My Thoughts for January
Happy New Year! I sincerely hope you enjoyed your holidays.
These are trying times for many and I hope this e-letter finds you in good spirits and optimistic about your ability to initiate change through communication. These skills will be needed more than ever in the coming decade. Any persuasive presentation you do is for the sake of change of one kind or another – otherwise, there would be no need for a presentation!
December isn’t the best month of the year to be writing about presentations … and so I didn’t put together an e-letter for last month. However, the first few months of the year are usually the most presentation intensive – as budgets get locked into place (especially in government) and as year-ends and annual general meetings start to appear on the radar screen.
For this month, I’ve put together two articles that target core areas of any presentation (and will figure prominently in my upcoming book):
- The first about the use of animation in presentations. Unnecessary animation is one of the things that audiences dislike most. However, used properly, it can be a powerful tool in furthering understanding.
- The second affects decisions audiences make at the ends of presentations. We generally consider the business environment to be solidly logic-based. But is it really? I’ll explore this in a bit of depth below and will continue to delve deeper into this subject as time goes on. Understanding your audience and how it collectively thinks is mandatory to be successful in today’s financially stressed business world.
What’s coming up? A few things.
- You’re going to notice that I‘m rebranding the site. The banner now uses the line, “Get to the Point … and Get Results.” I’ve been looking for a phrase for some time that gets to the essence of what I’m passionate about: The elegance and efficiency of the message. And that’s because great presentations are “to the point” – devoid of fat, highly focussed, tightly worded, and dramatically presented. In fact, it’s the same with anything we do in communication: the graphics on the screen, a conversation with your partner, an advertising campaign. It really all comes down to how we order things, the words we use and the manner in which we present them (orally and physically). “Less is More.”
- There’s an exceptional interview this month with David Aaron Katz, a Cantor and international singer of Opera and Broadway as well as a nutritional consultant, Herbalist and Reiki practitioner. He lives in New York. David is developing a new line of products to help anyone who uses their voice professionally to care for it properly. During the interview, we explore a variety of ways you can improve that important instrument you have and guard it from stress, jet lag, and bugs and other afflictions that try to destroy it on an ongoing basis.
- I’m here working on a series of webinars I’ll be offering in January … you’ll see more on this on the site shortly. In the meantime, enjoy these short articles … and I’m always open for feedback.
Presentation Animation MUST Be Motivated!
There are people today that animate just about everything in either Powerpoint or Keynote – or whatever software they use for visual support. On stage I rant about how weak text is as support for your talk. It will never be remembered and has little impact … unless it’s used sparingly and in small amounts to reinforce a central message. It can actually be very powerful if synchronized with a spoken word or short phrase. However, there are VERY FEW, if any, reasons to animate it. And yet presenters do it weekly (and weakly!).
Recently, I’ve been distracted by presentations that use a cube effect to rotate the entire screen between thoughts … for no reason at all. It’s hugely distracting. The culprit is Apple’s Keynote, which has all sorts of whiz-bang transitions to trap any animation-nerd. PowerPoint has pretty well caught up … not to worry!
Now, let’s take a moment to think about what this kind of add-on animation does to your presentation. If you had to have a really important conversation, would you choose to do it in the middle of a busy downtown intersection? Not likely. There are simply too many distractions. Distractions break focus. Lack of focus means the message won’t get across properly.
So … don’t needlessly animate text (or anything else) in your presentation – it destroys the underlying message of your presentation – just like too much mayonnaise on sandwich.
All those sliding, zooming words don’t make you look like a space-age wonder – they make you look like a distracting dork. Because anyone can do that. Anyone. Software companies have put so much “stuff” into their software, that we often think it’s for a good reason. Well, it’s to entice us into purchasing or upgrading our software. That’s just about as useful as it gets.
So don’t fall into the trap of using the effects just because they’re there. Audiences dislike over-animated presentations intensely. Yes, INTENSELY.
Here’s the key:
Animation must be motivated.
It must help you make your point. Otherwise, it’s just plain distracting. It will drive people’s focus away from your point.
What do I mean by “motivated?” The word takes me back to my 35 years in television as a writer, director and producer. Effective directing, in most cases, hinges around the ability of the director and actor to agree on the character the actor is playing. In other words, how do certain characters think; what drives them to do the things they do? What’s their motivation?
The joke was that when an actor came and asked me (as a director) what the motivation was, particularly when the character was very thinly defined, as in a commercial for instance, the answer was simple. “What is my motivation?” I would say … “Well, your motivation is getting paid. Just read the lines!” Sometimes I was kidding, sometimes I wasn’t. And “Voila!” What I just did was a distraction. Putting that joke in the middle of this article is distracting, because it doesn’t add anything to my point.
In terms of your presentation and more specifically, animation on the screen, here’s the thinking: If the animation isn’t helping you make your point, it’s simply a distraction.
Some of the best animation is very simple. I include in this list simple dissolves, or “builds.” Synchronizing your spoken words to the one or two words of text that come on the screen is very powerful. Think of two senses being stimulated with the same information at the same time.
Always build to the right or down on the screen. Movement to the right is a forward, positive move (as is a move downward).
If animation serves to show the movement of something, like the pistons in a car engine, that’s powerful. If you build an organization chart tier by tier as you explain it, that can be powerful. Anytime you have several layers of logic to explain, animation can help you get there, by helping break it into small chunks. We can take in small chunks but big barrels of information make our eyes glaze over.
So, think of animation as a tool. If it can help you explain a concept or point, use it. But if it’s just there for fluff, do yourself a favor and stay well clear.
Head and Heart
However, keep this in mind:
- Your audience consists of people just like you. And if you’re like most people, you don’t always make decisions based on logic. You make them based on emotions. You choose to wear clothing you like – that makes you look good in your eyes and the eyes of others. Sure, there’s logic in that, but there’s a higher level of emotion.
- We make decisions on emotional grounds and then try to find logical arguments to justify them. Think about the last car you bought. Then think about a recent supplier you contracted with. When you’re tasked with making a difficult decision, more often than not (when choices are not clear cut), emotion wins the day. Who do you really want to work with? People want to do business with people like them – that’s the bottom line. And that’s an emotional response.
- The best presenters are passionate about what they’re talking about. Think about the last boring business presentation you saw. Hard to keep focussed? Probably. But if the presenter was passionate about the information he or she was presenting, how much more compelling would that presentation be? In truth, it makes all the difference.
Think of the logic of your presentation as the “skeleton.” It keeps everything in order, there’s a logical place for each point, they’re all connected, and work together to sell the whole idea. The “flesh” is the emotion. It makes the logic attractive. It adds personality. It adds “heart.”
There are three elements to keep in mind that will help make your presentations more persuasive, more compelling.
- Benefits. Once you have your logic thought through, take another look at your points and make sure they appeal emotionally to your audience. How will each point make them feel? Is the solution that you’re presenting sure to have an impact on your audience’s work lives? Will it reduce anxiety? Will it save time, make them appear more organized and in-control? If so, say so. Benefits must be emotionally charged to be effective. How will each of your points benefit your audience emotionally?
- The words. I’ve spent the last three years training public seminars for one of the largest public seminar companies in the world, “National Seminars,” headquartered in Kansas City. One of the underlying aspects of all their communication programs is the knowledge of personality styles. It’s critical to understand the basic personality style of your audience. There are four main ones and each of the people in your audience fall into one of the four different types. Each of the four think differently – they make decisions differently – and they respond differently to the words you use. Words are critical. They can affect the logic of an argument, but more importantly, they affect the emotional appeal of your presentation.
- The performance. Everything from our voice to our gestures to how we dress and whether we’re smiling, confident, nervous, or tired – it all affects the way our audience responds to us. One of my favorite books, “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell speaks to the phenomenon of how me make many decisions self-consciously, without even knowing we’re doing it. An important book. If you haven’t read it, you must. You can find it here.
In short, we need to display the right mix of passion, confidence and credibility. Because people make their decisions based upon emotion more often than not. So, while the underlying logic or “head” is critically important, you need to layer on a good dose of emotional appeal, in all aspects relating to the delivery of that logical argument – the “heart” of your presentation.