What can you learn about presenting from Seth Godin?

To read a Seth Godin book is to have ideas sparked in your head on every page. Can he do the same in a presentation?

I’m going to look at a presentation he delivered at TED. Have a watch and then read my analysis for what you can learn about presenting from Seth.

My emphasis is on the content of his presentation (Garr Reynolds has commented on Seth’s great visuals on his blog). My starting point in analyzing a presentation is the key message. Seth’s key message was clear and memorable: “Ideas that spread, win.”

He tells us his key message a minute and a half into his presentation. I like that. You don’t want to wait till half-way through to find out what the point is. He supports his key message with 10 (yes,10) slides of different famous people with call-outs repeating the key message. Here are two:

As the audience we realise that not all of these people literally said “Ideas that spread, win” – but we recognise that they could have and that they were good at spreading ideas. So Seth gets support for his key message from people we respect. Could you try this idea in a presentation?

Seth repeated his key message in different ways throughout his presentation. He told us that being remarkable is what makes ideas spread. He talked about marketing to innovators and early adopters who would talk about your idea. He repeatedly mentioned getting people to talk and spread your idea. In an oral presentation, repetition works.

In my Al Gore case study I said that it’s evidence (examples, case studies) which makes your presentation credible and engaging. Al Gore’s presentation was 60% evidence. Seth Godin’s presentation was 67% evidence. Many of the examples were funny and intriguing. Great.

But there were 30 of them. That means that Seth spent an average of 22 seconds on each example. Not long enough. I didn’t get the point of many of the examples the first time I watched the presentation. Even after watching the presentation three times there were some examples that I found hard to relate to the point that Seth was making. Why was the hospital crib remarkable or the nail polish?  It went by too fast for me. Many of the examples I won’t remember.

This presentation was at TED with an 18 minute limit – probably shorter than Seth’s normal keynote. I suspect that rather than editing his examples, Seth simply raced through them. I didn’t have time to process the examples and think how they might apply to me – I was busy just keeping up with the stream of information.

So here’s what you can learn from Seth’s presentation:

  • state your key message early in your presentation
  • link back and repeat your key message at every opportunity
  • use evidence to back up your points
  • ensure you link each example to the point you’re making
  • have one or two well-chosen examples for each point
  • make each example count.
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2 Comments

  1. Great points.

    I actually edited the presentation mercilessly. It’s important to remember that TED is a hothouse, and that the audience there demands to be pushed really hard or they zone out.

    I had no idea when I did the presentation that the video would be seen by a million people. A video is different, I think.

  2. @Seth. Yes, I agree it’s a difficult challenge to meet the demands of the TED format while maintaining the quality and integrity of your examples. Thanks for dropping by :-).

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