Presentations that pack a punch

If you have ever watched the show Mad Men, about New York advertising executives in the 1960s, you will notice that things were a little different presentation wise in those days. It struck me just how great their presentation style was back then after a recent ‘Rockstar Presentations’ workshop I ran.

I had 30 Telco leaders from across Australia on a two-day offsite. The company director wanted to kick off the presentation skills workshop with every team member giving a five-minute presentation on their role in the company. There was nothing else to consider and they were given 24 hours to prepare. Each member of the audience was to give feedback on each presentation. The results? Terrible! Sadly, we experienced what many intelligent people default to once they hear the words, “Please deliver a presentation on…”

This is what we experienced.

  1. 1. Slow torture through the use of PowerPoint: When will we learn? The great majority of people created their notes in PowerPoint and then read these out to the audience. Their back was to the audience most of the time. It was awful.
  2. Timing becomes irrelevant. All presentations went way over time with the longest being 17 minutes!
  3. The use of filler words such as ‘ummm ahhhh, ohhhh, but and so’ were everywhere. For feedback purposes, the audience was on the look out for these. As a note, my filler word is ‘so’.
  4. PowerPoint text was the only stimulus. No pictures, nothing kinesthetic, nothing auditory. The audience stayed seated throughout.

The next day every team member was to present again based on the feedback from Day One. As we had run so far over time, we only had 45 minutes to workshop the feedback and ways to improve. Our Top 5 points were:

  1. Pretend that you are on that show, Mad Men. You need your designer to help you prepare. Do you ask them to write up the text for your presentation and you then read these out to the audience? Hell no! You ask them to design visual aids that will reinforce your key points, enable your audience to be engaged and understand what you are talking about. PowerPoint slides with lines of text can stifle the learning experience. Studies show that our brain struggles to learn through trying to read the words and listen to a presenter reading them at the same time. If it’s making a powerful point, great. If not, get rid of it from your screen.
  2. Big opening, big finish. You have to accept that a lot of what you say will be forgotten. Start with a bang, summarise your three key points at the end and finish on a high.
  3. Tell a story. People love to listen to stories. Metaphors, analogies, examples, case studies are all part of the great story family.
  4. Use stimulus to engage your audience and help make your key points. It may be music, a real life model, an animation, a movie, a photo, a graph, anything really as long as it helps make your point.
  5. Your presentation has to be about your audience. Put yourself in their shoes. Is what you are saying really interesting to them? Are you speaking in their language?

Luckily, this story ends well… and the presentations were fantastic and mostly PowerPoint free. The moral of this story? Many highly intelligent people have a very poor default position the moment that they hear the word “presentation”.

So, what’s your default position for presentations? Maybe time to check in.

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