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Presentations are nowadays different from those of the past. To convince and inspire your audience, you have to meet completely different expectations today than 20 years ago. Nowadays, personality is key, as is combining numbers, data and facts with short stories and anecdotes that provide new context for the audience. By the way: Instead of frontal lectures in which information is hammered into our audience, the focus today is on infotainment. Information comes along with entertainment. This is what makes presentations much more effective. The use of new media adds to this. We should never underestimate one thing: The personality of the speaker decides whether his message actually reaches the audience.

Presentation Aspects Old: 20th Century New: 21st Century
Knowledge sharing Pure knowledge transfer, technical Knowledge combined with entertainment (“Edutainment”)
Performance style Numbers – Data – Facts Storytelling
Interaction with audience
Approach “What” is important:
Facts have priority
“Why” is important:
Priority on facts:
Personal motivation is integrated
Hierarchy Patronizingly, authoritarian At eye level, equal
Media use Overhead projector, text-heavy slides with “bullet points”), e.g. in PowerPoint Variety of media: requisites/props, experiments, audience surveys, stimulation of several senses. Photos and images, sounds. Use of short film sequences

 

Knowledge Sharing

In the past, the focus of science presentations was on the mere transfer of knowledge, whereas business presentations used to focus on technical facts. Today, audiences expect not only good information, but also appealing entertainment. “Edutainment”, which is defined in the Gabler Business Encyclopaedia as a combination of education and entertainment, focuses on the playful transfer of knowledge in education and marketing. In this way, knowledge is passed on almost incidentally. Those who enjoy learning will memorize key content more quickly and sustainably – this is the new maxim.

This way, knowledge transfer can be enhanced by personality: sharing personal and practical experiences is more credible. You will reach your audience much faster than compared to a mere contribution of theoretical, learned textbook knowledge. Today’s audience has higher expectations than in the 20th century – and you as the speaker will have to match those expectations if you want to gain respect by your audience.

 

Performance Style

Good speakers today no longer deliver pure frontal monologues. Instead, they interact with their audience. As content marketing specialist Alexa Harrison writes in the blog of communications expert and bestselling author Nancy Duarte: With 30 million PowerPoint presentations every day, 80 % of experts say that their audience is much more attentive through interactive elements than with pure monologues. 70 % of marketing specialists consider this as the key to retaining the target group. Flexible, interactive presentations are more convincing than frontal presentations and are more memorable, says Harrison.

Good stories are another cornerstone: 90 % of people believe that a strong narrative in a presentation is crucial for audience engagement. 35 % of Millennials (Generation Y) say they only engage with content they think has a great story or theme. They compare the present and the future: “What is” and “What could be”.

 

Approach

Stories are most effective the more personal the speaker presents himself. Today, personal motivation, identification with content and the question of “Why” are important speaking parts. Simon Sinek 2009 highlights this in his TEDx presentation “How great leaders inspire action”: Companies like Apple, visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr. and pioneers like the Wright brothers are role models we can use as a guide if we want to be successful in the long term – says Sinek. Personal motivation is always fundamental to this. I have analyzed this TEDx presentation in detail.

 

Hierarchy

During my time as lecturer at the University of Bonn, I loved the courses with students from various disciplines such as geography, geology, biology and agricultural sciences. I also reflected my own time as a student – with the subtle difference that I was now standing on the other side to impart knowledge. My mission at lecturer was to replace the exclusively frontal teaching from the 20th century by interactive methods. This way we experienced controversial discussions and an exchange of new ideas. I also included props (or requisites) and a couple of short videos to diversify the knowledge transfer.

 

Media Use

I would love to believe that professors and researchers today pass on their knowledge through entertaining, varied and exciting lectures and seminars. Today there are many good approaches and bright spots. Yet there is still a long way to go to create more inspiring lectures, as I often find out at open events like the “Dies Academicus”: PowerPoint slides heavily overloaded with text, highly complicated graphics that are hardly explained at all, some small to indistinct photos and professors who talk themselves into trouble, sometimes without a single dot or comma. This is yet another reason for my mission as a trainer and presentation coach to help people deliver high quality presentations.

If you choose PowerPoint, please do so in such a way that your audience can quickly grasp and understand the slides and their meaning. As a speaker you can promote this by presenting just one idea, just one statistic per slide! Slides with clear messages convince the audience much faster and more lasting than complex illustrations.

In addition to the presentation software, you can use a variety of media: Props or live experiments can add value and insight to your audience. In the best case you address all five senses, e.g. by using short film sequences, or you actively involve your audience by integrating surveys into your presentation: This can be the classic question “Who of you…?” followed by raising your hand into the air, or the use of online media with corresponding online surveys. In this way, you can also capture audience opinion at the same time. Programs and apps such as Slido, Poll Everywhere, Polly.now and Mentimeter exemplify the spread of voting tools designed to reproduce survey results in real time. For example, Alexa Harrison estimates that live surveys and survey apps are expected to be applied in two million events and meetings in 2020.

In your opinion, what does it take to be able to deliver an excellent presentation? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments.

A source of good and often inspiring lectures are certainly the TED Talks and their independent TEDx Talks. One of the speeches that has inspired me in recent years is the talk “How great leaders inspire action” by Simon Sinek. Of course, we can discuss whether his performance could be further optimized: There are only a few laughs in the audience, the eye contact between speaker and audience is not optimal and the speaker often takes his glasses (exactly 22 times) – to name just three examples.

Nevertheless, why is his 2009 TEDx talk the third most seen of about 3 000 TED talks worldwide? Why has his presentation, which he held live in front of just 50 listeners, been clicked more than 42 million times on ted.com and a good 15 million times on YouTube to date? So what did Simon Sinek do right?

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“Sometime they’ll give a presentation and nobody will come.” I experienced that again and again while I was a student and researcher. There are conference sessions in which just three people sit in the audience listening to a presentation that is at most mediocre. Only three, because the topic is extremely special and because many presentations recite a bunch of numbers, data and facts.

As students, we can learn a lot of undoubtedly interesting stuff – otherwise we would not have decided to study a particular subject. But most professors do not give much thought to how this material is taught. No wonder with the continuous pressure of publications, project proposals and the day-to-day administrative stuff. The unloved teaching is only the odd one out. But without preparation and training only natural talents may succeed with both instructive and exciting lectures. Unfortunately, this happens far too rarely.

 

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Simon is a PhD student and is currently preparing his conference presentation. He has already improved his start after a meeting with his mentor Sarah. Now he asks himself: How can I present the results of my study concisely? What details are my audience interested in and what new insights do they gain? How does the transition between the individual sections work?

 

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Sarah’s presentation was easily understandable and entertaining. In the discussion she gained new ideas and insights. At the coffee break she is approached by other people who want to learn more about her project. Simon is a PhD student at the symposium and listened to the presentation with interest. He wants to know how Sarah prepared her successful speech.

 

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