Dynamite Presentations: Start Here

Every time I go to a conference, there is a wide spectrum of quality in the speaker presentations. We all know the drill – some speakers hold our attention and draw us into the content, others leave us cold and drifting.

There are many elements that go into effective presentation design and delivery, but I’d like to suggest that you start right here:

Speaker Perspective 1: I am not here to re-hash facts and stats. That is Google’s job. I am here to provide context, insight, and motivation to change.

Speaker Perspective 2: I need to tell a story. Slides are background to help tell the story. The slide deck is not the presentation. I am.

Speaker Perspective 3: The audience will be able to retain and act on one or two clear messages. Maximum impact, not maximum content, is the goal.

Now, embracing those perspectives, here are your first four steps.

1. What’s the point? For the moment, put aside all materials, including prior slide decks. What is the ONE THING you are trying to get across to your audience? Summarize it in ONE SIMPLE SENTENCE. You are not ready to progress with presentation design until you can clearly articulate the point of the whole exercise.

2. How can I turn this into a story? Remember, you’re not there to do a data dump. The attention – and memory – of your audience members is going to be captured by a story line.

3. What do I want my audience members to do after this presentation? Fast forward to the end of your presentation – as people walk out of your session, what is the clear call to action that needs to be ringing in their ears? The entire presentation needs to aim at that.

4. What resources and advice can I bring forth to enable that action? Motivate, and equip. Inform, yes – but with a purpose.

Don’t even think about firing up Powerpoint and dumping data into slides until you go through this exercise. Then, you will see that your slide design becomes the handmaiden of your presentation – you aren’t the handmaiden of your slide deck.

Those are my “start here” tips – what are yours?

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>> Breaking Free of Powerpoint

>> Trend Currents in Social Media

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Breaking Free of Powerpoint

I finally did it. We’ve had irreconcilable differences, Powerpoint and I. So, last Friday, I moved out.

I wanted to present in a way that reflected my style. I wanted to tell a story, not create a “deck” of slides. But for so many years, I felt bound to the information exchange methodology enforced by that tyrant of business presentation, Powerpoint. Even when I knew this relationship wasn’t working out, I found myself with one foot outside the door, and the other foot inside, not quite sure how to leave.

Finally, I found a way to start over. It was really quite simple.

Instead of beginning to create the presentation in Powerpoint, I put it to the side. Instead, on one screen, using Word, I started crafting the outline of the story. Scribbling, moving things around, totally unconcerned with format – just writing a script. Imagining myself in front, saying what I wanted to say irrespective of any slides as delivery vehicle.

I’m the delivery vehicle. The story is the presentation. That’s primary.

Then, on the other screen, a series of blank Powerpoint slides. On them, finding and pasting pictures that go with the story. Background. Presentation decoration. No text, because that’s in the script.

Powerpoint as illustration/analogy vehicle. Eye candy. It’s secondary.

Crossing this important mental barrier: If someone is going to ask, “Can I get a copy of your slide deck?”, I’ll just smile inside and say, “Nope.” Because the slide deck is not the presentation or the story. It’s a series of storytelling props.

I’ve seen this done effectively by others, and finally, I decided I’d break free last week (at Social Media Masters 2011). I think the picture above by Bob Knorpp (@thebeancast) wonderfully captures how much fun it was to present, free of PPT Tyranny (that’s me awarding Sam Fiorella his favorite social reinforcement, Klout points!)

There are magicians of public speaking/storytelling/presentation – Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs. They all seem to break free of the information-dump style and tell stories wonderfully. Watch videos of these masters (or see them live if you can). Their examples have fueled my desire to “think different” about presenting!

So, are you breaking free from Powerpoint tyranny? If so, what are your methods? Let’s figure out ways to turn presentations into engaging stories instead of public data dumps!

Kudos to the Social Media Masters team (Kristie Wells, Chris Heuer, Sam Fiorella, Brandie McCallum, and others) for putting on an educational conference focusing on advanced themes – there’s still time to sign up for the Toronto and Kansas City events in October!

P.S. Bob Knorpp also captured this brief video beancast interview touching on some of the themes of my presentation, which focused on the future of digital networks/social media.


Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Facebook’s Secret Weapon Unveiled: Ann Handley!

>> Trend Currents in Social Media

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Can You Stop Me From Becoming a Pimp?

Yes – yes, you can. I want to ask you a favor, and make a deal.

It’s that awful, horrible, Twitter-polluting time of the year again – South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) has opened up the public voting for panels, and we’re all about to be inundated with requests.

“Vote for my panel! PLEASE!” Every. Other. Tweet. Sigh…

Friends, I don’t want to be “that speaker.” So here’s the deal. I put in a proposal for a talk. It’s a good one – you can trust me on that. And there are a bazillion other good proposed speakers/talks also. But I have a unique angle, and I’m going to be a troublemaker.

Here’s my proposed session:

So, if you think I’m a halfway-decent fellow, worthy of stirring up some trouble in Austin talking about whether pharma and social media REALLY get along, please vote for my panel. I’m asking right here, right now. No endless pimping. Now.

The directions are simple:

1. Go to this link.

2. See that nice green circle on the graphic up there?  Click right there (the site may ask you to register if you’ve not been there. It only takes a moment. Keep repeating to yourself: “Steve’s worth it!”)

3. Done! (or, almost done – if you add a glowing comment on the page that would be a cherry on top!)

Of course, if you then pimp out this post for me, that means I can look like the most popular kid in school instead of a social media pimp-in-training. And here’s the kicker – if I go to Austin to speak at SXSWi, I’ll be forwarding the most luscious photos of BBQ that you’ve ever seen. That’s gotta be worth something.

Thank you in advance for voting for me so that we can initiate the #SXSWSanity club. One post. No pimping.


Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (personal or company Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> A Box You Want to Uncheck on LinkedIn

>> LinkedIn, Privacy, and Notification

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Shaking Things Up


Over the years, I’ve attended many, many conferences – some awful, some forgettable, and a few outstanding.

I’m getting impatient.

    I’m impatient with thinly-veiled sales pitches from sponsoring companies during sessions. If you’re going to have sponsoring companies, set aside a specific time in the event when they can present their solutions openly to the audience.
    I’m impatient with speakers who think their role is to walk through a series of slides and do a verbal data dump. If you cannot spark interest, tell engaging stories, use helpful analogies, facilitate discussion, and (yes, this matters) speak with a reasonably pleasing voice, then don’t be a presenter.
    I’m impatient with attendees who are satisfied with passive information reception. We deserve and should demand better.
    I’m impatient with hotel setups where you cannot get some light on the speaker. Really – you CAN do this.
    I’m impatient with hearing the same old same old tired generalities, especially when it is dressed up in meaningless biz-jargon. If it’s not practical, real-life, and fresh, put it on a blog somewhere where it can be ignored. Because that’s what your audience is doing.
    I’m impatient with a lack of daring. Try new things. Shake things up. Get some creative thinkers in your advisory board and plan, from 9-12 months out, how you’re going to make things better.

As for me, like my friend Olivier Blanchard, I’m going to be a lot more selective about my conference attendance next year. I don’t want to spend time being bored and impatient in any aspect of my professional life. There are at least 237 ways to make conferences better. Let’s start doing them.



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MarketingProfs B2B Forum Re-cap: The Book


The MarketingProfs B2B Forum was held on June 8-9 in Boston, MA. Boston, for those unfamiliar with the location, is home to Fenway Park (for you baseball junkies), Samuel Adams (for you beer junkies), and Chris Brogan (for you social media junkies). It is also the home of the largest money pit ever created before the TARP program, called the “Big Dig.” But that’s not relevant, actually. What is relevant is the startling revelation concerning “Ann Handley” that came out during the week. More on that in a later chapter.


renbostonThe Forum was held at the Renaissance Hotel, originally designed in 1781 to house the Continental Congress, and recently refurbished to include indoor plumbing, glass windows, and color TV. Oh, wait, that’s the Philadelphia one. Sorry – the Boston Renaissance is quite up to date, actually. Nicely designed meeting space, helpful staff, even a semi-reasonable set of power outlets in meeting rooms. And the MarketingProfs staff had the logistics and organization nailed. Especially nice – the open area used for breakfast roundtables and other informal gatherings.


This event could not have been possible without the labors of Roy Young, Allen Weiss, the great MP team, and the inimitable “Ann Handley,” whose secret life was finally revealed during the Forum. More on that later.

Chapter One – The Keynotes

BarrysmYou’ve heard of great timing? This B2B Forum had it. The very week that Twitter hit the cover of TIME magazine, the author of the article, Steven B Johnson, spoke to the assembled acolytes on “Why Twitter Matters.” He was engaging, funny, and very effective in his story-telling approach to presenting (Twitter as analagous to coffeehouses of a couple centuries back), and his well-designed (simple!) slides. The next day, we were treated to Barry Schwartz, professor at Swarthmore University, speaking on the topic of “Practical Wisdom,” drawing from a book he has written on that same theme. Very thought-provoking; the biggest response on the Twitter back-channel seemed to be to his distinction of job/career/calling. I got to sit next to him at lunch without realizing, at first, who he was – he proved to be as engaging in person as he was once he got up on the podium.

You want Peg Mulligan’s take? Sure you do. And Becky Pearce’s notes? Coming right up.

Chapter 2 – The Sessions

JayBaerAs always in a conference like this, there were some great sessions, and some less so, but things started off with a bang when Sandy Carter of IBM discussed some very interesting – low-cost AND effective – social media initiatives her division of the company has employed. KD Paine kicked off the second day with a nice talk on Measuring Value in Social Media. Both days also featured Hot Seat Labs, where experts critiqued, live, the web efforts of various companies represented in the hot seat panels. Overall, there was good variety in the workshop sessions, with 2-4 concurrent sessions going on at any one time. Plus, there were one-to-one therapy sessions with social media practitioners that attendees could sign up for, to get personalized expertise. Nice.

You want handouts? Why sure…here they are.

Chapter 3 – The Gastronomy

TweetupB2BI’ve been to conferences where you would not bother to write about food and drink. Not this one. The lunches included meals at round tables followed by keynotes (nice approach), and the Tuesday morning breakfast roundtables were a smash hit. Tables were set up to discuss various social media/emarketing themes, with discussions led by experts in the field – discussions were lively and helpful. Everyone loved the Monday night Tweetup, with tapas and libations, which was open not only for the conference attendees, but also to local folks who could not attend during the day but who wanted to join the socializing. And, the Monday night dinner featured strolling magicians doing card tricks – these guys were really good!

Chapter 4 – The Tweeting

MackJayThere were probably about 20 or so of us tweeting regularly throughout the conference. That makes it a bit noisy, esp. when Mack Collier and Beth Harte are contributing. :>} Mike Damphouse made some nice summaries of the tweets here and here, so I don’t have to repeat them. And Jay Baer had his own take right here. Suffice it to say the the Twitter back channel was active as usual, and many of those “outside” who couldn’t attend were suitably jealous as they read the #mpb2b tweets. Heh.

Chapter 5 – The Attendees

RoundtableThis show had about 275 people, and it was quite a mixed group. A solid majority seemed to be just discovering social media and how it can be put to use in business. Having been to a number of conferences top-heavy with “experts,” this was refreshing – a lot of these folks are in the day-to-day trenches of marketing and they’re trying to understand what many of us now take too much for granted. So there was less bleeding-edge posturing and more nitty-gritty dialogue – nice.

Oh, you wanted pictures? See what Robert Collins put together on Flickr.

Chapter 6 – The Revelation

AnneH1This turn of events was so cataclysmic – the revealing of the true identity of “Ann Handley” – that it had to be published separately, for fear that the crush of traffic would make this summary unavailable.

You’ll never think of Ann the same way again.

Because she’s really someone else.

Here’s the explosive story…“Ann Handley” Exposed.



A collection of blog posts is being assembled here (B2B According to Me) regarding the conference. Even Mack Collier liked it. There you will find links to the other posts put up by bloggers who are trying to butter up “Anne Handley” enough to win a free pass to the M Profs Digital Mixer in Chicago later this year. But I don’t play that game. No sirree….


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Your Bullet Points, My Kevlar

I’m in a break between sessions at the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers Conference, and I’m going to rant. Join me.

I just witnessed, once again, a blizzard of bullet points. A presentation that appeared to have, as its goal, accomplishing a systematic walk-through of logically connected concepts and words – a projected Table of Contents of Information Impartation.

In other words, a typical Powerpoint session.

Presenters – your job is not to transmit a glorified Morse code of bullet dots and text dashes. You need to make it your purpose to:

Engage – get my attention immediately and show me right off what you have that is important for me.

Inspire – touch my emotions with a story that I can relate to.

Impart – drive home the one or two truly key concepts that need to be remembered and acted upon.

Motivate – move me to action.

Envision a pyramid. See that top 5%, that peak? That’s what you want to get to – some new conviction, some new action, some change. In your first few minutes, convince me WHY I need to change. Show me where I am, why that is not the best place to be, and where I need to go. Show me how to change, how to take action, and tell me about yourself and others who have begun that journey. Give me tangible steps to begin, and reasons to hope for success.

Always return to that pinnacle, that What’s the Point?, and how I can move across that gap from where I am to where I should be. Give me some other parts of the pyramid if you must, but in the first 10 minutes, fill my mind and heart with that peak. Paint me a picuture with stories, warn me about dangers, convince me to take action, show me how.

But don’t just shoot bullets – I have Kevlar on. Don’t walk me through a projected thought map until and unless you have won my judgment and my heart-assent that THIS MATTERS.

That is all. Except for whatever you’d like to add in the comments – rant away with me!

Presenting to Win (a SxSW rant)

checkeredflagI’ve been, frankly, disappointed in the quality of many of the South by Southwest sessions. Here’s why: many of those leading these panels/discussions/sessions aren’t trying to win the attention of the audience.

There are many competing sessions, there’s the Twitter stream, there’s the Blogger’s Lounge, and there’s really good BBQ. If you don’t grab my attention and pull me into the session, I’m gone.

So, if you’re a presenter/teacher/whatever, here’s some simple advice on winning your audience.

  1. Start IMMEDIATELY with a WIIFM. If you don’t tell me why I need to be interested, why this matters – if you don’t give us a concrete What’s-In-It-For-Me (right away!) – you risk losing our attention. In your very first minute, give an arresting and practical statement as to why what you’re about to present matters. Your audience is looking at you, hopefully, asking themselves, “What’s the Point?” Answer that.
  2. Follow immediately with a striking metaphor or illustration. If your presentation is worth anything, you’re going to be telling us something that is new, mind-changing, challenging. This means you have to get through the filters and buffers that stand between you and our hard disk (long-term memory), and our hoped-for behavior change. The easiest way to pave the way is by using a practical, easily understood example that parallels the concepts you’re about to present, so that we can have a way to relate the new information to that which is already present in our minds.
  3. After gaining attention and the beginnings of agreement, then begin the linear progression of explanation, argumentation, and clarification that will take your information from your mind to ours. Be sure that you present a concept, then find a way to see how it is going down with the audience. Don’t just race through the material and assume it’s being absorbed. If you lose me on point 1, you’re not going to regain me at point three.
  4. For crying out loud, use a little humor. If you’re not a joke teller, weave in some funny video clips that help make the point. The progression of absorbing new information happens best when there’s an oscillation between serious thought and lighthearted fun.
  5. Be very careful about the assumption that coarse language is a great aid to learning. Believe it or not, some of your audience is offended by it. Are you there to strut your stuff by showing that you, too, can swear like a 12-year-old? Or do you want to reach your audience with your message? Grow a pair and seek the respect of your hearers, rather than resorting to schoolyard language to get a reaction.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll leave it at those five, though feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. Your goal should not be simply to be up front. It should be to lead your audience to a worthy outcome. First, you have to win them so that they are ready to follow.

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