using your story in presentations

stethoscose - better presenting your hearbeat! :)

Dr’s don’t start your consultation with “As I’m going to be treating you I thought I’d give you my story as a doctor. I first decided to be a doctor when I was only 16…”. The don’t go on to tell you about how they went through Medical School. Nor does a good doctor just start treating you without at least telling you their name… but that’s all they do.

“Hello, I’m Dr Raybould” (says my elder daughter).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because I’ve just sat through (yet another!) presentation where the presenter did exactly that. Wellllll… not exactly that ‘cos they’re not a doctor but you get the idea. The first few, critical minutes of the presentation were spent talking about how they’d become interested in what they were talking about.

Now part of it makes sense – the presenter was trying to establish credibility and rapport with the audience – but what it also does is waste time. Here’s the deal… if the audience has decided to turn up for your presentation they’ve already decided you’re worth listening to (by definition!). That means you as the presenter already have “assumed credibility”. Presenter-authority isn’t something you try to gain, it’s something that’s yours already and what you should be doing is not losing it.

That’s a very different thing with lots of advantages.

So why should you not start with “your story”?

I’ve mentioned my preferred alternative to the traditional introduction here. The basics though, are that your audience is most attentive (all other things being equal) at the start of your presentation. Add to that the fact that your audience is there for themselves, not you, and you get the idea. A presenter who starts with ‘how they got there’ is burning the most valuable time they have with the audience.

Seriously, I’ve sat in presentations where presenters spent the first few minutes talking about how cool it was to be there and how they picked their walk-on music “because I’ve never had walkon music before”. On a scale of one to ten for “how much I care” what do you think the audience’s reaction was?

If it’s so bad, why do presenters do it?

I’ve come across a lot of reasons for this, to be honest – I’ll just flash through a few of the most recent here.

  • shorter writing time. In one of my previous jobs someone joked that there was never time to do it right but there was often time to do it over. What they meant was that all too often we rushed into getting on with stuff without planning it. The result is rubbish/riddled with mistakes and we then have to subsequently correct it. So it is here. We rush to start writing the presentation and this is the first thing that comes to mind. Its lazy.
  • warming-up. The hardest part for non-experienced presenters is the start of the presentation – they need a warming up before they can get into their content… and what safer warming up stuff than stuff they really know than their own life story?
  • everyone else does it. Let’s face it, if you’ve had no presentations training and your idea of good delivery is what your boss does, and your boss is crap… well no wonder you make crap presentations!
  • arrogance. Seriously. Some presenters actually think people care. With the obvious exception of when the presentation is literally about the presenter’s life story, why should I care about how hard it was for you to get to where you’ve got to?
  • insecurity. If you’re not sure you have the right to be making the presentation, spending five minutes talking about yourself and/or your organisation might be a way of bolstering your credibility. Sure, it might… but even if it is, it’s a the cost of attention and time. And most of the time it’s pointless (see notes on already having the credibility in this blog and this post about authority-vs-likeability).

An example of when it’s okay to talk about yourself would be, for example, my mate Richard McCann – his whole presentation is the story of how he moved from victimhood to success. And when it’s not? Take a look at my friend Geoff Ramm – he talks about marketing (sorry Geoff – that’s simplifying it! 🙂 ) so why should he start with how he found out about marketing?

What can you do instead, to make a better presentation?

So what’s the big deal and how do you handle it?

Well, remember that I said you didn’t need to gain your audience’s attention, you just need to not lose it? Remember that. It’s important because it changes how you think of your presentation’s design. You don’t need to start your presentation by trying to get credibility and/or authority. You’ve got that from being at the front of the room.

Learn from the best

Presenting a doctor - how do you know?

If necessary, take a few tricks from doctors. Why do you think hospital doctors wear white coats and have their stethoscopes around their necks? It’s so that from the moment they walk up to you, as a patient, you have their authority in mind. For the presenter that’s the equivalent of having the credibility based on the invitations to the presentation or the marketing of it…

… or even how you’re introduced!

Use whatever you can use before the presentation to establish your authority. It’s not hard when you put your mind to it: you just need to think about it.

There’s a reason that professionals display their qualification certificates in their waiting rooms and not in the corridor on the way out… 😉

Don’t blow it by being a tech-crash-presenter

If you look clumsy and incompetent on stage your authority will leak. That includes not being able to handle your tech. There’s no need to be a technical god, but it’s a good idea to practice assembling your tech, so that you can handle it smoothly.

Personally I arrive at least an hour before my gig starts for a venue I don’t know, so that I can deal with anything technical before the audience arrives. You might not have that luxury but at least you get the idea.

Think about doing a test run with the kit beforehand, even.

BTW… As an additional benefit, it helps with your nerves. It means you can concentrate on your presentation during your presentation – instead of concentrating on your presentations and on prayers to the small gods of technology at the same time.)

Personal horror-story time?

There’s a tendency for some places to use non-wired connections to their screens. The problem is that they don’t allow for videos to be shown properly and they sometimes require you to instal software on your laptop.

It took me and the in-house-technical support nearly an hour to sort out why their kit wasn’t working.

That’s why I’ve got grey hair! 😉

Deliver big up front

There’s a logic to delivering content in the order of how you acquired it. For example you might want to give the background on how you did your survey before you give the results of it. But here’s the deal… no one cares about the “how” unless they’ve bought in because of the “what”. Kick off with bit, helpful “whats”.

In a brave world, you can often skip the “how” in your presentation and include that as a handout – or similar – for those people who are interested enough. It avoids boring those people in your audience who aren’t that fascinated by that sort of thing.

If people are really interested, they’ll ask questions… and that’s a thing to be celebrated, ‘cos it means they’re just checking out and validating what you’ve told them. In other words, you’ve got them hooked and you’re more than half way home!

Let it go

No one really cares about you except your mother (sorry!). What’s important to your audience is your content, not you. Think of yourself as the medium and not the message. When you think of it like that it’s much easier to not deliver the “Here I am and here’s how I got to this point” bit. It’s a simple shift in mind-set that leads to it being much easier to get out of your audience’s way.

And yea, I know, you’ve now got the chorus from that song from the Disney film stuck in your head, haven’t you!?

Just because of the title of this section. Admit it – just click, listen and indulge in the shmaltz!

And you?

I’m not going to embarrass you by asking if you’ve ever been guilty of “my story starts”. 🙂 But think about it for me? And if not for me, for your audience!

On another note, think back to any presentations you sat through recently. How many of them wasted that first few minutes by explaining how we all got where we are?!

Simon says...

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