It’s Not About Being Perfect

It takes a rock star to show us presenters
what is truly important in communication

Did you watch the Grammy Awards last week? Winners for Best Rock Performance, the Foo Fighters provided the most memorable moment of any award show in years when lead singer Dave Grohl accepted the award on behalf of the band. Grohl shared with the world how the band bypassed a modern studio, choosing instead to record songs in his garage, “with microphones and a tape machine.” Listen to how he describes the process:

Dave Grohl's Acceptance Speech

Could any of us in the presentation business possibly have said it any better? That was an incredible (dare I say perfect?) summation of the importance of humanity in human endeavors. I’m sure it is as easy for musicians to get lost in studio gadgetry as it is for presenters to get lost in PowerPoint features, and in both cases the result is the subordination of the human to the technology. (It was with mild disappointment that I learned that the band had to post a retraction/clarification on its Facebook page, as a result of the flak they received for implying that this style of music was better than modern, studio- and technology-driven music.)

As Jim Endicott has said on many occasions to Presentation Summit patrons over the years, audiences don’t want perfect presenters. They want to feel that presenters are just like they are. That they are part of the human condition, they deal with life’s struggles, they get nervous, they forget stuff. That they, like Grohl, would have to ask a spouse for permission before converting a garage into a music studio. The genuine display of human emotion and the honest portrayal of the human condition can never be supplanted as the most important components of any storytelling experience, including a presentation.

In my travels as a presentation consultant and in my experiences as the host of the Summit, there are plenty of opportunities to focus on tools and techniques. In fact, the other day, I mentally reviewed a few of the pieces of advice that I regularly dole out over the course of a day-long presentation skills workshop:

  • Use semi-transparent shapes over photos to blend text with them
  • Extend photos all the way to the edges of slides for a better look
  • Rename objects so it is easier to animate them
  • Use custom shows to help create menus for better navigation through a slide deck
  • Stand on the audience’s left side
  • Exaggerate upper-body gestures, minimize lower-body movement

I believe each of these to be valid suggestions that could improve one’s performance with slides or help one’s comfort level in front of an audience. At the conference, we will offer over 40 seminars, focusing on message, design, creation, and delivery, and from them will flow several hundred tips and tricks like the ones above.

But the day that I make any of this more important than how one person can communicate more honestly with others is the day that I must contemplate retirement.

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