Big(D)esign Interview

Originally Published April 5, 2013 on

Frances Cole Jones is founder of Cole Media Management and author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation. Her company’s focus is to cultivate clients’ inherent strengths to develop more powerful communication skills. She is the creator of the “Interview Wow” app for the iPhone and iPad and her blog was voted one of the top 100 websites for women by

Hey Frances!  Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I just finished reading How to Wow and loved the book!  You gave some great advice ranging from making lasting impressions to perfecting PowerPoint presentations.  Tell me, what are you working on for the future? What’s next?

I’m working on an e-book titled “Wow Your Way into the Job of Your Dreams.” It’s not about figuring out what your dream job is; instead, once you’ve targeted your dream job, it tells you how to get it.

In your experience, what are some of the common mistakes professionals make before and during a presentation or public appearance?

In my experience, people tend to either under prepare, or spend too much time preparing the visual aspect of their presentation and not enough time fine-tuning their message, and the delivery of that message.

Underpreparing sounds a lot like the executive who says, “I work better off the cuff,” or “I do better when I wing it,” etc.

FYI: nobody does better when they wing it.

While visuals can be effective, they should not take the place of a carefully honed message. In addition to knowing why you care about your subject matter, you need to know why your audience should care about your subject matter—what’s in it for them? How is your information going to improve their life? If you can’t answer that question you aren’t prepared—I don’t care how great your visuals are.

Once you’ve answered that question, and created visuals that support your message, you need to practice out loud. There is no way around that. You can think you know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it but until you hear it coming out of your mouth, you aren’t going to notice that you are missing a transition or that there is a gigantic hole in your logic.

I think most people understand that having great communication skills are important to success in any field.  What are some recommendations you might have to increase these skills for professional and personal relationships?

I recommend thinking about the UCLA percentages of influence regarding how we weight the 3 aspects of communication: verbal, vocal, and visual. What Professor Albert Mehrabian discovered is that people only remember 7% of what we say to them; 38% of our impact comes from our tonal quality; and 55% from what our body is doing while we are speaking.

This means you need to think about telling stories when you speak, as they keep you away from useless modifiers like, “Great,” “Amazing,” “Awesome” etc. which convey nothing. It means that when you say something as seemingly simple as “I’m happy to meet you,” you actually need to sound happy.

And it means that you need to consider what your body is doing while you are speaking. Are you arms crossed in front of you? Are you leaning back in your chair in a ‘too cool for school’ kind of way? Are your hands where people can see them? We trust you when we can see your hands and we don’t trust you when we can’t, etc.

Sharing presentations on websites such as have become an important and expected practice after speaking at conferences.  Any advice or tips on how to create a presentation that will be shared?

I notice a lot of people don’t want to give up, or give away, what they view as “proprietary information” (Otherwise known as “my ideas.”) so they create presentations that dance around information, but aren’t ultimately useful.

For example, someone will do a presentation on team building and say something like, “Teams are really important. Without teams companies cannot thrive. In order to be effective teams must be strong. And strong teams need strong leaders.”

This kind of thing d.r.i.v.e.s  m.e. c.r.a.z.y. Tell me HOW build a strong team—don’t just talk around the issue.

In my view, ideas are limitless. If you’ve had a few good ones, give them away! Offer your audience a ton of practical application information. Let them take all your good ideas—you’ll have more! (And if you don’t, that shouldn’t be your audience’s problem.) Presentations with a ton of takeaways are the ones that are shared.

In the field of User Experience (UX) design, designers are working to create experiences that include touch, sounds, and even smells.  Digital interfaces such as websites, smart phones and tablets are also being used for audience participation.  In what ways, do you see these elements becoming an expected part of presentations in the future?  

I think people will always be turned on by technology, but that—at the end of the day—if you don’t have a good story to tell your technology isn’t going to save your presentation: the audience will remember that the effects were cool, but they won’t retain your message. To me, the best UX design enhances a speaker’s story, it doesn’t replace it.

The ‘Second Screen’ Experience is where people will watch an event then chat about it using a second device like a phone or tablet. This has been happening at conferences for years and now is happening in living rooms. How are you preparing your clients to take advantage of positive feedback or deal effectively with negative comments that are being spread live to hundreds or even millions of people via social media channels?

I think the most effective way to take advantage of positive feedback, and stay on top of negative comments, is to stop your presentation every 5-7 minutes for questions. Allowing your audience to participate ensures they stay involved, no matter how they feel about what you are saying. If they are feeling positive—and you let them contribute—they become still more invested in your success, as it’s now their success. If they are feeling negative, allowing them to air their concern/grievance/complaint will enable them to keep listening until the end, rather than simply saying to themselves, “This person is wrong so I’m going to pull out my phone and start doing a little light texting.”

With regard to handling hostile questions, a good technique to know is: if it’s big, make it small; if it’s small, make it big. So, if you are speaking about a particular kind of technology and someone says, “This is ridiculous! How can you believe people will buy into that?” you say, “You sound like you’ve had some experience with users being resistant to technology. Can you tell me exactly what occurred in your situation?” Alternatively, if they say, “When I introduced X into my office, no one was willing to risk using the interface so how can you think yours will be different?” Then you say, “Has anyone else in the audience had trouble getting their colleagues to adapt to new technology?”