Mama, don't take my presentation skills away...


The most important marketing skill

This past week I listened to Mitch Joel on his podcast Six Pixels of Separation, I heard him interview Peter Coughter who is an expert on presentations and the art of the pitch. It reminded me of a long-held belief of mine that if I could only have one marketing skill, it would be the ability to present complex information in a clear, crisp public presentation.  

Here are seven pieces of advice that I share with colleagues before they present in public and that I use when I get a chance to present in front of a crowd. 
  1. Tell a story, don’t present the phone book.  We remember stories that resonate with us but it is difficult to retain facts. Think of your opportunity in front of a group to help them remember just a few key ideas attached to a well-developed story line.
  2. PowerPoint is not the enemy. I use PowerPoint but I use it to have images that illustrate my story or theme. I don’t pack it with words and numbers. Each slide should only have one idea or thought. Think of it like a children’s book with pictures and few words. No this isn't patronizing to people, it allows you to entertain and educate people in one conversation.
  3. Group Presentations – don’t show your hand.  When you go to a play, you don’t see an actor say, “and now my colleague will present to you how things will change in the next scene”.  If a few people are presenting, you don’t have to do this uncomfortable hand off.  Just pass the clicker, and say nothing.  If you have a story and one person introduces the beginning, someone else the middle and another person the end, it doesn’t need you telling the audience that Sue will know speak about the tactics. Do, don’t say.
  4. Handout facts, present themes.  If it is so important that your audience walks away with data, give it to them or post it somewhere. Don’t expect a packed house to be able to digest tables of charts. You should present insights and synthesis not files of data. As Mitch said in his podcast, please don’t tell me you are going to do a “deep dive”. It so trite, it makes my bones aches. Stick to the story and point them to the data dump. Academics and scientists also want to be entertained. You can discuss deeply technical matters in a clear and easy to digest speech. (see #6) 
  5. Energy matters. Presentations that suck are usually made worse by uninspiring presenters. If you can’t be upbeat about your material, don’t get up in front of others and turn them off. Get someone who can bring a room to life, make the information digestible and communicate your key message. There is a fine line between being too energetic and almost inhuman. I like to listen to upbeat, smart people speak. If you need help, see point #6. 
  6. Watch a few TED Talks to see all of this in action. Bring to life your themes and your stories and watch a few pros do it well. Talks with over one million hits are probably the best place to start. Not all of us can be brilliant on stage – but most of us can learn from watching others perform at a peak performance.
  7. It is okay to be nervous.  That is human. It is vital to know your stuff so that you don’t have to rely on the notes or reading from your slides.  Make sure you practice in front of a few people to help you fine tune your story.  Test your presentation in front of people who don’t know the subject matter and LISTEN to their comments without feeling threatened. An audience understands nervousness but is less forgiving when someone is slick and seems arrogant and above it all. 

Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away...
If I had to give up all the marketing skills I have learned in my career, but could retain just one, it would be all that I have learned presenting in front of an audience. Be a story teller and act like a human being not a robot. It is my favorite and the most important of all marketing skills. 

Now, get out there and tell your story. 

Notes: If you enjoy my posts, would you share it with your marketing friends? And check out my new book on Amazon. At $2.99 it is a great value. 21 useful lessons based on my marketing experiences.

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