This is a guest blog post by Robert Kawalsky, CEO and Cofounder of Zeetings, a software company changing the way people present their ideas to the world. Kawalsky is also an active investor and advisor to technology and internet related businesses. Kawalsky previously held the position of Portfolio Manager at Keybridge Capital where he grew and managed a portfolio of assets across shipping, aviation, renewable energy and real estate.
Zeetings is an easy-to-use software platform that boosts the return on investment of presentations and events by keeping audiences engaged, providing data-driven insights to presenters, and helping people stay connected. Zeetings has helped boost the return on investment of over 15,000 presentations, events, meetings and training sessions.
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There’s an incredible moment flying into Moshi, the town at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. As the plane descends, it leans into the mountain and you swing around the south face of Africa’s highest peak. It is at that moment that you realise, surrounded by clouds and still at an altitude of well over 19,000 feet, the mountain’s highest point, called Uhuru in Swahili, exceeds the altitude of the plane.
I experienced that moment five years ago as I stared out of the small oval window at the mountain I had flown 12,000km from my home in Sydney to climb.
The night before our seven-day climb commenced, we met our guides - three cheerful and knowledgeable Tanzanians for whom climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was just another day at the office. We had countless questions for them and were eager to hear stories about previous climbs. They weren’t buying it. The simple, and prophetic, response they kept giving us was that the stories could never do the experience justice. We should wait for the real thing.
Of course, they were right.
Storytelling is powerful, but an experience is more powerful
It’s deeply ingrained in human culture and dates back to the earliest of times. It’s no wonder presenters use this technique to engage audiences. A great story can almost make you feel like you were there. But only almost.
What if a presentation were not only a story but an experience? What if an audience were not merely passive spectators but were transformed into active participants? What if you could move from storyteller to guide, from telling your audience about your topic to leading them on a shared adventure?
Lead them on a shared adventure
The near ubiquitous adoption of smartphones hints at the answer to these questions. Each member of your audience walks into your presentation with a connected device and, trust me, they’re not afraid to use it. You can either let them tune out by scrolling through Facebook, answering emails and texting or you can empower them to use their device to have an active voice in your presentation.
Embrace the technology in the room to get them involved. From live polling to enabling your participants to ask you questions via their devices, there are many ways for you to include people and make them feel part of your presentation. The best part is that whilst active participation keeps everyone engaged, you become a more effective presenter through having ongoing feedback.
Peter Diamandis, Chairman and Cofounder of the XPRIZE and Singularity University, describes the goal of his presentations as creating a “mastermind” in which every participant contributes to every other participant’s experience. Everyone in the room has a contribution to make – this is a powerful concept. Presenting in this way turns you from a dictator of slides to a curator of experiences.
Involve your audience
Another great thing about involving your audience is the ability to capture meaningful data. Bringing together a group of people has a considerable cost in terms of time, effort and money. The first step to getting a return on that investment is to measure the effectiveness of your presentation.
ANZ, one of Australia’s largest banks, recently held a town hall meeting for 1,500 members of their Technology, Services and Operations division. Transparency was critically important to ANZ and they wanted to ensure that questions were selected democratically and not ‘cherry-picked’ or determined by who had the loudest voice.
ANZ turned to Zeetings to facilitate that experience. The Zeetings platform empowered every attendee to get involved by asking questions and voting for the questions they most wanted addressed. Patrick Maes, the group’s General Manager said “We gathered a huge number of insights from our people that we would have otherwise missed. It showed we are open, that we care.”
Technology is not the only way to create an experience either. If your topic (and venue!) permits, get people out of their chairs for something physical to illustrate a point. Give your audience a chance to get to know the people on either side of them so they have someone to share the experience with. Run a reverse Q&A session whereby you ask the questions and your audience provides the answers. Get people involved and you’ll keep them engaged.
Continue the conversation afterward
The worst part about a special experience is its ending. But does that have to be the case?
The end of a presentation does not always coincide with the end of the mission you were presenting. In fact, it almost never does. There are often unanswered questions and there is usually more information to share. The conversation should not end when you leave the room.
In the same way that technology can be used during your presentation, it can also keep your participants connected afterwards. Following up with people that expressed interest, responding to questions you didn’t get to and distributing your content are all necessary ingredients to make the experience live on. Each presentation is an opportunity to build lasting relationships and although this starts in the room, it shouldn’t end there.
Reaching Uhuru at sunrise on the sixth day of the journey is an experience that needs to be lived to be understood. Simply relating the story of the climb just pales in comparison. The next time you present, give your audience an experience they won’t forget.