We’ve seen a recent resurgence in public speaking, thanks largely to the TED organization. Previously, presentations were found mostly in boardrooms or classrooms. But the power of public speaking has recently burst those confines in a new and exciting way. Now, more than ever, we know that speaking in front of an audience is a great way to share stories, communicate ideas, and increase knowledge.
So what makes for a successful presentation? In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Curator of TED, Chris Anderson, outlined three things. He says that “presentations rise or fall on the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker.” This week on the Ethos3 blog, we’ll be looking at each part of Anderson’s formula for a successful presentation. For today, we’ll examine the first of these three: the quality of the idea.
When I work with beginning speakers, I tell them that 70-80% of the information they cover should be new to the audience. If it’s not, there’s a good chance you’ll be boring them or wasting their time. In fact, the tagline for the TED organization is “ideas worth spreading.” Let’s not skip over that important word right in the middle, worth. Before you begin a presentation, examine the strength of your idea and what the audience already knows. Then ask yourself, “is this presentation worth my audience’s time?” Following are two criteria that can help you answer that question. When it comes to presentation content, try to aim for both novelty and timeliness.
Our brains are hardwired to pick up on and respond to new things automatically and almost instantaneously. In one particular study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, researchers found that “novelty has a wide range of effects on cognition; improving perception and action, increasing motivation, eliciting exploratory behavior, and promoting learning.” Since novelty is crucial, consider the following questions. What parts of your presentation will be new to your audience? Is there enough novel information to keep the audience interested? If not, can you pull in some new research or a tell a new story to bolster the percentage of novel information in the presentation? Can you view a tired topic through a new lens?
Another way to help make your content worthwhile in the eyes of your audience is to tap into current trends. Marketing professionals understand this well. If everyone seems to be talking about sustainability, an organization will want to show how they align with that trend. Why? Well, there’s a clue in the language here that can help us. The term “current” doesn’t just refer to what is happening now, it also refers to movement, as in electricity or water. Things that the audience has seen or heard about recently will catch them up in the movement and excitement of that trend. Spend some time identifying current trends with the help of trend reports. Then show how your presentation is in line with those trends.
Later this week, we’ll explore the other two parts of Anderson’s formula for a successful presentation: the narrative and the passion of the speaker. But for now, examine the quality of the idea you are presenting for both novelty and timeliness. Measure it’s worth. That’s the starting point of the formula for a successful presentation.
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