Greg Reeder
Greg Reeder 10 April 2015
Categories Content

How To Have Presentation Rhythm

Put some rhythm into your presentation- and give the audience something to remember.

You heard a familiar song today – one that reminds you of your first crush. Or maybe you saw an old movie poster and can remember going to that nearly-sold-out show with your dad, when you were just a kid.

Perhaps you were waiting at the airport gate and recalled the time you had to sprint across two terminals, and bypass some tasty Auntie Anne’s pretzel nuggets to catch a connecting flight, months ago.

Now, remember the key points from that power point presentation? You know: the one with all those awesome, detailed, bulleted lists? Probably not.

Long before power point, there was Charlie Brown’s teacher. Then there was Ferris Bueller’s repetitive role call -- both examples of a stereotypical monotone delivery, yet perhaps, still-vivid memories.

How did Miss Othmar and an economics teacher etch some valuable real estate in our minds, whereas power point memories disappear faster than a toupee in a hurricane?

Our memories are affected by more than what we hear, see, or do. There’s a complex combination of our senses that we voluntarily store to think about later. Sometimes we even involuntarily harbor them: queue the melody from It’s a Small World After All.

Along those same lines, when we give a presentation, most of us want to motivate our audience to remember something -- presumably something positive or meaningful.

Yet, in the myriad examples of tips and guidance on how to communicate better, there is a common lack focus on the major point of giving a presentation, speech, briefing or even a toast: the content is FOR the audience. In contrast, some speakers just deliver content; thinking the focus is just the content. The joy of giving to your gallery of listeners, though, comes with a challenge:

We’re A Lot Like Gold Fish
On any given day, we modern, connected, engaging humans are bombarded with thousands of messages. As the data points flow in, we collectively divide our time to decide which messages we’ll engage. Based on recent research, the result is that we now have an attention span similar to a goldfish.

To keep your audience attentive and engaged, you could take a cue from another group where attention span is compressed: crisis communications. In that medium, people best absorb messages that are:

- Few in number (3 or less)
- Short (less than 30 words)
- Simple (easy to understand and absorb)

If you have in-depth, material to present, your speech should be intended to target the key points. You can easily add your bulleted lists to your speaker notes, handouts or downloads as references – for follow-on delivery. After all, do you want them to recite raw facts or share the passion for your topic?

Once you have audience attention nailed, it’s time to remember, how to help them: remember.

Story, Sonnet and Song
What do Bruno Mars, William Shakespeare, and Richard Branson all have in common?

a) Rockin’ haircuts
b) Redefined words that are now part of our lexicon (uptown funk, eyeball, virgin…)
c) Impeccable taste in ‘business casual’ attire
d) Deliver content that their audience members, appreciate, remember and share

Technically, the answer is “all of the above.” However, for the purpose of this discussion, the three men also offer something in common: rhythm.

Stories: Audiences prefer hearing stories. Weaving your talk into a personal account or relatable tale gives the audience the rhythm and structure to tie it to memory. Richard Branson is acclaimed for being an engaging storyteller. Some of Branson’s tips on being an effective speaker include: have passion for your topic, keep your talk short in duration, and use humor. Why does this work? Where power point invites the language processing areas in the brain, stories bring the rest of the brain to the party. Describing a scene activates all our senses to see, feel, hear and smell the scene - triggering memories. Stories also have a sense of beginning, middle and end, giving us a rhythm to ponder and embrace.

Song: One of the most powerful instruments of rhythm is music. We can safely presume that millions of teenage music lovers aren’t teary-eyed over One Direction’s breakup because of their political beliefs. Or when nearly a million people turned out to hear the New York Philharmonic in Central Park – it probably wasn’t for the awesome hot dog carts. Melody, tempo; the beat -- they all play into our brain’s reward system, in part because we derive pleasure from thinking about the pattern and what to expect.

Poetry: “To be or not to be…” A common thread of poetry, in its many forms, is the rhythm by which it communicates. Shakespeare was able to paint pictures for our minds with words: their timing, spacing, and meaning. Whether thinking about Sam I Am with Green Eggs and Ham or “to thine own self be true” the rhythm of words helps us recognize memorable patterns. Words without pattern, or a talk that rambles on, results in wandering minds.

The Presentation Rhythm
When preparing for a presentation or speech, consider your outline as a poem, song and a story that has a beginning, middle and ending. Zoom out of your talk and think of it as a structured series of patterns. A Power Point deck, for example, timed for a 15 minute briefing could follow a pattern designed to communicate key points, spaced across a tempo of memorable anchor points.

This method of introducing rhythm gives you a structure to follow and helps your audience of gold fish stay happy and interested. It also helps you avoid the painful trap of dumping every bullet point you can think of onto each slide. If you can, give the audience images, videos, music, stories – activate their brains; trigger memory. Building in your preplanned rhythm, tempo, and beats also provides anchor points for your own memory of what to share.

So, avoid just hoping your speech is "Livin’ on a Prayer." Help the audience feel that they benefitted by what you had to say so they can spread your message, ideas, concepts or latest epiphany. Build in rhythm and tempo to make sure it’s not soon ’Gone with the Wind.’

Original Article


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