Did you know there’s a single, vital element of your presentation that you’ve probably never considered?
One that’s never mentioned in the presentation tips books.
And if you get it wrong, it can cancel out all the good work you’ve done with graphics, scriptwriting and vocal practice.
At the risk of turning this post into some kind of Sex In The City scenario, try this experiment. Catch any domestic flight in Australia, sit in an aisle seat toward the back. And observe row after row of blokes in perfectly acceptable suits, yet wearing terrible, bargain-bin, scuff-toed, curve-heeled, semi-synthetic business shoes.
Anecdotal research suggests that most women in your audience look at your shoes before your PowerPoint, and that can mean Game Over.
‘Untrustworthy,’ was a word I heard more than once at a recent conference when the subject came up during the cocktail hour.
Decent shoes can be bought from stores in most cities, along with handy stuff like polish. Deal with it, and the focus goes back to your presentation style.
If you present with numbers, you know how hard it is to bring them to life. Not all of us can be as riveting as maths lecture wizard Matthew Weathers.
Here are some useful tips from Lizzie O’Leary of Bloomberg News, an organisation that faces a daily challenge of presenting endless numbers without giving their audience a general anaesthetic.
The two core issues that should drive any presentation are:
1. People like stories. Always have, always will.
2. People want to know how the subject will affect them, personally.
O’Leary makes the valuable point that in communication terms, “economics is just a collection of little data points of human behavior.” So you look for the human side of the numbers.
Step 1: Find a face for the issue.
On TV that means finding an interview subject who has been affected by the numbers. In your presentation you might tell a story of how a typical family, or sales rep, or distributor has been affected by the issues you’re presenting. Put up a photo of them to make it more real. Don’t make one up, people can sense when you’re bluffing.
Step 2: Globalise the numbers
Now show how your example isn’t some random outlier - it’s a trend, or a major issue for a lot of people. Time to bring in the graphs, but the simpler, the better.
Obviously your approach depends on your audience. If you’re delivering quarterly profit forecasts to market analysts, just give them the damn numbers as quickly as possible.
But if your audience, like most, regards numbers as a yawn-fest, there is much to be said for the Bloomberg approach.
Westpac has rightly taken a lot of stick for its animated presentation on why they’ve raised mortgage rates beyond everyone else.
The overall idea is a good one - explain to confused customers what’s been happening with the money supply over the last year. And the simplicity of its animated figures might have worked well with a better thought-out message, even though the people have been taken directly off the doors of ladies’ and gents’ public bathrooms.
Between concept and delivery, the presentation ran way off the rails and ended up as something a 10-year-old would find incredibly patronising.
Lessons for presenters from this ongoing PR trauma:
Choose Your Analogies Carefully
If you’re talking about a high-commitment product like a 25 year mortgage, it’s wrong to compare it to something as trivial as a snack, even if the comparison works in terms of pure logic. It makes your audience feel that you’re too big and out of touch to understand their pain.
Don’t Underestimate the Intelligence of Your Audience
The whole tone of the speaker and the script suggests someone talking to children. Your audience might know less about the subject than you do, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Beware of using a tone that suggests you’re talking to simpletons, or they’ll turn against you fast.
A bit of editing would have helped, too: “Once upon a time, there were big lush fields of banana crops.”
Understand People’s Preconceptions of You
People will hold certain beliefs about you and your company before you open your mouth. You need to know what those beliefs are, because that context affects your whole message. If you’re from a family-oriented company like McDonalds, you have to present in a style that matches their family values. If you know you’re starting with negative preconceptions, you can pleasantly surprise them as ‘the bank executive who was unexpectedly warm and human’ or ‘the IT department head who was amazingly open to suggestions from other departments’.
Given the general public perception of banks, perhaps ‘Being popular is not our focus’ wasn’t the best choice of words.
Get Someone Else To Check Your Material
When you’re immersed in your own subject, you can assume that everyone else feels the same way. And material that makes perfect sense to you might not work for everyone else. So show your script and visuals to an outsider and see if there’s anything in there that makes them scratch their head.
Like “We all understand this story, right? A+B=C.”
Well, no, we don’t.
Understand How Fast Material Can Spread
Once Westpac realised the folly of its banana-themed message, they pulled the video from public view. But the horse had bolted, and it’s easy to view on a wide range of sites. In the digital world, once you’ve released anything, it’s out of your control. So be more careful next time.
Neither am I, but that doesn’t matter in Scene Change’s Australia’s Coolest Event Person award contest. Most event industry awards involve writing thesis-length submissions and getting written references.
Not this one, you can just make stuff up. And the more far-fetched the claim, the better.
Then all you have to do to win deluxe designer sunglasses is get people to vote for you.
There was a time, a million years ago, when projected material at events could only be made by seasoned production professionals, who knew a lot about creating a spectacle.
Then the invention of PowerPoint infused the DIY ethic into 95% of presentations. Anyone could knock some visuals together, so we ended up with presentations that were democratic, affordable, and uniformly uninspiring, like a communication version of a Billy bookcase.
That’s fine for a sales update, but if you’re launching a major new product, it’s worth letting go of your laptop and hiring some external production talent, who can use those projectors to create something really engaging.
And way up there on the global scale of video projection genius is Netherlands video production company Nuformer
We’ve posted about building projection before, but this takes it to an entirely new level.
It’s a breathtakingly beautiful spectacle that messes with your mind, and bear in mind that web video makes this sort of thing look about 10% as good as it does in real life.
That’s it for the re-runs folks, the five week expedition is over and I’m back reporting live at the blog desk. Dammit!
Apart from the obvious delights of wandering around Europe in summer, it was bliss to be totally free of media as (so I’m told) week after week of Michael Jackson news analysis unfolded.
It’s always instructive to see how communication works when you can hardly do it at all. I know enough Italian and German to order food and understand childrens’ books on which farm animal is which.
With French I’m on shakier ground, with a high probability of ordering the horse. With lots of goofy miming.
And then there’s the French themselves. Oh, how people like to warn you about their national character. Haughty. Arrogant. Dismissive. Disdainful. All qualities that every French person we met showed absolutely none of. They were all perfectly pleasant and hospitable.
Why so? It takes about 10 minutes in the country to learn that the French have a rigid system of manners that requires you to say a cheery ‘Bonjour, madame!’-style greeting when you enter a shop. And learn how to say, in enthusiastic French, “I am a confused Australian and my French is non-existent, do you speak English?” and they’re just fine. That’s all it takes.
But if you walk in and don’t say ‘hello’, you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to the conversational leper colony, my friend.
No matter who you’re talking to, manners are important. We’ve spoken many times here about the importance of learning your audience’s language as the first step to winning them over.
Next time you have to talk to a tough audience, ask yourself if the perceived threat is a little overblown, like all the warnings about French people from people who’ve tried speaking to them in English, then tried SHOUTING AT THEM IN ENGLISH. With a little research into how your audience sees things, you’ll probably get on perfectly fine.
By the way, another French stereotype that proved to be untrue: I did seen a Parisian organ grinder, but where there should have been a mischievous monkey, there was a ginger cat attached with string. That must really kill the cash flow.
French stereotypes that are totally true: small dogs where small dogs shouldn’t be, people sitting on trains reading existentialist novels with titles like ‘The Man Without A Head’, and pretty much everyone smoking like they’re at an audition for Mad Men.
Thanks to an against-the-odds miracle of frequent flyer point redemption and client scheduling, I’m closing the laptop and off to wander around Europe for a month. There is much to be done over there - Blur in the park, cheering on Cadel, Belgian beer research.
In the spirit of the TV networks, I’ll be running some Classic Posts From the Golden Years, from way back in early ‘08 when this blog existed in a readerless vacuum. There might be some travel commentary over on @ianwhitworth, but absolutely nothing on presentations.
Scene Change Hobart, birthplace of the 2007 AV Revolucion, is thrilled to announce that we’ve been appointed in-house AV supplier to Tasmania’s premier conference venue, the Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart.
All of our Hobart guys have spent a lot of time working in the Grand Chancellor over the years, and are really excited about working with the hotel team. After all, quite a few Grand Chancellor people have been big fans of our corporate mascot Larry, and have signed posters of him on their desks.
Grand Chancellor Hobart General Manager Ralph Freckelton said “The choice was easy, we’ve worked with the Scene Change team many times and they always do a great job. We’re very excited that this partnership we will bring our clients a fantastic AV offering with some new state of the art installations happening soon.”
Here he is with our own Rod Street on the left. We still prefer Rod with his Photoshopped Che hair and beret, but from now on he’ll save that for fancy dress occasions.
By odd coincidence, the last two posts have covered cigarettes and alcohol. Which brings us to tonight’s federal budget.
Presentation aficionados will be salivating at the thought of Treasurer Wayne Swan delivering his recession-buster stimulus deals tonight.
No, me neither.
And if you want conclusive proof that there’s now far too much ‘content’ in the world, you can watch Wayne’s behind-the-scenes budget preparations. If you loved ‘Budget 2009’, don’t miss ‘The Making of Budget-2009’. Learn now the stunts work, see how many calculator batteries they use up, and find out who plays Wayne’s double during the nude scenes.
Don’t click on it. Just don’t. I only put it here to prove that it exists, on the ‘KevinPM’ Youtube channel. It’s 3’34” of your life you won’t get back. It’s a nice day – go for a short walk outside instead.
What Can You, The Presenter, Learn From A Federal Budget?
A federal budget is a massive wad of information, longer than The Complete Works of Tolstoy, and of dazzling interest to those who wrote it.
The rest of us just think: spare us the details, and what’s in it for us?
Tabloid newspaper editors understand this. So pretty much every year, at least since I learned to read, the post-budget front page reads: ‘BEER, SMOKES UP’.
The effect of the budget on the Working Man distilled down to three simple words.
Presenters should learn from this. Instead of dumping the entire story of your working life on your audience, ask yourself:
1. What’s in it for them?
2. What’s the smallest number of words it takes to say it?
Here’s how it works. Consider this random selection of standard corporate bullet points, followed by tabloid front page versions.
1. With the demise of non-bank lenders, banks are enjoying a more favorable competitive environment and will seek to leverage relationships with business clients.
BANKS SLUG BIZ: FEES UP, LENDING DOWN
2. In difficult financial environment, ongoing employment viability is conditional on implementing positive customer service engagement.
BE NICE, KEEP JOB
3. Moderate sacrifices must be made to office amenities in order to reduce costs.
DONUTS ICED, NESCAFE BACK.
4. OH&S best practice suggests that correct posture is imperative for minimization of negative health outcomes in load-bearing workplace roles.
LAZY LIFTING BREAKS BACKS
5. After last year’s Christmas party incident, employees will be limited to three alcoholic beverages.
NUDE PHOTOCOPIER SHOCK: NEVER AGAIN, SAYS BOSS
See how if you compress it down to a few words it looks more like news.
Note we’ve avoided the other feature of tabloid headlines – puns.
You’ve got to admire the craft of master front page punsters, particularly the British ones.
But, like Page 3 girls and Andy Capp, there is no place for puns in presentations, because they make you look like an embarrassing uncle doing a wedding speech.
Ian Whitworth believes passionately in the power of live communication, without the buzzwords and bullet points. He works as a creative director and principal of agency A Lizard Drinking. He is also one of the founders of audiovisual company Scene Change. Ian is an ex-professional presenter and long ago, ex-audiovisual technician. For non-presentation stuff, try @ianwhitworth.