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The Deck Is a Dialogue: 3 Steps to Conversational Presenting

Adam Somlai-Fischer

Efforts have been made to adapt one-way communications to the behaviors of today’s not-so-one-way audiences. The same goes for meetings.

With its ability to delightfully blur the lines between the professional and personal, it’s no real surprise that social media has taken the world and businesses by storm.

The growing number of collaboration tools (from Yammer to Slack) proves that neither the environment, nor the type of audience make a difference.

People find more value in talking to each other than in being talked at. This trend goes well beyond social media. 

Efforts have been made to adapt one-way communications to the behaviors of today’s not-so-one-way audiences.

Facebook and LinkedIn open businesses up to sharing, liking and comments from the masses, and TV networks have dabbled with broadcasting Twitter feeds alongside their programs.

However, for most companies, socializing in this way isn’t enough to engage meaningfully with customers and prospects.

1. From Socializing to “Conversationalizing”

Take one of the most common, one-way events in the professional space: the conference. Imagine the speaker is on stage while a Twitter feed is projected in the background.

While seeing the thoughts of your peers during the talk can be entertaining, these real-time musings also take away from the speaker’s message, making it less effective.

Often, the real value of a social approach during presentations surfaces when it’s structured like a conversation, encouraging guided questions, insights and debate.

2. Build in Non-Linearity and Narrative from Creation

Structuring a presentation like a conversation requires tweaking the thought process at the creation stage.

Instead of assigning messaging points to a linear, paginated timeline, take a visual angle: creatively plot them across a single space and allow the audience to explore your ideas in the order they choose.

Like Google Maps, they’ll see the big picture at the outset, and decide where they want to zoom in, and then how closely they want to zoom in.

By displaying a large, branched narrative, a speaker invites the audience to participate in the presentation from the beginning.

Live observations and feedback can guide the discussion in its most natural direction, as well as allow a speaker to move things around or add points of interest to their presentation before transitioning to a single path of thought.

If you could see inside your brain, that’s what’s going on. Things are firing in all different directions and trying to squeeze that into the margins of a linear presentation is a limiting translation.

Whether B2B or B2C, a presentation that invites engagement around an idea while it’s being presented yields something that is meaningful for everyone: a creative visualization that displays spatially and proportionally how ideas interact with one another.

3. Hold Audience Attention with Conversation

I’ve seen professionals adopt this approach for a variety of reasons, including how much it sets them apart from other presenters, how interesting they personally think it looks and, most notably, out of necessity.

A passive audience in an age when interactivity is built into everything around us is an increasingly unrealistic expectation, particularly when attention spans have been shortened by so much immediate gratification.

A recent study by Microsoft found the human attention span has fallen from an average of twelve seconds in the year 2000 to today’s eight seconds, mainly thanks to technology and our digital lifestyle.

Another study found that students remembered far more of what they’d heard at the very beginning of the lecture. By the time it was halfway over, they’d mostly zoned out.

Our attention spans have always been temperamental, and so to inject interactivity throughout a one-way event is to command attention in a world where attention is so fundamentally hard-won.

A presentation is therefore at its best when it’s built and displayed in a way that encourages conversation and can evolve in the moment.

Jeffrey Sartor, EVP for a Texas-based cookie company called Tiff’s Treats, has seen the benefits of this model in the form of more confident sales teams and shorter sales cycles.

A more complex technology service also benefits from this conversational approach. For example, iLEVEL can dive as deep into an offering as they’d like without losing the big picture narrative.

I wholeheartedly believe the conversational approach helps kickstart a process that speaks to the way we naturally learn and communicate, and can in turn make us more effective in our professional lives.

But more than that, it creates room for imagination where it counts the most. Ultimately, it’s when we’re allowed to be creative that we enjoy the work we do, and the more we enjoy what we’re doing, the better we do it.

My time as an innovator, a teacher, and now a business founder, has taught me that qualities like curiosity and creativity aren’t reserved for those with a particular disposition. They’re native to our existence.

In calling on and nurturing them, we can see not only the full potential of our ideas, but the full potential of ourselves.

Image Credit: Weedezign / Getty Images
Adam Somlai-Fischer Member
Adam Somlai-Fischer is the co-founder and principal artist of Prezi, the cloud-based presentation platform. He is an architect by education who earned international reputation through his Interaction designer works. Adam is interested in the cultural qualities of new technologies and, to explore them, he blends spaces, technologies and interactivity. He was the creative mind behind Prezi, the zoomable presentation platform, which, unlike slides, offers an eternal canvas to show relationships between the big picture and fine details, putting ideas in context. It is not only a more engaging way to give a presentation, but it also helps people be more effective and persuasive.