Lucid Thoughts

Inspiration not information – how to transform dull facts into engaging presentations

Sunday, 23 January 2011 16:48

I've just completed my first event project since reading the brilliant 'Presentationzen' by Garr Reynolds. It was a real inspiration and it has been of practical help. But his book was designed for someone who is preparing a presentation from scratch. The challenge I had was something else: one client was already trying to pull together a 'deck' from multiple presenters – an evolving and (as happens increasingly these days) last minute jumble of information from around the corporate ether. I never actually met anyone in the flesh until we were on site, the night before the first event which happened at 9.00 the following morning!

In these circumstances I think the primary aim of the communication designer is to find a 'line through' the information – a simple narrative that will capture the audience's imagination. I spent a lot of time on the phone suggesting cuts. We needed a story that the audience could rapidly absorb, not a mass of information that would sit heavily on them like a dead weight.

Next, I suggested that we take a strong visual approach. I was lucky as my client and I were of the same mind – cut all the illegible bullet points and confusing charts and replace them with just a few, well-chosen, emotive words, and better still, powerful images. For instance, we had a Formula 1 pit-stop team to bring to life the idea of teamwork. Simple but it works.

I was also lucky that the client team had already suggested a fun way of running the review section of the event. This can be particularly tedious as, by definition, it is backwards-looking and the thing people really want to learn about is the future! This version was based on a well-known TV quiz format with a team on stage trying to guess the answers to multiple-choice questions based on the highlights of last year. The entire audience also got involved because they were using electronic voting handsets. The answers were then reinforced with a few well-chosen words. It was fun but the facts sunk in a whole lot better than they would if they had listened to a conventional presentation.

We were also helped by the company's MD who was a natural communicator. At one point he had to deal with some difficult news. He used a visual metaphor which reflected the previous day's local weather – it had started with a thick fog, turned into brilliant sunshine and ended with a beautiful moon. That, he promised, would be the trajectory of the troubled project; at the moment we couldn't see a way forward but soon its future would become brilliantly clear and the result would be beautiful. I know it might sound a little cheesy here but it wasn't when he said it. And, as he told me afterwards, 'people remember that kind of thing.'

He was right. They do.

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