# Impactful Presentations

# Why do you need to impress your audience?

In my day, in the ancient Rome, data scientists were called haruspexes (opens new window). The state-of-art technique they used to represent data and make decisions based on it was to spread the entrails of a bird on a sacred table and try to interpret them. "Such a small stomach? Aha! I'm going to tell the general now that it's time to attack decisively!"

But they always had that problem that they couldn't exceed an average success of 50 percent! Today, fortunately, we have more effective tools and the core field "Data Science" is looking at the factual evidence of the past to try to make better decisions in the present that affect the future. In the age of data-driven decisions, it is increasingly important to have a clear representation of them and how they advise us to act in practice.

Let us give a few examples:

E-Commerce may want to understand which products are best sold, to what kind of target, in what volumes. It may want to understand which products are often bought together so you can get the famous "hey, the other users who bought X also bought Y!".
A newspaper might be interested in how age groups are divided and in what numbers, among its readers, and might also want to see at what time of day its articles are consulted and from what type of device (mobile, desktop, real paper?).
A bank wants to understand what are the maximum margins that can be put on policies and loans, to find the best compromise between competitiveness and gain. These are just a few examples, now let's try to make a game: try to think of any kind of human activity, involving more than 5 humans, that would benefit from a clear representation of the data of their activity, to make actual decisions.

You will find that this reasoning applies to anything, if you have enough data!

Extracting knowledge from the data, however, is useless if then the audience to which we must communicate(managers, customers, colleagues, departments) does not perceive the urgency of looking at the data to make decisions!

With this guide, I want to introduce you to the key principles for effectively presenting your data and the conclusions that can be drawn from them. Remember! Every decision you propose will always have a certain risk of not being the right one (the real world is based on unpredictable and chaotic mechanics and interactions), but the important point in all this is to get as far away as possible from the success achieved by the haruspex and their weak and random 50 percent.

During this guide, I consider that you're presenting with the tech support of simple slides.

# Prerequisites

No one! But read this book (opens new window) if you have time!

# Index

Let's dive right in!

# How to build the content

# Know your audience

Are you talking to managers or developers? Are you educating your sellers, or are you the same seller who has to convince a customer? In any case, the first rule is Know your audience (opens new window). If you know your audience, their tastes, their interests, you can build your presentation in the best and most targeted way. Here (opens new window) you find 5 more ways to do it.

# Develop high-quality content

The content is the nucleus of your presentation. While all the other ideas below will help you make your content more effective, a great presentation starts and ends with great content. So don't shorten your audience by shortening the effort you spend developing your content. You will need to invest many hours of research, writing and asking feedbacks if you want to create a presentation that your audience will love. You want to refine your material as more as you can, but don't over prepare everything, otherwise, you'll seem too much rigid and artificial: we'll see that one of the key points in this guide will be "be authentic".

# Build a structure

I strongly advise you to build an organic structure that you then follow in your presentation.

Here (opens new window) you find a good overview of "how to build a structure". Here (opens new window) you find 7 common structures. A simple and well-known structure is the 3-act one.

Although not all presentations fit easily into the 3-act structure, it is generally a good general method to follow (with the necessary adjustments according to the situation).

1 - The first Step is the introduction, the setting of the presentation. This is the moment when you capture the audience's attention, giving them the expectation of what will come out of it and a reason to keep listening.

2 - The intermediate Step is the moment when you support their interest. You are usually detailing a problem and offering a solution while you educate and inform along the way. It is here where you truly build your case and sell the benefits. This is where you want to provide compelling examples, data, statistics, etc. to support your points.

3 - The final Step is where you solve the problem, summarizes it and reminds the audience of the highlights of your presentation. Then leave the audience with a call to action and a list of practical points. What is supposed to be taken away from your presentation by the audience? This should be clearly defined in the closing Step. Also, a final story or illustration and questions from the audience are a great way to end the presentation and help people remember the sense of your discourse.

# Less is more

Packing slides with information do not necessarily make them more effective. In fact, you often get the opposite effect by producing confusing slides that take away, rather than adding value to a presentation. Well-designed slides help the speaker to emphasize his or her point of view and the audience to understand the key steps of a presentation.
Follow the principle of "Less is More" (opens new window).
The Hemingway Editor (opens new window) will help a lot you writing in a good style, preferring conciseness and fluency.

# Leverage data power wisely

According to SpiderMan's uncle:

From great power comes great responsibility.

The data can be of help or your enemies during a presentation, depending on how you use them and especially you show them graphically. Don't put too much data in your presentation (remember, Less is More)! Take this awesome read (opens new window), then find here (opens new window) great examples of what I'm saying.

# How to present the content

# Connect with your audience

First, you need to create a link (opens new window) between you and your audience. In this way, they'll follow you because they trust that you're useful for them and you genuinely want them to learn something. I like to call this process "building trust" (opens new window).

# Don’t read

Really, don't do it. Reading slides will bore your audience and you'll seem less confident. Here's (opens new window) why. Here's (opens new window) a mine full of other reasons.

# Be intriguing

The best way to attract people is to grab their attention. Doing this it's not so easy, but with some psychological tricks you can bewitch and convince them. Here (opens new window) you have a really good explanation of what I'm saying.

# Use humor

If you're here, it's mostly because I've been intrigued and caught your attention. A big part of this game has been played by humor. Here (opens new window) you can learn how to embed humor in your writings, and here (opens new window) you can learn how to do it in your speeches.

# The Pragmatic Storyteller

A sunny morning, in the 44 B.C.

"Good morning, noble court legislators. Today I want to tell you a personal story. At the age of 7, my father took me to the Colosseum in Rome for the first time to see the gladiators fight. Like all children, I was very excited about that day, I saw all the older boys playing the game of gladiators with fake swords and talk about the furious fights between men, lions, and elephants! Tens of thousands of people were there for the same reason, seeing two prisoners fighting in blood until one of them wins. I was feeling different sensations in the air: the excitement in the audience, who wants to vent their repressed violence, the fear in the eyes of the fighters, who know that everyone will fight with the utmost commitment because it is at stake his life. The clash begins, the crowd screams and enjoys seeing this show that I can only consider terrifying. In the end, the strongest physically wins and kills mercilessly the other. Dear noble legislators, today I'm 50 years old and I'm here to ask you: is this the symbol we want for the Roman civilization? How do we differ from the barbarians beyond the Alps? How can we consider ourselves a refined people rich in culture, if we fall into easy vices like that of gratuitous violence? For these reasons, appealing to your intelligence, I suggest you abolish the violent games in the Colosseum, for the sake of the image of our civilization.

This was the personal Virgilio's story that was talking, not me. This was Storytelling.

You can notice several things:

  • Coherent flow (I didn't improvise.)
    • Setting
    • Story
    • Emotions and sensations (you need to reproduce them in your audience)
    • Motivations for the conclusion
    • Conclusion
  • Use of the first person
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Naturalness
  • Confidence with the public that grows with the story, while we show spontaneity and humility
  • In the end, a wrap-up of reasons and the practical suggestion

Apply StoryTelling (opens new window) in a coherent fashion.

The more authentic, visceral and suggestive you are, the more your audience will trust you and remember the concepts.

Here (opens new window) a brief Ted Talk about this.
Here (opens new window) you find a great list of storytelling best practices from Pixar.
Here (opens new window) you find the rules of thumb of visual storytelling.


Written by clone95 (opens new window)