January 19, 2008
After being on both the giving and receiving end of plenty of presentations, I now realize there's one golden rule which applies to all of them:
Entertain your audience.
Every slide of your presentation should serve this fundamental vision statement. Is it entertaining? I don't mean each slide has to contain a wacky joke of some kind. Every slide should provoke a reaction from the audience -- be it controversial, unexpected, amusing, or a meditative Zen koan. Prod your audience. Do this not only to keep them awake, but to engage their brains. Deliver a series of short, sharp shocks that jolt your audience into a heightened state of engagement.
Once your audience has engaged with your presentation, that's when you trick them into learning. The very best presentations entertain and educate-- the common portmanteau is edutainment. The archetypal example of edutainment is Sesame Street.
Sesame Street is the second longest running children's show in the world, racking up 4,160 episodes over 38 seasons so far. They must be doing something right.
The show's format called for the humans to be intermixed with the segments of animation, live-action shorts and Muppets. These segments were created to be like commercials-- quick, catchy and memorable-- and made the learning experience much more like fun. The format became a model for what is known today as edutainment-based programming.
CTW aired the program for test groups to determine if the revolutionary new format was likely to succeed. Results showed that test watchers were entranced when the ad-like segments aired, especially those with the jovial puppets, but were remarkably less interested in the street scenes. Psychologists warned CTW against a mixture of fantasy and reality elements, but producers soon decided to mix the elements. A simple dose of cartoon-like characters lets the humans deliver messages without causing viewers to lose interest.
You might think it's patronizing to lift techniques from a television show aimed at preschoolers, but I find that people of all ages need to be entertained to fully engage with what whatever it is you're presenting. That's why your primary goal for any presentation is to entertain. If the audience doesn't walk out of your presentation thinking "gee, that was fun!", then I can practically guarantee they'll remember little about you or your talk. There's nothing more stultifying than walking out of yet another interminable, droning presentation to realize that all you have to show for it is another hour of your life ticked away. If you design to entertain first and teach second, even if your presentation bombs, at least the audience will get some fleeting entertainment out of the time they invested in you.
So the next time you're putting a presentation together, remember the Sesame Street Presentation Rule -- don't forget to add the muppets!
Posted by Jeff Atwood
that definitely is a good idea.
Well, my hat's off to you; this is decidedly the dumbest thing I have read all day... and I had the entire day off to catch up on mindless blogs.
Apparently Sean was not entertained...
Is it just coincident that this post comes right after your keynote presentation to college students? :)
I really enjoyed your presentaion @ cusec. It was really fun and instructive at the same time.
I think the Sesame street rule apply to writing blogs also.Most successful blogs are the one that entertain while being instructive.
Excellent Job Jeff....
It was memorable enough for Sean to take the time to leave a comment, so I'd say it's a success!
No need for additional muppets. We've got you, Jeff.
Jeff, I agree with you on entertaining the audience. An audience needs to be motivated to listen to what you as a presenter have to say. If the presentation is dull and boring one’s mind starts to wonder and very little is absorbed. A presenter has to entertain to some extent as many topics are quite boring, but with a bit of passion, energy and entertainment the point is delivered successfully. When I look back at all my presentations, the entertaining ones have always been a hit (even the ones where you have made a fool of yourself as the audience remember the topic and you)
Can you perhaps post some examples of presentations do this well (maybe post your CUSEC presentation if possible)? I understand the point of your post, but I'm not sure how to put it into practice.
i wish u'd told that to all my lecturers, every day was a test of endurance, it was as if they didn't care... i'm stil here though and lovin' IT!
I agree, but ...
If you've ever seen three presentations (using Microsoft PowerPoint, StarOffice/OpenOffice Impress, Corel Presentations, or similar applications), you never need to see another.
Honestly. Boring. Audience. To death.
First of all, if you're trying to do an "outline" sort of presentation, a good part of your audience isn't in the right position to see it. For this kind of speaking, you are better off passing out a handout.
Secondly, once your audience members have seen a few different backgrounds, heard a few sound effects, and been wowed with a few different ways to segue from slide to slide, they are not impressed and likely not engaged or interested.
Third, _any_ public speaker should seek to engage his / her audience, whether by being entertaining, controversial, or informative.
I have no idea what Sesame Street is. Aren't you supposed to start with something popular, so we won't waste time (and get distracted) finding what it is?
The bold line "entertain your audience" is a very old idea. Everyone knows it, they just don't know how to do it. All other paragraphs don't have any significant point. How is it related to "programming and stuff"? Can we add a puppet to our software presentation?
Thumb up for Sean. Yawn....
"Every slide of your presentation"
It's a fair assumption to say that most presentations will be a series of slides, and given that we probably just have to put up with it the single piece of advice I'd give to anyone is:
DON'T READ YOUR *!$%ing SLIDES TO ME!
I swear; I watched a Channel9/MSDN lecture from some top MS developer, where he was a talking head superimposed over a video-ed slideshow presentation, and that's all he did: read the slides to me. If I can reach back into the memory box I'll post a link. I'm sure you're on tenterhooks.
This was actually a great post Jeff, at least it was good if you were present at CUSEC.
He perfectly summed up the speaks that influenced and engaged people and the other talks that had interesting subject matter but no one remembered because it put them to sleep.
I'm really sorry to see the comments posted on this so far. It may just be a lack of context I think. Maybe you had to be there to understand this post. See Zed Shaw in action. See Jeff give his presentation where his slides (a total of maybe 15 or 20 for the whole hour) were just a series of images or interesting quotes. See Jon Udell's slides that were sometimes interesting videos, sometimes just interesting segues into a topic transition. And, very importantly, see the contrast with the more "academic" presentations that were.. umm.. less engaging.
Luckily, CUSEC recorded video of all the keynotes and said they were going to post the videos online. I suggest you watch every keynote (ok, maybe just half of the boring one(s)) and then re-read this post. You'll understand much better.
My one of my favorite presentations I put a comics inside, right at the start. Sometimes I even asked the listeners of the presentation to talk the parts of the characters. Once they laughed a little, I could make my points. (Of course, the comics was specifically about those points.)
The link made me check out Mr. Rogers again. *sigh* Those were simpler times.
On a totally non-dev track, there is (was?) a lot of research done on sesame st - by them, and studies after it was showing for a while by others. It's quite amaizing what they are doing. If most presenters - myself included - could engage at even 20% of that level, things like TechEd would be so much better.
I think a lot of it is covered in the Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell), or possibly Blink (same author). Both of them are pretty amaizing books.
For me, the title of "best presenter ever" goes to Steve Riley from MS's security division (http://blogs.technet.com/steriley/). He's amaizing on stage, never even looks at the slides unless it's a diagram he's actaully describing, and s so entertaining it's usually impossible to get a seat at his presentations at TechEd New Zealand. And, he's a really nice guy off stage, too :)
My best teaching presentations are ones that I can do without ANY pre-made slides - ones that I can do with a white board; ones where I have some passion about the subject, and an audience I can let loose with.
Unfortunately that doesn't work well in a multi-national corporate world where parts of the audience are in different locations, different cultures, and speak different languages. You need to slow down, write it all down, remove cultural references, etc.
Am I the only one who wants to know: What is THE longest running children's show in the world?
You may find Cliff Atkinson's _Beyond Bullet Points_ of some interest.
He takes classical narrative form (as used in story telling for thousands of years), and builds PP presentations on that structure. Without bullet points. And without just reading the damn slide!
You may not find every technique applicable to your presentations, but I think there's enough sense in there to justify reading it.
(And it's available on O'Reilly's Safari books online.)
Jeff, this is why people make fun of corporate presentations. Please, read some Edward Tufte or something remotely critical. And don't mistake your audience with children.
So, Jeff, the important part - what letters and number was today's blog post brought to us by?
In the meantime, I completely agree. Death by Powerpoint (etc.) bullets is tragically common.
Has anyone read Neil Postman's "Amusing ourselves to Death"?
I find it highly relevant to the main argument of the current post ("Entertain your audience"), and the specific example used to support that argument (Sesame street).
One of Postman's arguments is that 'edutainment' should not be considered a modern, improved form of education; rather, it excludes education. The main effect (as opposed to purpose) of programs such as Sesame street is not to teach the children addition or subtraction; it is to teach them that education and entertainment are the same, and that this ought to be so, and in fact that it cannot be otherwise.
Unfortunately, critical thinking is something which is almost possible to practice, or teach, on television. Real analysis is never done on TV - even when you have five talking heads around the table, they merely spout sound-bites, and recite talking points, rather than make a real anaylsis or counter-argument of someone else's point.
And now I read a post by an intelligent and rational person seriously asserting that the proper means for the conveying of complex and abstract ideas can be found in a TV program designed to grab the attention of five-year-olds.
Perhaps the tree of edutainment is already bearing fruit?
But more directly addressing the main points of the argument, I would say:
"They must be doing something right" - the main purpose of Sesame Street is to maintain the attention of small children, while giving their parents a moral rationalization for leaving them in front of the TV screen for hours on end. If you share their purpose, by all means, borrow their means.
As for the sleepy slides syndrome, I would say that slides are a second-rate prop for an oral presentation, more useful as a reminder after the fact. The problems begin when people use slides *instead* of an oral presentation.
As for giving a good presentation, it's not easy to pin down the exact ingredients which make a good speaker. It is true that a good speaker is entertaining; but a bad speaker plus a few good jokes does not a Cicero make. I think it's more important for a speaker to focus on making a clear, precise, and relevant point, than to tastefully choose between bert and the cookie monster on slide 26.
Just my 2 cents.
I think 'entertaining' isn't the right word. If a person P is presenting something about topic T to audience A it means that P knows things about T which are unknown to A and A wants to know about it.
The sole purpose of the presentation of P is to educate A about T, so after the presentation, what P wanted to explain to A about T is then also known by A.
Because make no mistake: if A wants to learn about T, it's A's job to learn about T, not P's job. P already knows the stuff about T. If A needs to be ENTERTAINED to get off their lazy lardy asses to learn about T, I'd say: Darwin. If A doesn't want to learn about T without entertaining stuff, so be it, it's their loss, not P's.
That's not to say P can be lazy. P's presentation has to be of such a quality that it explains T. That's it.
Let me be blunt: how many people here take notes during a presentation? Not many. Why not? If a presentation is held to teach you something, why not take notes so you can re-read them later on and use them together with the slides to get T imprinted in your brain?
If the TOPIC is interesting, the presentation is interesting, no matter how dull P is, because you're eager to learn more about T. However if you're slightly interested in T, T won't matter to you anyway, no matter how great the presentation is.
Last year I held a long talk about abstract entity models, o/r mapping, relational model design and how things relate to eachother at the dutch code-camp. No code, no slides, just a whiteboard. Entertaining? Well, no, not in the sense like Letterman is entertaining. But the topic is deep, it requires a lot of explanation for people who don't have read Nijssens/Halpin's books etc.. It was more like teaching. However, if the audience doesn't want to learn, so be it.
Perhaps it's me, but I find any presentation which doesn't teach anything is a waste of time: presentations aren't entertainment, they're held to teach an audience about a topic, however it's up to the audience to learn about it, THEY thought they needed to learn something. It's not P's job to poke them in the ribs and say "Hey, you need to learn this and that!", why should s/he?
Ahh Sesame Street brings back great memories of getting stoned at university then watching TV. Oh yeah childhood memories or whatever too.
Tiny typo : portmanteu instead of portmanteau
About the core subject, I'd like to give an example: "A taste of Haskell", presented by Simon Peyton-Jones.
The slides are quite good: colored in a consistent way, pretty big fonts, and well balanced layout. They are crystal clear. They also are desperately static and boring: the more entertaining items are just a few exclamation marks!
The speech, on the other hand, is a totally different story. I found it extremely entertaining. At each slide. How was that? Well, because the subject itself was entertaining, at least to Peyton-Jones' eyes.
When we want to make an entertaining speech, one can pick between two paths (i think):
- The desperate one: "I have a message to pass or something to teach. I have to find an entertaining way to do so."
- The passionate one: "I have an entertaining message to pass or an entertaining thing to teach. I must find a way to transmit that entertainment"
I prefer the later over the former by far. If the entertainment is separated from the subject itself, It will show up in the long term, and possibly became counter-productive.
Say you rule a company. Do you prefer your employees to enjoy at work, or to enjoy working?
I would not be caught dead giving a presentation but today I saw some videos on YouTube entitled "You Suck At Photoshop" and they were hysterically funny tutorials!
People can whine as much as they like about "entertainment" being unnecessary because people are morally obliged to work hard to learn for themselves, but I'm confused about something: why are these people going to presentations when they could easily find some dry and badly written textbook to read?
And also, shouldn't these people read the entire unabridge dictionary so they can learn the subtle difference between "entertain" and "amuse"?
Two people can present the same material in the same amount of time, but the one who is entertaining is going to be more productive (i.e. more effective at the goal of disseminating the information) than the guy with a monotone voice reading out the material and scowling at people who don't take notes. But even that guy will be better than the one making a presentation to an empty room because his habit of trying to please everyone made the guy reading slides seem more interesting.
Uhm. I would classify this post as “stating the obvious” but reading the comment reactions I conclude that I'd be wrong. Still, I have never - ever - seen a good presentation that didn't follow these basic rules. Unfortunately, Sturgeon's Law holds for presentations.
The rules don't apply to presentation slides only though. The “Head First” books did an exceptionally good job there.
Incidentally, someone asked how this was related to “programming and stuff.” Easy: presenting an idea, a concept, a design, a software, … is a crucial part a successful software developer's daily life. Most suck at it. Go figure.
"Dont forget to add the muppets!" -- Haha, I liked that one.
I think you are confusing 'entertaining' with 'engaging'. Effective communication always engages. I think it would be quite a stretch to say that it must always entertain. Moreover, unless the goal really is to entertain, you don't want to lose your content in muppet soup. (I don't think Seasame St. would have had its track record of success and accolades if they adandoned the education mission and focused on a primary goal of entertainment.)
Certainly most things that are entertaining are engaging, at least so far as they have somewhat amused us, but there is a great deal that is engaging without being entertaining. 'Entertaining', while not bad, is quite often not much of a compliment either.
Hey, if making the presentation entertaining is appropriate and useful, great! Finding creative ways to engage the audience when presenting difficult (or really all) subjects is a great idea, but if craft your presentation on the idea that the primary goal is to entertain you're inverting the whole purpose. Entertainment is a means, not an end.
Jeff, you're absolutely right! I've noticed exactly the same positive effect of "edutaining" your audience. Every presentation is "eligible" for edutainment, but the ones we should focus more are those which our audience will naturally find it more boring (e.g., being too much technical or abstract). If we do that, people will become more amused (hopefully never too much), and they will become more focused and even surprised that they liked something they found boring at first. Many people don't like subjects like maths and physics, but that's probably because of the education system we have: so boring. In some schools, teachers do some untraditional things like playing interactive games with students. By doing that, they will increase their students' attention and engagement levels. Doing too much, will cause too much noise, so the best will be balancing a little bit of "entertainment" and "education" alternately.
I agree, but expected more substance. Which muppets did for example you bring to your own recent presentation? :)
Anyway, I think Hans Rosling's talk at the 2006 (and 2007) TED conference is a great example of how even boring statistics can be presented in an entertaining way:
As a high school teacher I agree 100%. Learning by accident is essentially what happens when students engage with a presentation or activity that they see as being fun.
Not everyone is a born entertainer; cheesy jokes badly delivered will turn off even the most attentive of learners, so there is perhaps some distinction between engaging and entertaining. This is essentially about 'knowing your audience' and using tools that will engage them. With high school children this is age-specific and things that work include music, sarcasm and sweeties, although not all at once!
Small correction, CTW is Children's Telivision Workshop. In 2000, CTW changed its name to Sesame Workshop. I can see that you've watched the shows, but a few years back. I know this because I worked for Sesame Workshop in 2000 and Big Bird kept calling the Help Desk all the time. Lesson learned, don't give muppets a laptop if at all possible.
I think this rule applies to books, too. On your (and others') suggestion, I picked up the Code Complete 2 book and it's mind-numbingly boring and I must force myself to turn each page (it seems to be picking up and getting better, I hope this trend continues).
I started trying to figure out why it was so boring and I realized that he repeats himself and restates/rephrases things frequently. He'll make a point and then re-make it 3 different ways in the following few paragraphs.
And I think a lot of presentations are like this too. People will restate themselves and rephrase similar concepts instead of moving quickly to a range of subjects.
I think it's less about entertainment, and more about keeping things moving. Sesame Street works not necessarily because of the muppets (those are required for the 3 year olds), but because they can make a quick point and inform you in less than 30 seconds.
Keep the pace quick and don't get bogged in details during the presentation. The best slides are those with no words or less than 10 words.
Well, I'd listen with more gusto if the speaker makes it a point to make the topic relevant to the me, and not in some abstract manner.
Jonathan Levy's comment is spot on to reference Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death". Written twenty years ago and still amazing. "Edutainment" is a one-word oxymoron. Effective education isn't entertaining - it's challenging and requires a lot more than just listening passively and being amused. Your presentation should be relevant, thought-provoking and drive discussion. If your content doesn't stand on it's own - don't present it. Now I'm reminded of the movie "Idiocracy". I'll stop. Love this blog just the same... :-)
Edward Tufte has a short tract on why PowerPoint shows dull the mind. He's required reading for anyone who has to present information of any level of detail to audiences of mixed skills.
His books on visual data presentation are fabulous and it's worth seeing him in person.
I had a teacher that loved to use cartoon characters to do complex math. And honestly when I was younger I didn't understand why he had such great success with the class. Now that you have pointed it out, he was applying his own form of edutainment.
It was memorable enough for Sean to take the time to leave a comment, so I'd say it's a success!
I apologize for the inadvertent endorsement. I was actually asserting this point: despite what the internet spouts constantly, there is no blanket rule for excellent presentations. No "3 simple things" you can do to ensure a memorable keynote. No "amazingly easy change" that will spice up your speeches and make you a perfect presenter.
Speaking well in public takes practice. Being a top-notch orator requires skill, timing, attention to detail, audience awareness, and a hundred other tiny but crucial pieces. Passion is helpful and entertainment has its place, but many topics require other approaches to engage the audience. I would walk out of the conference hall if I attended a talk on TurboGears or whatever and the presenter's "primary goal was to entertain me."
Please stop trying to distill every topic to a single nugget of wisdom. I know it's chic and all the other blogs are doing it, but it makes your posts content-free (and often misleading).
Perhaps a follow-up post on ways one might entertain with a presentation, as you suggest?
Speaking from a CUSEC viewpoint, I don't think Jeff's primary goal was to entertain us, but to convey information. Which he managed to pull off in an entertaining manner. Do what you love, and share it with the world :)
Thanks again, Jeff, for coming out and spending time with us. Speakers like you are what makes CUSEC memorable for everyone.
Personally i do not have a problem with the The Sesame Street Presentation Rule but you've to ask yourself this : what audience was Sesame Street presented to ? Answer : kids.the edutainment method is a reserve for kids and toddlers.Try teaching quantum physics or algorithms by this edutainment method.Things we learn are way complicated to explain or put across the "Sesame Street" way.I'll say this only once : If you want your learning to be fun go watch Sesame Street but if you want to learn then take that book ,read ,try to understand and endure the boredom.Period.
Since just about anyone has access to powerpoint, and it can be learnt with little training, the majority of slide presentations we see are full of text and boring as hell.
Microsoft Powerpoint, with it's wealth of text centered templates, only encourages these sorts of presentations.
Some of the best public speaking tips are of course from Dale Carnegie.
While entertainment may be one technique, you need to deliver the goods regardless, or the next day you feel a little cheated.
"Incidents" are a great lead-in. Pace, rhythm, voice inflection, a great sense of humor (and timing), asides, etc. are all excellent techniques too.
Your talk was great, so if you applied those principles I'd say your points are right on the ball.
When I first saw the title of this post, I remembered a comment a co-worker made about XP when it first came out. He said it was too "Fisher-Price" (http://www.fisher-price.com/us/).
Anyway, about "Edu-tainment." Its value may depend on the type of audience you have. If your presenting something that people are dying to hear, humor may not be needed. However, if you need to have the audience recognize some of their own flaws, humor will help. Its been said that laughter is a form of public confession. Humor then because an anesthetic to humility. Humility lets us learn something new.
"Don't forget to add the muppets!"
that should be on a t-shirt.
I have to agree with this, but in our place, this doesn't always comes in handy.
in most instances, the presenters are just there to entertain and barely tell something good. other times the audiences are too distracted with all the shiny thingies and barely follow original intended topic.
I agree, if a presentation doesn't hold my interest in some way, I'm getting no education from it.
I'd just hate to sit through a presentation by some of the people posting here who are against making it entertaining, like Sean and some of the others.
And you, in turn, would hate to have me in your audience. I'd be constantly distracting you by my yawning, and maybe even snoring.
Sorry Jeff, I think you are dead wrong on this one. The golden rule of presentations is: respect your audience. Is your presentation topic relevant, well structured, and informative? As long as you are not deficient in public speaking skills, what more should be done? I strongly agree with Jonathan Levy's comment - education is not the same as entertainment. Education only happens when the student puts forth the effort to learn. To your point, "tricking them" into wanting to learn may be effective. But isn't there something wrong when adults spend thousands of dollars for education (tuition or conference fees) and the first thing they expect is to be entertained?
btw, Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is a great book...
I was at your talk at CUSEC and I definitely agree. When I think back to previous talks, it's the talks that follow this principal (you, Zed Shaw, Chad Fowler, etc.) that are the most memorable to not just me, but most people I discovered.
Great job with your presentation.
Nobody can teach someone.until his brain participate in that activity and your method is the best method to invite his brain for the learning activity
Fun fact Jeff: the Sesame Street "short and to the point" format was a contributing factor to poor attention spans in children. A show full of twenty second ad clips turns out to be a detriment to children (according to the numerous psychological studies that caused change).
Sesame Street has since changed to much longer formats. Even the Count is upwards of a minute long clip now. And all he does is count to seven.
So slightly bad example :)
50% - Yes, your presentation must be entertaining.
50% - For pure entertainment, I will go somewhere else.
Although I have been in disagreement with many of your posts, I am DEFINITELY going to seek to entertain my audiences from now on.
Thanks so much for sharing!
I wonder how the cookie moster will work on friday's stakeholders meeting :-)
At first, I think that "education" is not unique. In my head, 2 possible meanings are floating around.
At first, there is the entertainment we all know from TV, those "entertainers" that try to be fun and mostly make me get some headphones so I wont have to hear them anymore.
However, since I have learned some stuff about "entertaining games", there is another - vastly different - form of entertainment floating in my head.
In a game, you have to create some form of motivation by entertaining the player. If you don't motivate your player, he will close the game and go back to play World of Warcraft. But now, we have to look out. Most motivation in a game does NOT result from some lame jokes (or even some good ones), but by applying to very basic instincts.
You kill a monster? Hooray. My game will let 2 stars fly around, bounce around a bit and disappear. You killed a boss? Hooray. My game creates some big explosion and makes the screen shake and whatever.
This form of motivation and entertainment is far more universal than the first one, because it applies to your very basic instincts. Things flash! Things move! Things flashing and moving are great!
So, lets take this to our current topic:
I guess you can apply the same here. Trying to entertain some guys from the university with lame jokes during a presentation will fail. fail bad. (I guess this fails with most audiences.)
However, I think that the second form of motivation and entertainment should work as well.
For example, you could just encircle a problem with some red border, because this is a problem, and a problem is dangerous (and red == danger). However, don't create a whole slide with a bright red background, because this just hurts in the eyes.
Generalizing this, you should be able to use colors to make text (if you really need that text!) more "entertaining", or little gimmicks (for example, a really nice presentation by Audrey Tang used smileys a lot. Depending on the audience, you might not want a whole slide consist of just a frowning smiley, but still, I dont think it will enrage someone if your problem (encircled in red! :) ) is followed by some sad smiley-face.)
So, I guess, you are right to a certain extend. You have to entertain the audience on a certain level, however, one has to choose that level and the tools of entertainment carefully.
If you are normally funny, use humor in your presentations, as entertainment is an excellent tool to use when trying to keep an audience engaged. If you aren't normally a class clown, don't try injecting entertainment and fun, as it will come off as artificial and you'll lose everyone. Just being genuinely excited about your topic is sufficient.
I was reminded of a study performed by a group of doctors that were in charge of educating other doctors on some especially boring material. Looking up the study again reveals this relevant snippet:
"Data were prospectively collected over 3 years from physicians participating in an intensive review of an internal medicine course [...] The most important features of the effective lecture included clarity and visibility of slides, relevance of material to the audience, and the speaker's ability to identify key issues, engage the audience, and present material clearly and with animation."
They go on to prove these top three things are what one can do to optimize recall (ie: keep people interested). "Edutainment" is focused on the second category: engage the audience. I'm not saying that entertainment has no place in professional presentations. I am just trying to point out that it's only a small part of the overall picture.
Next time you are part of a great presentation, lecture, or talk, take a moment to determine why it's so engaging. If you don't have time for that, just watch some TED videos from the web (they are almost all outstanding in every way) and decide what it is that glues you to the screen.
I'd have to go along with Sean on this. Good presentations are a result of practice, timing, skill, and more practice. Another rule I like is to know your audience. I've done a few with a bit of humor to underline a point and make it entertaining. It went over well once, and the next time it was generally labeled 'unprofessional'. Like a resume', you want to target a presentation to the audience.
Someone mentioned the 'Head First' series as a good example. I'm on my third book, and I find the format more distracting than informative. (The company buys the books for the IT group, so I figure I might as well try to get something out of them.) I am more of a hands-on learner.
The sole purpose of the presentation of P is to educate A about T,
so after the presentation, what P wanted to explain to A about T is
then also known by A.
Because make no mistake: if A wants to learn about T, it's A's job
to learn about T, not P's job. P already knows the stuff about T.
If A needs to be ENTERTAINED to get off their lazy lardy asses to
learn about T, I'd say: Darwin. If A doesn't want to learn about T
without entertaining stuff, so be it, it's their loss, not P's.
This inadvertently proves the point about entertainment being paramount. Rehash the story with proper names in there, tell it as a story, and it doesn't become a huge list of variables!
Eschew bullet points - they are there to prompt the speaker
Use diagrams and pictures - people think in pictures
Give handouts - That's where screeds of text belongs.
I read a paper that says one of the shuttle disasters was indirectly caused by powerpoint bullet points. A key engineering point about checking for damage was hidden in a 6 point font on a slide about 15 slides in. The engineering company was ruled by salesmen and the only way they could communicate was using it. Instead of producing a proper technical report that everyone could read and discuss at a proper meeting NASA were handed a BS powerpoint full of tiny fonts and missed this - it cost a lot of lives and money. I *hate* bullet points.
Also, the font size should be half the age of your target audience - another reason to use pictures.
Your analysis is right on point.Nice.
The next step past entertaining is actually finding that source of conflict that really engages the audience. Patrick Lencioni's concepts of leveraging conflict and tension to engage meeting participants can be applied to listeners of a presentation. From his book Death by Meeting: "(movie makers) figured out that it is during the first ten minutes that they must use drama to hook their viewers, so that they are willing to stay engaged for another two hours."
I agree with what Sean says. Entertainment is not something every person in the audience may be looking at, perhaps some of them might even be put off by it.
"It was memorable enough for Sean to take the time to leave a comment, so I'd say it's a success!"
Hmm... if Sean likes this blog post, this shows it's a success; if Sean doesn't like it, this also shows it's a success? That's some great double-edged "logic", I say...
Anyway, when it comes to distilling the arcane art of presentation into a series of bullet points, I particularly like this:
Am I the only one who wants to know: What is THE longest running children's show in the world?
Peter on January 20, 2008 01:41 PM
It's Blue Peter, a British kids TV show.
Strange thing is I always found it dull as ditch water when I was younger so I guess that goes against the entertainment principle!
I never liked the scenes with real people in them, either.
Hey Now Jeff,
Elmo is going to sing the Coding Horror Song today: Coding Horror, Coding Horror Cod-ing Hor-ror Coding, Coding, Coding, Coding, Coding HORROR. Say goodbye Dorothy.
Coding Horror Fan,
I completely agree with you. The best presentations I've seen interested me, entertained me and showed me something new.
I agree with youssef that the same applies to blogs and I think to books, too. I like your and Raganwald's blogs because I learn something while having fun reading it. I love the "Head First" books and the PragProg book, because they are fun to read. I also agree with David Dawkins about not reading the presentation. I can see what's there.
I am a little shocked to see some of the reactions
I agree. I don't know to how to entertain my audience, so I'am afraid of being a speaker. I think something is easy to say, but diffcult to do. "Entertaining my audience" is what I want.
how many writers did sesame street have?
Where is all this entertaining content supposed to come from?
There is a series of presentations from Larry Wall, developer of the Perl language that fit this model. His "State of the Onion" speeches were both entertaining and educational. If you haven't read them, you can find the first 3 along with other presentations of his on his site (http://www.wall.org/~larry/perl.html).
After sitting through hundreds of presentations with some being great and others being mediocre I have to agree that when an audience member feels engaged in the presentation they will remember the material longer. Not every presenter is going to get in front of an audience and "educate" them but if the presenter can find a method to get the viewer more engaged they will succeed. Getting the audience to remember the material and therefore possibly make them think about that presentation the next time that new knowledge is needed should be the goal in presenting new information.
I was there at your presentation at CUSEC. It was very good and inspiring. It really made me think afterwards, so I'd like to thank you for that.
One big thing I remember from Sesame Street is the psychadelic pinball machine and the following song...
"1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10
And I learned to say "you're welcome!" when someone said thank-you to me.
I learned a lot from this online presentation: http://perl.plover.com/yak/presentation/
After sitting through a couple of days of PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint Presentation, it was my turn to present.
I set up my tripod with a flip chart titled "MarkerSoft PencilPoint."
On the next page, I dutifully wrote in 8 asterisks in a password box before flipping the chart to the first page of information.
I think they got the point...
Have to agree with some of the folks here, Jeff.
Your blog is _not_ entertaining at all. But it is absolutely engaging. There is a clear difference. Entertainment is fine, but up to a point it can serve as a massive distraction to the main point of the presentation as it becomes a highlight of its own.
Obviously the use of puppets in Sesame Street or any form of entertainment helps to bring viewers in; I don't understand why people say it's not good to mix reality and fantasy - people want to be entertained, and puppets provide a good means of doing just that. To bring puppet entertainment into your own home, pick up some Hand Puppets from SuperSmartyPants today!