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Making Magic with Presentations2014.03.04

    Presentations are magic. They have the power to put you to sleep, or to wake and inspire you. One Japanese engineer admitted that he even tended to fall asleep during his own presentations! That’s powerful sleeping medicine. 


    A search on Google for death by powerpoint brings up tens of millions of sites! The problem is so pervasive that the phrase has already become a cliche. Of course it is not about the software, but how it is used and abused to practically ensure that the message is lost or misunderstood by the audience.


    An article in the New York Times in 2010 declared that “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint,” paraphrasing the response of a U.S. Army General upon seeing a nearly incomprehensible slide “summarizing” the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan. The fact that the slide also appeared in the New York Times article suggested that it was incomprehensible enough to be declassified for public consumption.

    What is wrong with most presentations?

    Even for slides with bullet points which contain far less information, a sure-fire formula for losing your audience is to look at the screen and read the slide. Yet this is what the majority of presenters do. The problem is compounded when each person in the audience has a printed copy of the presentation in front of them.Even a slow reader can read and think much faster than a person can talk. They have already finished reading while the presenter is still talking, so the information reaching eyes and ears is already out of synch.


    A slight improvement on this is to paraphrase the words on your slides. This may help the audience to follow or better understand your content, and it doesn’t insult their intelligence.


    Better still is to highlight the memorable points. This will help the audience to remember your content after the presentation. But there is still nothing exceptional about reading, paraphrasing, and highlighting material on a slide. At best you will be tolerated.

    How can we engage audiences better?

    If you want to keep your audience engaged, and inspire them to new insights or actions, you will have to do more than report on your slides. A good start is to engage them with the magic of metaphor. This will help your audience understand the context of your message, building bridges of meaning between your message and their experience. Metaphors bring clarity to your message, and connect you to your audience.


    Researchers at Princeton University using MRI devices scanned and monitored the brain activity of speakers and listeners. Their research revealed what good storytellers have long known; that mere information evokes a minimal brain response, whereas stories have the power to engage far more areas in the brain. They also discovered that when stories are well told, the same areas light up in the speaker’s and listener’s brain. With good communication, their brains are literally in synch.


    If you tell stories audiences will be interested and curious to learn more, like watching an engaging movie or drama. Story telling is an art form, different from news reporting. In business, you must tell a story and also make a point, whether at an internal management meeting or in front of a customer.


    Moreover, no one will be engaged in your story if you deliver it with weak body language, poor posture, and ineffective voice, and no eye contact. For your content to come alive, you need dynamic delivery.


    Combining the magic of metaphor, the power of story, and dynamic delivery are what we see in TED Talks (, which are raising the bar for presenters around the world. Popular TED Talks receive millions of viewings, and have launched some speakers into international fame. TEDx is another venue through which TED licenses organizers in local venues around the world to enable more people to speak on the stage using the TED format. Business executives are being encouraged to make their presentations more like TED. 


    The secrets of how this is done are revealed in a book just released by communications coach Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED:The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.



     I have the privilege of knowing Carmine personally, having interviewed him when he wrote two other bestselling books, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Now he has taken it to the next level, beyond the personality of one great speaker, to show that speakers in many styles can excel on the stage. Carmine says that like it or not, your presentations will be compared to TED Talks. Having analyzed hundreds of the best TED Talks, he has uncovered the secrets of the very best! 


    In the same week my own book was just released in Japanese, based on the World Class Speaking approach, and my own experience speaking on TEDx stages in Japan and Norway. 「世界最高のプレゼン術 World Class Speaking」by William Reed, published by Kadokawa Shoten.


    If you want to improve your speaking and communication skills, or approach the level of a TED speaker in ways large and small, then read Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo.


    If you are Japanese or know a person who has similar goals for their presentations and communication in Japanese, then read my book as well. Learn how to make magic in your presentations.













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    William Reed



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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