Presentations learning from modern art… #2

Last week, I talked about what presenters could learn from modern art (well, all art, but modern art in particular). I concentrated on the art itself, the bit we look at, but that’s not all there is to a piece of art.

Angel of the North
Angel of the North – via Wikipedia

The title is also part of it, and so is the setting.  I can think of no end of pieces of art where my understanding of the piece has been influenced by the title. I’m pretty sure it’s obvious that the setting makes an impact too.  Near me as I write is the Angel of the North and both its name and location have an important part in how I feel about it. If it was called “Angel of the South” it wouldn’t mean as much to those of us who live around here… and if it was in, say, Liverpool, it wouldn’t have the place in our hearts it does.

Pretty obviously presentations work in the same way.

Presentation titles matter

Your title is the first point of contact your audience has with your presentation. At worst it’s what they see when they walk into the room, but more realistically they’ll know it well before they arrive. First impressions will have been formed. There’s plenty of research into the impact language can have on the way something is perceived (in fact the book this website grew out of has a couple of chapters on it!) so I’ll not waste time going to into the details (email me if you need them!). To cut a long story short, here are some ideas and suggestions for better titles.

  1. Don’t use just nouns – or even adjectives. “The new costing regulations” will put the fear of boredom into pretty much everyone before they have even arrived.  It’s flat, dull and just old-fashioned boring.
  2. Try and get to your audiences WIIFM.   No one comes to hear/see you present – they come for the What’s In It For Me. If your title tells them that you’ve made progress. We can improve our working title but adding a bit of WIIFM. Try “The new costing regulations and what they mean for you XXX”.  I hope it’s obvious that XXX should reflect the needs and interest of your likely audience! 🙂
  3. Get active with verbs. Verbs are fun – they do things. They make people understand that things are going to change. Compare our original “The new costing regulations” with “The new costing regulations – how to implement them easily”.  Or try going further and appeal to people’s lazy streak with “How to implement the costing regulation changes without the angst”.  See how much more audience-centric it is?

To be honest, once you’ve got the hand of trying things out, it’s not difficult. Just don’t accept the first title that pops into your head.

[jbox color=’blue’]A tool I’ve found useful in the past is to ask yourself “What would TV daytime chatshows say?”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that many of these programs are great (or even anything other than full of Tosh). I’m not even suggesting you try and give a them a watch! But ask yourself, if you’re watching one, how do they get you to stay watching?  Teasers… “Coming up: how to …“.  Like I say, it’s not a technique to give you a solution, just to put you in the right mindset.[/jbox]

Another trick I’ve found useful is the heading and subheading combination.  One is designed to raise interest, the other to follow up on that interest.  For example you might consider “The brave new finance regulations – how to implement them painlessly”.  I’ve used a hyphen here to indicate the break from title to subtle but you should probably do it by using different fonts and font sizes etc.

Frankly – what you do doesn’t seem to be as important as the fact that you try and do something! 😉

Presentation venues matter

Just like where a piece of art is displayed, where your presentation happens matters too.

Presentations in a dim, dirty room get you off to a bad start.  Presentations in a bright room with distracting windows can be a challenge! (Trust me, I’ve given presentations everywhere from cellars to penthouses, competing with spiders on the one hand to jets landing on the other!)

I’m not sure you’re always going to have much choice about your venue, but when ever you do, consider the obvious things like lighting, warmth and comfort.  Like Goldilocks you’re going for ‘just right’ – not too warm not too cold… not to bright and not too dim… not to comfortable but not uncomfortable either!

The bit one, however, is how much distraction there is. Background noise is a shorthand term to cover all sorts of things and in the past I’ve found it handy to check even simple things like:

  • when is there a fire-alarm test?
  • when will the refreshments be delivered? Where/how?  And when will they be cleared up? (The latter questions are the ones people often miss IMHO)
  • can you be overheard?  can you overhear other people? Can you be overseen, even?
  • where are the windows, the blinds, the controls for the blinds and the controls for the lights
  • and while we’re at it, how do you work those controls?!  😉

The one that’s often overlooked in presentations though, is what ‘atmosphere’ the venue has. Is that atmosphere and ambiance congruent with what you’re trying to make happen? Going back to our “new finance regulations presentation” we might want to think about:

  • a business environment as the obvious choice, as that sets the right tone for the business regulations element
  • an informal environment as an obvious choice, as that sets a possibly better choice for the ‘implementing them easily’ aspects of the presentation.

To be honest, like the presentation title, the simple act of asking yourself what your options might be and what you should be aware of (and try to handle) is the most important element to making better presentations.

Over to you?

It’s not hard, just takes a bit of thought,

What are the worse venues you’ve been in?  And the worst presentation titles?

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