Three hacks to instantly transform any presentation

lectureI’m a great fan of the Lifehacks website – a goldmine of productivity and lifestyle tips.  A life hack is a tip or trick that will helps get things done more efficiently and effectively.  Life hacks are often practical, sometimes funny and sometimes plain hair-raising!

Applying this philosophy, I wondered what are some presentation hacks we could use?  As so often working with leaders on their presentations these common barriers come up:

  • Having to deliver dry, boring content
  • Battling nerves
  • Little or no time to prepare

So, here are some of my favourite presentation hacks.

Write out your key messages on a Post-it note.  Possibly only a couple will fit – this forces both clarity and prioritisation.

Struggling to remember your messages?  Rewrite them as sharp, short bumper stickers, which you are more likely to remember.  Bumper stickers give even boring content that much-needed oomph.

Here’s a structure hack I use often.  Think of three messages and three stories that go with your messages.  This structure is easy to remember for you the presenter and very memorable for your audience.

A bonus hack to tackle nerves and lack of time.  It’s the magic of practise.  Neen James, productivity guru, says: ‘Make time in time’.  So practise while you are driving, walking your dog or in the shower.

What are some presentation hacks you use?  Please share – I love hearing from you.

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. 


3 Do or Die secrets for presenters


Your first do or die moment as a presenter is to get your audience’s attention. You have to do this in the first 30 seconds. Every presenter needs a hook at the start of their presentation, in order to grab attention in an attention-deficit world. This is your ‘have them at hello’ moment.

Once you get your audience’s attention, your next challenge is to keep your audience’s attention. This second do or die moment is where most presenters are challenged. One way of keeping your audience’s attention is to think of the key points you are making in terms of headlines, or bumper stickers.

Avoid fluffy or vague statements. For example, instead of saying change is inevitable but difficult and, unless we give it our best, change will not happen (yawn), and imagine the reaction if you had announced that 80% of change efforts are doomed to fail. Then back it up with an explanation and anchor this point with an example, a story or a question.

Keeping your audience’s attention is always a three-step dance. It begins with your bumper sticker statement followed by an explanation, which is then anchored with a case study, a story or humour. The bumper sticker and the anchoring helps the audience remember what you said, and keeps their attention in the room with you. Even if their attention wanders, and it will, both these tools help you reel back attention to the point you are making.

Your last do or die job is to give your audience something to do at the end of it all, a call to action. If your call to action is simply the desire to inform your audience then don’t waste their time, just send them an email!

A call to action could be varied depending on the purpose of your presentation and your audience. You need to be clear on what you want your audience to think, do or feel as a result of your presentation, so you issue a call to action at the end of your presentation. Most presenters fall down at this point and stop short of completing this third step. They leave their audience feeling ambiguous or unsure about what they have to do next.

But inspiring presenters understand the power that every presentation packs in its ending. Speaking after the massive manhunt that led to the capture of the second suspect in the recent Boston Marathon bombings, Barrack Obama ended his address by saying:

“We have the courage, resilience and spirit to overcome these challenges and to go forward as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

So how are you going to get and keep your audience’s attention, and what call to action will you issue at the end of your next presentation?

Would you wear a bikini to work?

We hope not. Not unless it was wear-a-bikini-to-work day and the money raised went to a very worthy cause.

As humans, we have an inbuilt awareness of what is and is not appropriate in certain situations. We can apply this to presentations. There is always a context in which you are presenting. But context is often overlooked.

We’ve made this mistake too. We were once invited to speak at a professional member organisation’s Christmas lunch. We launched into a perfect execution of our organizational storytelling presentation, and were met with stone-cold faces. They were there for the Christmas lunch, the biggest social event of the year. With free wine flowing, the audience was in high spirits all the way through, but sadly not on account of our insights. We did receive a fine bottle of champagne as thanks and it took all our self-control not to drink it on the spot!

So always answer the following questions to prepare you for the context of your presentation:

  1. Why is your audience there?
  2. What does the audience want or need to know from the speakers?
  3. What do you think their attention span is going to be?
  4. Will you be competing against anything or anyone?
  5. Who else is speaking and what are they going to be talking about?

Now we always contact the organisers to find out the context of the presentation and sometimes this means holding off the presentation to another, more appropriate time. It’s in their best interests, as well as yours.

There is a pivotal scene in the film Any Questions for Ben that shows how context can make or break your presentation. When Ben, a twenty-something up-and-coming marketing exec, is invited to his old school to speak at a careers event, his presentation comes straight after Alexis, an international human rights lawyer who works with the United Nations in Yemen. Alexis’ presentation is moving, engaging and she gives the impression, in a very humble, yet self deprecating and humorous way, that she is changing the world. The audience hangs on her every word.

In comparison, Ben’s work seems mundane and even grubby. Immediately after he speaks, the panel moderator asks “Any questions for Ben?” A set of hands goes up, but the first question asked is “I want to ask Alexis …” When the moderator says they’ll be questions for Alexis later and again asks if there are any questions for Ben, all the hands go down and a deathly silence ensues. This moment creates an existential crisis for Ben that makes him question both his work, and his life purpose.

Sure, it’s a movie so they have to exaggerate the consequences of not getting your context, your audience or your presentation right. But it serves as a lesson for all of us, to do our homework and never end up with the presentation equivalent of wearing a bikini to work.

How to make your key messages sexy?

Every time I read my twitter feed I always seem to click on the links Mia Freedman suggests…even if it’s not something I’m really interested in!  Mia has mastered the art of a compelling attention grabbing head line that even a time poor information overloaded twitter user is loathe to go past.  Imagine if we applied that same practice to the key messages in our presentations.  The way we presented our key message made our audience immediately click with us, and what we are trying to say.

Most messages in presentations are pretty stock standard, and come in only one flavour bland.  So how can you sex up your key messages?

When we say sexy we mean packaging your key messages so they are a memorable repeatable sound bite.  This is not about ‘dumbing down’ your messages or using corporate jargon this is about ‘smarting down’ your messages in a way people will connect and remember.  So here are our top tips, and they all involve leaving your clothes on!

Tip 1: ‘Smart down’ your message
Find the right words to say what you have said – but words that are memorable and grab people’s attention.

Look to newspaper headlines for inspiration.  Who can past the New York Post’s most famous headline ‘Headless body in topless bar’.  A less gruesome  and more recent example is from one of workshop participants, Tim.  Tim’s key message was ‘Results from last year’ which were spectacular.  Quite a stock standard message. He made it sexy by calling this first message ‘Why I love you?”. So in his presentation he said ‘I want to start by telling you why I love you’.  KABOOM! We are sure he would have everyone’s attention.  Compare that with the more conventional start of ‘I am here to share last year’s results’.  YAWN boring.

Another participant Michael was also presenting Sales Targets for 2013.  He repackaged it to say ‘Living your dream in 2013’ and  said ‘I’m here to show you how you can live your dream in 2013’, needless to say he had everyone hanging on to his every word.

Tip 2: Spin it:
What if you have a boring message that has already been said?  Your challenge in sexing it up is, to think about a different spin you can put on it?

We are going to use the title of books to help you.

Stephen Covey wrote the first best seller on productivity – how to increase your productivity.  But he didn’t call it that. He called it ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’.  Imagine starting a presentation by saying ‘I’m here to share the 7 habits of highly effective people’.

Just when we thought the productivity thing was done and dusted along came David Allan with his ‘Get Things Done’.  That title is his one and only key message and again another bestseller.  Surely there was no other way to package this key message.  But viola we now have another bestseller with Timothy Ferris’s ‘The 4 hour week’, again the key message is in the title.  Imagine the lure the promise of these titles.  They are sexy!  That’s what we want from you key messages with chutzpah, with flair, that can excite and enthrall your audience.

Tip 3: Short is sexy
And finally your sexy message must be short – 15 seconds to 30 seconds maximum.  Before we discovered the lure of the sexy key message we used to say ‘Storytelling can help you increase your sales by more effectively engaging with your customers’. Now our new, sexy short version.  ‘Facts tell, Story sells’.

Remember that saying ‘it’s not what you say, it s how you say it.  THAT”S CRAP… We live in a content rich world, so the only way you can help your audience find you in a tsumani of information is by focusing on ‘what you say’.  Yes of course how you say it matters but it is what you say that counts.  So for your next presentation remember to sex up your key messages, ‘Smart down’ your message by finding the right words, put a new spin on it and keep it short.  Who knows your next key message might replace that New York Times headline as the most memorable ever?