February 22, 2007

Illustrating a point, connecting with the audience



I attended a presentation yesterday about Microsoft Vista and Office 2007. Jeff Lowe is a Microsoft representative who travels around the country speaking to groups about the company's products.

I hope to have an interview with him posted here soon (there was a classic technical snafu that I'm planning to write about), but for now I'd like to share a couple of Jeff's clever product demonstrations. Please note: I am not promoting Microsoft products in this post; this is about a speaker who happens to work for Microsoft. Please don't give me grief.

First was a video showing how a busy and fast-paced office can be run more efficiently using Microsoft products. A "Devil Wears Prada" mock movie is set at a magazine called "Couture", where split-second decisions and instant communications are facilitated by Microsoft products.

From the moment the "Miranda" editor character arrives in her car (an IM pops up on assistant "Andy's" screen to alert her) and the announcement "She's here!" goes out to every corner of the building, to the design meeting held by video conference, technology is essential to this well-oiled machine.

To those who have seen the movie, the scenes and story were familiar, with the addition of technology used to expedite what Microsoft calls "Unified Communication and Collaboration."

This was an entertaining and effective way of using a popular medium - movies - as part of a presentation to clearly demonstrate a point. This ingenious "movie" will stick with the attendees long after Jeff's PowerPoint presentation has evacuated our memories.

The second demonstration was more about connecting with the audience, cleverly using the technology to do so.

Jeff demonstrated PowerPoint's new features by opening a blank presentation. He titled his slide, "Santa Barbara Rocks." The second slide was titled, "Reasons Why SB is Cool." He asked for input from the audience about why Santa Barbara is cool, and added each answer to the slide as a bullet point. He then went on to show how the design tools in PowerPoint could change the look of his "Santa Barbara is Cool" presentation.

This works for two reasons. First, Jeff endears himself to the crowd by talking about how cool their town is. Who doesn't want to hear that? And second, he gets the audience involved by asking for input about a topic on which everyone is sure to have an opinion.

Sometimes a speaker can be too slick. When he talks about your town, you know he's said this a thousand times before at a thousand other venues. It feels insincere and fake.

It takes skill and practice as a speaker NOT to come across as slick and overly polished, but rather to be perceived as a "down-home" guy who seems like he could be your next-door neighbor. Jeff pulled this off and the crowd ate it up!

You may not have access to resources for filming a mock movie, but you can think creatively about how to get your point across in a way that is new and fresh and gives your audience something memorable to take away with them.

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