at the right time." He continues, "It might sound counterintuitive, but when you put less information on a slide, you increase the audience's attention because the audience is then dependent on the speaker for explanation, and the speaker is dependent on the audience for feedback."


But if you use this less-is-more approach to design your slides, what do you do about those audience members who tell you that they cannot attend your actual presentation, but would like a handout to take back to work and "share" with others? How will you satisfy them if your slides provide little explanatory text? One solution, suggests Atkinson, is to create two sets of handouts: one with just the graphics and the headlines (and space for the audience to take notes and provide their own elaboration of your talk), and another with the explanatory text included in the "notes" view. The first you provide for those who actually attend your talk; the second you give to those who just want the handout. Atkinson shows you how easy it is to produce these two handouts, using the "Send to Microsoft Word" function in PowerPoint.


Beyond Bullet Points also offers this useful technique for designing a presentation: In a Word document, make a list of all the headlines (key points) you will use in your presentation. Then send the list to PowerPoint by clicking File, Send to, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint. A new PowerPoint file will open with each of your headlines inserted in the title area of its own slide. This technique also allows you to design the "spine" of your presentation (as method actors would call it) before you get bogged down in the production of the slides themselves. Does your presentation flow logically from one point to the next? You will be able to answer that question with confidence BEFORE you start thinking about what graphical elements to add.


This book also contains a slew of cool techniques for enhancing graphics, including how to add gradient rectangles to provide contrast, how to animate text for effect, and how to add labels to any graphic to clarify your main point. Atkinson also provides loads of design templates, which you can download for free from his website,


That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)


If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:


Dowling & Associates, Inc.

Ellen Dowling, President

(505) 883-9070