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Considering Presentations

Considering Presentations

Tomorrow, I will stand in a room of people at Bar Camp Boston and talk about content networks. The audience will be primarily really technical people, who know more about networking, hacking, developing, engineering, and everything than me. They will be looking at me with eyes that all engineering crowds give me at presentations: “Who are you? What do you know? How can this be useful to me?”

I owe them a good performance. This post is some of the mental workings that I think are important to consider before giving a presentation. My goal in presenting them to you is that you’ll think about these same points before making your next presentation.

Step One: Consider the Ending– When this presentation is over, I want the people in my audience to be energized, happy, engaged, and thinking about my material. I want them to be excited to think about building content networks themselves. I want them to seek my guidance and participation in helping them form content networks.

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With that in mind, I know this: I don’t have to SELL people anything. I don’t have to ask for money. I do have to talk in big vision terms. I do have to give them “call to action” points, such as asking them to visit a certain website, give me email addresses, site addresses, things like that. I have to convince them that I’m intelligent and useful to their plans. Thus, I’ll build my presentation with those themes in mind. I’ve started at the ending. (Hmm… “Habit 2: begin with the end in mind”).

Step Two: Consider the Venue– There are 150 total attendees. I don’t think they will all be at my presentation. I’m guessing 30 or 40. This means I’ll have a decent sized room, but not an auditorium. I can move among them. I won’t have to be stuck to a podium. Should I bother with PowerPoint? I might not.

The venue determines the toolkit. Think of it as a setting for a movie. If you’re watching Jaws, you don’t expect flying saucers. It also determines how I can lay out the presentation’s “feel,” the ambiance of engaging these people to tell them a story. If you think presentations shouldn’t fit the rooms where you give them, reconsider that thought.

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Step Three: Consider the Audience– Of course the audience is the most important part of the presentation. You didn’t know that? My audience will be smart. They’ll have their bull$&!t detectors on full blast. They won’t appreciate my natural “not so many diagrams” style of presenting. I’ll have to win them over with being funny. Luckily, when I’m nervous, I’m very funny. (You should see me at a hospital).

The presentation must fit the audience, and you have to really consider what their ears and eyes are trying to pluck from it. If they’re highly technical, tell them in three-letter acronyms how the thing will work, “We’ll use RSS over SOA to make the CMS really drive CPM.” If they’re marketers, tell them, “This content network idea will really add stickiness to sites, drive more interaction and click-through, and push brand value further into the customer base.” Big difference, wouldn’t you say?

Step Four: Build the Presentation– I’m going to be nervous. They’ve alloted me 30 minutes. I know the crowd will be skeptical of me because I’m not a name brand. They’ll wonder if I’m worth their time. I’ll worry that they are going to get up and leave.

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With this in mind, I won’t stick to a static PowerPoint presentation. I will use it for some fact-pointing, and I’ll use it for some really colorful backgrounds. I will use humor above all else to try and keep them engaged. But I’ve got a secret weapon. I’m going to hand out parts of my presentation to people in the room (as per a recent post I made here to that effect). I will get them to be part of my act. Build your presentation to take into account everything you’ve considered in the first three steps.

Step Five: Test it Out– I’m far better at improv than I am rehearsal, so I won’t lie to you about that. I like going up there cold turkey and just making the words happen. Sometimes it works really well, and other times, people just stare blankly at me, and I worry that I’ve slipped into another language.

Try at least running through your slides, your notes, whatever you’re going to use as “panic props” for the presentation at least once before you give the presentation. Oh, and if you’re doing something really interactive like a web-based demo, have a backup. Have slides with screenshots that you can use to walk people through. Have all kinds of backup plans in place.

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Step Six: Bring Down the House– People love to be reflected in a mirror. I’ve used this trick in nearly every presentation I’ve ever made, and it works every time without fail. Tell them about themselves, and praise them in the process, and you’ll have allies. For as many people that think they’re being played or had or whatever your term, plenty more will be saying, “Wow, Chris really understands me.” I’ll take it.

Be genuine about that. Don’t pretend to love these people. For the duration of the presentation and the follow-up, LOVE these people. Give them every bit of your fiber in this presentation.

Lastly: Q&A– The absolute worst parts of a presentation can be the presenter saying, “Any questions?” and then the wave of tumbleweeds blowing through. Make your way past this disaster-in-the-making by doing one of a few things. Try seeding your audience with a plant or two. “Chris, can you tell me how you fit into the content space?” (Thanks, Mom!) Or, have a few pre-set questions that you can say, “People who’ve heard this presentation before have asked me whether or not to keep their existing blogs. Here’s what I’ve told them.” This will grease the skids a bit, and help with the anxiety of the “spotlight” being suddenly turned on the audience.

And, if you use ANY of this, let me know how it turns out, okay?

–Chris Brogan has written about presentation tricks at Lifehack.org before. In fact, he writes lots about presentation for a guy who doesn’t do it for a living. Drop us a line at tips at lifehack dot org with your best presentation tricks, or visit our forums and chat it up a bit.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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