Presentation tips: Present like Plato, Sell like Socrates
When I was 14, I was a skinny and shy kid, trying to find my way in the world. One day our teacher announced it was time for us to deliver our first ever presentations to the rest of the class. We had 2 weeks to prepare, on any topic we liked. At that particular moment in time I had a penchant for heavy metal and decided to speak to my classmates on the history of Iron Maiden.
Very soon, my turn arrived and at the teacher’s beckoning I took the long and lonely walk to the front of the class, stood in front of the chalkboard, and began.
What followed was nothing short of a disaster. With my eyes cast firmly downwards, and stuck to the page in front of me, I read out a list of facts about Iron Maiden – roughly cast into a chronological history of their albums, and the comings and goings of their various lead singers. Mon-o-tone.
What seemed liked 42 minutes later, but I’m told was 3 minutes, I slowly rumbled to a halt and departed the stage of my first – and worst – presentation,
The teacher’s feedback was direct: I was to be the only person in the whole class to repeat the effort, and this time with feeling. Would have been nice if you’d given me that – or any other instruction – beforehand, dear teacher.
At the end of that episode, I resolved to become a decent speaker. And luckily, with practice and by watching and learning from others, I have managed to become what some would say a pretty good public speaker.
So when a client recently asked me to put together a presentation skills course for 3 groups of their staff, it allowed me to reflect on what I’ve learnt over the years and try to teach it to others. We’ve called this course Authentic and Engaging presentations as I believe those are two of the core skills.
Luckily for me, I’m not the only person who has tried to become a good speaker, or teach others – and so I found on my journey that the approach which best matched my own derives from Ancient Greece (believe it or not) where, as well as giving birth to democracy, and dolmades, they put together a recipe for great oration: you need to build trust, appeal to the audience’s emotions, and be able to use logic persuade them.
In a little more detail, here are 8 of the key presentation tips I’ve discovered myself or from others under those 3 headings.
- Learn to improve your storytelling – use the “pixar pitch” structure, just like I did for the story that begins this blog. The structure is this (fill in the gaps): Once upon a time….every day….one day…..because of that….until finally….
- Use your emotions, passion, positivity, excitement to carry the audience along with you
- Win the first 10 seconds – make sure you have a strong opening to establish trust and momentum. If you’re nervous (which you should be!) then memorising the first 5-10 seconds is all I do to get me going.
- Build rapport and see the world through their eyes, use “you” language. Show how you’re similar to them.
- Lead the audience along with real or rhetorical questions
- Use facts sparingly, use appendices for extras.
- Make sure the key messages are 100% clear and visible, standing above the rest of the presentation.
- Know your key points so that if you had to reduce the presentation to 45 seconds, you could still do it.
Here is a video of 2 people who I think present brilliantly, along with one of me.
- Dan Pink: the puzzle of motivation
- Dan Ariely: are we in control of our decisions
- Rob Pyne: How to predict the future
Written by Rob Pyne
X or Y now offers the course “Authentic and Engaging Presentations” as an in house session for up to 8 people. The course has an average feedback score of 91%.