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Death by Power Point's Accessory After The Fact … the Twitter Backchannel

sleepJust reading an interesting article by Cliff Atkinson I saw on Twitter (Thanks @AnthillMagazine) about presentations and the backchannel potential disasters. This is near and dear to my heart!
I have been doing Presentation Skills lecturing and training at University level for over a dozen years now and believe I have a solid and simple solution to this phenomena.
In presentations the key to effective communications – and by that I mean communications that get results – is the issue of emotion and story telling.

In the countless presentations I have witnessed, critiqued and sat through, only a handful are memorable. That is the emotional part. Less have affected me. Changed my life so to speak. That is the effective part.

First, we simply do too many presentations. Most, if not all, are horrible. And it is not your fault, by the way. Most folks are not trained, come at the presentation from the wrong angle and have expectations of the outcome that no one could achieve.
But, I don't want to get ahead of myself here. I could write a dozen books about the professional presentation game. All I want to point out here is that I can guarantee that if you are doing a presentation and folks are Tweeting you have lost them way before this happens. Now, don't get me wrong, I really do not have anything against someone Tweeting during a presentation. Folks will do what folks do. I do have, however, an issue with the presenter not engaging the audience. You can only do that with emotion. Not spinning globes on a Deck! Death by Power Point (I have written about this at length) is a huge issue.

In my classes, I make folks give presentations without any exhibits, decks or aids of any kind. I get them to work on connecting with the audience. I believe when creating a presentation – start at the END. Start with the listener. You have to know their expectations, their level of involvement, their interest and their motivations.
If someone is not interested in what you are saying, is bored, ends up in the wrong presentation at a conference or simply is being a putz and wants attention – you can never stop that. Stuff happens. (I was going to say shit happens but I am being nicey/nicey here!) It is the same as someone heckling you – the person doing this should not be confronted. In a solid presentation the rest of the audience is affected by this person screwing up their experience. Not the speaker. The audience, if they are on your side, will not tolerate anything diminishing their experience.

For the professional speaker, every appearance must be the very best, like a warrior's last dance. If you want to speak like a pro, get up there and say something that will make them lose track of time and forget everything else in the world except what you're telling them. Give them something to remember.
Or, you can run through your 75 page deck, talk to each slide off the top of your head and become Road Kill on the Twitter stream.
Tell em a good story. Trust me on this. It works. If you get them engaged they will be tweeting ZOMFG He/She is amaz …. and then get back to watching you in wrapped attention!

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  1. Erica
    Erica March 16, 2010

    I don’t agree that people tweeting during a presentation means you’ve lost them. It’s not comparable to doodling or checking their email during a talk. People that tweet (at least, the type that might bring the gear to do so to a presentation) are VERY INTO IT. They’re tweeting while you’re talking because they’re so into what you’re saying that they just have to look smart by sharing it with their followers. They’re inspired. You should ASPIRE to having a whole room tweeting your brilliance in real time!

  2. mose
    mose March 16, 2010

    Good points Erica. We should all aspire to be that brilliant! I guess I was thinking about folks in smaller presentations.
    At the Art of Marketing recently there were, oh call it 1000 folks in the crowd. Tons of Tweeting and Foursquaring and jibs and jibes and quips online through most of the presentations. Like we saw on twitter for the Olympics and the Oscars. It did not diminish the experience for me – I was not following Twitter at the time. And the folks beside me were not Twittering.
    I do not think it diminished the experience for the presenters (Hey, it would be a good idea to ask them.) cause the hall was lit like a traditional theatre – you can’t really make eye contact with the whole crowd in a large venue – you pick people you can see – connect with them.
    Huge Tony Robbinsesque presentations are more like taking in a show or watching a play. So, if it is ok with the folks beside you at a show or at the theatre and it is OK with the show presenter for you to Tweet I have no problem with it.
    I am referring to smaller presentations. The ones most of us mere mortals do all the time. Few of us will get in front of thousands of folks to do our schtick. In a room with say 30 folks Tweeting can be a disaster.
    As for email and doodling – two separate issues. I found out that someone who doodles during meetings or presentation – well, that is is actually their way of learning. That is how they take in material. I believe it is covered in Gagne’s Nine Events of learning. I encourage it.
    As for checking email in that scenario. Well, I believe that is just bad manners.

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