A few months ago I was asked for some advice about how I put together presentations as an Innovation Evangelist, and this post is a reworked version of those points.
First, the context: most of the presentations I give are keynote-style presentations on the trends around the intersection of business and technology to diverse audiences (i.e. some mix of business technical people, different industries, lines of business, regions, etc.). I typically don’t give the types of presentations that appear in all the presentation handbooks, where you’re trying to just get one key point across. Instead, I’m usually trying to give people updates on a broad range of topics that they might want to look into more.
(1) I start thinking about content “outside-in” with the audience in mind:
- What data, trends, or examples have I seen that would be of most interest to this particular group of people?
- What information could I give them that would be most useful for them in their projects / jobs?
- What are the big changes that I’m personally interested in / think people should know about?
- What do they already know / what are the themes that have already been covered in the past, or in this conference?
I have a “interesting slides” deck that I constantly update as I see topics that might be of interest to the audiences I talk to. I typically end up with lots more material than I have time for, so then I filter to fit the context of the session or event (e.g. by industry, job titles, or technology topic)
(2) As much as possible I then try to find real-world examples to illustrate the trends and topics I have in mind. Like the interesting slides deck, I also have an informal library of project examples that I think will make for a good story, gathered from customers I’ve met, presentations I’ve seen at other conferences, articles, etc. (this takes a huge amount of time and effort). I find most audiences are less interested in what you can *theoretically* do with technology (which is just about anything these days), and much more interested in hearing about companies who have actually been successful with a project (even if it’s fundamentally less advanced or exciting than a demo could have been). And audiences are particularly interested in any lessons learned or challenges overcome that might help them in their future success.
(3) I try to surround these examples with analogies or data to try to draw out the bigger picture of what they might mean across the industry (ideally something interesting / new / non-obvious) — i.e. “these projects are an example of the trend towards x”
(4) I try to group the trends and examples in order to give the presentation some sort of high-level structure that makes sense. Since it started off as a grab-bag of whatever I think is interesting, this is the hardest part in many ways. I typically end up with 3-5 high-level themes that can be used in different contexts, based on the audience, the format, and how much time I have to present.
(5) I review the flow of the presentation to keep the audience engaged, getting the mix right between examples, explanations, analogies, interaction, etc. I try and keep the content lighthearted and include a little humor.
(6) I then (try to force myself to) rehearse, out loud, in an empty room, until I feel comfortable (except I never really manage to feel comfortable). It’s not about learning word-for-word scripts, but I need to know the key points I want to make on each slide without needing notes (I make this easier by having more slides than most people). I particularly hate the first few times I do this with a new presentation, but I know from experience that it makes a big difference.
(7) Before and after the presentation, I try to talk to people (typically in a line for coffee or for lunch, it’s an easy way to connect) and ask them things like:
- “What was your favorite session? What did you find most interesting or useful?”
- “What topics do you find interesting right now? What subjects are you researching, or would would you like to know more about?”
- “Was there anything in my presentation that you remember or you found interesting?”
I often find things out that help me figure out what to emphasize amount the different topics, or something I’ve forgotten to put in, or get examples I can use in the presentation itself: “for example, I was just chatting to one of the attendees, and she mentioned that…”
(8) And then I iterate the presentation based on the feedback: I delete any parts that didn’t quite work for some reason, or try to rework them to make it more interesting. This means that most of the time I can be confident that at least 50-60% of the content is going to connect with the audience (this is one of the great luxuries of my job — most presenters don’t get to do this).
(9) My fatal presentation flaw is that I always try to put too much into the presentation, which means I end up covering things too shallowly or talking at a pace that isn’t appropriate for any non-native speakers in the audience. So I include a step where I try to force myself to delete content and cover less (except I never really manage to do this — I end up deleting some but adding others! Anybody have any tips?!)
(10) Finally, I try to remember to be passionate about what I’m talking about! It’s usually not too hard, because I’ve picked things that I’m interested in, and want to share, but it’s easy to fall into a rut. And it’s important: if a presenter sounds bored, the audience is sure to be, too!…
Anything important that you think I’ve missed?
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