Präsentieren bedeutet, mit Menschen zu sprechen.

Monat: Mai, 2010

Girl interrupted


I had my new rhetorical class for women only all set up. We would talk about voice control, learn how to break cute habits, and do some grounding exercises. We would grow tall and proud and talk like real people, not dolls. I had a deck of ten slides, each one lovingly prepared, each one supporting my points, each one a stimulus for conversation.

I also had audio, I had video, I had stories, I had a basket full of breathing exercises. Everything was picture book perfect. Including the weather. Bright enough to lighten up the room, not bright enough to make the slideshow hard to see or to make you wish you were somewhere else.

It is 10.00. Time to start. In walks the last participant. Steaming with fury. Full to the brim with a story she is bursting to share.

I press »B« on my keyboard and invite her to tell us what has happened.

It is a three sentence story about being over charged at a gas station for a service that she had not asked for in the first place. No big deal, but as a student she cannot really afford to be that generous, and as a woman she should not have to put up with being treated like a child.

»And what did you say in return?«, I ask, when she has  finished.

She is still glowing. »I said: Forget it, and walked away.«

And nothing I have prepared could be more impressive than this real life anger in her voice and her movements.

I take it from there and turn off the projector.

And we talk and practice, and talk and role play, and don’t talk and breathe, and practice some more, until we all  feel we have grown an inch or two.

I still show them the ten slides, a successful hour and a half later. They work great as a three-minute summary. A nice list of images. A nice list of ideas to take home and work on.

The real lesson today though was provided by life and common sense: When working with people, all you need is people, really. And a bit of imagination, and the courage to turn off the projector, once in a while, and see what happens next. You might actually like it.

One of a kind…


The other week, my best friend saved two handfuls of sparrows from being killed. All it took was a few phone calls, a bit of patience on a Friday afternoon, and the will to cut through some red tape, while some building site workers were »simply doing their job«.

Their job was to plaster up a red brick wall that is/was home to at least five families of sparrows. Good for the wall, good for saving energy, not so good for the birds.

No big deal, you may say. Birds come and go.

It’s a big deal if the sparrows are breeding and some have just started to feed their young ones.

What amazed me most was not the site proprietor who pretended not to know about the regulations, but the construction workers who said: »What birds?«, when my friend explained to them what they were doing. All the time, the parent sparrows were fluttering around their heads.

There is much in that story, and I do not want to keep you; you probably have a business to attend to or a talk to prepare or a family to look after.

But it seems to me we are usually so involved with our tasks and jobs or our presentation at hand that we miss the small things, the sparrows, in what we do. The smile on the face of the lady in the blue jumper. The question in the eyes of the gentlemen to the right. The sudden silence that says: Could you explain that, please?

And so we continue and go on and keep talking. We cover up our red brick walls, because that is our job. Never realizing what chances and opportunities we have just buried alive. We are so afraid of letting go. Of giving up control. Of putting down the presentation tool and taking a good long look at what is really going on around us.

My students are a willing lot when it comes to interpreting photographs. They know what I am after and keep looking for small hints and different layers of meanings. The above image (without the subtitles) usually gets: Be different. Begin differently. Step out of line.

What they never, ever see: is that the one stepping out of line (or dancing out of line, as we say in German), is the female.

Sometimes, it is so easy to miss the obvious.

But then again, you probably have to know what you are looking for to find it: in images, and birds, and people, and in red brick walls.

A common thread


I found this red thread dangling in a park the other day and thought: Perfect. Just what I need for my public speaking classes tomorrow. Nice find.

Roter Faden in German is often used to describe the idea of a main line of thought in a written work.

In many talks or presentations, it is often not very visible to the audience. I often bring a red thread with me and pull it from my pockets, when we talk about structure, but having an accompanying image safely stored on my hard drive is a comfortable cushion.?? And I like finding much better than arranging or staging these things. An extra layer of authenticity, so to speak.

Anyway, where was I?

??In a well structured talk the main ideas and the keywords should be easy to see, easy to hear. They should be visible to your audience. They are the dots you need to connect to a clear line of thought. It helps your listeners and it will also help yourself.

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No reason, no rhyme


One in seven lacks access to clean water.

Earth Month 2010 is a worthy cause and I feel guilty that I am distracted by the visualization. But I am, and I keep counting, six, seven blue icons, how many is one in seven, shouldn’t there be one black icon for every six blue icons, I am confused, maybe it is just me, everyone else gets this, I am sure, argh, stupid me, stupid t-shirt.

You don’t want this to happen in your audience. One in seven does not get your numbers. We are ten finger animals. Anything beyond 10 needs time to sink in. Much more time than you think it does.

  • So make your numbers easy to see, not just easy on the eye.
  • Make them mean something.
  • Eliminate built-in distractors.
  • And talk us through. All of us.

Make sure your cause does not get lost in the translation of foggy visuals. And if in doubt forsake the pretty layout for a clear one. Especially when you are talking about people. People should be more than icons on a t-shirt.

If you are more interested in causes than looks: The campaign was run by Aveda and so it made me think after all. Hair salons must use an obscene amount of water. The campaign logo on the Aveda site is very clear, by the way.

One in seven lacks access to clean water.