This is the second article in the series The Art and Science of Presenting. The first article was called ‘Where do we start?’ Episode 2 considers the conversation, what we have to say.
– The Audience
– The Conversation
– The Story
The reason we call it ‘the conversation’ is because that really is what every great presentation is and to help we start with a question which leads the dialogue.
What’s so important that you’ve chosen to call this group of busy people together?
It may be:
– A great idea which they haven’t heard before
– One they have heard but don’t understand or buy into
– A solution to a problem
– An opportunity
– Something you need to generate support for
– An important update that has to be given in person
– To get them to see things from your perspective
– A call to action
Once you are clear on what your conversation is really all about then you can begin to shape how you present it to:
– Clarify the purpose of your presentation
– Gather and create content rich material
– Anticipate resistance, apathy or contention
– Build the story
The conversation you prepare will look like a map which takes your audience from:
Point A – Where they are now, i.e. Cynical
Point B – Where you want them to be, i.e. Enthusiastic
The conversation is always about movement:
What they think, feel and do today.
What you want them to think, feel and do tomorrow.
It’s about the one very important thing you have to say that will cause your audience to think, feel and act differently to the way they did before they entered the room.
Presenters often make the mistake of thinking of the conversation to be had simply as a topic, i.e. a product, an update, a report, a sales pitch, etc.
For the Mindful Presenter the conversation is much more than a topic, it’s about 3 things:
Perspective – How you and or your organisation see something.
Position – Why it’s important.
Performance – What’s at stake if your audience don’t act on that perspective and what the benefit is if they do?
For every presentation the conversation you are planning can be summarised in one sentence based on these 3 Ps.
As an example of a critically important presentation I once had to give as a former corporate executive working for a global brand the conversation was summarised as:
“A loss of 200,000 sales a year is crippling this business, in 5 years we will be out of business but we have a plan to not only stem the decline we know we can reverse it and see our company flourish again”
I could have said:
“Our company is in trouble”
“Sales are declining and we are losing market share”
Neither of these statements however, set the scene for a conversation by telling the audience exactly my perspective, position and performance in terms of impact on the business.
Now I have absolute clarity on the conversation I wish to have I can begin to gather and prepare my content to support it.
This is definitely the point where most people turn on the laptop.
Resist the urge.
Human beings are creatures of habit and the odds are if you dive straight into PowerPoint you’ll use the same templates with the same images in the same way you always do. That approach stifles creativity and makes you the same as everyone else.
Dare to be different
Start with large ‘post it’ notes and write down your conversation; that’s the sentence you came up with earlier that summarises your perspective, position and performance in terms of what’s at stake.
Surround that summary sentence with other post it notes that describe how you want your listeners to feel and what you want them to do at the end. Put them up on the centre of a wall together and really take a close look at them.
Brainstorm and write down on new notes everything you can possibly think of that will support, influence and add power to those notes already up there on the wall. It will help considerably if you brainstorm in a room you don’t usually use that has the right energy and atmosphere and perhaps even play a little background music to help you think.
Let your mind go wild and free and write down the crazy ideas too.
Don’t dismiss anything just yet.
Write every single thought or idea that comes to mind on separate notes and stick each of them on the wall around your centre piece.
Leave them up on the wall for a few hours (preferably 24) and go and get on with your life.
Go back to your wall, take a good look at what you’ve written and have another go, adding anything new that comes to mind.
If you are preparing well in advance, which you should be and have the luxury of time, leave the wall again for a few hours.
When you return add anything new that comes to mind this time around.
Now stand back and group your ideas into the themes that are emerging.
Select each idea that totally supports your message, what you want them to feel and do.
Be mercenary about selecting only the notes on the wall that will add significant value in supporting the conversation you wish to have and the outcome you want.
Remember the quality of your presentation depends just as much on what you choose to leave out as you include.
If you don’t filter your ideas and present only those points which are relevant and animate your message your audience will filter them and you will lose them in the process. They won’t be happy about having to do your job for you either.
Now you can open up your presentation software.
Open up a series of blank slides and in the outline write a simple, self-explanatory but powerful headline from the points you have captured on your remaining post it notes.
Make sure it’s explicit, not generic, and that your audience will not only get it in an instant but will be keen to want to know more.
It should be as clear and as powerful as a bill board. Most people are on the move when they read a bill board and they have less than 3 seconds to get the message so treat your slides the same.
What could go wrong?
You have absolute clarity of the conversation you wish to have together with a very good idea of the areas you need to cover that will support your message so what could possible go wrong?
Everyone coming to listen to you is individual; they will come with their own views, knowledge, understanding, beliefs and experience, some of which may not concur with your own.
There will always be some degree of resistance and the Mindful Presenter will anticipate it, plan for it and build it in to the conversation.
Post it notes at the ready, again.
The great thing about preparing for challenge and resistance is you give yourself a much deeper understanding of the conversation to be had and you can be ready for arguments and questions that dispute your perspective and position.
If you consider the ideas you are presenting from the different perspectives of your audience, industry, market and stakeholders you can then write down every conceivable objection you can find.
That allows you the option of pre-empting them by building them into your presentation and addressing them with solutions before you are asked. Or, if you prefer to wait for the challenge, have the answers ready.
Watch out for episode 3 of The Art and Science of Presenting where we will share how to turn the conversation into a story.
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