Are you a Persuader?

Those of you of a certain age may recall a short-lived TV series in the ‘70’s called The Persuaders.  To be honest it was rather unremarkable other than for starring Tony Curtis and a pre-Bond Roger Moore. But the name sprang to mind the other day when a blogger issued a plea for presenters to stop informing and start persuading.

If you think about it most presentations seek only to dump data on an audience.  It’s the default setting.  People are asked to deliver a talk and opt to throw a load of information at the audience, hoping that some of it sticks (sounds a bit like a marketing strategy!).  But in doing so they’re short-changing the audience AND under-valuing their own capabilities to connect and persuade.

The trouble with the information dump is it doesn’t work for either party.  The presenter is presumably there because he/she knows something the audience doesn’t, so there’s a status advantage right away.  What a wonderful opportunity to influence their behaviour in some way, to change the way they think or feel about something!

And for the audience to be taken on some kind of journey in this way is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the traditional data dump experience, the cause of many a death-by-Powerpoint.

It seems to me that our notion of ‘presentation skills’ training is more about keeping the audience awake and mildly interested in what we’re talking about.  It addresses the mechanics, the ‘above-the-line’ skills that presenters often lack.

But this strikes me as a bit negative.  It sets the bar too low.  Are we really just aiming for competence?  I prefer the term ‘connectation skills’, those ‘below-the-line’ aspects of a really moving talk that engages us on an emotional level.  That’s the way to persuade people.  Here’s a few ideas:

  • Talk about something the audience cares about.  Make sure it’s relevant to them and their situation.  Aim to stir some emotional response in your audience.
  • Fill the room with your energy and passion for your topic.  This is positively seductive.  Remind yourself you’ve got something valuable to offer.
  • Distribute your energy throughout the room.  Make everyone feel included.
  • Occasionally make eye contact with selected people and appear to be talking directly to them.  Then return to ‘whole-room’ mode.
  • Tell stories that are relevant to your audience and your message.  Talk about people rather than abstract statistics or cold information.  Tap into people’s emotions.
  • Engage the audience by asking them questions, giving them exercises to do or letting them handle a prop.
  • Decide where you want to take your audience; what’s the destination? Play the role of driver and navigator and make them feel they’re on a journey.
  • Give them a parting thought, something to do when they leave the room.

In simple terms, give it some welly!  Keep it raw, authentic and passionate and don’t worry too much about slick style.  Embrace these concepts and you’ll soon join the ranks of The Persuaders!

Next Pecha Kucha in Manchester (Mon 5th July)

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Monday 5th July 2010

Slater Heelis Solicitors, Dovecote House, off Old Hall Road, Sale Moor M33 2HG

(M60 Junction 6 – free parking on site)

Networking session from 6pm, show starts 7pm (concludes 9.15pm)

Cost: £10 to include light refreshments

Your hosts: Phil Harris and Andrew Thorp

I’m delighted to announce that the worldwide phenomenon Pecha Kucha is back in Manchester, following a successful launch last December. The term is based on the Japanese word for ‘chit-chat’ and has evolved into a social night with a difference. The PK concept was invented by two Tokyo-based architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein as a reaction to the ‘death by Powerpoint’ experience we’ve all had from time to time.

Pecha Kucha Nights are a quarterly social gathering in a city where up to 12 presenters talk about something they feel passionate about, using an innovative 20/20 format – that’s 20 slides only, each rotating every 20 seconds. That makes all the talks exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long, a great way to encourage a concise, punchy delivery! Paradoxically, Dytham and Klein found that by restricting presentations in this way they unleashed previously untapped creativity – and the events became enormously popular.

The idea caught on, and the likes of Joanna Lumley, Johnny Vegas and newsreader Jon Snow have given presentations. PK now operates in over 300 cities globally, a truly worldwide phenomenon…and it’s showcased again in Manchester on Monday 5th July 2010.

I’m compiling the list of speakers now, but to get a flavour of how it works, take a look at the report from the previous PK event in Manchester.

Because PK brings together people from so many different businesses, we’ve added an open networking session from 6-7pm. The show itself starts at 7pm and concludes about 9.15pm with a break in the middle.

Two Questions…

  1. Would you like to attend?
  2. Would you like to present a talk?

NB: the talks should not be used to pitch a business proposal – they’re more for showcasing human interest stories, personal passions or social enterprise projects.

Just drop a comment in here or contact me via LinkedIn.

Andrew Thorp

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Does Powerpoint make us stupid?

That’s the assertion of General James Mattis of the US Marine Corps, according to The Times (Wed 28 April 2010).

In a fascinating article by Tom Coghlan (Defence Correspondent), the General’s frustration with PPT is echoed by the current Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. The Commander was presented with this extraordinary slide at a recent security briefing in Kabul, and remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.” In an attempt to explain the security, economic and political conditions in Afghanistan, his advisors had prepared a PPT of such complexity that the general (and probably everyone else) suffered from mental overload.

Not surprisingly, this slide is doing the rounds on the internet, but it’s really just an extreme version of things we frequently see in the business world. It seems that presenters feel they have to pack in sufficient facts, figures and arrows to give the audience value for money. But the truth is this simply cheats the audience. They experience mental shutdown and fail to take anything in.

Be guided by the ‘less is more’ principle. In a 10-20 minute presentation, aim to deliver perhaps THREE key points – but deliver them really, really well. People respond well to stories – base your talk around stories. That’s not just telling anecdotes (although this can be very powerful) – we should think structure (beginning, middle and end).

ONE

Set the scene (context, introduce the main characters, explain the situation they’re in, what the problem is).

TWO

The meat in the middle. Explore the issue further. Use some images, stories, facts and figures to deliver insights and understanding. This establishes your credibility with the audience.

THREE

The resolution, the destination, the place you want to leave your audience in at the end. You’ve changed the way they think about something, they FEEL differently about the situation, they’re in a different place than they were at the start of your talk. They’re keen to take action as soon as they leave the room.

Powerpoint CAN enhance your message and help you achieve your aim. But too often it distracts the audience and hinders their ability to reach the destination you had in mind for them. It’s often little more than a crutch for a presenter. It’s something to hide behind and the presenter employs fancy animation and a surfeit of data in a misguided attempt to amaze the audience and give value for money. But it simply leaves them bemused and short-changed.

Put things in this order of priority:

The Messenger…the Message…the Medium