presentation addiction

I was encouraged by a friend to write about presentation. She was concerned about how to deliver a good presentation while keeping an equilibrium between logic and emotions, and mostly how to avoid getting cheesy? The logic/emotion part is the easiest… The cheesy part is the hardest!

I will start with a personal experience that led me a radical decision. The first time ever I had to deliver a presentation was back in 1987. There were around twelve CEOs and big shots in a hotel conference room. I had to present a marketing plan for the coming year to all these people who represent the region’s dealers for the International company I used to work for.

I was not scared. I was terrified! It took me one minute to reach the stage. (I was sitting right in front of it!) The sheer idea of standing there and speaking to that crowd felt like going to the dentist (you have to understand my relationship with dentists to grasp the breadth of the statement…)

I started my presentation. I was just regurgitating what I spent the past day memorizing. Half way through, I hear a voice… “Ibrahim, it’s enough, we’re falling asleep, let’s stop. Thank you…” This woke me up from my trance. I look at the crowd, I see yawns, hands holding sleepy faces and my boss waving with his hand asking me to stop and step off the stage. I did.

I will not get into the post-shock psychological analysis of the trauma involved with such a humiliation. It was my first year with that company and I had to prove myself. I prove myself to be a moron.

From denial to acceptance… Then came the reflection time. I had two clear choices: Get traumatized, crawl back in my cocoon and never present again; or do something about it. In order to go for option two, I had to understand what it takes to captivate an audience. Here’s what I learned throughout that path.

The audience is usual quite skeptical about your skills and knowledge. They’re here to test you, to challenge you, especially if that audience is a client. The flip-side of the coin is that this puts them in an emotional subjective state. If you manage to use that state to your advantage, you’re a winner. If you challenge it, or simply do not live up to it, you’re dead. You’re not there to impress. You’re there to succeed. Keep that goal in front of you all the time. Forecast the reactions and questions and be ready with the answers. The faster and the better you answer, the more you project expertise and self-confidence.

You are the best visual aid. It does not matter what kind of “visual aids” you use. I hate that term. It makes me feel like I am so not good enough that I need an “aid” to get me through. Some might argue that visual and other aids are meant for the audience, and not because you’re weak. Crap! Your audience is not as stupid as you think. If they come to listen to you, it’s because they yearn to learn something new. That does not make them idiots. So, respect your audience, and raise yourself to their level of expectation. Visual aids should be used in a very clever way. Never throw in cheesy graphics and weird arrows and bull’s-eyes, etc.  just to make it look better. Besides, if you’re captivating enough, why do you need help? You want to be a great presenter? Watch standup comedians. One person alone on a stage facing thousands and making them laugh to tears. No visual aids!

Have fun. Captivating your audience is exactly like being the center of attraction in a party or among your best friends. When you know your material, and you’re witty, and you throw in smart jokes, people bond with you emotionally. They are more inclined to listen to you through not only your slide show, but also through your body language, your tone of voice, your pauses, your gestures. Smile, laugh, chill out. Getting close to your audience generates a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for interaction. The stiffer you get, the colder and more serious the mood.

Know your material. Obviously, the less you know, the less you turn your back to the audience and look at your slides too. If the slides tell all the story, why would they need you??! Never “ever” give away the whole story in your slide show. Tease your audience, make them suffer, crave, hell! Lust for info, and be The One to give it away, not your slide show. sideshows are for boring people. When you know your material, you present it in your own way, which personalizes the whole experience and lets your audience feel how passionate you are towards what you do. How do you expect a client to be passionate about your company if you’re not?

You wear your slide show too. If you must have a slide show, make it short and perfectly well designed. Few words, bullet points, graphics, classy (you heard me? Classy!). Designing your slides is exactly like choosing what to wear at your presentation. It is a reflection of your personality, knowledge and sophistication. Never use existing templates. It’s like borrowing your colleague’s tie. Personalize. Inject your company’s brand to the whole. Let your audience feel how sophisticated you and your company are through the slide show.

It’s rational to get emotional. Even accountants can be creative. There is no dull presentation topics; there are dull presenters. Trust me, I know… Been there! Presentations are about delivering a message, a very clear one. It’s about pushing that message to the far end of your audience’s brain… and heart.

Here’s a metaphor: We remember advertising jingles much more than simple spoken slogans. We remember funny ads far more than serious ones. We remember situations with a twist more than boring daily routines.

Take all of that and put it in your presentation (ok, don’t sing…). Funny presentations and presenters with a twist mesmerize audiences.

Comes the most important part, emotions. I have been asked about that many times and whether it is “ethical” to temper with people’s emotions. We do not temper with emotions, we just communicate with them. When you say I love you to someone, are you tempering with their emotions? When, to boost their morale, you tell an overweight close friend that he or she do look fine, are you tempering with their emotions?

Modern business models strongly believe in the power of emotional bonds between brands and people and between people and people. The cold era of spreadsheets and pie charts is over. Long live infographics! Your audience, be it at a lecture, classroom or client, is far more sophisticated that you think. To believe what you say, to trust you and look at you as an authority, they first need to love you. Yeah, I know, it sounds weird, but hey! That’s what I do for living! And it works miracles.

Again, you are not cheating your audience, you are communicating with their emotions. You do that by first understanding their need, then address it simply, smartly, and straight to the point. For the skeptic: Yes, needs are emotions, even in business. The more you address those needs with an emotional approach, the better it works. Having said that, don’t burst into tears!

Your audience needs to see in you a shrewd and seasoned problem solver with  immaculate rational-thinking, but one who can emotionally connect with their concerns. In fact, here’s an insight: The more you connect, the deeper you can see and guess. Clients love when you guess their worry before they express it.

I did decide to take route number two. I fought my fear, worked on my style and sharpened my skills. Since 1987, I’ve delivered so many lectures, seminars and presentations, I’m not counting anymore. I won many accounts because of presentation. According to them, they love how I manage to speak their minds and reach their hearts!

If you love what you do, they will love what you do. Again, passion is at the heart of success. And passion is undeniably a powerful emotion.

The weirdest? It becomes addictive. The better you get at it, the more you want, the more you do… The better you get at it.

Thank you DB 🙂

7 Responses to “presentation addiction”

  1. August 25, 2010 at 16:41

    I remember talks like these in class just before our BA and Master’s presentations…
    Two days ago I sold an idea for my boss with just that…emotions built things up, anticipation (I remember your first course…the “bring with you something you love so much or hate so much” EPIC anticipation game!)

    Thanks for all the advice, GOLD!
    Cheers! 🙂

  2. 4 meinlebanon
    August 26, 2010 at 12:28

    “Your audience needs to see in you a shrewd and seasoned problem solver with immaculate rational-thinking, but one who can emotionally connect with their concerns.”

    What a fantastic post! Both informative and, (I have to say it)..emotional..but without being cheesy! Thank you for writing about this..your passion for public speaking is obvious! Again, public speaking and presenting is one of the things people fear most. Even the most confident person can come off as timid and shy when asked to present in front of a group of colleagues, much less a group of CEO’s!

    All of this to say, I hope that one day I too will be “addicted” to public speaking..but for now? I will settle with only doing it when I have to..It takes a lifetime of work and practice to get as good as you are…well probably not a life time..but long enough!! lol…

    Hmm, my ideas for posts are damn good..I should come with more!

    • August 26, 2010 at 12:34

      People, meet my muse! 🙂
      Thanks for the comment! Will surely be awaiting more inspirations! Writing about it is something, finding the idea is definitely something else! 🙂
      People should realize that presentation skills are innate in all of us, but we either do not being them out or simply decide to live in denial! There is no magic in presenting, but trust, there’s a lot of magic in the results!

  3. 6 BeirutiAdventures
    August 31, 2010 at 07:43

    What an awesome post! It’s so interesting! I learned so much from this post, you dont even know!
    Great job!

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