Keep calm and be relevant

Here’s a question that I received in reaction to one of my earlier posts on this blog:

“Can I present the same slide deck to different audiences, or do I have to customize my visuals every time again?”

This is certainly a good topic to discuss, but IMHO it’s too much focusing on the ‘material’ aspects of your talk: the visuals you prepare and present.  If you understand what’s preoccupying the people in the room, you can be relevant to them, even without projecting one single slide. Yes, you can

Did you ever consider looking up the participants’ LinkedIn profiles before the meeting starts? Try conducting a dialogue with them, instead of the usual monologue? Ask questions about their interests and needs? Address them with the right messages at the right level of (technical) detail?

In three of my older posts I have described tools that may help you characterize your audience, and adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior: the power quadrant, the influencer quadrant, and the personality quadrant.

If knowing your audience is step one, then managing their expectations is certainly step two. Provide them with a heads-up on what you are going to present and — even more — how you will present it to them. What are the goals of your presentation (if you’re smart, you can already link them to the call to action that will come later)? When can they ask questions (should they interrupt you or did you plan a Q&A session the end)?

As an illustration, here are three samples of visuals I have used to manage my customers’ expectations ― and get them into the mood for a good conversation…

In my first example, I am exploiting the fact that I am Belgian. Belgium is the country known for its surrealist painters, like René Magritte. Therefore, I often use the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” image below to inform my customers about what they may expect from the meeting and what they should not hope for.


Another visual I show from time to time is Dilbert’s “PowerPoint poisoning” strip. Even when I have only 10 or 20 slides on hand, I try to engage my listeners by asking them if they’re prepared to go through the next 844 slides with me.


And finally, when I want to satisfy my audience’s hunger for information ― and free myself from having to present all the details ― I put up a “keep calm and read this at home” slide (and hand out a copy of it after the meeting), inspired by the 1939 “Keep Calm and Carry On” pre-war campaign of the British Government.


 My posts about the three quadrants I mentioned above:

My name is Bond

In last week’s post, I provided the example of the notorious John Doe, who completely missed his opening and wasted the crucial first seconds of his presentation by delivering only small talk.

But, John also did one thing good: he introduced himself. But, as people in the room were not decided yet if they were going to pay attention to the speaker, he did it way too early. So, what is the best moment in a presentation to present yourself?

First of all, why (except for vanity reasons) should one talk about himself or herself in front of a public audience?

Because it’s an opportunity to show that you’re a person of interest, that you are an authority on the topic you are presenting and, consequently, that you have the “right to speak”. Make sure that you give a bit more argumentation than just saying “My name is Doe, John Doe” – this may work well for 007, but most probably not for you.


And when is the most proper time to do so?

You should of course introduce yourself at a moment that makes sense for your presentation, for yourself and for the people in the room. As a best practice –and in full compliance with the AIDA structure– a good moment is somewhere in the first half of your presentation. Once you have caught the attention (“A”) of the people in the room and you have introduced the topic of your presentation, you can amplify their interest (“I”) by explaining that you are the expert they should listen to, and start creating desire (“D”) for whatever you are trying to teach, evangelize or sell to them. And finally call for their action (“A”) – shaken, not stirred.