The Protagonist Pivot Point

If we can agree on the theory that a presentation should be "all about the audience", the harsh reality today is that so many presentations are still "all about me."

That’s what struck me the other day when I watched the national sales director of a large resort make a "corporate capabilities" presentation to a group of potential customers.  He seemed like a really nice guy and I’m sure his intentions were good, but I could summarize the gist of his PowerPoint the way so many of these presentations go:

(Insert company name) Presentation

  • Our company
  • Our history
  • Our mission
  • Our capabilities
  • Our goals

Hmm – what single word would be a clue about the orientation of this presentation? Of course, the word "our" would be OK if it included both the audience and the presenter, but "our" in this case includes the people inside his company sitting inside a conference room talking about themselves. Why aren’t they talking about the concerns and issues on the minds of the audience outside their doors?

As is the case in the sort of presentations represented by this example, the eyes of the audience quickly glaze over after the first slide and it is only their vast patience and high tolerance that prevents them from walking out of the room.  Unfortunately, the only new business that would come from this presentation would likely come in spite of the PowerPoint slides, not because of it.

So if changing our orientation is so important, exactly how do we get from Point A (all about me) to Point B (all about you)?  One answer is to make a crucial adjustment to one of the classical elements of a story.

Protagonist In most anecdotes and business fables, the protagonist (the main character) is the author, another person, or a fictional character.  This is also the norm in Hollywood films and television shows, where the main character is someone else.  To the degree that we find meaning in the story, or think of ways it impacts our own lives, we have to connect the dots between the outside characters and us. 

The same character orientation is expressed in too many PowerPoint presentations, where the protagonist is usually the presenter or his/her company.

A simple thing you can do to quickly change your orientation is to make your audience the protagonist of your story.  This is one of the pivotal elements of Act I of the story template. When you shift the dynamic of every presentation from self-centered to audience-centered, the other people in the room get to be the ones at the center of the action.  After all, they are the ones who will decide whether to think or act differently as a result of your presentation.  Recognizing this simple but dramatic fact will help you to focus, persuade and engage your audience better than any story titled "All About Me."

Tip: Try making the audience the protagonist of your next presentation story.  It is the powerful pivot point that will open up new clarity and communication and light up the eyes of your next audience.

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2 Responses to “The Protagonist Pivot Point”

  1. Perhaps rule number one for effective presentations is, as you say Cliff, focus on the audience. The audience is the star of the show, so to speak. Most bad presentations have their genesis in a “presenter-centric” approach, from preparation to delivery. Most people get off on the wrong foot straight away (weeks before the prezo) by asking themselves “What do I want to say?” What they should be asking in the preparation stage is “What is important for this particular audience?” Fundamental. Basic. But usually over looked.

    Japan, for example, is a land full of presenter-centric business presentations which often fail to connect. There are myriad reasons for this, most of them cultural.

    Hope the book is doing well, Cliff!


  2. cliff says:

    Hi Garr,

    Have you had any luck in figuring out an effective way to help presenters to make the shift? If you’re able to overcome the culture issues in Japan, it sounds like we have a lot to learn from you over here in the U.S.!

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