Presentation skills have always been considered a vital component to the art of communication regardless of what kind of setting you find yourself in. The ability to effectively communicate one’s ideas but also actively engage your listeners is an alive but dying art form today. Tools like Power Point, charts and laser pointers, while being helpful to the presenter, has also served to dull the most intuitive of skill sets that most people are born with – story-telling. In this article we’ll address some key areas where anyone can greatly improve their presentation skills, using just that ‘congenital’ skill set.
The hall is packed to a capacity audience. The lights are dim and all you can see are the glowing displays of laptops, tablets and smartphones. There is a low buzz of voices but the atmosphere is electric with anticipation. And then the stage lights fade up and a man walks onto the stage wearing a black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers. Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, developed a cult-like reputation that made him a universally recognizable icon of corporate success. When news of his death went public, people lined up in thousands outside Apple stores all over the world to mourn him. Steve Jobs was considered a genius, a visionary to have come up with incredible products that changed the world. But it wasn’t his mere ideas that were captivating; it was his presentation skills that mesmerized audiences and held them in rapt attention. Even the ever-skeptical media acknowledged this.
Steve Jobs knew how to tell a story. He would begin with the classic ‘once upon a time‘ – the history of computers or mobile phones. He would tell you how good everything was. Then he would set you up for the bleak situation we found ourselves in. And then he would introduce his version of the ‘knight in shining armor‘ – the latest and greatest product or service that changed everything! He’d claim that it wouldn’t just change the way we did things but also that things would never be the same for humanity! And with a breathtaking demo would seal the ‘happily ever after’ in all of our hearts! Audiences ate it up. His story telling was so consuming that long after the presentation, people would line up sometimes days before, outside an Apple store waiting for the launch of the newly announced product. What was it about his presentation skill that was so mesmerizing? And how can we adopt it today?
‘Once Upon a Time’
Jobs always began with painting the landscape to illustrate the current state of affairs to give his audience a context of reality. This is a crucial step in story telling. It is always important to let the listener feel like he is part of a state of affairs that is very real regardless of how intangible it actually is. It gives him a pulse to place his finger on so he relates with the scenario. This also intuitively creates the ‘what next’ feeling of anticipation.
‘The Bad News’
In the next stage it is important to highlight the drawbacks or limitations that we find within this snapshot of reality whatever that looks like even in a corporate setting. Jobs did this well – he would say things like, “we’ve always wanted to be able to do this but we’re not able to”, or something like, “how many of us has been frustrated by the fact that this doesn’t work the way it is supposed to?” He would ask rhetorical questions but listeners intuitively knew these were questions they had always known but never asked. They owned the questions and now it was personal.
‘Knight in Shining Armor’
And then came the answer riding on the white horse of innovation. Jobs would say, “And today we think we’ve found the solution to exactly that problem and here it is!” This is the ‘piece de resistance’ of the presentation! This is where you take your listeners’ breath away. Executed well, any audience will be spell-bound more by the rhetoric of data presented than the content of the data itself. This is an often-understated aspect in corporate presentations. We think that numbers, stats and graphs are what really matter the most. But remember that humans are emotional creatures. We are sentient, cognitive and moved by narrative. Learning to tap into that intuitive aspect of humanity is what is crucial to a phenomenal presentation. Jobs did this masterfully.
Steve Jobs would use hyperbole to drive home the point. In his keynote presentation for the iPhone, he regularly used words like, ‘revolutionary’, ‘magical’, ‘breathtaking’ and ‘incredible’. The right terminology used well can do wonders to a presentation.
‘Happily Ever After’
Finally it is important to end with how the solution offered in the presentation will radically change everything and make things truly better. This ends on a note of promise, hope and an anticipation of the future. Nobody dislikes a story with a happy ending. This formula is the key to a successful presentation.
Not everyone may be a Steve Jobs but there are certain fundamental aspects to the dynamics of presentation skills training that are vitally important to know. Understanding the art of story telling, knowing the affinity that people have for a captivating narrative and masterfully communicating it can make anyone a truly phenomenal presenter.