Getting to ‘wow’ with public speaking and presenting

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

My current work environment is academic. Which means people around me produce a hell of a lot of information. And presentations.

I would have thought their presenting and public speaking skills were very good, considering… uh uh… not quite the case. And there are many reasons for that. But I guess many people around me are actually busy undertaking their research, not spending (so) much time fine-tuning their presentation. “It only takes a few minutes to put together a presentation”, right? UH UH!!

This a real pity, because it means entire years of research can see their future use be wasted by one single badly designed, or badly delivered presentation (or both). So after thinking about this for a while, and encouraged by a couple of colleagues who wanted to get this kind of information out, I put together a presentation about what it takes to give well-designed presentations in an effective way.

There are many good presentations about how to make good presentations out there. I put some of these in the links at the end of this presentation. But I needed something combining it all for the sake of my own audience.

SO here it is – and please let me know what you think…

Oh and a disclaimer: I’m hereby presenting a beta version of this presentation so I might upload an updated version at a later time.

And with a zest of serendipity, here’s what John Stepper just blogged about on the topic of getting better at public speaking!  The links are very good.

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Tinkering with tools: (Pretty) Easy Prezi

Prezi the (really not so) new cool presentation tool

Prezi the (really not so) new cool presentation tool

Prezi is a presentation tool. An alternative to Powerpoint. It has been around for a while now (four years), and I hadn’t used it since 2010 when, among others, I was wondering ‘What is learning?‘ but current circumstances at work have brought me back to using it again – as testified in one recent blog post on partnerships.

This time it’s not so much for my own use (I tend to facilitate events a lot more than present anything at those events) as for my colleagues’ use, so this ‘Tinkering with tools‘ post is about Prezi, some resources about them and a couple of tips to enrich one’s experience with it.

So what is Prezi?

Prezi is a dynamic presentation tool that is built in a totally different logic to Powerpoint. Let’s examine closely the differences between the two:



Series of interconnected slides following one path – ‘Slide’ logic, whereby the slide is the playing field Canvas offering a navigation pathway amidst an infinity of other ones – Canvas logic where the whole canvas is the playing field – it is possible to step out of the indicated ‘pathway’ to look at any element on the canvas
Lecture-like experience ‘a la overhead sheet’ though can be used very strongly (the tool is never the problem, the tool user can be) Dynamic exploration-like experience where the user is invited to discover a brave new world
Possibility to emphasise certain elements with animations or formatting (bold, colour etc.) Few formatting options (3 types of fonts though colours possible) but endless possibility to emphasise elements by scaling them up or down, adding dynamics to the presentation
Many animations possible in the slide (if used well, one of the powerful features of PPT) Some animations possible but mostly animation happening between sequences of text e.g. nesting images into images into images
Possibility to embed images, videos, audio etc. Possibility to embed images, videos, audio etc. AND Powerpoint presentations
Risk of putting too much text in and to bore the audience OR risk of putting too many animations in and to annoy the audience ‘Death by Powerpoint Risk of putting too many transitions and movements in and to get the audience sea-sick ‘vertigo by Prezi
Embedding in websites happens through prior uploading on e.g. Slideshare Embedding in websites directly (though via a rather not so straightforward logic for WordPress sites)
Software used from the client’s PC Online, or pay-for – free 30-day trial – desktop application

If this doesn’t help you visualise what I mean, perhaps you might want to take a look at this example:

Now let’s have a look at some useful ways to build Prezis, from my experience…

Practical tips and tricks?

First off, focus on three things:

  1. your story (the content and logic of it),
  2. the storyboard of that story (e.g. what element will you disclose one by one, flanked by what possible visuals and other media etc.)
  3. and finally how will you plot these onto your canvas. It is really crucial to think about this because the prezi will be used all the more as you incorporate a strong story in a smart way of using the canvas.

This means that once you’ve got these elements figured, you should plot (i.e. add, write, upload, include) all these elements of text, visuals, audio and video bits more or less where you want to put them on your canvas. Your use of the canvas and of Prezi’s navigation logic is what makes the difference between a good prezi and an excellent prezi. Then you can scale them differently to hide them a bit for an element of surprise.

Prezi is not Powerpoint, so don’t build a Prezi the way you would a Powerpoint. Forget about overview slides, forget about animations on slide, and certainly forget about the biggest mistakes in building and delivering (death by) Powerpoint e.g. having too much text to read, adding useless visuals which don’t strengthen your point etc.

On the other hand, use the strength of Prezi: move around, scale in and out, turn the text, play with the canvas and with details in it (e.g. nest an image in the dot of an ‘i’ or in the brain of a person in the picture), use a visual as your canvas and move around, get a hang of options with the templates offered, think for yourself and try a story canvas that suits your style and your needs. It can be a blank canvas, a pre-existing template, a picture…

However, here are also some other tips to avoid shooting yourself in the foot with your innovative prezi (at the risk of putting your audience off Prezi for a while):

  • Even on a prezi, too long a presentation can bore your audience. Time yourself and avoid speaking over 10 minutes
  • Scaling in and out is great but doing too much of it really gives vertigo. Spend some time talking over each ‘bit of text’ rather than moving straight into the next bit, to allow your audience to find its balance and sense again and to avoid vertigo
  • Use pictures not in a Powerpoint slide kind of way but rather embedding the text in the picture or vice versa, or show the picture after or before the text
  • Add different kinds of media (e.g. video) to also time your presentation and give space for your audience to stabilise its senses
  • Keep a consistent use of fonts and colours to give a sense of balance to your presentation
  • At all times, keep your story in mind. As much as early Powerpoint presentations used all kinds of animations and lost the plot (and the audience), Prezis are cool only if they strengthen the point, not dilute it.

As you can see, I also need to explore Prezi to improve my own style since my 2010 attempts.

Some more resources about Prezi:

Related blog posts:

Stop taking hostages! The ills of poor event design and facilitation

Since there will be a lot of event facilitation for me to do at ILRI, it is likely that I blog more about it in the coming months. It makes sense after all, since productive conversations (and learning) are central to my understanding of knowledge management, and well-designed events generate truly productive conversations.

Badly designed ones, on the other hand, take us as hostages and they are still all too frequent.

What too many events lead to... (credits: SD on FlickR)

What too many events lead to... (credits: SD on FlickR)

We have all been attending ‘death-by-Powerpoint‘(1)  conferences and events. Typically, this kind of events would entail: A plenary format (all in the same room) showcasing an endless stream of presentations, usually eating up the time planned for group work (if any at all). In those events, sometimes there is also one or more panel discussions that give a fake impression of conversation. If (over)time allows, the audience may finally be invited to ask a few questions. And perhaps there are a few break out/parallel sessions where more often than not another stream of presentations happens… you get the gist.

Having mulled over those events all too often, here is one attempt at explaining what is wrong with this type of events and why they are taking everyone as hostage:

  1. By letting one person monopolise the power to speak in the audience, they are freezing the (costly) time of everyone in the assembly – whether they are interested or not.
  2. Precisely, not everyone may be interested in the topic discussed in the plenary session, but there is no way out! While precious enthusiastic conversations could be taking place instead, everyone is stuck in a long monologuing prison.
  3. Most people like to talk – or perhaps rather listen to themselves – and most people don’t rehearse their presentations, which means that they will usually go (well) over the time allowed. One delay leading to another, the four presentations planned for one hour are taking twice as much time. Too bad if this means you have lunch at 3pm…
  4. Particularly panel discussions tend to subtly create a competitive dynamic where, unless properly facilitated, every speaker secretly wants to shine more brightly than the others. More long monologues, more delays, more death of attention.
  5. The large size of the group (say, in a plenary session of 50 to 300 people) does not create an intimate space where anyone could feel free to express themselves. It can be intimidating to speak in front of 50, 100 or 500 people. So the same type of people will tend to speak again and again – missed opportunity for a richer perspective.
  6. Because time becomes such a pressing issue after all these delays, time planned for group discussions is pushed to almost nil, locking further opportunities for a rich dialogue.
  7. If that group work session ends up being another set of Powerpoint presentations, there is even less time for dialogue.
  8. Monologues favour only one perspective and perhaps only a few questions. It is a shallow exploration. In participatory mode, participants could jointly elaborate solutions together and explore at much more depth – and non-speaker participants might even have a lot more to say about a given issue than the invited speaker.
  9. The human brain can only handle so much information. Death-by-Powerpoint events encourage information overdosis to the detriment of learning-oriented conversations, ignoring the wise native American saying: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may not remember, involve me and I will understand“. And that is perhaps my whole point here at its simplest.
  10. And if we continue with these events, at least speakers should really beef up their communication and presentation skills. From my experience, only 10 to 20% of of speakers in formal plenary sessions really have an interesting story to tell and a compelling way to communicate it.

…Which leads me to final conclusions:

Death-by-Powerpoint conferences are inefficient and ineffective. They are inefficient because they make a very poor usage of participants’ time, perspectives and qualities. They are ineffective because they lead to very little co-production of knowledge (even remembering) and focus on restricted perspectives, preserving no or too little space for social learning and joint solutions. So much waste of resources to so little effect…

And finally, what about all those sleepy, boredom-struck participants zombified through those poorly designed events? Talking about fun, focus and feedback, we are in 2011 and it is time to stop with hostage-taking conferences, don’t you think?


(1) The concept of ‘Death by Powerpoint’ was brilliantly exposed in this old (Powerpoint) presentation. Here, I am looking beyond Powerpoint, which is not a problem in itself, as rightly emphasised in that presentation.

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