Radio Operator: "Maverick, you're at 3/4 of a mile. Call the ball." Maverick: "Roger. Maverick has the ball." Based on the title of this article, you probably expected me to open with a funny quote from the 2005 hit movie, Wedding Crashers (which is about a pair of guys who crash weddings to meet women). This premise seems appropriate for crashing VC conferences, more than you would think to find in the scenes of Tom Cruise landing planes in Top Gun. However, central to the plot of Wedding Crashers is the adoption of false identities in order to sneak into a stranger’s wedding, and if you are going to crash a networking event or conference, you want to be yourself. After all, your goal is to make new professional contacts; you don’t want the benefit of your hard work and daring to go to someone who doesn’t even exist. Instead, let’s focus on our quote from Top Gun. “The ball” is a navy term used to describe the light apparatus used to assist pilots in landing jets on aircraft carriers. Bringing such a large, heavy, and fast-moving jet to land safely on an extremely short and moving runway is no easy task. The light apparatus helps the pilot gauge a safe glide path to approach the runway, and calling the ball means that the pilot has visual contact with the optical landing system and is going to approach and land. Calling the ball is exactly what you need to do to safely navigate your way into a networking event or conference, especially one that you were unable to register to attend. My story begins with my search for a career within the venture capital community. VC is a tough gig to land as it has few job opportunities, and almost none of these opportunities are publicly posted. The best way to get your foot in the door is through your ability to network. VC conferences are a great place to meet people from all corners of the industry, ranging from fund managers to entry-level associates, from established businesses that received VC funding, to new start-ups trying to learn the best way to grow their business. I was reaching out within my community and growing my network when I discovered that a very large annual VC conference was going to take place in my city (the conference usually takes place in a location that is a four hour drive from where I live). Unfortunately, I had already committed to doing contract work on the dates of the event, and didn’t have the nearly-$600 lying around to cover the cost of registration. I’m job hunting, and that is a lot of cash to part with when operating on a limited budget. But this circus doesn’t come to town every day, so there was no way that I was going to miss out on an opportunity this big. I made the decision to crash the event.
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PowerPoint – the “stirrups” of presentations
Some people say that stirrups took the skill out of horse riding. Stirrups made it too easy for riders to stay on their horses.
PowerPoint is thought to have done the same for presentations. By organizing your ideas, thoughts, and information in a series of slides, meetings start to look the same.
PowerPoint is so ubiquitous that a meeting is almost not a meeting without some slides. Is there another way to communicate, or are we all doomed to experience “death by PowerPoint”?
There Are Alternatives
PowerPoint was invented less than a hundred years ago. Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther, and Einstein didn’t let their lack of PowerPoint stop them! Perhaps it’s worth looking at some alternatives.
“Live & unplugged”
If your message is straightforward and doesn’t involve too many facts and figures, why not just stand up and say it?
This was how Cicero, Demosthenes, and Churchill spoke most of the time.
To make it work, you will need to prepare your message carefully. It will force you to boil it down to the basics and concentrate on what really matters.
If you’re going to answer questions, you’ll need to know your subject well enough to be able to think on your feet. You may want to “red team” possible questions and prepare your answers to them. See “further reading” for more details!
If someone asks you to share your content electronically, you can either have a document ready with speaker’s notes or get someone to film your conversation and share the recording.
Flipcharts are an effective way to share “low-density” information visually.
They are also very useful for “co-creation,” where your presentation is more of a discussion and the output is something that you have created with your audience.
Paul Ardern, the Saatchi and Saatchi advertising legend, recommended making pitches for advertising campaign stories in this way. It allows customers to get involved in the creation process right from the start. It also demonstrates how willing you are to listen to your customers.
Sharing the results electronically is fairly easy. Simply take pictures of each completed page by phone and share them by email.
Many people present PowerPoint slides with densely written text and diagrams.
Data projectors display whatever is on the screen, so if you have already written a Word document and you know which pages you want to show, why duplicate effort by copying text onto a PowerPoint file?
If the document is a draft, it’s also possible to get peoples’ input and edit it on the fly.
It adds a touch of authenticity to the meeting. You are showing the actual document. It makes sharing the information easier and more credible since what your audience sees during the presentation is what they get.
If you’re presenting numbers, such as an ROI or a set of cost estimates or accounts, you could just show your audience the spreadsheet with the calculations on it.
The advantage of this is, once again, you can discuss with the customer how accurate your estimations are and then make adjustments on the fly. This involves the customer in the creative process which will build trust.
Some salespeople have been known to deliberately make estimated costs that might be saved, such as salaries, lower than they really are. They then let their customers correct their figures, and so the final ROI figure goes up, and it looks like the customer discovered this for themselves.
Make a video
You may expect your audience to passively consume your message, or to ask questions later.
Why not just make a video, share it electronically, and give your audience a deadline by which they must submit questions?
Video editing software is readily available and not too difficult to learn. You can use it to mix media of different formats including audio, written text, and moving images.
Once the video is complete, it’s not too difficult to share it electronically.
Do you need a presentation at all?
If you are planning to read what is on the PowerPoint to your audience and then follow up with a question-and-answer session, why not just send them the text to read before the meeting?
This will give your audience more time to “digest” the information and they can prepare questions independently without worrying about the social aspect of asking questions in front of the group.
Let’s get in touch!
Are you planning a presentation? Would you like to brainstorm alternative delivery methods? Let’s talk and see what we can put together!
Here are some more articles on the topic of presentations:
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