Making a truly personal presentation

Hotel Croatia
At the EBU Connect conference earlier this month I experienced an excellent presentation by Patrick Damsted. It was a very good example of utilizing one of the most important advantages of doing a presentation. The fact that the presenter is there in person.

I have watched too many presentations where this advantage has been wasted. Presentations where a person goes on stage, reads through a bunch of bullet points and goes off stage.

Why bother? Why spend your money and time travelling to the venue at all? If you are there to read some bullet points I can give you some valuable advice: don’t go.

Email your bulletpoints to the audience and let them read through it themselves. It will be more efficient. People read faster than they speak. Even faster than you speak. You’ll save your money, your time, your jetlag and your disappointed family. Stay home.

Patrick Damsted
So what did Patrick do?
First of all, the good people organizing the conference was very clever at connecting the right people the day before the conference started.

Because I was talking about future technologies in general at day 1 and Patrick did a presentation on digital video recorders at day 2 we sat down and went through our presentations. I did some adjustmants and found some references where I could inform the audience that they would learn more in Patrick’s presentation the next day.

Patrick also did some adjustments. Actually, he did some serious adjustments…

So he goes on stage, introducing himself. Then he says something like this:

“After listening to some of the very interesting presentations yesterday I decided to throw away my original presentation and make a new one.

I skipped the party last night and went to my hotel room. There I made a new presentation and you’ll have to accept what I was able to make with my camera phone and my Mac.”

At that point he actually got a short round of applause from the audience.

He starts his presentation, and a large part of the visuals are actually pictures taken in that hotel room.

Because most of the audience stay at the same hotel, have the same bag of office schwag and have the same conference programme in their hands we can know for sure that he made those slides right there at Hotel Croatia.

100 000 views
He used the traditional note papers from the hotel. Some postcards from the bag of conference sponsor goodies. The conference programme. Even the toilet paper in the hotel room. Of course he also kept some of his original slides in there, but the overall impression was of a truly personal presentation.

Tailored completely for that particular audience. Filled with references to the other presentations.

Because I had gone through his original presentation with him I could see that he had kept the main points, but by adjusting the presentation the way he did he really honoured the audience with a one of a kind, special act for those people, in that conference at that particular stage.

By doing that he made his own trip from Denmark and all the trips by the audience worth it.

And yes – without the excellent content, knowledge, confidence and general presentation skills this approach would not work at all. But that goes with all presentations. You should always start with hard research, practice and the ability to keep things simple. And of course, read Presentation Zen.

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Making a truly personal presentation

7 thoughts on “Making a truly personal presentation

  1. You said “Because I had gone through his original presentation with him I could see that he had kept the main points” and that got me wondering why he needed to do the gimmicky thing of re-writing in the way he had.

    I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure but this looks like a bit of a cheap show-ing off thing. It’s very clever, and in fact that’s what it’s really saying: “I have the skills and technology to do this”. That’s alienating.

    Besides, the slides aren’t exactly easy to read, are they?!?

    No – this not the kind of thing I teach at my presentation skills training company! 🙂

    But it is bloody clever though!

  2. About the performance
    I agree on the fact that some of the slides was difficult to read. I can also understand that for the people that didn’t attend the presentation this can look like a plain gimmick. But it was absolutely not. The presentation was done in a very humble tone with repsect for the audience and the other speakers at the conference. It was not at all alienating.

    The message came through very clear and the slides worked well to highlight the important words.

    And yes, he could have done a simple adjustment of his original slides with text that is easier to read, but he would have lost the very personal touch and the direct connection to that particular conference. Slides are an illustration, not a document that people are going to read.

    About keeping the main points
    Doing a presentation is a lot more than having some main points. It is about getting those main points through. By adjusting the presentation the way Patrick did he got his main point through better than he would have done with his original presentation.

    About teaching this stuff in presentation skills training
    This is the kind of stuff that is impossible to learn in a course. It is something you can do to your presentation when you are experienced and confident. It is something you do years after you attended training…

    But I do hope that you teach creativity and courage to stand out and do things different in your presentation skills training.

  3. Personalizing the presentation for the unique time/place/audience can be a very effective technique. It shows respect for the uniqueness of the audience.

    When I go “on the road” to speak or prepare an out-of-town presentation for others, I read the local paper, take a walk or drive around to connect with local people; get quotes, stories, and facts; take digital pictures to insert in presentations, etc. I always strive to find something personal or unique to the time/place/audience. I add what I learn into my presentation or into my speech to underscore the idea that the presentation, the locale, and the audience are coming together to create a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

    It’s not a gimmick. I do it because I want to learn about my audience and what is important to them. I want to connect with them. I do it because I respect the uniqueness of the audience, the time, the place.

    Far from being alienating or gimmicky: it’s exactly the kind of courtesy that needs to be discussed in Presentation 101.

  4. Okay – fair points! I did say I wasn’t there so I couldn’t be sure….. 🙂

    As to what I do in my training… well that depends! The basics presentation skills training is fairly non-original to be honest, because the kinds of people who come along tend to want/need something basic that will get them from A to Z in a way which is “okay”. For advanced skills traning training of course….. well now, that’s a different story! (Thank hevans!) We have lots of creativity techniques there!

    I absolutely agree that presenting is not just about having points – it’s about getting those points over: we have a mantra – presentations are not about telling people what you know, they’re about telling people what they need to now, in the way they need to know it.

    Laura – good idea to do the newspapers thing! Not only is it useful for getting your presentation sorted out, it’s also respectful.

    Cheers….. Simon

  5. eirikso says:

    After you shared this here I have done this a couple of times. It’s both a very nice way to learn something about the place you visit, and a very nice way to show that you take each presentation seriously.

  6. Clever. I think that anything that gets people’s attention and keeps them engaged is a good thing. So while above I see someone felt it was a big overindulgent, I still think it was worth the risk.

    I am sure people paid attention just to see what he wrote on next.

    So if it was relevant to THAT group (maybe not to us here at home) and it kept people entertained and wondering what might happen next, then it was successful.

    Nice to see someone making an effort at entertaining people.

    Way to go!

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