One of my favorite TED Talks is David McCandless' "The Beauty of Data Visualization," in which he argues for the incredible power of beautiful, well-designed visual communication, and shows just how much more it can reveal than words.
I'm not alone. The video has more than 2.7 million views, and not only because McCandless' message is compelling--but because of the quality of the presentation. Even as he speaks about data visualization, he proves its worth through the use of compellingly visualized slides with minimal text. You're not tasked with a reading assignment. The data visualizations clear the way for the audience to truly engage in the message.
In the past eight years, I've spoken at more than 175 conferences around the world, so I've seen a wealth of great presentations--and many more not-so-great ones. You might not be speaking in front of an audience of hundreds, but better public-speaking skills can lead to huge opportunities: professional promotion, social change, and even better relationships. What makes the difference between a flop and 2.7 million hits? Here's what you're doing wrong.
1. Excessive text puts audiences to sleep.
The No. 1 presentation faux pas is giving your viewers a reading assignment. I've seen so many talks where the speaker has more or less transcribed what he or she is saying in a PowerPoint presentation.
The result? Viewers might read along, but they'll fail to engage with the speaker or the topic at hand. Given that visuals communicate 60,000 times faster than text, reading is simply more work than engaging visually. So no matter how much charisma you have on stage, this approach will exhaust your audience, and instead of leaving your talk energized, you'll find them queuing up for another shot of espresso.
2. You're not letting the visuals do the talking.
Think back to the last presentation you really enjoyed. Maybe it was at an industry conference, on a pitch stage, or in a boardroom--but I'm willing to bet that the setting wasn't what made it memorable. You were likely transfixed by a person with seemingly natural charisma, a way of presenting that felt comfortable and communicative. But if being the center of attention doesn't sit well with you, don't despair--you can still be an incredibly effective speaker.
Many of the most successful TED Talk speakers were accompanied by stunning visuals. That's because no matter how engaging your stage presence is, effective visual accompaniment offers support, proof, and reinforcement for what you're saying. It also provides viewers with multiple ways to engage.
3. You haven't embraced information visualization.
There's little point in offering up a compelling argument without data to back it up, and there's little point in presenting compelling data without visualizations to bring it alive. No one will remember whether you said "37 percent" or "73 percent," but if you show a line graph, they'll certainly remember that one peak was significantly higher than another.That's because, as Dr. Richard E. Mayer, a professor of psychology, reports in his book, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, compared to text alone, text paired with images improves comprehension by up to 89 percent.
McCandless refers to data visualization as "a form of knowledge compression." While it might take you five minutes to explain a complex data set, visualization accomplishes this within a second or a fraction of a second. "It's a way of squeezing an enormous amount of information and understanding into a small space," McCandless explains.
4. You're not harnessing the power of photography.
I recently presented at SXSW alongside Nathan Clendenin, CEO of StoryDriven. Above all, StoryDriven focuses on "authentic, human-centered stories"--so it would have been a huge mistake for Nathan not to show human faces in his presentation.
Depending on your topic, photography can be incredibly powerful. There was no better way for viewers to feel an emotional connection to Nathan's subjects than for him to show videos and photography of those people as he told their stories. Photography isn't for every presentation, but for some, it's essential.
5. You're saying too much.
You've eliminated excessive on-screen text and embraced just how much visuals can enrich your presentation. Now it's time to cut down on excessive wordiness. People can try to over-explain what they mean in a way that's counterproductive, especially if they haven't fully bought in to just how powerful visuals can be.
If the visuals just aren't doing the trick, consider redesigning the presentation, not trying to fix the mistake by talking too long about each topic. This can make your viewers' minds wander, and also eats up time that could be better spent diving deeper into your topic or building further buy-in for your idea.
Follow these tips and see your presentations--and your audiences--transform. It can make all the difference between a flop and your next conversion, promotion, or personal success.