Snow day

Snow Day Stage

Powerful speeches evoke the simplicity of snowy days

by Peter Watts

Simplification creates clarity.

You see the proof on winter mornings: when you awake to snow covered everything, the world looks cleaner.

Details that we seldom notice, can suddenly leap out. Snow blots out the chaos of visual details that surround us every day. It imposes a stark simplicity that allows structural features to stand out.

Presentations benefit from the same treatment. We pack them with content, thinking it a virtue to give the audience everything but the kitchen sink. In the process however, the audience loses sight of our message amongst the clutter.

Simplicity is an absolute virtue.

Take a look at a winter tree with it’s limbs covered in snow. Through the power of contrast, the white snow makes the bark of the tree appear more sharply black. This in turn means that the structure of the tree leaps forward, especially on days like today when not only the snow is white, but the sky behind it as well. The more the clutter is pulled back, the more the structure stands out.

Imagine giving presentations that could stand out with the striking clarity of a winter tree. The problem is though, that clarity can be scary. Clutter is a comfort blanket and we worry that without it we’ll be alone in a big white canvass.

Clarity doesn’t need to mean stark. Ornamentation makes a presentation human, but just make sure your clear winter tree doesn’t morph back into the sentimental clutter of a Christmas Tree, because then you’re right back at square one again.

On those rare and beautiful days of snow, take time to notice how much clearer things can look when stripped to their essentials.

How can you bring that clarity to your next presentation?

K.I.S.S.’ing-off complexity

Keeping it short and simple is never stupid

by Peter Watts

This week finds me in Dubai with a balcony view of Burj Khalifa, the 163 storey spike of glass and light that is the world’s tallest building.

We erroneously associate size with status. Whatever you build, I can build bigger. The Burj might be the world’s tallest building today, but cities suffer acute architectural envy and before long it will be overtaken, becoming the world’s second tallest building.

Why do nations keep on building them bigger? Because advances in architecture mean that they can!

As architects enable more floors on towers, so PowerPoint enables more flaws in presentations:

  • The more slides the better
  • The more information the better
  • The more effects the better

We see other presenters doing flashy things and find ourselves tempted. Your colleague presents 15 slides, you present 20. You add audio, they add video. Presentation inflation sets in. The victim is clarity.

This is nothing new. A Roman orator, having tweaked a speech in order to outdo his rival was heard to admire his new prose with the words “Ah, so much the better. I can barely understand it myself!”

Message clarity is lost when it’s blurred by bling.

In Forbes magazine, the venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, describes his five second solution to this problem:

Review your presentation with a colleague. Let each slide stay up for just five seconds. If your reviewer proves unable to grasp your message in that short time, simplify the slides.

Sometimes we accidentally create the Burj Khalifa when more modest structures would prove more elegant.

Presentation structure: Your main message

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by Peter Watts

The most valuable asset a presenter can have is knowing exactly what their presentation is about.

Thinking about a forthcoming presentation, can you answer, in one short sentence, the following question:

What is the one thing you want everyone to be saying as they leave the room?

  • In a recruitment interview it might be “This person is the best choice for the job
  • In a sales situation it might be “That product is the most reliable
  • Bidding for a budget, it could be “This project delivers return on investment

Encapsulating your presentation down to one succinct message can be surprisingly difficult. The different pieces of information which you want to include can compete with each other for air-time in a noisy log-jam of presentation possibilities! Remember that if you find it difficult to identify that one main theme within your presentation, then your audience will find it impossible!

Simplicity is a priority. The simpler, stronger, and shorter your message, the better. Your goal is to deny the audience the opportunity to do anything other than get your meaning, loudly and clearly.

Imagine your message as the central pole of a huge canvas umbrella, the type you might sit under for an al-fresco meal on a hot day.  You want people to feel comfortable and secure under the umbrella of your presentation, and that pole, your message, is it’s central support.

See the message clearly written down the side of the pole. Every point you make in the presentation must stem directly from it. Just as the individual struts of the umbrella all connect to the pole and support the canvas, anything that isn’t firmly attached, is going to flap around, distracting the audience.

If you need convoluted connections to get points to stay in place, then they don’t belong in the presentation. Leave them out! Keep it simple! Don’t put in extraneous details that will only cause people to become confused.

In a later blog, we’ll discuss how to handle objections in presentations. For now it’s worth noting that many objections are caused by these lose flapping features that make the customer challenge “What’s with that bit, I don’t see where it fits”. Eliminating the extraneous, leads to less objections.

Having a clear and overt main message in your presentation makes things easier for both you and your audience.

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