Use pictures and other visuals to illustrate your points
This spring I listened to Prof. Knut Kaasen of the Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law speak about construction contracts for the oil industry. Since these are the basis for huge offshore and onshore development projects, they need to regulate how to handle necessary changes in a project. Such mechanisms are called variation orders. When Prof. Kaasen spoke about those, a picture of a totem pole from northwestern Native Americans appeared on the screen. A what?? Prof. Kaasen used this picture to illustrate the great importance of variation order mechanisms for this type of contract: They may seem sinister, but they cannot be disregarded in this particular culture and are therefore important. And a lot of experience and thought went into them. Prof. Kaasen used a surprising visual element to make his point about drafting a particular contract type stick with the audience. And it did: the variation orders were the most discussed topic after the presentation.
Which pictures can you use to make your arguments really stick with the audience?
Give brains a break and a change of gears
I had asked a colleague to prepare a short lecture on dispute resolution in Germany for our Swedish colleagues. When he was halfway through his presentation, he paused and announced a session of “court trivia”: A short series of questions with multiple choice answers about e.g. the number of regional courts in Germany and how many cases they handled per year. People immediately and enthusiastically started guessing the right answers and were obviously delighted about this element in the presentation. The exact numbers and right answers did not matter. What mattered a great deal, however, were two things: The aha!-effects (“That many? I would not have thought that!”) and the change of gear this approach created in the listeners´ brains. When he switched back to the second part of his lecture, people were much more attentive than before the trivia break.
You can use trivia, short discussions in pairs in the audience or pictures or videos to change their mental gears from merely listening to watching, guessing, talking or the like. That way you will enjoy much more audience attention for your presentation. How can you give your audience´s brains a break and a new approach to problem solving?
Practice. Your. Presentation. A lot.
By speaking your presentation aloud, preferably before a test audience, you will find out which of your arguments work and which need some editing. You will also find the darlings you need to kill and the points you need to sharpen.
By limiting the time you have to give your presentation, you will automatically focus on your strongest arguments. Note the time when you practice your presentation and compare it with the time you will have to give it: Does it fit? Where should you put the break for the brains? Is your presentation short enough to allow for the occasional straying-off-the-script? Will you have time to take questions?
Have you ever been deeply impressed by a speaker on TED? I have, many times, and it has become clear to me that a lot of preparation and extensive training goes into those presentation jewels.
Stick to the time schedule
If you have practiced your presentation, you will know that it fits within the, say, allotted 45 minutes for your talk. Then, please, stick with those 45 minutes that are your time to shine! Don´t steal time from the next speaker, because that is unfair. And don´t steal break time from your listeners either: They probably have a call scheduled for the 10.15-coffee break. Or they are dying for a cup of coffee, some air and what in Swedish is called a bensträckare or leg-stretcher – all of which will restore to their brains the much-needed energy to keep on listening. Because listening, really listening is actually quite hard work.
I found that the presenter view of my Power Point for Mac is a great tool when I speak – not only does it show my next slide to the right of my current one, it also has a digital clock on my screen which is ticking away with the presentation time. So no one in the audience sees short-sighted me checking my watch 😉
In the next article: 4 more tips for great presentations and inspiration from TED talks (which, by the way, may never exceed 18 minutes…)