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Posts Tagged ‘Speaking’

Lost: In search of Simplicity

Good or evil? Is that the core question Lost's finale will answer?

Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly just posted a 12-page summary of last night’s episode of Lost (the Richard Alpert episode).  You can read it here if you have nothing better to do or need someone else to theorize what’s going on.

I hope Lost is not going to turn out to be as complex as this guy — and others — make it out to be.  I think it will turn out to be a relatively simple “good vs. evil” story where the resolution hinges on which of two character (Jacob or the Man in Black) is evil and who among the castaways is going to step up and be a hero (Note: I’ve thought the island is Purgatory from about the third episode).  And where all of us feel the journey and investment of time was worth it.

Regular viewers will need to feel their questions have been answered and that the key moments from the show are consistent with the answers provided in the last few episodes.  It will also be critical that you don’t need a PhD in literature or the willingness to Google each and every plot reference to understand the show.

The show’s executive producers claim they’ve know where they were headed from Day One.  If true, that’s impressive.  They’ve done a great job of storytelling, but then they’ve been granted the time to do that by loyal viewers

Even if Lost has a simple core and a simple resolution where everything ties together, their approach probably won’t work with your presentations or business writing — even if you know where you’re headed from the outset.

How many viewers have left the show out of confusion or because they feel the production team thinks they’re smarter than everyone else?  The ratings indicate that that number is high.  Even if all the loose ends are headed toward a single strand, your audience won’t stick with you if they don’t believe the payoff will be worth the time invested.

I’m struggling with a couple of presentations right now for two reasons.  First, I need to crystallize my core message.  What’s my “one thing,” which I’ve referenced on these pages before?  I want to keep the message simple, using stories and examples to make my case, and I’m trying to strip it down to achieve that.  Second, I need to ensure my slides (and my stories) don’t take my audience down seemingly divergent paths.  I can’t have too many strands, even if they lead back to that single point, or I’m going to lose my audience.

As communicators in search of simplicity and clarity, we often walk a thin line between the Lost approach (trust me, and I’ll get you to a great place) and the 24 approach (trust Jack Bauer, and he’ll get you to a great place but he’ll need a bunch of implausible plot twists).   We can’t get so familiar with our subject matter that we forget the audience doesn’t know where we’re going and isn’t emotionally invested enough to stick with us.

What do you think?  Is Lost an example of great storytelling and are there lessons that great communicators can take from the producers’ approach?

With Twitter, power now shifting to audience during presentations

Twitter:  Distraction or Presentation Aid?

Twitter: Distraction or Presentation Aid?

It used to be enough as a presenter to know your audience, have strong content, practice, and repeat.

Not any more.

Now you have to worry about the audience Tweeting about your presentation…as you’re giving it.  And sometimes the comments are being projected over your shoulder, right next to your slides.

I can actually see pros and cons with this.  On one hand, if you really know your topic and have practiced, this can be an opportunity to modify your presentation when you see the audience isn’t getting something or incorporate the answers to their questions right then and there, rather than hoping they’ll ask after you’re done.

On the other hand, monitoring Twitter could distract you from focusing on presenting and watching the audience for their reactions and lead you down roads that will undermine the preparation you’ve done.

And with Twitter, people who aren’t even at your presentation have an opportunity to weigh in and add to the confusion. 

This issue has really come to the forefront with a recent incident at the HigherEdWeb conference in Milwaukee a few weeks ago.  For some context, feel free to click on The Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009.  Simply put, the presenter appears to have been ill-prepared, used outdated slides, and was a poor presenter who disrespected his audience.  He took an ugly public (and private — people also texted his phone number to tell him how bad he was) beating.  But this isn’t a new phenomenon. 

I’m thinking about this as I prepare for a presentation on The Impact of New Credit Card Legislation on Students at a conference of financial-aid professionals in Orlando next month.  Some will argue I should have already done this, but I’ll be asking the conference organizers on Monday about the level of my audience’s social technology adoption to determine whether I need to (or even can) monitor the backchannel while I’m talking.   The next decision is whether I want to.  What I do know is that I’ll be intensifying my preparation over the next few weeks to ensure I’m not “that guy.”

I wonder how people who Tweet during a presentation can be doing that and still pay attention.  My 17-year-old, who IMs, Facebooks, and the like far more than I like, says he could — but that he would never use Twitter in that way.

I’d like to get a dialogue going on this subject.  Should Twitter be banned from presentations or is it a reasonable way for the audience to interact with the speaker and just a sign of the times of the audience gaining more power?  What strategies are you using in situations where conferences have a backchannel?