Experts in the House – Q&A with Warren Weeks on “The Art of the Great Presentation”Posted on July 31, 2020
With audiences spending more time online due to the pandemic, sport and physical activity organizations have an opportunity to deliver stronger presentations in new ways. On July 15, SIRC hosted a webinar – The Art of the Great Presentation – led by media expert Warren Weeks, designed to help participants deliver better presentations online and in person. The key messages from this webinar included:
- Organization and preparation tips and techniques;
- Delivery tips for great presentations;
- How to use visual tools more effectively.
Below is a video recap of the session and a Q&A blog with Warren addressing some of the questions posed by participants.
This was the third session in SIRC’s new webinar series, Experts in the House. Register now for upcoming sessions.
Aside from a presentation deck, what else goes into your preparation for presentations?
A lot of people focus most of their efforts on the slide deck and I while I agree that it’s important, my personal belief is that the most important element is to figure out the core lesson and flow of your presentation first. Once you do that properly, that informs what your slide deck will look like and contain. But in terms of priorities, it has to be story and flow first and then slide deck second. Determining the story and flow starts by developing an understanding of who your audience is, what they are looking to learn from your presentation and then figuring out the most interesting and engaging way to convey that information, whether that involves examples from the news, case studies, humour (if appropriate), etc. Of course there are lots of smaller details to be concerned with (timing, audio/visual, etc.) but every great presentation starts with a solid foundation and that comes down to story and flow.
Where can I find resources to assist with my presentation?
A Google search will bring up all kinds of content about how to be a more effective presenter. But for me, the best resource material is watching lots of presenters online and making conscious notes about what it is I like or don’t like about their presentations. TED Talks are a great resource for this. While they are highly scripted and follow a specific format of 18 minutes or less, most TED Talks are great examples of how to give a presentation. Watch as many of these as you can and try to pay attention to specific details about their talks. Maybe they started with a question. Or they used a long pause in a strategic moment to capture attention. Some people use slide decks to emphasize their points while others just talk without them.
When I’m preparing to deliver a keynote at a conference (the good old pre-COVID days), I will go down a YouTube rabbit hole of other keynote presenters. It’s amazing what you can find. There are literally thousands of talks out there. And I find that I learn as much from the bad performances and I do from the great ones. Watching a presenter exhibit poor form can highlight those practices/habits and allow you to make a conscious decision to eliminate those habits from your presentations.
What is your advice for better engagement with an audience?
Great audience engagement is the elusive thing that every speaker wants but it can be so difficult to achieve. While this certainly isn’t a definitive list, here are a few techniques that can help you create a stronger connection with your audience:
- Do your homework on the audience members. Find out as much as you can about the people who will be in the audience. Check out some of their social media profiles. There might be a little conversational gem in there you can bring out during your talk.
- If your talk is in person, make a point of meeting as many of the audience members as you can before your talk starts. Greet them with a smile. Ask questions about them. Creating those personal connections will extend to the stage once you begin your talk.
- If you’re using too much of your energy to work through your content, you won’t have a lot of bandwidth for creating those connections with your audience members. The more familiar you are with your content, the more comfortable you will be and the more mental space you will have to devote to that audience engagement. This is another reason it’s so important to know your content inside out.
How often do you update your slide deck and stories if you deliver the same presentation repeatedly?
I typically speak about four different topics (media relations, crisis management, social media and presentation skills) and I don’t think I have ever given the exact same talk twice. While the underlying lessons and fundamentals remain consistent, I’m always on the lookout for new examples, more interesting ways to tell stories, etc. For the SIRC webinar on The Art of the Great Presentation, I probably spent about four hours updating content from a previous presentation. This included adding a few new examples and updating the images on some of my slides that I had grown tired of.
I also added video background images to about eight or so slides because I think they are more interesting to look at than a static image. I also deleted a number of slides prior to the webinar, as I wanted to ensure I was able to complete everything in 60 minutes. If you’re looking for new stories and examples to add to a presentation, I find that Twitter can be a great resource. If I see something that I think will work well in a presentation, I will email that tweet to myself with the subject line of the talk I’m giving to remind me where to file it. You can also crowdsource examples from your network. I will sometimes ask my followers on Twitter or Facebook if they have great examples of a certain thing and I always get a few suggestions.
Are there best practices for presenting complex information where storytelling and engagement might be more challenging?
If NASA can do a great job of telling stories about rocket science (one of the most complex things in the world), then the rest of us can do it too. There’s no one rule about how to deliver very complex information but here are a few things for you to consider. No matter how simple or complex the subject matter is, you’re still only going to get people to remember two or three key points from your presentation. Instead of getting lost in the weeds, keep a laser focus on those two or three main points and then figure out how to drive them home in the most compelling way possible.
There are some great lessons to be had from communicators like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. They’re talking about very complex subject matter but they’re making it interesting and also simple enough for most people to appreciate and understand. That doesn’t happen by accident. It takes effort and discipline to elevate the complex to a level of simplicity without dumbing it down. Again, to me, that comes down to figuring out your objectives and flow of your story and then building it out from there.
I’ve seen many presenters put a slide on the screen with hundreds of words or massive charts filled with numbers. No one can focus on that. It breaks your connection with your audience. But ask yourself what it is about that chart that people need to know. It could be one number, one trend or one fact that supports your argument. Instead of the whole chart, put that one number on the screen and then ask if anyone knows why it’s important. Insert a dramatic pause. Then provide your answer. It’s just a more compelling way of telling your stories. I believe this can be done with any subject matter if you just give it some thought ahead of time.
You mentioned Canva as a tool, is this where you are getting all your videos?
I love Canva. It’s my go-to platform for slide creation. I like it because it saves me time. It’s faster than creating images in PowerPoint and the slides look better in my opinion. For the webinar I gave for SIRC, the videos that I used as background images (the woman chalking up her hands, the hockey players walking down the hallway toward the rink) were all sourced from Canva. The examples I used of people giving presentations were sourced from YouTube. If you’re intent on elevating your content, I strongly recommend checking out Canva.
What do you use for a microphone?
For the SIRC webinar, I was actually using the built-in mic on my laptop. I’ve played around with different options over the past four months or so (using AirPods, using a USB mic) but I’ve found that because I share a lot of videos in my presentations, that using an external mic can cause issues where the audience can’t hear the sound. So I tested the computer mic ahead of time and it seemed to work sufficiently well.
For videotaping talks at conferences, I do use a wireless lav mic that I connect to a video camera. I also use this when doing training videos, etc. that I will be posting online.
Do you have any additional advice for presenting webinars?
My advice would be to get in there and give it a try. As a general rule, I would suggest that if it’s your first time and you want to do a great job, you should expect to put in as many as 30 hours of preparation for a one-hour webinar. This includes coming up with your topic, researching the audience, watching other presentations for ideas or inspiration, sourcing your material, examples, case studies, facts, etc., creating the flow of the presentation, building your slides (if you’re going to be using them), editing and deleting as required and practicing your full presentation at least a handful of times. Practice and prep are your two best friends when it comes to giving great presentations. The other piece of advice I have would be to record every presentation you do so that you can watch after (as painful as that can be) and make adjustments and improvements. While you probably won’t be able to see the improvement from one talk to the next, you will see a huge difference from one year to the next.
For more webinar content and to register for future sessions, check out SIRC’s full series – Experts in the House.
About the Author(s)
Warren Weeks sold his first newspaper to his grandmother at the age of five, he was Wayne Gretzky’s PR handler for a day in 1998 and over the past two decades, has become one of Canada’s most popular and trusted media trainers. Thousands of spokespeople from a wide range of industries have called upon Warren to learn how to take greater control over their media interviews and to improve their media relations outcomes. Don’t hesitate to contact Warren on Twitter (@Warren_Weeks).