Monday, May 09, 2016

Chris Anderson on What Makes a Great Presentation

Presentation Proficiency – A Critical Skill for the Next Century

As we - especially anyone under the age of 25 - continue to read less and less and watch (and listen) to constantly increasing amounts of content (for better or worse and often unwittingly and unwillingly), it’s becoming clear that new types of communication skills are going to be essential for any kind of success in our schools, our businesses and our lives. Not to mention our politics because – say whatever else you will about his messages – The Donald is a master communicator and it’s no accident that he swiftly left the dirty dozen and a half in the dust.

I think there are some critical lessons here for all of us and especially for our future. In our sound bite-obsessed and media-driven world today, it’s not just WYSIWYG – “what you see is what you get” – it’s pretty much what you see and hear is all you get - whether you like it or not. And the people who develop the ability to tell their stories and deliver their messages clearly, quickly and in ways that connect with us emotionally are going to be the only ones heard. In the future, it’ll be much more important to teach your kids to sing than to fish. I don’t mean literally to sing, but they’ll need to know how to aggressively “sell” their ideas in a swift and succinct fashion. Low energy is for losers.

Every day, our world is becoming more about form and less about substance. It’s about delivery, not details. Activity rather than accuracy. And speed above all. If you’re not quickly and effectively connecting with me, you have no hope of communicating anything of importance to me. If I’m not listening, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying; if I don’t care about what you’re saying, it doesn’t matter how smart or important the message may be; and, if I can’t find you in the noise and clutter, you’ll never be chosen.

Sadly, in addition, we’re also seeing more and more of a trend where media is sliced and diced and siloed and where each listener is seeking affirmation and not information – we are basically looking and listening only to the people who are telling us what we want to hear – it’s not about discovery; it’s all about dogma. An echo chamber made of mirrors instead of windows on the world. And it’s not likely to get any better any time soon so it’s on each of us to make our way through the morass and figure out how best to function in this frantic and fractured new world.

The good news is that there’s a little encouraging light at the end of the tunnel.  Some savvy and talented people have spent a great deal of time studying what works in this new world and what it takes to get the word out successfully and effectively to your “audience” – whomever that may be. Chris Anderson is one of the good guys.

We hosted Chris, the “Head of TED”, recently at 1871 for a short lecture about his new book TED Talks and for some Q&A with our member companies and other guests. Chris modestly pointed out that - contrary to people’s expectations – he himself wasn’t a great speaker at all which was fairly surprising because he has selected and prepped virtually all of the TED conference speakers for many years and there’s no better forum than a TED talk to get your ideas across. It turned out that that was about the only thing he said which was totally wrong. He was terrific.  

He showed us some short video examples of great (and not so great) TED talks from the past and then shared some specific suggestions about his conclusions as to what goes into crafting a memorable presentation – especially an 18-minute masterpiece – to be delivered in front of one of the toughest and most accomplished audiences in the world.  And he also made it very clear that these ideas weren’t just specific tips about what it takes to be a top talker at TED – they applied to every kind of opportunity you may have to present any ideas worth sharing.

I’m not going to try to cover everything he mentioned (I’d suggest that you get his book for all the details), but here are some of the key concepts that seemed especially important to me.

1.      Tell A Story

The right story sets up the idea you are trying to share. Our whole world revolves around storytelling and metaphors/analogies are some of the best shortcuts.

2.      Start Strong

 If you don’t hook them at the beginning, they’ll be gone in a flash. Their smart phones are lethal weapons in the attention war.

3.      Talk Your Way

Authenticity is everything and if you’re uncomfortable or forcing it or trying to be someone you’re not, the audience will know it instantly. They have great BS detectors.

4.      Explain on the Way to Persuading           

The world won’t take your word for it. Give me a reason or two to go along and show me why it matters to me. Convincing yourself is easy – selling others is much harder.

5.      Put Some Passion into It

Chris called this “unleashing your voice”. Heart helps. No one really cares what you know until they know how much you care. This is why celebrities shilling for the latest shiny object so often suck.

6.    Connection Precedes Communication

           Eye contact is essential –  we learn by looking deeply into each other’s eyes. You’ve          got    to make that human connection.  Connect with your audience – however small or      large –   by focusing on them as specific individuals and addressing your comments to        them directly. 

7.  The Pros Rehearse More than Anyone – So Should You

Making it look easy is very, very hard. Rehearse, rehearse some more and then do it a few more times. If you do it right, you won’t be stale, you’ll be successful. 

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