In just under 24 hours I will be giving a talk at a small event aka an “unconference” in rather ambiguous hotel, somewhere in Tenerife. With just 20 attendees from around the world, it is the intimate nature of the weekend that gives it it’s magic.
The idea is simple;
People that do things, can inspire the rest of us to go and do things.
The rules are also pretty simple.
This is a one-of-a-kind live experience that inspires web professionals to bring ideas to life and learn from mistakes. For me, it is a fun and inspiring experience in an amazing location! It is absolutely no coincidence that with so many cyclists amongst the group the choice of venue is a hotel on one of the best islands for riding a bike anywhere in the world! Getting up early and making the most of the weekend certainly won’t be a problem for me!
That said, I have to admit, I am kind of nervous about this talk. It has been quite a while since I last spoke at a digital event and whilst the group is largely made up of friends that I have met and worked with over the years it still feels quite strange. I also find talking to a small group of peers way more difficult than pitching to a room full of prospective clients.
The talk I will be giving is called Pitching. It builds upon my experiences presenting and pitching ideas to clients. As I am often asked about the work I do here at Mixd, I thought I would jot down and share a couple of points from the process I use. I will also be posting photos on Instagram so give me a follow if that interests you.
It is easy to talk passionately about a subject that you hold dear. I recently went to the premiere of Free Solo. A documentary film about free soloist climber Alex Honnold who climbs El Capitan.
At the end of the screening Alex is interviewed live on stage and provides an account of his achievement and his experiences along the way. It is an edge-of-your seat thriller and a truly incredible story but the one thing I remember most from that evening was the intensely intimate and very genuine account of what he did. You literally live every moment with him as he describes one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever. It is both terrifying and exhilarating and feels like you are on that journey with him. They say “the devil is in the detail” and admittedly, we cannot always be as excited and passionate about the projects we get to work on. But, if you are genuinely passionate about the outcomes, it will show.
Think back to when you last pitched an idea or presented the latest stage of development to a colleague. Did you have their full attention? How often do we sit in meetings reading emails or doing something other than listening? If you don’t draw people in within 30 seconds, there is a chance their attention may be immediately diverted and they won’t hear your genius ideas!
I think engaging the audience is one of the hardest aspects of any pitch or presentation. I used to work as a white water raft guide and became frustrated when clients simply didn’t listen to my safety briefings. It is a matter of life or death where knowing what to do could quite literally save your life. Yet my clients were distracted, often preoccupied with taking photos! I hatched a plan and opted to have some fun at the same time. Rather than wasting time on the river bank I decided to do the safety briefing whilst on the river. I figured we would just get started, wait for the first rapid, which in the grand scheme of things was, in my opinion relatively safe, and I’d leave them. Literally. Yes, the guides would simply jump out the boats leaving several rafts of clients floating down the river without a guide. After a few moment of panic, we’d return to our rafts and continue the safety brief. It worked. We certainly got their attention and we were able to demonstrate what we wanted them to do should they fall in.
Finally, I just want to touch on context. Context, is the piece of the story that tells readers what the presented information means to them and why they should care. In 1979, Coca-Cola hit a homerun with their Super Bowl Ad, “Mean Joe Greene.” The ad showed a young American football fan winning over the famously unfriendly football player by giving him a Coca-Cola.
The ad won multiple awards and became a fan favorite. It was smart because it related a story about football fans in a context where the company knew many football fans would be watching. The story only works if you know (and care!) about the subject. If you know the context, the ad works well. If you don’t, it will leave you confused.
Storytelling in presentations is a great way to keep your audience entertained but also a useful device for creating an empathetic audience that trusts you. It is also a way to keep listeners engaged in what you are saying and it is a motivating factor for action. If you can make your presentations feel more like dramatic experiences than merely recited facts or key points, you may be able to effectively convince people that your ideas are worth adopting.
So next time you find yourself presenting, perhaps think twice about what you can do to capture people’s attention! You may have the most interesting content in the world to deliver, but you won’t get a chance to do that unless you capture your listeners’ attention.