On being emotional

October 28, 2010

A few weeks ago I signed up to the series of  “Outstanding Presentation Workshops” webinars organised by Ellen Finkelstein. So far I’ve watched all of them, either by logging on line or by downloading the video of the broadcasts that Ellen makes available the day after the webinar. They’ve all been very good, with some excellent presenters from the presentation training world in the USA (with one, Olivia Mitchell, from New Zealand).

In her talk, Nancy Duarte stressed that “all business is about presentation” and I think she has hit the nail on the head. Most people in managerial or white collar jobs, the self employed and even many “shop floor” workers have to get their point across to people whether they’re at a large gathering, small meeting or even one to one, and they need good presentation skills  to do this effectively.

Although there are a couple more webinars left in the series, I’ve noted some common themes that have come across from several of the sessions

  • good preparation is essential
  • make sure you have a clear objective
  • focus on the needs of the audience
  • use stories to engage the audience
  • slides are a backdrop to enhance the presentation – they’re not the “main event”
  • any slides or visual aids used should be well designed

I’d agree wholeheartedly with all of these.

In his talk, Jim Endicott made that point that presentations are about persuasion – getting people to think, believe and act differently – and that emotion is a powerful tool for achieving this. However, there is a danger that, unless it is used with caution, the presenter can cross the line into demagogy and manipulation. We see this all too often with some politicians – after all, what’s a political speech is not a presentation?

I’d accept that in the business world presentations are often about persuasion , but I think that there is also another reason Jim didn’t mention. Sometimes they’re about informing and educating, which is what we try to do when we we’re teaching and training.

Admittedly, sometimes persuasion is needed in the classroom – for example when a teacher is trying to get antagonistic students to understand the importance of the subject they’re being taught, or when employees are reluctant to listen to the message being put across in a training session. But where the audience is receptive and keen to learn the presentation isn’t about persuasion .

Good preparation, being careful with the use of visual aids are relevant to all types of presentations. Using stories or case studies to illustrate  the points being made and bring them to life is a good technique when informing and educating. However, although it might be needed when we want to captivate and enthuse our audience, using “emotion” isn’t necessary or relevant where  our objective is to get them to learn or understand. Then, we need to appeal to their intellect.

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