Killer Presentations – What Can Your PowerPoint Learn from the Movies?

– What Can Your PowerPoint Learn from the Movies?
(824 Words ~ 3-4 minutes to read)

Do You Have a Killer Presentation or one that Kills Your Audience?
In the last month I have seen or sat through probably 20-30 PowerPoint presentations and they ranged from appalling to banal. Several made good points but lacked power. None amazed me, few were particularly persuasive and most simply bored me to death. I switched off at some point from almost every presentation.

During the same time period, I watched as many movies. I rarely switched off and almost all the movies engaged me enough to invest 90-120 minutes of my precious time. Why?

What kept me engaged was a good storyline.

Years ago, I worked closely with the Chairman of R.K.O. Studios, the old motion picture company. I always remember his words “a great movie starts with a great story”. It’s the same with your presentation, is it simply a boring regurgitation of data or a compelling story told in words and pictures? Here are some lessons from the movies.

Bam! Bam!
Most presentations start with “Welcome to this presentation…blah, blah, blah.” Imagine Spielberg, Lucas or Coppolla beginning their movies like that. Bond movies have their trademark action-packed opening sequences, the early Pink Panther films had the cartoon figure running through the main titles at the start, making mischief with the lettering, insistently getting in the way. Both drama and humor get our attention.

So how do you get your audience’s attention? A question, a quote or a powerful image are all means to ensure your audience is focused on you. Surprise them in some way in the first two minutes is the advice of Tom Peters, the globe-trotting management guru. His talk on global competitiveness started with a kitchen timer set to 26 minutes, which is exactly the amount of time that elapses between each new manufacturing facility that opens in China. After 26 minutes, he sets the timer again and so on. The secret is to start with something that’s appears disconnected with the presentation; the dissonance forces your audience to pay attention.

But that’s only the start.
Always, Always Tell A Story Perhaps you remember James Cameron’s “Titanic”? You could tell that story with ease and accuracy. Why? Because all our movies are in a story format. Great presentations don’t just contain great stories or anecdotes – the entire presentation is one grand story.

Take a cue from Hollywood and write a three act script that focuses your ideas and helps you figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. With a completed script in hand, a Hollywood filmmaker usually turns to a storyboard artist to sketch selected scenes from the story to show how things will look on screen. Use storyboarding to help you review your story structure and sequence, check your pacing and flow, and use visuals to tie together the various parts of your story. Finally, you can move into production. This opens dramatic new possibilities for treating your PowerPoint screen as a canvas to promote dialog and collaboration. Instead of reading text from a screen, your slides work as visual triggers that enhance or support your verbal dialogue adding nuances of reason and emotion. The result is an engaging multimedia experience that balances visual and verbal elements and contributes to meaningful understanding.

Suggested Script Outline
Adpated from Cliff Atkinson’s book Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire

  • Act I – Sets up the story: the setting (where) / the main characters (who) / the imbalance or problem (what) / the premise for the solution (how).
  • Act II – Develops the action with your top three reasons or ideas – each fleshed out / the turning point / create dissonance to stimulate new thinking
  • Act III – Frames the resolution with summary of crisis / solution / climax / resolution / decision point – WIFM

Creating a story will not only give your presentation some focus (and storyline), it will also make it easier for your audience to remember the sequence and substance of what you present.

Final Thoughts
Some closing thoughts on presentations. I like Tom Peters’ challenge:

  • Remember your Goal: Change the world!
  • Bring energy and enthusiasm, passion and performance to every presentation large or small
  • Always remember to smile; connect with your audience; keep good eye contact
    And have a great time! It appears the movie world does, why shouldn’t we?!

Finally Bring on an Unpredictable Finish!
Every movie, every good ad does it. They often wrap it up in a way you rarely expect. Could anything be worse than building to crescendo with growing expectations, answering all their questions, and then having a flat ending? Your finale has to be like lightning! Startling, ephemeral and brilliant. It will ensure that your product, service, funding pitch, research or final report is remembered and gets maximum attention.
Otherwise you’re just making yet another Point with no Power!

“Life is a stage and we are merely performers.” ~ William Shakespeare.
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