This is the first of an occasional series of short items I think worth a quick read.
If I am to speak for ten minutes, I shall need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.
Woodrow Wilson, 28th US President
And another with the same thought.
The publisher sent the author a telegram reading:
NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.
The author sent back a telegram reading:
NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES TWO DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES
Mark Twain, author and humorist.
I especially like the Twain version here. The point, of course, is that it’s hard to be concise and simple–hard but really important.
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People
Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., New Riders, ©2011
At about 250 pages, it’s obvious that this book isn’t going to cover 100 things very deeply. Most items are covered in one or two pages and there’s a good amount of ‘white space’ on the page. So if you’re looking for depth, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But depth isn’t the goal of this book. Instead, it provides a set thumbnail rules for anyone who needs to create written material in general. Although it is probably most useful for creators of web sites, I think at least 75% of her ‘things’ are applicable to those of us who create presentations and at least 90% would be of interest. If you remember the admonition of Duarte (and others) to “think like a designer,” this book might help you understand what that means.
At the top level, here’s how she categorized and presented her 100 points:
- How people see
- How people read
- How people remember
- How people think
- How people focus their attention
- What motivates people
- People are social animals
- How people feel
- People make mistakes
- How people decide
The first five of these have a lot of similarity to content in Medina’s Brain Rules book and, in fact, that’s one of the sources she cites. Her version is a compressed, capsule statement of the material along with an example or two of the impact the information should have on the choices a designer makes. The 49 points in these categories are essentially 100% relevant for a presentation designer. In fact, I found that only the “mistakes” category contained nothing directly useful, but it’s interesting reading despite that.
What I liked
But the book is well designed-it’s a good example of the ideas it presents. As a result, it’s very readable and concise. It’s also very pragmatic with specific examples and guidelines for every item she presents. If you want to get a sense of what people like Dr. John Medina, Dan Pink and the Heath brothers are saying, this book will help. If Weinschenk gets you interested enough to read some of those, then so much the better.
What I didn’t like
The compressed, capsule version of the points she makes necessarily leaves out a lot of the discussion. As a result, some things may seem weakly supported–I didn’t see anything wrong in her synopses, but I’m not sure I’d have really accepted some of the points without having read other material like Medina and the Heath brothers. The format of the book also makes it hard for her to show the relationships that often tie several points together. Grouping them into the categories is her main way of showing that, but again, without having read the other material, I’m not sure I’d see the connections. Last, I wish her editors had done a better job with the research citations. There’s an extensive bibliography of books and research papers in the back, but the way in-line citations are done makes it hard to find the source she is using. That may be a nit but the fact that there are missing citations isn’t, and her editors should have caught that. It’s not common, but there are multiple cases of “research shows that_ .” in the book with no way to know whose research she’s referring to and that’s sloppy.
If you’re really interested in the topic, you’ll be better served by reading about a half dozen other books, especially Medina, Heath & Heath, Duarte and Reynolds. This can’t replace those but if you want a quick-read version of the essentials of design for presentations, then Weinschenk’s book is just the ticket. And if she gets you interested enough to then read a few of the others, so much the better.
Note: Susan has a new book that’s going to be available in late May 2012: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People.
I’m guessing there will be a lot of overlap between these and big sections could be reused entirely, so you might want to check the reviews on that one before getting this.
- Brain Rule #9: Stimulate More of the Senses
- Brain Rule #4: Brains don’t pay attention to boring.
- To succeed as a presenter, you must think like a designer.
- Robin Williams: C.R.A.P.
Ran across this and really liked it:
Here’s a staggering statistic: 30 million presentations are given daily in human society. Daily. With that much hot air entering the atmosphere every day, we must either cap and trade public speakers or revolutionize the way presentations are given.
CEO and founder Ethos3 Communications
I, of course, vote for the revolution! :)
As I noted in the prior posts, Jerry Weissman’s Presenting to Win has many great things to say. Here’s a pair of brief extracts:
…getting your story straight is the critical factor in making your presentation powerful. In fact, when your story is right, it serves as a foundation for your delivery skills. The reverse is never true. You may be the most polished speaker on Earth, but if your story isn’t sharply focused, your message will fail. The effective presenter makes it easy for the audience to grasp ideas… The effective presentation story leads the audience to an inevitable conclusion. The journey gives the audience a psychological comfort level that makes it easy for them to say ‘yes’ to whatever the presenter is proposing.
The importance of story is a theme that Weissman hits many times and in many ways. His experience much deeper, but matches mine: it works and it’s a big reason why some presentations are memorable and most are not. Here’s one more I really like:
The vast majority of presentations fall prey to what is known as the Five Cardinal Sins:
- No clear point. The audience leaves the presentation wondering what it was all about. How many times have you sat all the way through a presentation and, at the end, said to yourself “What was the point? “
- No audience benefit. The presentation fails to show how the audience can benefit from the information presented. How many times have you sat through a presentation and repeatedly said to yourself “So what? ”
- No clear flow. The sequence of ideas is so confusing that it leaves the audience behind, unable to follow. How many times have you sat through a presentation and, at some point; said to yourself “Wait a minute! How did the presenter get there?”
- Too detailed. So many facts are presented, including facts that are overly technical or irrelevant, that the main point is obscured. How many times have you sat in on a presentation and, at some point, said to yourself “What does that mean? ”
- Too long. The audience loses focus and gets bored before the presentation ends. How many times in your entire professional career have you ever heard a presentation that was too short? The remedy is painfully apparent: Focus. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Give the audience only what they need to know.
That’s a pretty good summary what’s wrong with the overwhelming majority of presentations. But more importantly, if you take his five points and write them as positive statements, you’ll have a checklist for making your presentation have impact.
- Be clear about your purpose–what do you want the audience to do after the presentation?
- WIIFY — know what’s in it for them and state it.
- Establish and stick with a clear, logical flow throughout.
- Keep it simple, understand the audience and give them what they need and no more.
- Be concise.
Anything you think should be added to that list ?
What’s in it for you? WIIFY is a topic I’ve blogged about before and probably will again because it’s really that important.
I can remember being in far too many presentations and thinking, “Okay, but why do I care?” or walking out of one mumbling some variation on that. To say the least, it’s very bad if your audience is left that way. It happens because presenters get so lost in their data, or in what they’re saying that they forget that the audience wants and needs to hear what it means and, especially, why they should care.
Jerry Weissman (Presenting to Win) calls it Audience Advocacy–taking the view of the audience and going beyond just presenting the information you’ve got by carefully and explicitly telling them why they should care. He makes the point strongly several times; here’s one of them:
The key building block for Audience Advocacy, and a way to focus on benefits rather than features, is to constantly ask the key question: What ’s in it for you? There are six key phrases that can trigger a WIIFY. They are designed to remind presenters about the necessity of linking every element of their presentation to a clear audience benefit, or a WIIFY.
When I coach my clients ’ presentations and I hear an idea, fact, story, or detail without a clear audience benefit, I interrupt to call out one of these WIIF Y triggers:
- “This is important to you because…_. ” (The presenter fills in the blank with a WIIFY)
- “What does this mean to you?” (The presenter explains with a WIIFY)
- “Why am I telling you this?” (The presenter explains.)
- “Who cares?” (“You should care, because ….” )
- “So what? ” (“Here ’s what … “)
- “And. .. ?” (“Here’s the WIIFY.. . _ .”)
Weissman’s experience (and mine) is that this a common issue with presentations of all kinds and that even experienced presenters can easily fall into this trap. We won’t have Jerry as a coach, so we need to make a conscious effort to watch for his WIIFY triggers and ask ourselves his questions.
Remember, the goal of your presentation is to create change, and your job is to motivate the change by telling the audience what’s in it for them !
In a prior post, Why you can’t send them your slides, I wrote that your slides are there to support your presentation and not to be the presentation. Without you, they shouldn’t work. Carrying the entire presentation in the slides turns them into slideuments, which then makes them ineffective as visual aids for you, the presenter. If the slides are the presentation, why are you there at all?
Jerry Weissman, Presenting to Win, has this to say about that topic:
A presentation is a presentation and only a presentation. . . never a document. After all, Microsoft provides Word for documents and PowerPoint for presentations. And never the twain shall meet.
Be sure to distribute the handouts only after the presentation. If you distribute them before or during the presentation, your audience members will flip through them as you speak, and they won’t listen to what you have to say.
If you’re asked to provide a copy of your presentation for a conference so that the slides can be printed in book form, use PowerPoint’s Notes Page view. That way, you’ll maintain the integrity of your slides as purely presentation material.
If you’re asked to provide a copy of the presentation in advance, as so often happens, especially in the venture capital and financial sector, politely offer to provide a business plan or executive summary… as a document. And create that document with Microsoft Word, not PowerPoint.
I couldn’t agree more with Jerry on all of that.
However in the corner of the business world where I sit, that advice while correct, is often made irrelevant by management insistence on:
1) content on the slides (slideuments) and
2) distributing the slides in advance of the session. Yes, exactly what Weissman puts on his “don’t do this list.”
That road sign is the message I’d like send when that happens. Just like the drivers who see that road sign, they’re already on a dangerous path, headed in the wrong direction. Every chance I get, I suggest a change in direction, an “alternative” approach. And just telling them their way is stupid is not recommended :) — there can be a steep a price to being right here.
- Sometimes I can get a positive response to the idea of sending out an executive summary paper in advance instead of the slides, and it’s always worth trying.
- Occasionally, I can convince the-powers-that-be we should reduce the content on the slides, add the material to the Notes Pages and use those as a leave-behind or handout and not the slides.
- Sometimes I just do it and take the “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach.
In the end, the reality is that there’s often just no way to get it done “right” when someone else defines “right.” The odd thing is that when I do (or design) a presentation that isn’t constrained, I normally get a lot of positive feedback, ironically sometimes from the same people who insist that another approach won’t work. >sigh< But I’ll keep trying and so should you. The sad thing is that the ”bar” on presentations is so low that even small improvements can make you stand out from the crowd in a positive way. Never forget:
Presentation is the killer skill we take into the real world. It’s almost an unfair advantage.
The McKinsey Mind
Presenting to win: the art of telling your story,
Jerry Weissman, ©2009, Pearson Education LTD
In a way this is going to be the shortest book review I’ve posted here, but I’m also going to follow-up with a couple more posts with some particularly good material extracted from the book.
This book has been around for over 2 years and has gotten hundreds of positive reviews–it doesn’t need another one. But just based my first sentence above, it should come as no surprise that I’m going to give it another one. However, the real purpose of the review is to call attention to a book that you might have missed, and I think you should fix that. So, I don’t just recommend it–I believe this belongs on your “must read” list just above Garr Reynolds’ books. From me, that’s pretty significant.
This book is fundamental when it comes to presentations. Weissman’s influence can be seen in many of the other books and authors I’ve recommended. The heart of his message is the subtitle: “. . .the art of telling your story.” The book is, itself, a great example of that message. Weissman is a storyteller who has worked in television, movies and corporate board rooms. He’s helped build compelling presentations at every level, of every format and for every type of audience. Through this book, he wants to help each and every one of us, too. Your part in the partnership is to simply read and pay attention to the book.
Just as Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker is best book I’ve read on that topic, so Weissman’s book is at the top of my list for presentations as a whole. Do yourself a huge favor and put this book on your to-be-read list! Then read it and your audience will thank you.
In short, highest recommendation from me, too.