Archive for November, 2008

Powerful Presentations

November 3rd, 2008

I read a great article last night in the November issue of Fast Company (p. 87 if you subscribe to that magazine).

It was about building good Powerpoint presentations and was written by Dan and Chip Heath (the guys who wrote Made to Stick, a great book about developing messages that stick with your audience).

So what does a Powerpoint presentation have to do with speaking in front of a live audience? EVERYTHING! The same principles apply and the same mistakes are made by 99% of the Powerpoint presentations as are made by 99% of the people calling themselves professional speakers (predictable, routine, and boring…)

Even though the article I read is about Powerpoint presentations, it is really about creating ANY sort of presentation that results in RESULTS. You have heard about people saying “Show, don’t tell” but yet even when I started a business for presenting school shows, library shows, and reading programs in schools and libraries I found that most of the presenters in that market are NOT getting RESULTS because they are not truly communicating their message.

Instead they are just decorating it.

“Show, don’t tell doesn’t mean to include a world map on your slide about “thinking gloabally”. That’s decoration, not communication. A good idea doesn’t need visual drapes” say the Heath brothers in this article.

Instead, in this article the Heath brothers give the example of a VP discussing the amount of paperwork required of their department store outlets (519 pages every two weeks).

“This is two weeks’ worth of the audit documentation that’s required of our stores. You’ve all heard the phrase that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?” The speaker then shoved the papers across the table “Well, this is the road to hell.”

No Powerpoint presentation needed. No graphs, charts, or statistical spreadsheets could convey the information better than 519 pages fluttering to the ground in front of a group of shocked executives.

And if you’ve ever been one of those speakers who worries about whether or not your shoes match your belt, or if people are judging you on your haircut, let me assure you that the people in the audience mentioned above were NOT wondering if the paper was recycled. Nor were they speculating about whether or not the printing on the pages was actual documentation or just some random text to make a point. They didn’t have a nagging desire to go up after words and count the pages to make sure there were exactly 519.

No, this audience was impacted. They got the message, plain and clear, with no distractions.

Three years ago I released a program titled “Developing Educationally Significant Programs” and it has become my best selling product to date. It is about this very topic. It is about creating programs that make a difference in the lives of your audience. It’s about doing more than entertaining. It is about changing lives.

The trend in speaking seems to be to figure out a way to force a message du jour into a routine or pet story that you’ve already done a hundred times. Superficial research, don’t learn anything new, just take a standard bit and force your square message into that round hole.

But these object lessons don’t illustrate the message. Instead they just decorate it.