Powerful presentations, even with PowerPoint

This is a guest post by David Lindelöf. David obtained his PhD in Physics at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. From 2010 to 2018, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Neurobat. Since 2018 he has been the Senior Data Scientist at Expedia in Geneva. He shares his thoughts on learning, computers and other interesting topics on his blog.

I recently had the pleasure of joining David and around 100 of his colleagues at their annual off-site meeting. At the event, I gave a keynote address on public speaking. And Daire O’Doherty, one of my improv troupe partners, joined me and together we ran four workshops on the benefits of improv for business.

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Dear student of public speaking,

Have you ever watched a TED Talk and wondered how the speaker did it? How can anyone give a perfect delivery to an audience without notes? How can you speak confidently on topics frequently unfamiliar to the audience and share information that they will remember years later?

You can deliver a powerful presentation

It’s not an easy feat, but neither is it a skill reserved for a chosen few. It’s a skill that you can practise and learn—which is probably why you are reading this blog in the first place.

But perhaps you think that the powerpoint-heavy presentations that you have to give on a weekly basis have nothing in common with TED Talks. You present business studies, analyses, scientific reports and other “serious” subjects. You are even expected to provide a PowerPoint deck, compliant with the local brand guidelines, and which can be forwarded to those who couldn’t attend your presentation. It must be full of details, numbers, and text; a standalone document. Surely the highly visual, minimalist, pithy slides seen at TED Talks have no place in a business setting.

Surely, that is, unless you want your presentation to be effective.

My company’s analytics business unit, about 100 people, convened for our annual two-day offsite meeting in May. Remarkably for such a highly technical and analytic community, there was a strong desire this year to focus on soft skills. People wanted to hear about stakeholder management, fear of failure and, you guessed it, public presentations.

John Zimmer, the creator of this blog, was a natural choice for an external trainer on public speaking. He gave a keynote full of actionable tips and techniques to deliver powerful, impactful presentations—even in a business environment.

A lesson from Aristotle

I cannot give a full summary of all the advice John gave, but the one thing I will remember the most was the importance of having every single presentation contain the right mixture of Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion:

    • Logos: facts, figures, and logic
    • Ethos: persuasion through the credibility of the speaker (authority, expertise, trustworthiness)
    • Pathosemotion (stories, surprise, humour)

Most presentations, like mine, tend to be excessively burdened with logos at the expense of the other two elements. So the next time you give a presentation, don’t forget to establish your credibility and infuse your presentation with some human element. The latter doesn’t have to be silly, cute, or involve cats; but instead of presenting dry, boring facts, consider trying to tell stories with your data.

A post-event survey showed that John’s intervention (and the theatrical improvisation workshops his Renegade Saints troupe gave) were the two most highly rated events during the offsite. It’s easy to understand why.

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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