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Presentation Masterclass – Part 1: Introduction

Presentation Masterclass – Part 1: Introduction

I have been observing, delivering and training people in presentation techniques for over 20 years now and my considered, professional, opinion on the subject is this:

MOST PRESENTATIONS SUUUUUUUUCK!

In almost every sphere of human endeavour, the outcome can be plotted on a bell-curve – a few really skilled people over on the right, a few really hopeless people over on the left and a whole bunch or just-above or just-below average people in the middle:

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    I suspect that the curve for presentations looks more like this:

      Why?

      Seriously. Why?

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      How hard could this be? You get someone who knows what they are talking about standing up in front of a audience, with a bunch of visual aids to make the job of imparting information easier, and they impart the information. How hard could that be?

      I have been involved with presentation at a professional level for over 20 years. If I include my earliest experiences with presentations – people teaching me stuff in primary school – then the figure is closer to 40 years. And the vast majority of them were dreadful. Teachers, coaches, lecturers, tutors, trainers, consultants – most of them suuuuuuuuuuuucked!

      Think back. Put aside all your experiences in the world of work for a moment and just think back to your schooldays. How many exceptional teachers did you have in your 14 years of primary and secondary schooling? I had four excellent teachers in primary school and three in secondary, out of a total about 80 people who taught me various subjects between the ages of 4 and 17. Now, for our normal distribution bell curve, 7 out of 80 is about right, but it still sucks when you have to sit through it. And that’s before I even got to college, much less the world of work with all of its woeful presenters. Why does this happen? By dint of the fact that the person is up at the front of the room with the slides flickering behind him or her, they must be some kind of expert on their topic, whether that topic is the 3Rs in primary school or Web 2.0 marketing. So their expertise in the topic is rarely the problem.

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      I have gradually come to the realisation that the biggest problem with presentations is that human beings are simply too self-involved for the process to work well. Presenters are so wrapped up in themselves and their topic that they rarely seem to take a moment to consider what would be the best method for imparting this information to their audience. Audiences are so deluged with advertising messages and radio jingles, with phone calls, voicemail, email, SMS and IM, with… stuff in their personal lives that unless you, the presenter, are wowing them with every word, you will lose their attention in a matter of seconds.

      Add to that the fact that the bar has been lowered to such an extent that most audiences are resigned to expecting dull, rambling, semi-legible, bullet-point-ridden presentations, and it’s not hard to see how we have arrived at this low ebb in communication.Both sides are at fault, to be sure; but if you are scheduled to make a presentation soon, you can control only one side of the conversation. Exercise that control. You have no say regarding the audience’s mood or willingness to listen, but you control your presentation, and in this series of posts, I will provide you with the knowledge, tools and approach to maximise your chance of success.

      The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated. (William James)

      The psychologist and philosopher William James said, “The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated.” If your presentation is going to have any chance of success, it needs to be built on this understanding. As a starting point, I recommend some detox to clear your body and mind from a lifetime of exposure to sucky presentations. I strongly recommend that you expose yourself to some great presenters:

      • Check out Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs, and Dick Hardt on YouTube.
      • Have a look at some of the wizards on TED.com – Rives, Hans Rosling, Barnett Thomas, Lawrence Lessig and Ken Robinson all stand out, but there are reams more on this invaluable resource.
      • Go over to Common Craft and have a look at their ‘plain English’ tutorials on aspects of Web 2.0

      The one common theme that emerges from this tremendous diversity of presenters, topics and styles is RESPECT. By every word and deed, they demonstrate absolute respect for both their audiences and themselves.

      A good starting point. The essential starting point.

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      Next: Planning your presentation.

      More by this author

      5 Key Questions When Planning Your Presentation (Presentation Masterclass – Part 2) Presentation Masterclass – Part 1: Introduction Guy Kawasaki’s Thoughts on Online Life Where am I going? Putting your life in context. Communication 101

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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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