On how to give a good presentation

My name is Cristina Torres González, a third-year Business Administration major. I am an Spanish exchange student (UCEAP) coming from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. I decided to write my first article on how to give “good” presentations, hoping some Haas students change the way they perceive them. I am a strong fan of rethinking common concepts, and I wish this story lingers in your mind for a little while.

I met Guillermo Ballenato about a year ago. He was, and still is, the main psychologist and student counselor in my home university – Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. I made an appointment with him to talk about a couple things that were worrying me at the time. After the session, he invited me to attend his book presentation, and listen to the talk he was going to give. I went to the event, and as I was sitting on a chair, I experienced a paradigm shift. Do you know how some ideas can get stuck in your head, and make a profound impact in the course of your life? It happened.

The first part of his talk was a “presentation on how to give presentations” This topic is especially sensitive for business people, given that we have to give so many throughout our professional career. I bet most of our readers have gone online, searching for advice or the magic recipe to keep audiences engaged. There are dozens of styles and hundreds of books.  The sad truth, though, is that most of that guidance may be driving us apart from the core element: content. How to deliver content starts being more important that the content itself. What is the appropriate number of slides? What is the most effective way of organizing my main points? What should I wear? How should I start? Should I make jokes along the way? Look people in the eyes. Smile. Businessmen and women become extremely self-aware as they start worrying about their image and how to build a strong presence.  Simultaneously, they spend less and less time on exploring what is that they really want to say.

During the talk, Guillermo took a couple steps closer to us, and started his speech. I do not remember the exact words, but it may have been something similar to this: “I feel like people forget how lucky they are to present something like I am doing right now. The most precious asset of every human is time. And there you [you=spectators] are, sitting, stuck in this room for 30 long minutes, looking at me. I mean… you can always leave, but it wouldn’t look very good, right? It would seem disrespectful. So you will probably stay, regardless of how well I’m doing. I have 30 minutes to try to make you interested in whatever topic I want.  Whatever topic, think about it! I get to choose! 30 minutes times 100 spectators: 3000 minutes, 50 hours. Life is not that long… When are you going to have such chance to influence people’s life? But instead of carefully choosing the cool things you want to share, you are going to care about your suit, and how shaky your hands are.”

Me being all enthusiastic about content
Me being all enthusiastic about content

After that day, I changed my approach. I glorify content. And thanks to that, I do not get that nervous while presenting. I know there is something more relevant than me. More significant than my appearance, my employer’s opinion or my grade. I need to focus on trying to make use of the time I have to make the audience fully aware of what I am saying. I am not important, I am a mere transmitter. That is not to say that you have to completely disregard image. Presence is important, but only in as much as it helps to build a sense of suspense that makes everybody interested on what is coming next. What is ultimately essential is what you get to share.

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