I was watching Nancy Duarte’s excellent advice on how to deliver an effective remote presentation, and I was particularly struck by her illustration of one of her points – mapping out your presentation:
Even if you are presenting nothing more exciting than the management accounts or the debtor’s ledger, your presentation has a rhythm. It has a beginning, a middle and an end and it has beats.Your thinking on this must start with the most fundamental question – what is the purpose of your presentation? What information do you want your audience to digest, what action do you want them to take, what change in their mindset do you want to effect? When you are clear, really clear, about that, you can sketch your thoughts out on a sheet of paper. I have always taken this approach to formulating my talks and I have spent many years hauling over-eager clients away from their Slideware in the early stages of presentation planning. Map it out, use a small number of words or phrases and think only about how your audience will feel receiving this information, not how you will feel delivering it.I did a talk for an industry group recently, and that industry is feeling major pain in the Irish recession. Phones not ringing, tumbleweed blowing down main street, 33% reduction in the workforce (so far) and sectoral feedback that they have not yet hit bottom. My message to them was simple:

EVOLVE OR DIE

I broke the talk up into three sections:

  • What the market is saying about you
  • Wrapping your head around this new reality
  • The 3 keys – Relationships, Adding value, Integrity

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, more like someone-has-to-say-it common sense; but very well-received nevertheless. A bucket of cold water in the face, followed by some headline-level thinking on how to rapidly re-invent yourself in a market that says it doesn’t need your services right now.

I started on the back of an envelope, expanded to a single A3 sheet, and when I was clear on what was staying and what was going in the talk, I started thinking about the beats …

1. What the Market is Saying

  • Simple, almost flat, opener. (sombre with one little laugh)
  • Placing the sea-changes that the industry is going through now in context. (big examples, heads coming up)
  • The market feedback – ouch, ouch, ouch. (pin-drop silence in the room, shocked faces)
  • However … there are a couple of glints of light. (furious note-taking)

2. Your New Mindset

  • Lie down and die?
  • Get up and fight?
  • Hold on for dear life and hope you are the last person standing?
  • Evolve?

3. The 3 Keys

  • Needs VS Wants (examples, mix of light and serious).
  • Get into their heads – understanding your customers’ pain.
  • 1. Add value or go away (examples of places to look for business – more furious note-taking).
  • 2. Relationships – no-one wants to deal with strangers right now.
  • 3. Evolve with integrity – (examples)

And I finished with an “Outbang”

  • The wounded caveman (sombre – a lot of recognition on faces)
  • Back-reference to the stand-up-and-fight joke from earlier in the preso (not at all sombre!)

I define an outbang in a presentation as, “Taking back control of the room (usually after Q&A). Bringing eyes, attention and mindset to the place you want to bring them. Your big finish, the strand they walk out of the room remembering.”

One Mr Steven Jobs has become famous for his “one more thing” in his keynotes – those are outbangs. [I would point out that massively irritating 1970s TV detective, Columbo used to do the same thing – “Oh, there’s just one more thing. You forgot to take your fingerprints off the bullets. You’re under arrest!” – so it’s probably fair to say that there really are no original ideas left out there …]

Too many presentations just … sort of … fizzle out … with a limp “Thank you” at the end. Instead, try wrapping up the main part of your presentation and finishing with an outbang.

Have a look at this wonderful piece of video (workplace safe, but kinda loud):

You can find the YouTube clip here because they’ve disabled embedding.
Right click and open it in a new window, have a look and come on back now, y’hear?
My breakdown of the very carefully constructed beats in this 120-second routine:

  • Establish attention with slow build and then BANG! into the core, synchronised stuff. (15 seconds – we own the stage)
  • Bring in some variety on the core synchronisation – some left, some right, some high, some low. (15 seconds – we own the entire theatre)
  • Break and let the audience ‘come up for air’ for a moment. (5 seconds)
  • TADA! as gymnastic kid with ‘Awwwww’ factor springs on from stage right. (10 seconds)
  • Big change of pace into hilarious, iconic, film reference. (10 seconds)
  • Bring all eyes onto one spot on the stage and let the cat out of the bag. (10 seconds)
  • Down to business – tight, smart, innovative, synchronised. (20 seconds – remember us? We own this place!)
  • Bring all eyes into one spot on the stage with another ‘Awwwww’ moment. (10 seconds)
  • Big, kick-ass, synchronised finish – with stillness after all the movement, to let the audience come down and start digesting what they’ve just seen.

These guys understand beats and controlling an audience’s eyeballs (notice how their costumes help in that regard, the white palms on their gloves, the way they hide and reveal their faces with the peaks of their caps) on oh-so many levels. The question is, how do you get those beats into your next presentation of the trial balance of the monthly management accounts?