| August 28, 2015
Somewhere in the second half of Citizen Kane, still considered by many to be the best movie ever made, there’s a cockatoo – a white cockatoo. He appears from out of nowhere on the right, full height of the screen. He screeches loudly and then flies off. In a very long movie overloaded with symbolism, the cockatoo means nothing, absolutely nothing. He was simply a device shoved into place by Orson Welles to wake up the audience in case they’d gotten bored.
Which brings us to presentations…
I happen to love presentations. In my head, they’re like performances. The goal is to entertain, educate, amuse and seduce your audience to the point that they’ll never be bored and they’ll be anxious to see what you do for an encore. Big fun! The danger is that you might bore them to distraction. Not if I can help it!
Not everyone feels the same way, I’m guessing. They either get nervous or anxious or they’re shy or something. Ok. But at some point in any career – and especially in creative careers – there will come a time when you’re gonna have to do it.
I’ve seen loads of top ten lists about presentation online, some interesting, some not very well presented, so I figured, what’s another list of tips among friends? These are things that run through my head every time I’m invited to show-and-tell. I think they help. See if you agree…
1. They want to like you – They really do. They want you to be interesting and the answer to their needs. They don’t want you to fail because that would be another hour of their lives that they’ll never get back– like if you’ve ever gone to see the It’s a Small World experience at Disney, you know what I mean. And liking people is easier. It takes less effort, so yes, they want to like you. Relax a little bit.
2. Listen to the room – Literally listen. If you hear nothing, absolutely nothing, and you haven’t requested a moment of silence to pray for Gwen and Gavin, that’s a problem. Not that you want people talking through your presentation. God forbid. But you want them engaged. You want to hear the occasional “hmmm” or “oh!” or a chuckle or a question. If they’re not engaged, your shtick isn’t working, so throw out the script, flip your slides faster and change it up. Release your inner cockatoo!
3. Know your strengths – If you’re funny use it. If you can think on your feet, use it. If you have a great smile, use it. A low voice, expressive hands, a really good jacket – use it, use it, use it. Whatever makes you memorable, wherever your confidence lies. You know what you’ve got. They’re your gifts. Share them with others, and don’t be stingy. But most importantly, know what you’re talking about, inside and out, so you can riff on it, go off on tangents, add unexpected details, take them on a journey. You’re the show, not what’s on the screen behind you.
4. Not above, not below – talk TO – Empathy. Put yourself in their position. Never condescend and make your audience feel stupid. If you’re so smart and they’re so dumb, why are you hoping they’ll give you work? But don’t go the other way and grovel – ”I’m so honored to be here or anywhere for that matter. I’m not worthy.” – never attractive. Those are the two kinds of people that get kicked off The Bachelor or Bachelorette first. No roses in your future.
5. Find the passion – What do you love about what you do? If you can’t remember, if you can’t muster up some enthusiasm for whatever it is you’re selling, then leave it to someone who can, because you already lost.
6. Have a Plan B… and Plan C… and Plan D… – So maybe you forgot to charge your laptop last night, or maybe you forgot to bring that thingamabob that hooks you into the whatsit so you can use the client’s big screen monitor, or maybe the client’s available time frame shrank drastically and you’re only finding out at the last minute, or maybe you based your whole presentation on blueberries and as you were walking into the conference room, you overheard two of your soon-to-be-audience members say,”I hope it’s not another one of those stupid things about blueberries.” These things happen. It’s not your fault. But if you’re not prepared to change direction on a dime, well, you’re not prepared.
7. Dress appropriately – And that doesn’t always mean a navy blue suit, white shirt and rep stripe tie. Unless you’re selling used cars, insurance or funeral plots, that’s not necessarily your go-to look. I always think it’s a good idea to look like what you’re selling, so if you’re selling intelligence and strategy, dress smart; if you’re selling creativity and visual talent, have a little flair; and, no matter what you do, if you’re expensive, look like you’re worth it.
8. Don’t forget dessert – So, they got comfortable with your amuse bouche, they enjoyed the main course. Now it’s time to leave them with something sweet and delicious. It’s all about the dating metaphor at this point. Maybe it’s a tease of what you could do together, or more talents you haven’t even shared yet; maybe it’s literally a box of candy. Whatever the case, plan it and make it nice, thoughtful and memorable. You want to be asked back, don’t you?
9. Plan your next date – So ask already, “When would you like to get together again? How about lunch next week?” Don’t be too pushy, though. That gets smarmy fast and all of a sudden you’re in the bad end of an Adam Sandler movie. Oh wait, every end of an Adam Sandler movie is the bad end… On the other hand, you know if it went well. You know if a connection has been made, so if that’s the case, don’t lose the momentum. That’s what you’re there for, remember?
10. Say,”Thank you.”– Always. It’s so obvious and yet so many people either don’t do it or do it badly. Just do it, sincerely and succinctly. No desperation. no anxiety. A room full of strangers or maybe only two gave you an hour of their time and they didn’t have to, and these days, if that isn’t reason enough for giving a genuine,”Thank you,” then I don’t know what is.
People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.
– Steve Jobs
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