Resonate, Nancy Duarte’s latest book, is for the serious student of presentations. Resonate delves deep into the art of presenting and analyzes precisely what makes a presentation persuasive and memorable. You don’t need to know this to create an effective presentation, just as you don’t need to know how an internal combustion engine works to be able to drive a car. But having the knowledge will lift your game another level.

There are many ideas in Resonate which will be familiar to students of the art of presenting: tell stories, have a big idea, create a logical persuasive structure. In this post, I explore the less-talked about ideas from Resonate.

1. Your audience is the hero

Nancy advocates a new attitude towards presenting.

You already know that your presentation should not be all about you and how brilliant you are (or how brilliant your company is). But what attitude should you take instead? Nancy recommends casting the audience as the hero of your presentation and suggests you, the presenter, take on the role of mentor. You invite the audience to come on a journey with you from their ordinary world to your special world – the world of your new idea, the change you’re proposing, or the product or service you’re selling:

As mentor, your role is to give the hero guidance, confidence, insight, advice, training or magical gifts so he can overcome his initial fears and enter into the new journey with you.

Casting yourself as mentor gives you both wisdom and humility. Nancy says:

Audience insights and resonance can only occur when a presenter takes a stance of humility.

2. Make the gap clear

There’s a gap between the audience’s ordinary world and your special world. It’s your job as presenter to make the gap clear and invite the audience to jump across the gap. Nancy calls this the contrast between what is and what could be.

Before your audience will be willing to come on a journey with you, they need to know that you understand them, that you can understand what it is like to walk in their shoes. You do this by describing what is:

You should deliver a concise formulation of what everyone agrees is true. Accurately capturing the current reality and sentiments of the audience’s world demonstrates that you have experience and insights on their situation and that you understand their perspective, context and values.

What could be is what you are leading your audience towards. The gap between what is and what could be should be clear to your audience. No fudging or ambiguity.

3. Create and use contrast

Nancy sees contrast as being a primary way of engaging and holding the audience’s attention.

Content contrast

The contrast between your views and your audiences’ views will fascinate your audience. If you attempt to play down the contrast so as not to stand out or attract resistance or objections from your audience, your presentation will be bland and boring.

Nancy suggests that for every idea or point in your presentation, you think through the contrasting idea. You may not use them all in your presentation but the thinking will be useful.

Emotional contrast

Contrast analytical content, such as data and facts, with emotional content such as stories, metaphors, shocking statements and surprise. Nancy suggests that you do an audit of your content, just as screenwriters do, to ensure there’s an appropriate balance between analytical and emotional content.

For a highly analytical audiences, such as scientists and economists, have less emotional content than for a lay audience, but don’t leave emotion out altogether – they are humans too.

4. Expect resistance

Acknowledging and working with the audience’s resistance and objections to your idea is a critical part of inviting them on your journey. Nancy reminds us that whenever we suggest change – whether it be organizational change, buying a new product, or even a positive move, your audience is likely to resist. That’s because change involves loss.

During your presentation, you may experience this as an apparent lack of interest, cynical body language, nitpicking over errors in your presentation and outright hostile questions or statements. Be ready for this by thinking through what objections your audience may have. Address these issues in your presentation. Nancy compares this to an inoculation:

An inoculation purposefully infects a person to minimize the severity of an infection. The same takes place when you emphatically address an audience’s refusals by stating them openly in your talk. This will help them see that you’ve thought through everything – which will decrease their anxiety.

Research has also shown that acknowledging and countering opposing viewpoints is more persuasive than only presenting your own viewpoint.

5. Something They’ll Always Remember

Create a memorable moment in your presentation – a S.T.A.R. moment (Something They’ll Always Remember). Traditional public speaking advice has advocated that this moment should be at the start of your talk – the cliched “attention-getting opening“. Nancy suggests that the attention-getting and memorable moment can be at any time in your presentation.  Nancy is clear about the dangers inherent in creation of a S.T.A.R. moment:

  • it should magnify not distract from your big idea
  • it should be worthwhile and appropriate, not kitschy or cliched.

These memorable moments are a vehicle for your big idea. A memorable moment can accelerate the spread of your idea exponentially.

These are only five ideas from Resonate, there are many more. And Nancy’s points are supported by detailed analysis of many presentations and speeches. If you’re a presentation geek, you’ll want this book on your bookshelf.

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