Yesterday, I received a phone call from a current online student who works as a data analyst. She called to share her amazing news with me. After taking Professional Communication and Presentation this month and learning how to develop, design, and deliver a presentation inspired by the work of today’s presentation revolution leaders like Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, TED, and the Heath brothers, she was inspired to create a cinematic presentation for her company. Her task was to inform and train others on new software being used. She’d previously shared with the class that her company was firmly in the “death by PowerPoint” abyss Andrew Dlugan describes on Six Minutes. Presentations were tedious, forgettable, pointless, and sterile. But, for this student, being aware of these revolutionary ideas made it impossible for her to create yet another boring presentation.
Instead, she created a well-structured, well-designed presentation, and she delivered that presentation in a way that was natural and engaging. The results were remarkable. One attendee commented that in 20 years with this company, it was the first time he had felt engaged during a presentation. The student has been asked to visit other offices, present the information to the rest of the company’s employees, and even conduct future webinars based on her presentation. Not only was this student’s world changed by a strong presentation, but she has begun the great work of revolutionizing a company’s communication culture. This is not something that happened by accident or because the student was inherently already a strong presenter. A world-changing moment like this takes preparation, practice, contemplation, and a true empathy for a target audience.
If your ideas matter–if your business plans, your research results, or your cause are worth spreading–then design and presentation matter. –Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen Design
Within my own institution, I often hear students and faculty complain about yet another boring presentation, another bullet-riddled death machine, another wasted hour. It’s clear that audiences don’t respond to the standard operating procedure; however, in speaking to those presenting the information, it’s clear that they perceive what makes for a strong presentation to be a matter of opinion or preference. I often hear, “students love my slides,” or “yeah, Chiara, that’s YOUR way of doing it, but we are not you,” or “Bullets work for me; people need this information!”, or “I don’t have time to put into presenting; I’m already good at presenting.” Internally, sometimes I feel frustrated, as if I am a small voice in a giant void called the status quo. But, as an eternal optimist, my response is to try to share with them the irrefutable work of brain scientists like John Medina, the Zen philosophy of contemplation before action created by Garr Reynolds, and the multitude of case studies, examples, and stories that prove that engaging in presenting as a process truly helps propel ideas forward and is the only way to reach an audience.
Where does a strong presentation’s power come from? In part, it is the clear experiential difference an audience feels when they participate in a well-developed presentation. But, more than this, a well-designed presentation harnesses the power each and every one of us has to connect with another person, be inspired by an idea, and find ways to actualize that idea. As Nancy Duarte says, “Presentations create a catalyst for meaningful change by using human contact in a way that no other medium can” (Source). I am not talking about opinion–this perspective is designed to tap into what appeals to people, how people think, and what leads people to internalizing an idea. Creating yet another poorly prepared, cookie cutter, boring presentation squanders that power in each of us to be a catalyst for change.
Your idea becomes alive when it is adopted by another person, then another, and another, until it reaches a tipping point and eventually obtains a groundswell of support. –Nancy Duarte, Resonate
It cannot be denied–proper preparation, thorough content development, design-centered thinking, and deliberate practice are the keys to a strong presentationand a strong presentation can change the world. If you want to change your world, you must present better!