I tend to try and channel Eddie Izzard when presenting – find your presentation hero?
I love presenting, its one of the greatest aspects of the planner’s job as far as I am concerned – getting up there and letting rip on whatever subject you are required to hold forth upon. But I am aware that presentations are not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. So I thought I’d put together some tips and advice on putting more into and getting more out of presentations and generally having more fun standing up there. It’s not a piece on how to write great presentations its really about getting you in the frame of mind to deliver a great performance.
1. Are you presenting, performing or speaking?
To my mind there are three types of presentation.
The first is what I’d call an actual presentation. A presentation, like the name suggests, involves presenting something, a research debrief, a creative brief or creative work itself. In a presentation the thing of interest is what you are presenting rather than you yourself. If you are using powerpoint or keynote it will involve information rich slides that you need to take people through in some detail.
The second is performance. The content of a performance is what you say and do and not on the screen. What’s on the screen is an aid to help you tell stories, cement points, play video or get a laugh. If you use slides they will be information light and full of brilliant images. Pitches are performances (though you might have sections where you are presenting some data or some work for instance) as are conference talks and the like.
Finally there are speeches. Invariably these have no supporting visual aids at all but rely on a prepared text you have written, whether you then learn this off by heart and recite it or read from the page. Use a speech when it is vital that you control exactly what you say, it is vital that you are exactly to time or when you are likely to be very nervous (speeches mean you can concentrate on delivery rather than remembering what comes next).
2. It’s always a performance
Having neatly divided up the types of presentation for you I’m now going to ride roughshod over all of that and say that whatever you are doing it is always a performance, especially in our business. It may make you feel like a monkey but your job is to perform and the conference room is your stage. Never go on a presentation course, spend time improving on your performance.
3. Powerpoint is a weapon, wield it wisely
If you are using powerpoint tame it, don’t let it tame you. If you are giving a speech you probably shouldn’t be using it at all and at other times remember whether you are writing a presentation or assembling support for your performance – it means that you will be using powerpoint or keynote very differently. And that’s the point for me – how you use it. People seem to have such a problem with powerpoint but the enemy is not the software but the templates – the vast majority of corporate powerpoint templates are made for labotomised idiots that would struggle to remember their middle name. Oh and while we are at it why do people always fucking insist on putting their logo on every chart, you wouldn’t put it throughout an ad so don’t put it throughout a presentation. Dump the template and get jiggy with the infinite possibilities of this extraordinary software.
4. Style is as important as substance, always
Clearly what you have to say is important, otherwise by and large you wouldn’t be up there making the presentation in the first place. However, you also have an obligation to the audience and to yourself to make the experience interesting and even enjoyable, same goes for yourself. You should very rarely be in a position when you are dreading giving that presentation – by then you should be in a position that you can’t wait to unleash it upon the world. And help the audience by ensuring that in the first few minutes you do, say or show something that will ensure that feel they are going to enjoy it too. That may be a picture of a puppy if you think that’s their thing or it might be a well honed agenda if seeing one will cause them to relax and enjoy what you have to say.
5. Be the energy
My experience is that it’s not much use depending on the energy of the room to help you along. You are either faced with a conference table of eager but passive eyes staring at you or a darkened and hushed auditorium of people bored witless by the previous presenter. And that’s if you are lucky, in pitches the people infront of you are usually very nice but doing their best at ‘not giving it away’. Audiences suck energy away from you in the most part, so it is vital that you bring your own, in spades and learn how to switch it on. Of course you may well get lucky and have an audience that warms to you and you can feed off but prepare for the worst. The worst in my case was presenting to Gordon Brown in the cabinet room a couple of years before the 2010 general election, now that required a whole bucket of self created energy. Incidentally I have a little technique I use called a ‘hard start’, this means launching directly into the content with no preambles or thank yous, for one thing it picks up the pace and jolts people to attention. The other technique is the trusty double espresso.
6. Who is your hero?
My advice is to find a performer who you would like to emulate and build their approach into yours. I favour a combination of Eddie Izzard and Peter Snow (the guy that does the swing-o-meter on election night). That sounds like a gag – its isn’t, these are the people I have actually modeled my presentation style on. The other night I saw Graham Norton compare an awards presentation and loved the energy he brought into the room when he bounded on stage – that went straight into the presentation bank.
No matter how well you know your material it’s essential to rehearse. While you are writing the presentation, once you have a draft and then over and over and over again. Rehearse on your own, rehearse in front of others, in situ and any other time you can. I rehearse on the tube without the slides simply by seeing if I can remember from heart how each chart follows the last and what my linking comments are. And rehearse your timings, if you have a 20 minute slot in a programme or a pitch or client meeting make sure you are dead on 20 minutes.
8. Rehearse until the point you are almost bored with yourself
There is such a thing as over rehearsal, though you will rarely reach it. This is where you are so bored with your content that you keep going off at a tangent whenever you present. For most of us and given our workloads over rehearsal is unlikely, under rehearsal is what you need to guard against. So rehearse once again. And when you are really slick on your bit make sure you rehearse a whole load with the others you are presenting alongside. In pitches I now insist on having one run through which is simply about cues and hand offs so that you avoid any of that “I am now handing over to Gerald who is going to talk about the state of the baby milk market in Guatemala” bollocks combined with long walks up to the front and fumbling with the ‘clicker’. A good DJ is as concerned about the way two tunes work together as the individual tracks on the playlist.
9. Be an arsehole about everything
Never let your presentation be let down by others, by the environment or the tech’ or anything else. It’s advisable to prepare for any eventuality for sure and there is no question that you can use a technical failure to your advantage in winning people over or providing a quick laugh. But have a problem with people messing with your shit. Keep control by taking the presentation with you, on your laptop (theirs won’t have the right fonts installed) or insisting on checking it once you get to the venue. If you want a roaming mic because you want to walk around and they say they don’t have enough, be an arsehole (in a nice way), if you want a lectern because you have some note you want to refer to or read from, be an arsehole. Unless you are a God you are not being paid for this and so the least people can do it help you be your best.
10. Treat presenting like sex
Most people aren’t very good at presenting – they don’t really seem to enjoy it and they aren’t great at engaging their audience. And it doesn’t seem to matter how senior and experienced they are. And this is your opportunity, to be bloody great at it and be acknowledged in your team, agency, organisation or industry as a good presenter, just as you might be seen as a good writer or great practitioner. The old cliché goes that working in advertising is the most fun that you can have with your clothes on, make that how you feel about presenting.