ONE OF THE least pleasant aspects of a professional’s job is the need to put things in a presentation format and present it. Almost everyone finds it a chore and wishes he were better at it. And many people are told specifically that they need to improve if they want to progress. Look no further. For a person who seeks to learn, I’ve put down seven important points below:
(1) Use Pyramid Structure:
How do we remember telephone numbers? We group them. 773-399-0773 (that’s my old Chicago telephone number!). Any grouping of ideas is easier to comprehend if it arrives presorted into its pyramid. This suggests that every slide should be deliberately structured to form a pyramid of ideas.
(2) Need for Logic:
It is not enough simply to group ideas or bullets in a logical way in a slide without also stating to yourself what the logic of the relationship is. This means that instead of remembering bullets, you remember bullet categories into which bullets fall. As a presenter, you are thinking one level of abstraction higher, because thought-transfer is at a higher level.
(3) Order Top Down:
Controlling the sequence in which you present your ideas is the single most important act necessary to presenting. The clearest sequence is always to give the summarizing idea before you give the individual ideas being summarized. And, the individual ideas better be well-thought to answer in advance any questions audience may have. In other words, first the conclusion – like a newspaper headline – then the beef.
(4) Create an Image to Recite Story:
Tell a story. If you can’t tell, at least please do not orally state what is on the slide. Audience can read on their own.
“Near the end of March 1845 I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber..it was a pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the woods where the pines and hickories were springing up. The ice in the pond was not yet dissolved, though there were some open spaces, and it was all dark colored and saturated with water.” - Henry David Thoreau
As you took Thoreau’s words, did you not build up a sort of mental picture in your mind, to which you added details as you took in successive phrases and sentences? Malcolm Galdwell (“The Tipping Point,” “Blink”) is a persuasive orator. In fact his presentation at SXSW 2005 is rated on par with Steven Jobs’ Mac introduction of 1984 or Gore’s emotive presentation of global warming. People love Malcolm because he is a story teller. He doesn’t lecture; he paints a picture. With simple colors. He does more with less.
(5) The Power of Pause:
Even if you memorize your speech, force yourself to pause. Never utter hmms and aahs. Just pause. It’s profound. Even if you don’t lose your breath, please pause. Even an ordinary address seems elegant with the power of pause.
(6) Fail to Plan is Plan to Fail:
Mark Twain once said, “It takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” It makes sense to practice your presentation with a tape recorder and in front of a mirror.
(7) Body Talks more than the Tongue:
Use your limbs as you modulate your tone. Be passionate. Stretch your limbs. Ooze energy. Get audience motivated. Walk around. Involve the audience. Leave handouts.
Some remarkable discourses the world witnessed:
Guy Kawasaki, “The Art of the Start,” TiECon 2006
Steve Jobs, “Introduction of Macintosh,” 1984
Tom Peters, “A Ham Sandwich,” 1990
Dick Hardt, “Identity 2.0,” OSCON 2005
Hans Rosling, “Global Trends in Health and Economics,” TED Talk 2006