Nick started his session by stating that the only reason to give any speech has to be to change the world. He discussed working on a speech for the Governor of Virginia for a decennial commemoration of the Vietnam war. During his research, Nick found a book that contained poignant letters from soldiers at war. During the actual speech, the Governor threw away his papers and read letters from the book. The last letter he read was about a lieutenant who was writing to his daughter he had never seen, and he never lived to see her. In a way, the Governor that day did something to change the world.
Not every speech has it’s bar set so high, but even with ordinary business presentations we must aim to change the world.
First of all, audiences do not care about a speaker introducing himself or herself.
The second thing that Nick has often observed is speakers losing their audience altogether. They do that by showing an agenda slide that gives away all the suspense of their presentation. Imagine a James Bond movie that has an agenda slide that speaks of some chases, some sex, and beautiful women! There would be no suspense left to motivate the audience at that point of time.
It has been seen that presentations that have agenda slides have audiences that very often interrupt speakers with questions. This happens because the speakers included agenda slides with conclusions mentioned — right at the beginning of the presentation! Audiences had questions about those conclusions before even moving to the rest of the slides. The speaker thus had no chance to motivate, convince, or explain anything to the audience!
Nick then moved on to stories — he said that “stories stick in our mind, data does not.”
People often create a mishmash of slides sourced from older presentations so the slides look like a shuffled deck of cards rather than a story. That kills the joy and does not allow you to change the world. There are essentially 3 ways to change the world:
- What is the audience’s problem that you want to solve?
You have to take the audience down the valley of despair before you lead them to the mountain of hope. Go and find out what the problems are, spend some time ascertaining those problems because it is important you spend this time.
- What is it that my content has that solves the audience’s problem?
Now take the audience to the decision making level. Then give them something to do, some action, give them a plan.
- What is the action step in the end?
Nick talked about a session on abundance that he attended. This session had a huge audience — and also was being televised to an even huger audience. The speaker asked the audience to throw some loose change for a purpose. From an audience of 5,000 plus around 70,000 satellite viewers, their purpose ended up gaining over 24,000 dollars in just one second.
Nick then discussed stories again — and how successful stories seem to follow five basic story plans:
- Quest stories don’t always have happy endings — there are stories of failed quests, but we infinitely prefer the ones where the heroes do reach their goals.
- Stranger in a strange land stories are about how to survive and thrive in a new world — and learn new ways of doing things.
- Even though revenge sounds iffy, people love revenge stories because there is a common perception that there is not enough justice in this world. Revenge stories need villains — and heroes to conquer those villains.
- Rags to riches stories.
- Love stories, boy meets girl, loses her, and gets her back again.
All these story types are ingrained in us, and we react to them well.
Tip: For boring presenters who think they do great without using stories, videotape their presentation delivery, and show it to them — they will fall asleep, and try to get better.
Nick then illustrated how a great story plot is formed. A story has three key moments or scenes — or just call them points of no return. He used an analogy between Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet — and a typical Steve Jobs presentation:
- Fall in love: Romeo meets Juliet and falls in love — this is a point of no return. Similarly, Steve jobs announces a product you fall in love with.
- Raise a stake: Romeo marries Juliet in secret. In those days, you could not undo a marriage — it was an almost eternal relationship. Similarly, Steve jobs announces this gee whiz feature that bonds your relationship with the Apple product you already love.
- Crisis or Climax, give the audience a moment from which they cannot go back: Romeo kills Tybalt and faces banishment. Will Romeo or Juliet live happily ever after or not — that enhances the audience’s curiosity at that point of time. Similarly, you love this new Apple product so much that not only do you buy Steve Jobs’ newly announced product, but you buy all the accessories too!
Note: Nick’s session was held much before Steve Jobs’ unfortunate demise — so it is important to understand that an analogy with a typical Steve Jobs’ presentation was done in a more contemporary sense.
He has coached people to give Congressional testimony, to appear on the Today Show, and to take on the investment community. He has worked widely with political and educational leaders. And he has himself spoken, led conferences, and moderated panels at venues around the world. He founded his own communications consulting organization, Public Words in 1997.