2 Questions You MUST Ask Before Giving Any Presentation

Ask these two important questions before you begin your presentation :: Renovate Communication Design, LLCYou’ve probably attended a meeting or presentation and, early in, thought, “This has no relevance to me at all.”

Or maybe you’ve sat through the entire meeting and wondered, “Now what?”

You can avoid these common pitfalls in your own presentations if you answer these two critical (but sometimes rarely asked) questions before you begin working on your content or making slides.

1. Who’s coming?

Who will attend your meeting or presentation?

Spend five minutes thinking about them. Picture their faces, say their names. What do they want? What are they afraid of? Jot down your answers on paper.

Want to go one step further?

Ask them yourself. Walk around the office and talk to your co-workers. Or put together a short survey and send it to them. This is especially helpful if you’re leading a workshop or seminar and have the attendees’ email addresses before the event. You can quickly create a survey and collect the responses easily with a Google Form.

The better you understand who’s in your audience, the more you can tailor your message to their needs. And the more relevant it is to their needs, the more they’ll appreciate your talk–and you.

2. What do I want them to do?

A boring presentation delivers information.

A good presentation motivates people to act.

Once you understand your audience and their needs, decide what you’ll want them to do.

In his massively bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey calls this “beginning with the end in mind.” You can apply the same idea to your presentations.

Do you want prospects to buy? Parents to change the way they talk to their teens? Students to get their work done? Employees to buy in to a new way of doing things?

Determine what you’ll ask them to do and then work backwards–build everything in your meeting or talk with the end in mind. This keeps your message focused and gives your audience clear direction when its over.

For your next presentation, start by asking these two questions and you’ll see a difference.

Make better presentations with the Presentation Renovation eBook + audiobook

Why No One Remembers Anything You Said (And What to Do About It)

firehose01If you gave a presentation last month, odds are that your audience has forgotten 90 percent of what you said.

Let that sink in for a moment.

That’s the finding of a 19th-century German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus, cited in Dr. John Medina’s bestselling book Brain Rules:

[Ebbinghaus] is most famous for uncovering one of the most depressing facts in all of education: People usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in a class within 30 days. He further showed that the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class. This has been robustly confirmed in modern times.1

And if you’ve ever sat through a lecture or training presentation, you know this is true.

The instructor starts into a mountain of material and continues–breathlessly–for 45 minutes. You scurry to scribble notes as fast as you can, but it’s not enough. At the end of this tsunami of information, the instructor asks, “Any questions?”

Silence.

*cricket*

#fail

Why This Doesn’t Work

If you know something someone else doesn’t, it’s likely that you may suffer from what Chip and Dan Heath call “the curse of knowledge” in their book Made to Stick.2

redguitars01Say, for example, that you’ve played guitar for 20 years. During that time you’ve taken lessons, read books, played in bands, studied the music and styles of Clapton, Hendrix, and your favorite players. You’ve learned open chords, barre chords, inversions, scales, and a fair bit of music theory. You’ve played until your fingers were raw then you built up calluses and then you played until they were raw again.

You know a lot about playing guitar.

Then a friend says, “Hey, I just got a guitar. I love the way you play–can you teach me to play like that?”

Where do you start?

I mean, if they want to get good at guitar, they’ve got 20 years of learning to master. How do you even begin to teach them everything you’ve learned?

You don’t.

How could you possibly condense 20 years of learning into a few weeks of lessons?

You can’t.

But this is what many instructors and presenters attempt to do when they teach or speak. They think that because they know something, you should know it, too. After all, it was important enough for them to learn it–it should be important enough for you to learn it as well. And they’ll do their darndest to cram it into the 60, 20, or 10 minutes they’ve been given.

That’s the curse of knowledge.

And it doesn’t work.

Just ask Hermann Ebbinghaus. Or Chip and Dan Heath. Or Nobel Prize-winning physicist and professor Carl Wieman:

…a number of times Kathy Perkins and I have presented some non-obvious fact in a lecture along with an illustration, and then quizzed the students 15 minutes later on the fact. About 10 percent usually remember it by then. To see whether we simply had mentally deficient students, I once repeated this experiment when I was giving a departmental colloquium at one of the leading physics departments in the United States. The audience was made up of physics faculty members and graduate students, but the result was about the same—around 10 percent.3

John Medina has observed the same problem when working with business professionals:

The most common communication mistakes? Relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Lots of force-feeding, very little digestion.4

In many cases, your audience won’t remember your talk because you gave them too much at once. At other times, it may simply be that the talk is just plain boring.

Fortunately, however, you can fix this. Here are two suggestions that draw from resources in neuroscience, psychology, as well as our own experience.

Do Less

If you’re wondering why people can’t remember anything from your presentation, consider this: our short-term memory is extremely limited. Carl Wieman explains.

The research tells us that the human brain can hold a maximum of about seven different items in its short-term working memory and can process no more than about four ideas at once. Exactly what an “item” means when translated from the cognitive science lab into the classroom is a bit fuzzy. But the number of new items that students are expected to remember and process in the typical hour-long science lecture is vastly greater. So we should not be surprised to find that students are able to take away only a small fraction of what is presented to them in that format.5

While your audience may not be as bad as Tom Hanks doing the “Mr. Short Term Memory” skit on Saturday Night Live, the reality is pretty close. The solution in this instance is, in Wieman’s terms, to “reduce the cognitive load.” In layman’s terms, that means make it easier on your learner’s brain.

The effective teacher recognizes that giving the students material to master is the mental equivalent of giving them packages to carry. With only one package, they can make a lot of progress in a hurry. If they are loaded down with many, they stagger around, have a lot more trouble, and can’t get as far. And when they experience the mental equivalent of many packages dumped on them at once, they are squashed flat and can’t learn anything.6

In other words, the less information you give your audience in your presentation, the more likely they’ll remember it. Ask yourself, “What do I really want them to get from this?” Focus your talk around that core idea.

Make it Rich

You may think that “doing less” means “dumbing it down” for your audience. Strip it to the bare essentials like Sgt. Joe Friday: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

You’d be wrong.

Surprisingly, just the opposite is true.

If you want your audience to remember your talk or lesson, you need to make it rich with meaning and examples. Neuroscientists tell us that “the more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory.”7

So how do you elaborately encode information? While it sounds complicated, it’s not. In fact, you already know how to do it: use emotion, stories, and pictures.

Emotion

Think of a favorite film. Which lines do you quote? You remember the parts that made you laugh, cry, or cringe.

We remember the things we feel because our brains are wired to do just that. When your brain receives an emotional stimulus, it responds by jotting “Remember this!” on a chemical Post-It note associated with that event.8 Emotion, therefore, is a great memory trigger.

When you use emotion, you tap into another benefit as well. When people feel, they care. And when they care, they act.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University tested this by presenting two groups with letters seeking donations to a child welfare charity (Heath 165-167).9 The letter for the first group presented facts and statistics about hunger, drought, and refugee conditions around the world. The second group’s letter, however, told the story of a seven-year-old girl named Rokia who lived in Mali, Africa. The letter explained that she lived in extreme poverty and that a donation would change her life.

Want to guess which group donated more? The second group.

How much more? Over twice as much.

Feel > Care > Act :: Renovate Communication Design, LLC

Remember that your talk or lecture should invite your audience to change, to action. Help them feel and they’ll both remember and act.

Stories

Stories aren’t just for children. Abraham Lincoln, for example, frequently told stories to entertain as well as instruct.

Drawn from his own experiences and the curiosities reported by others, [Lincoln’s stories] frequently provided maxims or proverbs that usefully connected to the lives of his listeners. Lincoln possessed an extraordinary ability to convey practical wisdom in the form of humorous tales his listeners could remember and repeat.10

Like Lincoln’s pithy anecdotes, stories in the form of examples can be the building blocks of a memorable business presentation or lecture.

Our brains are designed to associate new experiences and information with previously acquired information. When you provide stories and “real-world examples” that illustrate your content, your listener’s brain processes it in far more meaningful ways than when the facts are presented alone.11 Like Starbucks to a coffee-addict, examples and stories are the perfect “elaborately encoded information” food that your audience’s brains crave.

Don’t be afraid to use stories in your presentation. Frankly, they’re the one thing that your audience will probably remember more than anything else from your talk.

Pictures

PowerPoint slide with too much text :: Renovate Communication Design, LLCMany presentation slides are filled with text.

Many presentations don’t captivate.

It turns out that, of our five senses, vision wins–no contest. Fully half of your brain’s thinking resources are devoted to vision.12 The problem for presenters (and audiences) is that text-heavy slides don’t take advantage of the brain’s preference for pictures.

You’re far more likely to remember a slide with a picture than one with text. In fact, if you add a picture to your message when you present, your audience will remember an astonishing 65% of your message. Compare that with the typical 10% retention mentioned earlier and you grasp the power of pictures.

When it comes to the PowerPoint slides you usually see, however, John Medina pulls no punches. Prefaced with the subheading “Toss your PowerPoint presentations,” he assesses the current state of presentations.

The presentation software called PowerPoint has become ubiquitous, from corporate boardrooms to college classrooms to scientific conferences. What’s wrong with that? It’s text-based, with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Then they need to do two things:

1. Burn their current PowerPoint presentations.
2. Make new ones.13

What to Do Next

Take a moment now to reflect on what you’ve just read.

What do you remember?

My guess is one of the pictures or maybe the story about the guitar lessons–which included a picture.

See?

The path forward is pretty clear, isn’t it? If you want people to remember your talk, then–

    1. Keep your message simple. One big idea, please.
    2. Make it rich with emotion, stories, and pictures.

Want more ideas? Go grab 9 – A Simple Guide to Better Presentations. It’s free.

9 - A Simple Guide to Better Presentations :: Renovate Communication Design, LLC

Notes

1. John Medina (2010-07-06). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition. Page 100.
2. Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Made to Stick. New York: Random House, 2007. Page 19.
3. Carl Wieman. “Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education?” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. September-October 2007.
4. Medina, 88.
5. Wieman.
6. Wieman.
7. Medina, 110.
8. Medina, 80.
9. Heath & Heath, 165-167.
10. Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005-10-25). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Kindle Locations 3167-3169). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
11. Medina, 113ff.
12. Medina, 231.
13. Medina, 240.

Photo credits

Firehose: ZeroOne
Guitars: Yutaka Tsutano
Slide: ivanlanin

Build a More Creative Presentation by Acting Like a Two-Year-Old

Earlier this week my two-year-old daughter was wandering through the house aimlessly, mostly causing trouble because her brothers and sisters were busy and had no time for her. After several minutes of pointless reminders (“Eva, that’s not yours.” “Eva, hands off.” “Eva, don’t touch.”), my wife put her in the Pack ‘n Play (that’s a playpen for the old schoolers) with a few toys.

The point was not to punish her; in fact, just the opposite. By giving Eva a few things to do (instead of virtually unlimited things to do) and some well-defined boundaries, she was able to play happily and–bonus–without mom and dad’s intervention. After just a few minutes, we heard her singing “Happy Birthday” and hosting a party for her dolls. You can see she was having great fun.

How to make a more creative PowerPoint presentation - Renovate Communication Design, LLC

In the creative process, we call these seemingly counterintuitive limitations “constraints.” If you’re stuck in a PowerPoint rut, try something different and embrace the power of constraints. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use no more than six words on a slide
  • Use only one word on your slides
  • Don’t use any words–pictures only
  • Get rid of your template–try a plain white or black background
  • Choose one font (not the default) and use it for a month
  • Limit yourself to 20 or 10 slides. Or 50 slides.
  • No bullets
  • No special text animation or slide transition effects
  • Go find a cool presentation and try to copy its style
  • No slides (!)

Make a game of finding your limitations–what’s one thing you can do differently on your next presentation? The point is not austerity; the point is creativity.

Speaking of creativity, do you know the 5 phonetic R’s of creativity? You can apply them in your presentations or wherever you’re feeling stuck: work, school, relationships. There’s no limit to thinking creatively.

In many cases, a better approach is right around the corner if you’re willing to stop doing something that you’re used to. If you really want to shake things up with your presenting, try some of these suggestions from John Jantsch over at the Duct Tape Marketing blog: Five Alternatives to PowerPoint Presentations.

9: A Simple Guide to Better Presentations -- Renovate Communication Design, LLC

5 ways to minimize distractions and gain more listeners

Distractions, just like life, are going to happen. But you can improve your delivery and remain connected with your audience by minimizing the distractions that may be in your presentations.

Here are 5 ways to get started.

  1. Eliminate unnecessary text – If your audience can read your entire presentation from your slide on the screen, you have made yourself unnecessary. It’s that simple. You hold all of the information and your slides are for emphasis. Make yourself necessary by putting the attention back on you.
  2. Clothes matter – Make sure that you can move in the clothes you are wearing for your talk. Clothing that needs constant adjustment won’t work. And men–remember that the day of your presentation isn’t the time to wear that overly bold tie. For the ladies–don’t put on those extra dangly or overly large hoop earrings. The focus should be on your face and not your accessories.
  3. Move on purpose – Your movements should be intentional and add emphasis to your presentation. You will gain more attention by standing still and directing your energy into your facial expression, voice, and gestures. A good time to move, a few steps to the left or right is during the transitions of your speaking points. This will help you keep your audiences’ attention and move them with you to your next idea.
  4. Project your voice – If people have to strain to hear you, they won’t for very long. Make sure the person in the back of the room is as engaged by your voice as the one in the front. You may need to lower the tone of your voice to help it travel farther.
  5. Acknowledge the distraction – Inevitably a loud air-conditioner will turn on at the moment you most need the attention of your audience or it could be a technical glitch that everyone notices. By drawing attention to the distraction with your words, you allow your audience to admit they were distracted and everyone can move forward together. Otherwise, they spend time wondering if you even heard it or how you could have possibly ignored it, taking their attention away from you and your message.

Paying attention to your presentation–in all its parts–will allow your audience to return the favor.

Make better presentations with the Presentation Renovation eBook