Sunday, October 18, 2009

In Response: Signs of Authority-Important Presentation Traits

The post, Signs of Authority-Important Presentation Traits, appealed to me at various levels, and the comment from Mr. Govindarajan raised a point that struck a chord.

Like him, I have been a classroom lecturer facing students and using the "chalk and talk" method of communication. For many reasons, this has remained my favorite mode of engaging with the audience. And one I am most comfortable with.

In recent years, the rise of the PowerPoint and its ubiquitous presence have given birth to the syndrome called "Death by PowerPoint" wherein, as pointed out by Mr. Govindarajan, "The listeners ignore the presenters' verbal authority and watch the screen forgetting that the screen is only an AID and not the presentation itself." Or the message. This leads to disengagement, switching off, and lost communication opportunity.

These are concerns recent writers like Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds are emphasizing as well.

And this happens because the presenter has forgotten that the slides are only there to aid, reinforce and support.

I think the use of a medium like the flip-chart or the w/b actually enables the presenter by making him/her the center and highlighting the message more than the tools. Lately, I have read a few books that reinforce the power of this kind of engagement. One of them being The Back of the Napkin.

What did the chalk and talk method demand of a presenter that holds true for all effective presentations?

1. Command over the Subject: There is no reference point. You "talk" directly to the audience using the board to jot down points and quickly sketch diagrams to aid understanding. The audience "sketched" with you; therefore, there was no lag in communication. No one waited for the other to catch up (as happens when the audience has finished reading the bulleted points on the slide and is waiting for the presenter to finish reading them out).

Also, because one is facing the audience and watching them, it is easy to note the levels of engagement. Today, this style can be closely replicated using a flip-chart or a whiteboard if the audience is in the same room.

Q. Do we really need PowerPoint slides all the time? I think not! Not all the time. Sometimes, it could be effective to just talk.

2. Command over Language: I totally agree. I don't mean that a presenter cannot falter; s/he can. We all do. I mean that a presenter should be able to mould his/her language and communication style to suit the audience. Just as an instructional designer would mould treatment style to suit the target learners. The analogy is deliberate.

~This includes an ability to convey the complex in simple words.
~This necessitates a knowledge of the audience, their purpose for attending the presentation and what is it that they intend to take away.
~This implies an ability to view the topic from different perspectives and address the ones that matter to the current audience.

3. Control over Time: I personally feel I can control time better if I don't have the pressure of 30 slides to cover, and I can also address points that will interest the audience. (Of course, without deviating from the overall purpose of the presentation.) This way, one would also be showing respect for the audience's time and a willingness to address their need/queries/fears.

This kind of presentation can be enriched if supported with powerful graphics or quotes that reinforce the main points. I remember a particularly vivid graphic from Garr Reynold's PresentationZen that showed a shark and had this caption below it: "Blogs are like Sharks."

"If they don't keep moving, they will die."

The remaining explanatory points came later. But the sheer vivid and startling analogy made the point stick. This was also a perfect utilization of time because with one image and a caption, the point had been driven home in an unforgettable manner.

4. Audience Contribution: This is probably the most effective measure of a successful presentation. As Vasan says, if the audience can be drawn to interact, the purpose is half served. A few key questions or quickly sketched diagrams can be good ways to make the audience a part of "it". An empathetic presenter and an interactive audience is the recipe for success.

5. Analogies and Stories: Stories are probably the most effective way of concertizing the abstract. All good presenters know this--whether they are presenting a business case or conducting a church service. You've got to have a story to make your message stick.

Watch Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, in this presentation that exemplifies all the key aspects discussed here. He is talking to the audience and telling them a story, a story so powerful and enthralling, there is no chance that the audience will be distracted. And he is completely in command. You can see the TED talk here:

An Anecdote:

I had recently been to Providence, Rhode Island to visit my friend and had attended the Sunday morning church service with her. The Pastor may not have read M2S, but he knew how to reach out. His analogies are still fresh in my mind. And I remember the messages because of the stories that he quoted with so much heartfelt passion, sincerity and honesty. He had no PowerPoint or bulleted lists to support him; but he never once deviated from his talk, drove home his point to a very mixed congregation and left everyone with something to think about.

Point to be noted: His stories were not spiritual; they were drawn from everyday experience but each one encoded a powerful message.

One analogy stuck in my mind because of its simplicity: he spoke of each person being a "salt-shaker" and adding value in simple ways to others' lives just as salt adds the right taste to food.

The post has meandered a bit from the original response. But for me these are all points related to a good presentation.

Reflection Point:

Do you do this?

Just for laughs!

Watch this space for some thoughts on using mind maps to deliver powerful presentations.



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