10 Presentation Tips No. 1: Watch What Works
Rolling into the new year, I’m finally getting around to writing up some thoughts that I’ve been mulling over for a month or so on the subject of effective presenting. This is a bit off-topic for this blog, but I’ll tie it back to digital analytics in two ways:
- A recurring theme in the analytics community is that analysts have to “tell stories with the data” rather than simply throw a bunch of charts into a presentation and expect business users to swoon. To tell stories with data you first have to be able to tell stories, and presentations are one form of storytelling.
- The next #ACCELERATE event is coming up in Chicago in April…and what better way to lobby for a 20-minute slot than to post a public outline of what I could present?
While the second point is explicitly tongue-in-cheek, the inspiration for this series was the inaugural #ACCELERATE event where, in my view, the quality of the presentations was a little disappointing. Having crossed the 4-decade mark, and having both given and seen countless presentations, I’m going to wax pedantic for the next 10 days. Take it or leave it. There are professional presentation coaches (Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds being two of my favorites) who have studied the subject much more than I have, and those experts have written extensively on the subject…but I’m still going to take my shot at a “10 Tips” list. I’ll be publishing one tip per weekday because, after writing them all, I found myself in a similar boat as Ben Gaines found himself in after writing up Ten Things Your Vendor Wishes You Did Better — when you care about a topic and try to write up “10 tips”…it’s hard to be succinct! You can view the complete series of tips here.
Tip No. 1: Watch What Works
In his recap of #ACCELERATE, Corry Prohens noted that Craig Burgess had observed that the event had a secondary benefit, in that it allowed analysts to watch a slew of presentations and observe the styles and techniques that were most effective. To build on that, I say, watch some TED Talks. Next week, watch some more! And the following week, a few more! It really doesn’t matter which ones you watch. TED has so much prestige and the organizers do such a good job of putting on consistently high quality events that the presenters really put in the time to deliver polished material (more on that in subsequent tips). It’s really rare to see a stinker of a presentation. And, keep in mind:
Most of the presenters are people who don’t publicly present on a regular basis (just like you)!
Watch at least a half-dozen talks and note the range of topics and presentation styles that all “work.” Think about why those presentations are engaging. Take inspiration from them! You can really watch any of them, but, if you’re just itching for some specifics, I recommend:
- Malcolm Gladwell’s spaghetti sauce talk
- Joe Sabia’s talk on the technology of storytelling
- Sunni Brown’s talk on doodling
- Hans Rosling’s presentation on world health that relied heavily on Gapminder
If you get into it, you may also want to watch Nancy Duarte’s talk (from TEDxEast) on why great communicators’ presentations are riveting and then read her post about how she prepared. TED Talks are by no means the only place to look for inspiration. We all have the 2 or 3 people inside our company that everyone hopes speaks at internal meetings. You look forward to watching them present, so, the next time you have that opportunity, put on your critical thinking cap and try to figure out why their presentations are engaging and compelling. The same thing can be said for any conference or event that you attend — when you catch yourself leaning forward a bit and really hanging on a presenter’s every word, take a step back and ask yourself, “Why?” In the digital analytics industry, there are some great examples:
- Eric Peterson exudes enthusiasm regardless of the topic or the format
- Avinash Kaushik converts his playful and whimsical written style into his presentations…and then somehow successfully augments them with the liberal use of profanity
- Jim Sterne leads off each eMetrics with a formal and polished talk…that stylistically will vary dramatically from one conference to the next
All three of these gentlemen have very different personalities, perspective, and presentation styles. Your goal is not to pick one of their styles and copy it, but, rather, to pick out stylistic details and techniques that resonate with you as possible tools for your own presentation toolkit. You absolutely want to develop a style that fits who you are, but that doesn’t mean you have to develop that style entirely from scratch. Most great chefs, after all, had formal training and/or studied under other chefs, and, yet, they developed a cooking style that was uniquely theirs.