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*Update 05/05/15 — This Article was featured in LinkedIn’s Public Speaking and Presenting Channel

Communicating with other tribes

Something I’ve learned from a Web and SEO expert is that people don’t read Websites anymore. Only Google reads Websites. People bounce on and off Websites, rapidly scanning for something specific they’re searching for. So yea, everything is icons. IKEA instruction booklets are all pictograms and no text at all. Is that to save money on translating a few paragraphs of copy into maybe 20 languages? I’m thinking not.

In presentations, we have all these dogmatic pronouncements among people who try to do this for a living — Avoid Death by PowerPoint by having no copy below 30pt and only one talking point on each slide, and have a giant stock photo on every slide. No bullets — bullets are for amateurs, etc.

OK. If I’m a marketing and communications or sales director, or a hedge fund managing partner, these kinds of rules have no basis in my World. Many, many sales presentations, investor decks, and pitch books are still printed and bound for meetings. If there’s no text, OR ALL THE WORDS ARE HUGE, it’s pretty silly to imagine putting that in front of a sophisticated buyer, strategic partner, or institutional investor.

Signal to noise factor

So, here’s a bit of heresy for you: It’s OK if your presentation has text in it that might not be read. In fact, that’s ideal.

Why? Consider the famous Pareto Principle. Used as a metric probably in every business school in the World. I’m pretty sure my first exposure to it was in Tim Ferriss’ seminal Four Hour Workweek. It’s the 80/20 rule. 20 percent of any system — whether it’s bean pods or a sports team — yields 80 percent of the result, or harvest, or return. If you’re running a business, 20 percent of your clientele bring in 80 percent of your revenue. So, focus on the 20 always. You don’t have to neglect the 80. But you need to expect that 1 in 5 are your gold. 20 percent can also be enough to disrupt a whole. In Five to One, I know Jim Morrison wasn’t talking about business, but he was a mythologist to be sure, and he knew that number.

You cannot escape how difficult it is to pitch effectively. You can figuratively throw mud all day long at your PC or Mac and proclaim loudly that PowerPoint sucks. You can try another app. You can take your same half-formed thoughts and put them in a zooming Prezi and maybe gain an extra 5% attention for the sake of novelty. But you can’t get around the reality that you must tell a story.

So you go to the movies. You see the latest Marvel spectacle. You’re entertained. Maybe even moved. How much do you remember after? Does it matter? When you present, what if you walk in that meeting, or onto that stage, and say ‘Relax — just nail the 20 percent and you’ve got them.’ What if that’s true?

Present 100 percent. Key on 20 percent. Breeze through the other eighty.

Your pitch audiences are not cave people. Your investors are not hairy thugs with clubs. Your strategic partners are not illiterate. PowerPoint decidedly does not suck.

If we find beauty and meaning in 5,000 year old cave paintings. If we are mystified and amazed by the pyramids in Egypt and Mayan Meso-America. If we look at the stars and wonder about the symbols there. Then should we be surprised that our love affair with words without pictures was historically brief? About 500 years really. And, largely, over.

An argument for integral presentations

How have presentations changed then? The ones that really work integrate all levels of human communication. They speak to different learning styles. They may be multimedia. Or they may be just printed and bound. The great presentations aren’t just awesome Apple Keynote product launches. They can happen anywhere. A movie studio pitch in Burbank. A sales event in Des Moines. A coding conference in Mumbai. The great ones cover the appropriate bases, make all the necessary points, and then have bright seeds of insight spread throughout. A bold statement here. A unique graphic there. The great presentations might pick a fight. Or make an impossible argument. Like John F. Kennedy’s ‘We choose to go to the Moon in this decade.’

Presentations are not software. They are not a thing. They are ideas. Stories. They are human. And, even if mostly visual, they are still language. Presentations are changing in the way a river changes. They may follow the same course for centuries. But all the water is new. In each and every moment.

 

Erik Johnson develops and designs presentations for HiFinal in New York.

Photo credit: Pinterest, user Soothsayer.

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