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Give killer presentations: Think like a writer

Mike Elgan | Feb. 13, 2013
Most presentations are boring and forgettable. But why?

A good writer is more likely to break down the parts of communication into the categories that reflect how the human brain works, like these:

Mental images.




Let's look at each of these categories and how you can organize your presentation around them.

Mental images

Professional communicators, and especially writers, pay close attention to mental images. When nonfiction writers want readers to imagine something memorable, they use a good visual metaphor.

When politicians want voters to forget something horrible, they avoid mental images and instead use euphemism and jargon -- which is language that has been stripped of visual imagery.

That's how any skillful communicator manipulates an audience: Use visual imagery to create memories; use euphemism and jargon to erase them.

(One of the reasons most presentations are so bad is that speakers use euphemism and jargon because they think it sounds "professional." It doesn't. It's amateur-hour communication.)

A good metaphor is effective because it imparts a strong mental image that faithfully communicates an idea and makes it memorable.

You can tell people that a particular cow is yours, but nobody will forget the fact that you own the cow if you sink a smoking, orange-hot branding iron into the animal's flesh.

It would be easy to forget the abstract idea of metaphors being memorable. But you won't forget the mental picture you now have of that cow being branded.

Writers use metaphors. But as a presenter, you never have to use them. When you want to create a mental picture in the minds of your audience, show them the picture!

The best business presentation I ever saw used slides that didn't have a single word on them. Every slide was a photograph. When the speaker talked about the growth of his company in the '90s, he showed a striking picture of a race car as he talked. When he moved to the post-recession decline, he showed a picture of a car on fire.

Ten years later, I still remember his presentation.

Pictures are memorable. Walls of data are forgettable. So if you want to be unforgettable, use more pictures in your slides and far fewer words and numbers.

Deliberately show the people in the audience the mental images you want them to remember and associate with your talk.

Very important: Use real pictures, not fake ones.

Never use stock photography, which stinks of artificiality. If you want to represent happy customers, for example, show a picture of actual customers. Show real products, real employees, real users.

Or if you're illustrating a concept, make sure you show scenes of real life, rather than staged or faked scenes.

It's more important for your pictures to be real than to be professional looking.


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