It’s About What it MEANS.
January 25, 2009

superstock_261-218Finding statistics to add to your presentation is always good. Statistics are credible and sound smart. They are also boring and for the most part meaningless. Obviously, statistics mean something, but not for the majority of people who look at them. Given time to sit down with numbers and a chart we could certainly extract the significance of the data. But in a presentation there isn’t the time and your point usually is not the data alone but the meaning of the data.

You are responsible for the meaning, for seeing through all the charts and numbers and presenting to the audince what it means to them. There are all sorts of techniques for this. However, the technique is there to help deliver your meaning. Techniques are not a substitute for your own work of making statistics meaningful.

Nothing is more concrete that seeing someone put this into practice. BMW is introducing two new diesel powered cars to North America. While diesel fuel has come along way in the past 25 years it has only gained traction in Europe with the help of tax incentives. In North America though the image of dirty, noisy, smelly diesel trucks are emblazoned into our brains. So BMW has a teaching job in front of them. You can imagine the marketing department sitting down with all this data about diesel vs. gasoline and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Message: diesel is more efficient and better for the environment than gasoline. True or not, that is their message. Fortunately, their new spots are an excellent example of extracting meaning from statistics/science.

BMW Commerical #1 (Scales)

BMW Commerical #2 (Flick)

BMW Commerical #3 (Baloons)


The Big Bad Wolf
January 22, 2009

big bad wolf
The audience does have a desire to hear what you have to say. They have given you their most precious possession, time. However, that is as much as they will give you. The rest is for YOU to give. You need to give them meaning. You need to give them something memorable. You need to give them something moving. You need to do ALL the work for them.

Metaphors add meaning and emotion to what we are trying to convey. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink’s highly recommended book about the new worker of the 21 Century, he suggests beginning to listen for and collect the metaphors we hear. The real gift of the suggestion is to wake us up to the world around us.  We begin to listen consciously, taking clues from our surroundings.

The other night I was watching Top Chef.  This episode took place at Blue Hill Stonebarns restaurant in upstate New York. I have never been but I hear it’s great. The contestants were broken up into teams which had to prepare lunch for a groups of 16 people, including the judges and the special judge Dan Barber, owner/executive chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

The interesting thing is I don’t really care about food. It is sort of an ongoing joke amongst my friends that I don’t eat and have no interest in food. I appreciate good food and presentation but if I am going out with friends I care much more about the ambience and the company than “whose” restaurant it is. I can be in the middle of a meal and just get bored with eating.  I digress a little only to say I think in this situation I am representative of your average audience member. I am not watching Top Chef because of my love of food, but I have given it my time.

When the judges comment on the food it really doesn’t mean that much to me. Something is too crispy, something is undercooked, some flavor overwhelms another. I certainly understand what they are saying and what they mean to a degree, but it does not hold much real meaning for me. What that means as an audience member is that I don’t care. However, during the judging of this episode the judges had just finished the savory part of one of the meals and they seemed to be pleased. Now came the desert, I don’t know what it was but they didn’t like it. They each went around describing how displeased they were by using all the same sort of descriptions mentioned above. Again I did not care.

Suddenly, one of the judges said the desert is the BIG BAD WOLF of the meal. My ears perked up because I was struck by how powerful it was to me. Again, what I consider to be an average audience member in this scenario. I immediately understood what Daniel Pink meant. Very simply, I cared and I don’t care about food. I thought, “oh that’s not good”, “that is a glaring mistake”, that desert sucks. I have never even tried the desert. I probably would have loved it. I AM a big fan of desert.

The impact of such a well-placed metaphor with all that it conveys is immediate and visceral. The big bad wolf is angry, mean, destroys the houses of little pigs, it ruins things, it’s monstrous. That is why that simple phrase was so powerful. Look how much in conveyed in just a few words and it had nothing to do with the language of food. But now I got it, now I cared, now I understood, now the judging had meaning.

If you are trying to convey something to a friend, to a single donor or to an auditorium of people, discover, record and use metaphors.

DESIGN NOTE: the big bad wolf is also good to keep in mind when designing slides for presentations. Watch out for those monstrous elements that stand out and ruin the presentation/meal for the audience. (more…)