It’s a presentation, Jim – but not as we know it

Thursday, July 31, 2014 | 10am

Whether you’re about to present to an audience of two, twenty or two hundred, beware that ever-present mortal danger… Death by PowerPoint.

In 2015 one of the hottest topics in marketing will be experience. But I don’t mean getting 20,000 festival-goers to sample your energy drink, or 20 highly-paid city brokers to scream round a race track in your premium-price performance motor. Although if it’s relevant…

It’s more than that. In 2015 you are your brand. Everything you do as a marketer, every contact you make with your customers is an experience. And if you’re in the happy position of being able to meet your customers face-to-face, then in B2B that often means the experience is a presentation.

How to avoid Death by PowerPoint
It’s the 21st century. In a world of information snacking and 140 character messaging time is short and our attention span is shorter.

“If keeping someone’s attention in a lecture was a business, it would have an 80% failure rate”

Dr John Medina, affiliate Professor of Bioengineering, University of Washington School of Medicine and author of Brain Rules).
In fact Dr Medina writes that any audience’s attention begins to fade after just 10 minutes. If you want to keep it, you can buy another 10 minutes if you can find something to make them sit up and take notice. And then you have to do it again 10 minutes later. So, if what you have to say to them takes you 40 minutes, you have to find at least 4 attention-grabbing triggers (don’t forget the one at the start of your presentation) to do the trick.

Sound like hard work? It needn’t be. Just put yourself in your audience’s shoes (you’ve probably been that audience a hundred times). They want you to succeed. They’re on your side. No one ever came to a meeting or a seminar because they wanted to be bored. Think about what bores you and you’re half way there. Here’s some pointers to take you the rest of the way.

1. Dump the text
Get rid of all text-heavy slides. Apart from the obvious disadvantage that they will be very difficult to read from the back of a packed seminar room, the human brain is programmed to notice patterns, recognise faces and react to colour. So be visual.

We have a far better recall for visual information. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it (if you’re lucky). Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.

Oral – 10%; Visual – 35%; Oral + Visual – 65%

2. Try a different format
Heard of PechaKucha? It’s become known as “the art of concise presentations.” Named after the Japanese word for “chit chat” the PechaKucha form presents 20 slides in a continuous slide show that gives the presenter precisely 20-seconds to explain each one. It can be a great discipline that keeps you moving, makes you stay focussed and, at just under seven minutes, safeguards you from the 10-minute watershed of wandering audience attention.

3. Involve your audience
Ask for their questions, get them to tweet, show them a video, ask their opinion. Sitting and passively listening is unnatural to the human condition. People are social animals. We crave interaction and involvement. But we also like participating as a group. Be careful not to single individuals out, as this might just make them uncomfortable. Polls are a great way of getting participation without putting anyone on the spot. It could be a simple show of hands, or you could go all 21st Century and use some of the technology that’s at our disposal. There’s a huge choice of polling apps you could use that not only gets your audience voting on the spot, but which can also pull in social sharing, voter information, reporting mechanisms and more…

4. Get people moving
As above, sitting and passively listening is very unnatural. Here’s Dr John Medina again with the science bit:

“Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neuron creation, survival and resistance to damage and stress… Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals… An increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.”

Quite. Even that simple show of hands can get you that “uptick”. Or how about getting your audience to stand to show their agreement or disagreement. Or move to a different part of the room. The simple action of going from one place to another breaks monotony and encourages connection among audience members.

So try it out. Turn Death By PowerPoint into Captivation By Presentation. A whole new animal. But a word of caution. Don’t let the style of the presentation go to your head. It’s still got to have substance and lead your audience to the course of action you want them to take. But that’s a whole other blog…

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