I am a lucky little boy. On Saturday afternoon’s my wife and 6-year-old daughter, Iris, make cakes. It’s their thing. Mum-and-daughter-time. The smells that sift their way through to the sports-obsessed boys as we shout and scream at the TV in the living room have us salivating so we look and sound like rabid dogs! Mum has taught daughter well and what I love is that each weekend we are treated to something different. They begin each new cake-making adventure with a new recipe so that we never get the same one twice. When finished, the cakes are works-of-art. I’m no cake-maker but I can see that they use the normal ingredients to bake the base (flour, butter, eggs, milk, salt etc) but it is the bits that they add on top of those ingredients that make the difference. The currants, the cherries, the smarties, the hundreds and thousands, the chocolate buttons!!! Mmmmm my mouth is watering just typing it!
Dry And Stale
So I was watching them at work during half-time of the rugby this weekend and it struck me how their methods are not dissimilar to the ones that I try to pass on to my clients everyday. I spend much of my working life watching and then reshaping business presentations and key-note speeches. And everyday I see presentations that are like tasteless cakes. If I’m lucky I might see some that have the basic ingredients; they may have facts, they may have stats, they may have structure. But 95% of the business presentations I see don’t even have that. They are meaningless words jumbled together to form an incoherent stream of consciousness and are then delivered with no passion and with no conviction. They are dominated by text-powered PowerPoint slides that the audience and presenter read from and are remembered for as long as it takes me to get up from my seat and make my way to the door. And interestingly, like any cake, I know from the first taste whether I am going to want to savour every mouthful or just chew my way through it like a cow with cud.
Banging The Same Drum
On my courses I talk about PowerPoint slides and say that I despise bad Powerpoint and think that there is absolutely no place for it in the modern workplace. I ask my clients “what do you think I mean by bad PowerPoint?” and, without exception, they say the same thing every time - “too many slides”, “too much text”, “the PowerPoint IS the presentation”. Everybody knows the pitfalls. Everybody knows exactly what is meant by the term “Death By PowerPoint” and yet businesses up and down the country and all over the world continue to bore the pants off their clients, stakeholders or staff.
“Well - it’s what is expected.” “It’s the way it’s always been done” “they’ll think we haven’t done any work if there is no PowerPoint” or (my BIGGEST bug-bear) “we have been told we have to use the approved company slides” – talk about handcuffing your own people!!! If I had a fiver for each time I had heard words like these I wouldn’t be typing this, I’d be having my back rubbed on my own little private island.
It simply has to stop. There is no excuse for it.
So think of your presentations as cakes. Be creative. Be memorable. If an audience can’t relate to something they won’t listen - they just won’t.
“How can I get them to relate to this?” “What can I do to make this memorable”
Think of metaphors as your currants; think of analogies as your cherries; examples are your smarties, stories and anecdotes are your hundreds and thousands and characters are your chocolate buttons. Be creative. Try different ingredients each time. Challenge yourselves.
The conventional-wisdom approach - doing what everyone else is doing - is never going to make you an outstanding presenter. At worst, it's mind-numbingly dull. Going against conventional conventional wisdom is the reason the GB team finished an incredible 2nd in the Olympic medal table whilst the England football team were embarrassingly dumped out of the Euro’s by Iceland. Be innovative. You don’t settle for mediocre in other areas of your work so why should you when it comes to presentations? Set yourself the same high standards.
The most fun part of the weekend cake adventure is when Iris proudly presents her creation at supper time. The smile on her face, the enthused and passionatedescription of how they made it, the fun they had along the way. It is not just the cake. It is everything that goes with it. It is an event. An adventure. But that presentation would be so much more difficult if the cake was tasteless. Iris is proud because she has created something special; there has been thought behind it, care behind it. She and mum have been creative. And us lazy boys get to taste the results. Life CAN be good!!! So go out there people and bake yourselves some tasty cakes!!!