Presentation 2.0 – The New Art of Business Presenting

December 3, 2012

Presentation 2.0 Logo v1Most presentations suck. Ask most people to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the audience for a presentation, and they will break into a cold sweat. Presentation should rhyme with communication, inspiration and fascination – but all too often, it simply rhymes with boredom.

This means two important things for presenters. Firstly, if an audience is bored, they’re not interested, they’re not listening, and they’re not going to do what you want them to do. Secondly, if most presentations suck so badly, those presenters who make an effort can rise above the crowd, communicate better, and spread their ideas effectively.

So upgrade to Presentation 2.0, and make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. Here’s how – four disciplines which others ignore or suck at: preparation, storytelling, visual design, and delivery.

1. Preparation

Any great edifice needs a strong foundation. For a presentation, that foundation is the preparation. This is where you analyze your audience and their needs, set clear and concrete objectives, and choose a few key messages to help you achieve those objectives.

The audience might remember how you make them feel, they may remember some of what they see, but they will certainly forget most of what you say. They might recall three things. Don’t leave it to chance and hope they remember the right things – choose the three key messages you want them to remember.

Slide Fail to Prepare.027

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is the art of structuring your presentation to communicate messages effectively and interestingly; and using narrative techniques and devices to make them memorable.

When Steve Jobs pulled a Macbook Air out of an envelope, that was storytelling. It was a technique designed to communicate a key message – “The world’s thinnest notebook” – and make it stick.

I once sold a print services contract to a major Brazilian customer, but first I had to convince them they had a problem. So I demonstrated that each year, their printed pages laid end-to-end would stretch from the source of the Amazon all the way to the Atlantic (mouths gaped open) – and then back again (jaws hit floor). That’s storytelling.

If you think hard enough, you can find a way to make anything interesting and memorable.

3. Visual Design

Ever suffered “Death By PowerPoint”? Most businesspeople face it every day, so they dread the moment when someone asks to switch on the projector.

Most slides obstruct communication. They assume the audience can read and listen simultaneously, that bullet points are memorable, and that the audience doesn’t mind the presenter using slides as speaker notes. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. A deck of slides can assist communication and make your key messages memorable. It’s just a question of good design.

A typical useless slideument

4. Delivery

A great presenter can make anything fascinating. It’s about voice, speed, gestures, comfort, eye contact, movement, humor, charisma, and above all, preparation and rehearsal.

You can learn this. We’re not born orators. As Emerson said, “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

Slide Emerson Bad Speakers.003

Working hard at each of these four disciplines will make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. It’ll help you stand out from the crowd. If your audience sees four boring and forgettable 1.0 presentations, and one effective and memorable Presentation 2.0, it’s clear which presenter has the advantage. Make sure it’s you.

This article was first published in SOLD Magazine, the leading worldwide monthly for sales professionals, as part of Phil’s regular Presentation 2.0 column.


SOLD: a fantastic free magazine for sales professionals

August 14, 2012

I was recently contacted by the extremely friendly people at SOLD Labs, which publishes a fairly new online magazine called SOLD Magazine. They asked whether I’d be interested in writing a regular column. So of course my first course of action was to take a look at the magazine.

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve spent many years in sales and rarely found any published advice that was relevant to modern selling situations. B2B and B2C sales have changed immensely in the last 15 years, mostly thanks to the advances in information technology and the professionalisation of the procurement function in major companies. The old advice about how to sell a set of encyclopedias door-to-door just isn’t relevant any more.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover an attractive magazine, full of useful and relevant advice for modern salespeople, from experienced columnists and featured experts like Shep Hyken. And it includes a section about presentation skills which is truly modern – none of the old advice about seven bullets per page or three minutes per slide.

I liked it so much that I agreed to contribute a monthly column, focusing on the Presentation 2.0 approach which we’ve developed at Ideas on Stage. My first column appeared in the July edition.

So to check out my article, and plenty of other fine articles about selling, negotiating and presenting, please click through to SOLD Magazine, and sign up free to subscribe to future issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope you will be too.

 


When Does Communication Become Manipulation?

June 29, 2012

 

One of my executive students at HEC Paris asked me this week at what point communication becomes manipulation. After all, many of the rhetorical devices and storytelling techniques used in speechwriting and presentation design are similar to those used by a hypnotist, advertiser or salesperson.

This assumes there is a continuum, with communication at one end, and manipulation at the other end – and the more devices of influence you use, the more you move towards the ‘manipulation’ end of the scale.

I disagree. Purely and simply, all communication is an attempt to influence the audience, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do so effectively. For me, the choice of how few or how many tools of influence you use is only part of the picture, and that scale is not between communication and manipulation, but between ineffective and effective communication.

An entrepreneur pitching an investor is aiming to influence that investor. Is that manipulation? The entrepreneur is doing everything possible to make an investor part with some cash, while at the beginning of the pitch the investor’s wallet is firmly closed.

A salesperson is always aiming to influence customers’ thoughts. Not only do they make you want their product or service where previously you perhaps didn’t want it (or didn’t realise you wanted it), but they also make you want their exact offering, and not those of your competitors. Is that manipulation? Or is it only manipulation if it is done well?

Let’s bring in a dictionary definition of manipulation. Dictionary.com defines ‘manipulate’ as:

to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.

My Chambers English Dictionary defines ‘manipulate’ as:

to turn to one’s own purpose or advantage

So the key factor is not the number of influence techniques used, but the intention of the speaker. Influencing the audience for your own selfish interests is considered manipulation, and has a negative connotation.

Political speeches are mostly about manipulation. Politicians try to influence voters, journalists and often each other, usually for their own selfish desires. (Sadly, selfless politicians like Vaclav Havel are the exception, not the rule.)

Advertising is all about manipulation, of course. Advertisers use every technique in the book to influence our thoughts, almost always for their own interests.

However, not everyone has selfish intentions. Take parents, for example.

Once, when I was a boy, I was flicking elastic bands around, and my father asked me to stop. He told me that once he had seen someone flick an elastic band which took someone’s eye out, i.e. it was very dangerous and I shouldn’t do it. The story was far stronger than just saying “stop doing that, son” – it certainly stopped me from flicking elastic bands, and I still remember the story over 30 years later. My father was using a storytelling technique to influence me – but for my benefit, so I would avoid a dangerous activity.

Now I am a father, and I use stories all the time to influence my children – for their benefit. This is far from new. Humans have been using stories for millennia to transfer knowledge and influence younger generations into avoiding the mistakes of their ancestors. The fable about the boy who cried ‘wolf’ is far more effective than just telling kids not to lie.

So while you can indeed have a continuum between ineffective and effective communication, there is another which is equally important: between altruism at one end of the scale – communicating purely for the audience’s benefit – and selfishness at the other end.

We can’t all be altruistic all the time. But we can at least aim for the middle of the scale: mutual interest.

Let’s take a look at what this means, in the Communication Influence Matrix above. In the bottom-left, you have ineffective and selfish communication – which is what poor salespeople dish out to long-suffering buyers. In the top-left, you have ineffective but altruistic communication, an example of which would be most teaching, which is for the benefit of the audience but far too often fails to be effective due to poor use of influencing techniques.

Then, in the bottom-right, you have effective and selfish communication – which could be good advertisements, or a powerful political speech for example. In the middle on the right, you have effective communication for mutual interest, which is what good salespeople will aim for. A good salesperson sincerely believes her customer will benefit from buying her product or service, and focuses on those benefits, while communicating effectively – and without forgetting her own company’s interests. Think of any Steve Jobs product launch.

And in the top-right, you have effective altruistic communication, and while I could have put public-service advertisements there, I’m proud to put my dad and his stories in that corner. One day, I hope my own children will put me there too.

Takeaways for presenters

As a presenter, work out how you can help your audience. If you are a salesperson, make your presentation not about your product or service, but about your customer’s problem and how it can be solved. You may succeed in making them want to buy your latest widget, but it will be in their interest to do so.

If you are an entrepreneur, talk about why your start-up offers a great opportunity for the investor. You’re not just going to them asking for money: you are offering them the chance to make a large pile of cash. You’re trying to influence them, of course, but in their interest as well as yours.

The trick is simply to ensure that their interests coincide with yours. If the customer is happy to solve their problem, that’s good for you because they’re using your widget to do so. If the investor is happy to invest because it’s a great opportunity, that’s also good for you because it means you have the cash to expand your company.

The audience’s own interest is the magical ingredient of any presentation. If you can always clearly act in the audience’s interest, you will never be accused of manipulation, no matter how many influence techniques you use. And if you can find a way to meet their needs while also meeting yours, then everybody wins.


The Power Of The Pause

April 3, 2012

A good friend recently asked me why a pause is so important when speaking. His style is usually quite fast and dynamic, and he felt that leaving pauses might disrupt the flow and make his talk seem disjointed.

My first encounter with the power of the pause was when studying the plays of Harold Pinter at high school. Pinter was a master of the dramatic pause. A pause on stage is where the characters are not speaking, but they are perhaps doing something, and certainly thinking, and that adds to the drama. A pause adds importance to what precedes it and to what follows it.

I first realised the power of the pause in a presentation when I was at a private equity seminar in 2008. There were a number of presentations from private equity firms and professors, most of them with predictably ugly slides, and often they were just reading a written speech (most of which was written on the slides anyway).

But then came the closing keynote. It was by Didier Pineau-Valencienne, of whom I had never heard, but I later learned he is a famous French business leader, and honorary chairman of Schneider Electric.

He didn’t use slides. He didn’t read a speech. He looked at us. He made strong eye-contact. And he spoke slowly, carefully, deliberately, and powerfully. He left pauses regularly so we could reflect on what his words meant for us. Every sentence was well-crafted, yet simple rather than impressively complex. From the way he spoke, it was clear he was a leader. You could have heard a pin drop between his words.

You can think of a pause like a coffee-break. Coffee stimulates our attentiveness, and makes us more influenceable, and the break allows us to catch our breath between work periods. A pause can have a similar effect on you and your audience. Here are three reasons why you should speak slowly, carefully and powerfully, and leave pauses at appropriate times.

1. It gives the audience time to reflect.

This is the single biggest reason to pause from time to time. We don’t remember things because we hear them, or because we understand them. We remember them because they mean something to us, and because we remember how we feel about them. But for a message to have personal meaning and generate an emotion, we need not only to hear and understand it: we also need to think about it, to think about what it means for us, and to work out how it fits with the rest what we think we know about life, the universe and everything.

Personal reflection is the glue that makes a message stick. It is as powerful as any story.

The trouble is that most speeches and presentations bombard the audience with sentence after sentence, without giving them the time to perform this personal reflection. Leaving strategic pauses after important points gives the audience time to reflect, and gives your message a chance to stick.

Think of it like painting a wall. You apply the first coat of paint, and then you wait for it to dry before applying the second coat. You wouldn’t apply the second coat while the first is still wet. You give it a chance to dry. Do that with your messages too. Give them a chance to stick by letting your audience think about what your messages mean to them.

(And try to make your messages more interesting than watching paint dry…)

2. It gives you time to reflect.

A pause between sentences is not only good for your audience: it is also good for you. It gives you a chance to catch your breath, to relax, and to prepare the next sentence. You are therefore physically ready to deliver the next sentence, and you know what you are going to say, so it will come out smoothly. It also gives you time to gauge the audience’s reaction to your talk.

Last week I gave a short talk to young students at a business school about slide design, and during one pause, I noticed the silence in the room. I have never known students to be so quiet (and no, they weren’t asleep). They were paying far more attention than most students in most classes. It was a good sign. The pause enabled me to notice it.

I’m not suggesting you should pause at the end of every sentence. Pause to give effect to your point, and that point may have required two or three sentences to make, so pause at the end to let people think, and you can take advantage of that time to catch your breath, check how your audience is reacting, and prepare your next point.

Always remember, by the way, that a pause will always seem far longer to the speaker than it does to the audience. So don’t worry if the pause seems long to you: your audience won’t think so.

3. It makes you look like a leader.

Many speakers are nervous, nervy, over-excited, worried about how they will be perceived, worried that they might be interrupted, worried that they might run over time, and desperate to get it over with and get off stage as quickly as possible. All these points contrive to make them speak far too quickly. Unless you are a racing commentator, speaking quickly will make people perceive you as a loser.

Remember the four aims of presentation: to be heard, understood, respected and remembered.

If you rattle through everything at lightning speed as if you had a plane to catch or an urgent appointment with the nearest rest-room, your audience might not hear all your words, they might not properly understand, they won’t credit you with enough credibility to care what you are saying, and they won’t remember it anyway because they have no time to think about what it means to them.

Leaders, on the other hand, are confident. Leaders know that people will listen to them, and not interrupt them. Leaders are calm and collected. In short, leaders speak slowly and in a controlled way, and when they leave a pause, they are saying to the audience: “I am confident that nobody will use this pause to interrupt me.” And because they exude this confidence and this sense of leadership, generally nobody does.

Therefore when you use pauses, it makes you look confident and powerful. It makes you look like you are in control. It makes you look like a leader. It makes you look like someone worth listening to. And if the audience thinks you are worth listening to, then speaking slowly with pauses should enable you to achieve all four of the aims of presentation: to be heard, understood, respected and remembered.

Let’s finish with a few examples. Here are three fine speakers: Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs, and former French President Jaques Chirac. As you watch these (you probably only need the first minute of each to get the idea), try to imagine how those speakers would have appeared had they spoken extremely quickly. Would they have had the same effect?

MLK

In the first part of Dr King’s famous Lincoln Memorial speech, he spoke at approximately 92 words per minute. That is extremely slow compared to most speakers, and slower than I would recommend in most professional situations. But it worked for him. Could you imagine him speaking much faster? When your words have as much power as Dr King’s, don’t dilute that power by rushing through them.

Steve Jobs

Jobs was a master of the pause, and of speaking slowly. In the first 90 seconds of this example (the original iPhone introduction), Jobs spoke at 94 words per minute – and that’s not including the time he waited while the audience applauded.

Note how he even paused at the beginning. Of course it wasn’t the start of his complete presentation, but it was the start of this section. The long pause would have left the audience wondering what was to come, and it allowed Jobs to collect his thoughts, catch his breath, and prepare for perhaps his biggest ever launch. Again, his words all had such power which would have been lost if he had hurried through them.

Lastly, remember that slow should not mean boring and monotonous. Nobody would accuse Dr King or Steve Jobs of sounding boring. On the contrary, when you slow down and use pauses well, you can give your words far more power and emphasis. Watch how Jobs did this.

Jacques Chirac

In this televised address to mark the end of his presidency, Jacques Chirac spoke purposefully and meaningfully. You may not speak French so this may not mean much to you, but just watch the first 30 seconds and listen to the sound of his voice. He spoke at 120 words per minute in this section, which is right in the range of 110-140 words per minute which I recommend to most speakers. It’s faster than both Jobs and Dr King, but still quite slow compared to most speakers who are above 150 words per minute (why not time yourself?).

(I can’t embed this one sadly since WordPress doesn’t seem to support embedding DailyMotion clips.)

Jacques Chirac – Adieu

So slow down, and leave pauses. You will have more credibility. Your messages will have a better chance of sticking. And your audience will certainly be grateful.


5 Reasons Why Black Is The New White

March 23, 2012

Earlier this week, I was with a group of senior executives at a multinational corporation, looking at some slides I had produced for them. The HR VP had never worked with Ideas on Stage before, so our 2.0 visual style was entirely new to him.

The slides were entirely compatible with this company’s corporate identity, except that the slide background was black instead of their usual white.

The HR VP’s reaction was very positive: “I’d never thought of using a black background before. It looks so much better.”

Indeed it does. Very much better. Apple uses dark backgrounds (dark does not need to mean pure black) and that’s as good an argument as any. Here are five other reasons why you should stop using white backgrounds, and use a dark background wherever possible.

1. Don’t fatigue your audience

I often surprise my trainees when, after a hundred or more slides with a black background, I then start talking about the use of colour, and show them a mostly empty slide with a white background. Their reaction is always the same – the sudden burst of white light physically disturbs them, causes them to reel away, narrow their eyes, and not enjoy the experience at all. I make them think about why they reacted in this way. And then ask them why they would do this to their audiences all the time.

Whether you are projecting onto a screen or using a large LCD screen, a white background produces an awfully bright light, and although if the background is always white your audience will not need to recoil in self-defence, what will happen is that all that light will tire their eyes and make them unnecessarily fatigued. If you want to tire your audience, by all means bombard them with lots of white light. That’s not the aim of most presentations – but sadly it is the result.

A black background with white text will be far easier on their eyes, and help you to keep them fully awake. This is especially important in dark settings such as a theatre where the audience is mostly in the dark. There, a white background is simply criminal. But even in a well-lit room, white on black works just as well as black on white in terms of contrast – and much better in terms of the audience’s comfort.

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2. Keep them focused on you

We use slides to illustrate our messages – they are not the message themselves. We want people to be able to ‘get’ the slide in 3-5 seconds, and return their focus to the presenter, instead of spending the whole time looking at the wall.

Unfortunately, our eyes are naturally attracted to sources of light. So the more light you put on the screen, the more people will be drawn to look at it even if they already ‘got’ the slide. I sometimes test audiences with a slide with just one word on it, and I find people still looking back at it long after they had first read and understood it. That is worse when the background is white.

Give them less light on the screen, and they will be able to focus more on you and what you are saying.

3. Smile – you’re on camera

If you are being filmed, or if there are photographers capturing your moment on stage, then do the cameramen a favour – make sure the slides are no lighter than you are. Otherwise they will have a tough time with the contrast, because a white background on the slide is a lot – a LOT – brighter than you are, even if you have a spotlight on you.

If you want good-quality photographs and videos of your big presentation, don’t use a white background. Black is far better.

4. Slides without borders

You might want to have a slide which simply features a photo in portrait format (i.e. it is rectangular, but while it fills the screen vertically, there is a big gap on the left and the right). If you use a white background, then what people will see on the wall/screen is a photo with two big bright bars on each side, and their eyes will be drawn to the white bars instead of the photo. If you use a black background, they will just see a photo in the middle of the screen.

Quite simply, if you use a black background (and here I do mean a purely black background, not a gradient like Apple uses most of the time), there will be little or no ‘edge’ to the projected image. People will see your nice clear graph in the middle of the wall, and it will blend into the wall rather than being clearly part of a projected white rectangle. It looks so much better. Try it.

5. Stand out from the crowd

99% of slide presentations suck. Probably 95% of these presentations use slides with white backgrounds. It’s not because of the background that the presentation sucks, or at least that’s not the only reason. But it is a simple fact that the vast majority of slides are horrible, and the vast majority of those horrible slides have white backgrounds.

So when you start up your slides, and the audience sees they are white, they will immediately (and perhaps subconsciously) recall all their previous painful experiences with horrible white slides, and they will expect the worst. They’ll probably assume you will assault them with Comic Sans and cheesy stick-man clip art at any time. And clearly you don’t want to start your presentation by making them expect the worst – your introduction needs to make them want to listen!

If however you start projecting slides with a black background, you immediately set yourself apart from all those previous negative experiences. This is not like every other presentation. It can’t be any worse. It might in fact be better.

And if you care enough about your audience and your communication to use a black background, then you’ll probably make an effort with your story, your slides and your delivery as well, so it almost certainly will be better.

But hold on a minute…

You might be thinking that you have to use a white background because you have to print your slides, and you don’t want to use huge amounts of toner. Indeed my old friends at HP would probably love it if you decided to print out mostly-black slides. But I have two responses to this.

1. You should never, ever, need to print your slides. Why would you do that? Slides are not handouts (if you don’t agree, read this) so you shouldn’t print them to give to your audience. Besides, in this environmentally-conscious age, you should be avoiding unnecessary paper use whenever possible. Your slides are intended to be projected on a big screen or via a webinar – and perhaps to accompany your electronic hand-outs which you distribute (ideally) after your presentation.

Of course, if you are producing a document in PowerPoint – which you may want to print – then by all means use a white background and by all means print it. Just don’t confuse that with the kind of slides you would use for a live presentation.

2. Pure Black & White. If you really, really do need to print your slides for some reason (and every rule has an exception), then you can use the Pure Black & White printing mode in PowerPoint, and it will automatically change the colours for you so that your printout is clear but you use a minimum of toner or ink. (NB: PowerPoint 2010 had an issue with this printing mode, and if you suffer from it, there is a hotfix available here.)

So there you have it. Black is the new white when it comes to slide backgrounds. And this is one change your audience will truly thank you for.


Introduction To Selling (video)

February 15, 2012

Salespeople need to know how to present, although they also need to know when not to present. I once sold a $100M outsourcing contract over a 12-month sales cycle, and I had salespeople from all parts of the company asking me to share my slides, hoping to replicate this success. They were disappointed: I hadn’t used a single slide in all that time.

Selling isn’t all about presenting: it’s about setting clear objectives, understanding your customer and their problems, choosing suitable messages, making a connection, gaining their respect, communicating your key messages effectively and memorably, delivering a clear call-to-action, and convincing the customer to act.

Look back at that last sentence, though, and you’ll realise that in fact we could say all those things about a presentation as well. Selling and presenting have so much in common. It’s partly why my sales management background helps me in my role as a presentation designer and coach. It also explains why I train people to sell, as well as to present.

Here is a video of my latest mentor session for Le Camping, the Paris-based start-up accelerator, which was the introduction to a one-day seminar about sales and negotiating. In this talk, I cover how to approach a sales meeting, based on three key objectives: making a connection, listening & learning, and always getting to the next step.


Top 10 of 2011

December 20, 2011

As 2012 approaches, and many of us wind down for a relaxing break for Christmas and New Year, it’s time to take a look back at 2011 and what marked it most.

So just as I shared my Top 10 of 2010 last year, here is a rundown of the Top 10 Phil Presents posts of 2011. Whether you read them at the time or missed them, this is a chance to recap the most popular articles of the year (not including event reviews etc).

And let me say a warm thankyou to you, because it is the growing popularity of this blog and the many fine comments you make that keep me writing, sharing, and doing my bit to help change the world, one presentation at a time. Just as a presenter is on stage not because he or she is important but because their audience is important, I don’t write this blog because I am in some way great or important. I write it because you are important. You matter. You can change the world. My role is merely to help you do that in some small way.

So best wishes for a successful 2012, thanks for reading and listening, and enjoy the recap of the most popular posts of 2011.

10. DSK: How emotions beat logic every time

Written before Dominique Strauss-Kahn‘s New York trial was dropped, this took two key presentation lessons from the DSK-Diallo case and the public reaction in France.

9. Adapt To Your Audience

A presenter who takes the time to understand his or her audience, and tailors their presentation accordingly, is worth their weight in gold.

8. Do Investors Like Slideuments?

One of many pitch-related posts this year, this asked the question whether information-laden slideuments are appropriate in an investor pitch. (Clue: they’re not.)

7. Animate Your Audience – Not Your Slides

A follow-up to the year’s #1 post, this one talked about how animation on the screen is bad unless it helps to deliver your message more effectively; but on the contrary, animating your audience is absolutely critical for the success of any presentation.

6. Keep it simple…

As experts in our subjects, we tend to present with far too much complexity. Keep it simple, and your audience will understand far more.

5. When you think Presentation Zen isn’t appropriate, that’s when you need it most

The post that debunks the myth that you can’t use Garr Reynolds’ approach in certain situations like technical presentations.

4. Video: Introduction to Presentation Skills

This post features a 90-minute video of yours truly, giving a presentation skills talk to entrepreneurs at Le Camping in Paris. If you have 90 minutes to learn about what it takes to give a great presentation, sit back and enjoy.

3. First Impressions Last

All about the vital importance of your introduction.

2. Perfecting Your Pitch

Another pitch-related post, and this is about putting the finishing touches to your pitch, and turning it from a good pitch into a great memorable pitch.

1. Two Reasons I Don’t Recommend Prezi

The most-viewed and most-commented post of the year was this one, about how I believe Prezi stops the presenter focusing on the audience before the presentation, and stops the audience focusing on the presenter during the presentation. I believe Prezi is a fine tool for certain niche uses, but in most cases, it is solving the wrong problem, and making an existing problem worse.

And a few bonus posts…

Here are a few other posts which didn’t make the Top 10 in terms of hits, but which I believe deserve another look. Some were from the start of the year (when the blog was not as widely read as it is now), and others were very recent and didn’t yet have time to accumulate enough hits.

Take The Drive-By Test

Treat your slide as if it were a road sign, and make it simple, clear and quick to understand. It’s a simple but powerful test. And this short post from early January also features a hilarious video which is well worth watching.

Show And Feel

About the importance of mirror neurons – this is vital information every presenter should know.

Pitch 2.0 (Video)

A video of my 8-minute presentation at Le Camping Festival in June 2011, in the style of Steve Jobs. Six months later, people still tell me they remember ‘Magic, Vision & Passion’!

Presentation 2.0: Resonate Naked

This was my joint review of Resonate and The Naked Presenter, two fantastic books about structuring and delivering great presentations. For me, these two books usher in the era of what I call Presentation 2.0.

So which of these was your favourite post of 2011?


Beyond 10-20-30

December 9, 2011

I like the spirit of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at this short entertaining video.

He is basically saying: don’t overload your audience; keep it simple; and use text that’s big enough to be legible by the whole audience. Amen to all that.

However, many people take Guy’s advice out of context and apply it to the letter. Yet Guy was giving advice to entrepreneurs pitching to venture capitalists – a very specific presentation context. He was saying that you should aim to pitch in 20 minutes, with ten slides – and not just any ten slides, but these ten slides (he lists what should be on each slide).

Now for an investor pitch, that’s pretty good advice, although it can be taken to extremes, and I’ve already talked about how you need to go beyond being informative, and also make sure your pitch is memorable.

But the 10-20-30 advice just doesn’t hold up for any other kind of presentation. The spirit is spot-on, and I applaud Guy’s intentions, but you shouldn’t take his advice to the letter – Guy certainly doesn’t follow it religiously in his recent (very good) Enchantment presentations. Here’s why we need to go beyond 10-20-30.

Read the rest of this entry »


Presentation Flow: Link Or Break

November 23, 2011

I am often asked about the flow of ideas in a presentation, and indeed it can be very hard to follow a presentation where the speaker moves from one idea to another without any transition, like a scatter-brained mother-in-law.

It is vital to ensure your presentation has a natural flow. That doesn’t mean that everything has to be completely linked, as if it were all one chain of ideas. But you should not just jump around without making that clear. Your audience shouldn’t have to play catch-up to work out what you’re talking about.

My advice is to use one of two simple devices between items. (You could interpret this as being ‘between slides’ although I prefer to talk about the parts of your presentation, because you might not be using slides at all, or perhaps not all the time.)

This is simply ‘Link or Break’.

1. Link.

This means that you need to link the new idea to the previous one. You can do this in a number of ways. You could use the list approach, as used by Steve Jobs when launching the iPhone 4. He said he would talk about 8 different features of his new phone, and then proceeded to go through them all from #1 to #8. That provides an obvious link and structure to the eight points.

You could use an acronym, and then go through the different letters – for example, at Ideas on Stage we talk about IMPACT in slide design: Image, Message, Positioning, Animation, Colour and Typography. This is another kind of list approach.

Alternatively, you can have each idea build on the previous one, as you develop your arguments. Sometimes it is useful to make this very clear: “So now we’ve seen that there’s a clear market for a new kind of widget, let’s take a look at our new iWidget.” Never assume that the flow is as obvious for your audience as it is for you. That link sentence can be all-important.

2. Break.

Sometimes, however, you’ll need to move from one point to something completely different, and there isn’t any obvious link even to you. Once again, the late Steve Jobs was a master of this.

One of his undercelebrated skills was turning the page in his presentations. He knew that it isn’t enough just to start talking about a new topic: first you have to close the previous topic properly so the audience is satisfied and ready for something new. His method was simple:

a) A one-line conclusion

b) A pause

For example, in his iPhone 4 launch in 2010, he first talked about the first three months of the iPad, with sales figures etc. Before moving on to the next part (iOS 4), he closed the chapter with a line something like:

“So that is my update for the iPad.”

His subsequent pause gave the audience time to applaud. They won’t always do that for you, but at least it will give them time to close the chapter on that part of your talk, and prepare for what you’re going to say next.

You can see the video here (this part is at around 10:20).

I personally hate watching US TV because most of the time there is no clear break before the commercials kick in, and I find myself thinking “is this part of the show?” whereas in France and the UK, there is always a clear pause with the channel’s logo and a statement that the commercials are about to begin.

Likewise, your audience will appreciate that clean break. Close the box on the last point with a simple concluding statement, pause, and then begin the next topic.

Conclusion

With these two simple techniques of ‘link or break’, you should ensure your presentation flows naturally, and your structure helps your audience to enjoy and appreciate your messages, and hopefully ‘get’ them, instead of leaving them perplexed and wondering what you’re talking about.

One more thing…

If you are always very clear about your links, then it will have a very strong impact when you suddenly show or say something completely unexpected.

You can use this to your advantage by showing something surprising or provocative, making people wonder why, making them listen attentively to find out why, and then explaining why it is linked.

This is a great way to get people’s attention levels up again when they might have been starting to wane. But it is only when your audience fully expects your ideas to be properly linked that you can have a positive impact with this kind of device.

Make your ideas flow properly with good links, making clean breaks when necessary, and your messages will have more impact – and your audience will thank you.


How To Disappoint An Audience – by Apple

October 5, 2011

Every battle is won before it is fought.

So said Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warlord-philosopher and strategist, and Apple proved him right again yesterday.

In Tim Cook’s first public outing as CEO, Apple’s fans were led to expect the much-trumpeted iPhone 5, and they were disappointed. Instead, Apple announced a new iPhone 4S, which has many cool features and is much more powerful than the original iPhone 4, but it looks the same and it’s not a 5.

The immediate reaction was one of disappointment among fans and commentators. A poll showed 81% of respondents were disappointed. The AAPL share price dropped, at one point by up to 5%, although it later recovered, but the market was hit, and a Business Insider article was entitled “Apple’s Disappointing iPhone Kills The Entire Market Comeback”. Jay Yarow said “People were right to feel let down! They didn’t get what they expected.”

Steve Jobs is a hard act to follow by any measure, and all eyes were on Tim Cook’s performance on stage to see if he could match the master. But if his performance was competent enough, the event still disappointed, because expectations had been raised and the event had been hyped, and the substance of the message failed to match the expectation. The BBC reported that “you could sense a great wave of disappointment rolling through the Apple community”.

Now I can hear you saying that Apple never announced that they would release anything called an iPhone 5, not yesterday, not ever. True. But the media speculation was so high in recent weeks that it was almost a fait accompli, and everyone was talking about the event as “the iPhone 5 launch”. TechCrunch announced a very certain “We know the iPhone 5 is being debuted soon.” LoopInsight announced the event as “the iPhone 5 event”. And there had already been plenty of leaks about the new teardrop design of the iPhone 5 which had originally been expected in June, and so they couldn’t possibly delay it any later than October, could they?

So were the media completely wrong to lead people to believe this was going to be the big day? Perhaps. But Apple were wrong to allow it.

I’ve already blogged about how it’s important to raise expectations to a level that’s high enough to make people interested, but not so high that you can’t then meet or exceed them. Apple just got this the wrong way round. To put it crudely, people were expecting a cool new iPhone 5. They got Cards.

That news sites and influential blogs gave people false expectations is certainly Apple’s problem, because what could have been a great event with some cool announcements turned into an event which disappointed people because of what it didn’t say, so it does affect Apple’s image – even if they will still sell shedloads of phones.

It was like going to see Jurassic Park 8 and leaving the cinema disappointed because there was only one small and docile dinosaur. If that’s what you’re expecting, it doesn’t matter how great the cinematography or acting are.

So since the resulting disappointment was Apple’s problem, it should have been Apple’s responsibility to influence expectations beforehand. That’s what PR is there for.

What, then, could Apple have done before the event to set expectations to a level that was high but achievable? Plenty. Here are some ideas.

  1. The event name and invitation. Having detected that people were expecting something unrealistic, they could have set clear expectations in the invitation or even the event name. If the invitation had mentioned something like “You remember the leap forward between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS? That’s nothing compared to what we’ll be announcing on October 4th” then people would still have expected a lot, but they’d have probably expected an updated 4 series and not a 5. And if a few journalists had received that, they’d have picked up on it and relayed it, and started speculating along the right lines. Instead, on receiving the press release, sites like LoopInsight immediately called it “the iPhone 5 launch”.
  2. A strategic leak. Apple should have realised that the battle was going to be lost unless they reset expectations, so a strategic leak to an influential blog or journalist might have been enough to achieve that. “We’re not calling it an iPhone 5, but it’s still a big step-change from the iPhone 4″ might have been enough. Or “The outside is the same as the iPhone 4, but what’s inside is completely new.” Would that steal some of Cook’s thunder (or Schiller’s, as it happens)? Perhaps. But it raises the question “so what’s new inside, in terms of hardware and software, and what will it do for me?” – and that’s the right kind of question for people to speculate about before the event.
  3. A teaser. Imagine a video on the Apple web site, building up to the brand-new phone, and then unveiling what looks like the iPhone 4. Then someone saying “Hold on, that’s just an iPhone 4!” And the answer could come: “It only looks like an iPhone 4. Find out what’s inside on Oct 4.” And then perhaps the new phone’s screen could open one eye invitingly. The slogan “It only looks like an iPhone 4″ takes something that people will say anyway, and adds the important word “only” which then raises expectations about what’s inside.

Frankly, there are all sorts of things Apple could have done. Yes, it is in a ‘quiet period’, but if it can make such a major product announcement during a quiet period, it can also set expectations properly. Its failure to do so has rebounded on it, and has caused the first perceived failure of Tim Cook’s tenure.

It just goes to show that it’s not always the delivery that lets a presentation down: it’s often mis-setting or misunderstanding the audience’s expectations. And with all it could have done to set expectations right, Apple can’t go blaming the media. Worse, when you willingly allow so many journalists to bark up the wrong tree, they end up getting angry at being made to look like fools, and they could decide to turn on Apple, which is no longer the cool underdog that inspired cult status, and which could end up portrayed as the next big corporate villain surprisingly quickly if they are not careful.

It’s a pity, because the iPhone 4S seems pretty cool, and deserves to be judged on what it is, not criticised for what it is not. And giving away the iPhone 3GS is a market-shaking announcement. If only they’d ensured expectations were set right, perhaps people would be talking about a successful debut for Cook, not a disappointment.

Every battle is won before it is fought. Tim Cook didn’t lose this one through his performance on the stage. Basically his PR people led him into an ambush even Jobs wouldn’t have escaped unhurt.

One more thing…

Apple’s product launches are quite long. This one had a lot of padding. The more stuff you announce at the same time, the lower the overall impact. If Jobs got one thing wrong in his most recent launches, this was it. One hour is enough, half an hour is better. Apple has absolutely no business giving air-time at an iPhone launch to an underwhelming app like Cards, or a few new skins for an iPod Nano. They can launch those with one of their regular emails.

BBC News Online’s Rory Cellan-Jones called it “an extremely long and ponderous event“. And many of Jobs’ events fell into that same trap.

When he launched the iPad2, he had three key messages. It’s lighter, it’s thinner, and it’s faster. That was all it needed – but it went on a long time. If Apple’s agenda yesterday had been to get three key messages across, it would have been these:

  • Here’s a fantastic new iPhone 4S with Siri and iOS5
  • We’re giving the iPhone 3GS away for free
  • iCloud is launching next week (I was wondering when it would finally launch, so it’s good to mention it)

And quite frankly, they should not have felt the need to add any more subjects to the agenda. I’d allow them a brief intro (a brief one) talking about some of their recent successes. But that’s all.

Lessons for presenters

  1. Delivery isn’t everything. Yes, it’s important, but your message is just as important as the way you deliver it.
  2. Understand your audience and their expectations.
  3. Set (or reset) expectations to a level where you can meet or exceed them. If you can’t or won’t do that, it will become your problem, so make it your responsibility.
  4. Choose 1-3 key messages and work to communicate them memorably. Cut out anything that doesn’t help deliver those key messages.
  5. Be brief, as FDR would have said.

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