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Monday, 30 November 2009

The art and soul of presenting

Andrew Thorp is a business speaker and communications skills coach. He co-organises the Pecha Kucha events in Manchester, an innovative form of Powerpoint presentation to an invited audience.

Ask an audience if they’ve ever experienced ‘death by Powerpoint’ and you’re guaranteed to touch a nerve! It’s not so much a sudden, violent act but a slow strangulation.

I wanted to share a few ideas on what makes for a great presentation – and invite your comments and experiences too.

I subscribe to the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad Powerpoint (let’s call it PP), only bad PP presenters”. PP’s a fantastic communication tool, but becomes a WMD when in the wrong hands.

PP really isn’t a good medium for conveying lots of complex information. That’s the purpose of handouts, to be read in one’s own time and speed. But PP is a great tool for delivering a message, an insight or changing the way people think or feel.

Chances are you’re delivering a PP presentation to a group of people – and that’s a form of theatre. People don’t go to the theatre to be bored and unengaged. It’s not about shouting louder or giving them more data; it’s about connecting better.

Pictures work better than text. Put an image up on a screen and you’ll intrigue people. They’ll want to know what it means. They’re primed to listen. Lots of text and bullets switches people off, and of course reading out what’s up there splits people’s attention and REDUCES what they take in.

Tell a story through the slides. And by storytelling I don’t just mean the “once upon a time there was a beautiful princess…” variety. A story contains a message and it has a structure – beginning, middle and end. It’s rather like a meal and good presenters serve it up like this:

Present the problem. Some coaches call this creating dissonance – in other words build up the pain. Explain what the issue is and how it affects those in the room. This establishes empathy – they’re with you on this and you’ve got their attention.

Explore the problem. This is where you dig deeper and start to analyse the issue. It’s your chance to deliver insights, “ah-ha” moments and this establishes your credibility.

Give them hope. Provide the audience with some possible solutions, tools they can take away and employ to deal with the problem. Send them away in an optimistic frame of mind.

At the start their attention is at its height and the danger is you’ll lose them in the middle. Keep this section engaging, add colour through metaphor, anecdote and a nice style of delivery. If you’ve got to deliver statistical information, keep it simple and suggest what that figure might represent or mean to the audience.

Above all, remember that a presentation is your opportunity to make an audience think or feel differently about something. Be guided by the ‘less is more’ principle, make sure you have a clear message to deliver and give it some welly!

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