Marine Haiku

One of my pet peeves when I’m training people in making awesome presentations is that when I ask the, they don’t know what they’re presentation is for. I get waffly answers relating to what it’s about, but that’s not the same thing at all. See this big, bad post. About a quarter of the way down that post, I give you an exercise to help figure out what you’re trying to achieve in your presentation, and I suggest trying to write a Tweet.

I’m not suggesting you give a tweet instead of a presentation, but the discipline of the exercise really helps people hone down their message. Fighting to get the ‘guts’ of what they’re trying to say into such a limiting medium focuses the mind admirably.

But I’ve found a better way! (Well, if not better, at least more fun!)

balancing pebbles isolated on white
balancing pebbles isolated on white

I had the honour of working recently with an exUS Marine. To my delight he was one of the sharpest, most intelligent and widely-read of my clients – ever – and he told me of an exercise he’d used while on active duty. In a similar vein to my tweet exercise, he’d had his units compose a Haiku after their mission briefings to focus their minds on the most important things involved (and to prove they’d understood what they were trying to do, obviously). That latter point is pretty much the same way of thinking as your teachers used to use when they said “Now retell the story in your own words”.  But the most important thing here is the focus and clarity of the Haiku – and it’s discipline.

If you’re not familiar with the Haiku the rules are simple: according to YourDictionary.Com, they are

  • Only three lines, totaling 17 syllables throughout
  • The first line is only 5 syllables
  • The second line is 7 syllables
  • The third line is 5 syllables like the first

and an example would include (although it seems to cheat slightly to me!)
An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond, splash!
Silence again.
Now, imagine the discipline of that to your presentations!   It’s – really hard – but it’s also a lot of fun!  I’ve not mastered the art (it takes a lifetime!) but what’s important here is not getting it right as as art form but using the art form as a discipline/exercise to focus your mind.  Here are a few of mine (yes, I know, they’re not works of art, no need to tell me I suck as a poet!  🙂 )

[jcolumns inbordercss=”1px dotted gray”]

Most presentations suck
But this pain is un-necessary
Us-ing PIE will help

Work until the job is done
Then stop and do not guild the lilly
Makework is not needed


Your presentation wanders
This confuses your audience, who crave clarity
Less is usually more

I urge you to try it. It’s not easy (as my efforts above will testify!) but it’s worth the effort in terms of focusing your mind on the focus of your presentation.
[jbox color=’red’ title=’Hard work…’] Yes, it’s hard work, but that’s the point – rather like what my personal trainer does when I meet her at the gym! When I complain about doing yet more abs exercises rather than the chest or arms exercises I find much easier she just looks at me, deadpan, and says that there’s no point in working on the muscles that I’ve got: to improve, I need to work on the muscles I’ve not got.

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