When it comes to business presentations, most speakers play far too safely and don’t get close to the line. The result is dull, turgid presentations that actually become dangerous because the audience is bored. Most presentations could do with a little more innovation without risking your presentation. As Mark Zuckerberg says, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
I am lucky enough to work with Red Whale, an amazing team of general practitioner presenters who provide the latest medical guidelines to other GPs so they can make better diagnoses and treatment plans. However, they also work alongside MacMillan charity to perform day-long presentations on cancer diagnoses. These talks save lives.
The MacMillan talks weren’t landing as well as they could, and they weren’t impactful enough to be remembered. The problem was that an energetic, fun, provocative, interactive style felt wrong when speaking about as sensitive a topic as cancer. Instead, to reflect the seriousness of their subject matter, they took great care not to offend, and this made the presentations dangerously dry. No one was listening.
So, we talked about deliberately going over the line. Brilliantly creative bunch that they are, they came up with loads of material, most of which they’ve implemented.
Here’s my favourite: One of the topics is after-care for prostate cancer patients. The message they wanted to convey was that it’s slow and careful that wins the race, rather than fast drug-supported solutions. They decided to illustrate the point through the story of the tortoise and the hare. They took this over the line by putting together a little show, with puppets, with commentary to explain their analogy. They also added a giraffe, who’s neck goes down dramatically at one moment to make the point. The giraffe gets huge laughs and great feedback from the audience—and most importantly, their audience of clinicians remembers.
What is over the line?
When working with new comedians, I talk about the need to cross over the line from what is acceptable and safe into the more dangerous and unacceptable. I push them away from the norm. Most fear the silence of the audience, the non-laugh, so in an effort to ensure they don’t fail, they play it safe. This understandable approach means their comedy occupies the dead humour zone frequented by DJs and sales reps. To find something more interesting, funny, and in the end, ear-catching, they have to move over the line.
Why is the line important?
Because in the information age, when more creative genius is swirling around the world than ever before, staying behind the line with the same old, same old will never do. If you want to be heard and acted on, you need to take your presentation over the line. If you decide you’ve gone too far, remember that before you present, you can always pull it back. But unless you play over the line, you will never come up with something truly original and daring.
Putting together this book, I felt it was important that I demonstrate an “over the line,” which also rather usefully is an example of “random.”
Herman is our “over the line.” It would be safer not to use a frog, as well as more business-y, more corporate. But I like Herman. He stands out. He’s different and, consequently, helps land the information, so he adds value. But you may disagree. That’s the thing about “over the line”—it isn’t safe it’s possible not everyone will like it.
So, here are some tips to help you find your “over the line:”
The last approach needs some explanation. You imagine your presentation in a completely different context or character or scenario.
Imagine if your presentation was given with:
Joy and wonder
Excitement and verve
Love and anger
Imagine different scenarios, too. Imagine if you’re giving your presentation to:
Your mates in a pub
How would your material and delivery sound in these situations? What would you say? How would it be different? What elements of that presentation could you use next time you present?