Career Tools Recap: Be a Bad Ass Presenter

AIGA Portland’s Career Tools are a series of events aimed to help designers refine and improve their professional practice. It’s 8am Friday morning, and I’m seated with about 80 other attendees in the cozy basement space of 52 Limited to hear David Yewman of Elevator Speech, Inc. give the Career Tools talk, How to Be a Bad Ass Presenter.

Key points:

  • Tell stories that segway into your main talking points. 
  • Make PowerPoint slides that are minimal billboards to support your talk. 
  • Practice saying your presentation out loud, 8-10 times.

Dave Yewman who runs Elevator Speech, Inc. is here to talk to us about how to be a badass presenter. He starts his talk not with words, but with a commercial spot for the French cable channel Canal+ that highlights the importance of storytelling. At the core of Yewman’s message is that story is the most important factor affecting the success of a presentation. “Stories are the key thing. They’re what people remember. They are the stickiest form of communication that we have,” asserts Yewman.

Some other things that will help you give a successful presentation:

Use “weekend language” as much as possible. Yewman helped write a book on weekend language. It’s the vocabulary you use to tell stories to friends over beers on the weekend, instead of the technical jargon of your industry that you spout Monday through Friday. If you do need to explain something technically complex to your industry peers that necessitates specific terminology, ask the audience to tell you by a show of hands how technically savvy they are before you launch into something that might be over their heads.

Limit PowerPoint slides to 1 thing per slide and use them like props. The slide should be able to be absorbed in a maximum of 3 seconds. Limit yourself to featuring 1 thing on 1 slide, and a maximum pace of 1 slide per minute of your talk. Your slides probably won’t be understandable on their own and that’s a sign you’re doing it right – they are merely props to enhance what you’re saying to your audience. Misuse of PowerPoint is a serious problem in his opinion. Yewman shares the quotation, “PowerPoint just might be the single biggest drag on productivity and clear thinking in corporate America today,” according to Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who is a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read Gobry’s full article on this topic: Ban PowerPoint!.

Eliminate non-words like uh and um. Videotape yourself practicing your presentation and watch it to help you be aware of how you use these words. “Videotaping is key. That’s where you find out everything,” he said. Also watch for awkward hand movements and body language. To illustrate the danger of this, he showed a hilarious clip of The Daily Show making fun of Kasich chopping the air like a ninja.

Cut to the point. State the main point of your presentation right away, in one brief statement, at the very start of your talk. Remember, people are at your presentation for a reason, and you want to let them know that you’re going to deliver and not waste their time. Skip telling them about your morning or any other preamble. Yewman calls himself a “recovering journalist” and asks us to think of how news sources use a headline and the first sentence to summarize the whole article right away, and details come later. (I tried to do this at the start of this blog article.)

Shorter is sweeter. He reminds us that Stephen King shortens his drafts with each edit – King would advises that the 2nd draft of your presentation should be 10% shorter, not longer. Yewman says that TEDTalks decided their talks should be 18 minutes because it’s short enough to keep your attention, but enough time to say something meaningful. He also cites that Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech was 14 minutes, and John F Kennedy’s famous “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You” speech was 7 minutes. He asserts that you don’t need an hour and a half to tell someone about your company’s product.

Practice your presentation at loud. Practicing it 9-10 times is good. Don’t let your speaking event be the first time you actually go through the whole presentation. Yewman explained, “If the first time you give a presentation is in a room full of people like this, God help you. Because you don’t know what’s going to come out of your mouth.” Yewman tells us that Steve Jobs spent two days in the Moscone Center practicing before his iPhone keynote – that’s why he looks completely natural.

Use the presenter mode in PowerPoint when presenting. Use the presenter view in PowerPoint – it shows your current slide, a preview of the next slide, a timer, and you can put notes for yourself for each slide that display at the bottom of the screen.

In panel discussions, steer off-topic questions back on course. You’re there to talk on a particular viewpoint or topic, not to be peppered with random questions that might not be relevant. Prior to panel discussions you can prepare to talk on the 10-12 typical questions that you think might come up.  Also you probably have 2-3 main points that you personally want to work into the discussions, so prepare those as well. If someone asks you a question that is off-topic, pilot your answer back to something you’ve prepared for and want to cover. Yewman suggests that for inspiration, check out Obama who is really good at switching the conversation to what he wants to talk about.

Limit humor to make fun of yourself, not others. You might think it’s a harmless joke and a friendly jab, but the audience doesn’t know the nature of the relationship between you and the person you’re joking about. They might think you’re just picking on someone and are being kind of a jerk. In general he encouraged us, “Be very careful about humor – it’s all about timing.”

Actually put this advice into action. “It’s been said that speaking well in public is almost an unfair advantage,” said Dave Yewman. People refer to “executive presence” but what they really mean is the ability to give interesting presentations that appear natural even if you’re freaking out on the inside.

About Dave Yewman:

Dave is a strategic communications expert with more than 15 years of experience. A former newspaper reporter and columnist, Dave has counseled senior executives at a variety of companies, managed communications teams and led business development efforts.

He has delivered storytelling workshops, presentation coaching sessions and media trainings at a variety of organizations, including, adidas, Clif Bar, CBS, Cambia Healthcare, Dell, eBay, Google, Ingram Micro, Juniper Networks, Mackay Sposito, Mercy Corps, Microsoft, Nike, Oregon State University, Peet’s, Razorfish, Red Bull, Reebok, Snapchat, T-Mobile, Under Armour, Wieden + Kennedy and Zurich Global Insurance.

You can preview some of Dave’s techniques for speakers by checking out his talk: “How to Use PowerPoint Effectively”. “

The next Career Tools talk is about Finances on April 1. AIGA Portland tries to cover these important non-design topics that designers still need help with. Josh Barrett talked about SOW’s at a past Career Tools event which is something that creatives stereotypically have a problem with, and finance is also one of those challenges designers could use some help with.

Alicia Nagel is a regular contributor for AIGA Portland. Read the post on her blog.

By Alicia Nagel
Published March 5, 2016
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