Steve Jobs is well known for his presentation skills and his slides are best known for their clarity and simplicity – the hallmark of a great presentation.
When the maestro made his presentation introducing his new iPhone 4, he ran into a major glitch. His iPhone was not able to connect!
Watch how he handled this glitch and potential disaster:
He did it with humor and never skipped a beat. This reinforces my point that your presentations do not have to be perfect in every way and how rehearsing is not a guarantee of success. I am sure Jobs rehearsed his presentations many many times. But he never foresaw the problem of too many people being online at the same time when he got on stage.
But because he KNEW his topic, he was able to handle the potential crisis with humor and aplomb.
A well-coached speaker with a graduate degree in French literature might have memorized his presentation with the perfect pitch and tone. But he never would have been able to handle such an unforeseen crisis.
In Henry Boettinger’s wonderful book “Moving Mountains – the Art and Craft of Letting Others See Things Your Way”, he describes an incident where his colleagues made a presentation to an executive before the real thing – a big presentation to a group of senior executives. The preview was superb. Every detail and lesson were brought to bear. Timing was exquisite.
When the group finished the preview, the executive just sat silently shaking his head. He told the group: “It’s no good. Your presentation is simply too slick.” The executive went on to say: “Yes, everything is perfectly clear. Yes, there is convincing evidence on every point. Yes, the alternatives all look bad. No, nothing relevant has been overlooked. Yes, it is a first-class job. Yes, you have carried out your assignment in a thoroughly professional way.”
So what was the matter with the preview?
The executive went on to say: “My colleagues will find the razzle-dazzle offensive and will become unconfortable. They will feel that they have no place at all to apply their judgment. I ‘m afraid if you show them what I saw, they will modify your proposal, and I don’t want that to happen.”
The presenters asked the executive for advice on what they should do. Here is what the executive told them:
“Make the visuals look cheaper and less finished…Miss a few cues when one man turns the story over to another. Right now you come on like professional actors. But don’t change the story’s message.”
The moral of this story from Henry Boettinger is that if your presentation comes over as being too slick (often as a result of too much rehearsal), it loses its credibility. When the audience sees you as a smooth talker (aka snake oil salesman or used car salesman), they will start to question your motive and the message of your story will get lost in the glitter.
That – by the way – is another reason why you should always keep your slides SIMPLE. No big company logo on every slide. And no cheesy clip arts and special effects! You want to keep your glitter to a bare minimum.
Here is an author who gave a talk on his book. The subject is kind of irrelevant. Let’s look at how he delivered his talk. It is obvious that he used speaking notes because we can see him refer to them frequently. But not so frequently that he was reading his notes to the audience – a cardinal sin and a big no-no in presentation. His delivery was not smooth. Nor was it slick. It was not over-rehearsed. He was having a conversation with the audience on a topic he knew very well. He was telling a story.
Just watch a few minutes of it and you will see what I mean.
We often say strange things without being conscious of them. Here are seven phrases that you should not use in your presentation:
- “Going forward”. Just what the heck does that mean? Is it the opposite of “going backwards”? Instead of saying:”I think the market is going to crash going forward”, why not try “I think the market is going to crash.”
- “Quite frankly”. I used to have a boss who would use this phrase every time just before he told a lie. It was a dead giveaway.
- “To be honest with you”. Gee…I am glad you have decided to be honest with me. Thanks. So what you don’t say this again, does it mean you are not being honest with me?
- “At the end of the day”. You really mean to say “finally”, right?
- “Uniquely qualified”. No one is really uniquely qualified to do anything.
- “Full service firm”. There is no such thing. No one firm can do everything. Not even Wal-Mart.
- “My friend”. Unless you have been living under a rock, I bet you heard this repeatedly during the last presidential election. Stop already! I am not your friend. You don’t even know me.
Let me know if you have more of these. I know you do. So post a comment!
I have been thinking about what Olivia said in one of her many thoughtful comments here. She mentioned that presenters should “say it differently every time.” That is so true!
Unfortunately, many speakers don’t do that. They pull out their good old standard speech that they have given 30 times before and proceed to do it again for the 31st time – same delivery, same tone, same pitch, same old jokes, blah blah blah. They don’t know the audience. Worst yet – they don’t care. They don’t gauge their delivery AND content to the audience. They don’t realize that every audience is different – even though they may come from the same business sector. The whole presentation becomes a one-way conversation – from the speaker to the audience.
The best way to gauge an audience is to talk to them before your presentation – if you can. If you can’t, you can do a QUICK poll before your talk. I do that with my seminar participants. These are environmental managers with varying background and experience. Every group is different. I always go around the room after a very brief intro and ask them to answer three questions: what do you do? why are you here? what do you hope to get out of this 2 day seminar?
I then tailor my presentation accordingly. (By the way – no amount of rehearsal can prepare me for this!).
I know I know – I had said in an earlier post that you should not do polling. But that was for a one-hour webinar. For a 2-day seminar, it is OK to spend several minutes polling the audience. It also gives the audience a chance to know who their follow attendees are and begin the all-important process of networking among them.
Here is a Keynote presentation made by Steve Jobs when he introduced the iPod back in 2001. It pretty much set the standards for good presentation. Not a single bullet point in sight. The most complicated slide is at around 2:50 when he showed a 4 x 4 comparison matrix that is easy to read and elegant. It is a joy to watch. We should all study it and learn from it.
See for yourself. As they say – the rest is history.
This is a wonderful video of a financial writer (Bethany McLean) talking about hedge funds. Notice how the video has a sentence on a slide and then the speaker talks about that topic following the slide. This is almost like a presentation without bullet points – a subject on the screen followed by a cvonversation. Note also how she spoke without reading any notes.
One of the worst features about Microsoft’s PowerPoint software is that it has far too many bells and whistles. It offers far too many “things” for the presenter. You can have those awful bullet points fly in from the top, fly in from the bottom, fade in and fade out, fly in from the left or fly in from the right. You have an endless supply of cheesy clip arts to choose from. You can have your huge corporate logo and your name on every slide. I have seen slides where these junk takes up a third of the real estate.
Try to keep your presentation slides simple. One idea and one picture. The rest are just distractions.
I recently purchased a 12-cup coffee maker from a big box store. It costs $10! And it has only ONE button. That’s the on/off switch. The coffee tastes the same as that from a programmable high tech coffee making machine that costs 10 times as much.
Simplicity is the key.
In an interview with Olivia Mitchell, Rowan Manahan mentioned that during an effective presentation, the audience should be “captivated without knowing why”.
When you do a PowerPoint presentation without those dreadful bullet points, you will find that your audience will pay attention to you and at the end of the presentation, they will come up to you and compliment you on keeping them awake. But very rarely will they notice that they have not been bombarded with bullet points. They just know they you have captivated them and they don’t know why!
This happened to me when I did my 2-day seminar on environmental regulations in southern California a month ago. The topic of environmental regulations can be deadly dull. An attendee came up to me at the end of the two day seminar and said:” I don’t know what you did. But I was paying attention to you all two days.”
So – try it. Try it without bullet points and see the results! You will like it and your audience will like it even more.
It happens to all of us at one time or another. Someone in the audience ask us a question about our presentation and we do not have the answer to it. What should we do?
The answer is clear: Just say “I don’t know.”
This is a much better strategy than to ham and haw and try to evade the question and give a non-responsive answer. All that bobbing and weaving is not going to do you one bit of good because the audience is doing to see right through you. So it is much better for you to just confess your ignorance AND ask if anyone in the audience has the answer.
In his seminal book “Moving Mountains”, Henry Boettinger says “quibbling and evasion produce disgust. If you don’t know the answer, say so directly.”