10 October, 2013

Do you have to be so boring when you speak?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday October 10, 2013
Be careful where you sit in the auditorium because if you fall asleep, the speaker will notice you from the lectern and, well, it would be awfully rude wouldn't it? But staying awake can be so hard when the speakers are so very very boring.

I've attended a lot of company briefing and capital-raising presentations in recent years, sometimes as many as a dozen companies giving their spiel, one after the other at a conference. And forever I am waiting for someone to say something interesting.

Scientists are the worst. Geologists, chemists, engineers, doctors. They seem to have homogenized their work, to reduce all talks into a 30-minute monotone.

The PowerPoint slides all look the same, the tables and charts are baffling, the information merges in your head with the presenter before and the one after. Why are they so boring?

I asked an expert. Tanya Makin of The Presentation Group has taught universities and business leaders for over 20 years and routinely breaks open the clammed-shut presentation styles we see.

"It's high anxiety," she explains. "They feel they need to say everything they know about the topic." They think they are writing an essay or delivering a lecture, and think they will be judged by the quantity of information they deliver.

The speaker needs to understand that information is taken in differently between what you see, what you hear and what you read. "If you put up dot points, they will assume you want them read - and not listen to you," says Makin.

She encourages her students to watch David Attenborough. He doesn't use PowerPoint slides. "I suggest what I've named the Documentary Model. You make your points by telling a business story."

"Most scientific presenters fail," says Gary Lewis of the Geological Society of America, "because they don’t realise that most people don’t want to be blasted with five syllable jargon, acronyms and complex charts and graphs."

His advice is to find the one message that you want your audience to take away. Make that the focus of the talk. Certainly there are other factors in the story you are telling - the documentary - but keep pulling the attention back to the main message.

As Makin puts it, "Remember the story of Lassiter's Reef. What you are imaging is a prize you are looking for."

Before writing your presentation, spend some time watching TED.com. If you don't know it, pay attention because I'm about to repair a gap in your knowledge and intelligence.

TED.com is a forum for ideas. Its web site holds thousands of talks by the smartest men and women on this planet. They are each just 18 minutes long and cover every conceivable subject - geology, astronomy, fashion, art, medicine, music, education - and speakers include Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, Isabel Allende. You get my drift? It's a must-see for the smart.
Then, feeling inspired, turn back to your own notes. Imagine the story you could tell, the excitement you could generate - the feeling you really have inside you. They can read the charts and tables in the take-away notes you provide. Your talk needs to create the thrill.

Practice it in front of your bedroom mirror, pace, wave your hands, tell jokes. Then after dinner, go and do it again. Try it on your spouse. Drag a few from your team into the boardroom or canteen and try them too.

Once you're confident, you'll be starting to communicate. And maybe your talk won't put anyone to sleep.


David Curtis said...

Spot on Ray !
Some years ago I used Shawn Callahan as a test for our middle managers on learning the benefits of telling stories.
I might try again via a specific message set from Ted.com.
David Curtis
Strategic Marketing Manager
Giesecke & Devrient Australasia P/L

Winston Marsh said...

Great article Ray... kill death by PowerPoint!
Have a f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c day... Winno

Prof Tony Klein said...

Great stuff, Ray! Thanks for passing it on Tanya.
Well written, informative and useful...and a great plug for TPG!
All the best,
Professor A.G. Klein AM, FAA
School of Physics
University of Melbourne