Presentations: the un-presentation

11 March 2006

Don’t mind me if I link to every post Seth Godin ever makes on presentations. He’s about as good as they come.

The best presentation . . .

Godin’s absolutely right that in many cases the best presentation would be no presentation. Just cut to the chase and get people talking. Put yourself up there “naked”–without a wall of words or bullet points or slides to protect you–and get on with it.

If you’re not brave enough to take that leap, try two slides, or maybe three. Peter Drucker would sometimes unsettle executives by asking them three devastatingly simple questions:

  1. What business are you in?
  2. How’s business?
  3. Who are your customers?

That could make for a tremendous three-slide presentation, but only for a presenter ready for awkward silence or for the Socratic questioning needed to unpack superficial answers.

A CEO trying to address the elephant in the room could do well with one slide, e.g., “We must be honest with each other.” You can imagine scenarios in which that one totemic sentence, projected in letters two feet high, could serve as the backdrop for two hours of passionate, meaningful exchange.

Don’t hide behind presentation skills or the formal trappings of presentations. If you let them, PowerPoint decks and lecterns can serve as shields to cut you off from the other human beings you’re addressing. Take the bold step of being honest with yourself and your audience–especially when that means abandoning the trappings of a regular presentation and giving an un-presentation instead.

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