Many people look for the short road and the quick fix to achieve presentation excellence. But it doesn’t exist—there are no panaceas or off-the-shelf fixes. Learning to become an exceptional presenter in today’s world is a journey. This journey offers many paths to presenting in a more enlightened way, a way that is appropriate for the world in which we live. The first step down the road to becoming a great presenter is simply seeing—really seeing—that what passes for normal, ordinary, and good enough is off-kilter with how we learn, understand, remember, and engage.
No matter what your starting point is today, you can become much better. In fact, you can become extraordinary. I know this is true because I have seen it many times before. I have worked with professionals—young and old—who believed they were not particularly creative, charismatic, or dynamic. And yet, with a little help, they were able to transform themselves into extremely creative, highly articulate, engaging presenters once they realized that a remarkable presenter was inside them already. Once they opened their eyes and made the commitment to learn and leave the past behind, it was just a matter of time before great progress was visible. Interestingly, as their confidence grew and they became more effective presenters, their newly found self-assurance and perspective had a remarkable impact on other aspects of their personal and professional lives.
There are many things you can do to become a better presenter—with or without the use of multimedia—and a better, more effective communicator in general. The following are just a few things to keep in mind.
Through books, DVDs, and myriad online resources, you can teach yourself much of what you need to be an exceptional presenter. On my website, www.presentationzen.com, I recommend many books, DVDs, and websites related to presentation design and delivery. Most of the items I recommend are not necessarily about presentation skills or slideware. However, these are the resources that are often the most helpful. For example, you can learn a lot about storytelling and the use of imagery by studying the masters of documentary film and cinema. Even books on writing screenplays offer lessons you can apply to the world of presentations. You just never know what you’ll learn through self-study, especially when you look in unusual places.
Reading and studying are important and necessary, but to really get better at presenting—including designing the visuals—you have to actually do it, and do it often. So look for opportunities to present. If there is a local Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.org) chapter in your area, consider getting involved. Better yet, look for a local TEDx event (www.ted.com/tedx), PechaKucha Night (www.pecha-kucha.org), or Ignite event (ignite.oreilly.com). If you don’t find one of these events in your area, then why not start one? Volunteer to present for your school, business, or user group, and look for other opportunities to “give it away” and make a contribution by sharing your information, skill, or story through a presentation in your community.
It’s important for working professionals—no matter their field—to stay in touch with and nurture their creative soul. What a waste it would be to ignore one of your passions or talents. Frankly, you just never know where inspiration will come from. Inspiration, clarity, or a new perspective may materialize unforced as you climb a mountain, paint a portrait, photograph a sunset, write a novel…or find your groove while playing with fellow musicians in a downtown nightclub (or garage).
I no longer play music full time, but I still perform occasionally with local musicians in nightclubs around Osaka. It’s good for the creative spirit to perform and connect with other musicians and appreciative audiences. Playing live music is similar to making great presentations—it’s not about technique. Once you begin to focus on technique, tricks, flash, and making an impression, all is lost. Performance is about feeling. If I never played music, I would miss all those lessons. Since I wrote the first edition of this book, I have been inspired by helping my young children discover the joys of expressing their own creativity through learning to play musical intruments.
Nothing great will ever happen to you if you stay in your comfort zone. So as much as you can, get out of your office or school or house and make connections. Look to exercise your creativity. “Out there” is where the learning occurs. Challenge yourself and develop your creativity; exercise your creative brain. Take a drama class. Take an art class. Enroll in a seminar. Go to a movie. Go to a concert. Go to a play or a musical. Or just go for an inspirational walk alone.
We can find inspiration and lessons in unexpected places. For example, over the years I’ve learned a lot about graphic design—what’s effective and what’s not—during the morning commute on the trains. Trains in Japan are clean, comfortable, and on time. The trains are also full of print advertising hanging from and affixed to every conceivable space. I enjoy scanning the print ads while I commute, as it gives me a chance to study graphic design trends and observe the way graphics are used in print media.
You can learn a lot about fundamental design principles and develop a critical eye through careful examination of the graphic design found in posters, banners, street signs, storefronts, and so on. We usually ignore or take for granted so much of the design in urban settings, but just walking down the street you’ll find that the examples from which to learn are all around you. The lessons are everywhere. It’s just a matter of seeing.
The key is in knowing that it is within you already. Do not rely on technology or other people to make your choices. Most of all, do not let mere habit—and the habits of others—dictate your decisions on how to prepare, design, and ultimately deliver your presentations. The secret is for you to increase your awareness so you are able to see the world and all the lessons around you. We cannot truly move forward and learn the new if we cling to the old. The essential keys to improvement are simply having an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to learn, even if we make mistakes in the process. There are many ways to improve and transform yourself. In this chapter, I have mentioned just a few that I hope will be of help to you.
So, what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion—there is only the next step. And that next step is completely up to you. In fact, far from being the conclusion, for many this is still just the beginning. In this book, I have tried to give you a few simple things to think about as you work toward improving your presentation preparation, design, and delivery skills. This book focused on presenting while using multimedia, yet the use of multimedia technology is not appropriate for every case. You decide. However, if you do use digital tools to produce visuals for your next talk, aim to design and deliver your presentation while allowing the principles of restraint, simplicity, and naturalness to always be your gentle guide. Enjoy the journey.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.