Two weeks back my friend, colleague and naturalist, Chirdeep Shetty presented a really vivid Pecha-Kucha talk called "The Truth about Tigers". It was a particularly inspiring talk - in fact, Chirdeep is my latest new hero for the passion that and connection that he spoke with that day. Chirdeep's talk and a few other such presentations that I've seen in recent months have made me think about the importance of infusing passion into our speaking and to heighten the sense of connection between us and our topics. In today's blogpost, I want to highlight my observations about this craft.
Presenting Naked - The words of the "Zen Master"
Garrey Reynolds' upcoming book, "The Naked Presenter" has to be one of my most awaited book on the subject of presentation skills. A few years back Garr blogged about making your next presentation 'naked'. His inspiration was the Japanese culture of community baths. A few weeks prior, he also spoke at Duarte Design about presenting naked - an obvious lead up to his book, but pretty awesome all the same. While the metaphor is a bit disconcerting to start with, it's a very strong message once you start thinking about it. The idea, as per Garr - "to soak with others in your in-group is to freely expose everything and communicate the naked truth." The 'naked truth' isn't always the sweetest pill to swallow as we learnt in Chirdeep's talk, where he wasn't afraid one bit, to expose the brutal methods that poachers use to kill our national animal.
Chirdeep has spent months at some of our most famous forests and has even followed a tiger on foot. His knowledge and love for the big cat showed as he educated us about the animal, it's prey, it's behaviour, it's endangered status, and the reasons why we should do our best to save this magnificent animal. It's easy with Chirdeep's exposure, to try and impress the audience with your knowledge - instead, Chirdeep chose to tell an honest story that was inspiring, informative, persuasive and motivational. I'm so inspired just listening to Chirdeep that I'm undertaking an arduos two-week big cat trail in the heat of summer 2011 just to see these animals in their natural habitat. Maybe then, I can speak about them as eloquently as Mr. Shetty does.
Pictures and Stories - Natural Connections
Some of the high-points of Chirdeep's talk were the images he showed and stories that he told. Most of the pictures on his slides were his own. When explaining the behaviour of the cats, he mentioned the solitary and territorial nature of the tigers - in that fact, this picture is a rare contrast and highlights one of the beautiful moments of wildlife photography. As Chirdeep told us his story as a naturalist and supported it with pictures of his own, it created an extremely strong connection to the topic for us. For Chirdeep, it created a strong, natural connection for him as well. It wasn't a topic that he was talking about anymore, it was his passion! The fact that the words just rolled of his tongue, showed how deeply he understood the topic, and the stories and pictures made the topic more personable.
I've mentioned this in a previous blogpost - stock imagery is great, but nothing beats a high-quality photograph that you took yourself. The dynamism of amateur photography completely surpasses the polished and therefore staged look of stock photography. In a similar manner, facts and figures about a topic are informative, but nothing tugs at the heart more than a real, true to life story!
How can you bring in Passion and a Natural Connection to your talk?
When I speak about the topic of presentations, I often mention a few key things to ensure when you're delivering a talk. I'll try to list them out here.
- Think of what excites you about your topic: Don't do a talk because you have to. Do it because you want to and genuinely believe. If you don't feel strongly about a topic, then don't present - send an email or create a rich document. You'll save your audience the trouble.
- Show, don't tell: If you look at one of the most effective speakers of our time - Steve Jobs always has a flair for showing things instead of just telling us about them. Take a look at his talks in 1984 and after his return in 1998 and 1999 and his more recent Macbook Air introduction, you'll realise that he likes to touch and feel what he's talking about. Now Chirdeep couldn't have brought a real tiger into the room, but he brought in what was closest - pictures from his time in the forest.
- Tell stories, don't give information: In 2005, Stanford saw a different side of Steve Jobs. This wasn't the 'naked' keynote speaker in a turtle neck. This was a man back from cancer, standing at a lectern and delivering a commencement address. While the setting wasn't particularly awe-inspiring, the speech was a lesson in earnest story telling. Steve Jobs' message to the graduates was to go and pursue their dreams, regardless of how foolish they may seem. He started his address saying, "Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it - no big deal." That's exactly what the talk was about - three stories about his life that made him the success he is today. Back in the day he couldn't have connected the dots forward, but looking back, everything makes sense. He ended the talk with his now popular message, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." The message has stuck with me for the last five years, because of the power of Jobs' storytelling. I'm sure all of us can make messages stick if we told stories with similar conviction.
- The state of "No mind": One of my vivid Hollywood memories is a scene from The Last Samurai. In the scene, Tom Cruise keeps faltering when he spars using the Samurai sword and Shin Koyamada comes from the audience asking him to blur our everything that he's thinking about to get into the state of 'no mind'. I believe that's a particularly useful lesson for presenters. We can obsess about each detail when we prepare and design our talks. But as we step on stage, we need to shut our mind to the million distractions and prompts and focus on having fun and connecting with our audience. Yes, you may occasionally falter and yes there'll be the odd mess up. Take it in your stride and continue to have fun. If you don't show it, often your audience will not notice it. And if they do notice it, your best bet to carry on unhindered is if they're having fun. They can't have fun if you aren't, can they?
The topic of presentations is something really close to my heart and I love thinking and continually practicing the craft. I'm particularly inspired by earnest, honest and 'naked' presenters and I'm sure that happens to you too. Are there some tips you'd like to share about today's topic? I'd love to hear from you, so please drop your nuggets of wisdom onto the comments section of this post. In fact, feel free also to drop in any feedback you may have for this article. I'm doing my best to get back to a regular schedule, so your commentary will be worth it's weight it gold!