I had a moment yesterday where I was humming along on my presentation for our Media Summit, when I flipped my calendar and exclaimed, “Oh, wow. It’s next week!” I mean, I knew I had to have my presentation done in the next few days, so that wasn’t the issue. It was more about not having made the mental connection that this Sunday I need to pack a bag of decent clothes and shoehorn myself into an airplane seat to go somewhere again.
It’s that time of year. That time of year where we wind up locked in a room with sixty technical specialists from around the world to discuss the coming excitement and they start doing things like sketching custom subassemblies and corridors on napkins when you are just trying to relax in the sun and forget about work for FIVE MINUTES.
(Follow Tim, my Australian colleague, at @CivilDownUnder)
But the thing that has had the most impact on how I am approaching my presentations is a silly game I play called Draw Something.
You play the game with a friend. The object is to get them to guess a word based on what you draw. There is no winners or losers really, you win by keeping the game alive. You are motivated to draw something that tells the story of the word so that they get it. It’s silly and fun, but it has taught me a few things about my communication style that I’m taking to heart.
Two Lessons Learned (I am sure there will be more.):
The order that you tell your story matters. I have this bad habit of introducing a topic with a lengthy contextual lecture (see this post, paragraphs 1 through 6). I apparently draw this way, too. Last night, I had the word “Heidi”. I started by drawing mountains, a Swiss flag, then a girl and lastly blonde, curly hair. My partner guessed the word, but I wondered, what if I had drawn the target object first. If I had started with the most important point, then if he didn’t get it, add more context to finish out the story. If the goal of the presentation clear. If you have a specific objective, isn’t it better that they see what you are trying to accomplish sooner than later?
Know your audience and adjust the story to match. When playing with friends, I find we use a lot of inside jokes and shared experiences because we speak the same vernacular. When I play with engineers, we draw examples from engineering. When I draw with fellow geeks, I can pick words like Gandalf or Dumbledore and they will know the difference based on whether the wizard is standing next to Gollum or Harry. When I play with random players, I need to step back and keep my examples within a broader context. I can’t assume they are familiar with bad reality shows or geek literature. I need to adjust my visual story to match the way my audience thinks, what they know, and my relationship with them.
I’ll be blogging and tweeting from San Francisco next week. Hopefully I can take some of these lessons to heart and put on a good show.