go do: PRESENTING (Part II)

In Part I of this post, I covered some of the practical issues in preparing for a presentation. Now that you know when and where you’re speaking AND what you’re speaking about, it’s time to begin collecting your thoughts, words, and images.

Consider theme. Most of the talks I give are meant to be inspirational, as opposed to informational so I tend to start by thinking thematically. Recently, I was asked to speak to high school students about the importance of arts in education. I knew I wanted to include a personal story, given that I have received the benefits of arts programs; and I knew I wanted to include a few statistical examples that reinforced the overall point of arts education. After some thought, I landed on a theme of creativity since that is common to all arts classes. My story and my data both spoke to the importance of arts education to those who pursue and (perhaps more importantly) do not pursue the arts; and how it improves their overall education (and aptitude in non-arts subjects). Having an overarching theme allows you to connect seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive presentation. You don’t have to put your theme in the title; in fact, no one even has to know you have one. It’s simply a tool to help guide you in assessing whether or not all of your points fit under one “big idea”.

Along with theme, consider your point of view. Audiences respond to speakers who know their subject and, perhaps more importantly, are passionate about their subject. Infuse your presentation with words and thoughts that originate in your core. If your words are rooted in conviction and reinforce your points, you will deliver them in a more genuine, honest way. Otherwise, your audience may sense you’re being disingenuous which will cause them to disengage.

Create structure. People are story-based. We crave a beginning, middle, and end. You can insure that you deliver on this by carefully considering your presentation in the context of your theme. Typically this involves presenting a point, providing illustrative information that reinforces the point, then referencing it back to your larger theme before moving onto your next point.

There are several ways to create your structure. Analytical, logical types may want to start with an outline in a word program. Others might choose to create mind maps. I actually prefer to work in Keynote. Many presenters believe this is a bad idea, because it can place too much emphasis on “snazzy visuals” instead of content (and it can, so beware). My work, however, inherently relies on relaying concepts in a visual way so I find “thinking” in Keynote to be very helpful. I usually start with a theme/title page, then create pages for each of my points and fill in some preliminary information. This forces me to stick to my point when I’m putting info on the page. I can instantly see whether or not it fits on that page or should move to another. It’s essentially an outline built in Keynote, but it works for me. Your approach can also depend on the style of presentation. Experiment with a few different approaches and use what works best for your style.

Create connection. People also crave connection. Anyone can stand up and read stats from a slide. Make your presentation personal by sharing a story that illustrates your point (bonus points if its humorous and allows people to see themselves in a similar situation). Take a look at this video on TED. In it, Sir Ken Robinson establishes his points, but then goes further by telling several compelling stories that illustrate his ideas; some are about other people, some are about him or his family. What stories do is open a window between the audience and speaker, allowing the audience to see themselves  (or someone they know) in these stories; creating a connection. This brings the audience closer to the storyteller and makes it easier for them to digest the ideas the speaker is presenting.

Collect your visuals. Eventually, you’ll need to start gathering all of your images. I’m primarily motivated and moved by visuals; so I allow a lot of time to browse for images and video that support my subject.

You’ll create a folder for your talk. In it, create a subfolder for notes, another for images, and another for video. Then search through your own files and the internet, remembering that this exercise is all about volume. It’s okay to harvest a LOT of images. You’ll edit later (more on that in part II).

Go for striking, uncluttered, high-contrast images because those tend to read best from far away AND can be seen clearly even when the projector is dim or low-quality. Steer clear of the banal and the literal. You want the visual to support your idea, not bludgeon the audience with its obviousness.  To that end, don’t be afraid to be abstract or whimsical.

Collect high-resolution images (aim for 1920×1080 minimum). Crop out any extraneous or distracting details. Rename the file to something that is easy for you to remember or locate quickly; and place all of the files in your respective folders.

One last point on visuals. Someone went to the effort to create the visuals that you find so wonderful. Be an awesome human and give them credit. The easiest way to remember the creator is to put the credit info in the file name; but the best way is to right-click on the image and fill out the meta-data (using Properties on PC or Get Info on Mac). Both platforms provide editable fields, allowing you to enter the creators name and other info, along with tags to make it searchable.

So now you have your thoughts together, an outline made, and a collection of images and video. What’s next? Part III will cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Part IV will cover presentation day.


go do: PRESENTING (Part I)


I’ve been giving a lot of presentations recently. Some of these are pitches at work; others are talks at various conferences for a variety of audiences. After nearly a decade of talking to groups of people, I thought I’d revisit some of my favorite sources of inspiration to prepare for a recent round of presentations.

First stop was TED. TED is known for Ted Talks, of course. These inspiring, instructive, illuminating presentations set the bar for public speaking long ago and continue to be a major source of inspiration. What I take from these is the appearance of ease with which these presenters conduct themselves. Watching these talks is the antidote to so many of the presentations we’ve all seen: presenters getting lost in their notes, not making eye contact with their audience, and mumbling their way through a plodding slideshow of poorly-prepared content.

I also re-read “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte. She does a wonderful job of talking through each step of presenting; and her advice on “story” is peerless.

But, while crafting my two latest talks, I was asked by a colleague what MY process was. I’ve given that some thought and have decided to cover the answers to that question in a multi-part post; the first of which covers the initial stages.

Chances are, if you’ve been asked to talk, it means you have demonstrated a high level of understanding or mastery of a certain subject, a willingness to share your knowledge, and (hopefully) an engaging way of speaking. Now, you just need to prepare:

Gather logistical information. It’s tempting to want to jump right in and start preparing content. However, I like to get answers to some practical questions first. Getting those out of the way up front leaves my brain free to think more clearly about the talk. Avoiding these questions until the end can create unnecessary stress, right when you need your resources to prepare and rehearse. Answering these questions also gives you a sense of how prepared the client is (and a heads up to get cracking if they can’t answer your questions). Some points to consider:

What day and time is the talk? Where are you speaking? How long are you expected to speak? How many guests are anticipated? Are you speaking before or after others? Will Q&A be expected afterwards? Is this part of a panel?  Who is your contact on the day? Where do you park (and is there validation involved)?  Do they have the proper technology to support the needs of the presentation? Is there a podium? Does it have an attached microphone? Or will you be expected to use a lavalier or hand-held mic? How early should you be there to make sure the technology works correctly? Is this a paid speaking engagement? Can you do your own marketing on social media for the event?

Gather content information. The answers to these questions should assist you in tailoring your content to the specific audience you’ve been asked to address.

Who is the audience? What do they want to know? What is their age-range? Is the audience required to attend or is their presence voluntary? Is there a theme or main idea to which you’re meant to speak? Most importantly, WHY are you speaking? Are you meant to share your story? Present research? Sell an idea? Impart new information? Inspire?

Research your subject. While many people are asked to speak because of their expertise with a particular subject, it’s often necessary to bolster your points with objective or updated research (new polls, recent statistics or developments, etc). I talk a lot about entertainment technology so staying current is important. By not relying on what you think you know, you open yourself up to new learning which will grace your presentation with fresh, relevant information.

In addition to the usual resources (books, published papers, etc), I find talking with knowledgeable colleagues to be valuable. I ask them about the subject and get their perspective on it. Often, their thoughts inform or clarify my own thinking.

In Part II, I’ll discuss preparing your words and visuals, and in Part III, we’ll cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Finally, in part IV, I’ll cover presentation day.