McKinsey Presentation Tips – Gene Zelazny at Wharton

In the Spring of 2001, McKinsey presentation guru Gene Zelazny shared public speaking insights gleaned over his forty-plus year career (video at bottom of post).  Here, I have summarized his very well structured tips:

 

Prologue:

1. The only thing that matters at the end of your presentation is the answer to the question: Did I accomplish my objective.

2. Nervousness is natural and should be viewed as a sign of respect for your audience.  Accept that you will make mistakes.

 

I. Define the situation

A. Objective: Why are you presenting? What do you reasonably hope to accomplish? What do you expect from your audience?

  B. Audience: Who are the key decision makers with authority to say yes or no? How interested do you expect them to be in your recommendation? How knowledgeable are they about your topic? Why would they say no?

  C. Facts/Message

  D. Scope: Your material should be no more comprehensive than the minimum needed to accomplish your objective or the time your have with your audience.

  E. Media/Facilities: Use the simplest, most-appropriate tools for the task.

II. Design the presentation

A. Structure the story

1. Body: Do not chronologically recreate the months long discovery process you endured to find the recommendation. Start with the overall context (see II.A.2) and use the body for support.  The exception is when you have an audience that will be hostile to your recommendation and they need to be taken there more slowly.

2. Introduction: You want to light a fire in the first minute.  Use the PIP (purpose + importance + preview) approach.

3. Ending: Repeat your recommendations. Give your action program to turn your overall recommendation into reality. This includes: people responsible, time required, costs, etc.  Last, finish with Next Steps.  Note that the next steps should not be premeditated; instead, document the next steps that emerge from the discussion.

B. Sketch the storyboard

1. Visuals (based on Zelazny’s book: Say it With Charts)

a. Select the chart form

b. Write titles that ARE the message/point you want your audience to know

c. Use graphical treatment (ex: contrast) to draw attention to your message

(“Take responsibility for your point of view.”)

2. So-what

3. Transitions

C. Produce visual aids & handouts

III. Deliver the presentation

A. Rehearse: Once alone in a room out loud. Once in front of three or four constructive colleagues.

B. Set up the facilities: including physical setup, room layout, lighting, etc.

C. Set the tone

1. Competence

2. Conviction: You must believe in what you are recommending or someone else should present.

3. Enthusiasm/energy

D. Apply delivery skills

1. Verbal: natural, conversational word choice

2. Vocal: expand your range

3. Visual: open body language, natural gestures, and effective eye-contact (FYI: It is OK to occasionally refer to notes, but put them down when you are not referring to them.)

E. Work with visual aids: If your slide is complex, you will likely want to get close to it and point out the elements you are describing.

F. Handle questions: It is appropriate to say “I don’t know.”

1. Try to anticipate the three most difficult questions you will get from the most difficult people in the audience.

2. Listen the the question completely

3. If the question has multiple parts, it is OK to write down the parts

4. Pause to think

5. Repeat the question only if people were not likely to have heard it. Do not rephrase the question unless you must and, if so, you need to ask for permission to do so.

6. Assume everyone is interested in the answer so balance the eye-contact with the entire audience. (Tip: If you want to move on from the questioner, finish your eye contact with someone else.)

7. If you get a very difficult question, try to avoid saying, “I’ll get back to you later.”  Instead, it is OK to say, “I don’t know.”  Or, even better, consider reaching out to the rest of the audience to see if someone else has the answer!

 

Presentation SuperSummit: How to Deliver a TED Talk (Interview)

Here is a link to my session at  Marco Montemagno’s Presentation Super Summit.  I believe you will need to complete a registration form, but it is worth it for free access to all past talks as well as 19 public speaking experts including: Nick Morgan, Oren Klaff, and Scott Schwertly.

http://supersummit.co/video-archive/deliver-ted-talk-jeremey-donovan-autho-deliver-ted-talk/

 

How Janna Levin Told Her Moth Story

In case you are not familiar with The Moth, it is a not-for-profit devoted to ‘true stories told live.’  The stories are short, intimate, and funny.  Most Moth storytellers, including Janna Levin, draw from one (or several) moments of profound personal transformation; more often than not, these moments were catalyzed by foolishness, futility, character flaws, or failure. While polished in plot, setting, and character development, the best Moth stories retain raw, honest sincerity and offer an uplifting moral.

In this post, I’ll deconstruct Janna Levin’s Life on a Mobius Strip, the lead-off story in The Moth’s new book.  I recommend you enjoy the video below and then read my analysis.

 

Tip #1: Develop a richly plotted story

Plot, setting, and dialog-rich character are the key elements that add texture to a story.  Let’s examine how Janna developed the first element, plot.  As shown in the table below, notice that Janna impressively wove dual-plots that converged in the end.

Boiled down, the essence of plot is the topsy-turvy journey characters must undergo is search of the answer to a profound question.  The types of questions that work best do not have an obvious or even a single answer; in fact, depending on the path taken, diametrically opposed answers may be equally viable.  Despite that challenge, storytellers (usually) share their answer to the question at the end in the form of a revelation that allows the protagonist to achieve her goals and live happily ever after.

Sometimes characters know the question the storyteller is exploring, and sometimes they do not.  In Plot A, Janna as protagonist knows the question and frames it early on as, “The hazard for a scientist working on something so esoteric is the possibility that it just might not be true or it might not be answerable.”  She is asking: Is it worth dedicating your professional life to fundamental scientific research when it is unlikely that your effort will amount to anything? In Plot B, in contrast, Janna as protagonist does not know the question: Do we get to choose who we love?

Quite cleverly, these two plots share a common theme summarized by the overarching question: Are our lives determined by fate or free will? At the end of her story, Janna discovers the answer in the symbolism of her anatomically unusual son - Love, like the universe, is unpredictable, improbable, circular, and worthwhile.

Plot APlot B
Once upon a time and every day…(1) I was working at Berkeley as an astrophysicist obsessed with an esoteric, probably unanswerable topic(2) I met Warren, an uneducated obsessive compulsive musician, in a coffee shop in San Francisco
Until one day…(4) My fellowship ended and I accepted a job in Cambridge, England(3) Warren moved in with me
And because of that…(5) I shifted to the exciting topic of Black Holes and got to hang out with Nobel laureates(6) Warren worked as a dishwasher and focused on his music
Until finally…(8) I wrote a book about the universe and the unraveling of an obsessive compulsive mind(7) Our relationship ended explosively
And after that…(9) I returned to San Francisco…(10a) … and saw Warren working in the coffee shop
(10b) We married a year later
(10c) We had a son whose internal organs (harmlessly) are reversed
And the moral of the story is…(11) Love, like the universe, is unpredictable, improbable, circular, and worthwhile

 

Tip #2: Get laughs early and often

Compelling personal stories, including if not especially traumatic ones, need generous helpings of humor.  I find that humor can typically be classified in three buckets: superiority (ex: laughing at people with bad judgement, particularly those in positions of authority); surprise (ex: absurd overstatement or understatement); and emotional release as a salve to embarrassment, discomfort, or fear (ex: gallows and scatological humor).

Janna used all three types early and often.  She got her first laugh with superiority humor a mere nine seconds into her story with the following: “Einstein famously said, ‘Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.’ Then he added, ‘And I’m not so sure about the universe.” Though it may be painfully obvious, this is superiority humor because implies that people are infinitely stupid.  Since Einstein’s and Janna’s audiences were in on the joke, they get to feel superior to the rest of the world.

(Note: I advise speakers to avoid quoting famous people, especially at the opening or closing of a speech.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  The main exception is when the speaker either knows the famous person or heard the quote first-hand.  Janna reveals another exception which is when the quote perfectly sets up the fundamental theme of the story and ties to a major story element – in this case, Janna is an astrophysicist studying whether or not the universe is infinite.)

Janna’s second laugh relied on surprise humor in the form of understatement as follows: “Warren came charging past me the first day I saw him and pinned me with his blue eyes and said, ‘You’re the astrophysicist.’  (pause) Which I knew.

She employed release humor a bit later on when she recounted living in low-cost accommodations upon arriving in England, “… we spend a few weeks in a coin-operated bed-sit in Brighton. If you ran out of pound coins, your electricity went off and the lights went out. We often ran out of pound coins, and towards the end we were so despondent we would just sit in the dark.”

By the end of her 16 minute 20 second story, Janna garnered 31 laughs – a rate of 1.9 laughs per minute. While shy of the stand-up comedy standard of four to six laughs-per-minute, the rate is both impressive and typical of entertaining personal stories. If the laughter density is too low, below 1 laugh-per minute, a story becomes heavy and dull; if the laughter density is too high, above 4 laughs per minute, a story loses meaning and becomes just a pleasant, in-the-moment experience.

 Tip #3: Be vulnerable

Over the course of the story, the audience learns that Janna holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT, did post-doctoral work at Berkeley, hobnobbed with Stephen Hawking and Nobel laureates at Cambridge, wrote and published a book that “came out of me fully formed,” and has a healthy, happy family.  If Janna had led with all of this, or even any of this, the audience would have immediately disconnected from her.  However, she paired vulnerabilities with each of her bona fides – foolishness, frustration, futility, and failure always preceded good fortune:

  • The futile pursuit of fundamental science precedes Janna’s disclosure of being an MIT-trained astrophysicist.
  • The frustration of living in squalor precedes Janna’s opportunity to work at Cambridge with Stephen Hawking.
  • The failure of her relationship precedes Janna’s book deal.
  • The foolishness of falling in love with the wrong kind of man precedes Janna’s happy family life.

 

The Bottom Line

While I have touched on the most powerful insights that I drew from Janna’s story, there is much more richness to explore in character and setting development as well as in Janna’s engagingly raw verbal and non-verbal delivery.  Please listen to her story and share what struck you as valuable in the comments section below.

Actionable Tips From Dave Paradi’s 2013 Annoying PowerPoint Survey

With so many opinions expressed about public speaking (something I too am guilty of),  I was excited to see Dave Paradi’s fact-based survey exploring the most annoying behaviors of presenters.

With Dave’s permission, I have taken the annoyances he found and transformed them into actionable tips:

 

I. Content

- Have a clear, primary purpose (to inform, persuade, inspire, or entertain)

- Have a single message framed from the audience’s perspective as: To (what) so that (why/outcome/benefit). This will help eliminate information overload and ‘data dump.’

- Apply a narrative flow that supports your purpose & message

- Customize your content (at least to a degree) for your specific audience

 

II. Delivery

- Instead of reading text from slides, use them as a launching and landing point

- Limit the amount of time you spend facing the screen

- Rehearse to figure out what slides belong in your presentation. Delete or Appendix the rest.  Never skip slides.

- “Mute” your slide by going to black (hit the “b” key) when you want to focus your audience’s attention on you

- Use pauses to eliminate filler words

- Plan where you will stand and where you will move to (avoid standing projector’s line-of-sight)

 

III. Design

- Make sure text is large enough to be read easily by people seated in the back of the room

- Proofread your slides to eliminate typos

- Use short bursts of text (or bullets), not full sentences

- Use the simplest diagram possible to support/prove the message of a slide. (Tables are rarely the best choice.)

- Use a harmonious color palette and apply intentional use of contrast

- Avoid clip-art and random images that just dress-up a slide

- Use video sparingly and only when contextually relevant (and well tested in the environment/room you present in)

- Builds are fine but avoid decorative animation

 

IV. Odds & Ends

- Ask yourself if the topic warrants a presentation or could be handled more efficiently with an email or a conversation

- Recognize that design software can be used to create presentations or documents.  Create one or the other depending on where and how you will use it.

 

Try it Out!

Dave Paradi also has a couple great, free self-assessments.  Check them out at:

Best Practices for Effective PowerPoint Presentations Assessment

PowerPoint Skills Inventory

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