E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Productivity Tips on Presentations: Inform, Inspire and Motivate

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo's Surroundings in the SpringOne of the things that I am enjoying the most about the impact of the Social Web in our businesses is its innate ability to keep humanising the corporate world and be capable of getting away with it with little effort. The interesting thing though is that act of humanising our corporate interactions is happening all over the place, so it’s kind of difficult to find an area that may not have been touched by it so far and for a good purpose: that one of improving the way we collaborate and share our knowledge across to get work done more effectively and efficiently, whether internally or externally. One of those areas that I have been looking into quite a bit to see its own transformation from its current mindset is that one of delivering presentations, where it looks like we are finally bringing back that human aspect of conversing with people while sharing messages across, instead of boring them with Death by Powerpoint.

And that’s exactly the topic of today’s blog post. Yes, I know, another article on the topic of Productivity, although this time around with a slightly different flavour: how can we improve the way we deliver messages through presentations? Over the course of the years I have given hundreds, if not thousands, of presentations across the board and on multiple various different topics related to Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Learning, Online Communities and Community Building and over the last few years on Social Business and the Social Enterprise. And if there is anything that has become one of my major pet peeves from the corporate world is that obsession we seem to have developed over time with regards to abusing slideware in order to get our messages across. Even more to the point where not having any slides has started to feel like you are standing in front of a large audience naked, or, even worse!, you are giving the impression to those in the room that you haven’t done your (home)work appropriately and therefore have been slacking off. 

Seriously. That’s a huge problem. Our problem. Whatever happened to all of those meetings, events, presentations, seminars, workshops, etc. etc. that we use to conduct way before PowerPoint became the standard that killed the thrill of just having a conversation with your audience about a topic that you both, hopefully, are passionate about? Where did we go wrong? And, more specifically, in the today’s world of living social why do we still keep tolerating that presentation overkill where we just treat our audiences like corporate drones with an ability to listen, if we are lucky, but hardly ever interact, because in most cases rather we have lost the audience along the way, or we just run out of time by covering far too much ground. Again, seriously, where did we go wrong? 

Most importantly though. What can we do to address and fix this current issue that’s managing, rather successfully!, to destroy our capability of holding and hosting conversations with other fellow humans? Shouldn’t we be aiming at addressing that productivity overkill and do something about it? I remember how a couple of months ago I challenged, over at Google Plus, that obsession we all seem to have with PowerPoint for presentations and right then I mentioned how for a good number of different events I had from that date till today I would be challenging the status quo of delivering presentations and will be conducting a little bit of an experiment: in every single event where I would be a speaker from there onwards I would try my outmost to not use any slides and, instead, just deliver a speech where I could interact with the audience, learning just as much from them, as they may learn from me. And see how it would go … 

Well, a few weeks have now gone by and what can I say? I survived. I am alive and kicking! In fact, I had a total blast with that experiment, to the point where nowadays I am much more inclined towards not doing any kind of slideware and instead just delivering a speech where I can sense, experience and fully live that people-to-people conversation that I have been missing all along. It was a bit rough at the beginning, to be honest, more than anything else because of that feeling of being naked in front of large audiences with nothing covering my back, but then again, after the initial urge to shake off that addiction to slides things went pretty smooth. In fact, they taught me something that I did not expect learning while delivering those presentations and that I am enjoying it quite a bit now: get a sense of the room and the audience you are going to present to, adapt to their needs, deliver the speech, keep it short, and spend time on conversing with people. Be ready to learn from them, just as much as they will from you, if not even more, because there is a great chance that will be happening more often than not. Believe me, you will have a superb time along the way. 

In order to make that transition relatively easy, allow me to share a couple of tips, and helpful resources, though, realising there are probably many many more out there already!, that may be worth while looking into as well to help you shake off that addiction towards relying far too heavily on slides for your presentations and start mastering your own self in front of an audience to share and deliver across that passion and insight you have for that particular topic. Starting off with my good friend Shel Israel and his recent book “Stellar Presentations: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Giving Great Talks” that will surely help you get off to a good start on identifying the power of storytelling when being in front of an audience, whether small or a large one. Take a look into this teaser post for what you can expect from the book itself. Shel’s main key point, amongst several others, is how we are social animals, after all, thriving to hear, and learn!, from good stories and, in most cases, the realisation is that we probably don’t need slides for that. And I surely would agree with him on that one! Highly recommended!

The second resource is this absolutely delightful short video clip from Susan Weinschenk, author of  “100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People“, that lasts for a little bit over 6 minutes, under the suggestive title of “5 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People” and which, pretty much, will shake up the way you have been looking into presentations, not only as a speaker, but also as part of an audience. Remember when I mentioned above that People-to-People flavour of conversing and sharing your knowledge, insight and experience across with others, just like they would with you? Well, that’s exactly what you would be able to find in this video gem that I strongly encourage you all to go through it and, as a teaser, here you have got the listing of those 5 things that would help you redefine the way you deliver presentations and how you engage further with the audience as part of the conversation: 

  • The 20 minute rule
  • Multiple sensory channels compete
  • What you say is only part of your message
  • If you want people to act, you have to call them to action
  • People imitate your emotions and feel your feelings

5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People from Weinschenk on Vimeo.


Susan introduces the short video clip mentioning how presentations should be all about informing, inspiring and motivating your audience into achieving something and after having conducted myself for the last couple of months that experiment of breaking loose from Death by Powerpoint and instead rely more on powerful stories, your own passion for the topic and the conversations you can hold with the audience I couldn’t have agreed more with her on those points. Even more so, every single presentation that I do nowadays starts with the same mantra: inform, inspire, motivate. No slides.

And see if I can pull it off altogether… And so far doing pretty well. How about you? Making any good progress as well? I surely hope so! Remember, we are all humans after all and we all live off conversations, not PowerPoint slides. We may need to start acting accordingly, don’t you think? 😉

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  1. By far, the best presentations I gave where all turning into a dialog after a few minutes.

    The slides played a minor role (sort of background and prep material) and where quickly put aside.

    But those presentations were rare.

    Most of the times, the audience was (expecting to be) on the receiving end, not ready or prepared for a true dialog.

    If that doesn’t sounds all too similar for online participation..

    1. Hi Joachim! Thanks much for dropping by and for the wonderful feedback comments! Yes, indeed, those are the really good presentations that I just can’t get enough of! And perhaps you are also highlighting a bit of the issue we may have noticed for far too long with regards to having folks on the receiving audience, which is basically the comfort zone, the easy to go by one, because it requires little thinking, and interaction altogether!

      In fact, your comments reminded me of a blog post put together by Euan Semple a couple of years ago where he anticipated knowledge workers’ reluctance to share because of the inability to do critical thinking, i.e. to share and exchange ideas, to learn from others, to collaborate and innovate together, because that kind of activity fell off out of the ordinary. And somehow I suspect you are correct in our assumption that perhaps we need to shake the ground a bit and get people moving into that critical thinking and participation, showing how things need shift, whether in the social networking world or in face to face events.

      Otherwise, we are showing we haven’t learned much over the course of the last 18 years when the first wikis and blogs came about! Gosh, yes, we need to encourage more of that mindset shift, otherwise, we will be going back to square one! Onwards, onwards, please! 🙂

      PS. Hoping that one day I may get a chance to sit a speaker session from you and enjoy the dialogue, just as much as I keep enjoying it online over the course of the years! Thanks for the inspiration! And keep it going, please!

      1. Thanks for your kind words, Luis, and yes that gets to the heart of the issue! Critical thinking is a key 1.0 skill that’s in desperate need for our 2.0 world.

        1. Agree so much with you Joachim! Critical thinking is so powerful for getting a progress and keep on asking the “why” and “what if”. There is always something behind and for finding benefits and synergies is this very important. Some of the best ideas are never or poorly implemented because of lack of critical thinking and leadership.

          1. Hi Joachim & Christer! Many thanks for dropping by and for the follow-up commentary! Goodness! You both are so spot on! Today’s world is in very much need of critical thinking, and not just for presentations, but for everything that’s happening around us, whether work or personal related. I am finding it fascinating how plenty of people have stopped doing critical thinking just because of “fear of…” something happening to them or those around them, when in reality it’s that very same lack of critical thinking the one that accelerates whatever would be happening. Somehow I sense we may have lost our senses and perspective on where we are heading just because we would want to conform, so that we don’t lose our jobs, our position in society, our friends / family and so forth, when I remember the days where those critical thinking conversations were the glue of every single grouping!

            Indeed, we need to do a lot of work in this area and help free people up from those fears and reluctance to think and participate in whatever the conversations. It’s damaging more than helping out eventually!

      2. Great reply Luis! I have noticed this too and the challenge as I see is how to dare to invite and be open for the passive or negative people without letting them be outside or affecting the “workshop” in a negative way. It’s about leadership where you have to be self confident with the present and unknown. I have used the six thinking hats with success for dealing with some people. If they are wearing a “black hat” I can ask a question what is there biggest hesitation about interaction and if not replied asking someone else and if still quite… I use this to moving forward from and trust my ability to use it and stick to the topic without loosing control. I am rather running workshops and seminars than doing presentations.

        1. I know what you mean, Christer, and I do think that one of the issues we all seem to have when being confronted with this dilemma of doing a presentation or a workshop type of format for the session we all seem to want to be perfect, with no limits, showing our expertise, even the audience, without opening up to the opportunity to learn from the exercise. In my experience, if we break those barriers, and usually humour is a great entry point over here, you would have a much more interactive method of engaging with the audience and the audience with you.

          So, usually, what I end up doing in most cases is making a bit of fun of myself, showing how I, too, have vulnerabilities and limitations within my own domain, and how I have learned to live with them by opening up the window to learn from others, specially, those in the audience and that seems to do the trick quite consistently, time and time again. Perhaps on a follow-up blog post I will share some of the various techniques I use to generate that relaxed atmosphere to get folks in the mood for that learning session by interacting with one another, including yours truly… Will see if I can put it together shortly… Thanks for the heads up!

  2. You are still the leader related to social media and collaboration for me Luis. I am spending a lot of time in social media and also with business networking. I have shared this and Love how you are leading by examples. Yes, I know the difference between talking only from heart. It was a very well written text and I hope people will take their time to read it 😀

    1. Hi Christer! 🙂 hehe Thanks much for those kind comments and for sharing these insights! I greatly appreciated and I am glad to read that these blog posts and other social business ramblings from yours truly are proving to be very helpful to other folks as well, just as much as I benefit myself from others doing the same. This is what it is all about, isn’t it? How we get to interact with one another, share our knowledge, expertise and know-how, learn from others, tackle business problems to find those solutions and do it in an innovative and collaborative manner. The way forward, indeed, and the one we should keep pushing gently for, don’t you think?

      Again, thanks much for the extended feedback and kind commentary and keep up the conversations! 🙂

      1. I am searching for some Great guest bloggers and you are one of the leaders I would love to get some blog posts from on my blog. Please take a look and see if you are interested. I have been quite successful with my social media presence and want to have quality articles as yours 😀

        1. Hi Christer, thanks much for the heads up and for the kind invite. I’d love to to write a guest blog post on your blog, but alas I’m currently travelling for work and won’t be returning till beginning of next week, then have got a bunch of other related work to do and won’t be freeing up myself potentially till end of the month, so if you are ok with that, let me know, and I will put something together… You know where to find me 😉

  3. Hi Luis, I’ve been a presentation designer for the best part of 20 years, and have been gently persuading my clients to use less slides, use less on their slides, or use no slide-ware at all. That might seem counterintuitive for someone that earns their living by making presentations for other people, but the results always speak for themselves!

    Congratulations on making the move away from using slides, I think it’s particularly suitable for live events when you have an audience that you can interact with. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater either! Not all communication can be done without slides. Often we’re trying to explain or show something, perhaps something physical or even an abstract concept, and the use of slides / pictures / diagrams can really help to make these understood. And of course, not everyone is confident enough to give a presentation without at least some kind of slide-ware as a framework to hang their speech on, to give it some structure, and make sure they don’t miss out any important points. This can be done with very simple slides, but it gives the speaker or presenter a massive confidence booster, and a crutch to hold on to. The important thing is to make the presenter the center of the audience’s world, and not the slides or document – we are human after all.

    The interesting thing for me is that we somehow lose this human aspect in our everyday business lives when we share presentations & documents with our clients and colleagues. We stick them in an email or on to Sharepoint and hope they’ll be understood in the way we intended. We can of course write lengthy emails explaining things, but more often than not, we don’t have time. How many times have you looked at a document or slideshow that’s been sent to you and thought ‘that was fascinating & inspirational’? Probably never, because without the person explaining it and giving his or her insights, it’s just information, and information very rarely motivates.

    1. Hi Spencer! Many many thanks for those wonderful comments and thanks for noticing the blog post! Greatly appreciated! Indeed, I think you have hit the nail on the head with your remarks about freeing up ourselves from that obsession with slide-ware and use it accordingly without throwing the baby out in the water. In fact, when talking to my colleagues about this subject we all kind of agreed that slides are still very powerful when conducting demos, or wanting to show something without having to go to a live system. So, there *is* still a purpose for the slides in the right context and for the right purpose, but from that to say that we should have them all over the place, probably not, like you well indicated.

      I loved your remarks about bringing back human back into the center piece of the presentation itself and I could surely agree with that one, along with the context of what the slides try to portray and that only the individual can interpret accordingly. I think at the end of the day it’s all about figuring out and rather well the context of how far slides should be part of that center stage along with the speaker. Very helpful for upcoming presentations I will be doing, for sure!! So thanks much for that feedback, Spencer, greatly appreciated!

      @Christer, you are ON! 😀

      1. I’m delighted to have found your blog – the future of knowledge management and the crossover of social enterprise are right on topic for me as I take my startup on a hopefully long and fruitful journey into this space!

  4. Hiya Luis, glad to hear the no slides initiative is going well. I’ve got a new hash tag for you #lawwppt 😀

    First of all, thanks again for another great post. Really useful + interesting. nice one!

    I can’t say that I’ve done anywhere near as many presentations as you but I did do one last week for my extended team without slides and so I thought I’d share that experience. Personally, I find it liberating rather than exposing without slides as I only have one thing to focus on: the audience! In the past I’ve found myself ploughing through slides come what may, worrying about each bullet point, so in the end the slides are dictating the presentation and not me. With no slides I find more freedom to go with the flow, expand or skip bits depending on the mood.

    During prep I recorded 3-4 practice attempts on a tape recorder and (coincidentally) trimmed it down from about 40 mins to around 20, which does seem more digestible.

    Was fortunate that one of the team video’d it so I’m going to play that back to see if I can learn a bit about my body language etc, which can definitely always improve. I always find it weird hearing your own voice back or watching the video but I guess no pain no gain!

    Interesting too you mentioned making some fun of yourself to open the dialogue. Been mulling over a potential blog post for this. I think the whole subject of humility and taking yourself *off* the pedestal is a fascinating one that could be one of our biggest challenges and opportunities in all forms of coms / working life.

    Thanks again and keep’em coming Luis, leading the way as ever!

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