147. Making Presentations Matter

(Published on The Kathmandu Post national daily, July 25, 2016)

Making Presentations Matter

Let me assume that you have seen a lot of presentations, and that you have also delivered many of them. For a few minutes, imagine that you were an observer in these two situations.

Situation 1:

You are watching a student do a presentation of an assignment. He stands in front of the classroom, frozen with nervousness. He mumbles and stammers, takes many awkward pauses, and mostly reads from the slides. Occasionally, he looks at you and at the rest of the audience as if to scream that he wants to avoid the ordeal. You find no connection, and you feel you have wasted your time.

Situation 2:

You are in a seminar hall. A highly acclaimed professor is giving a presentation on her recent research findings. She talks about the title of her research (which is like 70 words long full of archaic words), objectives, questions, methodology, findings, interpretations, and so on. You wish to be somewhere else because she is lecturing you back to Research Methods class. Her presentation slogs like a monologue on a slow train towards boredom.

You probably have been in both situations. And you must have been eager to leave the room. On occasions, when you couldn’t, you must have felt the dullness of the presentations chocking your enthusiasm. Why do most of the presentations suck? In agony, you must have muttered.

Some of the regular responses would be: the presenter is not prepared, the slides are outrageous and stuffed, the content is boring, the presenter doesn’t have proper eye contact, the presenter speaks too fast or too slow, the presenter exceeds the time. These are all valid reasons.

But let me argue that most presentations suck not because of the presenter’s skills, nor his or her knowledge of the content, or the lack of eye contact, or bad body language. Most presentations suck because of the intent.

If you have wanted only to impress your audience, clients, customers, or teachers with your presentation skills, you know deep down inside that you have only half-succeeded. Because your intention primarily was just to make an impression. Not to create an impact, nor to make a difference. You wanted applauds. You wanted grades.

Your intent – the core reason – will either make or break your presentation.

So before you set out for a presentation, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do you intend just to deliver a stunning presentation or do you also intend to create an impact?
  2. Do you just want to showcase a bunch of shiny slides or do you also want to inspire action?
  3. Do you just care about your message or do you also care about the audience?

When you ask these questions, you will eventually see a clear picture. You will understand that you must put impact over impression. You will know that your job as a presenter is to be useful, be relentless, and be humble. That’s your core. And, you will find ways to structure your message, to design your slides, and to deliver your content – so that you just don’t talk, you also change minds, touch hearts, and transform lives.

Let your presentation skills amplify your intent – to disrupt patterns, break conventions, and inspire actions.

Now, please put yourself as a presenter in both situations I talked about earlier. You have sharpened your axes. You know your content. And you know your intent. You are determined to be useful, relentless, and humble. You care about your audience – their needs, their happiness, and their expectations.

Then, your presentation will matter. You will matter.

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146. Why we don’t change

change-resist

When people resist change, it is usually not because that they don’t know about the problem. I know that eating momos is not going to help me lose weight, but still I’m eating them. My mom knows that oily vegetable dishes are not healthy, but still she likes drowning potatoes in oil. Same with the smokers. They know cigarettes are unhealthy and can cause cancer. But still, many keep smoking.

Same goes for some teachers who resist change. They understand that they need to change. Teaching is not what is used to be 20 years ago. They know that their method is obsolete, their practice is ridiculously traditional and their knowledge is outdated. But still, many embrace the status quo.

Telling people – you need to change – is not going to work.

When educational institutions want their teachers to change, they send the teachers for training and try to give them new knowledge, skill, and attitude. Trainers think that if the teachers just understood about the new techniques, they would implement those techniques in the classroom. Or if the teachers just understood the importance of professional development, they would just start changing.

Still, nothing happens. Teachers fall back to their usual habit even after attending trainings and workshops.

This could be the problem. In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath say: knowledge rarely leads to change.

Students make noise in the class. They know that making noise is not right. They are wasting everyone’s time. But they still do it.

Street protesters know that burning rubber tire is harmful to health and detrimental to the environmental. But they still do it.

Employees waste time gossiping and pulling each other’s legs. They know it’s not productive. But they still do it.

The FM radio in our kitchen is always switched on. While listening to the morning news, the Nepal Traffic Police update, almost every day, says that over a hundred people were charged for “maa.paa.say” which means they were driving vehicles while being drunk. The ‘maa.paa.say’ rule has already been imposed for over two years but still people drink and drive (and get arrested and pay heavy fines).

They know the rule but they still make a mockery of it. Because, knowledge rarely leads to change.

Thus the big question: can we change? How? Let me leave these questions for you to figure them out.

(Inspired by Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to change things when change is hard)