Thursday, March 26, 2009

A tale of two presentations

I'm a big fan of whiteboarding and I feel that given a good story, you can tell it as well with whiteboarded presentations as you can with a well structured presentation. Here are two videos around the same topic - the credit crisis caused by Collateralized Debt Obligations. The first one is by Paddy Hirsh where he uses nothing but a whiteboard and a marker to explain this reasonably complext topic.

The second one is a full-fledged, highly visual, multimedia presentation that explains the credit crisis by Jonathan Jarvis.

The second one is obviously quite pretty and amusing, but as you will notice a good presenter that knows his/ her story and is not conscious about his drawing skills (or the lack of them) can make the topic equally simple, engaging and understandable. A couple of thoughts I gather for presenters that want to exploit the flexibility of this medium:
  • Dont bother about the quality of your drawings. People like seeing other people's sketches. So the sketches you find awful, may actually be quite appealing to others. Also, your audience understands that you're trying to make a point and not being Pablo Picasso -- so take it easy.
  • Keep your topic simple. How can you explain it so that your grandmom could understand it? What metaphors will make it simple for your audience? How can you represent it to them effectively? Will you need props or can you explain it in a few minutes.
  • Keep your talk time short. Not many people can hold their attention to one thing for more than 7-10 minutes. If your talk time is going to exceed 6-7 minutes, then think of building in some kind of interaction - a question, a brainstorm, a show of hands. Just break the monotony of continuous speech. Remember, you may be good but not as good as the lunch that's coming up right after!
  • Use visuals over text. We're hardwired to respond to visuals. Use the Visual Thinking Codex by Dan Roam to think of the best hand drawn images that'll help illustrate your point.
  • Anyone who said that "a picture speaks a thousand words", did immense disservice to the science of visual problem solving/ presentations. What it makes many of us believe that if a picture can actually speak a thousand words, you don't need any words to explain it. That is really far from the truth. Kraig Parkinson once mentioned to me that he prefers blending text with visuals as part of his presentations/ problem solving approach. I believe this too -- draw your pictures as you speak. A pre-drawn picture doesn't explain your topic and more importantly steals focus from the point you're making. A picture that you build dynamically gets your audience's attention and supports what you're saying.
  • Lastly, always prepare a non-slideware plan for your presentation too. I've worked in a multitude of low tech and no/ erractic electricity supply environments to realize the value of this. Even if you don't have this problem to contend with, remember "Murphy's Law" - anything that can go wrong, will! So your projector could die, your hard drive could crash, you may accidentally delete the file, the bulb on the projector can create enough contrast, what have you. In such times, imagine the impact you create when you say, "Oh well, that's ok -- I can do without the presentation!". Its the ultimate first impression to make on your audience - they know that you know! Hallelujah!

I hope you enjoy the two presentations -- and that some of my thoughts are useful to you. Slideware is useful no doubt, but low tech presentation skills are invaluable!


Rakesh Vanamali said...

Couldn't view the videos possibly because of the F/W on the network.... You gotta very insightful blog here! Chanced upon it by accident!

Good going! Keep @ it!



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It requires some distinctive pondering what pictures can do to improve a presentation, how much the gathering of people can hold and why this work is imperative.

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Powell Paul said...

Wow. cool post. I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article… but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though.

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