Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to Deal with the TED Effect

Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design and author of the books Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences and slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations has written a great blog post about what she refers to as the TED effect. The TED effect refers to the impact that the TED conferences have had on all of us who need to present as part of our daily lives.
Nancy’s basic assertion is that “in public speaking it’s no longer okay to be boring”. In the years BT (before TED) it was okay to deliver boring presentations because actually no one knew if you were being boring or not because most people’s bar for what constituted a good presentation was pretty low anyway. In the dark years of BT we would all just sit stoically through those presentations that bored us to death and missed the point completely because bad presentations were just an occupational hazard we all had to learn to deal with. If nothing else it gave us time to catch up on our email or quietly chatter away to a colleague in the back row.
Now though everything has changed! For anyone that has seen more than half a dozen TED talks we know that if we are not engaged within the first 30 seconds we are ready to walk. Not only that if we felt you were wasting our time we go onto Twitter or Facebook and tell the rest of the world how boring you were. If however you did engage us and managed to get across your idea in 18 minutes or under (the maximum time of a TED talk) then we will reward you by spreading your ideas and help you get them adopted and funded.
As technical people software architects often struggle with presentations simply because they are communicating technology so, by definition, that must be complicated and take loads of time with lots of slides containing densely populated text or diagrams that cannot be read unless you are sitting less than a metre from the screen. But, as Nancy Duarte has explained countless times in her books and her blog, it needn’t be like that, even for a die-hard techno-geek.
Here’s my take on on how to deal with the TED effect:
  1. Just because you are given an hour to present, don’t think you have to actually spend that amount of time talking. Use the TED 18 minute rule and try and condense your key points into that time. Use the rest of the time for discussion and exchange of ideas.
  2. Use handouts for providing more detail. Handouts don’t just have to be documents given out during the presentation. Consider writing up the detail in a blog post or similar and provide a link to this at the end of your talk.
  3. Never, ever present slides someone else has created. If a presentation is worth doing then it’s worth investing the time to make it your presentation.
  4. Remember the audience is there to see you speak and hear your ideas. Slides are an aid to get those ideas across and are not an end in their own right. If you’re just reading what’s on the presentation then so can the audience so you may as well not be there.
  5. The best talks are laid out like a book or a movie. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. It often helps to think of the end first (what is the basic idea or point you want to get across) and work backwards from there. As Steven Pressfield says in the book Do the Work, “figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there”.
  6. Finally, watch as many TED talks as you can to see to see how they engage with the audience and get their ideas across. One of the key attributes you will see all the great speakers have is they are passionate about their subject and this really shines through in their talk. Maybe, just maybe, if you are not really passionate about what your subject you should not be talking about it in the first place?
Also posted in my Wordpress blog here.

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