Archive for the 'Presentations' Category

Three books to read for public speaking.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

I do a fair amount of speaking, and friends sometimes ask me for advice on how to speak better. Sometime I’ll write more on that topic, but for starters, here are three books worth reading:

1. Dale Carnegie, The Quick and Easy Way to Effective SpeakingA fundamental text from one of the all-time leaders in the field. Carnegie trained thousands of businesspeople to be competent speakers, and his advice here can help anyone getting started on the road of public speaking.

2. Richard C. Borden, Public Speaking As Listeners Like It! — This book is worth finding in your library or elsewhere even though it’s been out of print for a long time. I dug it up after Guy Kawasaki recommended it (can’t remember where), and I was glad I did. It’s full of pithy, on-point advice that’s just as relevant today as when the book was written decades ago. (My favorite: the magic of using “For instance . . .”)

3. Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen — This is a new-school title to complement the two old-school books above. Reynolds, who also has a great blog on this subject, has done a lot of deep thinking about how modern PowerPoint-driven presentations can be much better. He’s a clear writer who keeps the audience’s interests firmly in mind.

Now, what would you add to this list?

Three links for you.

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

1. Today on my professional blog, I wrote a post that was more fun than anything I’ve written in a while. Check it out.

2. If you don’t use RSS feeds to help you read blogs more efficiently, you should. Check out this post to learn how. It’s easy!

3. If you have to “stand and deliver” on stage as part of your job, remember that it’s a performance, not a presentation.

Friday links roundup.

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Brace yourselves, people. Talkin’ about some serious clearing of decks here.

First, a couple of follow-ups:

–> A couple of months ago I wrote a post on the “ethic of waste” that pervades too much of our consumer culture. As far as I recall I came up with that particular phrasing, but the idea has much wider currency. This TreeHugger item quotes extensively from a Sierra magazine piece that talks about “an economy of waste.” Well worth reading, as it reminds us that it wasn’t so long ago — World War II — that our grandparents willingly changed their ways to take on a societal threat. We need to do the same thing again now.

–> A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a New York Times piece in which Michael Pollan talks about how our “farm” policy (which is really food policy) helps to foster the widespread obesity from which the nation suffers. The other day I got an e-mail from the estimable Dan Markovitz — he of the lean-management expertise — pointing to a post of his in the same vein: “The Obesity Epidemic, Part II”. Well worth reading. (Actually, just take that as a summary verdict for Dan’s blog in general.)

Now for the roundup of new stuff:

–> Part of the reason I like Dan M.’s blog so much is that he so often writes posts that make me say, “Man, I wish I had written that.” Case in point . . .

You Have Too Much Time On Your Hands. Really.

I agree with this article so much it hurts me. Physical pain, I tell you! Honestly, I don’t know anyone for whom this article doesn’t apply — either because they’ve already acted upon the reality of Parkinson’s Law and reduced their own suffering, or because they still haven’t internalized the Law and therefore they continue to suffer from work overwhelm. Dan’s article is suggestive rather than exhaustive — you could go into much more detail on the subject if you cared to — but it does a great job of getting at the essence of the problem.

I’ll be writing more about this topic in a series of posts I’ve been drafting on information overload, the besetting sin of the modern workplace. But for now let me say that you could do far worse than to start with Dan’s post, accept it on faith even if you don’t yet admit all the details of it, and then proceed here (if I do say so myself). You might just change your life.

–> “The Best Climate Change Websites” Thank you, Alex — simple and useful. (Particularly good: “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic” from Grist.)

–> A great idea for presentations and beyond: Hara hachi bu.

–> Do yourself a favor: unclutter your life. Here’s the short version.

–> But whatever you do, don’t hurry.

Presentations as a chance to come clean with yourself.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Sitting through a multi-presenter meeting the other day, I was struck by the difference in styles of the folks who took the dais. Most were soft-spoken — it was a smallish meeting among friends — but the differences in pace and tone were telling.

My summary judgment is hardly groundbreaking: Slow and clear beat fast and mumbled every time. When you’re presenting to any audience, plant your feet, open up your chest (ask anybody who’s ever did high-school theater how to do this), and raise your chin. Slow down so that your audience can distinguish your words, and be willing to say less, but more clearly, in the service of making your point. Whatever you have to say, be it ever so humble, say it with conviction.

What’s that? What if you don’t have conviction about what you’re saying? Then you shouldn’t be standing in front of an audience — any audience — until you can muster it. Consider finding that conviction as an exercise in coming clean with yourself, about your speaking abilities and about the content of what you have to say.

If your lack of conviction comes from a lack of confidence in your presentation skills, that can be addressed with simple practice. Find someone you know who gives good presentations, and ask them to coach you, if not formally, at least in the sense of listening to a run-through and telling you whether you’re loud enough, slow enough, and easy to understand. If you’re using slides, make sure they make sense. The basics of presentation skills are just that: basic. You can practice them as surely as a you can a sand wedge or a piano etude. And if you’re going to be called on to make presentations in your career, you should practice them.

Now, what about content? Even if what you’re saying is simple, even if it will only take two minutes of your audience’s time, do yourself and your listeners the favor of polishing the material in your mind before you take the stage. In the right setting, there is room for thinking out loud in front of a friendly audience, but that’s a very different thing from presuming to take up that audience’s time with information that you haven’t made an effort to digest for yourself. Do not take the stage to deliver a first-draft presentation; to do so insults the busy people who are trying to listen to your wanderings. At the very least, subject your material to the same test that Marilu Henner’s character did in L.A. Story when she was preparing to go out for the evening: take a quick look back over everything, and remove the first thing that sticks out to you as being too much.

When you’ve earned your own confidence in your material and your mode of delivering it — that is, when you’ve come clean with yourself — you can stand and deliver with the best of them, even if you never attain the seemingly effortless grace of a Godin or a Kawasaki. Until you’ve come clean with yourself in this way, you could be delivering the gospel truth to willing listeners, but you’ll still sound like you’re ignorant or you have something to hide.


Addendum: Following up on the suggestion of Phil Lynch in the comments on yesterday’s post, I’ve added blogroll links to Beyond Bullets and Presentation Zen, two sites I referred to almost exactly a year ago. If you want to make better presentations, by all means you should check out these sites, as well as Cliff Atkinson’s book, Beyond Bullet Points.

Godin, redux, on Powerpoints.

Monday, January 29th, 2007

I’ve said it before: I may just link to every single thing Seth Godin ever says about giving presentations, especially as that relates to using Powerpoint. Just last week I had a friend tell me, without my even asking, about how awesome Godin is to watch in person, about how he had a big roomful of people eating out of his hand and laughing out loud when he presented at a conference my friend attended.

So, here’s Godin’s latest blog entry on this subject — a reprint of a four-year-old piece he wrote:

Really Bad Powerpoint

For more in this vein (including links to earlier Godin installments), try these rants from yours truly:

Presentations: the un-presentation.

Presentations: prose on slides = death.

Good listenin’.

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

A couple of sources for recordings* of speeches that will stretch your head:

–The Long Now Foundation’s SALT series. SALT stands for “Seminars About Long-term Thinking”; the Long Now Foundation takes on big topics about how humans can live better on the planet for the indefinite future. You’ll probably find some things here inspirational and some simply odd, but it’s all thought-provoking, and most of it is a loooong way from what you’ll get in the typical media.

TEDTalks. Big-time thinker-doers take the stage to talk about what’s important to them. You’ll disagree with somebody here, but they’re all worth listening to. Wide variety of topics, many of them geared toward big challenges (in health, business, policy, environment . . .) facing the world today.

Any more favorites from the audience?


* “Recordings” is what we used to call them before the word “podcasts” was coined. :)

Follow-up to “Teaching is about students…”

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

John Salt was nice enough to point me to his follow-up piece for the Lego- and Harry Potter-based tutorial I referred to in my earlier post, “Teaching is about students, not the subject taught.”  John’s post (with a comment from me) is here:

Real-world tasks.

Presentations: It’s a visual medium.

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

I’ve said it before, but not as well as Garr Reynolds says it here:

Clear visuals with as little text as possible

In many cases, […] a person’s visual processing channel will become overloaded if text is added to the on-screen image/animation resulting in less understanding. This contradicts conventional wisdom (and practice) that “more is better” — many times it is not. […]

I have said it repeatedly, as have many others before me: slides (if you use them at all) should be as visual as possible. The words come out of your mouth. An important on-screen word or two, or short declarative sentence placed near the image is sometimes helpful. But bulleted lists are almost never preferable […]

If you ever make presentations, or if you care about communication generally, keep up with Reynolds’s “Presentation Zen” blog.

Teaching is about students, not the subject taught.

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

The most important part of anything is its human element. Teaching is no exception. Without taking anything away from the importance of whatever subject is at hand, good teaching will always be more about the students trying to grasp the subject. Indeed, the best teachers always remember that the topical material has meaning only when students grasp it.

Here is a wonderful Lego- and Harry Potter-based piece from John Salt that reminds us of this.

(Thanks to Kathy Sierra for the link.)

Presentations: the un-presentation

Saturday, March 11th, 2006

Don’t mind me if I link to every post Seth Godin ever makes on presentations. He’s about as good as they come.

The best presentation . . .

Godin’s absolutely right that in many cases the best presentation would be no presentation. Just cut to the chase and get people talking. Put yourself up there “naked”–without a wall of words or bullet points or slides to protect you–and get on with it.

If you’re not brave enough to take that leap, try two slides, or maybe three. Peter Drucker would sometimes unsettle executives by asking them three devastatingly simple questions:

  1. What business are you in?
  2. How’s business?
  3. Who are your customers?

That could make for a tremendous three-slide presentation, but only for a presenter ready for awkward silence or for the Socratic questioning needed to unpack superficial answers.

A CEO trying to address the elephant in the room could do well with one slide, e.g., “We must be honest with each other.” You can imagine scenarios in which that one totemic sentence, projected in letters two feet high, could serve as the backdrop for two hours of passionate, meaningful exchange.

Don’t hide behind presentation skills or the formal trappings of presentations. If you let them, PowerPoint decks and lecterns can serve as shields to cut you off from the other human beings you’re addressing. Take the bold step of being honest with yourself and your audience–especially when that means abandoning the trappings of a regular presentation and giving an un-presentation instead.