Er…And your point is?

One of the cardinal rules of slide design is: one slide = one topic. Yet even applying that rule, many people still cram their presentation visuals so full of material that the purpose is unclear. So here’s another rule to apply: every slide has to have a point that the audience can absorb in seconds.

Presentation pro and author Nancy Duarte says slides are a glance media, much like billboards. Brain researcher John Medina says multitasking is a myth. People can’t listen to a presenter and read slides at the same time. Other research states that people lose interest in slides very quickly, no matter how well designed they are. The evidence is overwhelming: you need to make your point crystal clear and do it fast. Read More...

How The Three Little Pigs can make you a better speaker

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it...

A surefire way to bore people when you speak is to talk in a monotone voice. You may think you’re speaking with expression, but unless you make a conscious effort, you probably aren’t. The good news is that most people can ramp up their vocal variety with just a bit of practice.

Here are three simple techniques to try:

When speaking in threes "Oops" just doesn't cut it

U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Perry had the right idea during a recent Republican Debate when he tried to make key point in his platform. Unfortunately, for him, he suffered a memory lapse at a critical time. Perry began to name three government agencies he would cut if elected president; but he could only remember two of them. After racking his brain for the third, all he could do was offer a feeble “Oops”.

Whether or not his gaffe derails his political plans, Perry stumbled when he should have soared. If he had delivered his list as intended, he would have tapped into the considerable power of speaking in threes.

Writers, speakers and comedians in the western world have exploited the rule of three for millennia. The Romans even had a term for it: "omne trium perfectum”, which translates to everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete.

When it comes to people, three seems to be the lucky charm. Humans are good at pattern recognition and three points are the minimum needed to create a pattern. Patterns also help us remember things. Most of us can rhyme off three-part lists even if we haven’t heard them in decades. Try it yourself: the butcher, the baker and the _____ ______. Or The Lion, The Witch and The _____. Or veni, vidi, ____. (OK.
Enough Latin.)

Working in threes seems to touch something in human nature. Courtroom lawyers often focus on three points when summing up in front of juries. Experience has taught them that, generally, people can manage to keep three ideas in mind at one time. Likewise, stories often feature characters in groups of three: The Three Musketeers, The Three Little Pigs, even Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Just imagine if Goldilocks had struck pay dirt on the second bowl of porridge. How satisfying would the story be then?

Although Mr. Perry wasn’t up to the challenge, politicians through the ages have made good use of triads (groups of three). According to Shakespeare, Mark Antony began his famous speech by asking: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” While to the north, the Canadian Confederation was established on the principles of “peace, order and good government”.

Comedians make hay out of the rule of three to create humour. For instance, have you ever noticed how often stereotypes gather in threes to walk into a bar? Building a punchline around a three-part list is also highly effective — especially when the first two items in the list are perfectly logical and the third one comes out of left field. For example: How do you get to my place? Go down to the corner, turn left, and get lost. (Groaner courtesy of Wikipedia)

So, next time you write a speech or presentation make a point to tap into the power of the rule of three. Just remember to commit your material to memory. For instance, give the triad an acronym or use another mnemonic to make it easy to bring to mind. Better yet, write it down and keep it in sight.

Time spent rehearsing pays off on the podium

It’s rarely scheduled; usually left to the last minute; and frequently dropped from the agenda entirely. What goes missing in action so frequently is rehearsal. In meeting rooms around the world, speakers routinely stand up to talk with little or no rehearsal. Try as hard as they might to hide it: it shows.

Tolerant audiences sit through the stumbles and mispronounced words. But, while they may be polite, the mistakes distract their attention from the message.

Speakers who do rehearse are more likely to come across as confident and at ease. Take for example, Steve Jobs of Apple, or Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. Both are famous in the business world for delivering outstanding speeches and presentations. And both are equally famous for making considerable effort to practise their talks.

Carving out the time to rehearse a speech or presentation can be a challenge. However, even if you’re really squeezed for time, try to fit in these steps:
  • Practise for performance. Go into the largest meeting room you can find and stand up to read your script. Don’t sit behind your desk or read it while someone drives you to the venue. People breathe less deeply while seated, so a casual reading isn’t good preparation for the real event.

  • Have a pen or highlighter handy and mark your script in the spots where you stumble over a word or phrase. Then, rehearse again. If you still have trouble after a time or two, replace the material with something that’s easier to say.

  • Time yourself. You may discover that your speech or presentation is too long or too short. Now is your last chance to cut or add content.
Want to learn more tips, tools, tactics, techniques and templates you can use to write outstanding speeches and presentations? Join Wendy for a webinar or workshop. Visit The Spoken Word store on this site for more details.

Busting the Mehrabian Myth

Busting the Mehrabian Myth

An Education: In Presentations

What a gift. Over a two-month period, eight highly regarded presentation experts have been booked to lead hour-long webinars as part of a virtual event called the Outstanding Presentations Workshop. And bonus — the webinars are free, courtesy of generous sponsors.

Three of the webinars have already taken place (as of the end of September.) I listened to each one of them and took notes to share with
Podium readers. So, here are some great insights and tips from a trio of top presentation designers.

Rick Altman - Author of Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and the updated version Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Still Suck. Rick is also the conference host for the Presentation Summit which is taking place in San Diego in October.

Rick says:
• One of the reasons presentations suck is because people put too much text on their slides. To cut back, apply the three-word rule. Look at every bullet in your deck and ask yourself: could I shorten it to just three words? The answer won’t always be yes, but chances are you’ll still do some serious pruning.

• People become overwhelmed and quickly lose interest in slides that are busy and complex. To help people absorb what they see, present information in bite sized sequences. For example, when displaying a chart, start by showing the axes, then the bars, and then the lines. You’ll also probably do a better job of narrating such slides when you build them bit by bit.

• If you’re creating slides for someone else, provide extra directions and advice to the speaker in the notes field.

Nancy Duarte - principal of Duarte Design — the company that created the graphics for Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, and author of Slide:ology and the just-published Resonate.

Nancy says:
• Presentations are a new form of literature and people need to develop presentation literacy skills.

• When designing a slide, think in terms of signal to noise ratio. Ask yourself: how challenging will it be for people to get the message? Then get rid of anything that might slow down the viewer’s ability to understand the point.

• One of the reasons PowerPoint is ‘broken’ is because people use slides like documents. In other words they create ‘slideuments’. To avoid that fate, pull off everything that’s a crutch for the presenter and just leave the information the audience has to remember.

Olivia Mitchell - Partner in a presentation skills training company called Effective Speaking based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Olivia says:
• Craft a solid, clear key message that is relevant to the audience, specific (the more specific the more memorable) and expressed in plain spoken language.

• Follow the advice of the Heath brothers who wrote the book
Made to Stick. Tell a story first to create an emotional impact. Then follow up with the statistics.

• Use a metaphor when you’re speaking about a concept that’s new to the audience. To help listeners get the idea, compare the thing that’s unfamiliar to something that is familiar.

Shoot Like a Communicator

How often do you wander around with a camera slung over your shoulder or tucked into a hip pocket? Most likely that’s something you do on vacation. And whether you return home with shots of the kids at Disneyworld, or your tour group standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, chances are most of those photos sit on your computer or disappear into an album to be looked at again someday. Yet, with a bit of thought and planning, your best work could see the light (terrible pun) in your presentations.

Today, importing digital photographs to slides is a snap (another terrible pun, sorry). And there are good reasons to do it. Photographs can set a mood, tell a story, make an abstract concept concrete, elicit an emotional response or spark imagination. Research also indicates that people remember information better and longer when they receive it from images rather than text.

Here’s the simple key to success: be purposeful about capturing images to use on your slides. So, next time you’re looking through a viewfinder, keep these tips in mind.
  • Take background shots - Grab a few shots that are mostly sky with the scene or activity in a narrow band along the bottom. These shots are great for title or bullet slides. To learn more about this technique read Life Imitates Art, posted elsewhere on this blog.
  • Think like a videographer - To tell a story movie makers shoot a wide variety of shots: establishing shots, close ups, cutaways etc. So, do more than take a wide shot of the scene. Focus on the details. For example: while visiting a Buddhist temple in Korea, I snapped a close-up shot of stacks of message tiles left by other visitors. I’ve used it several times to make different points in presentations.
  • Think like a communicator - Don’t just take glamour shots. Think about the three Cs that form the foundation of a presentation: Connect, Convince, Conclude. Then take a few minutes to look around the scene. Do you see anything that could help you communicate those ideas? If so, aim and fire away.

Some of the souvenir photos I’ve used in my presentations

A close-up shot of message tiles stacked up at a Buddhist temple near Sokcho, South Korea.

Tiles near Buddhist temple

This shot provides some comic relief when I talk about choosing the right text size.

Bullet holes in sign

Lots of sky makes this shot perfect for use as a title or bullet slide background.

Dragon sculpture

Wendy Cherwinski

Life Imitates Art. The Result? Some Dandy Slide Backgrounds

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Limit Your Points to What People can Handle

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Coping with Poorly Designed Meeting Spaces

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Let the Rule of Thirds Be Your Guide

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Design Simple Slides

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Anyway You Slice It…

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Expert Advice: How Not to Step in It

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Bringing Oral History to Life

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