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My Best Presentation Tricks

My Best Presentation Tricks

Giving presentations can be a complete and utter thrill. Too bad attending them can be a complete and utter bore. If you are on the giving side, I want to offer you up a collection of my best presentation tricks to date. I’ve written on presentation and the storyteller’s promise before at my site. I’ve written what has oddly become my top-rated post of all time, Bring out your inner David Lee Roth. This will draw from these concepts and more.

Stories and Characters

With few exceptions, a presentation is an opportunity for you to tell a story to an audience. You have the conch shell. You are the wielder of the fire stick. And your audience enters into a relationship with you from the moment they choose to sit in your presence. (Here’s a hack- what if you gave a presentation and provided no chairs? What would a standing audience look and feel like?) As such, your audience is expecting a story.

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’ve heard this before, and you understand, but apply it to your presentation. And no, I don’t mean, “Here’s what we’ll talk about, talk-talk, that’s what we talked about.” Stories also have characters. So, start your story at the beginning with a character. If you’re describing a product, start with the user of the product. Or start with the person who moves your product from one business to the other. But put PEOPLE in your story.

At the beginning, your character should have a problem. Maybe she has too many spreadsheets and not enough linking, and people are starting to give her information in ways that her spreadsheets are overflowing their banks. In the middle, your character meets the new product, a database, and now she’s really excited because the database can do EVERYTHING the spreadsheets were lacking. By the end of the story, your character is poised on all the great new ways the database will save her in the future, and she’s looking forward to applying her new skills to a new challenge.

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Ads are presentations. Watch TV for a few minutes and see the stories; think about them in terms of a story with a character, a structure, etc. Do you see it?

Touch Their Eyes

Presentations are not opportunities for people to read in a group setting. Your slides, if you choose to use them, should not be textual orgies. Use visual shorthand. Are you talking about budget numbers? How about a big picture of a cash register, with the numbers showing up as the register tape? If you can turn your information into a visual summation, even if you read actual statistics and numbers out over the presentation of the slide, that’s useful.

Remember that a slide deck doesn’t have to equal the handout provided after the presentation. You can send people off with a document containing all the textual support of your presentation. But truly, do you think people want to sit around the room and read complex graphs of numbers, huge text dumps regarding a new product, or anything else that requires an intense amount of leaning in and squinting? (Yes, exceptions to this concept exist in abundance, but please consider whether your presentation is the exception, or more likely, is a target for more imagery and fewer words).

There are all kinds of great sources for interesting graphics and images to add to your slide deck. Heck, even Flickr offers lots of material that’s licensed for use under Creative Commons. (I use them frequently)

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A Presentation Doesn’t Equal a PowerPoint Side Deck

I was once in an argument with someone over the fact that I didn’t have slide deck materials to give her. She said I couldn’t present without slides. I said that slides were merely one tool. In the end, she wouldn’t relent, so I sent her a slide deck with 24 slides of all black background with orange title headers. I knew she would be printing (call me spiteful), and yes, when I got there to present, she’d dutifully depleted the earth of several ink catridges to be faithful to her documentation bent.

You can present without a slide deck. It’s scary, because you are the focus of the audience. They are all staring at you, and every point you make, either causes eyeballs to refocus on you, or every time you lose them, it causes eyeballs to drift away and examine the walls, the ceiling, their BlackBerrys. It becomes much more of a “live without a net” feeling to have a presentation without a slide deck to serve as backup.

Which is why it’s really powerful.

If you can pull off this kind of presentation, it’s often very memorable. People will hold on to the words you used to paint stories in their heads. It will keep their visual memory working, which is why great radio programs can often engage more of our senses than you’d expect. Try it once in a while. You might find it truly terrifying, but you might also see a reward.

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You are an Entertainer

Presenting, even to your coworkers and colleagues, is an entertainment experience. If not, why are you standing there with a room full of people looking at you? You could just send an email, mail out a brochure. The presumption is that there’s something inherent in your presence that people can’t get from just browsing the brochure. Most people incorrectly assume that they ship a human along with the presentation merely for the Q&A session that follows.

Wrong.

This is your opportunity to breathe life into material that might not stand so well on its own. It’s a chance to give a face and a voice to something that might not be easily humanized. (What if you’re selling waste treatment engineering supplies? I’m doubting people can see the “story” in that easily). It’s a chance to connect with an audience and give them something that they’re never going to receive directly from the product or service or material you’re presenting about. Why present about your last quarter’s numbers? Because either you’re presenting the proud face of a group’s accomplishment, or you’re giving the story and the news behind why you didn’t measure up.

Entertainers are strong on giving their stories life, but they are also strong on reading the room. An entertainer will know whether the people in the audience are being bored by something you’re presenting, and perhaps they’ll mix it up a bit. This requires work. Again, if all you had to do was send an audio voiceover with the slides, you would. Entertainers, er, presenters, are there to make sure the audience is playing along at the same pace, and that everyone is connecting with the material. It goes back to the relationship I mentioned in the storytelling section.

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Why Not You?

If you think your presentations can’t benefit from the above, why not? What line of work are you in that humans don’t want to be engaged? What serious business do you conduct that can’t be brought to riveting and rapt attention by giving your information a flair? Do you doubt for a moment that even the most grave information you see on the news isn’t built into a presentation? Even there, the aspect of storytelling and connection to the audience through a human character is the point that brings back great feedback and connection.

Humans want to connect. They are built to want to belong. A great presentation is a fire to gather around and share an experience. Use every opportunity you have to present to tell a story, and I guarantee that you will be sought out to present material of more and more importance. As a presenter, you have the opportunity to give a rockstar performance that gives people something to think about. Why not? Are you saving your performance for some other venue?

–Chris Brogan writes about self-improvement and creativity at [chrisbrogan.com]. He recently launched the Grasshopper Factory.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

Ah, Inbox Zero. An achievement that so many of us long for. It’s elusive. It’s a productivity benchmark. It’s an ongoing battle.

It’s also unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, the way Inbox Zero was initially termed is incredibly valuable. Merlin Mann coined the phrase years ago and what he has defined it as goes well beyond the term itself.[1]

Yet people have created their own definition of Inbox Zero. They’re not using it with the intent that Mann suggested. Instead, it’s become about having nothing left in immediate view. It’s become about getting your email inbox to zero messages or having an empty inbox on your desk that was once filled with papers. It’s become about removing visual clutter.

But it’s not about that. Not at all.

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Here’s what inbox zero actually is, as defined by Mann:

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

The Fake Inbox Zero

The sense of fulfillment one gets from clearing out everything in your inbox is temporary at best, disappointing at worst. Often we find that we’re shooting for Inbox Zero just so that we can say that we’ve got “everything done that needed to be done”. That’s simply not the case.

Certainly, by removing all of your things that sit in your inbox means that they are either taken care of or are well on their way to being taken care of. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often applied to clearing out your inbox. But unless you’ve actually done something with the stuff, it’s either not worth having in your inbox in the first place or is still sitting in your “mental inbox”.

You have to do something with the stuff, and for many people, that is a hard thing to do. That’s why Inbox Zero – as defined by Mann – is not achieved as often as many people would like to believe. It’s this “watered down” concept of Inbox Zero that is completed instead. You’ve got no email in your inbox and you’ve got no paper on your desk’s inbox. So that must mean you’re at Inbox Zero.

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Until the next email arrives or the next document comes your way. Then you work to get rid of those as quickly as possible so that you can get back to Inbox Zero: The Lesser again. If it’s something that can be dealt with quickly, then you get there. But if they require more time, then soon you’ve got more stuff in your inboxes. So you switch up tasks to get to the things that don’t require as much time or attention so that you can get closer to this stripped down variation of Inbox Zero.

However, until you deal with the bigger items, you don’t quite get there. Some people feel as if they’ve let themselves (or others) down if they don’t get there. And that, quite frankly, is silly. That’s why this particular version of Inbox Zero doesn’t work.

The Ultimate Way to Get to Inbox Zero

So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero?

Have zero inboxes.

The inbox is meant to be a stop along the way to your final destination. It’s the place where stuff sits until you’re ready to put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it.

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So why not skip the inbox altogether? Why not put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it? Because that requires immediate action. It means you need to give the item some thought and attention.

You need to step back and look at it rather than file it. That’s why we have a catch-all inbox, both for email and for analog items. It allows us to only look at these things when we’re ready to do so.

The funny thing is that we can decide when we’re ready to without actually looking at the inbox beforehand. We can look at things on our own watch rather than when we are alerted to or feel the need to.

There is no reason why you need an inbox at all to store things for longer than it sits there before you see it. None. It’s a choice. And the choice you should be making is how to deal with things when you first see them, rather than when to deal with things you haven’t looked at yet.

Stop Faking It

Seeing things in your inboxes is simply using your sight. Looking at things in your inbox when you first see them is using insight.

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Stop checking email more than twice per day. Turn off your alerts. Put your desk’s inbox somewhere that it can be accessed by others and only accessed by you when you’re ready to deal with what’s in it. Don’t put it on your desk – that’s productivity poison.

If you want to get to Inbox Zero — the real Inbox Zero — then get rid of those stops along the way. You’ll find that by doing that, you’ll be getting more of the stuff you really want done finished much faster, rather than see them moving along at the speed of not much more than zero.

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Featured photo credit: Web Hosting via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merlin Mann: Inbox Zero

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