The Secret to Great Presenting…

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The more I attend formal conventions and events, the more I realize the sad state of presentations today. And when I get home from those events, I realize the state of presentations at home are also exactly where I left them: also quite depressing.

I recently had the opportunity to attend my sorority’s national convention in Phoenix, Arizona.  While I learned a wealth of amazing information, felt moved during the Model Initiation ceremony, ate delicious food, and met some incredible sisters from around the country, 95% of the presentations made me want to kill myself.  The below clip is funny… because it’s true.  Presentations suck.

Source

At convention, all of the presentations used the same bubble template.  Death-by-PowerPoint reared its ugly head because slides were sent out months ahead of the event; audience members could read the slides before convention, and the need to attend the session was completely gone. All but three presenters I witnessed read their speeches from start to finish. Dinners lasted four hours long, and audience members were expected to sit in their chairs, leave cell phones in purses, and just endure the boring, monotonous speech-reading nightmare. It was enough to give me a headache. Actually, that might have been a combination of the terrible presentations plus the dehydration and 115 degree desert temperatures.

At the end of each session, audience members were asked to fill out a feedback form. I was so discouraged that I didn’t even bother. How could I sum up all of my knowledge and study on a tiny piece of paper? Even after convention was over, I received a SurveyMonkey. The only thing I could think of to write was, “Please accept my FREE services when you do this again in 2014 so that no one has to sit through that torture again.”

When I returned to Orlando, I found my colleague, Chiara Ojeda, wrestling with the same dilemma. Chiara told me that the most recent batch of speeches presented while I was in the desert were the worst she had ever seen. Students were earning 50s, 60s, and 70s on their presentations. She had a sit-down, “let’s get real” conversation with these folks once I returned. Afterward, many admitted they hadn’t practiced their speeches, hadn’t read their books, hadn’t read the instructions sheet, and hadn’t listened to, remembered, or applied lecture material. I was astonished. If a strong, effective 10-minute presentation requires 9-24 hours of work, these students were putting in about 1-2 hours.

The opposite was true in Phoenix. My conference saw presenters who had spent two entire years practicing, rehearsing, writing a script, and putting page after page of notes on a PowerPoint slide.  Two years of organizing, rehearsing, and practicing didn’t matter, though. Even though these women were putting in a whole lot of work, all of that work didn’t matter because it was in the wrong direction!

These two events, the convention full of presentations and the class speeches, made me have a sudden lightbulb moment this week.  I finally understood and could sum up the secret to great presenting…

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Nancy Duarte explains in Resonate that great presentations are like magic (Source). We  hear, see, and sit through so many horrible speeches that when we finally witness a good one, it’s simply unbelievable. Since seeing that great presentation is so rare, we believe that a great presenter must be magical; those qualities that make him or her a great presenter are qualities we’ll never have. That presenter was definitely born with charisma; she is a natural speaker; we could never do that as mere human beings.

But we can present better. We can do amazing, powerful things using the presentation medium. Our speeches do not have to suck and we, too, can leave our audiences feeling as if we are magicians. We only need to know the secret to great presenting.

The secret to great presenting is working your butt off… in the right direction.

At convention, the women were working their butts off, but they had no idea what they were doing. They may have presented before, but it was the old way seen in the video above. They didn’t care about audience needs and were focused only on the content without considering delivery or visual design.

In class, the students knew the right direction, but they weren’t working hard enough. Some students weren’t working at all; one student dropped the class while I was gone because he didn’t want to put in the time and effort. Though they’d been learning for two solid weeks in class about proper presentation techniques, they didn’t work to apply that knowledge.

And here’s where we are in 2012. Some people work hard but don’t know what they’re doing. Others know better but don’t care to work hard enough to get where they need to go. The secret to great presentations is working your butt off… in the right direction. The right direction means knowing presentations are a three-legged stool comprised of delivery, content/message, and visual design. It means knowing the goal of speech delivery as covered in Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter. It means developing effective content as outlined by Nancy Duarte’s Resonate. It means designing slides that actually work to connect with and engage audiences as outlined in Reynolds’ Presentation Zen and Duarte’s Slide:ology.

The secret to great presenting is to first working to understand the basic foundation of effective presentations and then to work even harder to apply that knowledge.

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