When we look at a skeleton, we start with the skull. Our eye does it for us. You didn’t really THINK about the image (if you can’t see the image I’m talking about it in RSS, go to my page to look). Instead, it’s just what we do. We look into the eye sockets. We follow the curve of the neck. It’s natural.
Storytelling and presentations (which is a form of storytelling) require a strong skeleton, and all the other parts of a body, to work well.
We must start with the head. Where are our eyes? What can we see? What’s our point of view? Move a little deeper. What’s inside our mind? What are we to think? A presentation must start from this perspective. You want to give us (the audience) an easy view into the topic you’ll cover.
Your presentation must travel along the spine, well-supported, and tying back into the head you’ve already shown us. It must feel connected. We must know which end is up and which is down.
The meat of your presentation comes after you’ve set up the head and spine. You’ve got us inside a body. We’re comfortable. We know we’re protected by the structure you’ve started.
Legs and Limbs
It’s okay to branch out, but only after we’re connected. Gestures are useful, but not unlike infants with no control of their hands, we need to know there’s an arm driving the hand, connected to a spine. (No leg bone songs, thanks).
We need strong legs to move the presentation through its paces. We need feet to hold it all upright. The presentation must be about this body of work and legs to move it to your conclusion.
The World Comes Last
Pulled all together, we have a fully considered, structured presentation with a strong start, a powerful and supportive frame, and plenty of meat to flesh it out. We have our vehicle into the world of the topic you’re presenting, because you’ve paid attention to the skeleton of the presentation, of the story between us.
Just like an author, a storyteller must be cautious. Pull us too fast into the story and we get whiplash. Feed us too little information and we’re hungry, and not paying attention. Give us too much to see at once, and our eyes hurt.
Consider your next presentation with this perspective. Does it change how you’d take your audience through the material? What would you change?
tags: presentation , storytelling, communication, speaking,writing
Can we just get this out of the way right off the bat?
If you actually like attending meetings, stop what you’re doing, and go check yourself into the nearest government-led organization. For the rest of us, meetings are a kind of pennance. Although Paul Graham wrote that he used to love meetings when he realized he was getting paid just as much to sit and do nothing as he got paid to write meaningful code.
Let’s talk about ways to make your meetings suck less.
Types of Meetings
There are two types of meetings we’ll discuss here:
Status meetings are where you (the meeting caller) read out the status of the project you’re all working on, and everyone nods. It’s a you-speaking-only meeting. There should be no surprises.
Collaboration meetings are targeted, brief meetings where you gather up the important decision-makers and give them the decisions that need to be made. Fork in the road type stuff.
The best trick I ever learned for holding status meetings was to do the sneakerwork ahead of time to get everyone’s status. This serves two purposes. One, there’s no surprises at the meeting. Two, if you have attendees who tend to blather a little, you can let them blather to you one-on-one, handle their concerns, etc, and then take the salient points to the status meeting.
Lots of projects require a weekly status meeting. The best way to keep status, I feel, is to keep a list of the higher-level tasks to be done, with committed dates they’ll be completed. (I’ll cover this in a post on running projects.) The status becomes read out and confirmation of the dates already agreed upon.
Make sure at your first ever kick-off meeting that you explain the way status meetings will work. Reinforce it at the beginning of every status meeting. Just say, “Okay, I’ve gone around and seen most of you. I’m just going to read down the list and you nod your heads. If there’s a problem with the list, see me after the meeting. Okay?” Nod your head. Get them to nod their heads.
STATUS MEETINGS SHOULD TAKE NO MORE THAN 30 MINUTES. I do mine in 15. 10 if I’m lucky.
It’d be great to imagine that everything runs smoothly on all projects all the time. It doesn’t. In those cases, sometimes it’s a matter of people not feeling in the loop. Other times, it’s a bunch of tough decisions that need to be made as a deadline draws near.
Collaboration meetings require one thing above all else: AN AGENDA. PUBLISHED. BEFORE THE MEETING.
Your thinking around Collaboration meetings should be this: We need to get ___ outcome or ____ decision by the end of this meeting. Put that in the agenda. Put it out there at the beginning of the meeting. People HATE meetings, but if they sense that you’re going to keep things tight to a purpose, you’ll see more buy in.
These meetings are for decisions and forks in the road, problems, and quick solutions. This shouldn’t be confused with brainstorming sessions and creative work. That’s a whole different game, and I’d defer you to a completely different master for that.
The key to collaborative meetings is getting people to stay focused. You, as facilitator, have the obligation of keeping things on track. No sidebar conversations. No cell phone interruptions. (I make this the first line of any agenda: please set Phasers to STUN.)
So, the trick as far as I’m concerned is to keep status meetings crisp read-outs, and to make collaboration meetings targeted events for group decision-making. I think this helps to make meetings suck less.
Does this cover the types of meetings you have at your organization? Email me and we can discuss your meetings and what we might do to make them suck less.
OR do you have the best meetings in the world? What makes them so great? Share!
The Pisgah Mountain 23K trail race.
Okay, I admit it. I just raced something a little over my fitness level. It’s a MOUNTAIN. I kind of forgot that when I signed up. I figured, well, a hilly trail run, right? with elevation changes of 900 feet at a time over a mile or so, you get the feeling really quickly that you’re on a MOUNTAIN and not a hill.
(Did I mention this was a MOUNTAIN).
The announcements were: it’s really wet up there, so get ready to swim. There are pink trail marker ribbons up. At one point, it looks like we’re asking you to run through a pond. We are. Oh, and a tree fell a few miles in, so you have to jump over that. Ready, go. (nothing more).
The first mile or so was on pavement, and that chewed, especially since for whatever reason being on a MOUNTAIN was causing my heart rate to flip out. I was up to 90% within the first 500 yards. Okay, yeah, whatever. I’ll just keep running. There were 52 people running the 23K and about 53 running the 50K. I was next to last out of the gate (mostly on purpose). It was me and this older guy who looked cooked before the first big hill.
Almost immediately into the second mile, I found myself running with a girl whose boyfriend had split off to do the 50K. She’d done three of these already, and we were perfectly paced, so I went with her. It made the running exceptional, because we talked about this and that race, and careers, and crap like that, for the whole race (except when I was wheezing up the steepest parts of the mountain).
The mountain (MOUNTAIN!) was beautiful. There were streams and brooks everywhere. Trees of all colours. We saw a little orange salamander that looked like something out of a kid’s toybox, but was real. There were these huge red mushrooms and tons of moss.
Technically speaking, the race was amazing. There were all kinds of roots, rocks, mud, moss, steep descents where you ran and prayed, and huge killer inclines that you just had to walk. There were two really well-stocked aid stations with all kinds of treats, including fruits, ClifBars, m&m’s, fig newtons, etc.
The last mile chewed, because it was onto this super hilly carriage road and then, back onto cement. But we were really feeling great from making a decent pace of it, and hey, this was 14.1 miles of MOUNTAIN behind us. We raced into the finish line, and I was thrilled to be the last finisher of the 23K distance (not counting the old guy, who I’m not sure if he finished).
But then I wasn’t last, because some girl got lost at an easy place to get lost, and she ended up adding eight miles to her race. So, she was last by about 30 or 40 minutes more than me.
Time: 3:14:20 for 14.1 miles of MOUNTAIN.
And then afterwards, the wonderful people had a barbecue, with pots of chunky vegetable soup, burgers and dogs, a sheet cake, and all kinds of other goodies. I had a burger and a 1/2 cup of soup, and then hit the road. I stopped a little later for a real victory meal of steak tips done bloody rare, fries, and a 25 ounce Newcastle Brown Ale.
It was a KILLER perfect day, and the only thing I have to do better for next year is remember that it’s a frickin’ MOUNTAIN!
Thanks to everyone for their support and kindness.