29 June 2014

Who Says You Need to Use Slides?

What’s the first thing most people do when they are asked to make a presentation? Most likely, they open up PowerPoint and start creating slides, without even thinking about how best they can visually represent their ideas. As I have written before, this approach usually leads to poor presentations. The best way to design beautiful and meaningful slides is to get away from your computer and plan analogically, that is, with pen and paper. This approach will help you think creatively about your message. 
Story first
Before even focusing on the slides, you should follow another step. You should work on the message you want to communicate. Slides are secondary. Only after you have created a story that works can you start thinking about the slides. Slides are only necessary if they help you communicate your message better. If you think your audience would better understand you points if they are backed by some visuals, then go for it. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a great talk with no slides at all. Who says you have to use slides? This is especially true when it comes to short talks. Scott Berkun—author of Confessions of a Public Speaker—tends to present without slides when he speaks for 20 minutes or less. 

The shorter the talk, the simpler your presentation should be.          — Scott Berkun

The simplest form of communication is when you remove all of the possible barriers between you and your audience. When designed with the audience in mind, slides have the power to amplify your message. But when they are not, they become an insuperable barrier. It might sound scary to present “naked", especially to those who are used to look at their slides not to forget what comes next. However, slides are not meant to be the presenter’s notes—they are for the audience.
In two of my favourite TED talks the speakers made great presentations without the help of any visual displays. Sir Ken Robinson’s How Schools Kill Creativity and Bryan Stevenson’s We Need to Talk About an Injustice are great examples of the power of a great story. They proved you can make a super presentation with no slides at all. Would their talks have been better if they were given with the support of some visuals? Would the audience have enjoyed them more? Having no slides forced Robinson and Stevenson to develop their ideas into a clear structure. 
Go “naked”
If you have been following my blog, you certainly know that my heart sings when I see a well-designed presentation. I believe the ability to visually express one’s ideas doesn’t only have an aesthetic function—it also helps people understand better and remember more. Research goes towards that direction too. However, the fact that we understand a concept more easily when it is presented to us both verbally and visually doesn’t mean we need to use slides in any presentation. If you want to know when you should be using slides and when you shouldn’t, craft your story first. Then ask yourself: would my audience understand my message better if I use slides? If yes, go for it and design great visuals. If not, present “naked”. 

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IMAGE: Garr Reynolds via Presentation Zen

20 June 2014

The Three-Act Structure: Set Up, Confrontation and Resolution

Recently, I wrote an article in whichstarting from a Demian Farnworth's idea—I introduced the three-act structure, a storytelling technique used in writing, movies, plays and any other production built around a story. My idea was to show you how you can apply this formula in a presentation to create messages that get across and win customers over.
Recently, I found a great example of this technique: the latest Nike's video The Last Game, created for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. I recommend you to watch it, especially if you are a football fan. It's memorable. Try as well to watch it in the context of a three-act structure, you'll see how it clearly follows a pattern with a set up, a confrontation and a resolution

First Act: The Set up
The first act starts by showing football as the game we all love. It's fun, joyful and full of great champions. Suddenly, though, a problem occurs: a ruthless man wants to rebuild football in order to make it predictable and less risky. He argues that "even the greatest players of our time make mistakes. They take too many risks. After all, they're only human. But what if they weren't?". To achieve his mission, he has created Clones with flawless decision making for guaranteed results. The Clones would replace the original players and football would change forever. This turning point raises a dramatic question: will we ever see again the phenomenal game we have all grown up with?

Second Act: The Confrontation
Act two is an attempt to solve the problem occurred during the turning point. Ronaldo "The Phenomenon"one of the greatest players in the history of this gamestands up to save football. However, the original players—who in the meantime have been kicked out—don't seem to believe in their ability to beat the Clones. This is because they need to achieve a higher sense of awareness of who they are and what they are capable of. That's why they need Ronaldo as a Mentor. The role of a Mentor is present in many movies. Only thanks to him can they reach that stage. He is able to make them believe in themselves and in their skills. They now know they can beat the Clones. 

Third Act: The Resolution
This is the final act. The Originals have decided to come back to challenge the Clones on the biggest match on Earth. If they lose, they'll quit forever. It's a first-goal-wins game, there is no chance to make mistakes, a natural habitat for the flawless Clones. The game is exciting, the Orginals have to face ups and downs because the Clones are hard to die. Finally, however, comes the desired goal. The Originals have beaten the Clones and the dramatic question is answered: football will continue to be the phenomenal game we all love. 

In a 5-minute video, Nike was able to apply the Aristotle's three-act structure. And this technique is valid any time there is a story to tell. In the article I mentioned above I gave you a real example of this storytelling formula being applied to a business presentation in order to make skeptical customers believe in your product. Yes there is a story behind your company. Yes there is a story behind your product. Yes there is a story behind your customers. So tell it! And make sure you divide it into three parts: set up, confrontation and resolution.  

How would you use this storytelling formula in your next presentation? 

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12 June 2014

Master This Storytelling Formula to Dominate Any Presentation

A few days ago I was reading a Copyblogger’s article by Demian Farnworth: Master This Copywriting Formula to Dominate Any Social Media Platform. The formula he wrote about is called PAS: Problem-Agitate-Solve. The idea behind it is that in order to make compelling narratives—such us product descriptions, sales letters, social media posts, etc.—you need to follow three steps:
  • Identify a problem
  • Agitate that problem
  • Reveal a solution
Here's an example he gave:

“Insecure? You’re not alone. Millions of people admit to being insecure. Yet, remain that way and you’ll live a life in the shadows. A life on the fringe. Always wishing, never doing. Fortunately, there’s an answer.”

Then you'd introduce the solution. As you can see the above statement clearly follows the Problem-Agitate-Solve formula:
  • Problem: Insecure? You’re not alone. Millions of people admit to being insecure.
  • Agitate: Yet, remain that way and you’ll live a life in the shadows. A life on the fringe. Always wishing, never doing.  
  • Solve: Fortunately, there’s an answer.
While reading the article, I thought the same formula—or a revised version of it—could also be used to improve our presentations, create messages that get across and win customers over.  
I’m thinking about the Aristotle’s three-act structure, a storytelling technique used in writing, movies and any other art form built around a story. The three-act structure divides a narrative into three parts:
  • Set up
  • Confrontation
  • Resolution
These will form the basis of your presentation. You will have a beginning (set up), a middle part (confrontation) and an end (resolution). 

Set up
At the beginning of your presentation you should describe the world as it is. The audience will agree with you because you are telling them a story they already know. Then at a certain point you should highlight a problem they have which completely changes their perspective. The aim is to create a gap between the world as they know it and the world as it would be if you had a solution to their problem. During a movie there is often an incident occurring to the main character which prepares the ground for what is known as a turning point, after which the protagonist’s life will never be the same again. 
At this stage you shouldn’t reveal your solution yet. Rather, you should keep playing back and forth with the gap you’ve created during the set up. Keep comparing the world as it is to the world as it would be with your solution in order for the audience to believe that the new world will make them better off. In a movie you would see the protagonist having to face ups and downs on a journey that makes you wonder whether he will ever answer the dramatic question raised during the turning point.     
Only after you’ve created a gap and played with it can you reveal a solution to the original problem. In a movie, this would be the resolution of the story.
You might be thinking, “How can I apply this formula in the corporate world? I can’t talk to my customers about new worlds and things like that”. Ok, let’s have a look at an example. Say you have developed a new product or a new service and you want to make a presentation to reveal it to a potential customer. Instead of starting by listing all the features of your product (which is the most common strategy followed by sales people), use the set up as an opportunity to describe the world as it is without your product. Then remind your potential customer of a pain they have—it could be money, time, quality related, etc.—which will eventually be solved by your solution. After all, your customers are not interested in your product; they simply want to know how your product can solve their problem. By doing that you are creating a gap between the world as it is and the world as it would be with your solution. Then keep playing with that gap by giving a few concrete examples of what the world looks like today and what it could look like tomorrow. Finally, reveal your liberating solution. By using this formula you’ll make your audience participate with you on a journey towards a better world thanks to your product. 

This technique has proven to be effective any time there is a story to tell. And a presentation—even a business presentation—is an opportunity to tell a story. 
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IMAGEChris via Flickr (changes have been made)