Top Presentation Tips From SXSW

It’s been just over a week since I returned from South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) where – in addition to learning about the latest in social media strategies – I had the opportunity to attend dozens of presentations in a variety of formats. I learned a few new presentation tips and enjoyed some effective presentations that inspired me to share some helpful pointers.

Stories Beat PowerPoints Every Time

The Science of Storytelling | Leo Widrich via Flickr

The Science of Storytelling | Leo Widrich via Flickr

In a panel focused on the power of storytelling, neuroscientist Shonté Taylor noted that storytelling engages the right side (aka, the more creative side) of the brain. Specifically, she described how the body releases reward hormones such as dopamine when the right side of the brain is positively engaged, as can happen when a person is enjoying a great story. She went on to describe those reward hormones as “lighting up” the brain in a positive way, and left me with the point that if you light up the brains of your colleagues and customers, they’re going to remember you.

Reflecting on the various presentations I attended during SXSWi, the most memorable really did include great storytelling elements. Speakers from National Geographic and Outdoor Afro shared compelling stories and – often – images that took me beyond bullets on the screen. One week later and I can describe in detail the stories they told and the lessons they shared in a way that I cannot for other speakers who didn’t weave personal stories, images or testimonials into their presentations.

But, The PowerPoint Isn’t Dead Yet

That said, I wouldn’t assert that a presenter can rely on stories alone. Another of my favorite panels was presented by Antiques Roadshow. You might wonder what a seemingly stuffy old brand like Antiques Roadshow was doing at SXSW, but thanks to their clear PowerPoint slides paired with engaging stories and examples, I can actually answer that question! It might seem basic, but this was one of the only presentations of dozens I attended where the unique presentation hashtag was clear and easy to see on every slide throughout the presentation. Also, I was able to share real time statistics and resources with my team in Denver (with full credit to Antiques Roadshow) because those hashtags were clearly outlined on each slide.

Honestly, I’ve talked more about Antiques Roadshow in the last week than in my entire life. And, I’ve shared the salient points from their PowerPoint and the anecdotes they shared with anyone who asks about my SXSWi experience – I think even converting a few non-fans to want to watch the show and check out their presence on social media!

Storytelling + PowerPoint Presentations = Success

Storytelling might beat PowerPoints when it comes to making your presentation memorable, but I’d argue that storytelling combined with clear PowerPoints are the most effective combination. Especially if you’re looking to aggregate the conversation through a hashtag, and truly if you have key data or message points to get across, you’ve got to show those in writing during the presentation to enhance the outcome. Now, if you’re not a natural storyteller, I’d suggest spending some time finding the personal experience or customer testimonial you can pair with your PowerPoint to warm it up and make it more memorable. All the great statistics or key messages in the world standing alone on a cold PowerPoint slide won’t make a lasting impression.

So, with 90 percent of behaviors being driven subconsciously, it’s time to find the right combination of storytelling and fact sharing that will make your brand memorable amongst your clients and consumers!

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