Giving an effective presentation is one of the skills I value most. In fact, I would argue that being able to clearly and concisely communicate your thoughts to other people is the number one most important skill in business and in life.
Like many skills, I learned how to give an effective presentation from my father. It’s unlikely that he was actually trying to teach me anything at the time – and it’s even less likely that he remembers the occasion – but the unlikely lesson has stuck crystal clear in my mind.
I was a young teenager and my entire family was gathered at my grandparent’s house over the winter holiday. One night, as an after-dinner activity my whole extended family divided up into teams and prepared for a characteristically competitive game of Pictionary.
Through several hours of the game my aunts, uncles and cousins drew actions, objects and people and advanced our game pieces all the way around the Pictionary board. On the verge of victory, my team was stuck for several turns – failing to accurately guess our drawings – while our opponents caught up. In the dramatic climax of the game, my father was drawing and pulled an unusually difficult word that both teams had to draw for a chance to win. As my father and my uncle both put pencil to paper for a chance to win the game, my uncle started scratching frantically trying to depict the target word. Amid his frantic scratching he was noticeably confused when my father slowly started drawing a dinosaur. My father took his time as he carefully outlined and detailed an elegant looking Brachiosaurus. Dinosaur! Brachiosaurus! Land of the lost! Our team furiously cried out guesses trying to identify my father’s picture. Through all the noise, he was unfazed. As the timer drew down to the last few seconds, my father held his careful drawing so only our team could see it and emphatically crossed out the Dinosaur. Extinct. That was the winning word. Our team was victorious.
On that night my father taught me that the most important part of a presentation isn’t what you’re drawing or what you’re saying, it’s what your audience is thinking. The secret to an effective presentation is taking your audience on a journey, building their knowledge carefully, and then letting them discover the answer for themselves.