The only 3 rules you will ever need for any presentation

keep-calm-follow-the-rulesIn a recent meeting a CEO confessed, ‘Numbers excite me but the last time I presented, I noticed everyone else’s eyes glazing over’.

Sadly quite often I see this in presentations, where the presenter is animated, excited even by their content and yet the audience is almost dying of boredom.  So these 3 rules will ensure your next presentation is a smashing success and your audience is as excited by your presentations as you are.

Rule 1: Connect with your audience

Rule2: See rule 1

Rule 3:There are no more rules.

We all buy into the ‘content is king’ mantra where presentations are concerned.  While this is still true the king has a usurper to the throne and it is connection.  What will make you as a presenter stand out is how you are able to get your audience to connect with your content.

To connect with your audience, you need to make it all about them.  How is what you are presenting relevant to them, to their world?  Humans are hard wired around giving anything that is relevant to them a 100% of our attention. I am not much of a car buff, but we are on the market for a new car and suddenly I have turned into a car aficionado, cars are at the moment deeply relevant to me.

I once saw a presenter presenting on the topic of nanotechnology to a largely non science based audience.  He started by saying ‘How many of you would like  to never iron again?  Everyone raised their hands.  And he said ‘Nanotechnology will help you do that’.  He had us hooked, and made nanotechnology immediately relevant to everyone in the room.

Relevance has to be around saving people time, money or making their work / life easier, making them look good.  It cannot and brace yourself for this harsh truth, be about something like ‘share holder value’, or ‘growing the business’ , or a greater good.  This might motivate & excite the CEO and the leadership team, but does not create any connection with anyone else. In fact it can alienate your audience.  Relevance has to be immediate and come from your audience’s world, not your world.

Content might be king but connecting via relevance is the holy grail of presentations.  As Lily Walters. a motivational speaker said “The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”  And nothing is received more eagerly than relevance. 


Bitter with baggage seeks same AKA How to fulfill your audience’s needs

One of the most popular personal ads (yes this is going back to the olden days when people placed personal ads) in the New York times simply read ‘Bitter with baggage seeks same’.  The ad struck a chord and brought a huge response from people all  across the world, not just those who were reading the ads to find love.  Whoever placed the ad, understood that most people looking in the personals were over duplicity and deceit, that personal ads were notorious for.

What a perfect place to start when crafting your messages to start by considering your audience’s needs and what really motivates them.

The most significant piece of work in this area  is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  What I have found interesting though is Tony Robbins take on Maslow in his TED Talk titled ‘Why we do what we do‘.

Robbins say people need first of all certainty, certainty that they can avoid pain or at least be comfortable.  But you can almost see what is coming next!  Humans are contrary so our second need is for uncertainty, variety indeed surprise.  Our third human need is for significance, to feel special, unique, different.  Our fourth need is connection and love but as Robbins says ‘Most people will settle for connection’.

As communicators we have to ask how does our communication satisfy these needs?    None of us need help with certainty, in fact most of our communication has so much certainty that it is rendered predictable and boring.

Our challenge  is how can we harness the power of the other needs like uncertainty, significance & connection?  Is that even possible in one piece of communication?  This is how one of our clients did it.  Her organisation was notorious for leaders who always said they wanted more development, but when any development day was organised would claim they were too time poor to attend.  She had a look at the communication that went out inviting leaders to training days.  Predictably it was of the most ‘certain’, boring variety.  The subject headings alone would be enough to entice most people to hit the delete key.

This is how she communicated the next invitation to leaders:

Subject heading: A man was …

…struggling in the woods to saw down a tree. An old farmer came by, watched for a while, then quietly said, “What are you doing?”

“Can’t you see?” the man impatiently replied, “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted,” said the farmer. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours, and I’m beat,” replied the man.“This is hard work.”

“That saw looks pretty dull,” said the farmer. “Why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen it? I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

Are you ready to sharpen your saw?  Here are the details of our next session:

And the email went on to provide details of the training as well as the attribution for the story (Dr Stephen Covey ‘7 Habits of highly effective people”).  Our client had a 100% attendance at the next training program.  No leader could say they didn’t have the time to sharpen their saw.  The communication had surprise, significance (your development is important) and created a connection.    How are you going to cater to these needs to create your Bitter with baggage communication success story?



Invite your audience in

Business StorytellingWalking past the building site for the new Royal Children’s Hospital.  Love the way they invite us to do what we always want to do when we pass a building site – peep in .  Notice the two peep holes – one at a child’s level?

They are already making their target audience, parents and children feel included in the new project and welcome.  Lessons for us in business and leadership…

No matter what you do we can all find ways to invite our customers or our audience in.  I was intrigued to learn how the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) does that.  When you visit a gallery you possibly spend some time reading the printed text on the gallery wall that tells you more about the art work.  Conventionally this would be put together by the curator or an expert.

The NGV has trialled projects that look at how this can be done differently for a modern audience.  In addition to the curator’s words, the wall texts initially quoted poets and other writers. When this was well received, the NGV extended a project into Victorian schools, asking children to write labels in response to the paintings.  These labels written by children were fixed to the wall alongside the conventional texts.  Imagine the delight of a child reading a wall label  written by another child, just for them.