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Your Presentation as a Backpack

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Just go with us on this one: think of your presentation as a backpack.

Text of Your Presentation as a Backpack

  • For those of you I havent met yet, Im Maggie Summers. I want to start with a short introduction about who I am, and why Im here talking to you.

  • Ive lived all over the place. I was born in Charlotte --- anyone here from Charlotte??---- and I lived there for a blissful 14 years, until my parents dragged me kicking and screaming to Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, where I went to high school. Of course, Chicago is an awesome place---

  • what with the Bean, deep dish pizza and Portellos, home of the incomparable Chicago hot dog... but the suburbs are something of a different story, which is why I my love for reading grew exponentially in high school.... I shunned by new kid status by keeping my nose in a book. So after four freezing winters--- and by freezing I mean freezing... wed go weeks with sub-zero temperatures---- I decided I had had enough and chose...

  • ...the University of Georgia as my escape. Over the next 4 years, Athens, Georgia became one of my most favorite places in the world.... and its there that I realized my passion for writing.

  • I chose magazine journalism as my major and worked at Athenss alt-weekly, Flagpole Magazine, for 2 years, as an advertising assistant, though I jumped at any and every opportunity I had to write. Then three months after graduation, I made the terrifying decision to move all the way...

  • Santiago, Chile, to teach English to businessmen & women-- a job that sounds a lot more glamorous than it actually is. The awful hours, difficult work -- seriously, try teaching English to someone who cant even pronounce thank you--- and low pay all kept me from fleeing real life forever.

  • But we lived to travel, and travel we did... to Argentina, to the North of Chile to see the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world, and all the way to the South of Chile, to Patagonia and to Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world.... But after a year in Chile, real life began to beckon ...

  • ... so I headed home with my tail between my legs to Portland, OR (where my parents now live). As I interned for Portlands alt-weekly, Willamette Week, I considered staying there for good, but after 5 months of ...

  • rain

  • rain

  • overcast

  • rain all the time, I decided Im only happy in the sun... and began plotting my return to the South ....

  • ... which is how I ended up here in Nashville on January 1st of this year... and in turn, how I ended up here ...

  • ... at Ethos3, where Im the resident content writer and blogger. Were a leader in presentation design and training. We empower presenters to give presentations that can change the world. Basically, our mission is to rid the world of dreaded Death by PowerPoint. Ive had the honor and the privilege of working with well-known brands like ...

  • Kobo...

  • and even Google.

  • So what I want to do today is share with you the tips & tricks Ive learned over the last 9 months working with clients like these. I want to give you the tools you need to create a presentation that can truly change the world.

  • So enough about me & Ethos3...

  • lets talk about how your presentation is like a backpack...

  • its about a guy --- the perpetually dashing George Clooney--- who fires people.

  • He asks her, How much does your life weigh? He says, Imagine for a second that youre carrying a backpack...

  • I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... Start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks... then you start adding the larger stuff... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now...

  • Now you go bigger... Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people... Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office... your brothers, your sisters...

  • You get them into that bag... he says.... Now feel the weight of that bag... Clooney concludes rather bleakly with: Make no mistake about it. The slower we move the faster we die. but his message is poignant, and unwittingly apt for the world of presentation.

  • So think of your Presentation as a Backpack

  • Feel the weight of it.

  • Can you carry it easily? Or is it dragging along on the ground behind you?

  • The weight of your backpack -- of your presentation -- will be on your audiences shoulders when youre done.

  • Dont make their backpacks heavier with your presentation.

  • Remember their backpacks are already full.... of people, places, things, dreams, emotions, and on and on.

  • Dont make them fit something cumbersome & bulky in there. Dont saddle them with a heavy load. Give them something light and airy that fits in there nicely.

  • Make sure you fill your backpack --- your presentation --- wisely.

  • You only need three things...

  • Preview each point. A compass (to show you where youre going and where youve been) a tent (to enhance and support your content) and a walkie talkie (to deliver your message effectively)

  • Your content is your compass, showing you exactly what direction youre heading in. It should reveal where youre going, where you are and where youve been.

  • First things first: Simplicity is key. Explain things as simply as possible, so they have the best chance of understanding and retaining it. Take this convoluted sentence as an example: To gain understanding of auto insurance, you should contact one of our professional, trained auto insurance experts. Hmm, well I can say the same thing in half as many words: Contact us to talk to an insurance expert. Simplify.

  • An excellent guiding principle is Einsteins oft-quoted gem: If you cant explain it simply, you dont know it well enough. Youll lose your audience quickly if you dont explain information in terms that they will understand, so speak to them on their level. Remember theyre not the experts, you are, so tell them what you know as simply as possible.

  • Use words economically in your presentation Pretend like you have to pay for each one you use. What doesnt need to be on the slide? What words can you remove? How can you explain that point in a sentence rather than a paragraph?

    Try to narrow the main point of your presentation down to a single sentence, and likewise for all of your main points. Tell the audience your information in the clearest, easiest way possible.

  • Say only what is truly necessary. Are there any slides that are extras or afterthoughts? Get rid of them. Only include slides that add something to the overarching message of your presentation.

  • I like to recommend channeling Ernest Hemingways writing style when working with your content. Think brief, terse wordage with nothing extraneous or superfluous. Concision is key. Take inspiration from his most famous flash fiction piece, which is only six words long. It goes like this...

  • EXAMPLE: For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.

  • Notice how much power and meaning is in these six little words. Find that kind of powerful brevity in your content.

  • Next, remember to tell stories in your presentations. Were storytelling animals. Most every aspect of our lives revolves around storytelling. Think of all the media you consume (books, movies, TV, magazines Breaking Bad)...we love them because of their storytelling.

  • **Think of the stories you told yourself on the way here.. Maybe you saw a homeless person --- what story did you tell yourself about their life? lost their family? lost their job? ... Maybe you walked by a beautiful person ... what story did you tell yourself about them? that theyre intelligent, single and perfect for you? We constantly tell ourselves stories in order to live.

  • Stories also help put abstract information into an accessible framework that our audiences can relate to, and stories promote conversation rather than an automatic judgment. Think about presenting a statistic to your audience. They have two options in that case: to agree or disagree. But if you place that statistic into a story framework, you give the audience an opportunity to participate and relate to the data.


    It may seem daunting or overwhelming or impossible or maybe it seems like too much work, but your presentation will be so much stronger if you place it into a story framework. Think of it this way: If you dont anchor your presentation to a story, everyone in your audience will do it for you. People always place information in the context of a story, whether consciously or unconsciously. Take control of where you audiences mind goes during your presentation. Give them a framework to place the information in; dont give them room to let their minds wander.

  • And never forget about

  • THEM

  • Because make no mistake about it: the audience is the most important thing about a presentation. Without them, you wouldnt be speaking at all. Make sure your have your audience in mind when creating a presentation. Whats in it for them? Why should they care? Be unwaveringly interested in what they want and in what they need. Make them feel important, make it obvious that you are concerned about what they want, and theyll notice.

  • Next, make sure you pack your tent into that backpack. Your tent is your design. It should support and enhance your content.

  • Less is always more in pres