LightBox Collaborative is hosting a series of skills-building workshops at CompassPoint to shed light on communications topics for nonprofits throughout the Bay Area. Our next session, Presentation Skills (also the subject of this post) is coming up on March 15. ▶ Register Today!

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Innovative tools for presenting information can offer new ways to engage audiences. But is picking the right tool a presentation skill in itself?

At the Fall 2010 TEDxSF conference, organizers tried out a new presentation tool to introduce speakers—Qwiki. Using images and text found online, Qwiki builds a 60-second visual biography, complete with computerized voice-over (like this one about Seth Godin).

This was cool, no doubt about it. It gave me the same sense of excitement as when I saw my first Prezi show, a tool that shows visual presentations in a non-linear way. However, as I played with these tools and whipped out more PowerPoint presentations, I recalled the key principle about presenting: It’s the speaker that has to be dynamic and engaging.

The most sophisticated animations will never rescue an apathetic speaker. Yet, a passionate, focused presenter can overcome monotonous slides. While introducing innovative tools can add a “wow!” factor, an inspiring presentation boils down to you, your story, and how well you connect with your audience.

So, how can you become a more dynamic and engaging speaker?

  • Dump your slides
    Your presentation is about your story, not your slides. Slides should support, not lead your presentation. You should be able to communicate your points without images or bullet points. If you have 30 slides, try 10. If you have 10 slides, try 3.
  • Begin at the end
    What’s the one idea or lesson you want your audience to walk away with? How do you want them to refer to your presentation tomorrow? Once you have selected your one idea, structure your presentation to reach that goal. Craft your story so your main lesson is what you were building up to the whole time.
  • Introduce new tools for good reason
    While new presentation tools can offer unique ways of telling a story, you need to know why you need a tool before you use it. For example, Prezi works for building up to see the whole, such as describing your communications strategy and its components. PowerPoint works for paging through a story, when one idea follows from the previous one.

Good presentations come down to the stories people tell and how they tell them. My favorite TED presentation was given by Bill Gates. He made his case for eradicating malaria in simple, familiar language, in a standard presentation format. Then, shrewd as ever, Gates delivered a punch line that few in that audience will ever forget: he lifted a glass jar, releasing a small swarm of mosquitoes into the auditorium. Needless to say, the presentation got a lot of attention.

Such is the power of good storytelling. No tool can replace that.
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Shannon K’doah Range is LightBox Collaborative’s newest collaborator. His favorite presentation tools are a smile and a strong cup of coffee.

(Image courtesy Flickr user Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons.)