Book encourages less presentation, more conversation

One Bucket at a Time shares secrets to informing, educating, influencing and persuading any audience


“The central theme of this book that a presentation should be a conversation is ingenious. Humans have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to communicate by conversation. We are mentally structured to do so.

"For anyone seeking to set themselves and their ideas apart, this book is well worth the read. Eric Bergman’s techniques are a window to the future of this important human activity.”

One Bucket Cover vF

John Sweller, PhD,
Emeritus Professor of Education,
University of New South Wales,
Sydney, Australia

Whether a presentation is delivered in the room or via Zoom, a new book is encouraging those conveying their ideas to embrace more conversation and less presentation. In this, the science is clear. It’s the best way to have those ideas received, understood, retained and acted upon by the audience.

One Bucket at a Time is based on the assumption that the only reason for bringing people together is to listen to someone share something of value.

“You can have a presentation without slides,” author Eric Bergman writes. “But you cannot have a presentation without a presenter. At its core, therefore, the effectiveness of any presentation can be measured by what makes it from the speaker’s vocal cords to the long-term memory of those in attendance.

“Once you understand that thought, it becomes evident that feeding into how people listen is the most critical presentation skill to develop.”

Using an analogy of a tank, bucket and trough, the book provides guidance into understanding and developing that critical skill. The tank is the information the presenter plans to get across to the audience. The trough is the collective long-term memory of those in attendance. The goal of any presentation should be to get as much sustenance as possible from tank to trough.

The only way that happens, however, is if the audience engages working memory to transfer those ideas into long-term memory one small bucket at a time.

“The challenge is that the bucket of working memory is incredibly small, more like a child’s sand bucket than a milk pail,” Bergman writes. “And it’s easily overloaded. When that occurs, information spills out, never to be remembered.”

Using a combination of cognitive science and common sense, One Bucket at a Time makes the case that the best way to get meaningful information from tank to trough is through a relaxed, conversational delivery. The audience needs silence, and lots of it, in order to empty working memory into long-term memory before being ready to fill the bucket again.

While most presentations focus solely on attempting to teach others, Bergman’s approach is different. He advocates helping the audience teach themselves. The audience should have plenty of opportunity to ask questions to fill in understanding, which are best answered clearly and concisely.

For Bergman, tapping the potential of presentations boils down to engagement, which he defines along a spectrum. Engagement begins when working memory passes ideas to long-term memory, one bucket at a time. At the other end of the spectrum are presentations after which the audience can effectively convey the presenter’s ideas to others.

Most presentations are not engaging. In the vast majority of cases, a mountain of auditory and visual information is sent, but little is retained as soon as the presentation concludes.

“Most presentations today are like playing tennis with someone who has a large basket of balls and isn’t going to stop serving until the basket is empty, regardless of whether you show any interest in hitting one back,” Bergman explains. “In such situations, if you came to practice service returns, you might be interested in playing along for a while. But if you came to play a game of tennis, it won’t take long before you find something else to do. And this is how most audiences react.

“If the audience is reading, writing, texting, scanning their social media feed, sending an e-mail or reading a document, they cannot be listening. And, ultimately, if they’re not listening, what on earth is the point?”

One Bucket at a Time is available from Amazon, Kindle and Apple Books.

The "speech suppression effect of PowerPoint"

No substitute for simply talking to the audience


A slide from the Munich study with 35 words caused speech suppression in the lecture.
The only reason for bringing people together in any form of speech, lecture or presentation—whether in the room or via Zoom—is to listen to someone share something of value.

Without a speaker, lecturer or presenter, there simply cannot be a speech, lecture or presentation. Slides and decks are not presentations. They are written documents. If you don’t need to gather together, send an e-mail or a text. Send the slides. Write an article. Or post an item to social media.

Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, led by Professor Christoph Wecker, tested two types of slides—what they called “regular” and “concise” slides—versus a control group of simply talking to the audience. They then tested the audience’s understanding and retention of what was presented.

The researchers concluded that the retention of oral information was significantly lower during lectures that used regular slides compared to lectures without slides, and that simply talking to the audience led to greater overall retention of the information presented.

Professor Wecker calls this a speech suppression effect. If you buy into the argument that presentation value comes from what the presenter says (otherwise, why have a presentation?), suppressing spoken information is counterproductive. Significantly less of what is presented makes it to the long-term memory of the audience, which negatively impacts communication effectiveness.

Unless, of course, the purpose was something other than having the audience remember what was presented.

But Professor Wecker and his team went a step further. If the audience loses a large portion of what’s said while slides are shown, is there an offsetting gain to using slides? In other words, if slides take away from communication effectiveness in one area, do they add value somewhere else?

Dr. Wecker’s team determined the answer to both questions is an unequivocal no. “It is remarkable, however, that this ‘suppressive’ effect of regular slides,” they said, “could not be demonstrated to be the downside of a trade-off in favour of the retention of information on slides.”

When presentations use what the researchers call regular slides (of precisely the same density—the same number of letters and words—as the slide above), audiences lose huge portions of what is said. And the communication effectiveness lost by showing slides is not regained anywhere else, leading to a net negative impact of using slides.

I changed the words on the slide into gibberish, but this was the exact density of a slide in the study. With about thirty-five words each, Professor Wecker’s regular slides are almost identical to the six-by-six guideline (six lines of text with six words per line) that many presenters have adopted as a rule of thumb. Dr. Wecker demonstrated that the six-by-six approach significantly decreases a presenter’s ability to move information to the long-term memory of the audience.

Words on slides simply do not work. The more the audience has to read, the less they hear. The less they retain. Period.

Even a slide with 13 words impeded the communication process. But Professor Wecker’s team didn’t stop there.
They also tested what they called concise slides. This test, using slides identical in density to the slide shown at the right (for which I’ve changed the words to gibberish once again), contained six slides (four fewer than the presentation with standard slides): a title slide, a structural slide, and four additional slides. None of the concise slides contained more than seven lines (excluding the heading) or five bullet points. The example on this page has twelve words.

The researchers also used “black” slides between the regular slides, removing all information from view. However, while the concise slides improved communication outcomes when compared to standard slides, nothing worked better than removing slides from view and simply talking to the audience. Bullet points, even those as skimpy as the twelve words shown on this second slide, overload working memory.

What does this mean for you? You have a choice. You can continue to show bullet points, quotes, sentences, charts, graphs and paragraphs to the audience while you’re talking. If you do, the message is one hundred percent clear: your communication effectiveness will be negatively impacted. The audience will be less likely to remember anything.

Alternatively, you can choose to set yourself and your ideas apart by focusing on having a conversation with the audience. Use notes to keep yourself on track and on time when you deliver your presentations. But don’t show your notes to the audience.

When you need a visual to aid understanding, use it. But when it’s no longer needed, remove it from view and carry on the conversation.

It is your best hope for having your ideas remembered after they have left the room or signed off Zoom.

most critical presentation skill

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Students hear more by not attending class

Than attending a class with slides


students sleeping at desks
Researchers at Purdue University concluded it’s possible to “hear” more of what a professor says by not attending class, than attending a class in which slides are shown.

This study was conducted among students enrolled in a course entitled “Human Factors in Engineering,” which was delivered to students from four majors: engineering, humanities, management and technology. The course was attended by undergraduate and graduate students and was taught three times a week for sixteen weeks.

There were two separate streams of classes for the course, which was based on the textbook Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems. For two identical lectures, two different delivery styles were used with exactly the same information presented. One lecture showed slides. One did not. The lecture that didn’t show slides employed a chalkboard where necessary to highlight visual concepts—commonly known as “chalk and talk” in academic circles.

Researchers used a twenty-question, multiple-choice quiz to test students’ ability to recall information from the lecture in four categories: oral information, graphic information, alphanumeric information, and information presented orally with visual support.

The researchers’ first hypothesis was that using slides would have a negative effect on what was said. They believed that students who saw the slides would have lower scores on oral comprehension. This was confirmed.

Students who didn’t see slides scored twenty-nine per cent higher in recalling oral information, and achieved higher overall scores with the recall of all information. “The presence of PowerPoint negatively affected the recall of auditory information,” the researchers said, adding that “graphic scores reveal there was no notable gain when using PowerPoint to display graphic information.”

Students scored just as high on graphic recall when professors used the chalkboard when needed, rather than showing slides. Slides added zero value, and had a decidedly negative effect on the ability to listen to what was said.

In addition to testing students who attended the lectures with and without slides, the researchers discovered they were testing a third group: those who didn’t attend either class but showed up to write the quiz.

Interestingly, those who read the textbook, did their work outside the classroom and showed up to write the quiz scored higher on oral comprehension than those who attended the PowerPoint lecture. They “heard” more by not attending class, than attending the class in which slides were shown.

Meme that says Eric Bergman's book, One Bucket at a Time,

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Your audience is better off turning their backs

people turning back
The research is absolutely, unequivocally, 100 per cent clear. As humans, we cannot read and listen at the same time. Because of this simple fact, your audience will retain more of what you say if they turn their back on your slides, whether in the room or via Zoom.

Many of us already know that humans cannot read and listen at the same time. In other words, your spouse, partner or significant other is absolutely correct. You cannot be listening to what she or he is saying while also trying to read a text, even if your partner and the text are based on exactly the same subject.

The research is unequivocal. If you try attempt read the text while listening to your partner, you retain less than if you do either activity separately. You have to block out one or the other to get anything from either.

You cannot process written and spoken information simultaneously. Neither can your partner. Nor can any audience to which you present.

munich concise slide
Even a slide as simple as the one to the left overloads working memory. This slide was drawn from a research study conducted at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. I changed the words to gibberish, but it has the same number of lines, words and letters as a slide that Dr. Christoph Wecker’s research team used in their study of presentation effectiveness.

During this study, the audience retained more information when no slides were shown than when even these sparse slides were shown. The slide to the left was what the research team called a “concise” slide.

The study also used “regular” slides, similar to the slide below, which contained an average of thirty-five words each. Again, I changed the slides to gibberish, but regular slides significantly decreased what the audience heard and retained from the presentation. This led Dr. Wecker’s team to coin the phrase “the speech suppression effect of PowerPoint.”

So what does this mean to you?

munich regular slide
If you apply the six-by-six guideline (six words per line and six lines per slide), you are showing thirty-six words at a time, one more than the slides that led to “the speech suppression effect of PowerPoint.” You are making it more difficult for the audience to listen to what you’re saying.

More words and more information to process (i.e. graphs, charts and tables) makes it even worse. The audience hears even less of what you say. Ultimately, this makes your ideas even less memorable for the audience. In the interim, it’s confusing them.

They will get more from your presentation if they turn their back to the slides and listen, rather than trying to follow along as you deliver your slides.

This phenomenon is nothing new. We’ve known about the folly of asking an audience to read and listen for some time.

In 2007, research conducted by a team at the University of New South Wales motivated the lead researcher to say: “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.”

If you need a visual because you simply cannot explain yourself without one, introduce it. When it’s no longer needed, remove it from view.

And carry on the conversation with the audience. Less presentation and more conversation is the key to improving your success.
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Turn standard presentations …
Into meaningful, memorable conversations with your audience


One Bucket Cover vF
One Bucket at a Time is designed to help you turn standard presentations into meaningful, memorable conversations with audiences.

For less than the cost of a single slide, you’ll gain insight into how audiences listen. You’ll learn how you can get more of what you say into the long-term memory of those in attendance, whether in the room or via Zoom.

You’ll learn to create presentations that tell a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. You’ll understand how to tell that story in a memorable way, delivering your ideas to the audience one bucket at a time. And you’ll gain insight into why answering questions is the magical topping to having your ideas understood and retained, long after your audience has left the room or signed off Zoom.

John Sweller, PhD, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists, writes:

“The central theme of this book that a presentation should be a conversation is ingenious. Humans have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to communicate by conversation. We are mentally structured to do so.

“For anyone seeking to set themselves and their ideas apart, this book is well worth the read. Eric Bergman’s techniques are a window to the future of this important human activity.”

One Bucket at a Time is available from Amazon, Kindle and Apple Books.
_________________________________

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Zoom + PowerPoint = Hell on Earth

bored woman leaning head on hands
Doesn’t this article by @Geoffrey James at Inc. simply scream “TWENTY-TWENTY?” But this version of “Hell on Earth” has been going on since acetate film met laser printers, and bullet points became part of presentation vernacular.

The equation isn’t created by Zoom or PowerPoint or Keynote or Skype or Google Slides or Google Meets. It could more appropriately be written as “Reading + Listening = Hell on Earth.” Mr. James’ version of Hell on Earth is created by anyone asking an audience to read and listen at the same time.

I’d wager money that there’s both correlation and causation between the number of slides, the amount of information on those slides, and Zoom fatigue. As written information increases, fatigue undoubtedly rises. Why? Working memory is overloaded.

And it’s counterproductive. The research is 100% clear. Because the act of doing so overloads working memory, those who attempt to read and listen at the same time understand and retain less than those who simply read. Or those who simply listen.

Anyone wishing to reduce “Hell on Earth,” needs to separate the written word from the spoken. It is the one true path to improving presentations and reducing boredom worldwide.

Read the article.

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The fundamental skill of answering questions effectively

After more than 25 years of examining the concept and teaching it successfully, I am completely convinced that the most important thing we can teach presenters and spokespeople alike is to pause, answer the question, and stop talking.

In fact, it’s the most important thing we can teach each other because, in that same period of time, I have come to the conclusion that the skill of answering questions is perhaps the least-developed skill in human interpersonal communication. There are many reasons for learning to pause-answer-stop.

First of all, it offers protection during media interviews and hostile exchanges during all forms of presentations, when being quoted out of context or having words twisted is an issue.

If you've ever given evidence at a trial or examination for discovery — and you were coached by a lawyer prior to giving that evidence — you were undoubtedly told to pause and think about the question asked prior to ever opening your mouth. You were then told to answer the question asked and that question only. Then you were told to stop talking. (Although a lawyer may tell you to "shut up," the net result is exactly the same.)

PAS image green inside
Does your legal counsel tell you to pause-answer-stop because he or she wants you to reduce or eliminate your credibility as a witness? No, the lawyer wants you to protect yourself and protect your credibility.

Does the lawyer want you to pause-answer-stop so that you can put the case or organization at risk, which will then translate into increased billable hours? No. Although that's a bit tougher to answer (especially the part about more billable hours), the lawyer tells you to pause-answer-stop so you can protect the organization.

If pause-answer-stop offers protection in a court of law, wouldn't it offer similar protection in a court of public opinion when someone is answering questions from a print journalist, or when a presenter is answering questions from a hostile community group, a semi-hostile management team, or a board of directors?

It can. And it does. If you wish to reduce the risk of being quoted out of context by anyone, the simplest solution is to reduce the context. Stop talking.

Communicate More Effectively


But beyond that, pause-answer-stop enables someone to communicate more effectively. By asking more questions, the person or people receiving the information can better educate themselves about the topic in question to create better understanding.

Some years ago, we decided to put ceramic tile in our entranceway and kitchen. We were undecided about whether to do the job ourselves or to hire a contractor.

One evening, I went to my local Home Depot to do some research. I had the good fortune of encountering a very confident young man who had obviously installed a lot of ceramic tile. How did I know he was confident? He did not feel compelled to talk endlessly whenever I asked him a question.

In fact, he simply answered each question and stopped talking, waiting patiently for the next question.

In the 15 or 20 minutes that we chatted, I easily asked more than 100 questions. My son was with me and, as we were walking out of the store he remarked: "Dad, that was amazing. I can't believe how much I learned. I know exactly how to install tiles and what needs to be done. You asked great questions."

Actually, I didn't ask great questions. I was simply given the opportunity to ask a lot of questions -- which I would never have gotten if the person answering did not pause-answer-stop.

We ended up hiring someone to install the tiles, so some could argue that he lost a sale and didn't achieve his organization's objectives. However, that's short-sighted. The reason? Based on that experience, this local Home Depot is my first stop whenever I'm even thinking about any kind of improvement to our home. I don't know who's coaching them, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the ability of a number of their staff to answer questions clearly, concisely and effectively.

The same applies to other situations. Want a reporter to trust you? Want the management team or board of directors to trust that you'll deliver? Want to be more transparent? Teach yourself the same simple tactic.

Pause. Answer the question asked and only the question asked. Stop talking.


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Is your audience leaning in to listen?

Or are they tuning out to text?


man texting tight
Interesting question, isn’t it? But in today’s world, it’s the first question that needs to be asked every time you deliver a presentation to others.

As a presentation skills resource, One Bucket at a Time is designed to provide the tools, skills and confidence you need to have your audiences leaning in to listen every time you deliver a presentation.

You’ll learn how to put the audience first. You’ll gain insight into structuring a conversation—not another boring presentation—that provides value to the audience while furthering your business objectives.

You'll learn to use visual aids effectively. Every visual you use will add to the success of your presentation, not distract (and therefore detract) from it.

You'll apply principles of face-to-face communication to all presentations—whether one-on-one or groups. Your communication skills will improve in virtually all aspects of your professional and personal life.

And you'll gain insight into answering questions clearly, concisely and effectively. This will enhance audience engagement, understanding and buy-in—and have them leaning in for more.

If you're interested in communicating effectively—in acquiring the skills to improve every presentation you'll deliver for the rest of your life—One Bucket at a Time is the perfect resource to help you.

One Bucket at a Time is available from Amazon, Kindle and Apple Books.

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How presenters can best influence audiences

Every presenter’s goal is that their information is remembered, used, or applied in some way. But how can presenters change memories? How can they access the long-term memory of their audience?
Silhouette with question marks and lightbulbs inside

An interesting article from the
Harvard Business Review entitled “Getting an Audience to Remember Your Presentation,” by Art Markman of the University of Texas, states that the purpose of presentations is to influence the explicit memory of the audience. Markman argues that, for presentations to have high impact, speakers need to be aware of how information gets into memory.

Markman identifies three factors than can be used to improve what people remember. The first is to follow the right sequence.

Information presented at the beginning and end of a talk is always best remembered, he says. This is why it’s critical to state the call to action up front. The audience should be encouraged to either apply the information or take action on it, and this should be clearly stated at the beginning of every business presentation.

It's important to set the tone for the sequence. According to Markman, “many speakers open their talks with an anecdote that is engaging, but only tangentially relevant to the topic of the presentation. The audience may easily recall this anecdote later, but it won’t help them to learn what they really needed to know.”

Opening with jokes or anecdotes that distract from the main topic is always risky. Do you want the audience to remember your jokes or how to apply or take action on your information?

Markman’s second factor is to draw connections. To make his point, Markman uses a peanut analogy: “If you take peanuts out one at a time, you get three peanuts when you reach into the bowl three times. But, if you pour caramel over the peanuts, then when you pull one out, you get a whole cluster. After you draw from the bowl three times, you may have gotten almost all of the peanuts out.”

He states that memory works the same way and “making connections among the key points in your talk helps pour caramel over the peanuts in memory and increases the amount that people remember from what you present.”

The third factor is to make the audience work. Markman states that presentations must “provide opportunities for audiences to think for themselves.” The more the audience thinks about the ideas in the presentation, the greater the likelihood they will remember those ideas later. It is important to control when the audience thinks and what they think about. As anyone who as attended one of my workshops or presentations know, pausing is essential. Pausing before you speak allows you to formulate the idea in your mind before articulating it. Pausing after each idea allows the audience time to think about and absorb your information, one idea at a time.

One of the most effective ways to influence memory is through conversational delivery. The best presentations emulate good conversations—whether someone is presenting to an audience of one or one thousand.

Think of the best presentations you have attended. What made the presenter memorable? It is the feeling that the presenter is speaking to us individually, even if we are in a room with a thousand other people. It is the feeling that they are having the same conversation with a group of people that they would have one-on-one.

This is how presenters achieve their business and communication outcomes. And, to paraphrase Professor Markman, this is how they change memories.

sweller meme 2.001


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Your brain prefers stories over bullet points

woman leaning on hand, bored
When the world locked down for COVID-19, I attended nearly fifty webinars. The topics ranged from the economic impact of the pandemic to defining an important question: Where have all the insects gone?

In the vast majority of these presentations, speakers simply presented information as a stream of ideas (bullet points) instead of telling stories to put ideas into perspective for the audience. As the author of this Inc. article points out, shopping lists of bullet points engage only a small portion of the brain, making ideas difficult to retain. There is no engagement.

The article points out that ideas put into meaningful context through stories (the how and why of it), is much more enjoyable and memorable for audiences. As the author states: “It’s yet another reason why bullet points shouldn't be the default” for any presentation.

Read the article in Inc.com.
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I Tried Jeff Bezos's PowerPoint Replacement at My Company—and It Actually Worked



woman seated, applauding
In this LinkedIn post, Robert Glazer, CEO at Acceleration partners, talks about his journey as he eliminated PowerPoint presentations at meetings.

Doing so has provided his organization with five distinct competitive advantages.

Read Robert Glazer’s article.

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If you’re showing PowerPoint, you’re missing the point

screeen up
This review of One Bucket at a Time, by Jay Robb of The Hamilton Spectator, makes says that “there’s only one good reason to bring us together for a meeting on Zoom or in a room.

“Showing us PowerPoint decks isn’t it.”

He concludes with: “Many of us are closing in on our first anniversary of working from home. One way to combat Zoom fatigue is to have a little less information and a little more conversation in 2021. Bergman can help make that happen.”

Click this link to read Jay Robb’s full review of One Bucket at a Time, which is available from Amazon, Kindle and Apple Books.

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Harvard University Says Slides Are Damaging Your Brand And Your Company

forbes visual for harvard article
This article in Forbes magazine suggests that presenters should stop using powerpoint because it may damage a brand.

Citing a study at Harvard, the author points out that in a business scenario, PowerPoint was rated as no better than verbal presentations with no visual aids.

The author says that research found “a more engaging and enjoyable experience for an audience with an oral presentation’s total lack of visual aids.”

By simply not showing slides, research has shown that communication effectiveness can improve by twenty per cent to thirty per cent.

Read the article.

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Article explores whether slides are powerful or pointless

cover of public speaking for dummies
The author of Public Speaking Skills for Dummies! says he doesn’t have a problem with slides, as long as they enhance what the speaker is saying.

His biggest complaint is that the slides should complement what the speaker is saying, but often there is one thing on the screen while the speaker is saying something else.

He also makes a point that has long seemed obvious to me. Why would someone bother attending the presentation when they can read the PowerPoint deck and stay home?

Read Alyson Connoly’s article.

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How to eliminate PowerPoint, even if you’re not Jeff Bezos

Tens of millions of PowerPoint presentations are delivered daily around the world. Geoffrey James, author of this article in Inc., makes the point that “almost all of them are productivity toilets” that waste precious time.

Read the Inc. article.

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Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint. Here’s why.

Both Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos understand that the most effective way to communicate is to separate reading from listening. If effective communication is important to effective decision-making, should other organizations follow their lead?

Read the Inc. article.

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Elon Musk suggests CEOS spend "less time on PowerPoint"

During this brief interview with Chip Cutter, editor of the Wall Street Journal, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggests that leaders spend less time with PowerPoint in meetings and more time determining how to make their products and services better.

To get there, effective leaders might borrow a page from the playbooks of Amazon and LinkedIn. Both have eliminated marching through slides, saving time and achieving dramatic improvements in decision-making.

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How Steve Jobs "did it"



Steve Jobs set an extremely high standard for the presentations he delivered. But how did he do it? How was he able to give presentations that not only provided valuable information, but also motivated audiences to apply that information and teach it to others?

The YouTube video above is a clear demonstration of how and why Steve Jobs was so successful. And there are lessons here from which every presenter — and indeed every leader — can learn.

First, Mr. Jobs matched the needs of his audience with his business objectives. In this example, he clearly defines the future direction of Apple computers for developers, and how that direction will influence the ways in which developers can support Apple's hardware with meaningful products.

Second, he carefully structures and delivers a conversational presentation. It would be easy to imagine him having this same conversation with three people sitting around a boardroom table, or with 3000 software developers in an auditorium. He pauses between ideas to allow the audience to absorb what is being said. By delivering his ideas conversationally, he is able to deposit his ideas into the long-term memory of those listening.

Third, he minimizes the visual aids he uses. While one could make the case that one or two of the visuals did not add value (were the binoculars really necessary?), most did not distract from what was being said, and indeed directly supported his objectives. Rather than bombarding the audience with words on a screen, he minimized the number of words and carefully selected a few images that help the audience follow his ideas.

By using these strategies, Steve Jobs presented a completely new direction to developers in a way that enhanced understanding. I have no doubt that, by simply paying attention, developers could go back to their office and explain his vision to their colleagues.

And that is the true test of presentation success. If you’d like to test the power of this approach, watch the YouTube video now, and see if you can explain his vision to a colleague tomorrow morning over coffee in relaxed conversation.

Then try that with the “average” presentation you attend this week and compare the results.

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The ten-pushup rule improves communication

Two people working as a team to do pushups together.
During my presentation training programs, I almost always introduce a slightly tongue-in-cheek training tool I call “the ten-pushup rule.” The rule immediately underscores how succinct answers improve communication and enhance presentation engagement.

The rule is simple. The person answering a question gets a maximum of ten words for the answer. Any question; ten words. Since question-and-answer sessions are recorded during training sessions, it’s easy to keep track.

This is an amazing tool; I’ve witnessed its positive impact thousands of times during training sessions.

(Only one person has ever actually done the pushups—a particularly fit CEO who was training for a marathon and took a little break with fifty self-imposed pushups after a fifteen word answer that could have been answered with “yes” or “no.”)

When there is a word limit on answers, the person’s behaviour immediately changes. He or she listens more carefully, which never ceases to amaze me. Think about it. When there’s a limit on the length of the answer, people focus more attention on what’s being asked. Their listening skills improve.

The person answering the question communicates more effectively. There is no choice but to exactly and precisely meet the needs of the person asking. This creates a two-way, receiver-driven exchange that adheres to the principle of less is more—all of which are important to communicating effectively.

The person answering the question doesn’t have time to anticipate where questions are going. He or she deals with one question at a time. This prevents anticipating where the questions are ultimately going (which I often tell clients really only works if you are capable of reading minds).

I have used the ten-pushup rule as a training tool thousands of times. It has never failed to improve someone’s communication skills.

Limiting the length of answers will feel unnatural, certainly, but short answers can be significantly more effective in helping people grasp an idea, sort through technical information, or just generally better understand what you're trying to say.

Try it. During your next work-related conversation in which it seems the other person doesn’t understand, self-evoke the ten-pushup rule whenever they ask a question. Pause, and find a succinct answer to what the person is asking. Match the answer precisely to what’s being asked. (Of course, if you’re unsure of what someone is asking, seek clarification.) Answer the question asked, and only the question asked. Stop talking.

In the vast majority of cases, there is an inverse relationship between understanding and pushups. Whether you’re answering questions from a colleague trying to understand or many people during an important presentation, the fewer the pushups you’re required to do, the better the individual or members of the group will understand what it is you're trying to say.

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Presentation lessons from Jack the Ripper's Walk

London Wall
During a trip to London with my family, I had the pleasure of participating in what's known as a Jack the Ripper walk.

At a designated spot overlooking the Tower of London, we met our affable Cockney guide, Pete. He was a character, our Pete, and he would have looked out of place in most boardrooms, training rooms and classrooms.

But the communication skills he demonstrated were exceptional, and should be envied and emulated by anyone who has to prepare and deliver presentations to others. We can all learn from “our Pete.”

Pete used statistics sparingly
After he gathered his flock, he led us to our first stop—the remains of the old Roman wall that has traditionally divided London's east-enders from the rest of the city. "In 1888, half the children born on the east side of this wall didn't survive until their first birthday," Pete told us. "It was said that, for every 100 yards you traveled east, life expectancy dropped by a year."

Pete knows that statistics should be to presentations as spice is to a meal—used sparingly.

Pete told stories well
To illustrate his love of history, he told us a story of traveling to Hadrian's Wall as a school boy. (Hadrian's Wall is the Roman wall that has traditionally separated England from Scotland.)

It was not a pleasant field trip, Pete informed us. It was raining. It was cold. He was miserable.

He was walking along the wall when he came to some Latin graffiti scratched into its side. He got out a piece of paper and his pencil, and rubbed the inscription so he could bring it to his Latin teacher.

When the Latin teacher read the inscription, he smiled. "You didn't enjoy yourself at Hadrian's Wall, did you," the teacher said. "No, sir," Pete replied.

"Apparently a man named Devinius wasn't enjoying himself either."

Pete clearly stated outcomes up front
Within a minute or two of gathering us together, Pete told us he hoped we would gain two two things. First, he wanted us to learn more about life in late 19-century London, the city of his birth. Second, he wanted us to better understand why he’s so proud to call London his home.

We gained both, in spades.

Pete knew that pausing is important for him and us
Pete paused to think before speaking. This enabled him to choose his words carefully so that each word out of his mouth added value.

Pete paused after he spoke. This allowed us to think about what he’d just said. He allowed us to process one thought before giving us another. He didn’t try to overload us with information. The entire presentation was two-way and receiver-driven, while adhering to the principle of “less is more.”

Pete used visuals sparingly, and well
When he brought us to a new location, he would introduce it and give us time to look at it. “This is not where one of the murders happened,” he told us in one case. “But if we went there now, you’d all be disappointed because it’s a parking lot. This is what London would have looked like in Jack’s time.”

He would pause to allow us to look around and let our imaginations work. When we started coming back to him, he continued his presentation.

He showed half a dozen pictures from his smartphone for emphasis. But again, he would tell us what we were going to see, then showed it. When he showed the picture, he moved the phone from person to person around the group, letting us absorb it. During those times, he never said a word.

Pete answered questions clearly and concisely
While he was always polite, he thankfully kept his answers short. This enabled many of us to ask a lot of questions. We learned from each other’s curiosity, which only added to the educational experience for everyone.

Pete demonstrated excellent presentation and communication skills. He provided lessons of value that could be applied to every boardroom, training room, meeting room, conference hall and lecture hall on the planet.

So, in the days beyond COVID-19, if you’re ever in London, look up our Pete and join him on his walk.

For the price of a movie ticket and pop, you’ll gain insight into parts of London that most people don’t see. You’ll begin to share Pete’s love for his city.

And, if you watch Pete at work, you’ll learn about communicating effectively with others during all types of presentations from one of the most unlikely but effective of sources.

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New book encourages less presentation, more conversation

One Bucket at a Time shares secrets to informing, educating, influencing and persuading any audience


“The central theme of this book that a presentation should be a conversation is ingenious. Humans have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to communicate by conversation. We are mentally structured to do so.

"For anyone seeking to set themselves and their ideas apart, this book is well worth the read. Eric Bergman’s techniques are a window to the future of this important human activity.”

One Bucket Cover vF

John Sweller, PhD,
Emeritus Professor of Education,
University of New South Wales,
Sydney, Australia

Whether a presentation is delivered in the room or via Zoom, a new book is encouraging those conveying their ideas to embrace more conversation and less presentation. In this, the science is clear. It’s the best way to have those ideas received, understood, retained and acted upon by the audience.

One Bucket at a Time is based on the assumption that the only reason for bringing people together is to listen to someone share something of value.

“You can have a presentation without slides,” author Eric Bergman writes. “But you cannot have a presentation without a presenter. At its core, therefore, the effectiveness of any presentation can be measured by what makes it from the speaker’s vocal cords to the long-term memory of those in attendance.

“Once you understand that thought, it becomes evident that feeding into how people listen is the most critical presentation skill to develop.”

Using an analogy of a tank, bucket and trough, the book provides guidance into understanding and developing that critical skill. The tank is the information the presenter plans to get across to the audience. The trough is the collective long-term memory of those in attendance. The goal of any presentation should be to get as much sustenance as possible from tank to trough.

The only way that happens, however, is if the audience engages working memory to transfer those ideas into long-term memory one small bucket at a time.

“The challenge is that the bucket of working memory is incredibly small, more like a child’s sand bucket than a milk pail,” Bergman writes. “And it’s easily overloaded. When that occurs, information spills out, never to be remembered.”

Using a combination of cognitive science and common sense, One Bucket at a Time makes the case that the best way to get meaningful information from tank to trough is through a relaxed, conversational delivery. The audience needs silence, and lots of it, in order to empty working memory into long-term memory before being ready to fill the bucket again.

While most presentations focus solely on attempting to teach others, Bergman’s approach is different. He advocates helping the audience teach themselves. The audience should have plenty of opportunity to ask questions to fill in understanding, which are best answered clearly and concisely.

For Bergman, tapping the potential of presentations boils down to engagement, which he defines along a spectrum. Engagement begins when working memory passes ideas to long-term memory, one bucket at a time. At the other end of the spectrum are presentations after which the audience can effectively convey the presenter’s ideas to others.

Most presentations are not engaging. In the vast majority of cases, a mountain of auditory and visual information is sent, but little is retained as soon as the presentation concludes.

“Most presentations today are like playing tennis with someone who has a large basket of balls and isn’t going to stop serving until the basket is empty, regardless of whether you show any interest in hitting one back,” Bergman explains. “In such situations, if you came to practice service returns, you might be interested in playing along for a while. But if you came to play a game of tennis, it won’t take long before you find something else to do. And this is how most audiences react.

“If the audience is reading, writing, texting, scanning their social media feed, sending an e-mail or reading a document, they cannot be listening. And, ultimately, if they’re not listening, what on earth is the point?”

One Bucket at a Time is available from Amazon, Kindle and Apple Books.

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