10 Presentation Tips: Tip No. 9 — Make it Personal, Descriptive, and Tangible

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This is the ninth post in a 10-post series on tips for effective presentations. For an explanation as to why I’m adding this series to a data-oriented blog, see the intro to the first post in the series. To view other tips in the series, click here.

Tip No. 9: Make it Personal, Descriptive, and Tangible

Imagine someone you know giving a presentation about how to present effectively and saying the following:

“Studies have shown that the most effective presentations incorporate personal anecdotes and are descriptive and tangible. This increases the likelihood of the audience being engaged and, thus, actually paying attention to the content being presented. You should really try to come up with things that have happened to you or that you have done and relate those to the audience so that they are more interested in you, which means they are more likely to pay attention, which means they will be more likely to retain what you have presented. You should also avoid abstract examples — abstractions are harder for the brain to process, and it’s easy for the brain’s subconscious to simply give up and zone out.”

Now, imagine someone covering the same material, but doing it as follows:

“I once had to give a presentation to 300 co-workers at my company’s annual meeting. I had five minutes to talk about measurement and analytics, which I knew was a topic that wasn’t inherently of interest to the group. This was one of a series of five back-to-back presentations in a modified Pechu Kucha format — 15 slides, with the slides auto-advancing every 20 seconds. I came up with the idea to use my 5-month, 2,100-mile backpacking trip form Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail as an underlying theme to stitch together the 2 points I was trying to drive home in my 5-minute talk. It turned out to be an incredibly effective presentation, which, almost 2 years later, people still remember and reference. You see, by incorporating a personal anecdote that I could relate to the topic I was covering, I actually made the content more engaging and, thus, more memorable.”

Which of the above presentations-about-presenting do you think would be more likely to “stick”?

In their book  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath work through an acronym — S.U.C.C.E.S. — as to what it takes to effectively convey ideas. While the book goes well beyond presentations, their mnemonic nails this tip pretty well:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Really, this tip is about concrete, credible, emotional, and stories. It’s totally, totally, totally fine to start developing your presentation using abstractions. That’s probably what you’re going to have written down when you come up with your answer to the question: “What do I want the audience to take away from my presentation?” (Tip No. 7). The trick is to identify every generality and abstraction in the flow of your presentation and try to come up with a way to make each one more tangible, either by adding in specific examples or by introducing an analogy (personal or otherwise). Not only will this make your presentation more memorable, it’s fun (and it can really help when it comes to tracking down meaningful images — Tip No. 3!).

Three examples (yeah, I damn well better include tangible examples, right?) of this tip in practice from the three guys at Web Analytics Demystified:

  • Eric Peterson presents on how he works with Best Buy to re-tool their analytics program: he co-presents with Best Buy (tangible example), and he uses a “house” analogy to illustrate, with pictures of ways houses can evolve (additions) as well as be rebuilt (when needing a new foundation or entirely new floor plan)
  • John Lovett talks about his history as a licensed skipper (personal anecdote) and then uses naval navigation as an analogy for developing social media metrics programs
  • Adam Greco uses a chess analogy to describe some of the key aspects of implementing a successful web analytics program…and relates that his younger son beat him at the game (both a personal anecdote…and one that he then ties back to web analytics)

As with all of the other tips in this series, the key to this one is that the goal isn’t simply “entertainment,” but, rather, relating examples and anecdotes that reinforce your key message.

Picture by Steve Snodgrass (modified by me to put the circle-slashon it, and, to be
clear, it’s making a point — I actually think the original piece is pretty cool)

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