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.


Top Talk: Bob Davids at TEDxESCP

May 6, 2012

Today, I rolled my lawn. It was a heavy roller and a tough job, but with plenty of effort, I managed it.

I quickly realised that it was much easier pulling the roller than pushing it. Leading people is much the same. If you push them, you don’t really know how they are going to react. But if you inspire them to follow you, then you have a far better chance of getting them to go where you want them to go.

At TEDxESCP 2012, I had the good fortune to work with Bob Davids, a seasoned American entrepreneur and leader, who gave a talk on leadership, with the potentially controversial premise that you can’t manage people – but you can lead them.

Of all the many great speakers at TEDxESCP 2012, I perhaps worked with Bob the least – partly due to schedules and partly because it was clear from our first discussion that he didn’t need much help. (One of the most important skills of an event coach is to work out where you can make the most difference, and allocate your time accordingly.)

We did discuss one important item. It was clear that he didn’t need any slides for his talk, but I asked whether there were any props he could use. He mentioned that he liked the idea of using a chain, which he picked up from General Eisenhower, and I immediately encouraged him to use that if he could.

You’ll see why in the video below. It helps people to remember one of his key messages. (I won’t spoil the surprise – watch it and see.)

Bob is a master storyteller. He speaks slowly, calmly, deliberately, and with the voice of experience. Young people would do well to listen and learn, as younger people have a tendency to speak too quickly. With Bob, you have time to digest his words and thoughts, work out what they mean for you, relate them to your own experience, and store his wisdom.

It was a pleasure to work with Bob even for a short time, and to watch him hold the audience in the palm of his hand – and indeed I have always subscribed to his vision of egoless leadership.

Watch and enjoy. And then please tell me what you thought about his talk.


DSK: How emotions beat logic every time

June 1, 2011

Soon after Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), then head of the IMF, was arrested in New York on sexual assault charges, a poll found that 57% of French respondents felt that he had probably or certainly been set up. In other words, they did not want to believe that he had committed those crimes, and they preferred to believe that one of his many enemies had somehow fabricated the incident to take him out of the picture.

Whatever the truth, it’s an amazing story with many open questions, and so much we do not know, yet many people already believe they know whether the allegations are true or not. Only 11% of respondents in that poll stated they did not have an opinion.

What’s this doing on a presentation blog? There are two important lessons in here for storytellers and presenters. Read the rest of this entry »


Do Americans present better than Brits?

October 26, 2010

I should declare right at the start: I’m British, so of course I’d love to say the Brits are the best presenters. Contrary to what much of the non-Anglo-Saxon world thinks, Brits and Yanks love little more than showing off their superiority over their transatlantic cousins. We’re very competitive. And in this unequal friendly combat, it’s rather lucky that Brits are good losers.

(Americans would say it’s because we have so much practice. Although they’d spell it ‘practise’.)

I am often struck in France about how people talk about “the Anglo-Saxon world” assuming that we’re all the same, particularly between America and Britain – and there are significant minorities in both America and Britain who would dispute whether either country could fairly be described nowadays as Anglo-Saxon at all.

For example, I was recently asked in an interview on French national TV: “Do you think presentations are better in the Anglo-Saxon world?” Yet we’re not the same at all. As Shaw pointed out, we are “separated by a common language”, but there are far more differences between Britain and America than between Britain and France in my view.

Perhaps at one point I will go into that on another blog, but this one is focused on presentation skills, and I’d like to talk about a recent speech by fellow speaking coach Phillip Khan-Panni at the UK Speechwriters’ Guild conference, about how Brits and Americans present differently. Here it is.

I found his speech was well-constructed and contained a number of very good points, which I’ll summarise below. Phillip has a delightfully clear and crisp voice. It is a pity the lighting was so poor and the unused screens were not switched off for the duration of his talk. The speaker was the dark shadow between the two distracting sources of light. That’s not the speaker’s fault, but if I were him, I would have been rather angry (although, as a Brit, it would have been a very polite and reserved form of anger).

So what are the differences? Here are some that Phillip found:

Body language

Americans perceive that British speakers often have their hands behind their backs. This isn’t a very good way of speaking, but indeed it is common. Many young Brits learn as Scouts to stand with their hands behind their backs, and it is a natural choice for a formal pose – because speaking in public is considered a formal activity. You would rarely see an American speaking with their hands behind their backs. How can you convey passion like that?

Passion

Passion is perhaps the key difference between the nations. American audiences expect their speakers to care, to be passionate about their subject. In Britain, a speaker can be criticised for appearing to care too much. Brits tend to be more reserved, certainly more modest, and audiences tend to expect that. It is hardly surprising that passionate American speakers make a better connection with their audiences, yet an animated, passionate American speaker might fail to make a connection with a British audience which may consider him brash, self-important and conceited.

Objectives

Typically, Brits see presentations and speeches as an opportunity to communicate information, whereas Americans aim to change people, to inspire them, to motivate them. This works much better, since presentations are usually very poor forums for communicating information: most of it is forgotten within days if not hours. A feeling can persist, however; an emotion can help you to recall what was said; and a change of mindset could be permanent.

Interaction

American presenters tend to interact with their audiences far more than British presenters. Perhaps again it is part of the British reserve. I always ensure my audience participates somehow, even with a very large group, but I know that I am the exception and not the rule. Connection is key to the success of your presentation, and if you can get your audience to participate, they are far more likely to listen, learn and care about you and your message.

Storytelling

This is an area where Americans are years ahead of the rest of the world in presentation terms. Great American presenters use personal stories to drive home their messages. These work far better than theory, and also better than the second-person or generic stories occasionally told by Brits.

Language

Here is a major difference: while British speakers and audiences appear to care about the beauty of the language, Americans want a simple message in everyday language. Are you aiming to impress or to communicate? Brits in America therefore need to tone down their long words and obscure idioms, and use clear and simple language. American audiences aren’t dumb – they are just more interested in your message than your vocabulary. Equally, Americans in Britain may want to engage a British speechwriter to ‘tone up’ their speeches a little, otherwise British audiences may feel they are being talked to as if they are children.

Variation of tone

I found this point particularly interesting. British speakers vary their tone of voice very little, usually using only three notes of the musical scale. A passionate and energetic American presenter, in contrast, will use far more. Variation of tone, volume and speed are key tools to convey emotion and keep the audience interested. It is no coincidence that ‘monotonous’ has come to be synonymous with ‘boring’.

Conclusion

All these points are of course generalisations, and naturally there will be many exceptions. Phillip is one, and I like to consider myself another, just as there are many boring passionless American presenters out there. There are, however, enough differences between British and American audiences and speakers to demonstrate that when it comes to presenting, there is no single uniform “Anglo-Saxon world”.

I wouldn’t say that Americans present better than Brits because it’s all about adapting to your audience. However, it would be no bad thing if the rest of the world learnt more about passion and storytelling, and found ways to adapt those techniques to their audiences. What do you think?


Radio interview: Phil on presenting

October 13, 2010

Yesterday I once again had the opportunity to appear on the US-based radio show Life Lessons, on BlogTalkRadio.com, hosted by Rick Tocquigny. You can listen here.

This time, it was all about presenting and storytelling, so it’s effectively a 30-minute podcast for anyone interested in presentations. We covered some aspects of storytelling and oratory, dissected a very short speech by Winston Churchill, talked about books by Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds and Chip & Dan Heath, and mentioned Steve Jobs and TED a couple of times.

A key moment was where we spoke about the bar being a lot higher nowadays for speakers, teachers and presenters. Everyone can see great presentations at TED and by Steve Jobs, and on the flip-side, everyone has shiny tactile screens sitting in their pockets or in front of them, tempting them away from the poor presenter. Expectations are higher, attention spans are lower, and there is much more competition for attention.

My conclusion here was that if the audience’s attention wanes, it’s not because there’s something wrong with them (Attention Deficit Disorder for example) – it’s mostly because your talk isn’t interesting enough to deserve their attention.

That’s why it’s important to make an effort to be interesting, connect with your audience, and make them relate to your subject. You can’t take their attention for granted any more.

That said, I hope you enjoy the interview and get something out of it. Thanks to Rick for inviting me back, and thanks to you for listening.


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