Need to present data? Read this first.

Data is everywhere. “Big data” might even be the buzz word of 2015. As ubiquitous as data might be, it won’t mean anything if you can’t make sense of it for your audience.

How many data-centric presentations have you sat through that show slide after slide of things like this:

DataViz1 (Hans Rosling)

DataViz2 (Hans Rosling)

DataViz3 (Hans Rosling)

DataViz4 (Hans Rosling)

Left to their own devices, these data sets aren’t all that interesting, and they don’t mean a ton. But, if you watch Hans Rosling present this information, you’ll be riveted (whether you have 18 minutes to watch the entire video or just 5 minutes to watch a short excerpt, Mr. Rosling offers a clinic on how to present information in a compelling, easy-to-understand format).

What are some of the techniques Hans Rosling incorporates into his talk that could be transferable to your next presentation:

  1. Caring about the information. Many presenters who are invited to speak in front of a group – academics, scientific symposia, doctors – mistake a nonchalant, monotone voice with professionalism. They’re not the same thing. If you click the play button on Hans Rosling’s talk, and then close your eyes and listen to his passion, you know his data is important without even seeing it.
  2. Finding the story. Data tells a story. And good story tellers use a narrative arc (initial problem, conflict, suspense, resolution) to get from the beginning to the end. In his talk, Mr. Rosling sets up his entire story by talking about his students’ misconception of what characterizes the developed vs. developing world. He goes on to share a variety of data sets that disprove those misconceptions. Throughout his talk, he gives the audience a reason to care about the data.
  3. Dynamic imagery. Too many data-centric presentations include only a table or perhaps a graph or PowerPoint-generated SmartArt. While you may not be able to create captivating data animation like you’ll see in Hans Rosling’s work, take note of how he offers a series of snapshots of how the data changes over time. Including more than one (or two) glimpses of the data and spending some time on the chronology of how your data travelled from the starting point to the ending point is at least as important (and interesting) and the end data set.

Perhaps your next presentation is time-limited and you don’t feel you’ll be able to incorporate all of these elements into a 10-minute session. Think again. Hans Rosling is only given 18 minutes to share his data, and he provides at least 4 or 5 different ways to splice and dice his information.

Do you have an example of an amazing way that you’ve seen data presented? Let’s hear about it in the comment section.

Academics May Be The Least Patriotic Presenters On The Face Of The Earth

John Hancock

John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration of Independence was written so big because he was the president of the Continental Congress. The fact is, his was the only signature necessary to make the document official. Everyone signed the Declaration in a sign of solidarity.”

These were the words from a tour guide last Saturday as my family and I wrapped up our vacation in New England by walking part of the Freedom Trail. This information about John Hancock was new to me, and the tour guide didn’t stop there. He went on to say: “John Hancock had bigger ambitions. In fact, he expected to be named general of the Continental Army. After all, his fortune helped bankroll the army’s expenses in the early days of the American Revolution. There was only one problem… he didn’t have any military experience.”

Can you imagine how world history may have been different if the Founding Fathers of the United States had acquiesced to John Hancock’s ego and named a passionate, rich man dedicated to the cause of the American Revolution (yet without any military training or experience) as the top commander?

The desire to be the commander was, in part, a result of John Hancock’s ego and sense of entitlement. Patriotism and the cause of the American Revolution were only secondary. Ironically, his ego-driven desire to lead the army for a cause he was willing to give his life for (even though he had no experience or expertise in the matter) was itself an act of un-patriotic delusion. Thankfully there were people who understood this and named George Washington as the leader of the Continental Army. The rest is history.

As I listened to this story, I of course thought about learning and development and presentations that people are forced to sit through – either at work or at a conference – on a daily basis. Some presentations are phenomenal. Many are not.  Continue reading

It’s 5 Minutes Before My Presentation And The Projector Still Isn’t Working…

 

Panic

On Monday, I described a pit-in-the-stomach inducing moment I had prior to a workshop I was scheduled to deliver last week. In case you missed it, here’s the quick summary:

  • I inexplicably designed a presentation that depended a little too much on PowerPoint
  • It included visual aids designed to make a visceral impact on the audience
  • It also included a series of embedded PollEverywhere questions so the entire audience could see where their fellow participants stood on a variety of issues
  • The facility’s entire A/V staff couldn’t get the ceiling-mounted projector to work

What Other Presenters Would Have Done Continue reading

What Would You Do If This Happened In Your Training Session?

The clock struck 1:00pm and it was time for my presentation to begin. That’s when the first of four text messages arrived on my phone. All four messages began with the same two words: “Oh no!” My friends and co-workers had heard what was happening in my breakout room and they began to offer their empathy.

As the A/V staff frantically worked on the facility’s new projector system (which worked just fine for the previous presenter), I tried to remain calm and professional on the outside. On the inside, Continue reading

Lessons in Presentation Skills from… WordPress?!

PressPublish

“When I think of you going to ‘BlogFest 2015’ in Portland, I picture you surrounded by a bunch of other introverted, slightly awkward folks, all sitting in a room… maybe even complaining how you were missing this weekend’s Emerald City ComiCon!”

This email from one friend is exactly the reaction I dreaded when I confessed to people I’d be spending my Saturday at a conference on blogging. Apparently our next door neighbor was really hoping that I had made a career transition to urban forestry and had to ask my wife three times whether I had travelled to Portland for a conference on “logging.”

I’ve written before about searching for my presentation soul mate at conferences and how I’ve had my heart broken. Needless to say, I had pretty tempered expectations for WordPress’s Press Publish conference.

The day I spent among several hundred other bloggers exceeded expectations. Here’s what I liked:

1. The featured speakers all showed up prepared and each spun an engaging, unique story.

2. Each featured speaker was limited to about 20 minutes of content, so there was structure in place to keep someone from rambling too long about any one thing.

3. Each featured speaker was followed by someone at WordPress, describing features of WordPress (or perhaps some general blogging tips) related to the featured speaker’s presentation.

4. The content was great and I could apply it immediately, while sitting right there in the session. For example, look at this: I learned how to change the color of the font in my posts!

As someone who is constantly looking to understand what helps distinguish between good speakers and speakers who are so-so, I asked around in order to find the meeting organizer, I wanted the recipe for her “secret sauce” underlying the quality of speakers at this small event. I was told to speak with Andrea Middleton.

When I asked her for her secrets, she didn’t hesitate. She immediately rattled off a five-step process she felt led to the high quality of presentation delivery for her featured speakers:

1) WordPress reached out directly to potential speakers with a cold email. (There was not a request for presenters.)

2) Meeting organizers interviewed every potential speaker via video conference to gauge their speaking ability. (This is a step that meeting organizers across the country would be wise to emulate. You can only tell so much about a person’s ability to speak in an engaging manner through a written application to present.)

3) Session outlines were due a month in advance. (This prevented anyone from putting off their presentation until the last minute.)

4) Follow-up video conference sessions were arranged to discuss suggested edits to the session outline. Some speakers were even asked to practice 5-10 minutes of their presentation via video conference in order to receive feedback.

5) Slides were due two weeks in advance of the conference. (This prevented anyone from slapping together a slide deck on the airplane, en route to the conference.)

Oh, for good measure, Andrea also asked each speaker to deliver the best presentation of their lives.

Beyond all the good blogging tips and ideas and secrets I am excited to put to use over the next few weeks, my biggest take-away was that the single most important factor separating poor and ho-hum presentations from amazing presentations is the level of preparation beforehand.

For both the blogging community as well as anyone interested in effective, engaging presentations, I hope WordPress expands their Press Publish conference idea (which right now is just in the pilot stage).

There was nothing introverted or slightly awkward about these presenters.

 

9 Trends in Presentation Skills (And Most of Them Aren’t Good!)

A week ago, Litmos’ Brent Schlenker used Google Trends to ask: “Why is instructional design trending downward… since 2004?

Instructional Design

According to the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies’ Top 100 Tools for Learning, Google Search was ranked as the #5 tool used around the world for learning in 2014. It seems like Google search trends should offer some insights as to what’s important to people when it comes to subjects they want to know more about.

I’m always curious to know what’s on the mind of “part-time trainers” – people who may not have “training” in their title or much background in learning and development but who are asked to deliver presentations. This weekend I spent some time sifting through Google trends on terms focused on what I think would lead to more effective presentations.

Most of the trends are pointing downward, which was a bit of a letdown for me. I figured, why not begin with the term “effective presentations“? Here’s what I found:

Effective Presentations

I figured that perhaps people had heard that adult learning principles would be important for their presentations and would want to learn more…

Adult Learning

Hmmm, maybe people were growing a little less formal and a little more hip in their search terms, so I tried “killer presentations“:…

Killer Presentations

Ok, maybe not (apparently I’m the only person who used that term late last year!).

None of these trends seemed very positive, so I held my breath and sat at the edge of my seat, worrying that people may be searching for the wrong things such as the de-bunked idea of learning styles

Learning Styles

Whew! It was encouraging, at the very least, that people were searching less and less for “learning styles”.

Perhaps, based on Google trends, people were savvier than I gave them credit for and were looking for ways to improve their results. So I searched “training evaluation“…

Training Evaluation

None of these trends seemed to be pointing in the right direction. Based on my experience working with SMEs, they’ll often begin mapping out their presentation using PowerPoint. Maybe there’s been an increase in searches for better PowerPoint design

PPT Design

Not really. Prezi has been trendy over the past few years, maybe that’s what people are interested in, so I searched trends for “how to use prezi“, and this was one of the only growth trends I found…

How to use PreziDespite the upward trend with Prezi searches, this exercise led me to grow quite cynical about just what mattered to folks who were searching for ways to improve their presentation skills. Then it dawned on me, perhaps people were intentionally creating worse and worse presentations! Maybe they were searching for ways to make their presentations terrible. I checked the trend for the phrase: “how to bore people” and this is what I found…

How to Bore People

Ok, maybe people weren’t waking up, looking in the mirror, and wondering how they could bore people with their next presentation. So, that’s good.

One last trend I decided to search for was whether more people were simply looking for help to organize their thoughts, so I tried “training plan template“…

Training Plan Template

That was a fun trend to see, especially because it’s one of the more popular search terms that will land folks on this blog (this post from 2013 on lesson plan templates remains one of the most popular posts on this blog).

I’m curious about your thoughts. If Google Search is such a powerful performance support tool to help people do their jobs better, what terms did I miss in my Google Trends analysis that you think people should care about when they begin mapping out a presentation?