Taking a Presentation from Boring to Soaring (Part 1)
Most business presentations are boring. There, we said it. But chances are you already knew it.
On a regular basis, audiences are subjected to poorly prepared presentations filled with boring content and mind-numbing PowerPoint visuals. That these presentations exist is puzzling (and unnecessary). That we tolerate them is even more puzzling.
Before we offer a few suggestions on how you can take your presentations from boring to soaring, let’s examine what makes a presentation boring.
Sometimes it’s the presenter – with poor delivery skills. (But that’s a discussion for another time.) Sometimes the content is inherently boring (although even this kind of content can be made more interesting). In other cases, the presenter has merely assembled a litany of facts and data. Often, the information is conceptual, abstract, theoretical. In short, it’s analytical and lacks emotional appeal.
Great presentations go beyond the analytical and include the emotional.
Here are three techniques that can improve the content of your presentations:
Stories are narratives that describe events that unfold over time. Human beings, regardless of culture, are story-telling creatures. When someone starts to tell a story, people stop and listen. For example, if I were presenting and noticed that my audience’s attention was “drifting,” I could quickly get them to re-engage by saying these words: “You know, a couple of days ago I saw. . .” Stories command attention. They also are powerful change agents. Research shows that along with analogies, stories are among the most powerful tools of persuasion. So, if your presentation is designed to change minds or persuade (and it should be), consider including a story or two.
One reason stories often don’t find their way into presentations is that many business professionals (especially men) are uncomfortable with emotional content. Another reason is that telling a story requires an additional step – which is (wrongly) seen as wasting time.
The good news is that more and more organizations are recognizing the power of storytelling. The cover article in the September 2015 issue of IR Update (published by the National Investor Relations Institute) is: “The Art of the Story: Great Storytelling Is Essential to Engage Investors and Win Their Confidence.” And some companies, such as office furniture giant Herman Miller, provide their employees with specialized training in storytelling.
Anecdotes are short accounts of real or fictional incidents or characters. Their length makes them good candidates for presentations because they can be told quickly. Plus, anecdotes give the audience a sense that they are hearing “inside” or not-widely known information. So they feel special.
Let’s say your company just made an important acquisition. The firm you acquired will propel your company to a spot among the top one hundred Fortune 500 corporations. By sharing the following anecdote about how your management was able to pull off this transaction, you’ll create a narrative that may be remembered for many years: “When we realized that this acquisition was going to take place, the board room erupted in cheers and high-fives.”
An example is something that’s typical of its group or something worthy of imitation. If you wanted to encourage your employees to find ways to cut costs during an economic downturn, you’re better off making sure your presentation includes something specific and concrete. Provide an example of a cost-cutting initiative. The more specific, the better: Describe the idea. How was it devised? Who did it? How much money was saved? Here’s an example: “Ruth Ganley, who works in Purchasing, figured out that if every headquarters employee printed just half of their documents on both sides of the paper, we could save more than $100,000 a year in paper costs.”
Examples take longer to share than do generalizations, but they’re more valuable; they help the listener experience the idea you’re trying to convey. They’re also more interesting, easier to understand and more memorable.
If you want to reach someone on an intellectual level, you must first connect with them on an emotional level. Stories, anecdotes and examples help you do that.