We give presentations throughout our lives - at anniversaries, birthdays, awards, dedications, commencements, eulogies, farewells, fund raising events, meetings, retirement parties, questions and answers sessions, toasts, trade shows booths, conferences, as part of panels, as impromptu speeches, even introducing speakers. One could consider the famous elevator pitch a presentation.
There are many ways to present and many styles - as many as there are individuals. From the title on, you can be irreverent, if you want. Be funny. Be daring. Just, please, don't be boring.
To be or not to be
Is not the question. Definitely choose to be. You will feel much more comfortable. Your audience will feel the difference. There are many great presenters you can study - YouTube and TED have made it easier to find them. A few examples of the ones I admire:
- Benjamin Zander makes you feel like you are the only person in the room, and this is the first time he he talking about his subject matter. I must have watched this performance a dozen times and I am not tired of it. Every time I learn something new about myself as I learn about passion, possibility, and leadership. Notice the repetition, the crescendos, the kinesthetic and auditory nature of the exposition. Zander is physically and emotionally engaging. Are you a one-buttock presenter? One thing is for sure, you are not tone deaf. In fact you have a fantastic ear, you can use that to your advantage.
- Jim Collins has fantastic enunciation. He is also the only speaker I have had the pleasure of listening to live twice - the first time at Fast Company Real Time when he presented the underlying concepts of Good to Great, what a powerful conversation with Alan Webber that was! Funny, engaging, life changing. The second time was a two-hour session at the Wharton Leadership Forum on Good to Great for the Social Sector. At that event I experienced the power of the pause. Collins is the one speaker who has mastered the pause.
- Amy Tan tells her personal story in a way that is compelling, relevant, and inspiring. She is one of a handful of writers who are also excellent speakers. I had the good fortune of hearing and seeing her speak at the Philadelphia Speakers Series a couple of years ago. Her talent is in making extraordinary use of language and story in her exposition, with a very natural style. She is humorous, empathetic, and present.
There are many more, of course. Before video was so ubiquitous, I made it a point to attend as many conferences as I could. In person you experience the energy and context of a presentation. As well, for more than 7 years, I organized live monthly events as curator of the Fast Company social network in Philadelphia. We hosted many excellent speakers. You don't have to be famous to be moving and inspire action - you just need to be.
What's your point?
This is the first thing to consider. Determining that will get you well on your way. What's the hook? What are you trying to convey? It will help you stay consistent and trace a straight line from opening to closing remarks. Consider this - a presentation can also be a tool to ask someone to agree with you, to make a decision or to do something.
Even if you think you're not selling anything, you are. An idea, a mission (see Daniel Lanois in my recent post), the execution of a project, what else? You are selling your own brand. Let's take a look:
- Seeking advice - today there are many events organized with unconference formats. You put out a main statement and a few questions then help facilitate the conversation. I have often found that there is amazing talent in the room. Remember that in a sense those who seek to learn more are those who are usually already tuned in and know the subject. Ever heard of the expression "preaching to the choir?" It fits.
- Giving advice - in the form of teaching. There are many ways to make this participative, too. You frame a situation with a story or a scenario, then give the audience a complication or problem and conclude by offering a solution and suggesting an action. How about presenting a decision to be made?
- Exposing something interesting - this is more the type of speech that Zander and Collins are very good at. They have a way of telling a story that brings you along on the journey. Great speakers will deliver in a way that changes you and your world from that point on. Who else would you put here?
Remember that there is a difference between a person's competence and a person's effectiveness based on their ability to communicate verbally. If you are a good presenter, more action will be taken on your recommendations.
Three important things to remember
You now know what to say, your point. Great. You're not out of the woods just yet. There are three important things to remember when giving presentations:
- Who's your audience? Clearly, this is by far the most important of all questions. It will determine the choices you make on what to keep in and what to edit out. What is your audience interested in? What are their concerns? Why are they here?
- Go from why to how. This is the journey you take your audience through, where you connect the dots. Structuring your presentation will help you stay focused and thus be effective. Content matters, but you don't need to say it all. What are three key takeaways, for example? Repeat those at the beginning, as you go through, and at the end.
- Listen to your audience. Presenting is a structured conversation, even when you are doing all the talking. Observe the body language in the room, respond to it, adapt, let it drive your performance. In fact, take a look at the room before you even start. Visualize the kinesthetic experience. Is the room too big? How do you want to organize the flow in the context (space)?
Keep things simple and remember to breathe throughout. Breathing helps you pace and pay attention to the temperature in the room. You've now read the word performance in a couple of places.
Performance or conversation?
I was talking recently with Andy Nulman who blogs about surprise at Pow! Right Between the Eyes! We were wondering out loud whether there is really any presenter who approaches the event as a performance. Just like a live rock band. Do you know of any?
The closest I could think of was Kevin Roberts at Fast Company Real Time in Philadelphia. He had kiwi dancers with him and the connection they helped make was total inspiration. I also think that the book he co-authored on Peak Performance was way ahead of the times.
Mitch Joel goes for performance. I had the good fortune of attending one of his presentation while in Montreal. I'm pretty sure that if you run a search with his name and presentation(s), you will find dozens of them. Mitch is known for delivering powerful presentations. I can attest to that.
If you do not know Laura Fitton, aka Pistachio, you're missing out. I have not seen Laura present live, but I have seen video clips. She goes more for conversation. Teaching you how to present is her bread and butter - her motto "Great presentations mean business" and so they do.
Change the world
Presentations will never go out of fashion or style. There is something to the idea of meeting in a space and learning from each other that has no substitute. Imagine a lawyer making her case by email! Think about great presenters in films and TV shows:
- Perry Mason (actor Raymond Burr) - remember his courtroom oratory? He establishes his client's innocence by dramatically demonstrating the guilt of another character.
- Lt. Col. Frank Slade (actor Al Pacino) in Scent of a Woman - there are two famous speeches in the movie. The first one is the one that gives the title to the movie. Slade/Pacino talks to Charlie Simms/Chris O'Donnell about the woman sitting a few tables down. It's an intimate and highly detailed conversation where Slade presents what will come next. Watch me, he says. The other more explosive one is towards the end, when the ex-colonel addresses the audience at Simms' college.
I'm sure there are many more. Who's your favorite? By their force of persuasion and skill they changed the world.
From my network, I recommend Pistachio Consulting for presentation development. If you're interested in reading and learning more about presenting, these books have been useful to me:
- What's Your Point? by Bob Boylan
- Give Your Speech, Change the World by Nick Morgan
- Presentation Zen by Garr Raynolds
- Can You Say a Few Words? and How to Give a Great Speech by Joan Detz
- Presenting to Win by Jerry Weissman
- Edward Tufte on presenting data and information visually. See his essay on the cognitive style of PowerPoint.
- Seth Godin on really bad PowerPoint. This is the eBook on the same topic.
- Alltop has a speaking tab. [update]
- Nancy Duarte - Webinar on creating powerful presentations [update: hat tip to Philippe Borremans]
Sometimes it is not so much what you say as how you say it. Inflection and tone count for 38% and non-verbals for 55% of the conversation. The secret sauce, the key to success, the one ingredient that will make your presentation spark is the joy you put into it. What are your hot buttons for presentations? Who are your favorite presenters and why?