Giving presentations in front of groups is hard work, but when we see a gifted story teller – a Steve Jobs, or Larry Keely from Doblin, or Tim Brown from IDEO, or Clay Christensen from Innosight they make it look so easy. How do they do it? Two words: preparation, and practice.
Preparation is all about knowing your content and knowing your audience. Knowing why you’re delivering that chunk of your story to that audience, at that specific level of granularity, at that time is key to an enraptured audience.
Practice is about repetition. Do you think Eddie Van Halen, or Buddy Guy, or BB King are really improvising when they do a solo? They are taking snippets of things they’ve practiced thousands of times and stringing them together, with momentary sojourns into the unknown, always returning to tried and tested material. That’s the key to a presentation – know your story well, and practice telling it over and over – to yourself, your pet or whoever will listen. Record yourself, video yourself, use a mirror, just practice.
I’m not going to tell you how to tell a story. There are lots of good resources out there that either analyze great presenters, or put frameworks around ways to format your story, or both. Some of my favorites include The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand and Stories that Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations. I’m going to show you some of the back-office work I do as I develop the content for a story – the script and any imagery that may be needed to support the story.
Starting with rough storyboards
When you first think of a narrative idea it undoubtedly comes to you as a series of images or scenes. Movie makers have used story boards for years to map out the overall flow of your story. Like so many of the techniques I preach, the quality of your drawing is not as important as the quality of your idea!
Individual detailed scribbles
I almost immediately move into a mode where I draw every idea I have in more (not much more) detail. This keeps my ideas flowing and keeps humans the center of my stories, and I think that makes a greater impact in the end.
Creating the Bill of Materials
Once I get the main idea of what I want each scene to contain I create what I call a “Bill of Materials” – a term borrowed from the building trade. Break every idea down into “scenes” (any time the main background image changes, or camera moves if you’re planning video), and every addition in that scene into “builds”. These are elements that “build” on one another as your story unfolds: screen shots, animated arrows, call outs, pull quotes, etc.
Blocking out scenes and script writing
I continue working through the story, very likely in Keynote or Power Point, blocking out each scene, capturing the story as a script, and working back and forth to keep the Bill of Materials updated as I think of new things. This ensures that all the assets will be accounted for when I move into final production of the piece. Whether it’s a narrated video assembled in After Effects or a sparse collection of images delivered Pecha Kucha style, it’s important to gauge the narration and the cadence so the end result is a success.
We decided a hand drawn look was too hard for the viewer to parse, since the main message of this story was the software capabilities happening in a series of animations on top of the background, so we would go with treated photos. We were able to use some pictured we’d taken during earlier interviews around our office, and we staged a photoshoot for specific images to fill out the story.
Experiments in visual treatment
Our Art Director investigated several visual directions….
Final visual treatment
…landing on one that would let the human interactions of the scene come through, but not be too distracting or specifically leading. The goal was to let the user focus on the presentation as it was delivered and see the animated builds enough to support the narrative.
And a screen from the final product
If you’re including animation, or “builds” as I’ve called them, you have to make sure your delivery keeps in sync with them, and they support your story, and they aren’t distracting. Everything you say, show or do should have a reason, and support your story. This is where preparation and practice come together.
Presents for the audience
I like to give the audience something to either take notes on, or refer to later. For a sit down boardroom event I like what I call “placemats” – 11×17 printed things. For a demo day, trade show or multi-speaker event booklets can be better…
OK, that may not have won me the Nobel Peace Prize, but like Bob Dylan (who DID win the Nobel Peace Prize this week) said: “…I’ll know my song well before I start singing” – and so should you. Know your content, edit, edit, edit, and have a great time in your next presentation.