Most people build presentations backwards. Can we stop?

We have a problem with presentations in business. A focus problem, A length problem. A message problem. An energy problem. Even a relevance problem.

We all know this and so does Huffington Post and Harvard Business Review. The question is, How do we fix it?

Let's start at fundamentals: We have a problem because we're going at design backwards. How did we get here and how did I decide a very radical change was needed?

Hundreds of clients, hundreds of struggles

I say we have a problem because I'm often hired to solve it. And we can always make it better. But then, mysteriously (homeostatic-ally), it tends to revert back to the dull, confusing, and un-persuasive place it started from.

Why? It's pulled, I'm convinced, by the weight of the slides. It is the information that, like gravity, strives constantly to remove novelty and make presentations mediocre and predictable. Like the way actual gravity makes all planets round. Excess information makes all presentations "round" and kills meaning.

"What?" I hear you say. Not me! My stuff sings and getting better all the time." Lucky you are but you are not the norm. But are you really doing the best you could do? Are your prezos - and those on your team - truly optimal? If so, please share video in the comments and I'll go away.

We build backwards because we start with content, information and slides. Sure those are things we want but actually content is less important than meaning. So when we start wrong (and then devote 90% of our prep time to INFORMATION on the slides) we have virtually no time left to do what's important and valuable about the whole exercise of doing a presentation: To help make a decision!

We do it backwards because it feels right, it's how things worked in school and it's comfortable and safe. Yes, guaranteed mediocrity is "safe" but only if excellence is not one of your goals. If you would like to excel, here's a better way.

We need to realize that the point of presentations is to drive behavior, decisions, policies, etc. and, EMOTION DRIVES BEHAVIOR (just google some neuroscience please, no time to prove that here). Emotion comes from meaningful experiences and meaningful messages. In other words from the "story" of your presentation.

But more importantly from the story of YOU and your delivery.

Because presentations fail for two reasons: 1) information overload leading to fatigue, ambiguity and confusion, and 2) No presence, no gumption, no energy from the presenter. The presenter needs to have an opinion and promote it. if not then the presentation is a ghost, an orphan, a refuge, belonging nowhere.

How do we fix this? Hang on, this sounds odd, but it's actually easy and powerful.

Start with: What sort of character needs to deliver this message?

A hero, a scientist, a maverick, an adventurer? Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Indiana Jones, A news caster? Movie star, historical character, superhero, who ever you choose becomes your model of what needs to be said. Steve Jobs (on a good day), MLK, JFK, endless choices. Pick a character who is powerful.

Yes, turn your process upside down and inside out. Decide how the listeners will feel at the end and work from there. Be the character and when you develop the information, practice delivering it like a your model would do it. If you've got remarks that don't fit the character. drop those remarks or convey them in a different format.

Crazy? No. Risky? Yes. Get a coach, at least an informal adviser. But try it. it's a good first step. This method works but you probably won't pull it off without help. If it's too hard then be the character for the first and last 30 seconds. BUT BE BIG.

Stay tuned if you're interested in more on this and related topics aimed at re-inventing leadership thinking and development. The stakes are very high in this era of chaos.We need our best players in winning form but current practices don't provide that. So try something new.

For those local to Silicon Valley, there will be live events to explore and tryout the character-driven ideas in this humble post. 

Roy Terry

Roy Terry is the founder and principal consultant for Words & Presence, a leadership training and coaching practice in Silicon Valley, California.

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