Presenting like a ringmaster

In which I assure the public
my production will be second to none.

Steve Jobs presenting

Perhaps the greatest exponent of the “Wow” moment was Steve Jobs, it could be announcing the iPhone or pulling a MacBook Air from an envelope or maybe even the classic “One more thing…” showstopper. Even now, years after his passing, the WWDC conference (which is happening today) is seen as a classic example of delivering jaw dropping moments. It will be the focus of huge amounts of press coverage, with weeks of analysis and clips everywhere.

The success of the Apple presentations are all about ’emotion’, their products are not for the masses but for the ‘creators’. Like the famous 1984 ad it is about thinking differently and letting the product speak for itself. Apple don’t like to talk about specs, they like to talk about what using the product feels like.

I wish I could do presentations like this, but the sad reality is that most of the presentations we will do are more jaw-drooping than jaw dropping.

I’m currently reading “Talk like TED” (not Ted from “How I met your Dead Mother” or 1980’s superstar Ted Danson”) but the Mosquito-Releasing-Brain-Slicing TED talks from big thinkers. I’ve been reading the chapter “Deliver Jaw-Dropping Moments” and it makes me wish I was able to produce a presentation that could leave an audience having to retrieve their mandibles from the carpet.

The key to a good presentation is the story, and it is the most important starting point. More important than pressing the PowerPoint or Keynote icon. In fact don’t press that button until you know what it is you want to say. Scratch that as well, don’t worry about what you want to say until you have identified what you want people to feel.

A strong emotional reaction creates a strong memory (it’s science – your amygdala gets a tickle during more vivid events), it’s why we talk about knowing where we were then JFK was shot/The Berlin Wall came down/Mandela was released but struggle to find our car keys in the morning. It’s why most presentations we see just disappear from our memories, they don’t make us feel anything. Instead you should focus on just one element, a tiny slither that could initiate a response, and make it memorable.

Take Bill Gates talking about Malaria, there have been hundreds of talks and presentations about the danger of mosquitoes spreading disease. Yet lists of statistics or pictures of the infected can compare to releasing some mozzies into a hall of people in Southern California.

What about Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’, there is a lot of data in that film but the one part that sticks with me is when he has to use a cherry picker to show how much impact we have had on the environment. The screen he had was just not big enough to show it and by using a prop he created a memory that has stuck with me.

Props are powerful, previously I’ve worn glasses in presentations so I could take them off at the right moment (because doing so creates an emotional moment like “I feel this is so important I want to look you right in the eye”). Often what I talk about, digital numbers, makes it difficult to show what I am discussing but if you have a product or any artwork then rather than put it on a slide put it in front of your audience.

Steve Jobs would do this, you got to see the iPhone working or how thin the latest iPad was, and he realised how important it was to provide this emotional evidence to the audience. Even if you can’t put an object in front of someone it is just as powerful to put the evidence of how you feel out there. The example the book gives is of an oil company exec who talked about how a business card gave him access to prime ministers and presidents and but it was his company’s commitment to protecting their resources that kept the door open.

When he talked in such emotional terms to his own staff, letting his guard down and seeming more like a human that a slide repeating automaton, he received a standing ovation. I know I’m proud to work in a company where our own Execs talk in such an open and honest way. I know the effect the anecdotes, stories, videos will have but I still find them powerful.

Thinking about what I do (numbers) I will now try to find that one stat that rocks. My dream is to be able to do a talk where right at the end I can look the audience in the eyes, stretch out an arm and drop that mic. Boom, and I’m out of here. It will be a stat so ground breaking, so mind blowingly amazing that I can walk out of a room without looking back (because cool guys never look at explosions).

Yet I know, as I reach the door I will hear that one thing that all presenters of jaw droppingly amazing presentations dread…

“I’ve a question about your numbers…”

In summary.

  • To create an awesome presentation don’t use PowerPoint. Write an amazing story first and then you can use slides to tell it.
  • Slides let you see stuff, but let your audience use their other senses. Show not talk.
  • What is the point you are trying to make? Make it, and make sure that people know you made it.
  • If your use a slide make sure you can elicit a response. I know the response I get to a screen of bullet points and it’s not “ooh what an amazing use of Arial/Calibri size 18” or “I see you changed the font to Tahoma/Verdana and now my interest is piqued”.
  • Props work, even if it is a blood sucking insect.
  • Stats can rock the auditorium, but only if the audience can understand or relate to them.

Source: Circus

Author: geekergosum

Ah, so you worked out the riddle. You just needed to use dwarfish and the doors to Geek Ergo Sum opened. Or perhaps you just used Google. Either way you are here, on my little corner of the Internet.

2 thoughts on “Presenting like a ringmaster”

  1. I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve been asked to rewrite meeting slides because I’ve only put 1 word on them! It seems some people are only happy when you’re just reading off your presentation. Great post!


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