Josh Duncan presenting at Product Camp Austin

How Not to Resonate During your Presentation

Josh Duncan presenting at Product Camp AustinIn all my years of presenting, last Saturday was the first time that I was tempted to run out of the room as fast as I can. It really couldn’t have started any worse.

How did it get to this point? Let’s start at the beginning.

Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate has been on my reading list forever and I figured with my plans to present at ProductCamp Austin, it couldn’t be a better time to read it (also, it worked well with my 2012 book reading goals).

The book was highly recommended and I can honestly say that it lived up to the hype. Nancy’s philosophy for presenting is that it is up to the presenter to inform and inspire. To make this happen, Nancy advises that you take the audience through a journey to a destination. This means that every piece of content needs to build towards your final goal.

To accomplish this goal, you need to take time turning the information you have gathered for the presentation into a meaningful story. Here are a few of the techniques that I tried to use in my presentation:

  • One idea per slide and evocative visuals:
    • All of my slides featured one point and relied heavily on visuals to help communicate the message. For example, I used the following quote from Seth Godin to help communicate the point that having a story isn’t enough and that you need to have a message that stands apart in your market. Things that Glow by Seth Godin
  • Order the structure for impact:
    • My presentation started with tactical examples of how stories can be used to deliver the message and positioning of your product. From there I built on the idea that in order to be successful, all the stories that your company tells need to be aligned with a common framework. And then to support my theory, I ended the presentation with two powerful examples of companies that evolved their story over time helping them to maintain their differentiation and position in the market.
  • Share the main event:
    • In order to help keep the audience engaged and part of the story, I planned on including them in the discussion during the presentation. This would not only help build on the examples but make sure that my ideas were hitting home.

So, where did it go wrong?

When my presentation started, the system running the 20 foot display screen crashed. This meant that I had no audio or visual in a 300+ person conference room. As you can see in the picture above, it was kind of hard to see my 15″ laptop screen.

While I had practiced delivering the presentation several times, I had never done so without the slides. I was dependent on the visual cues for my supporting points and guiding the flow of my presentation. Additionally, I had quotes, like the following, that I had not memorized but needed for support.

Do you see what I mean about running?

Thankfully, the audience gave me some great encouragement to continue on with the talk. Overall, I was able to manage my way through but I know that it did not resonate at the level I hoped it would.

What will I do differently next time?

Overall, I loved the advice from Resonate and will use it as a mainstay going forward. I think highly visual slides are a good approach to telling your story but next time I will make sure that it is only the audience that needs to see them.

If you are going to go in blind to a presentation, you had better be able to see your story in your head if you hope to be able to communicate it to your audience.

16 thoughts on “How Not to Resonate During your Presentation

  1. Josh … on the contrary … you resonated with the audience because we ALL can relate to what happened to you. Tech issues happen with prezos to small groups and to large groups. We’ve all been there. You pushed on. You handled it with aplomb. (Really, I just used ‘aplomb’ in a sentence, that’s how great you handled it.) 

    1. John,

      Thanks much for the kind words. 

      I have to tell you that the first thought that went through my mind when the screen crashed was that if this happend to John Moore he would have brought a backup projector with him! 


  2. Josh,

    Great storytellers have been great storytellers throughout the ages – without slides.  You immediately got the audience’s sympathy and sounds like you were able to use that for further engagement.  They came to hear your story, not see your slides.  Sounds like you accomplished your goals.


  3. Woohoo!  Baptism by fire!  Sounds like you handled it well. Empathy rules the day. When this happens, everybody in the audience is SO GLAD they are not you. They end up cutting you way more slack than they would if they sensed that you were too tied to your Resonaticated slides.

    1.  Let me correct that.  Coming in 3rd place for best session (just shy of John Moore) – that’s pretty good for a session that didn’t resonate 🙂

      1. Thanks Tom! 🙂

        I think my main issue I had was that I felt like I missed so many of the points I had hoped to talk about during the presentation. But you are right, it could have been a lot worse The entire audience could have ran out the doors!

  4. I agree with Dave, Baptism by Fire, been there 😉

    Great piece and see that members of #speakchat will enjoy the lesson.  Thanks for being willing to be vulnerable.

    1. Thanks Michele! Vulnerable was a good way to describe the feeling. 

      The thought of not having slides never crossed my mind during preparation. Will not let that mistake happen again.

  5. Josh

    You successfully survived chaos and got everyone’s attention through out your talk. Seriously, you owned your story. No one else did.

    This picture of you seating with your laptop on the chair is meant to stay in our memories.

    – Bertrand

  6. Josh, 

    Your session was my favorite.  You handled all the logistics failures admirably.  Not many people can pull off a story telling presentation like that.  

    The reason you were able to do so well is because you had subject in your head and made the presentation slides yourself.  That’s the difference between a corporate executive who gets his/her presentation made by someone else and gets coached to present it versus doing it yourself.  

    Handcrafted wins every time.  Thanks for bringing and sharing Fat Tire!


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