Friday, August 20, 2010

Create Audience-centered Presentations

Styles of public speaking have changed over the years. The Romans and Greeks set out principals that we still practice today. Aristotle said pathos (emotion), logos (logic), and ethos (character)were critical elements we need to consider in our presentations. The orator Cicero and famous speakers like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delanor Roosevelt followed this monologue style. And although speakers in the past were mindful of their listeners,they spoke and the audience listened.

In this century, viewgraphs and slides were introduced. Speakers relied on images and volumes of text projected on screens to tell their story. Then Dennis Austin and Thomas Rudkin of Forethought, Inc, created The Presenter for the Macintosh computer. Microsoft bought their program in 1987, integrated it into their Office software and a new era of "the deck" began. Speakers were known to hide behind their "deck" and use it as a prompt sheet. Audiences were subjected to countless text slides, unsettling transitions of flying images and builds or erroneous simplification of complex subjects. Powerpoint has been accused of dumbing down information and boring audiences. Audiences often became secondary to the show on the screen.

Now speakers integrate video, special effects and the internet into their speeches. Information can be distributed on life-size telepresence or 3-inch cell-phones. Steve Jobs introduced us to slides with few words but lots of high-definition photos. He eliminated all bullet points. Jobs definitely connects with his audience but remember he's a salesman for Apple. His stylish visuals may not be appropriate for scientists and engineers who are conveying exacting complex information that must be implemented by their audiences.

I recently attended a 3-day seminar and almost every presentation used slides with a title statement followed by photos as evidence. No one used a standard template. Success depended upon the skill of the presenter, how they used the visuals, and if they involved the audience.

Your visuals need to be customized to Your objective, Your message, and Your audience. There are many excellent ideas you can adapt from presenters in the past and present. However, be aware the audiences of today have nanosecond attention spans and want you to become their Facebook friend. They expect/demand to put comments on your wall immediately and broadcast it to the world!

I've always coached my clients to involve their audiences in the first 90 seconds before they turn their slides on. Expect interruptions and questions during the presentations but maintain control. Public speaking means most presentations are dialogues, not monologues. It does take more research. You'll be expected to do improvised speaking in response to the audience's participation in your speech. This audience-centered approach has to be considered in your preparation and delivery. More later.