Consider the old adage that people are more afraid of speaking in front of a group than they are of dying, which I completely understand. But there are ways to get around this.
Speaking to a group can be paralyzing even when you know most of your fear is worry about things that don’t matter, like whether or not everyone will like you because they value what you’re telling them. This is completely out of your control; all you can do is focus on making and delivering the best presentation you can. This means keeping your audience attention and interest.
I’ve done a lot of speaking in front of groups, and I’m pretty comfortable doing it now. But I think this is because I lean heavily on preparation. I gain confidence knowing I have enough slides to show one about every 15 seconds, I’d rather have left over content than not enough. I know that 3 hours means just over 10,000 seconds or about 700 slides. By limiting each slide to 15 seconds (unless a slide needs more time) I find it naturally constrains how much information can fit, giving my presentations a tempo that maximizes attention without overwhelming people.
While many of my ideas on how to make & give better presentations have come and gone, these have helped me to present with a highly engaging pace:
- Break down the message into segments at most 10 minutes each.
- Slides only support the message, don’t read off them.
- Each slide is only a spoon-full of a meal; one bite at a time.
- Present multiple perspectives in a variety of ways (images, video, motion graphics, interactive charts, live demos, examples, group discussion).
- Slow down.
These have served me well. But I’m always looking for new ways to improve, and recently came across this analysis of the cinematography of “The Incredibles”. I think there’s a lot there that can be applied to constructing better presentations, if you swap out “characters” with the information and ideas in your presentation. Some things I noted:
- Use “Establishing Shots” to begin a presentation and the sections within.
- Rack Focus. Something here… I will try to ask myself more how two ideas could be linked this way on a slide.
- Rule of Thirds. Provides a grid to organically align and limit the number of important objects on a slide.
- Over the Shoulder. Not sure about this one either but can’t help but think there’s something here that could be great in a presentation.
Compare the pacing of the movies James Bond: Dr No and the recent Man of Steel. Both wildly popular, but it’s pretty astonishing how much the pace of movies has accelerated. I wonder if this is just required to keep our attention in our ever-noisier media world?
There’s a lot blockbuster movies can tell us about how to make and deliver better presentations. Whether it’s one-to-one or one-to-thousands, I’ve found it important to pick up the pace to keep attention and make the information I’m sharing stick.