Endless bullet-points, micro-sized paragraphs and showy animations are the guarantee of a boring, old-fashioned presentation. But if you, as a listener, do not come across a designer, a native digital or a storytelling connoisseur, it’s likely that you will have to endure a long speech supported by this kind of visuals.
On the other hand, project presentations are changing fast and going towards another direction. Presentation programs are becoming more and more visual – just think about Prezi, which forces you to go beyond the logic sequence of one slide after the other, to switch to a whole board, that you can fill in as you like - with images, texts or videos. You will choose the order in which you present one concept after the other only of the very end of your graphic work. The idea behind it is very much like the search tool in a Mac computer: no longer a tree of folders, just a lens where you type a key word and the computer will lead you straight to the researched file. We’re becoming more visual, simultaneous, immediate and less logical and rational.
Or think about Sway, which composes your presentation like a website, with interactive pages, for example.
But visual supports are not enough to make a strong presentation. Good speakers can, without them, nevertheless grab the audience’s attention.
Brevity is a key-aspect, because the peak of human attention lasts 5 to 12 minutes.
And so we can find formats, who point at brevity as presentation’s main secret of success. Pecha Kucha and Ignite are the most important two. Pecha Kucha Nights, for example, are worldwide events for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. They can talk for 6’ 20’’, their presentation must consist of 20 slides, each slide have to last 20’’. Slides advance automatically, so no chance to cheat! Ignite works in a quite similar way. These events are a kind of live experience of what Slideshare is online, a bottom up sharing of ideas, inspired by peer-to-peer education (anyway, projects are also available online).
But the hottest public speaking school at the moment is TED, which demonstrates how storytelling plays the key role in new generation speeches.
TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics in more than 100 languages. TED.com is becoming a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world's most inspired thinkers and they also organize and promote TEDx events around the world, all year long. TED speeches range from science to business to global issues, but speakers do all share one thing: they know how to conceive brief, yet powerful speeches.
I have been entrusted by the cult professional haircare company Davines to improve project presentations during their shows.
So, when we started working at this project, at first I was taking into consideration the option of adopting a quite strict format, inspired by existing Ignite and Pecha Kucha. These formats share a fixed structure: an x number of slides for an x number of seconds. This means that the speaker has to practice a lot to be sure to perform well, to tell right things at the right moment, to be punctual and effective.
This would have perfectly matched our goal: end up long, boring, untrained presentations and switch to short, brilliant, effective ones.
Then we started asking ourselves: would a strict format be enough to reach our goal? What is that makes presentations really powerful? Just exterior formal features, like the number of minutes they last, the number of slides they show, the size of images and lettering?
If it would be so easy, then every presentation sticking to these rules would potentially a success. But it is not like that.
What is that makes a presentation truly involving and memorable?
After watching and thinking over some of the most successful TED presentations ever done, we came to this conclusion: what makes a presentation strong, is first of all the ability to connect with the audience by telling a story. Not just whatever story, but one revealing the very deep passion of the speaker, something he/she really cares for and believes in.
It may sound easy, but it is not. Because stories are all around us, in other people, in our past, in films and movies, in advertising, on newspapers. We’re so much into stories, that it is not easy to identify the ones that deeply resonate inside ourselves. And, when it has to do with our job, the presentation of a project is often something we relate to duty and stress. Finding a deep personal connection to a professional project means investigating one’s feelings, emotions, experiences, anedoctes and so on with a striking positive attitude. Sometimes coming to a good speech idea requires a brainstorming or the work of a whole creative team. But the most important thing is how authentic and meaningful the story is for the speaker.
Of course, many kinds of stories can be used, such as brand stories or stories about other people.
But still, personal stories are the most effective ones, also for professional presentations, for two reasons:
- It will help build a great speech - just the simple fact of looking for autobiographical stories leads you beyond stereotypes, commonplaces and worn out words, it will let you see the same thing from another point of view, actually from your very personal point of view, and will make you discover an original, new, fresh language
- It will help catch the audience’s attention - finding a personal story to introduce a presentation is a way to settle it in a specific, real, alive context and therefore to create a connection with people, who can imagine the whole situation and can identify
“Stories are everywhere, but you have to look for them carefully, to pick up the one that best conveys to the audience the very essence of what makes your heart sing” says with a beautiful image the internationally admired keynote speaker and author of bestseller “Talk Like TED” Carmine Gallo.
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