Monday, 19 January 2015

The gift of time

One of the reasons there are very few really great presenters is that it is hard work! It's important to recognise that giving a great presentation is not a gift but a skill, nurtured and developed. Great presentations take planning, preparation and practice. They don't just happen. The best presentations take time.

This blog aims to share insights and steps towards those great presentations but it is most important that if you have visited this blog looking for a quick fix that you recognise the best thing you can do to improve your presentation is take time to prepare. Too many of us do tomorrow's presentation today.

How much preparation time should you give your next presentation? Easy, 5-10 minutes per audience member. SO if there are 6 people you should be spending somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes thinking and planning and constructing your piece. If there are going to be a 100 people in the audience, then you should consider 10-12 hours worth of preparation. It sounds a lot but you need to consider that for your 20 minutes in the spotlight, your audience have given you over 33 hours of their time. If you value your audience as they value you, you should put the time in. Then your presentations will start to improve.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

It's not a comic

The scientific evidence is clear that text on a screen is ineffectual and distracting. Images are perfect for supporting the message of the story. The temptation for speakers is then to attempt to illustrate every single step and detail in the message. The result is akin to a graphic novel.

The supportive media (p2) should not be able to stand alone. Its purpose is to illustrate the message, not mirror it. Rather than choosing to highlight every individual step within a message there is value in sparingly highlighting themes and important sections. Thus the media is supportive. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

That's not how you spell prezentation

The observant amongst you may have noticed the spelling of this blog url: preZENtationskills. This is in tribute to my Sensei, Garr Reynolds and his seminal blogsite Presentation Zen. His first post there was ten years ago and it is right today that I pay tribute to the man and his mission because standing on his shoulders, working from his thinking and message have allowed me to change my world.

Presentations are an integral part of my professional life. As in everything I strive to improve my presentations. I am aware that I was dissatisfied with the nature of them a long time ago even although they appeared to achieve reasonable results. I tinkered with their design but really had no idea how to significantly improve them. 

In 2007 my personal organisation structure was also terrible. Through the website lifehacker I discovered 43Folders and a chap called Merlin Mann. Merlin gave a talk at Google on a concept called Inbox Zero and I was completely blown away. Blown away partly because of the concept of inbox zero. You really, really need to get on board with this but principally I was blown away by Merlin's presentation. Even today that presentation, now eight years old, is probably better than many presentations you have ever seen. Merlin credits one man in particular. That man was Garr Reynolds.
So I went to Garr's blogsite prezentation zen and almost the same day I went out and bought the book "Presentation Zen" that developed from there. I read the book eagerly recognising that this was what I had been searching for in terms of improving presentations and because of what I read, my life changed. I'm sure you have heard plenty of people say that about all sorts of stuff and so it is entirely reasonable that you ask, "how has your life changed?"

Once you have read Presentation Zen your life can never be the same again. It is clear and simple and like so many amazingly insightful people, Garr explains things in a way that brings the response, "That's incredible! How did I not see that before?" The view of presentations that you receive and any presentation you want to give is totally revolutionised. Rather than seeing them as something to be endured or avoided, you see their opportunity to inspire, encourage, teach and ultimately you see their value again.

In my professional life I realised that so much of what I said in presentations, taught in lectures or delivered in scientific meetings had been just lost to the audience, almost as soon as I had finished speaking. By the application and development of principles that Garr had suggested I could see finally a direction that my presentations might improve. I began to change the way I constructed and delivered presentations and slowly people began to ask about the difference. The throw away line "thank you, I enjoyed your presentation," became, "thank you, I really enjoyed your presentation, can you tell me how you did that?" So began my journey in presentation skills.

None of the skills I use professionally are intrinsic or natural, they are taught and practised and assessed and improved, slowly, over time. Yet presentation skills appear to be something we believe can simply be copied. Understanding the value of the information we share and the dreadful nature of its delivery I recognised that I could help by sharing and coaching ideas about presentation skills that have developed from Garr's original thinking. What started as simple advice to colleagues has expanded over the years to encompass this blog, lectures to local centres and groups, to national groups and meetings and even international invitations to run workshops and seminars. Through twitter I have gained a humbling reputation and significant following principally because of presentations. Presentations have changed my life.

Those who know me well know that in 2010 I was forced into a significant career change. I was lucky enough to be offered a job interview for my dream job and faced with the prospect of delivering a 5 minute presentation, a presentation that might change my life. I worked hard, planned and constructed my piece; I gave an exellent presentation. I knew not one of the other candidates would come close in quality or effect of presentation and that confidence I carried into the rest of my interview. Presentations and that one in particular changed my life.

Meeting Garr also changed my life. I was lucky enough to meet him in 2010 when he spoke in London and again when he returned the next year. Then he graciously invited me to a international seminar he was holding in 2012 on giving presentations, to presentation coaches. One small catch, he wanted me to give a presentation, immediately after he had explained to them how to do it! No pressure then? That presentation changed my life too. 

I now work with amazing people because of presentations, I have some very dear friends and some amazing experiences I would never have had because of presentations, I have had the humbling opportunity of speaking at TEDx Stuttgart because of presentations, I have helped countless friends and colleagues make a difference with their presentations and hear them getting excited about giving presentations and I know that this started because of Garr's amazing insights shared at presentation zen.

The presentation I gave for Garr's meeting in 2012 was entitled, "What I'm most proud of." The header image of this post was my final slide. It is because of giants like Garr, his thinking and his passion, that presentations are changing and that will change the world.

先生 私を教えてれてありがとう

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Where, precisely are you going? key mistake made in preparing a presentation is in failing to identify purpose. "What is your objective, relative to this subject, in talking to this group, today?" The answer to that question can usefully be quantified in the elevator pitch but it is important to clarify that your material, the data, the "what", is not the objective. Remember that this will vary for your particular audience. Your are not there to "cover everything", to teach, to share, to tell or any other descriptive verb of generality, you are there for a purpose.

Clarifying that purpose is essential. The objective must be clear and it is not the material. The material represents a "what", your purpose is determine a "so what" for the specific audience. This may take a long telephone call, an exchange of emails or a visit but it is essential in preparation that you have a clear understanding of the objective of your time in the spotlight. It may be that the organisers, instigators or seniors want you to "cover everything", to teach, to share but it is only with a specific and identified purpose that you can begin planning. One can no more "visit Germany" without an objective than "cover Hirschsprung Disease", "tell us about the Second Quarter results" or "talk about resuscitation." To plan a presentation one must understand exactly the purpose. Where, precisely are you going?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Chicken or egg? Both are wrong
I recently had the privilige of being interviewed by Jesse Spurr for his Injectable Orange podcast. One of topics we chatted about was the 'ole standard of "why do we have text in presentations?" There is a degree of chicken and egg debate which adds to the difficulty of breaking away from this outmoded and ineffectual technique of presenting. It really doesn't matter which side of the argument you approach this from- text on slides (and I mean more than about 3 words) is simply wrong.

The pro argument goes thus: "I need text because my boss/assessor/chief/senior says I need it." The boss needs it for various reasons likely to include: that is the way it has always been and it will always be thus; it's not scientific; I need something to read whilst you are talking; I want all the information up there in case you miss something out; you don't have to read it all out but if all the informatiuon is up there others can see that we KNOW all that anyway; I can read faster than you can talk so give me something to do whilst you talk otherwise I'll be bored."

The con arguement counters: "I need text because I want it." Your reasons are likely to include: it is my script; it allows people to read ahead or catch up; some people are visual/literal learners and they can read whilst I talk; I don't know what else to put on the screen; it gives me confidence; even if I don't use it as a script it gives me structure; if I forget to say something it is there for people to read; it is my handout."

Text does not work and in fact makes your presentation worse. The science of psychology has shown over and over and over again that we cannot read and listen at the same time. Reading will dominate. The pro argument makes speaking superfluous, the con argument is simply an excuse for not being better. Sadly both are products of reception of many poor presentations. 

Of course the boss wants something to read! She has suffered years of terrible presentations and at least if she has something to read it won't be quite so mind numbingly tedious. Not convinced? Watch the heads look up every time there is a new slide. Of course you want a script; you haven't got a structure or a point to your presentation and consequently it is simply a huge list of facts, you haven't practised (at all?!) so how would you ever get through without reading it? Neither of these is a good reason to have text on your presentation, they are just an excuse.

Why do I have such a strong opinion on the matter? This is the fundamental reason that presentations fail. Once you accept this, everything changes and anything is possible. Then you will start thinking about the purpose of your presentation, the needs of the audience, the value of what you have to say, the nature of your handout, how you can add to your talk by illustration, how you might engage with your audience and actually what they took away from the whole experience. It is not about why you need or don't need text on your slides, it's about a presentation.

Increase signal to noise ratio

One of the key concepts in improving your presentation is to increase the signal to noise ratio. This applies to all parts of the presentation; p1, p2 and p3. It's like tuning the radio properly, the clarity of the message improves.

In p1, the story, it is essential that you communicate the "so what" about the facts and less of the "what?" that distracts from the message you are trying to convey. Too often there is belief that simply reciting a load of data is effective communication. What is required is to strip that down to a message that is clear and memorable.

The supportive media, p2 should similarly support your message not detract from it. That means a similar clarity in the slideset. That means illustrating your message rather than annotating it, taking out icons from every slide, creating clear and simple data slides and even considering turning the slides off to allow the audience simply to listen.

Lastly, the delivery p3 needs to clear. "Noise" in delivery are the filler words, speaking too quickly, body language of turning to face the screen rather than the audience, failing to practise effectively, reading from the slides or a script all of these behaviours distract from the clarity of the message.

Reducing the noise in a presentation allows the message to be clearly heard.

With thanks to Ben Schulz @bnschlz who pointed out that we need to increase signal, which increases the ratio! I'm better at presentations than maths.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Presentation Ninja tips.

I thought it might be nice to try and generate some more interaction on this blogsite so what I would like is for folks to add in the comments section below some presentation nija tips. Share those little thoughts that you have had that might improve presentations.

A few simple ones to get you going.

1. Sometimes there is a value in blanking the screen during a presentation. A planned blank slide is "The Best Slide in the World" OR off the cuff, pressing "B" will turn the screen (and potentially the whole room) Black. So if it's a dark room go for "W" for a White screen. Re-pressing the same will return to the presentation.

2. Save your Powerpoint Presentation as .pps and when the icon is clicked it will launch directly into the SHOW rather than edit mode.

3. Save one back up of your presentation as a .pdf  This can be viewed if there is Presentation software conflict at the venue.

4. A remote control frees you from being shackled to the podium. Buy your own for around £20. All you need is forward, back and blank.

5. Don't speak to your title slide . If you are introduced, they will introduce your talk by its title. Repeating that again detracts from your presentation. Start your talk with an attention getter.

6. Starting and finishing with the same image gives a talk a visual completeness.

7. Practise once with no slides. It might happen.

8. Speak more slowly than that.

9. Immediately before you speak, stop and smile at the audience.

10. When considering your audience think, "Why should they listen to ME?" Seriously, write it down. Nothing that applies to who you are is relevant.

So please, what tips do YOU have?