Photo by great photographer Petradr, www.unsplash.com or on www.twitter.com/Petchy19.
Short Introduction To The Art Of Presenting
“If you are looking for a short introduction to my relativity theory, you probably aren’t the brightest star in the night sky. The same is true if you look for, say, a short introduction to the art of presenting.”
If you want a really short introduction on how to convey amazing presentations, I would give you just one sentence: Presenting is an art, and like every art, it needs passion, year long practice and a woman or man dedicated with all his or her heart and soul to make our world better and more beautiful.
Sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but that’s how I see it. Now, you wanted a short introduction, so let me get practical at once. To get you on track, let’s assume that presenting is a bit like driving a car. You need to steer the wheel, change gears and occasionally speed up or brake with the pedals at your feet (If you drive a Porsche you might have heard about braking for the first time, welcome). The three corresponding areas that you have to control while presenting are:
Your CONTENT and MESSAGE and the resulting STRUCTURE of your presentation.
Your BODY LANGUAGE and SLIDES that are much more important than you probably assume.
Your LANGUAGE which, pardon me, right now is probably that of a 80 years old technician who likes to delight his few, desperate friends with endless lectures about some technical features of some obscure machine.
Let’s start with your STRUCTURE and how you can make it more suitable to deliver your message to your audience. Let’s use another metaphor here, that of a train. Imagine you having to assemble a passenger train. You need a locomotive for a starter, then you might want to add two or three first class wagons, then the restaurant car, then three or four second class wagons, and finally another locomotive.
It’s similar with your presentation. You need to start strong and end strong but you also need a highlight in the midst of it. Moreover you must show passengers in which wagon they are and which wagons come next.
Starting with “Welcome, my name is Peter Pan and the topic of my presentation today is … and these are the 23 points I am going to cover during the next 60 minutes” is not going to do the trick. Audiences all around the world have the unpleasant tendency to be mainly interested in themselves. They need a good reason in the very first minute of your presentation to listen to you. They need a “Listen up folks, this presentation is going to change your life to the better, so follow me on this short, amazing trip here, you are not going to regret it”. Remember, you start with a bang and you end with a bang. So start your presentation with something really astonishing, throw the worm into the water, and just when your audience really wants to bite it, take it back and bore them with your name and overview. Then throw the worm back in.
Ah, I forgot the MESSAGE. Do you have one? If not, you shouldn’t go on stage but stay at home and watch the Simpsons. You know, there are two classes of hare brains that live in the realm of presentation. The first hopple around mumbling “The data will tell everything by itself”, the second take a look at their slides and smile “I put so much info there, everybody will find something interesting and suited to their needs.” You should do better than that, my dear. You have to interpret the data, and you have to be crystal clear about what your audience should think, feel and do (“think” is the less important, “do” the most important word here) differently after your presentation thanks to your presentation. One message, buddy, one crystal clear shaped and targeted message.
Body Language & Slides
Which brings us to your BODY LANGUAGE and SLIDES. You have to be inclusive! Watching your slides while reading them aloud to your audience and showing them your backside is not being inclusive, using words that your audience doesn’t understand is not being inclusive, hiding behind your computer or standing as far as possible away from your audience is – you guess it – not being inclusive. And keeping your hands and arms protectively in front of your crown jewels or in your pockets or behind your back is not being inclusive either. So what the hell is inclusive? Hugging your audience symbolically while using beautiful words like “we”, “us” and “together”, activating the audience like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, that is, by moving towards section after section of the room while keeping eye contact all the time with the jury, all this is inclusive.
And your SLIDES? Here comes another metaphor (Metaphor? Google it up, buddy, the female readers are more intelligent and will know already) and given that we had a car and a train already, now here comes the beautiful airplane metaphor. You are the pilot of your presentation and your slides are the co-pilot. You tell your passengers only the most important facts, while your co-pilot reaches out emotionally to your audience. Ergo (Latin for therefore) you need high resolution, first class images for your slides and as less text as possible on them. Make people feel, use emotional triggers, translate your results in images that everybody will get at once. You find a lot of good pictures on websites like www.unsplash.com or www.photo-libre.fr.
Ahhh, almost done. Wait, let’s talk about your LANGUAGE. Imagine yourself to be John F. Kennedy while delivering his “Moon Speech” in Houston in 1962 or Martin Luther King while delivering his “I Have A Dream Speech” in 1963 in Washington. Your speech in that occasion would probably have sounded like this. “Welcome to my presentation today, I am Peter Pan and I want to talk with you about the problems with racial integration in America today. Let me start with the results of the study by Dr. Farnborough from Illinois who in 1962, after having become aware that the daughters of his neighbour …” Data, facts, statistics, numbers. JFK and MLK knew better. They had all the numbers and knew them by heart, trust me, but they knew that data and facts alone do not change the hearts and minds of an audience. People need meaning, inspiring, challenging ideas, visions of a better tomorrow for all of us, they need a Why?, not just a bunch of unconnected What? and How?. That is why JFK talked about his vision to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely before the end of the decade, comparing the quest for space with the exploration of our oceans, and that is why MLK asked his audience to “to hew out a brick of hope out of the mountain of despair” in order to make his dream (and his audience’s dream) of freedom for all human beings become reality one day.
Or as my friend Phil Waknell of Ideas On Stage in Paris (www.ideasonstage.com) once put it so beautifully: “Informing your audience is not enough, you have to change your audience.”
And this was my short introduction to the art of presenting. If you like it, show it to others, if you didn’t, don’t tell anybody.
For the free download of my booklet for students and professional beginners in your language, click HERE:
If you want to read just one book about the art of presentation, try “Presentation Zen” (www.presentationzen.com) by my friend Garr Reynolds. If you belong to the small elite that reads more than one book in a decade, please read “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte (www.duarte.com).
* The quote at the beginning of this page is, of course, not an original one 😉