The image-orientated blog about effectiveness, communication and innovation from Andy Gurnett of The Right Angle. Something to look at, something to read, something to ponder. 

Be Intent on Your Intention

Kodo Drummer by Andrew Gurnett

The photograph attached to this post is of a Japanese taiko drummer from the group Kodo at a performance in Singapore. What is so impressive about these performers is their absolute focus and intensity. As an audience member, I marvelled at their inventiveness and musicality, but also at their precision and clarity. They are intent on every beat of the drum.

We all know that in a presentation it’s important that you understand the point you are trying to make, and that your audience is also clear about this message. Yet, time after time it’s an issue for presenters. I see hundreds of presenters every year and at least 50% of them are unclear with their objectives, and so they deliver without intent and consequently without impact.

When you are presenting it’s not enough to have a general idea of what you are doing - to think that you are just going to share some information. That will usually create a flat and unfocussed presentation. Think about what you want to happen or change because of your presentation. That will put some energy and intent into your delivery, much more than if you are just sharing data. So, you are delivering some monthly sales figures. Wouldn’t you be more impactful if you were also to suggest some related action? Improving the sales process from the customer’s point of view, making better use of customer data, including other products in the portfolio…?

On a broad level, your presentation should have a purpose, and generally it pays to make your audience aware of that intention. In most presentations, you do not want them guessing. It’s so frustrating for the listener to get halfway through, or even to the end, and to then realise what the presenter was trying to say. They then have to re-evaluate everything already shared through this new understanding. Why not just let your audience know from the beginning? You can tell them what questions your presentation is going to answer if you don’t want to give the game away. Or you can just tell them, ‘I’m going to show you our February sales figures. Things are pretty even like last month, so I’m also going to suggest a customer-focussed change to our process that could help create an increase.’

On a more micro, drum-beat level, each slide should have a clear intent. Very often, people ask me how to improve a slide. The first question I ask them is ‘What do you want the slide to achieve?’ It’s surprising how many people cannot answer that question.

If you know what you want to happen because of your presentation and you know how each slide fits into achieving that, then you have some intent. And consequently, some dynamism. Then you can deliver with impact, like the Kodo drummers do.

To see and hear the Kodo drummers, check out the video below.

4 Presentation Lessons from a Rock Band

I went to a concert recently and as I thought about it afterwards it reminded me of many things I talk to presenters about. At the time, I was caught in the moment, just relishing the experience of a truly excellent gig. I really like Explosions in the Sky and they did not disappoint. As any good gig should be, it was better than listening to the albums. The energy, passion and commitment of the band was tangible. The lighting was dramatic and fit the music perfectly. The music was dynamic, sonically varied, layered, powerful, at times so quiet and at times so very very loud.

That concert will stick with me, just like a good presentation should. So, what can we learn about delivering a presentation from a rock band?

  1. Be better than listening to the album – In presentation terms that means that what you offer has to add more value than what is in the presentation deck. Otherwise you might just as well send an email. How are you going to add value? What insight are you going to provide? Remember, someone has asked you to present because they value your opinion.
  2. Perform with some passion – One of your jobs as a presenter is to get your audience to care enough about the topic to take action. Why should they care if you don’t look like you do? Sometimes people tell me they are just delivering data, or just delivering a report. The ‘just’ is a problem here. In any presentation you need to work out what is interesting about it, what your audience should be concerned about, what strikes you as curious, dangerous, fantastic. And that is what you need to get across.
  3. Make the lighting fit the music – Get your visuals right. Make sure that the slides support and compliment your message. If you have a lot of text on the slides and you just read off what is there, again, you might as well have sent an email. If you have text or graphics on the slides and then don’t refer to them directly, then that is really confusing for the audience. It’s like you are playing two different tunes. And it’s about timing too. The lights change when the music changes. Your slides should reveal a point when you want to talk about it.
  4. Have a dynamic sound – Make best use of your voice. There will be quieter moments, louder moments, faster sections, slower sections, emphatic words and statements. All of this helps your audience understand how you feel about what you are saying and keeps the delivery interesting. There are very few people who want to listen to truly monotonous music and probably even fewer that want to listen to a monotonous presenter.

Next time you have a presentation to do, think about a great concert you've been to and what you can learn from those performers.

And if you are curious, check out Explosions in the Sky

Hold Your Focus

On a recent trip to Japan I took this photograph in the grounds of Kyoto’s Eikan-do Temple. It’s a typical Japanese scene, considered, peaceful, tranquil. What you can’t see is that the actual scene was anything but tranquil. There were hundreds (probably thousands) of people in the gardens. I was shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other people taking photographs, squeezed together on a parallel bridge, being buffeted by passers-by. I waited as people walked between the trees in my camera’s viewfinder until I could get a shot where they weren’t so obvious. I worked hard to keep the focus of the image on what I wanted to portray.

With business communication we also need to cut out the extraneous information. Then the person on the receiving end gets the focused message we want them to have. They get the right picture.

I work with a lot of people on their presentations. When I review their slides we almost always decide to cut back the amount of information they are showing because it is not focused on making their point. Unnecessary information gets included because “It might be useful, you never know…”, or because “It’s always in presentations like this” or because “It was already on the slide when I copied it from the other presentation.” Can you hear my teeth grinding?!

If you want someone to support your idea, you need to give them the information necessary to make a decision or take action - and nothing else. Don’t make them work hard to pick out what’s relevant and what isn’t. Don’t distract them. Show them the picture you want them to see. Hold your focus.

Lining Up the Layers for Clear Communication

The other evening, I attended a photography portfolio review and I was lucky enough to spend some time with the fantastic photographer and visual artist John Clang. Part of the session involved those of us being reviewed talking about our work. The series of photographs I was showing had both intellectual and visual layers that I did my best to express. I realised as I reflected later that with so much to say and show I had got wrapped up in my subject and hadn’t given people a simple path to access the work. It got me thinking about complex messages, mixed messages and even contradictory messages. Like the photo above.

Nobody sets out to give an unclear message (at least I hope not) but we still seem to manage it all the same. Look at the photo, it looks like the current message is DRIVE, but looming very large in the background layer is the message PARK. It makes me think of corporate strategy, of vision and values. The corporate message is DRIVE, but the layer of culture in the background says PARK. Or maybe you’re a leader talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Your mouth says DRIVE but your actions say PARK.

The learning here is to always think about the context in which you are communicating, the people you are communicating with, and to be very sure about what you are trying to get across. Can you express it clearly and simply in a way that is consistent with your context and pitched specifically for the people you are engaging with? All the layers have to line up.

Before you open your mouth or put fingers to keyboard, see if you can answer these questions:

Is what I want to communicate consistent with my other messages and our context at work? If not, how am I going to explain that?

Who am I communicating with? What do they already know? How do they feel about this subject? What frame of mind are they likely to be in?

Can I summarise what I want to say into a couple of simple points that are meaningful to my listener/reader?  (You can always expand on that later, but will your main point be clear?)

I’ll be taking my own advice the next time I talk about some photographic work. I will be sure to keep it simple, just talk about why I shot it and let the viewers’ eyes and minds do the rest.

Clarity Begins At Home


This abstract shot is of a housing block reflected in some plastic shielding on the inside of a window shutter. What’s appealing to me is the distortion of the reflected building. It got me thinking about communication and about how we all see the world differently.

Use any personality profiling tool and it will tell you that we approach things in different ways. Even the simplest of them will show you four distinct types. Roughly speaking that means that 75% of people approach tasks and communication in a different way to you. Yes that’s a huge over simplification, but what’s important is that we do all see things differently.

Sometimes we think we've been clear with our communication and something totally unexpected comes back to us. Or we’re surprised to find out we upset someone. And it can be hard for us to work out just what happened. Well, barring exceptional circumstances, the answer is that we didn't consider the person receiving the message, just the message itself. Have we got the facts straight? Yes? OK then it’s good to go… No it isn't.

You need to see the message with the other person’s eyes. We tend to write and speak according to our own knowledge, personality, experience, culture and emotional state. Our personal communication filters. But the person trying to absorb or act on that information is doing it through their own set of filters. So, for you to communicate effectively, you need to see how well you can align with their style, needs and preferences.

Do you think they’d prefer to talk in a quiet private place, or chat over coffee? Would you be best to lead by talking about results or process? If they turn up late looking stressed, maybe it would be better to talk about that rather than the changes you want to make to the project? And what about that email; is the person you are sending it to going to get a buzz from you asking about their holiday? Do they have the knowledge required to deal with a particular bit of jargon? Lots to consider.

Will you be able to pitch things 100% right for the person you’re communicating with? Imagine holding your own piece of plastic shielding and trying to match the reflection in the picture exactly. It’s not going to be easy. But the good news is that every little change you make to get you closer to their perspective will make you clearer, more empathetic, more trusted and more convincing.