My new friend Dale Dauten wrote the following column after we met at a conference where he heard me speak. This column was originally published in The Arizona Daily Star. He brings some great perspectives to the table. Here’s Dale:
Dale Dauten: Leave ’em wanting more so they’ll want you to present more often
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” — Dorothy Parker
Walt Disney once pointed out that the key to success is to do something so well that people will pay to see you do it again. So, using that as a standard, here’s the question: When was the last time you saw a business presentation that you would pay to see again? OK, that’s too much to ask. How about this: When was the last time you saw a presentation that you’d want to sit through twice?
If you’re a corporate employee, wouldn’t it be grand if your management actually looked forward to having you present instead of just pretending to look interested (after announcing just before you begin that they’d love to stay longer, but they have an important conference call in 15 minutes)?
One reason presentations have become exercises in forced concentration is the dumbest advice ever offered to presenters: the old Keep It Simple, Stupid. This leads to the Lucidity Paradox, where you make your points so clear that they disappear.
Another piece of classic advice to presenters is the old What’s In It For Me? principle, where your remarks address the audience’s self-interest. That would seem to be good thinking, but the fact is that most people have their self- interest figured out before you begin and come not to learn but to defend. So, instead of KISS or WIIFM, I say the best advice to follow comes from the people who know audiences best, the ones whose livelihood depends on knowing the audience: the folks in the entertainment business, who say, “Leave ’em wanting more.”
Let’s face it, the typical PowerPoint presentation is an exercise in leaving the audience wanting less. So how is it possible to cover a topic thoroughly and still leave the audience wanting more?
What got me thinking about that question was a presentation by Mike Figliuolo, a former corporate guy who’s now consulting on how thought processes influence communication, via his company, thoughtLEADERS (thoughtleadersllc.com). Here are three of his suggestions:
– “An individual’s compensation is inversely proportional to the number of PowerPoint pages he or she will tolerate before having a stroke.”
– “If it’s two pages, it’s not a summary.” (Figliuolo quotes one executive commenting on the readability of written reports as saying, “If it has a staple, I won’t read it.”)
– “When people start thinking, bad things happen.” (The advantage of moving quickly through a presentation is that, if you do it properly, you guide management to the conclusion you want them to reach before they have time to let their minds wander off onto another agenda.)
You can see where he’s going here — right to the point. Seems easy enough, but it isn’t. Why? Figliuolo points out that the person giving the presentation yearns to impress the boss, and the way to do that has always been by working hard. Thus, if you’re a typical corporate employee, you believe on some level that showing management all the research and data you’ve collected will impress them. Alas, it only impresses them that you think like the little people.
So, you keep it short but NOT simple — you keep it big and fast and leave them working to keep up. You have the details available, should they want to see them. They won’t. But, with some luck and skill, they’ll want to see you present more often.
– Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab. Write to him in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.