More maya Angelou

A long time ago I wrote about what we can learn about presenting from Maya Angelou – mainly about the need and approaches to rehearsing. It’s time I updated to that. In particular I want to move on from that (fantastic) quote a little.


In the more hardcore world of today your audience needs a more substantial take-away than how you made them feel.

Presentation take-aways

Let’s face it, if all your audience goes away from your presentation is a warm fuzzy feeling then your boss, and they, are probably going to be annoyed. It’s not (usually) a good return on investment (time) if that’s all they get. The obvious exception is if your presentation was purely intended as a motivational speech, I suppose, but in the real world, how common are they?!

You need to give your audience specific things they can do – things that are going to take them, their business, or whatever a step or two forward.

That means your presentation needs to provide three things:

  • motivation
  • a call to action
  • tools for people to take action.

The “how you made them feel” falls pretty much into the first of these three bullet points. I’d describe it as a ‘necessary but not sufficient’ thing. Let’s take a rather silly example.

Godzilla is coming to town!

If, in my presentation I convince you should should be afraid, because Godzilla is coming, that’s a pretty clear “how you feel”. On the other hand if I don’t tell you from what direction, when, or what you can do about it all you can do is scream for a moment or two.

On the other hand, if I also give you a clear call to action (“Run!”) you’re closer to escaping the wrath of the monster. But still, you might simply run in the wrong direction and actually find yourself running towards your doom.

That means that I need to give you the right tools – in this instance the direction from which Godzilla is coming and instructions on how to escape. (“Flee inland – the higher you can go up the the better”).

In the same way I’ve put the bullet points above your presentation now looks like this:

  • Godzilla is coming – be afraid
  • Run away – the call to action
  • Towards the hills – the tools.

Even better is if I also give you the keys to a truck that will take you uphill!

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