Photo by great photographer Mark Asthoff, www.unsplash.com or visit his website www.qa9.de.
Long Introduction To The Art Of Presenting
“What is better than a short and brilliant introduction to a topic? A long and brilliant introduction!”
Let me start this long and brilliant introduction to the art of presenting with a story. Ever heard of the Oracle of Delphi? Since the 7th century BC and during more than a thousand years the oracle of the Pythia in Delphi was the place to go for those who wagered important undertakings and were not sure what to do next. So they traveled to Delphi where in a temple, in a special room, a sacred woman, the Pythia, inhaled fumes coming from a chasm and fell into trance, pronouncing answers for those who had come to her with an important question.
What has always fascinated me regarding the Oracle of Delphi was the welcoming phrase written over the entrance of that holy temple dedicated first to Gaea and later to Apollo. It read:
“Gnothi Seauton” or: “Know Thyself”.
Even as a kid I found this astonishing. It’s like going to McDonalds and finding a sign right at the entrance, put there by the owner and saying: “If you were smart, you wouldn’t eat Hamburgers”.
Your Values, Your Vision, Your Mission
You might ask yourself: “How the hell is this related to the art of presenting?” Well, it is, and very much so. Because you should go on stage only after having succeeded in knowing yourself, that is only after having reached clarity about the ideas you really believe in (your values), the things that you want to create or help to create in the future (your vision) and your own, authentic and unique mission that brought you in this world and this existence (your mission).
If you go on stage without knowing yourself, disaster will follow like girls in short skirts follow famous football players.
So, if you really want to be an amazing presenter on stage, you have to start far off the stage, at home or under a tree (beware of the apples though, otherwise you will become a mathematician) or in your regular café. Take a piece of paper and ask yourself: “Why do I get up in the morning? What are the things I really love, what are the things I really hate? What gives me strength and inspires me? What brings me down in a whiff? What is my biggest dream and what are my worst fears?”
You start by getting to know which values are more important to you than others (at the moment), you start with the now. Then you think about the future. That part is about daydreaming and not to be answered with images about possessions (or sex) but with a vivid daydream of a better job environment, life, community and world. The third and last step is to think about your mission, the bridge between your now and your ideal future. “I was born to …” Yeah, what for have you come among us, my friend?
Once you have done this, you are ready to go on stage. Now, given that you are surfing the internet in order to learn, that you are able to read and presumably even to write and that your attention span seems to be longer than that of my average student (that is, longer than 60 seconds) you are probably a CEO or some other genius, or at least yo think so.
Practice Will Make You A Genius
So, before we get really started (yep, you have chosen the long introduction, remember?), one thing for starters: Genius is not (mainly) about genes, it is (mainly) about practicing. What brought you here on this page are not your distinguished ancestors but practice. And it’s plain, laborious, unspectacular practicing that will make of you an amazing presenter in the years to come.
Ok, and now we really get started. Where were we? Ah, right, at me assuming that you must be some important and highly motivated girl, boy, woman or man. So you probably went to High School, College, Business School, West Point, Harvard, the astronauts training of the Chinese space agency (who’s real name is China National Space Administration by the way). Great, look at you how bright you are. But, wait a minute, all these great schools and universities didn’t transform you into an amazing presenter? Hmmmm, how is that possible? Well, Let me tell you. All these distinguished elite knowledge factories have one thing in common, they worship data! Data, the more exact, the better; charts, the more detailed the better; reports, articles and slides, the more words and numbers they contain, the better. Data, our new god!
Data Contains No Meaning
But, and here is the problem: Data contains no meaning. You can know everything there is to know about the elements floating through the universe and still not know if you should greet your new neighbour, donate money to charity or what to say to your kids if they ask you why stealing is a bad thing. Of course you have learned complicated models in Business Schools where data made sense. “If the demand of x surges, the price y rises too.” Tataaa! Yeah, but do we (and everybody else) need that product, is it harmful to the environment (and how are we going to define “harmful”?), and is money a good enough reason to produce that product in the first place? Show me a chart for that, buddy!
So data needs meaning, every What? and How? needs a Why?. Wow, this is really a great sentence so let me repeat and emphasise it:
Data needs meaning, every What? and How? needs a Why?
In your presentations you must provide more than just bread for the mind because your fellow human beings (who form your occasional audience) are longing also for nourishment for their hearts and souls. You, my friend, have been told for years the biggest lie there is; that people are driven by their mind, their level of information, their rational decisions. That is not true. People are driven mainly by their intuitive decisions that form in their limbic brain, a region of the brain that understands english and data as well as a Japanese goat in Kyoto understands Cyrillic. We are emotional beings, we are souls with a body, not machines. And when people have to choose between data and their gut feelings, they mostly chose their gut, that is, the Amygdalae, two emotion management centres in our limbic brain.
So your presentation will need data for the mind all right but also emotions and fundamental ethical questions in order to amaze your audience. Or, for a better understanding, in plain Greek:
Logos: What should we believe?
Case study, questions to the audience.
Visualisation: Slides with clear and concise charts of cause and effect.
Pathos: How should we feel about this?
Storytelling. Moral. Questions to the audience.
Slides with strong, vivid, touching, high quality photographs.
Ethos: What is the right thing to do from now on and why?
Rhetorical questions to the audience. Claim.
Slides with small, concrete next steps. Magical object for the audience to take away and remember.
My Seven Tips For You To Become An Amazing Presenter
Ok, now you know yourself better, but still you have to prepare your next presentation, right? Start by asking yourself which goal you want to achieve by delivering it. Do you want mainly:
call to action?
If you want only to inform your audience, you should not go on stage in the first place and send a memo or document instead, except everyone expects you to deliver that information personally. If you want to explain, the core of your information will be a practical presentation or a flow chart showing cause and effect. If you want to sell, the core of your presentation should be a story build around an important problem your audience has, if you want to call to action, the core of your presentation should consist of two really touching photographs, an initial one that shows hell and a final one that shows the promised land and a better future.
Once you have made up your mind about your goal, it’s time to use your hands and your imagination.
1. Bring On The Paper, Baby!
Forget about the fact that your working class grandparents saved every dime to gift you a MacBook for Christmas. Take “Post It” or pieces of paper instead, ten pieces to be precise. Every piece stands for a slide of your upcoming presentation.
You start with the highlight or climax of your presentation, that should be Slide 7. Your climax slide contains the answer to your initial question, that is; your message, the core of your presentation. People will see it and say: “Wow! Right! That’s the way it works! That’s what I need! That’s what I am going to do! Great!”
Good, now create Slide 1. S1 must contain a “Bang!”, a shocking, funny or astonishing, emotional grasping photograph, chart or quote that contains the question that you are going to answer with your presentation.
S2 is next, probably an amazing image that is related to the story you are going to tell in order to build your bridge to your audience’s hearts. You Find more about Storytelling here: STORYTELLING.
S3 is your welcome slide with an introduction to your question.
S4, S5 and S6 must turn the focus to your audience: How is the question you pose related to their everyday lives? Talk about their hopes and fears, the problem connected to your question and the solutions they tried without success so far. This culminates in the negative highlight that must precede the positive highlight: Identify totally with your audience’s negative feelings, but … change of voice, of facial expressions and of gestures! “Here comes your relief to your sorrow”, S7, the solution that will help your audience to answer the question, fix the problem and make it out of the pit.
S8 explains your solution a bit more in detail.
S9 switches to what your audience can do from now on, small concrete steps that will make the vision of a better world for all of us become real.
S10 closes with your claim, that’s your message in a few memorable words, and with a great positive image of the bright future ahead.
Are you getting it? Ok, ok, here is an example. Let’s say you want your audience to reduce their daily plastic waste and you have developed something that will help them to do so:
S1: Photograph of ocean waves completely stuck with plastic. Dramatic data. “Houston, we have a problem.” What is at stake? A lot, especially for your audience.
S2: Face and story of Boyan Slat, a young man who wants to build floating islands that will catch plastic in the oceans.
S3: “And with this, welcome to … my name is, I work as … and today we are going to ask ourselves …”
S4: “How much plastic waste are you producing? Are you aware that …” Dramatic data.
S5: “You tried this, right, and this, right, but in the end it didn’t work, right? Obstacles!”
S6: “I know how bad that feels, I’ve been there too. But then something happened to me!”
S7: Revelation. “I found this solution, and you can use it too.”
S8: “Let me show you how easy this really is!”
S9: “This is what you should do from today on. Why? Because …”
S10: Beautiful image of yourself swimming with Dolphins in a beautiful clear ocean. Claim.
Of course this is not the only possible or the only right structure, it’s just one that might work for you. There are a few others. You find them here: STRUCTURE.
2. Make Your First Dry Run In Front Of Your Cat Or Dog.
Check your initial story again and again: Vivid images? Amazing details? Thrilling? Full of obstacles? Describing an inner and outer struggle of the hero? Showing change? Clear Climax? Clear moral?
3. Now It’s MacBook Time!
Create a Master Slide. Use the 16:9 format for challenging, fast, young topics and the 4:3 format for more conservative ones. Create a grid and think about where you are going to position the key visual information and key words.
This is a grid:
Photo courtesy of myself.
Then choose font and colours, they must evoke feelings tuned to your message. Go to www.unsplash.com or other websites and choose the best possible photographs. Remember, people love to see people. Go and create one slide after the other. One slide = one image or one keyword or one key number = one message. One.
4. Make The Next Two Dry Runs With Your Slides & Put Emphasis On The CLT’s
Memorise the slides while you make your first complete test presentation. Write down the time you needed. Do it once again, this time 20% more slowly and with big gestures, big facial expressions and loud voice, like in a theatre for dogs (If you own a theatre and a dozen dogs, so the better). Animated voice, facial expressions and lively gestures are the three non verbal dimensions of the 12 Charismatic Leadership Tactics developed my John Antonakis, Marika Fenley and Sue Liechti of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Their CLTs will help you to tap in with your audience on the emotional level.
Here is the Harvard Business Review-ARTICLE on the Charismatic Leadership Tactics.
5. Visit The Location, Test The Projector, Make A Soundcheck, Check Your Emotions
6. Do The Last Two Dry Runs.
Condense your presentation to an “Elevator Pitch” of two minutes. Are the essence, the core, the verbal and non verbal climax of your presentation crystal clear to you? Good. Then do the whole dry run a last time.
7. Relax & Visualise
Relax and forget completely about your presentation. Then, a week beforehand, start to do two minutes of positive visualisation every day. See yourself standing and moving on stage and doing fine, imagine problems coming up and you mastering them. Relax some more.
Well, now you are ready to go on stage, my friend:
Take position, have a good look at your audience, keep eye contact and wait in silence, while gathering your stamina and passion. Start with an amazing question or a quote, or with a beautiful story, or just by saying “Imagine this …”.
Then: Be passionate.
Always start with a “Bang!”, emphasise the climax, end with a “Bang!”
Keep it short, maximum time allowed minus 5 to 10 minutes.
Walk the room slowly, activate each sector of the audience through eye contact and vicinity. Use your body gravity.
Never look at your slides, use a presentation remote device to switch slides, keep eye contact with your audience constantly.
Pause whenever something important ends or something new begins. Give people the time to digest the core information and visual highlights.
Close with a quote, a dramatic plea or moving question and a final “Thank you!”. Drink a glass of water, create a clear break if a question & answer session is scheduled immediately afterwards.
Later get some feedback, ask people what exactly they liked and liked less. Be proud of yourself. You made another step out of the presentation maze of meaningless data and towards becoming an amazing, inspiring master in the art of presenting.
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* The quote at the beginning of this page is, of course, not an original one 😉