Today I interviewed Els Demeester, head of Tech Data in Belgium and the only woman in the board of directors at the European level of the company. Why is this of any importance ? Because I am interviewing women in top positions in Belgium to see how important their presentation skills have been in their career as research for my book on this topic. And she had something extremely important to say. The last question I ask these women is what advice they would give to ambitious young women at the beginning of their career. The first thing she answered was : I have followed a training on presentation skills and (smiling she added you’re going to like what I’m going to say…) if I would have known, I would have followed this training much sooner in my career. So my advice to young women is to follow a training on presentation skills as soon as possible…In the beginning of your career the way you talk to an audience is even more important than the content. When you move up the ladder, the content has most importance !
When I ask people what they appreciate in a presentation they tell me most often ‘not too much text on a slide and just reading it’ or ‘a monotone speaker’ and one the first answers I usually get is ‘humour’. Now humour in a presentation is of course something completely different than telling a joke. I started doing some research on what humour exactly is in presentations. I started paying attention to humour in presentations : when do people laugh, why do they laugh, when do they laugh when I am a presenter…I absolutely don’t see myself as a humorous person and I am the worst joker there is (I simply never tell jokes because I never remember them…) but I do succeed in getting people to laugh during lectures. I don’t pretend to have the absolute and one and only answer to this question but I did discover that people laugh about things they know and understand. That can be because they recognize or have been in a situation themselves or because they know it as in a cliché. Let me share an example with you. Mark Gungor is a therapist who gives lectures to couples who are about to divorce. He explains how male and female brains are very different. Now he can do that in a serious scientific way, but he has chosen a whole different approach. The reason why it is humorous is of course the way he brings it on stage and his facial expression, but it is very recognizable for people.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with one of my clients. Last year the company orgnanised for the first time a 3 day conference on a European level where the country managers and team leaders could explain about their accomplishments of that year and the objectives for the next year. Of course they explained that giving a presentation. However, this year quite some months before the next event, the company asked me to help the speakers prepare their presentations because their first event had been very successful although the presentations could have been a lot better. One of the managers told me yesterday that he had done some research on the effectiveness of the presentations of last year. He asked quite a number of people what they remembered from these presentations and nearly everyone remebered ‘the coffe machine’…Now what is the coffee machine all about you might wonder ? One of the presenters of last year, Andy, was in my workshop. During the exercices I noticed that he alreday had great qualities as a presenter and I very much liked his style. Before the workshop , I had received the PowerPoint presentations they had made last year and of the 20 presentations there was only one that I liked, Andy’s…Why was his presentation so memorable ? Because he had explained a new machine and while preparing his presentation he noticed how much this new machine resembled an espresso machine. You just press the button and the machine does all the rest the result being a nice coffee. This was just so with the new machine. So he explained that talking about an espresso machine. Now this is very important information because it illustrates an important point I want to make how you can make your presentation memorbale : use comparisons. People remember new information much better when you compare it with something they know ! And why was his PowerPoint the only one I liked ? Because he had few slides and the slides he did show were either pictures (now I come to think of it, there was actually a picture of an espresso machine), or very simple word or figure slides. Words in a very big font and only some 2 to 3 figures on a slide, not a whole table…