Presentation Review: Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight”

6 Jul

What would you do if you woke up to find yourself experiencing a stroke?

That’s exactly what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor experienced on the morning of December 10, 1996.

As a neuroanatomist, Taylor studies higher brain functions, particularly diseases such as Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  When her brother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Taylor dedicated her career and her life to studying the disease and others like it.

In this beautifully orated TED talk, Bolte gives us a very detailed account of her thoughts and emotions as her brain hemorrhages and her consciousness blurs in and out of reality.  She walks us through the entire scientific process of the event, but the most interesting information arises as she discusses the semi-transcendentalist state she fades in and out of throughout this unique encounter.

Taylor is a fantastic speaker.  She fills each sentence with emotion and passion about the topic.  Just by watching her body language, we can see how deeply not only this event affected her life and demeanor, but also how much she cares about the subject matter.  She lives and breathes for brain research because she has a soft spot in her heart for the victims of brain diseases.

As she explains the sequence of events, she packs her story full of rich, often shocking, detail to illustrate the emotions associated with her thoughts and actions.  She approaches the event as a novelist would, carefully and expertly using descriptions to transport the audience into her body as she loses touch with reality.  As her mind begins to flicker into an alternate state of being, her left-brain pulses and her right-brain examines the molecular structure of the objects around her.  The audience is right there with her, thinking and feeling her thoughts and senses as if they are experiencing it themselves.

Her strongest asset as a presenter is her honesty.  Taylor has the ability to be truly honest in her words to the point of passionately expressing herself through re-living the event.  As she describes it, we can see the power in her words, feel the emotion in her voice.  It’s shaky, yet strong, and it makes us feel extremely on edge, but comfortably curious about the  nature of the stroke. We are entranced by her strong emotional tie to the science of this almost supernatural experience.

Not only is Taylor’s delivery spot-on, she has constructed her presentation in such a way that the audience can’t help but drool over the story.  She uses expert pacing and pausing to weave her experience into a three-act structure, almost like a play.

First, she begins the presentation with a preface about her personal situation with her brother, which plays a huge role in her career and also explains a lot about her personality.  We will hear about how these skills from her profession enhance her altered state later.  We get a glimpse into what her life was like before, and the reason she chooses to explore what became her passion.

Then, Taylor works to educate the audience on the science behind basic brain functions.  This setup is designed to prepare the audience for the story that comes.  Once we understand the mechanics of the brain, we can fully appreciate the story that is coming.  While we’re learning, we don’t know that we’ll be using this information later in the story, but it serves a very important purpose in the presentation.  During this portion of the presentation, Taylor uses two more great presentation tactics: the prop and the shocker.  She brings out a real human brain.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  As she holds it in her gloved hands, we can hear the audience groaning and laughing.  This is a great, real reaction that only increases the value not only of Taylor as a presenter, but also of the entire presentation.

After that, we enter the meat of the story.  We vividly re-live Taylor’s stroke and the emotions that follow.  We are in our seats, leaning forward, absorbing her every word.  As we’ve said before, this section really plays into Taylor’s role as a passionate storyteller.

She wraps up the presentation by going into an extremely in-depth description of the altered-state experience.  She builds up her words and her passion simultaneously, coming to a climax with the words, “I am the life-force power of the universe. I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is.”  She poses the question, “Who do you choose?” in reference to which side of the brain should we as humans trust and follow.  We use both seamlessly, but once we give ourselves to the feelings of our right-brain, we experience something larger than life.  We experience an open, free, calm beauty of the natural universe that is almost never felt by mankind.  To think that this “life-force” exists inside our own minds is a type of revelation that leaves the audience overwhelmed with a new sense of wonder.  And isn’t that the goal?  To change our audience, to make them leave the room feeling uplifted or in awe, to have given them an experience?

What do you think about this presentation?  Let us know what you think of our analysis, whether on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.  Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

The Power of the Pause

27 Jun

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain

“Um, you know, like…”

You’ve heard it many, many times in your daily life.  Whether it’s your friend telling a story, your teacher giving a lesson, or even at a professional business pitch or speech.  I bet you say it all of the time and don’t even realize it!

This little phrase and others like it are what we call “filler words.”  You use them when you don’t know what to say.  There is a momentary gap in your thoughts, and you have fallen into the habit of filling that space with small, useless phrases in order to compensate.  We can’t help but to maintain the rhythm of our speech, so we subconsciously resort to sputtering out what we think covers our lack of direction.

However, it does just the opposite. Instead of sounding smooth, we sound as if we have no idea what we’re talking about. We seem unorganized and unconfident.

Why is it so hard to be silent in between our thoughts?  Why does there have to be a constant stream of sound when we speak?

The root of the problem lies in our lack of patience.  Most of us can’t stand to wait in between our sentences because we feel too slow and deliberate.  It isn’t in our nature to pause in our speech because we don’t pause in our thoughts.  However, learning to pause in our thoughts increases our odds of finding the right word, phrase or point.  This is beneficial to your audience, who are listening to you because they want good, clear ideas presented to them.

Although we don’t realize it, the people who listen to us actually crave silence.  Silence gives them a chance to digest the information being presented to us.  It gives them a chance to breathe.  We all have that friend that just can’t or won’t slow down to talk.  They speak a million miles a minute.  You just want to calm them down and get the information out in a reasonable fashion.  It’s the same with presentations or speeches.

Robert Byrd, a U.S. Senator and notable orator once said, “There can be an art in the use of a pause. I find nothing wrong with a pause. It does not have to be filled with a you know. This phrase, like so many others,” Byrd added, “betrays a mind whose thoughts are often so disorganized as to be unutterable—a mind in neutral gear coupled to a tongue stuck in overdrive.”

Slow down.  Breathe.  Think.  Your audience will appreciate it, I promise.

When you are speaking in front of a crowd, your heart rate accelerates (no matter how calm  you may think you are).  Because of this acceleration, every second seems like a minute.  People often get on stage and can’t remember everything they said because they were so focused on getting the information out quickly and walking off stage away from all of the eyes and ears in the room.

If you can train yourself (and yes, it takes training to do this effectively) to pause a second or two longer than you think you can bear it, you will benefit as a speaker.

How, you ask? Well, for several reasons, actually.

Firstly, by pausing in between sentences you are helping your audience listen.  Your audience isn’t worried about trying to grab information or ideas as it comes whizzing by.  Instead, they can absorb information at a reasonable speed, and therefore be more engaged as an audience.

In addition, the pause improves your demeanor as a speaker.  You appear more confident when you get your message across in a direct manner, rather than diluting the meaning of your words.  Ideas are stronger and more valuable when they aren’t littered with irrelevant, essentially meaningless babble.

Finally, the silence allows you to breathe.  Taking a breath before you speak helps tremendously because it allows more oxygen to go to your brain, which allows you to focus on choosing the right words.  An extra breath also gives your voice more gusto, which subsequently makes your words more attractive for your listeners.

In order to master the art of the pause, it takes practice and patience.  An effective exercise involves slowly reading a good, tight piece of writing aloud.  Pick up a newspaper, research a good written speech or just read a children’s book.  Take your time and pause in between phrases that go together.  Do this for a few paragraphs each day and you will begin to notice your heart rate decelerating and your words becoming clearer.

So remember, take your time in your speeches or presentations.  Use your words wisely, and pause to focus on finding a solid, patient rhythm.  Your audience will appreciate your ideas, and you will get your message across more clearly.

After all, silence is golden.

Be sure to leave us your thoughts on the power of the pause!  What do you struggle with the most in your presentations?  We’d love to help!

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Presentation Styles: Old School vs. New School

21 Jun

It’s an age-old argument.  Whether it’s music, fashion or lifestyle, people are constantly debating the pros and cons of old vs. new.  Do fundamentals outweigh breakthroughs?  Is a fresh approach more effective than maintaining tradition?

These questions are often very difficult to answer.  However, they are worth exploring.

At Big Fish, we frequently ponder this issue when it comes to giving and designing presentations.  There are many different approaches to presenting, all of which can be very effective when executed properly.

For example, when presenting to a small audience it can be very beneficial to the speaker to go more old school.  Talk to your audience as if they are actually people.  A tech-show to 5-10 people feels impersonal and can seem like overkill.  Forget the fancy motion graphics and charts if you are covering internal information.  Flashy doesn’t impress everyone, especially if they are your co-workers.

On the other hand, if you’re presenting to a larger crowd, technology can play to your strengths.  Since you can’t fully engage everyone in such a massive group, using a digital setup is great for keeping your audience on their toes and entertained.

What about design?

A simplistic design (old school) is nice in almost every single situation.  Our job is to simplify content and break it down so that it is easily digestible for your audience.  A blur of color, sound and information loses retention with your audience.  Make sure to include all of the information, whether on the slide or in your own words, but don’t overload them.

A new school approach to design is to be loud and attention-grabbing.  This approach is effective if the tone of the content is in sync with your design.  For example, if you are presenting about next quarter’s projections, you probably shouldn’t use funky fonts and grainy textures.  You should keep it elegant and clean, just like the information.  However, if you are giving a presentation about a rock band, the flavor of the design should be that of the style – spunky, fun and entertaining.

There are always exceptions to these insights.  Don’t be afraid to try something new or out of the ordinary.  The only thing you have to remember is your target audience.  What would they respond to the best?  What are they looking for? Craft your presentation to their perspectives and then WOW them with your mad presentation skills!

Which style do you think is most effective at which times?  What is your favorite style?

Let us know by commenting below or on our Facebook page or by tweeting us! Also, check out our YouTube page and subscribe for our latest and greatest videos and projects!

Please check out our writeup on Business Insider!

6 Jun

Please check out our writeup today on Business Insider! Just a little bit about our company history and what’s been cookin’ around the office.

 

http://www.businessinsider.com/how-this-student-made-over-100k-in-one-year-making-presentations-2012-6#comments

Presentation Review: Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

4 Jun

This week we decided to try something new. Instead of breaking down a presentation in segments, we thought we’d review a popular TED talk and discuss it in a different form. This week’s presentation features the author of the mega-bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert, a former magazine writer turned novelist, delves into the concepts behind the roots and realities of the creative process. Throughout this talk, Gilbert reflects on her own success as well as that of others in order to convey her message.

Gilbert’s presentation is a very rapid and fluid one with a unique structure. Instead of hitting large, general points and pulling them together, she weaves them seamlessly and conversationally, like a close friend explaining her beliefs and theories to you in a coffee shop. She keeps it very intimate and personal. For instance, she is very honest when she speaks of her recent “freakish success” resulting from “Eat, Pray, Love.” She shows her humility in such an open and frank manner that the audience can’t help but enjoy her personality.

As she opens the presentation, Gilbert not only explains who she is and her past, but she also skims the surface of her central message, albeit in a very subtle way. She simultaneously identifies with her audience and addresses the topic. When she talks about people’s reactions to her success, she says, “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to keep writing your whole life and you’re never again going to create a book that anybody in the world cares about at all…ever…again?” Gilbert is connecting her story with her audience through a humorous, slightly uncomfortable situation, which everyone has had and with which they can identify.

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Gilbert references many interesting historical examples to convey her message. She provides an extensive amount of credibility in her reasoning, which, when combined with her experiences, allows her to establish herself as an expert in the field of creativity. Gaining the audience’s trust is the first step, followed by gaining credibility. As Gilbert continues to delve into the more psychological constructs behind creativity and society’s perception of “genius,” we see a slight change in structure. Gilbert slows it down and examines the historical progression of creative perception in Greek and Roman societies. She promises that her brief background explanation will come full circle to her central message.

As she explains the history of the term “genius,” she leads into The Renaissance, which was a turning point in the concept’s history. She provides commentary about the belief system changing to a more empowered, humanistic form of creativity and inspiration, saying she thinks it was “a huge error.” Gilbert has come full circle and connected the historical context with the overarching message. This is a clever tactic, and is rarely used so seamlessly. We can barely tell that we have just received a history lesson because Gilbert’s tone and direction are so smooth and rehearsed.

After Gilbert’s explanation and commentary about the past, we enter a new stage of the presentation. Gilbert gives us the big idea. She proposes that the reason for the deaths of artists/writers over the past 500 years is due to the burden mankind has placed on supposed “geniuses.” We gave them labels and now we are asking how to change it. Gilbert seeks to go back to the old way of thinking. She asks, “Why not?” This is a crucial moment in the presentation because it signifies that we have received enough information about the topic to answer this question. We are on the verge of receiving an answer, which Gilbert provides soon enough.

The answer comes in the form of two stories about different artists dealing with the “genius” concept. Gilbert explains her rationale through commentary about these anecdotes. She gives the audience the full-size answer and creates a subtle call-to-action in the process. By explaining the concept in such detail and providing examples and commentary, Gilbert has given the audience enough information to think for themselves. Once they have that knowledge and insight, she provides accounts of notable people who believe in this idea in order to provoke action from the audience.

Gilbert provides a solid, seamless argument for the nurturing of creativity by looking outside our perceived notions of “genius.” Her approach to the presentation involves three major tactics. Firstly, she uses humility to connect with her audience. Secondly, she provides historical context, which establishes credibility. Lastly, she uses a subtle call-to-action approach and anecdotes to get the audience thinking for themselves.

We give this talk a huge thumbs up. This is a great case study about the importance of careful, subtle, and even pleasant delivery of the message by incorporating anecdotes, history and a purpose-driven core into the fiber of the presentation.

Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion!  Please give us some feedback!  What do you think about this review?  Any thoughts about creativity?  Tweet us or comment below or on Facebook, and as always, subscribe to our YouTube page!

Dead Wrong Trailer (2012)

26 May

Kenny here. So there’s a common saying to hire great + smart talent and just let them run free. Well, I did that and some of the guys came up with a “The Office-like” video series called “Luke the Intern.” It’s basically an extremely exaggerated version of what happens to interns in the workplace.

Extremely exaggerated.

Below is a trailer for our fourth upcoming video, Dead Wrong.

If you haven’t seen the other videos, please check out our youtube page here or check out the videos tab on this page.

Stay tuned for Dead Wrong…

5 Killer Ways to Open Up Your Next Presentation

23 May

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Did you know modern statistics state that you have 60 seconds or less to capture your audience’s attention?

You’ve might have heard it before, but maybe not in terms of presentations.  It’s crucial to understand the importance of grasping an audience’s attention in the first moments of a talk.  Your opening lines set the tone for your overall performance, so a great opener will prepare and intrigue the audience and ensure that your message is effectively received.

So, how do you enchant an audience right off the bat?

Here are 5 methods that we have found work the best for beginning a presentation.  

1. Stories

Stories are always memorable.  We crave stories because we all have them.  Proposing this shared experience with your audience allows them to identify with you on a personal level.  Now that you’ve established a connection with your listeners and viewers, you can merge your message with their thoughts while keeping them engaged and entertained.  Just remember to keep the story relevant to the requested topic/event you were asked to speak about in order to maximize effectiveness.

[For example, our CEO Kenny Nguyen recently spoke at a conference where the talked-about theme was the subject of serendipity. Watch how he opens his presentation here with his own story of serendipity and how his story created a playful and engaging bond with the audience, setting the tone for the rest of the presentation.]

2. Questions

A question is an excellent tool for jump-starting audience engagement.  A simple “How’s everyone doing?” opens up a forum of sorts for the audience, empowering them and making them more receptive to your message.  A question also makes the audience think for themselves about a topic that you control.  This is a great way to set and reinforce the agenda of your choice while giving the audience a sense of power.

3. Quotes

Referencing the words and thoughts of an expert in relation to your message is useful for establishing an overarching theme or general idea aout the topic.  You are imparting wisdom on your audience while creating a segway into your own topic.  Since you have primed the audience with a nugget of value, your information now appears to be equally as valuable. Just make sure you follow up the quote with an explanation of how it empowers your topic and how it is relevant.

[For example, don’t use a powerful quote such as Nelson Mandela’s “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” then go on a completely different subject that doesn’t tie in education. It’ll just seem like a sad attempt to make you seem smarter than you really are.]

4. Statistics

Normally, numbers or any type of data can seem boring in a presentation.  However, when used correctly, statistics can be very effective in illuminating your topic.  The key is to use very clear, accurate and relevant information in order to truly engage your audience.  A solid statistic places your incoming message in a concrete, irrefutable and trusted frame of reference.  Data not only provides your presentation with a trusted source, but also lends credibility to everything you say thereafter.

[For example, during Steve Jobs’ first keynote introducing the first generation Ipod music player, he stated that his new device had 5 gigabytes of data. He then made it relevant to his target market of the common consumer by explaining that 5 gigabytes of data gets you up to 5000 songs. This explanation made a normally boring description of data storage sound simple to understand, exciting (that’s a lot of songs), and most importantly relevant to his target audience. See here for video.]

5. Jokes

Humor is extremely powerful and is often used effectively.  A good joke can loosen up your audience and make them more receptive to you as a person as well as to your message.  Be warned, though, that humor is highly volatile.  A bad joke can be worse than no joke at all.  Make sure you have a scope for your target audience before you dive into a dud of a joke.

[A great resource you can reference is a book called, “Comedy Writing Secrets: The Best-Selling Book on How to Think Funny, Write Funny, Act Funny, and Get Paid for It.”]

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Well, there you have it.  Use these techniques in your next presentation to prepare, engage, control and entertain your audience.  Like all things, these methods are only suggestions and their effectiveness depends heavily on delivery.  Make them your own, and you will appear more natural and fluid in your performance.

What do you think?  Are these useful? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook and/or tweet us your thoughts!  We are huge fans of feedback!

If you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog and our YouTube channel on the righthand side for more intern videos and behind-the-scenes looks of the Big Fish team!