Presentation is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket. The audience are not passive receptacles waiting to be filled with information; they are dynamic, living beings with experience, beliefs and values. As they listen to a talk they hear their own small inner voice, a voice the expert presenter engages. Not a monologue, but a dialogue.
So a presentation is about triggering more than informing, about igniting that fire. The presenter must be the spark. But a spark is not the fire; it’s what triggers the fire. No more, no less. As the fire needs oxygen, the audience need space. Space to process, to reflect, to think. The presenter needs to say less, so the audience can think more.
Great artists have always known this. Film Director David Mamet asks himself, “What’s the minimum I need to show?” Do the most with the least.
Ernest Hemingway strips everything back to barest minimum, and you do the rest. Small words; big effect. As Hemingway says, “I turn my flame down and down and down until it explodes.”
In my 30 years of teaching, I’ve noticed one thing about really great presentations. They don’t just happen on the ‘stage’, nor do they really happen just in the ‘audience’. They happen in a space ‘between’. The presenter is responsible for starting the process, for thinking about the audience: their beliefs, their knowledge, their desires, and to use that to reach out to them. If you give the audience just enough, they respond. They give you, in return, that most precious thing – their attention. Scientists and techies say that information is ‘the new oil’. It’s not. Information is everywhere. We’re drowning in it. The new oil is human attention.
But the key to attention is how you reach out. You do it with an open hand, not a fist. A great presentation doesn’t resemble a full stop or an exclamation mark. More than anything, it’s a question mark. What is this thing? Why is it happening? How can we make it better? Come with me and let’s take a look.
To become a great presenter, become an engineer of attention.
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