September 28, 2009

There is no such thing as a dry topic

I've heard from my clients who are engineers, finance people, doctors and scientists that their topics are dry and boring, that their audiences want tons of data, and that there's no way to make their presentations interesting.

They could not be more wrong.

A topic is dry when the writer or speaker makes it that way. Let me share the example of my high school geometry textbook.

The book introduced two characters named Obtuse Ollie and Acute Alice. They would perform experiments that were analogies for the math problems we were trying to solve. The interaction of these two characters was just one example of the kind of humor and engagement that the book used. Here's one of their challenges (make sure you're on page 317):

Geometry: seeing, doing, understanding By Harold R. Jacobs

This textbook uses art by M.C. Escher, Peanuts® cartoons, games (including a math game from a 1917 paperback), graphic design, a measure from a musical piece by Bach, the image of a batter's swing, stories, examples from history (tapestries, a silver vase, bridges, etc.) and more.

I was never a top math student, but this class was one of my most enjoyable and most memorable -- and not because of the teacher. This book made all the difference in my interest and ability to learn geometry.

I sat with a client last week who was going to be giving a presentation on cloud computing, a technical topic for an audience who was going to be new to the concept. Going through his slides, I noticed that he had a slide that spelled out the definition of cloud computing.

I suggested he interview people at the conference in the day before his presentation and ask them what they thought "cloud computing" might mean. Then, in the presentation, use the more confusing or humorous responses as definitions of what cloud computing is NOT. That way, he could kick off the talk with some light humor to get the audience engaged before he got into the nitty gritty of the topic.

As a speaker, what stereotypes about your topic are you clinging to? That science can't be interesting? That finance is boring? That insurance puts people to sleep? You can change that. It just takes some creativity, some willingness to challenge the status quo and, as always, your own passion for your topic.

You bring the energy. You bring the enthusiasm. You make it what you want it to be. I'll say it again -- there is no such thing as a dry topic!

Share your examples of presentations you've seen or given that broke the mold of a typical dry topic.

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7 comments. Please add yours! :

Greg Friese said...

If the presenter thinks the topic is dry slides will rarely help. That is a great time for story telling and connecting personally with the audience. I really like to interact with the audience before I speak so I can reference those conversations and people by name as a I speak.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Unfortunately, speakers who think their topics are dry are the ones using the worst visuals, too! It's really a vicious circle, isn't it?

Interacting with the audience is such a great way to humanize the speaker; even if the topic is somewhat dry, making a simple connection can add that touch of warmth.

Anonymous said...

Even mollusks an be made interesting. See this Monty Python skit:
which is not politically correct at all.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Monty Python classic. :-) But I don't see any mollusks!

Business Communications Training said...

Boring topics are an excuse to have fun. They beg for it. I very much like the examples on more creative ways to elicit interest in 'dry' topics.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

"Boring topics are an excuse to have fun." I'm going to borrow that. :-) I totally agree!

Anonymous said...

Oops, wrong Monty Python skit. The politically-incorrect one on mollusks is at:

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