Every presentation is ultimately about getting action.  We present for a reason.  We want people to do something, so says Tim Pollard, author of The Compelling Communicator.  Like most people, it’s not a skill that comes naturally to me.  Recognizing this weakness I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to improve my presentation skills.

I have read several books on this subject.  Other books I would also recommend are Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo and TED Talks: The Official Guide of Public Speaking by Chris Anderson.

All three books are good reads but I would rank Tim Pollard’s book a step above the other two.  Why?  Because The Compelling Communicator not only tells you how to give a memorable presentation, it also tells you why the steps to good communicating work.  It focuses on the science behind what makes a presentation memorable.

The author also identifies the mistakes most speakers make that insures their presentation will be quickly forgotten.   And if the goal of a presentation is to get the audience to do something, then a quickly forgotten presentation fails miserably at accomplishing its primary purpose.

With that introduction, let’s walk through the highlights of The Compelling Communicator.  Understand this: this book is almost 300 page long.  It’s hard for me to do it justice with 1,000 word blog post.  Consider what follows as my main takeaways from the book.  But if you’re interested in how to give a good presentation I highly recommend you read the book.  Here are some excerpts from the book:

Four Key Takeaways from the Book

  1. You always want your audience to do something, even if it’s only mental assent. Since this action is the purpose of the presentation, make sure you know what it is.
  2. The single biggest key to extraordinary communication is one simple idea: Whenever you communicate, powerfully land a small number of big ideas.
  3. If we are trying to powerfully land a small number of big ideas, then the defining question of any presentation design has to be: What are those ideas and where do they come from?
  4. For any presentation to be declared successful, it must live on after the presentation.  Its big ideas need to stick; they need to be remembered, retold, and acted upon in the days and weeks to come.

Key #1: Make Sure You Know Action You What Want The Audience To Take

Almost all presentations contain a ton of material that the audience doesn’t actually need to know.  Somewhere between 50% to 70% of the material in a typical presentation simply isn’t needed.  In contrast, relevance comes from starting with the action you want your audience to take, and working back from there.

  1. Hence, the first question is: What is the desired outcome of this presentation?
  2. From which naturally flows the second question: Exactly what argument (content, structure, illustration) will get me to that outcome?

presentation

Key #2: Powerfully Land a Small Number of Big Ideas

The human brain doesn’t do very well at storing and retrieving facts and data, especially large quantities of facts and data.  But the brain traffics very well in ideas. Everything we do as presenters needs to be about finding and nailing those big ideas.  When you give an audience the big idea that emerges from your data rather than just the data, it’s exactly what the reductionist brain wants.

Many presentations follow a pattern of long on facts, but short on insight.  Instead of fully landing a small number of big ideas, they weakly land a larger number of trivial ones.

Your audience has a finite capacity to absorb information, and when you overload that limit, they shut down.

The brain processes new information with “working memory.” We can think of working memory as the brain’s first port of call for new information, so it’s what you use to process what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling and so on.  The problem is, working memory is extremely limited.

You must not exceed the brain’s capacity to absorb, and because this is truly a biological limitation, it’s not a rule you can bend simply because you feel like it.  When you overload an audience with information, the audience is not giving up because it’s irritated and doesn’t want to follow, it’s giving up because it can’t follow.

Key #3: Presentation Design is What Matters Most

Presentation design is about asking and answering a series of questions that govern everything that follows, such as:

  • What is the action I want from this presentation?
  • What argument will most likely get me to that outcome?
  • What is the right flow of that argument?
  • What are my big ideas and how am I going to land them in the most compelling way?

Key #4: How to Make a Memorable Presentation

How do you make a memorable presentation?  By using the correct blend of three tools:

  1. Their narrative
  2. Their visuals
  3. And the handout they give to the audience

It is the correct use of and interaction between these three things that creates long-term stickiness, and of particular importance is the handout or leave-behind.

You must create a handout with the specific purpose of providing the critical information the audience needs to remember, so they don’t get distracted taking notes.

It should contain your key ideas and all the pertinent information that supports those ideas.  And to integrate it properly into the presentation, as you present, you need to follow and frequently reference where you are in the handout.

For a typical one-hour presentation, a simple one-page handout will usually suffice.  Word is often perfectly adequate to create the handout but InDesign is exceptional.  It doesn’t need to be flashy; it only needs to contain the important information.

The presenter’s highest standard of success is “retellability.”  You want your story to stick so well that it can be retold.

I thought the book was excellent primer on how to give a good presentation that is memorable.  If you would like a short summary of the book click on this link.

That’s my opinion.  I welcome yours.  What are your thoughts about making a good presentation?