Innovating on Storytelling

Cave Drawings

The temperatures in Seattle this past week hit 70 degrees, which meant that we, along with everyone else across the city, headed to our neighborhood pools in order to seek relief from this oppressive and dangerous heat wave.

As I was waiting for my children’s turn to jump off the diving board, I watched child after child try to do something a little different than the person before them. Cannonball. Backwards cannonball. Cannonball-turned-belly-flop at the last minute. Front flip. Back flip. Front-flip-turned-belly-flop.

Observing someone ahead of you while waiting in line, then figuring out a better variation of it… it was innovation in action! And of course it had me thinking about presentation skills.

As I reflected on these thoughts over the weekend, I came across a 3-minute TED Talk about innovations in storytelling that could prove interesting for anyone looking to prepare a better presentation.   Continue reading

6 Reasons Your Presentation is no TED Talk

TED Talks are all the rage these days. They’re amazing 5- or 10- or 20-minute presentations delivered by thought leaders from around the globe in an effort to give “ideas worth sharing” a platform to ignite the world on fire.

Recently I published a list of Amazon’s top 40 books on presentation skills and 10% of the books were how-to guides on turning your next presentation into a TED Talk.

TED Talks have given renewed vigor to the argument that we can “just tell” an audience what they need to know. Why not lecture? After all, TED Talks are generally given before large audiences in auditoriums where interaction isn’t possible.

In fact, here are three TED Talks you could use to inspire the design of your next presentation.

And here are six reasons why your next presentation will not be TED-caliber:

1. Amateur slide design. The minute you flash a slide like this, your aspirations of giving a TED-style presentation have gone down the drain. Even if your goal isn’t TED-caliber, poor slide design can ruin your message. Click here for some ideas on how to spruce up that design.

TED

2. You think everything about your topic is important. When everything you have to say is “important” then nothing is a priority. TED speakers understand that they’re not going to create an audience of experts in 20 minutes. They are ruthless in their prioritization of what gets air time during their presentation. Click here for some ideas on how to be ruthless in prioritizing the content for your next presentation.

3. You think your content is boring. I’ve been surprised by how many times I’ve worked with a subject matter expert who has told me: “look, my area of expertise is boring, there’s no way to make it exciting, people just need to know this information and go forth and do what I say.” If you think your topic or area of expertise is boring, why in the world would anyone else pay attention, let alone be ignited to want to do something with your information?

4. You don’t want to be in front of the audience. That public speaking causes people great anxiety is no secret. Of course, if someone asks you to speak, then there’s something about you and your message that nobody else can offer to your audience. Embrace it! Relish it! Find a way to get others as passionate as you are about your topic. If you’re just going to go through the motions of a presentation, it’ll be an icky experience for you and your audience.

5. You make no effort to connect with your audience. Perhaps the single biggest problem I see when I review presentation plans is that people tend to launch straight in to their content, assuming their audience knows about it, cares about it and/or is interested in it. Click here to watch Jane McGonigal tease her audience’s interest by promising them longer lives if they simply follow the steps in her presentation. Click here for some additional ideas on how to connect with your audience.

6. You “just do it”. Nike’s message isn’t necessarily for presenters. TED speakers do not simply throw a presentation together on the airplane en route to their conference, then get up and put on a magical display of amazing slide design, smooth delivery and inspiring message. They spend countless hours designing what they want to say and how they want to say it. Then they rehearse. Then they tweek their presentation and rehearse it again until it comes out exactly how they want. Rehearsal helps hone your message, perfect your delivery and perhaps most importantly, lower your level of anxiety.

Whether you call it “lecture” or “didactic delivery” or a “presentation”, TED Talks have demonstrated that speakers can be incredibly engaging by “just talking.” However, if you find that one or more of the items in the above list are true for you, then you may not have a TED-caliber presentation on your hand. Effective lecture (or didactic delivery or presentation) requires a lot of work.

If you truly want to capture your audience’s imagination and inspire them to do something new or differently or better, it may actually be easier for you to bring some adult learning principles and interactivity into your next presentation.

The 20-minute Presentation Checklist

On a trip overseas I attended a medical symposium featuring short, back-to-back presentations. What I sat through amounted to a much better sleep aid than Ambien (I actually counted 7 sleeping participants in the room!).  It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re given 20 minutes, or 15 minutes, or even 5 minutes to make your point, you don’t need to jam everything you ever learned into that precious time.  It won’t make you look smarter.

Let’s take a look at what’s possible.  Below are three TED Talks that I find to be amazing examples of short presentations.

1) William Kamkwamba: How I Harnessed The Wind

(a 6-minute example)

 

2) Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

(a 16-minute example)

 

3) Jane McGonigal: The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years Of Life

(a 20-minute example)

 

How to Give a 20 Minute Presentation

How can you emulate these presentations the next time you’re asked to make a short presentation – in a staff meeting or in a public symposium?  Try incorporating the following elements:

  1. The Title: Who doesn’t want to know more just by reading these titles?
  2. The Hook: Within the first minute, there’s a reason for me to pay attention – whether it’s looking at photos of an empty grocery store or how I can increase my lifespan. There’s something in these presentations for me.
  3. Physical Barriers Removed: There’s no podium between the speaker and the audience. The speaker just feels more accessible.
  4. Attractive Visual Aids: Though PowerPoint is used, there’s not a single template. There are no bullet points. The slides have vivid, dramatic images and few words. Even statistics and scientific evidence is easy to digest.
  5. Encourage Active Listening: The Jane McGonigal presentation especially uses this strategy by giving the audience an assignment at the beginning (“I want you to think about how you’ll spend your extra minutes and hours of life”). She also intersperses questions throughout, inviting the audience to think for a moment before she proceeds.
  6. Concrete, Real-life Examples: We could have been exposed to the numbers of people without power in Malawi or mind-numbing charts on the science behind gaming, but the presenters instead chose to share stories and make an emotional connection. Since we live in the real world (and not in theory or in books), presentations are more gripping when they’re about what we do and how the numbers or the theories actually impact us.
  7. Belief: Each presenter shared their passion through their obvious preparation, their voice intonations and they allowed their personalities to show. They’re not just smart, but they care about both their topic and their audience.
  8. Tying It All Together: The speakers didn’t simply end by saying “thank you.” Their thank-you to the audience came in the form of a brief summary, wrap-up and call to action.

The next time you have a chance to present, don’t just do what’s easy. Use some of these elements and do what’s meaningful!

What inspiration have you gotten from TED talks? Have you used this formula to sharpen your 20-minute presentation?