"Slideuments" and the catch-22 for conference speakers
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Advice for conference presenters

Inner_steveToday in Business Week Online, presentations coach, Carmine Gallo, has an interesting article on Steve Jobs' acclaimed presentation skills called How to Wow 'Em like Steve Jobs.

I've talked about Jobs' presentation style a lot on this site, more than any other prominent business figure. He's the best. (Gallo also highlights many other great communicators, including Jobs,  in an older BussiessWeek article called The Great Communicators.)

I don't suggest you necessarily "be like Steve." Instead I suggest you "be yourself." But -- and it's a big but -- that's easier said than done. In front of a large audience most people have a difficult time being that clear-thinking, interesting, charismatic person they are in small meetings and personal conversations. What Steve Jobs does so well, then, is to appear relaxed, natural, and enthusiastic on stage (without having to jump around). He appears absolutely confident, focused and in control, and yet warm, human, and approachable. Audiences respond well to this kind of speaker. The key is not to "be like Steve," but to be like that interesting, engaging person that you actually are.

Below are the five key points made by Gallo in the BusinessWeek article (in bold). I've added my comments under each of Gallo's points.

"Sell the Benefit"
Do not only give the "what" (statistics, features, etc.) but the "so what." Sell the meaning. Ask yourself: Who cares? Why is this important? What's it all mean?

"Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More"
A lot of practice will allow you to appear more relaxed, confident, as well as conversational and spontaneous (yet organized and focused). Practice helps you nail your story, cut out the fat, and speak more extemporarily on your key points during the presentation. Practice gives you the confidence to go more fully naked.

"Keep It Visual"
Jobs_1Slides and other visuals should help you make your point easier to grasp quickly and retain for the audience. Don't get bogged down in nitty-gritty details on a slide -- we're lucky if our audience remembers two-three key ideas from our talk the next day. There's no point drowning them in superfluous details. Focus on what is most important. Remember, complex graphs, table, etc. usually work better in your takeaway documents.

"Exude Passion, Energy, and Enthusiasm"
If you are asking people to sit for 20 minutes or an hour for your talk, it must be important. Right? And if it's important, you sure as heck must have a passion for the subject. Show that energy, show your enthusiasm. If it were only about giving information, sending a well-written document may be more effective. But it is not only about the transfer of information, it is about selling your ideas. And that selling is done better live. Non-verbal communication is powerful; don't waste the opportunity to make a real connection.

"And One More Thing..."
Here Carmine Gallo is talking about Steve Jobs' tendency to have surprises in his talks, especially at the end. A sort of "save the best for last." Audiences generally love little surprises and they are hoping to learn something new or to be unexpectedly inspired. Never be afraid to delight or to surprise, and always finish big. Conference presentations usually have a Q&A session near the end. Fine. But do not end on that. Take the last few minutes to drive your point home again in a different way such as with a relevant short story, amazing photograph or statistic, etc. Finish big with a "one more thing" not with a "well, that's all folks..."

Present different
You say it's not the same thing. You say it's easy for Jobs because his audiences love him. Yes, he has fans. But most people in your audience, too, want you to succeed. They want you to do well. Why would they want to waste their time watching a failure? Who's got time for that? Sure, they may be skeptical or hard to convince, but your enemy they are not. Also, in Jobs' case, the bar is high and the audience's expectations are higher because Jobs is always competing with his last excellent presentation. Unfortunately, a lot of conference presentations are mediocre at best and the bar of expectations is rather low. But this is good news for you. Be engaging, be clear, concise, and relevant and you just may standout above all others. So next time you speak at a conference, why not put your audience first and make a stab at being "insanely great." It's worth a shot, isn't it?

Thanks to Blackfriars Communication for the Businessweek article link.


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