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6 Techniques to Dramatically Upgrade the Quality of Your Presentation

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Presentations are so much better when your audience isn’t bored — when they’re engaged with what you’re saying, and attentive, and wowed. But what’s the secret formula to giving a great talk? Where do you start? In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand will help you boost your presentations to the next level with six tips that have spelled success for him.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little bit about presentation creation and presentation delivery. Why? Well, because so many of us, as marketers, need to go and make pitches to our teams, to our clients, to our companies, and externally.

My experience has been that an overwhelming majority of marketers have some interest in being able to give great public talks, and so I want to help you do that today. I want to help you feel less uncomfortable. Look, these are techniques that I’ve used to, generally speaking, upgrade and do well with my presentations. I think you’ll find a lot of these apply to you as well.

#1: Eliminate or race through well-known or highly obvious information.

The first one is really important. So this is, basically, when I deliver information here on Whiteboard Friday, one of the things that you might notice is that I try deliberately not to present stuff that is super obvious and already well-known throughout the industry. My goal is really to say, “Hey, what is something that less than 20% of the audience who’s going to be watching Whiteboard Friday is already aware of? Now let me try and present that information.” Because it’s really not interesting if the tips that I gave you today, for example, were things like work on your disfluency so that you don’t stutter and say “um.” Make sure you practice the night before. Make sure that your font is at least 30 point type. You should turn off this video.

It’s not that it’s bad advice. It’s fine advice. It’s even good advice. But you already know it, and so it’s annoying to have to listen to it again and again. This is true in your presentations as well.

So many folks, when they’re asked to give a talk about something in the web marketing space, start with the fundamentals and the basics, the things that everybody already knows or that are so intuitive that they’re just not that helpful.

Let’s say this is a conversion rate optimization presentation. So my little friend over here, Bob the Not-So-Good-Presenter, is giving a talk, and he’s got this slide called “Make Clear Calls-to-Action.” Then he shows an ugly thing where you can’t really see what the call-to-action is and one that’s a very clear call-to-action. Super obvious advice, advice that anyone who has done any degree of optimization around conversion rates knows and learned years ago. This presentation, unless it is to someone who has no experience with web marketing, is probably going to put you to sleep or drive you to get on your phone or go out of the room.

On the other hand — this is something I caught today from Joanna Wiebe on Copy Hackers — “Test text link calls to action versus buttons on your mobile sites in particular.” Oh, really? Text link calls to action? I would think a button would convert better, but it turns out there’s some data out there that suggests that, in some cases, it looks like the text link works better. You better try it. Maybe that’s something to add to your testing repertoire in the future. Aha, that is new information. I did not know that before.

So this obvious information turns people off. It makes you disconnect from the presentation. This new information, new, non-obvious — it’s awesome. It’s heaven. That’s what we’re all looking for when we try and get content. This is not just true, by the way, for presentations. It’s particularly powerful for presentations, but this is true of virtually any content you create that is designed to be educational or informative.

#2: Never show multiple elements of info on a slide before you talk about them.

Second, never show multiple elements of information on a slide before you talk about them. Unfortunately, I can’t do that with Whiteboard Friday. So Whiteboard Friday, all the information’s already up there. You could read ahead. I’m going to count on you not to.

But in a presentation, this gets so, so annoying, and it really distracts from a speaker when they put up a slide like this: “Here are the different public relations channels that you should test,” and they’ve got them listed out. The person, Bob, my bad presenter, is talking about number one. But what are we all doing? We’re all reading number four. We’re all reading ahead. We’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bob, we already know. You put up the slide, so we’ve read ahead. We don’t care what you have to say about one through four. We’re disconnecting.”

Instead, Bob could do one of two things. Either he could show only one and not show two, three and four and then animate in two, three and four. Like, “Here, I’m going to talk about this one. Now we’re done talking about that, and, look, here’s number two. Now, we’re going to start talking about that one.”

Or — and I like this way better because you just get so much more room to be visual and to present something well — you can say, “Hey, we’re going to talk about four public relations channels you should test.” Slide one shows off number one. Maybe I can call it out specifically. I’m going to show you product hunt, and I’m going to show you how submission works. I’m going to show you how the voting systems work and how people try to game it and it doesn’t work, and da da da. That is a great way to go.

Now I go to slide two. That shows the next piece of information. I can’t tell you the percentage of presenters who screw this up and show a list of bullet points, God forbid, or even just this visual system where they put all the information that they’re going to talk about for five minutes on one slide. It just kills it. It kills it. Makes us all read ahead and destroys the drama and the attention.

#3: Customize your examples to be relevant to your audience, geography, or shared passions.

Third one. If you possibly can, when you’re speaking to an audience, try to customize your example specifically to them rather than saying, “Hey, I’m just going to take a broad approach.” I know this is tough. I struggle with this myself because I give presentations over and over again.

But what I’m generally urging you to do is to find intersections of one of three things. Things that are highly relevant to your audience that could be relevant in terms of it’s relevant to their professional work or to the website or the organization they work with.

It could be relevant to their geography. I find that this works tremendously well when I go places and I have examples that are specific to their geography. I was speaking in Raleigh recently, Raleigh, North Carolina, which is near Duke University in Durham, and they have the Duke Lemur Center. I actually went and visited the Lemur Center. I got to see lots of awesome lemurs jumping around. Very cool. So I talked about this in my presentation in Raleigh, which got people like, “Wow, cool.” They were tweeting about it, and it was great.

Or shared passions, things that you know you share in common. We have a collective love of grilling steak, and so I am going to talk about grilling steak because I think that’s an example that could be relevant and speaks to many people — apologies to my vegetarian and vegan friends out there.

These examples can be done in a bunch of ways. You can do them with your search queries that you might show off. You can do them with good versus bad practices that you might be showing off. You can do it just as a pure visual tool. If you have geographic stuff that is relevant to the area you’re in and you need visuals for your presentation, that’s a good way to go. Social accounts that you’re doing, content examples that you’re doing, whatever it is, you can make it relevant to that audience. Make it feel like there’s some resonance. Make it feel like you cared enough to change up or to customize your presentation to speak to them specifically.

Just one caveat on this. Don’t pander. Be very cautious against pandering or against assuming that you understand something. So if I’m going to a foreign country and I know very little about it, I don’t assume. I just say, “Hey, I looked up things to do in Milan or in Venice, and I found this particular art show. So I went there, and here is my experience around it.” Rather than saying, “Oh well, I know you Italians love pasta and so . . .” Don’t assume, don’t pander. Be careful about getting generic or racist.

#4: Create a conflict in your story with a villain, hero, and struggle.

In your presentations, try to create conflict. I know a lot of us have conflict avoidance. But what you want to do is you want to create a storyline, a storyline people can pay attention to, that they care about, that they’re interested in. That means if you can craft your story, or even some part of your presentation, to have a villain, a hero, and a struggle between them. These can be metaphorical heroes and villains. We don’t literally need Darth Vader and Luke. From there, we can follow that classic story arc where we introduce the characters, we talk about the conflict and introduce that. We make the case of why the hero is winning or should win against the villain or what the hero can do or what the hero did do, and then we suggest action or close out with some recommendation around our presentation to help make it actionable.

Villains can be a lot of things. Villains can be a lack of data. It could be poor communication. Villains could be unmotivated people on a team or people who don’t care about your problem. They could be a crap strategy or a literal villain, like a competitor or a market behemoth in your field, all those kinds of things.

Heroes could be tools. They could be your team or you yourself. They could be a new process. A hero could be an organization or hopefully something that people can cheer for, that they want to be like, “Oh man, I want to see the Duke Lemur Center have lots of success because lemurs are adorable and they’re endangered.” Nobody doesn’t cheer for lemurs. Lemur, good hero, bad villain, FYI.

#5: Give actionable takeaways. Avoid broad, generic advice.

Number five is give actionable takeaways. If you can, avoid broad, generic advice. I see presenters do this in virtually every field. They get up on stage and they talk about, “Hey, here is this problem.” Maybe they even do a great job with creating that conflict, and they talk about it. Then they get to their suggestions section, their takeaways and it is, “Better communication is good. You should work on better communication.” What are you telling me? How does that help me? Versus, I saw this great piece a couple of days ago on Twitter. It was a talk that was given, at First Round Capital or OpenView Venture Partners, about radical candor. What was great about it was that the woman who was giving it had drawn a diagram of how when you combine caring personally about the people on your team with challenging them directly, you get this radical candor. It’s both empathetic and very transparent, and that improves communication.

So now you’ve not told me to do this. You’ve told me how to do it, and you’ve shown me the terrible ways not to do it, like don’t not care personally, but do challenge directly. That’s just obnoxious, aggressive behavior. Don’t just care personally, but not challenge directly, that’s ruinous empathy. Great examples all across here.

I like this format. If you can fill in these blanks, I think you’re going to have success here. “You used to do X, but after I share Y, you’ll switch to doing Z and get better results. You’ll use Y to do Z and get better results than what you were getting with X.” If you can answer this sentence, you’re going to be in great shape.

#6: Assume knowledge and ask folks to raise their hand if they don’t understand.

Last one here. I try to always assume knowledge rather than assuming that people don’t know something. One of the things that I found is that, as I’m giving a presentation, if I start to explain the deep technical aspects of something without just assuming that my audience knows it or that they can get by without it, that it gets boring. It gets boring fast, and the presentation moves slowly. It’s just not fun to listen to. It’s annoying.

So what I’ve started doing over the last few years is essentially assuming that knowledge, but then calling it out specifically. So let’s say I’m presenting a slide like this, talking about how pogo-sticking, long clicks versus short clicks and that kind of stuff, could be hurting your site on SEO, and then I’ll say, “Is anyone in the audience not familiar or hasn’t heard of pogo-sticking before? Just raise your hand.” Look around. If there are a few hands that go up, I’ll say, “Oh, okay. Great. Let me give a brief explanation.”

Even when I am speaking to an audience where I’m confident, highly confident that 90% or 70% of the audience has never heard of pogo-sticking, because they’re not deep into SEO or whatever, I still do this. The reason is that that 30% who does know what it is, they are way more understanding, way more empathetic, way more welcoming of a discussion that takes two or three minutes for me about what pogo-sticking is after I’ve called it out like, “Hey, are there people who don’t know?” Then they see fellow audience members, and they’re like, “Oh, good. Well, it’s good that he’s explaining it to everyone, and I appreciate that.” As opposed to like, “Oh, God, he’s going to drone on about this thing that I’ve already heard 10 times and I totally know what it is. Why is he wasting my time?”

It’s about creating that relationship with the audience and between the audience members to draw on that empathy and to keep that presentation flowing.

All right, gang. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed these, and I actually have a list of a bunch more for you in another blog post that I’m going to share at the end of this Whiteboard Friday. So you can check that out. It has some of my presentation acts for getting better scores. And we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Further reading:

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“How My Blog Business Works” Web Strategy Summit Video Presentation

Last week I presented at the Web Strategy Summit in Brisbane. The organisers of the event, Adam and Toby, invited me to come in and do a short presentation of 18 minutes, then a 10 minute question and answer session.

The event featured panel discussions for about 45 minutes and several 18 minute “keynotes”, so they could get through … Read the rest of this entry »

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The 10 Commandments for Giving a Perfect Presentation

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Looking out into a sea of faces while standing on a stage can be one of the most intimidating experiences of your career. It doesn’t matter if it’s a group of 12 people in a board room or an auditorium filled with thousands of people — giving the perfect presentation is no easy feat. It’s also pretty critical to your success in delivering the message you want to deliver.

Last week, 2,800 marketers converged on Boston for INBOUND 2012 (It sold out, so you better get your tickets for next year’s event now!), and world-class speakers gathered to share their expertise on inbound marketing. During the conference and its preparation, some guidelines for giving great presentations emerged, and we wanted to share those lessons with all our awesome blog readers. Follow these 10 commandments, and you’ll be well prepared to wow the audience during your next presentation.

The 10 Commandments for Giving the Perfect Presentation

1) Understand Your Audience’s Sacrifice

Think about it: if you’re speaking to 100 people for an hour, you’re consuming 100 hours of time. This is time your audience could be spending at the office, with their families, catching up with friends, or working on other projects. So before you utter your first word on stage, understand what your audience has given up for you, and make sure you’ve invested an equal amount of time in preparation to make their time worthwhile and well spent.

2) Be Infotaining

Teaching isn’t enough. Yes, your audience wants to learn, but in order to soak up all the knowledge you’re giving them, they need to be interested and paying attention. This is why it’s important to incorporate some humor and a compelling story into your presentation. In other words, you need to inform your audience in an entertaining way: be infotaining. Furthermore, be personable. Tell personal stories, mention your pets, and mention your kids; find a way to make a personal connection with the audience to keep them engaged.

3) Work the Room

Don’t stand in one spot on the stage for the whole presentation. On the other hand, don’t walk around so much that it’s distracting. Instead, before you begin your talk, pick 4-6 people who are spread out randomly throughout the audience. Then do your best to speak to each of these people during your presentation. This will help you naturally walk around the stage and address all portions of the audience, making everyone in the room feel like they’re a part of your presentation.

4) Be More Energetic Than Ever

Speaking to large audiences requires you to be a more energetic version of yourself. Project your voice, sound excited, and make sure your passion for the topic comes through. The more energy you have, the more engaged the audience will be, and if you’re excited, your audience will get excited. But if you’re lame and boring, there’s a good chance your audience will also be bored.

5) Give the Audience Time to React

When you’re on a stage, a second or two of silence can seem like forever. But in reality, it’s exactly what your audience needs. If you make a joke, give them a couple seconds to laugh. If you’re showing an interesting statistic, give it a second to sink in. If you’re trying to get across a complex or particularly important idea or concept, say it, pause, and then say it again. Giving your audience a few seconds to react or absorb the information you’re giving them is one of the simplest things you can do to make your presentation instantly better.

6) Plan Audience Interaction

For smaller audiences, planned interaction is critical. It’s a great way to get the audience engaged and demonstrate that you understand what they want to hear. Prepare questions to ask your audience, and time when you will pose the questions. However, be warned: the bigger the audience, the harder it is to ask them questions and expect a response. Plan ahead for all of your interaction based on the size of your audience.

7) Let the Audience Love You

In EVERY case, the audience desperately wants you to succeed on stage. In fact, they’re actually afraid FOR you. If you’ve ever attended a session during which the speaker totally tanked, you know that it’s intensely uncomfortable to watch someone choke on stage. So the more it looks like you’re confident and having fun up there — no matter what is going on in terms of tech glitches, getting stuck on your words, forgetting something, or whatever else it may be — the happier and more satisfied your audience will be with your presentation. Remember: your audience has no idea what you plan to say, so if you mess up, they probably won’t know you messed up. Be confident, and let them love you.

8) Make Sure Your Presentation Has “Ups and Downs”

Presentation design and training export Nancy Duarte writes a lot about this topic in her book, Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, and it’s a really great read. The basic premise is that, as a presenter, you can’t constantly keep building your audience up and up during your presentation, and the best presentations have a key element: hope. In order to create hope, you need to provide your audience with “ups and downs.” Specifically, you need to flip flop back and forth between the current problem you’re addressing and the new solution you’re offering to solve it.

Example:

The “Down”: Buying emails lists and SPAMing them doesn’t work.

The “Up”: Building an opt-in email list will radically transform your email marketing.

9) Plan for Laughs and Applause

Your presentation is nothing short of a performance. As you’re prepping and practicing for your talk, plan to do one session where you focus solely on when you should anticipate and pause to encourage audience reactions such as applause and laughter.

10) Know Your Surroundings

Whether you’ll be presenting in a small boardroom or ginormous auditorium, you should try to know as much as possible about your surroundings ahead of time. How much space will you have to walk around? Will there be a confidence monitor available for you look at your slides without referring to the screen behind you? Where will your audience be sitting? Will you have a remote control to advance your slides? These are all important questions to answer to make you feel confident and amply prepared before you take the stage for real.

These 10 commandments are useless without practice, and winging it will only get you so far. Just like you notice the design difference between an iPad and other tablets, it’s easy to notice the polish of a presentation that has been practiced and refined. Practice in front of a mirror, or in a small group. Have a clear goal for each of your individual practice sessions. For example, in one practice session, you might work on your transitions between key points, whereas in another, you might work on the timing of your jokes.

Got it? Now take the stage and shine!

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