Subscription Options

July 6, 2008

The Art of Presenting – Part IV

Rule # 2 - The Rule of Attention (cont'd)

Gaining their attention is hard enough. Keeping it is an altogether different story. In Rule #2, the Rule of Attention, we focus on three basic areas. (Adopting the K.I.S.S principle), they are:
  1. Use what you have to best effect (Our last post)
  2. Tell Engaging Stories
  3. Use eye catching visuals
it is becoming pretty clear that we can't deal with all the elements of The Art of Presenting here, so take these posts as a general outline of some of the techniques I personally have learned over the years. (Part I, Part II)

Tell Engaging Stories

Okay, so easy enough right? Stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. This is what everyone tells you right? Garbage! Well, maybe not garbage but there is absolutely no need to stick to the standard format for telling any form of story.

Stories are the tales that people will engage with, so again it is vital that you understand the needs, desires, interests and issues facing your audience. E.g. Senior executives love stories about overcoming great odds, middle managers love stories about making a difference against overwhelming internal resistance and so on.

Every body loves a story about winning, success, and anything that provers to them just how important their role is. Again, none of this is "trickery", if you don't buy into it - then don't say it. People can smell false sincerity a mile off.

Building the story

So how to build a story? Well, against all rules I would suggest that meandering (purposefully) from one subject to another is cool. As long as you find your way back again and it is all part fo the overall message you want to transmit.

Every story has a point right? But it is better if you can tell the tale while making a number of points simultaneously.

Make sure every point reinforces your underlying message. I have a tale that I learned from one of my mentors relating to an asset reliability project that was performed in Peru many years ago. it has all sorts of ups and down in it, some elements of surprise, and several points that get made along the way - and they all work together to make one large point. reinforcing the message all the way through.

This is a technique I learned from my early days selling door to door. (Yes well there was a recession on in my country then okay...) The principle is called tie-downs. And as the story rolls on you continually bring up points, issues, and messages that reinforce your underlying message.

Also, it is fantastic when you can give people an "Ah-Haa!" moment. Some obscure fact about their work, their industry, or their field of expertise that they didn't know - or that they had never heard expressed this way before.

Professionals (from my limited experience) generally buy into things intellectually, as long as it is explained in an entertaining fashion.

That brings us to another point. Stories are great, legends even better, but you don't have to construct a winding tale for your audience to listen to. You can just work through some scenarios to them, using these to tell a tale of sorts, while flushing out the valid points you wish to make.

So some basic guidelines for building a story?
  • Understand your message, map it out, map out the road to reach it
  • Understand that diversions are okay, as long as they can be used in some fashion to underline your key message, and provide the tie-downs that you need for reinforcement.
  • Build in "Ah-Haa!" moments. Either from data, surveys or from your own unique perspectives. (Yes, you do have unique perspectives - you're a unique character after all aren't you?)
  • It doesn't have to be a story, a scenario will do if you can do it entertainingly and use it to make the points you wish to.
Telling the Tale

As with everything else use all of the tools at your disposal in terms of your voice, movement, non-visual cues and validations, hand and eye movement, body language and whatever else God gave you to work with.

Humor is great if you can pull it off. I'm not a funny person but after a while working the floor I get to a point where I sync with the audience (most times - terrible when it doesn't happen) and they generally get even my dry sense of humor.

However, if the room will tolerate it, the very best thing you can do to tell a story or drive out an example is to be Socratic.

You can either "tell them" or "ask them". If you are telling them, then they may listen, they may take notice, and they may recall what you were burbling about. But if you ask them then an entirely different dynamic starts to take place.
  • If you ask then whether they answer you or not, they think about your question... it is an unconscious reflex.
  • If you ask ... they answer..
  • If you ask and they answer, then they are more likely to think it is "true", because it reflects their own experience, than if you tell them and they just listen passively
  • If you ask then then they interact with you... and you begin to build the number 1 sales tool... a relationship!
  • In brief, if you ask... then they are far more likely to become engaged in the process.
The goal, ultimately, is to develop sessions and routines where your entire role is to ask the right questions along the right vane. Using their inherent knowledge to reveal the points you wish to reveal to them.

I have integrated Socratic principles into my training, sales presentations, seminars and consulting discussions. (Socratic Conversation) For me, this was a revelation in training techniques and it is something that has undoubtedly improved my fortunes in the consulting game.

Using Engaging Visuals

I far prefer to present without software, I don't mind using a power point slide deck, and do so often, I don't mind presenting a software solution and I can work these into what I do. But people react strongly to me when I present without any back up aids, just me and a flip chart.

I find this is far better for establishing a relationship. When you have slides people are looking at.. yup - the slides. When I don't they are looking at me; giving me a lot of time to catch their eye, speak directly to them and so on.

Visuals Using Flip Charts

Again another area where you can be Socratic. Use the combination of the story and the flip chart to develop an image, asking questions as you go and using this to build the next part of the image. It doesn't have to be anything artistic, but it does have to make sense at the time.

In fact, my writing is shocking, but when I am building the Flip Chart people can understand it directly, and they can refer back to it in related conversations. However, if they (or I) look at it later I am totally at a loss to understand what it could have been about.

So the whole image and questions things builds an interesting dynamic, where people can directly relate to what is being drawn.

Have some standard drawings that you can pull out to illustrate a few of your key topics, moreover, have some routines rehearsed and filed away that you can pull out to discuss key points you regularly need to make. I have seen many videos of Guy Kawasaki talking about The Art of the Start.

he is always interesting, a rock star, and in every tale he has a story about getting Japanese American older ladies to picket a company that sacked him (in an imaginary tale) fantastic stuff, very funny, and he uses variations of it a lot.

Visuals using PowerPoint

Hard one, although you wouldn't think it should be. Too many functions unfortunately. Many of the presentations I have seen end up being a show about "what I learned to do in Power Point this week." Absolute rubbish normally, distracting, not on message and somewhere between boring and annoying. (I would hate to be a client for this reason alone, you have to sit through a multitude of terrible presentations)

This sort of information is all over the web, but here are a few ideas for you:
  1. One idea per page
  2. Less writing more images
  3. Bullets are good sometimes, but keep them very short. (One word is best)
  4. Use big fonts
  5. Not there to prompt you, nor to tell the story - but to add substance and value
  6. Charts are okay - images are great - only if they reinforce your point, or if they generate new areas of discussion
  7. Move relatively quickly, unless the slide is a prompt for a Flip chart discussion.
Lots more stuff to write on eye catching visuals, but multi media is always a good tip. Videos in the background, radio messages, in-seminar conference calls, and whatever else. Also the internet. We'll pick those themes up in a the next post on Rule # 3, The Rule of Tools.

his post is bought to you by