Storylines and arcs. Stories have universal appeal; we all appreciate a good yarn. A presentation is an opportunity to tell a compelling narrative. Like all stories, presentations have a logical beginning, middle and end. In this instance the end
is "Point B". However, a good structure and flow does not complete the story. Stories have emotional elements such elements of surprise and suspense, and villains and heroes. The classic tale Cinderella has all of these – surprise (pumpkin turning into a carriage), suspense (will she make it before midnight) and villains (her step sisters).
I am not suggesting that you turn your presentation into a fairy tale ;-), but having the right combination of function with emotion will make your presentation more enjoyable – and memorable. "Made to Stick" is an excellent resource of "SUCCES" factors.
Opening Gambits. The term gambit is used in chess to describe an opening where an offer is made (by usually sacrificing a pawn) to secure a subsequent advantage. In presentations, gambits are techniques used to get the attention of the audience in the crucial opening minutes. Although stories are a great way to open, they aren't the only options. Here are others referenced in Weissman's “Presenting to Win” book: Question, Factoid, Retrospective/Prospective, Quotation, Familiar Saying and Analogy.
Mannerisms to Avoid. Just as your slides should avoid visual distractions, your “on stage” presence should also avoid them. We all have our pet mannerisms. Unfortunately, some of these can be distracting to positively humiliating in front of audiences. Hopefully, dry runs with friends who will give you critical feedback will help you to root them out. Here are a few examples to avoid
- Pacing up and down the room, like you've had too much Red Bull
- Fidgeting with glasses/your hair/change in your pockets
- Burying hands deep in your pockets
- Overusing the laser pointer
- Pointing a finger at someone in the audience
Don't read every bullet on every slide! Years ago, Nathan Myhrvold put out a memo that said (among other pithy things), "the Audience Can Read". The point is, the audience is reading and listening and watching you; it’s your job to keep them engaged in more than one way.
Answering (Hard) Questions at the end. This is usually where many presenters fall into a trap. The mistake is this – you get so focused on presenting that when you finally get to the end, to the last slide, and open up for questions – you think your job is done. You let your guard down. And just like that – you fall in! Because you are lulled into thinking it is over, you are more vulnerable to make mistakes.
Politicians are great reminders of foibles such as forgetting the "open microphone" or visibly showing with body language that they "want to get the hell out". Jerry Weissman has another book aptly named "In the Line of Fire". He uses examples of Presidential Debates to make his points about the importance of keeping on your toes the moment you open up for questions.
At that very moment, there is a subtle but important shift – you are shifting the focus from you to the audience. In other words, you are giving up some control. But you can still control factors like time; i.e. how many questions you want to take.
One of the key things in Weissman's book is the importance of understanding the question and accurately responding to it. This sounds obvious, but isn't so easy in real life because often the essence is buried as the
questioner is forming the question by thinking it out aloud. So it is often punctuated with "Umms" and many "wrappers" that you have to mentally unwrap to get to the core issue.
This is again the "Roman Column" concept discussed in Part 1. It highlights the importance of being an active listener. Only when you've understood the Roman Column, you may proceed to answering it. Now, what happens if you don't understand the question? Ask the questioner to help you out. It is better to do this then get embarrassed later.
Another point in the “In the Line of Fire” book is about "Top Spin". The term comes from racquet sports like tennis where the person hitting the ball puts an extra edge causing the ball to rotate as if rolling in the same
direction as it is moving forward. "Top Spin" in Jerry Weissman's terminology is when you not only effectively answer the question, but also take the opportunity to reinforce core points in your presentation (e.g. audience benefits and getting to Point B).
Overall, it is a great book to help you prepare for facing the various type of questions you are likely to encounter.
Plan: Presenting to Win (Jerry Weissman) and Presentation Zen (Garr Reynolds) ·
Prepare: Beyond Bullet Points (Cliff Atkinson) and Slideology (Nancy Duarte) ·
Present: In the Line of Fire (Jerry Weissman) and Made to Stick (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)
If there's one "must read" book, I'd say "Presenting to Win". It is the book I would recommend to begin with; and it is the book that helped me avoid the cardinal sins of presenting. And, it got me interested in the rest!