I saw an interesting article in the November 2008 print version of Fast Company called “Presentation Pep Talk: How to Prevent Bad PowerPoint from Happening to Good People.” It was written by Dan and Chip Heath, authors of the best seller, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
Dan and Chip make a great point about presentations.
“Before your audience will value the information you’re giving, they’ve got to want it. Most presenters take that desire for granted. Great presentations are mysteries, not encyclopedia entries…The best presenters don’t structure their presentation by thinking, ‘What’s the next point I should make.’ Instead, they decide, ‘What’s the next question I want them to wrestle with?’”
Now that’s some common sense.
Compelling questions are a great way to begin a presentation. They get the audience interested in learning the answers. I begin many of my talks on career and life success by asking, “How many of you would like to have a surefire system for creating a successful life and career?” Almost everyone raises their hand. Some people even shout, “Yes!” My response is always the same, “You’ve come to the right place.” By asking and answering that simple question, I get my audiences to want what I’m going to give them.
Then I give it to them. My success system is based on the five keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success: Self Confidence, Positive Personal Impact, Outstanding Performance, Dynamic Communication and Interpersonal Competence. I move the talk forward by asking the audience to grapple with questions related to each of these five keys to success.
For example, when I got to the part of the talk on dynamic communication, I used to say something like, “You have to master three key skills if you want to become a dynamic communicator: conversation skills, writing skills and presentation skills.” And I would have the obligatory three bullet point PowerPoint slide.
Now I say something like, “Let’s move on to dynamic communication. What makes for effective communication at work?” I listen to the answers that get shouted out from the audience. In a couple of minutes, conversation skills, writing skills and presentation skills all come up in one way or another. This gives me the opportunity to reward the audience for their knowledge by acknowledging their correct answers.
As a result of that one question, and a brief exchange with the audience, I have set up myself to make the points I want to make about how to become a good conversationalist, write well and make top notch presentations – without resorting to a three bullet point slide.
The common sense point here is simple. There are two absolute musts to making great presentations. First, get the audience’s attention. Second, keep it. Questions help you do both. By asking a compelling question at the beginning of your talk, you engage the audience. By structuring your presentation in a manner that allows you and your audience to grapple with important questions related to each of your major points, you keep the audience interested and engaged. Try this in your next presentation. You’ll be pleased with the results.
That’s my take on using questions to build successful presentations. What’s yours? Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts on this with us. I read and appreciate every comment I get. As always, thanks for reading – and commenting.