Bob drones on, voice spluttering like a dying bluebottle. Brenda hones in on the distant rattle of the lunch trolley. What will it be this time? Anaemic quiches? Soggy sandwiches? Tiny cocktail sausages?
Here's a simple strategy for making a boring talk 100% more bearable.
Some presentation topics are inherently boring, but oftentimes a talk is bad simply because it's unstructured and overlong. Bob's decision not to do any forward planning ends up putting the rest of the company into a coma.
Your audience can only store seven pieces of information at the same time, and only pay full attention for seven minutes before their minds drift to lunch. You owe it to them to keep your talk brief and on-point.
A simple way to do this is to follow the STOIC framework. Here's an overview with examples from researcher Patience Mthunzi's brilliant TED talk 'Could we cure HIV with lasers?'
The subject is the general area you're operating in e.g. conservation, psychology, finance. Whether you're the only speaker of that kind, or one of many, it helps to have this bit clear in your mind first.
Example – Healthcare
Your topic is a specific subject area with defined parameters. Consider what your audience's expectations are likely to be, and how long you will be given to talk. Be as precise as you can when you choose your topic – if some of your material is not relevant or supportive, get rid of it.
Example – 'Could we cure HIV with lasers?'
Your outcome is the one thing that you want to achieve with your presentation. Whether it's gaining support for a project or idea, imparting a piece of advice or challenging a particular ideology, you need to decide this before you plan any of your content. Any and all content that you include should support this outcome.
Example – Audience understands that lasers could be the technology that eradicates HIV
Your introduction may be more important than all the other parts combined – this is where the audience decides whether to pay attention to you or not, and also when they're most receptive. Luckily, there are tons of intriguing ways to open a presentation.
Example – Mthunzi uses the relatable example of taking aspirin to explain how oral medication is diluted. It helps the audience to connect with what she is saying and highlights some of the issues faced in treating HIV.
Author and activist Maya Angelou once said 'people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel'. The conclusion is your opportunity to leave a lasting emotional impression on your audience.
It should refer back to your introduction, and act as the summary of your argument. You can also team this up with a call to action based off your summary.
Example – Mthunzi wraps up her talk with a sentence summary of her goal, and engages the audience's emotions by telling us that curing HIV is every scientist's dream – inspiring us to share it with her.
But what about the middle parts? Simple. Anything that forms the body of your argument has to support or relate back to the topic and the outcome. You are putting together the argument that will link the problem or hypothesis in your introduction to your inspiring conclusion.
The central part of Mthunzi's speech introduces lasers as a possible solution to pill treatment. She succinctly describes the development of this treatment and how it is used, joining the problem to the conclusion.
Whatever your topic, follow this formula for a presentation that's lean, useful and engaging.
Find more useful techniques at changingminds.org.
Do you have a foolproof technique that keeps your audience switched on? Please share in the comments below.