Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Is your presentation too linear?

I was in Mallorca for a few days last week. The railway line that runs from Palma to Soller is not what you could call a straight line. It runs through tunnels and winds through mountains, but gets to the right destination. Speeches don't have to be a straight line either. Traditionally, you tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them (the traditional "business sandwich"). Often a series of slides takes you along the path from start to finish, making it tough to deviate at all.

Some display software, such as Prezi allows the creation of a presentation from chunks of information that don't need to follow in any particular sequence. However, delivering a non-linear presentation is not about software, it's about an approach which many speakers find uncomfortable. Increasingly, audiences are demanding a style which is more than just a procession of slides, so now is probably a good time to think about your speech structure.

Not every speech lends itself to a non-linear style. Not every audience will appreciate it. Furthermore, you must still have some kind of overall structure and aim, otherwise you will simply be presenting a mass of information with no overall message. Delivering in a non-linear way may demand more preparation and more subject knowledge than a linear narrative. It may also require what a pal of mine used to call "a big dose of brave pills".

Many stand-up comedians are masters of non-linear delivery. They can deviate for minutes at a time, but still return to a core message. They may tell stories in a different sequence each time they speak, responding to prompts or questions from the audience, or just how they feel. In my opinion, the more interactive and non-linear you can learn to be, the more people will want to see you speak. You can choose to ignore the trend, but the train may leave without you.

No comments: