A case study in team presenting

Ellen and I are beginning to really enjoy presenting together. We’re consistently well-received, and we get a lot of comments about how seamlessly we transition and how entertaining we are. Our most recent endeavor was a 20-minute talk about the Awesome Foundation at Creative Mornings Seattle. I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about how we put these kinds of talks together, given how few role models there are for this kind of talk.

Communication

We started talking as soon as we confirmed that we were going to present together. Long before we made any slides, we mulled over the general content of our talk together. What did we want our take-home message to be? What stories did we want to tell? Working together to narrow down what we were trying to say helped keep us on the same page and led to better ideas than either of us would have come up with alone.

Figuring out the flow

Once we had a general idea for the theme of our talk, we moved on to figuring out the flow of our talk. We started a shared Google Docs slideshow and put together a “prep deck”. We treated the slides from this as an outline for what we were going to talk about, not the first edition of our slides. As we added slides, we also chatted continuously with one another, bouncing ideas back and forth until they worked. Since we already agreed about where we trying to go with the talk, and had gone over key discussion points, it was pretty painless to figure out a path from A to B.

rough_deck

When I say we didn’t treat this as a first version of our slides, I mean it! This prep deck is all about pacing the talk.

Making the slides

Since I had slightly more time than Ellen, and a working copy of PowerPoint, I took responsibility for making our slide deck. I spent about 5 hours (across several editing sessions) putting a first draft of our deck together, using our prep deck as a reference. A significant portion of this time was spent tracking down good images and ironing out animations.

Once I had a first draft put together I sent it to Ellen and we scheduled a Skype meeting to walk through it. We spent this time double-checking the flow of our presentation and making sure that our slides made sense. Having a higher fidelity deck helped us focus on the details of our presentation. We moved a few slides, but we didn’t dramatically restructure the talk. This is when we started to focus on who was going to say what, and how we would hand off lines.

draft_deck

The actual first draft of our slide deck. Most of these slides got rearranged later in the process as we practiced out loud and revised our flow.

Practice, practice, practice

Ellen flew to Seattle the day before our talk, and we managed to get a marathon 4-hour practice session in (we took a much-needed break in the middle to walk to a coffee shop). We spent at least an hour of this time workshopping what we were going to say on each slide, and we changed our script multiple times. We also refined our slide deck as we practiced, tweaking details until everything was just right. We kept polishing things up until the end; we only did 2 (maybe 3) runthroughs of the final script before calling it a day. Of course, at this point we knew our content better than the backs of our hands, so forgetting things wasn’t a big concern. If that hadn’t been the case, we definitely would have kept practicing.

One of the things that we focus on when presenting together is making sure we have a natural, conversational interaction between presenters. We have almost no slides where only one of us speaks, and we only stop trading off when one or the other of us is telling an involved story. Following the flow of an actual conversation makes the presentation less artificial and is easy for audiences to follow. It also gives us a good way to inject humor, show multiple perspectives on an issue, and provide meta-commentary without being confusing or cliché. This is a lot of work to put together, but it also has a clear payoff.

Go time

After a good night’s rest and final, slightly rushed, runthrough we were ready to hit the stage. This is where team presenting really shines. With another person on stage, both of us were more relaxed – we knew that if anything went wrong and we forgot what we were supposed to be talking about the other person could step in. It gave us the confidence to ad lib a bit and add to the stories we rehearsed, adjusting to how our audience was reacting to the content. We also built off of one another and were able to ramp up into a more energetic presentation more quickly. I can’t speak for Ellen, but I definitely got in flow while we were talking. Besides helping us, it’s also more interesting for audiences.

Check out the results here:

The Awesome Foundation – February 2013 from CreativeMornings/Seattle on Vimeo.

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