If you have been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that I haven’t shared a ton about recent events I have attended. The reason is simple. There aren’t a lot of events worth writing about.
Well, Present to Succeed is different. This was a full-day conference designed to help you plan, design, and conduct better presentations.
Today, I want to share with you the coolest lessons I learned from the event – along with some “meta-lessons” from the speakers themselves. I’m trying to keep this short and sweet with maximum practical value. Let’s dive in!
SECSI-fy your slides for hybrid meetings
Damon Nofar from Slides Agency was the first presenter of the day. He shared with us, a simple acronym that will help you create better presentations, especially for hybrid meetings. This was one of the coolest and most practical presentations of the day, showing us how to make sexy… um, excuse me, SECSI slides.
SECSI is obviously an acronym for five key slide design elements:
- Surprise – create open curiosity loops to keep people engaged. Make sure you close them soon enough, though – after all, you need to bring value. Or add some humor with delightful mini-surprises.
- Engage your audience – use polls, get participants to vote with emojis, put in slides that ask people to chime in (but let them know ahead of time). Any form of interaction gets people to pay attention. That’s even more crucial if they’re far away, staring at you through their computer screen.
- Chop up your content – separate slides for every point you’re trying to make to keep your audience aligned with what you’re talking about. This will not just ensure you’re keeping their attention on your voice rather than the 12 bullet points on the page – it will also make your presentation more dynamic.
- Safe-fy your slides (yeah, Damon admitted that’s not a word) – make sure you minimize the potential things that can break. Using good contrast between your background and text will let you deliver a readable presentation even with an old beamer. Replacing slow-loading in-slide videos with simple animations will limit potential glitches.
- Imagine – in today’s world, creativity is limited only by our imagination. So set your imagination free. Update your master slides if they are too rigid and make the content stand out. As Damon said, no boss was ever mad that you changed the corporate template if the presentation was actually good.
Be inspirational with the three P’s
Alexei Kapterev opened up his presentations with one of public speaking’s original GOATs – Aristotle. He named three modes of persuasion: logos (the language of reason), pathos (emotional engagement), and ethos. We rarely focus on the third one. According to Alexei, though, this is the one that makes all the difference.
Ethos is all about Personality. To succeed at Ethos, you need to show your moral character, the practical wisdom you can deliver, and the values you hold dear. In short, this is the bridge between your expertise and authority as a speaker and your personality and likability as a human being.
The second ingredient in inspiration is Purpose. To make the audience really care, you need to highlight the big-picture moral problem you’re trying to solve. Tim Urban’s awesome TED talk is not just about beating procrastination – it’s about taking the most out of the limited time we have on Earth. It’s about squashing a monster that’s all too familiar to every one of us.
The final element in this recipe is Principles. We all end presentations with a call to action. But to make it strong enough, we need to explain the principle behind it. Principles connect rules with values. And principles are what people actually remember.
So to summarize it all:
- draw attention with a strong personality;
- keep attention by calling to a higher purpose;
- transform attention into action with a principle-focused CTA.
Weave stories like a pro
I have to admit, I was reaaaaaally looking forward to Florian Mueck‘s talk based on his previous talks at this event. And he didn’t disappoint one bit!
Florian’s talk was supposed to be focused on data, but the methods he shared with us can be used to the benefit of any story you’re trying to create as a speaker.
First, he introduced the Triangle of Hannibal Lecter – designed to enter your audience’s brain (but hopefully, with more noble motivations compared to the famous villain). You can use Hannibal’s way to eliminate your biggest rival – someone’s inner voice. The inner voice is a constant source of distraction – rather than listening to your talk with 100% attention, your audience is wondering where to go for dinner or what emails they need to answer in the break. To silence it, you can use three powerful phrases:
- “Think about…”
You’re now engaging the inner voice rather than fighting in – and the result is an audience really paying attention to what you have to say.
The second tool Florian gave us was something he calls a Passion Bridge. To make complex topics (like data) more relatable, you can use your own personal passions and use an analogy to compare your passion and the topic at hand.
Say you love cooking – then compare your customer service team’s results with a star chef’s kitchen staff. How quickly you prepare orders (or service customers) depends on the sharpness of your tools (or the readiness of your CRM software) and the access to ready-made quality ingredients (or support content). The possibilities here are endless, and they bring an extra level of play to serious presentations.
These are just two principles, so you might want to check out Florian’s glossary on charismatic communication.
Own your body language while still being you
Stefan Verra‘s talk on body language was one of the key highlights of the event. He’s a real powerhouse! It’s hard to look away when he’s on stage.
Whenever I’d see such a high-energy stage presence, one thought comes to mind: “OK, it’s working for him, but that’s not my style.” And this is exactly the point Stefan made. There are people who are naturally more temperamental – if they try to slow down and lower their energy, they look weirdly deflated. There are people who are naturally calm and collected – if they try to play it big, it just looks phony. So whatever your natural energy is, you need to own it and play to its advantage.
To make body language work for you, you need to focus on two things:
- Frequency – the tempo of the movement. Sometimes you might slow down a bit to make a point. Or you might burst with energy if that’s appropriate.
- Amplitude – how big the range of motion is when presenting different emotions. You need big gestures – almost always bigger than feels natural – to make big points.
You can use a different mix of frequency and amplitude to convey different things: if you make large slow movements, you radiate high competence, while quick movements show enthusiasm and energy. But one of the important things is to add variation – you can’t always be high up on the energy scale, and you can’ stay low either. The variability ensures you’re keeping the attention of your audience.
Quotes to remember
Good public speakers have a knack for coining Tweetable pieces of advice. Here are a few:
Know the difference between messaging your visuals and visualizing your messages.Cliff Kennedy
What Cliff meant is a simple truth (one I still have a hard time following) – good presentations are not born in PowerPoint first. You need to plan your story, the outline of what you want to say and how to say it. Slides come after.
Plan an interaction every 7-10 minutes.Jason Paul
Jason was talking about online and hybrid meetings, but this is applicable in real-life situations, too. People stop paying attention after the 10-minute mark, so you need to bring them back. And the best way to do that is by getting them to do something – participate in a poll, answer a question, or watch a video.
Silly is your superpower.Minna Taylor
I absolutely loved Minna‘s presence on stage as the MC of the Beta conference room. She made sure to make connections between the talks that the audience might not always see. And while she’s clearly a great professional, she danced, shimmied, and made us laugh. Because being professional and adding a pinch of silly work well together.
I’m telling you to not be nervous about public speaking but the truth is you should be terrified.John Zimmer
What John meant is actually pretty inspiring. His point was simple: there are a lot of great ideas hidden in the hearts and minds of us all. And public speaking is a way to share them with the world. It’d be a shame if they don’t reach more people – so you not only “should”, but you “need” to take on public speaking to set these ideas free.
Meta lessons from the speakers
They say you should always show, not just tell. And this is especially true when watching great speakers in action. While observing everyone’s presentation styles, some commonalities and key points emerged. Although these lessons weren’t present in the agenda or on any one slide, they are still lessons worth remembering. In the interest of being kind, I’ll omit the names of some speakers here.
Vary the tempo
Throughout the day, we saw different presentation styles. Some speakers like Stefan Verra were turned up to eleven from the get-go. Others like Frauke Havinga were calmer and more structured. But all good speakers varied their tempo, using pauses to highlight important points or acceleration to ramp up the excitement. And that variability creates novelty and attracts attention.
Don’t let the tech slow you down
There was an issue with the clicker during Damon Nofar’s talk, and he handled it like a champ! He threw in some jokes and he kept his delivery exceptional right to the end. During the Q&A, he let his guard down, confessing, “I was dying inside.”
Even if this has never happened to you on stage, plan for it. Think about what you’ll say, how you’d react, and what can be a nice filler if the projector needs to be restarted mid-way through. By planning for it, you’ll be – well, still dying inside, but not letting it show!
Be aware of your surroundings
It’s a simple thing, but one we tend to easily forget. Case in point: a speaker standing in front of their slides and blocking the visuals and text for half the audience. It creates friction and distracts people from the point you’re trying to make – even if the content on the slide is not crucial (in which case – why do you have it in the first place?)
You need to be aware of what your surroundings look like. Get to the venue earlier and watch how other presenters conduct themselves on stage. Think through your own slides and your movement on stage.
Keep the audience focused on your current point
This is far too common a scenario, which is why I was surprised to see it play out at such a high-level event. The presenter switches to the next slide and there are five points listed there. He goes over each one, but he’s already lost the audience. They are off reading the slide rather than listening.
Even if the text on the screen is short, this is still a huge attention sink. As an audience member, you’re reading through each point, thinking either, “oh, I know what this is about!” or “oh, wonder what this will be about!” In any case, you’re not paying attention to the speaker. It’s curiosity, it’s just human nature. But you can tame it by showing one point per slide.
Take into account the venue layout when designing your slides
A slide comes up with big images and text under each one. As a single living organism, the audience does its best impersonation of a giraffe, trying to look above the people sitting in front to make out the words. This is obviously not ideal – and it’s a matter of simply moving the text above the image.
It’s a reminder of the importance of scouting the venue before your talk. You can ask the organizers how high the stage is, and if the chairs are in a flat or amphitheatrical layout. Then you can move stuff around to help everyone get the info on the slides in full.
We also saw the opposite example: Frauke Havinga had awesome slides that span across a full-width LED wall. It really brought an extra level of “Wow” compared to the (still beautiful) standard layout of most speakers’ decks.
Ground people and earn attention with specificity
There was one talk that stood out. It had smooth animations and great design. And it never really showed us what the speaker was talking about. Five minutes in, the novelty of the abstract slides had worn off and people were getting impatient. “We get what you’re trying to tell us,” they seemed to be saying, “now show us what that actually looks like in practice!”
Sometimes you may want to talk about a broader concept and that’s OK. But you still need to get your audience to imagine the end result. You can’t deliver a talk that holds no practical value or doesn’t include a single specific example. Because specificity grounds us in the present and gets us to pay attention.
Tell them what you’ll tell them, then tell them, and then tell them again
This is a big cliché in public speaking. But it’s still something most speakers follow to the tee. Most presentations ended with a quick recap of the main points, and that made it so much easier for us as an audience to remember the key takeaways.
Of course, you don’t always need to divulge everything from the get-go – for example, Alexei Kapterev’s talk about inspirational speakers started with Aristotle’s ethos concept only. Then it gradually evolved into all three Ps and concluded by reminding us of the three points.
Asking the audience for suggestions doesn’t mean you need to take them
Asking your audience questions during a talk is a great way to engage people. But it’s something few speakers are inclined to go with, because it may mean you need to improvise based on the crowd’s suggestions.
Well, that’s not necessarily the case. When presenting the idea of the “Passion Bridge”, Florian Mueck asked us about our hobbies. The replies he got were, let’s say, less than stellar. But he didn’t promise us an improv show at the start – so he was free to listen to the answers, comment on the most hilarious ones, and then present the idea with the example he already had in mind – cooking.
It’s a great example that you don’t necessarily need to take anything your audience says and run with it. You can engage and interact and then continue however you want.
Build bridges with the other talks at the event
One thing I noticed right at the start of the event was that Florian Mueck was sitting near the front of the stage, taking notes the whole time. When he went on stage, I quickly understood why. He made a connection between his topic and almost any other topic that went on stage before him. It wasn’t a forced affair, it actually felt completely authentic. And it also helped the audience pay attention and make connections that weren’t apparent.
There’s nothing worse than sweeping in at an event, dropping your talk, and flying away like the speaker equivalent of a seagull. Show other speakers you appreciate their work. Your audience will also be more interested in what you have to say.
We’re all always learning
This event was a powerful reminder that we need to keep improving. Constantly. I’ve done my fair share of public speaking, but I always know I can do better. And seeing such amazing speakers live lit a fire in the right place. So I’m definitely looking forward to more from Present to Succeed!