LA 067: The Secrets to Being an Exceptional Presenter 3 - Get Visual!

stencil.simplero-header (1).jpg

Once upon a time

There was a young executive, who eagerly stood at the front of the meeting room and fumbled with the laptop connection to the projector. The audience smirk at the screen background of the young executive in a bathing suit with a large cocktail on a beach.

After several long minutes your phone vibrates and you pull it out to check the message, hoping for release and "I really have to take this, sorry." and you lurch out of the meeting room into the blessed relief of the corridor and the relative safety of the coffee pot.

A few days later, the young executive approaches you and asks if you have read the project deck. You look aghast indicating the huge pile of papers overflowing your inbox wondering what project they mean because you can remember nothing. Save that bathing suit on the beach with the huge cocktail.

Why Visual Story telling matters

In this AdvantEdge Guide I am sharing how you can make your presentations engaging, memorable and interesting by utilising the New Golden Circle of Visual Storytelling.

There are three parts to this guide. I shall start with the problem, that is that most presentations (and presenters) are boring. That Smartphones are a presenters enemy and you try to give too much information in one go.

Then we'll look at how you can gain and keep someone's attention and lastly, we'll look at how your brain thinks visually and how to use visual storytelling so that you gain attention, engage your audience and make your presentation interesting and memorable.

Most presentations are boring

Take a moment to consider how many presentations you have attended that were fascinating and interesting and memorable. I suspect that you can count them on one hand.

Yawn yawn and yawn again

It's almost as if someone invented a special tool to keep all the people passive and obedient. A tool that is used in almost every organisation around the world. A tool so cruel in its design that everyone dreads it. A tool that will eat away at your time and steal the fun you might have with your family.

What if that same tool could be used for good? A time when people learned and felt motivated. A time when they truly began to understand what was happening now and in the future. That same tool could be used to change the world and make it a better place.

Well it can. Because that tool is "the presentation".

70% of meetings are a waste of time says one HBR survey. To be honest, I think that there's another 29% out there who were attending a presentation and lost the will to complete the survey.

Is it true? You tell me. How exciting, memorable and useful are the presentations (and meetings) you attend?

Smartphone Interuptus

Someone else decided to put a halt to this death by PowerPoint and invented a way of entertaining yourself whilst sat in meetings. They created the Smartphone.

Brilliant device that can be used to dominate Candy Crush instead of listening to the latest budget re-forecast. Or receive an urgent call to save the lives of hundreds of victims and bash the bad guys in Gotham instead of paying attention to that tiresome bloke from IT.

Of course, you won't be answering that call with its incessant ringing as the poor presenter struggles to bring everyone back on point.

Cognitive Overload

At the end of each day, you struggle home through the traffic just in time to sneak in to see your kids on their iPads, iPhones and maybe in their iBeds. Shove down a lukewarm plate of something congealed and crash into bed exhausted. 

How many meetings did you attend today? How many phone calls dealt with? Messages received and sent? How many emails? How much information?

Cognitive overload is a situation where there is too much information coming at a person from different angles and they are trying to absorb it all, make sense of it and handle too many tasks. It's a problem of multi-tasking - which the human brain simply doesn't do. It's not that you can't multitask and others can, the truth is that they can't multitask either. You can switch rapidly between tasks (my wife can do this far more rapidly than I can) but your brain has to keep several items in short-term memory at once and that takes an enormous amount of energy... which exhausts the body of its resources and your brain craves to turn down the volume and try and consolidate all this new data.

Every time you switch your attention from the presentation ongoing and your phone's beeps, you're loading your brain and forgetting most of what's going on anyway.

And if that presentation is boring, it's not going to gain or keep my attention. 

To gain and keep attention - show me a story

Since man sat around campfires they've told stories to pass on information. Whether through grunts or words or pictures, man communicates most effectively using stories.

And the most effective stories are visual, because that's the way your brain works. 70% of your brain is processing visual information. The ancient Greeks knew how to leverage this and they didn't even have FMRI machines.

It's all Greek to me

The idea is simple: If you desire to understand or explain something, you can be sure that you are covering all the essentials by including the original Five Ws: who, what, where, when and why. add a sixth called "How much" because, it turns out, we like to count things as well..

Cognitive scientists and neuroscientists concur with the Greeks that they really were onto something. They were, inadvertently, showing us a map of the mind. They were showing us the way human beings think.

Now we have learned a couple of things since the ancient Greeks roamed the planet, the first I've mentioned is that we like to count things so we add "how much" to the Five Ws. And we have a higher form of visual processing pulls everything together. It gathers the who and the what, the where, when and why much into a visual cause and effect model. We call this sophisticated model and process with the three letter word: "how".

What if I told you that there is a way, a simple and relatively easy way to use this model to explain almost anything visually using this ancient rule? Better still, what if I showed you?

Show don't tell

During my hideous time in a dark dreary boarding school in southern England, my dishevelled English teacher exhorted me to "show not tell" the story. I hadn't a clue what that meant. I drew pictures (badly) to illustrate my prose and he threw my notebook back across the room smothered with red ink and in bright screaming letters the words "STUPID BOY!" in shouting capitals.

I shuffled out of the classroom red with embarrassment and shame. Girls sniggering behind my hunched back as I stifled a dreaded tear.

Do you get the picture?

Tell your story and fill it with sensory images. 

Listen to the evocative and sensorous "I have a dream" speech by Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. Listen to JFK talk about the Apollo mission. Remind yourself about Donald Trump's "wall". 

And that English teacher of mine was a dick. Pictures can work brilliantly too. Charts, diagrams and images - if they add value to your presentation, include them. 

Seven honest serving men - How vision works

I keep seven honest serving men rather than Kipling's six. Because we're in business, and in business we like to count things. Especially money.

WHY? is your brains first question and it's rather like the headlines of a news programme.

The first thing that you want to know as an audience member is whether this presentation is interesting, useful, entertaining or matters to me.

The simplest way to find the WHY of your presentation is to tell people what you are presenting (your solution) to these specific audience members (who now sit up and take notice) and that this solution fixes their specific problem. I've created an AdvantEdge Guide dedicated to "Start with Why" that you should check out if you want to learn more.

Quick aside: I just gave you a purpose to check out my AdvantEdge Guide on "Start with Why".

Once you know WHY and I have gained your attention. Your brain wants some context. WHO or WHAT are you talking about. Paint me a vivid picture of the situation, the critical people involved and/or the things that we will be discussing.

Then you want to know HOW MUCH. Your brain wants to count the objects or the people, the money, the market size, the volume.

Once I know WHAT, WHO and HOW MUCH, I need to know WHERE if this is relevant. The people in this office who are being retrenched or another office? A project in my territory or not? Is this affecting my department?

So WHEN is all of this happening? How urgent is this. Are things moving or are we in stasis? 

So HOW does all this come together? Your brain wants to pull everything together - the objects, the people, their numbers, their positions and the sequence in which they occur. A visual cause and effect model through which your brain can then interpret what is happening in the visible world outside.


The Hero's Journey

Using the seven honest serving men is how your brain thinks through everything. And most of the time, it uses visual processing to do so. Visual processing is much quicker than language or touch. Don't believe me? Try a "Dine in the Dark" experience soon you'll be stunned with just how much you rely on visual cues.

But if you want to keep my attention, I need you to play with a little tension by digging the pain and building the gain.

The most well known and used story telling template is the Hero's Journey best illustrated by Pixar's Emma Coats quoted by Daniel Pink's 2013 book: "To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Motivating Others."

Once upon a time _______. Every day ________. One day ___________. Because of that _______. Because of that _________. Until finally _________.

Fill in the blanks with your storyline. This makes an excellent vehicle for putting together a short and sweet pitch for your new project or introducing yourself. 

Just remember that in your presentation - you are not the hero - your audience is the hero!

Visual Story Telling

Word pictures are great. The world's best orators, Martin Luther King Jnr, John F Kennedy, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Winston Churchill - all used beautiful and elegant word pictures to communicate brilliantly.

In your presentations, you want to engage as many of the five senses as you possibly can, and if you can use slides, a whiteboard or a flipchart then you can use pictures or diagrams to help your audience see what you mean.

And since we know how visual thinking happens in the brain, this means that we only need six pictures to illustrate ANY story.

The new Golden Circle

Building on Simon Sinek''s Golden Circle with our components of visual thinking, we have the New Golden Circle. The inner two rings remain Why and How at the centre of everything, with Who, What, How Much, When and Where being the visible, external facing things that you will be presenting.


In this AdvantEdge Guide I have shared how you can make your presentations engaging, memorable and interesting by utilising the New Golden Circle of Visual Storytelling.

We've learned that most presentations (and presenters) are boring. That Smartphones are a presenters enemy and you try to give too much information in one go.

Then we looked at how you can gain and keep someone's attention and lastly, we understood how your brain thinks visually and how to use visual storytelling so that you gain attention, engage your audience and make your presentation interesting and memorable.


For your next presentation, prepare by answering each of the questions and then create a Pixar pitch, to generate a story line.

  • WHY you are doing this presentation (i.e. for what purpose are you making this presentation?) Problem + Solution + Audience Target
  • WHO and/or WHAT is your topic (i.e what is the context, your solution, and problem)
  • HOW MUCH does this cost/benefit? What is the business plan, the ROCE, ROI, NPV or IRR?
  • WHEN is this happening - do you have a timeline?
  • WHERE - location details that matter, department boundaries, etc.
  • HOW will all of this happen - who does what where and when?
  • Keep refining this until you are completely satisfied that you have answered all the questions you need to answer.
  • Then use the Pixar Pitch template and create a hero's journey story line to ptich this presentation quickly and simply.

Once upon a time _______. Every day ________. One day ___________. Because of that _______. Because of that _________. Until finally _________.






There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!