Here’s the latest in the series on the craft skills of the digital strategist, and it’s probably one of the few that just doesn’t come that naturally to many of us. Partly because it doesn’t go with all the other ones, which involve a lot of researching and analysing and digging around, and partly because, well, it’s just hard.
Like I say, I found presenting very hard for years because I am a bit shy (although this probably comes across as being snobby or standoffish) but practicing has made things a lot easier. I no longer think my heart is going to burst out of my body or that I am going to lose the power of speech, but I still take a bit of time to warm up and I am still guilty of using my Powerpoint slides as a bit of a crutch. I’d love to turn up at a pitch without any slides, to be so confident in what I was saying that people would just listen to what I was saying, but I am definitely not there yet.
So here’s a couple of things I have learnt along the way.
1. Write your story before you start
Back when I was an intern at Lowe, we were taught about the Logic Train.
What’s a logic train?
I just googled Logic Train and I couldn’t find anyone from the industry talking about it. I guess it’s a trade secret. Oh well. I’m going to talk about it now but perhaps I won’t tell you exactly how to do it.
The closest I came to it was something about computer programming procedures. Which essentially, is what the Logic Train is. It’s the logic of your whole argument. The backbone of your pitch.
To be ready to write your logic train, you need to have done most of the work. You need to know the beginning, middle and end of your story. You need to know that before you write your presentation.
That sounds really obvious but a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to write their presentation in powerpoint before they have done all their thinking, and thinking in powerpoint is very time consuming and confusing. It’s better if you have your story written down on a piece of paper, in like, 8 or 10 bulletpoints before you start making slides.
Then you can probably write your presentation using about ten slides instead of a hundred.
It also means that if you lose your laptop on the way to the meeting, you know what you’re going to say anyway. And it means that you can circulate the logic train to everyone in your team if you’re collaborating on a presentation and they all get what the story is about too.
2. A picture paints a thousand words
So you’ve got your ten slides and you’re ready to put things on them to provide extra depth to what you’re going to say. If you use lots of bullet points, people read those instead of listening to you. So think of nice visual ways to tell your story instead. Diagrams and nice photos and things.
3. To sell, you need to be ready to buy
Strategists’ presentations are generally where you are convincing your client that you know that what you’re selling is going to work because research says it’s what the people want, and it’s going to work for their business too. If you don’t think you have a convincing argument and don’t really believe what you’re trying to persuade your audience to believe, they’re not going to buy it. So put yourself in their shoes (both the target audience and the client’s) and ask, if I’m the buyer, would I buy this?
4. Stand up
Most presentations I go to people sit down and it’s all meant to be relaxed and formal but I think that things get missed.
If you go to presentation skills courses they always tell you to stand up to present.
I’ve tried standing and sitting and I always feel stupid standing up at the beginning but it’s actually better, especially if the other presenters want to sit down. But if you stand, the energy in the room is better, it feels like you have got people’s attention better than if you sit down.
5. Watch lots of great presentations and think about what you like about what they do
We’re so lucky to have video streaming these days and there are a gazillion presentations on YouTube, great TED talks and industry things. The best presenters don’t rely on powerpoints at all, or they use them to make particular points, or as a bit of entertainment. Here are some great storytellers who also happen to be presenting too.
Rory Sutherland… I didn’t know what heuristics were and I thought it sounded boring till I saw an hour long video where he talked about behavioural economics. I can’t find that video, but here’s a similar TED talk. He’s a fantastic presenter, a natural storyteller. Very good at making complicated things seem simple – and that’s what good strategists do.
Russell Davies… The self-styled ‘maverick’ planner gives a great presentation. He uses jokes and interesting tangents balanced with a bit of (but crucially not too much) self-deprecation, as well as jokes about powerpoint in his slides, but doesn’t let his point get lost. I saw him recently at the APG Big Thinking Conference and he was very entertaining around a simple presentation about the government website’s design principles. Here’s a typical example of one of his presentations.
And finally, back to my first point, Susan Cain… On the power of introverts, Susan Cain shows you can use the right timing to tell jokes and props to ensure that your story works. And she’s great at pausing – when she pauses you can tell people are waiting to hear what she is going to say next. That’s learned confidence – most people when they are nervous talk quickly just to get it over and done with. But if you’ve done the hard work, and prepared a good story, you need to take your time in order to share it effectively. And there’s not a powerpoint slide to be seen in her talk.
My final piece in this series will be published tomorrow, and it’s about assimilation. Is this the most underrated skill of all?