Photographers will tell you to get in close. Why? Because it makes a more interesting photo. I think the same applies to storytelling. Don’t be afraid to get in there and include emotions and details in your story. Draw your audience in so they can live it too.
I was in the Portland airport on the first leg of my Thanksgiving journey. I was gathering my things from the post TSA-inspection ramp, when I noticed a black bag. I knew it belonged to the gentleman who had been in front of me. I looked over and there he was getting the rest of his things together. “Didn’t you have a black bag?” I asked. “Oh yes,” he said with a look of panic on his face and went over to the river of bags coming down the ramp.
I went on to re-organize my stuff and re-shoe my feet. He found me to thank me. “I would have been in trouble if I’d forgotten my bag,” he said with great relief painted all over his face. I told him I was happy it worked out and wished him a safe journey.
A few minutes later, while in the restroom by the sinks, I saw a boarding pass on the floor. I pointed it out. And a woman, who had just turned to leave, realized it was hers. Another look of relief and thanks. Another wish for a safe journey.
I continued on my way feeling like a super-heroine.
Nice story, but it really began earlier. My decision to go on this trip was last minute. There were many reasons why I shouldn’t have gone, but the desire to see family overcame all obstacles. I almost wasn’t there at the Portland airport at those crucial moments. Most likely the man with the black bag and the woman with the boarding pass would have been fine, but it’s probable that their days wouldn’t have gone as smoothly.
I love stories like this where lives intersect. I guess I would call them “It’s a Wonderful Life” moments. Yes, Clarence, we all have a role to play.
Have you ever hired a video crew that never captured what you wanted? I have an idea how this might have happened. It has to do with understanding the difference between the way humans and cameras see.
Let’s take a hypothetical assignment to shoot a conversation between three people. You say, “Shoot this conversation between Charlie and Bob and Sally.” The director asks, “Anything specific you want to show?” No. Just the three of them. In other words, have the camera look at the conversation. OK, done. “But, wait, this isn’t right! How come we can’t see the looks Charlie gives Sally.” Well, actually you can. The glances are there, they are just not obvious because the camera only looked at the scene – highlighted nothing, noted nothing in particular, focused on nothing specific. The looks are there, of course, because everything is there. But they are just an unimportant part of all the rest of the action and easy to miss. Since you are now asking for a very directed focus and have explained the purpose of the scene in a very specific way your video crew can give you want you want. Because the camera is a non-selective, everything-equal watcher, they’ll need to reset the camera and the lighting to be certain that the camera looks at this important, silent interaction.
Is it right now? Not quite, says you, “I thought we’d be able to see that Charlie doesn’t want Bob to see his looks at Sally.” Aha. That additional piece of information tells the director how to reframe the shot; to look at it in a way that shows that Bob is deliberately kept out of the line of sight between Charlie and Sally. Again, they’ll set the camera and lighting, slightly shift the position of the three actors and look again.
Video Looks. The Eye Sees.
Anyone – as you imagined the shot – sitting in the room with Bob, Charlie and Sally might have picked up on the secret glances between Charlie and Sally and the fact that Bob was not a part of the exchange. Why? Because a person sees. He can pick what to look at, selectively shift his focus, watch the background or the foreground, the taping foot, the sweaty brow. True, a person could miss it all and remain oblivious because he wasn’t paying attention, but none the less he has the opportunity to see. Not true with video. The camera only looks where it is aimed and focussed. It has to be set and focused properly, the lighting has to be done just so in order to direct the viewer to see what is important. The camera has to be specifically directed to be a see-er.
Not understanding this distinction can lead to some wrong assumptions about camera’s capability to duplicate the human eye. A smart client and a smart director will always talk in detail about a scene before shooting. Once the director understands the client’s goals for a particular scene the director can interpret them so that the shot is set up to see the client’s vision rather than just to look at the scene. It may seem nutty to have to go into such detail, but understanding the difference between looking and seeing can reveal why.
The devil is in the details. It is important to share your ideas and your vision of the outcome with the people who are carrying out your tasks. I am amazed at how often this doesn’t happen and how simple the fix. Has this happened to you? Either as a director or a client?
You’re all set to begin your presentation. You’ve been introduced. Your past and present achievements have been checked off by the host. Goodness knows you are nervous and ready to plunge into your presentation, but taking one more, potentially risky, step can make all the difference in your success. What more needs to happen before you click the button for the first slide?
Take a moment to explain to your audience why you are passionate about the topic you’ve chosen. This may seem unnecessary because after all, the people in the room have come because you are the expert. But expertise is different from passion. Passion says, this is personal, this matters to me. When I can, I talk about where my passion for the topic comes from by telling a personal story.
We hear over and over that stories are necessary elements of a great presentation. And lo and behold, here’s an easy way to begin with a story. Tell a story that shows why you are so engaged with the topic. Why does this subject mean so much to you: because you have a brother with this particular disability; because you were born in the South – New England – new Delhi – where this notion is a way of life; because you blew up the basement with a science experiment when you were seven; because you are color blind – short – a red head. There is a story behind each of these – a story that can bind your audience to you and your topic before you’ve even started your presentation. If the connection is quirky, unexpected or funny, even better.
A second reason to begin by explaining your passion for the topic is that you are being open and authentic with your audience. You can prove your reliability and honesty quickly by being transparent and real in your opening remarks. Showing your passion goes way beyond talking about previous jobs, your pay grade,your job responsibilities. It helps to show that you have come to be of service to the audience and not to feed your ego. I believe it is much better that you come across as real than as perfect. It is better to have a couple flaws that the audience can relate to rather than a power-packed resume that makes the audience feel inferior. Talking about a few strike outs is better than boasting about a bunch of home runs to let the audience know that you have feet of clay, just like they do.
Never depend upon anyone introducing you to do more than give a list of your achievements. They can’t explain your passion and they aren’t doing to talk about any mistakes you’ve made along the way. Of course,make sure that you give the MC a resume to use for the facts. But nothing, nothing! substitutes for your story.
So, go for broke. Pull back the curtain and let your audience see the real you. It might even calm your jitters. It will certainly help you connect with your audience and take a bit of the chill off the room.
What do you think? Is this something you do? Have you found good stories to explain why you have a passion for your presentation topic?
I love this picture. I think what makes it so interesting is the out of focus background. Sure the flower is beautiful and it would make a nice photo on it’s own. But it’s that background that changes everything. My eye moves to the yellow spot and makes me wonder “what is it, what’s going on back there”. It opens up my imagination to all kinds of possibilities.
The essence of this picture depicts how to lure your audience in and get them engaged in your presentation or video. Use content that makes them think. Don’t spoon-feed them, let them figure things out for themselves. They’ll enjoy what you have to say much more. Keep them engaged with a sense of mystery.
I confess that I don’t truly understand the meaning of geodetic north – aka true north – or that I even know how to use a compass, but I do understand that being off by even a few degrees when plotting your course can put you very far off course at the end. It is an important concept to understand as a presenter: find the place where you want to start and end your presentation and the direction in which you want to go to get there or risk ending up in the woods. What may seem to be only a minor deviation at the start will leave you miles from your intended goal at the end.
Take a moment to think about where you want to be at the end of your journey before you begin to reach for your compass. Think deeply about what you want your audience to feel, think or do when you are finished. Now aim for this target with every slide, every point. Think of every deviation from this goal as a point off the path you are charting. Often a veer off course starts a meander that leads you and your audience further from your true north. While it is a presenting cliché that slides are free and to use as many as you need to tell your story, this does not mean that you should start tossing slides into your presentation that aren’t directly on your path.
It is surprisingly difficult to keep to the narrow path especially if you are passionate about your topic. Every aspect of it seems essential to you. If you’re like me, your ideas are like beloved children – hard to leave out. But be respectful of your audience who is trying to follow you. Whether they know it consciously, as they listen, they are trying to understand the logic behind your choices in order to grasp your advice, remember your ideas, feel the way you told them they would. If you’ve told them you are taking them from A to B, why are we now at M? Is it important? Can you see how quickly this will first confuse, then frustrate and finally defeat your audience?
This honing process is not the same as getting rid of the extraneous information, of eliminating the chaff from your presentation. This is different. You must question your choices in a different way to be certain that you’ve kept to your true north. You must ask whether each slide, each point you make in your presentation delivers your audience closer to the outcome you’ve selected. Ask yourself: what does this slide deliver that makes it indispensable, what part of the goal does this deliver, do I make it clear that this an important step along the path?
So what do you think? Do think that finding a true north for your presentations would help you connect with your audience? Do you have a technique for finding your path through a presentation? Do any presentations come to mind where a lack of distinct and clear direction made it difficult to follow the presenter? I’d be grateful to hear your ideas.