Thursday, December 20, 2012

How not to bore people to death

How many speeches do you remember? Why do you remember them?

You pretty much know the ones you won't remember, even as they're happening, and that's most of them.

Nancy Duarte, who advises executives in making presentations and has written about the subject extensively, explains why some presentations might as well never be given:

1. Failing to engage emotionally. You risk losing your audience when you just "state the facts," even in a business setting. No presentation should be devoid of emotion, no matter how cerebral the topic or the audience. Speak to people's hearts as well as their minds. Look for ways to add emotional texture to your exhibits, data, proofs, logical arguments, and other analytical content. Try opening with a story your audience can relate to, for example, or including analogies that make your data more meaningful.
To unearth the emotional appeal of your ideas, ask yourself a series of "why" questions. If you're requesting funding to pay for cloud storage, for instance, start by asking, "Why do we need cloud storage?" Your answer may be something like "to facilitate data sharing with colleagues in remote locations." Then ask why you need to accomplish that — and you'll eventually get to the human beings who will be affected by your ideas. Suppose your answer is "to help remote colleagues coordinate disaster relief efforts and save lives." That's your emotional hook. Once you've found it, it's easier to choose words and images that elicit empathy and support.
2. Asking too much of your slides. PowerPoint can be a great tool. But know what you're trying to accomplish with it. Do only that, nothing more. Problems crop up when you place too many elements in a slide deck. If you cram in all the points you're going to cover so you won't forget anything, you'll end up projecting entire documents when you speak.
No one wants to attend a plodding read-along. It's boring, and people can read more efficiently on their own, anyway. So don't try to spell everything out bullet by exhausting bullet. Keep your teleprompter text hidden from the audience's view, in the "notes" field, and project only visuals that reinforce your ideas. And if you need to circulate documents afterward? Create handouts from all that text you've pulled off your slides and moved into "notes."
I would add that nearly everyone in the audience will be reading your clever slide and not listening to you. Some will be ahead of you, some behind. They certainly won't be looking at you, so you're free to pick your nose.

3. Trotting out tired visuals. Nothing gets eyes a-glazing like a visual cliché. Want your presentation to stand out (in a good way) from the others your audience has seen? Brainstorm lots of visual concepts — and throw away the first ones that came to mind. They're the ones that occur to everyone else, too. That's why you've seen them a million times in other people's presentations. Generate several ideas for each concept you want to illustrate, and you'll work your way toward originality.

More here.

When I worked at IBM I was once in the audience when speaker after speaker got up. Many of them used IBM's version of Power Point, and the graphics in their slides were identical -- so much so that people began to laugh.

How effective were the speakers? I don't remember what that day was about. I don't remember any of the presentations, except the repeating graphics. All I remember was the music they played during the breaks. It was similar to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which is what the DJ told me to buy. I've been a fan ever since. So it was a successful day for me.

I've given a lot of presentations in my time. Mostly they were stand up comedy that gradually morphed into a serious message. If I'm ever called on again, I'm going to invite Big Bad Voodoo Daddy along. I'll be remembered forever.

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