I’m often asked for some tips and tricks that can help presenters nail a presentation when they have little time to prepare. Obviously, that’s never ideal, but in a pinch there is one activity that is rarely documented and yet in my opinion invaluable. And no, it doesn’t involved recording your presentation, and playing it through headphones while you sleep. Admittedly, that would be awesome - if it worked. But I’ve yet to be convinced that it does.
I’ll make this point with a road markings analogy. If you’ve ever driven in the UK, you might have noticed that when approaching a stop sign, you’ll see the words “Stop Ahead” painted on the road. [If you missed it, pay closer attention - or drive on the left!] Same as in the US, right? But not so. In the UK, “Stop” is written above “Ahead,” whereas in the US, it’s written below. To me, that’s always implied that in the UK, drivers are taking in the big picture and can see the phrase clearly and completely, while in the US, drivers must be driving with their eyes so fixed on the road, five yards in front of the car, that they first see the word “Stop” and then the word “Ahead.” Subtle, but true - check it out sometime.
So what’s the lesson here? When you’re in a time crunch, think US road markings, not UK. Why? Because without the time to truly prepare, it’s unlikely that you are going to have the time to really refine your overall narration and story arc. That’s a complex, well thought out process that can lay out a big picture. Without that time, you can still stand-up and impress, by concentrating on knowing exactly what comes next. Don’t worry as much about delivering your best possible performance, but be sure that you know your slide order cold. Once you know that “Ahead” is going to follow “Stop” you can then think of a phrase that will link the slides together.
There really aren’t many things worse than watching a well-intentioned but poorly-prepared presenter stumbling through a bunch of slides and being “surprised” by unexpected content. “How did this get in here?” should be banned from any speaker’s vocabulary, along with “let me just gloss over this one,” or “sorry these aren’t my slides.”
Watch any good presenter and you’ll see that their slide transitions are seamless - they ALWAYS know what comes next. They might be talking to one slide, but they are doing that in the context of setting up the next one. While these presenters are more fully prepared, and taking you on a well thought out journey, this simple trick of knowing which slide comes next, will also help you look smooth and prepared when time constrained. You might also become a better driver, too.
And how do we help our audience remember our presentations?
In a recent article on this blog (a presentation, in fact) we discussed memory and just how easy it is for people to forget what we tell them. One of the reasons we forget - presentations and information in general - is that we don't properly encode the information in the first place. In other words, we don't really "forget" where we put our car keys; we just don't register their location into our memory to begin with. Why? We (some of us more than others) get distracted.
Distractions that happen while we try to remember something are the main reason memories don't get encoded properly.
And this is a BIG reason why people forget your presentation.
So don't let them get distracted. Persuade them to remember. Here are 5 tips:
Draw attention to the important stuff
Information sameness is bad
Foster a deeper processing (i.e. ask questions)
Make the audience part of the experience
Keep it short
(Now where did I put my car keys...)
It’s natural to be nervous when giving a presentation. For many, nervousness is directly proportional to the size of the audience, which would make you think that the smaller the audience, the higher the presenter’s confidence. Elite presenters understand that this is not actually the case; a larger audience gives you more participants to engage, paths to walk and opportunities for your message to resonate.
But there is a time when a particularly small audience is of immeasurable value. An audience so small that they’ll easily fit in any hotel room with you. An audience of precisely zero. This audience is valuable because they’re going to let you practice out loud, but keep their thoughts to themselves. No criticism. No multi-tasking. No tweeting. But this audience is tough because they give you absolutely NOTHING to work with. No visual cues, no questions, no answers. Lampstands, pillows, hotel artwork are the toughest crowd you’ll find - but you’ll actually be really glad you got to know them.
The next time you are gearing up for a major presentation, first try presenting to these inanimate objects. It will feel odd at first, very odd. And you’ll dismiss it as not worthwhile. But the more you rehearse what you’re planning to say, hear yourself saying those words out loud, the more you’ll be able to tune your exact message. Payback is simple: The more you practice what you’re going to say, by saying it, outloud, (not imagining it), the easier on the day to be confident with your audience.
It’s desperately hard to present to an empty room. The first time you try it you’ll hate it - and likely head straight to the bar for an evening snifter while telling yourself that you’ll have no problem rocking it live. But persevere. The familiarity that comes with hearing your own words, improving the flow through repetition and consciously linking movements to moments, will actually make you look forward to a live audience and empower you when that moment comes. This effort you make in private, will reward you greatly when it’s your public chance to shine.
It might sound paradoxical, but if you can learn to present to nobody, you really can present to anyone at all.
[photo courtesy rwbenwick.com]
Learn 5 reasons, all rooted in cognitive science, why our audiences may not remember what we share in presentations.
Struggling with your presentation? Stuck moving past the title slide? Having difficulty getting the creative juices flowing? Here are 8 resources to get you un-stuck.
- The Science of Being Memorable (of course ;) Re-invent your presentations with 26 science-based techniques and guidelines
- How to Deliver Presentations That Are Awe-Inspiring. Corey Eridon and Hubspot share presentatin tips that help guard against yawn-inducing slides.
- 7 Tips to Beautiful PowerPoint. Eugene Cheng gives a short talk about presentations that make a visual impact.
- The Left Brain Powerpoint by Cliff Atkinson. Psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist clears up popular misconceptions about the function and relationship between the right brain and left brain.
- Five Presentation Mistakes Everyone Makes. Nancy Duarte advises, don't make these.
- Killer Slide Decks. A gallery of exceptionally well-designed keynote and powerpoint presentations.
- How Can I Make My PowerPoint Presentations Amazing? Lifehacker's Melanie Pinola shares some awesome tips
- Don't do what everyone else does - ever! The importance of originality, from Dr. Carmen Simon (video).
Read. Absorb. Create. Have Fun :)
Do you know Lumosity? They are the #1 brain training program on the planet, and have the world's largest and fastest growing database on human cognition — which currently includes more than 45 million users. Lumosity focuses on areas such as attention, memory, flexibility, speed, and problem solving to improve people's lives.
Two areas that have particularly attracted Rexi Media to Lumosity are attention and memory. Rexi Media coaches business presenters on how to deliver memorable presentations, and we've treated the word "memorable" scientifically. We've asked: What makes for a truly memorable presentation? How much do people remember from a business presentation over time, and why does this matter? We recently had the opportunity to sit with Dr. Joe Hardy, VP of R&D at Lumosity, and hear his thoughts about memory as it applies to presentations and business professionals.
Q: Are there any trends you are seeing regarding memory that could be affecting business professionals performance?
Dr. Hardy: As part of the Human Cognition Project, Lumosity researchers conducted a study using its database of human cognitive performance – the largest in the world – that looked at peaks in cognitive performance at different times of the day. On average, people perform better at working memory and attention tasks in the morning, and creative tasks, such as math and verbal fluency, later in the day. These findings are consistent with the existing literature that has found that creativity and focus rely on opposite brain functions; morning people tend to perform better on creative tasks during their non-peak hours later in the day, and night people tend to perform better on creative tasks earlier in the day. These results could have implications for the optimal time to perform certain tasks. For instance, if your job relies on creativity, and you are a morning person, you might be able to perform work-related tasks better during the afternoon hours.
Another study from the Human Cognition Project published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, examined the effects of sleep and alcohol consumption on cognitive abilities, including speed, memory, and flexibility. The study found that cognitive performance in all three tasks was most efficient, on average, for users reporting seven hours of sleep each night. The study also found that low to moderate alcohol intake – a self-reported one or two drinks per day – was associated with better performance in all three tasks, with brain performance scores decreasing steadily with every additional drink.
Q: What has surprised you the most about memory research in the past 5 years?
Dr. Hardy: The field of cognitive training is based on the science of neuroplasticity, and has grown enormously over the past five years. It’s been surprising and encouraging to learn how plastic the brain remains, even as we age. Research has found that those who are engaged in learning and cognitive stimulating activities throughout the lifetime build up a "cognitive reserve" that helps maintain and improve cognitive performance.
26 Science-based principles on how to attract audience attention, sustain it, and convert a presentation into memorable content.
Do you remember these 8 past presentation pointers? Still quite valid. And worth another shout-out.
1) Buzz words do not build a connection because they are obscure and calorie-free. If you want people to focus on what you say and not switch to checking mobile devices during your presentation, avoid lazy clichés and greasy corporate talk in your presentations. Post
2) When someone asks you a question, repeat it (specially if you present to a large group). Post
3) Advanced presenters create smooth transitions after the introduction, between each main point, and before the conclusion. Post
4) People remember the unusual. If everything in a presentation is equally intense (color, graphics, in your face), or equally bland (text, indentations and bullet points), we have no control over what, if anything, people will remember. Post
5) When answering questions, move toward the person asking the question, and square your shoulders to him or her. Post
6) One of the greatest assets that any of us can posses in [the] battle for audience attention, is a great title. Unfortunately, few presenters put much effort into starting a presentation by creating a strong beginning. Post
7) Don't feel you have to fill every second with information - sometimes you need to trust the silence. Post
8) Consider using visuals not only to help illustrate a concept or a process, but also to constantly invite the audience to focus on your presentation by igniting their thinking. Post
A client recently lamented, “when so much of my presentation is verbal, there seems to be little value in leaving the attendees with just a copy of my slides. What should I leave behind instead?”
It’s a good point because the slides are often meaningless without your accompanying narration, interpretation and storytelling. So don’t do it. A better option is to provide a copy of the slides with speaker notes included, or save your PowerPoint and speaker notes to a Word file and issue as a document. [In the latter case, it’s often best to distribute as PDF in order to protect your original content from unapproved editing!] But regardless, this is all extra work for you, creating a document which still might not actually be read.
What if we could get attendees to remember your proposal without any physical leave-behind?
Let’s say your original presentation was about convincing the audience to buy software that improves analytics in the client’s marketing efforts; something that integrates with Salesforce. If you leave behind a PDF, you’re relying on people’s memory to remember this document in reference to a presentation that promised to improve something. Unfortunately, memories are fairly feeble. But they can be strengthened by “triggers.” In this example you would use triggers by:
Thinking before the presentation: “What is something that my client uses daily?” (In this example, Salesforce)
Answering: “How can I associate concepts I want them to remember with Salesforce?” (for example, by associating parts of your product with pages on Salesforce).
Repeating this association throughout the presentation.
Reminding them of the association once the presentation is over.
In this way, you prime your prospect’s brain to remember what you proposed each time they visit that page on Salesforce.
This memory trigger method is certainly more powerful than your standard leave-behind, making breaking-up much less hard to do.
[Image courtesy of Annetaintor.com]
If you host a webinar but nobody pays enough attention to hear it, did it ever happen at all?
Let’s face it, for the vast majority of webinar attendees, that one hour slot on the calendar is an opportunity to catch up on some email, retire that pile of ironing, or tinker with their fantasy league roster. And while they might think that’s time well spent, it’s really a whole 60 minutes wasted by everyone. Especially you.
What if you could stamp out multitasking by grabbing attention in the first 30 seconds, and then holding it, vice like, for a full 30 minutes? Or even an hour? What if you and your audience were comfortable with the web cam, not hiding from it? And what if you could truly measure the effectiveness of a webinar where you might not make eye contact with anyone?
Join our free “what makes a good webinar” session on Tues October 8th at 10am PST by registering here. Then clear your calendar of any conflicts - there’ll be no time for multitasking.