Thursday, 18 November 2010

Presenting is a Privilege

Firstly and most importantly, presenting to people is a privilege.  People have given you their most precious commodity: time.  Be respectful by putting love into the presentations you do.

Presenting has many benefits but the most obvious one is you get to pitch your ideas (hopefully) to tens if not hundreds of people rather than one-to-few, so it provides excellent return on time invested.  Generally I will spend at least 10 hours preparing for every 1 hour I present but if you run the math, the investment is always more than worth it.  Many presenters do up to 30 hours for every presentation.

Interestingly, it seems we humans respond well to both good story telling and beautiful pictures, the two key components of good presenting, making it a very powerful form of communication.  And it is true that the most successful presenters always articulate their message through narrative and carefully crafted stories. 

Design your speech or presentation using the same criteria you use in buying a bathing suit says Joel Hochberger:

"First, it has to fit. Next, it has to reflect your personality. And finally, it should cover only the parts that are interesting!"

My rulebook for presenting:

1. Narrative is paramount.  The best presentations always contain great storytelling.  Malcolm Gladwell relies solely on it.  It is not easy, as Ira says it requires the "Anecdote" and then the salient "Moments of Reflection" to bring in the message.  This post has some great content on storytelling:

2. The 2 E's. The best presentations educate *and* entertain - regardless, you have to do at least one or you have failed.

3. Have a strong opening.  Never apologize and open by addressing the following three questions: What's the problem? Who cares? What's your solution?

An interesting technique I found on the web:
A high-school mathematics teacher was giving a lecture to an intimidating audience: a group of college math professors. Early in the presentation, the teacher made a mathematical error. The professors immediately noticed and corrected the problem. And for the rest of the lecture, they were leaning forward, paying attention to every word, looking for more errors.  look for tricks to get your audience engaged early on.

4. Conviction. Believe what you are telling your audience or dont bother.  Anything is else is wasting everyone's time.

5. Font.  Always use sans-serif fonts (no tails) like Helvatica, Verdana, Tahoma.  Makes large writing easier to read.  I never go under a 20 font and by default use a 34+ font.  Varying font for emphasis is also useful.

6. Ideas.  Try and keep one idea per slide max (think: billboard).

7. Love controversy.  If you have the opportunity, be controversial.  It will force your audience to engage.  An engaged audience, even if they disagree, are the best audience.

8. Question time counts. It shows you respect the people who have been listening to you.  Always leave time for this.  It can be the difference between a good presentation and a great one.

9. Practice.  If you can, record your presentation. You'll discover a thousand horrible, horrible things you never knew about yourself. Now watch it again without the sound. Why are your hands flying around like that? Now listen to it without the picture. Get rid of those ums! 

10. Bullets kill.  Dont ever use them in a presentation.  Ever.  Numbers *can* be okay.  As Rich points out in comments below, it is a nice way to convey a logical thought pattern but I believe it is over used and therefore you should think of better ways of conveying that logic.  There are bazillion better ways than bullets, so rather put the effort in and be different.

11. Method: Billboards or The Stream.  In my view, there are only two successful ways to build a slide deck.  One, which I prefer, is to treat each slide like a billboard.  Short and clever copy with very strong visuals.  The second is the "stream" approach, used by Jobs and perfected by Lessig, it takes several slides to convey a single point and acts like a stream of content, moving quite rapidly through each slide.  Neither approach is better than the other, rather it is what suits the presenter.  Be sure to choose a camp though or you will suck.

Good sites to help presentations - Garr and Nancy are two of the best:

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