The cartoon above is from the New Yorker and it is one of my favorites. For those of us whose days are spent in the Microsoft Office suite of applications, we know that “death by powerpoint” can feel all too real.
We have all seen the seemingly endless bullets and presenters reading off their slides as if we are illiterate. I have experienced countless presentations, especially at conferences, that are graphically busy or unreadable (my biggest pet peeve is the “Sorry, you probably can’t read this”), presentations that drag on, or do not reach a clear conclusion. Powerpoint has been so misused that some organizations have taken deliberate steps away from it, including the US Military in 2010 and Amazon who banned it for executive presentations in 2018.
I would argue that powerpoint is actually an important presentation tool, but only if used correctly. Organizations that use it well have developed a set of rules that keep the audience’s attention and helps to form a narrative. TED Talks, the popular and informative non-profit series of presentations encourages speakers to use powerpoint as a visual aid – no bullets. Many of the talks accomplish the goal of “spreading ideas” often because of the images on their slides.
By way of a quick example, On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver presents on a complex topic every week, using a presentation style where the “slides” he shows add to his narrative. During this current season of the show, he presented on Robocalls. Oliver used images and graphics that can be used in a powerpoint type presentation.
There is no reason why we cannot present information like John Oliver. Oliver, like many other compelling speakers, uses age-old techniques that work to not only present information, but, more importantly, have the audience remember and internalize the message.
Thats where Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great by Carmine Gallo is most helpful. In his book, Gallo discusses age old techniques dating back to Aristotle that detail how to deliver information in a compelling and memorable way.
Before I talk about some of the book content, it is important to note that this book is focused on presenting information in a way that customers understand. He references many different case studies, including one in healthcare, discussing excellent communicators and how they use presentation to create 5-star customer experiences. While there are tricks and tips in this book, they come at the end after he discusses the cultures of organizations whose team members consistently and reliably communicate with their customers in a service-oriented way.
My favorite anecdote on this point is one about theonline shoe sales giant Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (pronounced SHAY). Hsieh believes in training customer service team members to present well, but that is not done by scripting them. To demonstrate how customer friendly the staff has been trained to be, he would call the Zappos customer service line in front of reports and ask a random question like, “can I order a pizza?”. The staff would then help the customer in any way they can, which in this case was to help them order a pizza.
With a supportive culture that engages and empowers, the tactics are simpler to learn and implement to create 5-star outcomes and are contained in this book. Those tactics include using compelling visual aids, crafting a story using the three-act-play narrative structure, and including credibility (ethos), emotion (pathos), and logic (logos) to keep your audience engaged and following along. Gallo also discusses how most compelling stories are presented in about 10 minutes or less.
At its foundation, a presentation, whether to a group or one on one is a form of a social contract. The presenter will offer the listener new information and hold their attention while doing so. In exchange, the listener will take their time to listen to the presenters ideas and engage with them. Presenters often take that for granted, but should not.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Presenting information, when done well, is a powerful tool for leaders who want to shape a culture of good communicators. Good presentations use stories as well as the credibility of the speaker, emotion, and logic to make its points and engage the audience.
Five Stars is available for purchase on Amazon for $27.99 (does not include Prime discount).
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