Make Better Presentations – The Anatomy of a Good Speech

soccer player You deserve some great tools, so I’d like to share what I’ve been working on. You might have an upcoming presentation, or you might be looking to speak more at events. ( here’s how to start speaking at events) I have a few ideas for you. I want to share with you my current thinking on presentations, such that I hope you feel equipped to do more with your own work. Fair?

Presentations are a way to move information from my head into your actions. If I do it right, I give my ideas “handles,” so that you can run with what I’ve started and make it your own. If you do it right, then your presentations will also help others. I’ve been thinking about the anatomy of presentations, and what we can do to improve how we’re doing what we do.

Start with WIIFM

I have talked about this before, but the first and most important thing to talk about first is explaining what’s in it for me, the listener, the audience. “What’s in it for me?” Answer that early. You might start by saying, “You’ve got a lot of work on your plate. I’ve got seven ideas for how to make that go smoothly for you.”

See what that does? It starts the story from the reader’s perspective. And if you think of your audience as readers in a story, or viewers of a movie, or an audience at a play, you’re in the right mindset.

What Is the Goal of a Presentation?

Perhaps the simplest goal is that a presentation is built to convey ideas. But to me, that’s not going far enough. If I’m going to bother to educate through a presentation, my goal is to influence you to take action and/or change behavior. It’s not good enough that you walk away as if you feel you know something more. I want you to want to do something more.

So, if you think of it that way, a presentation is a sale.

If we’re going to sell, we have to be a bit more serious about it. With that in mind, I’ve collected some ideas. Maybe they’ll spark some ideas of your own, and you can add them to the conversation.

Use a Framework of Some Kind

I absolutely loathe the “I’m going to tell you this; I am telling you this; I told you this” method of presentations. We don’t watch movies that way. Only some books have a table of contents up front (fiction doesn’t do that often). It’s just not fun seeing the “Title, Agenda, About Me” method. We’re too used to it.

Instead, how about a framework like this (for example)?

  • Ask your audience a question that frames the speech.
  • Tell your audience how you’ll try and answer that question.
  • Start with a personal or investigatory story.
  • Drill down into the details of how the story applies to your presentation.
  • Offer some takeaways or next-actions for this.
  • Tell another personal or informational story.
  • Repeat the drill down points, the takeaways, etc.
  • Thread questions in earlier than the end.
  • Finish with a solid set of steps people can use to take action based on your presentation.

This is one storytelling frame. You can do all kinds of other variations on the theme. For instance, what if you did something like this:

  • Start with a question about a famous figure.
  • Explain that your audience is there to help you figure out if that figure embodies the subject matter you’re covering.
  • Ask them to consider the figure at every step in the presentation.
  • And present…

In whichever framework you choose, make sure that you check in, frequently with your audience. Be sure they’re moving along with your presentation. If you see eyes glazing, react (either by livening up your speaking tone, or by noting where people start to glaze and fixing it in a subsequent effort). If you see enthusiasm, look at that person for inspiration. But always check in. Often.

Inspiration for Great Speeches

It’s easier to learn if you pull from interesting sources for inspiration.

First off, some number of you thought my first link would be to TED or PopTech. Though you can hear some amazing speeches there, I thought we’d slip off the beaten path of presentations and look for our inspiration elsewhere.

  • Cirque Du Soleil – If you’re going to design presentations, what would happen if you thought of them like a performance? I’ve seen two Cirque du Soleil shows in the last 12 months, and I think you could do worse than to think like a performance troupe who breaks the boundaries of showmanship with each event.
  • Alec Baldwin – The “Always Be Closing” Speech – The important part of this speech is the passion, the timing, the directness. Yes, there’s cursing, but there’s also big heaps of passion. Watch and learn.
  • David Lee Roth – In his time, David was quite the showman. Say what you will about his music, he knew what the audience wanted and he gave it to them. A good showman (showperson?) knows how to give the audience his or her best.
  • Watch Eve Ensler doing her vagina thing for TED (yep, I blew it and had to point you to TED). Did you see how she started? She pulled you in right away. It’s an uncomfortable topic (to some), and you can watch her move people back and forth from emotions. Do you even think about emotions when you think about presentations? Notice also how she does this as a conversation, and yet, it’s very practiced.
  • Look at comic book covers. Graphic design and interesting layout for your presentations sure doesn’t come canned inside the application. Look for it. Think on ways to deliver different visual experiences, and think about how to make them more interesting than linear text and clip art.
    little pirate ship
  • What About the Physical World? – I’ve been increasingly more interested with thinking about how the physical world can tie into the world in our minds. If you do something physical in the room, it makes a buzz.

The point is this: don’t look at other slide decks to be inspired. Look at other sources that go far afield of the beaten path and bring some synthesis of those ideas and your goals together on the table for you to work with. Think like a creator and a storyteller, and use tools way outside one specific constraint to get where you need to go.

Shop Your Work

You can practice and test and work out your presentations, you know. Author and speaker David Meerman Scott works from the perspective of perfecting his presentations, mapping them out to great detail, and then tweaking only small pieces while leaving the most of his work intact.

I think both Mitch Joel and Seth Godin do the same: take their presentations into a fairly solid form, and then just modify certain parts to match certain audiences. It makes sense. Working from a solid place, a home base, a pre-conceived set of ideas in a certain flow makes sense to lots of folks.

But don’t be afraid to try things.

How I’ve Been Doing It

Notes from a PresentationThe way I’ve been doing my presentations over the last several weeks has been very experimental. I’ve been writing some ideas into a small notebook and presenting from that notebook. The thing is, I’ve been doing it without a linear storyline.

I’ve worked strictly in the moment, like an improv actor or an artist or a cook. I take all the raw pieces of my conversations and work them into pieces of information on the fly and in real time.

I enjoy it. My audience doesn’t seem to like it as much. They come away appreciative of my passion but no more ready to take action. And that matters, so after some feedback, I’m working on my own presentations to reel them back into something that matches what’s above.

It’s important that you realize that your presentation is not just your creative work, but also your audience’s time and attention. If you don’t give your work some level of care and if you don’t constantly strive to communicate better with your audience, then why will people choose to learn from you over another source? Always pay attention to how your audience receives your work. Always seek feedback. Always strive to improve even more.

What Else Can I Tell You?

I know what I know. What do you want to now? How may I help you understand more? What will help this all make sense? What more can I add or clarify?

Thank you, as always, for your time and attention. It’s my goal that you feel like you receive value from spending time with me, and it’s my aim to be helpful. Thanks.

Photo Credit, Steve Jurvetson and idovermani

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