The art of engagement: PIC2013 session write-up

I attended the Perfect Information conference in May, where Linda Cockburn, facilitator and coach, imparted her wisdom on the art of engagement and effective presentations.

[You can read my overall impressions from the conference over at the SLA Europe blog]

Increasingly, presentations are important not just for doing a good job, but for articulating that you’re doing a good job. Good presentations matter, as they make best use of your audience’s time.

Both Marie and I found this session really valuable (in fact, all of the sessions were!). Marie had a big presentation coming up for the BIALL conference, and I do a lot of presenting as part of my job. We were both furiously scribbling notes and tips, and below are some of the points I found most interesting and pertinent.

The best presentations are stories

Authenticity is all

The best presentations are stories from the heart, something you’re passionate about. Turn your presentation into a story – The idea of telling a story is quite daunting, but idea of listening to a story is lovely.

Elements of a story:

  • It’s a journey: stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • Someone trying to achieve something.
  • A clear plot.

What’s your story, what’s the ‘big idea’? Say it out loud – this will help you visualise and realise in for your presentation. When structuring your story, start with the ending. Working backwards from the ending, create a clear path to it.

Think about who are your audience? What questions are the likely to ask?

Rule of 3s

Give your presentation three themes, three elements in the structure, three points to any sections. This structure of threes is clear, memorable, and easily digested. It’s also scalable – it will work for a five minute presentation, and a 50 minute presentation.

This rule of 3s is something I am trying to stick to with my own work. I don’t make the three sections necessarily equal, but what I am striving for is a clear start, middle and end (a story!). And speaking of endings; finish on strong point, rather than fizzle out. It’s a chance to return to your main message.

You’re information is probably very interesting… to you.

A list of statistics is all very well, but its not enough – where’s the story? How do you make those figures, stats, data, whatever, interesting to your audience? How do you make them care?

Linda used a TED talk to demonstrate her point that presentations should be stories:

A nervous nelly?

Linda also covered some techniques for managing your nerves, and asked for contributions from the audience. Some of these included:

  • Speak at half your usual speed and that’s probably about right
  • It’s good to be nervous as it shows you care
  • Remember that everybody in the audience wants you to do well

A calm exterior will have a calming effect – breathe, stay still, look at your audience. And know your stuff. Speak from heart, don’t pretend to be an expert if you’re not.

Say your presentation it in front of someone, and get them to repeat back your message. Often, what you’re saying isn’t what they’re interpreting. I’d love to try this one time, as I imagine it can be fascinating. 

Linda was a great presenter (as expected!). She was warm, and I found her tips to be practical and insightful. She finished on this hilarious video, which had us all laughing, and a few people dancing… 


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