The duck and the rabbit

duck_rabbit

Is the drawing above showing the image of a duck or a rabbit? Well, it depends on how you present it, and what your audience sees and/or wants to make of  it. Actually, most of people may think it’s a bird with a long bill. But when you put on the picture and tell them you’re showing a rabbit, you can bet on it that the majority of the people in the room will keep seeing a rodent with long ears.

The duck-rabbit image was made famous by Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, as a means of describing two different ways of seeing: seeing that vs. seeing as.

Presentation Zen author Garr Reynolds has described another case of how a presenter can influence (or even manipulate) perception. The example below shows how a table may be (mis)used as an alternative to a bar chart to display hard numbers in a less dramatic or emotional way.

sales_chartsales_table

The inevitable conclusion after observing the bar chart is that product C is poorly underperforming. And though the grid displays exactly the same information, some people may not even notice the dramatic revenue gap with the other products.

Writing about the duck and the rabbit made me also think about another animal story: the fable of the tortoise and the hare. There are different moral conclusions that can be drawn from this tale, but my personal favorite is that it’s not about what capabilities you have (or how much data you’ve gathered), but about how you actually apply them (or how you visualize and explain the numbers.)

Big data is a popular topic these days, but IMHO there are still a few too many number fetishists around – also among professional presenters. In next week’s post I will give some examples that show why (an abundance of) figures may be meaningless, boring or even dangerous. And present some best practices for selecting, interpreting and displaying numbers in your presentations.

More reading:

The joy of presenting naked

In my previous post, I wrote about a situation in which I was confronted with a broken projector, and as such (almost) forced to present “nakedly”. For those who might get wrong thoughts: naked presenting is delivering a presentation without slides (and without hesitation.)

It’s nothing new. The art of storytelling dates from long before PowerPoint and the projector were ever invented. But nowadays, too manypresenters hide themselves behind their slide deck. Although some of the best public speakers I know don’t need (and a few of them don’t use) any visuals to deliver an outstanding talk.

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Naked presenting lets you concentrate on your audience and on your message instead of on your Powerpoint-style presentation tools (see also my reasons for not using Prezi.)

For a naked presenter, less is more!

  • When you need to invest less time in graphic material preparation, you can spend more time on building your story, and practicing and rehearsing it.
  • When you’re relying less upon the laptop in front, you have more space to move around the stage and face the people in the back of the room.
  • When you count less on the sexiness of your slides, you may discover the expressive power of your voice and body language.
  • When you give them no slides to read from, people will more attentively listen to your words.
  • When you put less energy in trying to impress your audience (don’t confuse a naked presenter with an exhibitionist!,) you will probably establish a better emotional contact with them.

If –after all these convincing arguments– you’re still too shy to go full monty in front of your customers, you can leave your hat on... and use a flip chart and a few markers to cover your nakedness.

A final note for those in the audience: things may not always be what they seem. It’s a known fact that even Barack Obama uses a teleprompter on the sly.

If you have some spare time, read the revealing Presentation Zen post about presenting naked by Garr Reynolds, as well as these other articles:

Space, the final frontier

 “Without space, you’re dead”
– Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen Design

As a professional storyteller, you should never overload your audience with visual or auditory information. Therefore, space is a key design element for shaping your presentations.

  • Space on your slides. White space, also known as negative space, helps you to enhance the look and feel of your slides. As a rule of thumb, never fill more than 50% of a PowerPoint slide with text and images. Let space take up the remaining half of your screen estate.
  • Space between your words. Silence sometimes says more than words. Did you realize that 20-30% of a stand-up comedian’s time on the microphone is spent in silence? Short pauses add emphasis to your key points (and allow the speaker to take a breath…)
  • Space at the end of your talk.  Always reserve around 20% of your time budget for questions and discussion. Tell the audience before you start presenting that there will be a Q&A at the end. This will save you from unwanted interruptions and allow you to plan your presentation properly.

Following these simple rules will help you deliver a clearer message in less time, with less words, consuming less slide real estate.

Less is more. Space is a design element. Emptiness is an art.

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