Solve the Presentation Puzzle

Here’s a typically tedious presentation format:

  1. This is who I am.
  2. I work at [company], doing [my job].
  3. I’m going to talk to you about [my subject].
  4. Here’s some information.
  5. Here’s some more information.
  6. Yet more information.
  7. Er, that’s it. Questions?

This approach is crying out for something to engage the audience, and the best something is one that’s really important: a problem to solve.

Cup of Tea and a Murder

We love a puzzle. Our nation has been obsessed with crosswords, jigsaws and match 3 games on our mobiles because it’s what we’re hard-wired to do. I lived in London for 17 years, so if anyone tells me they’re travelling across London, I immediately want to solve the public transport conundrum: ‘Yes, it’s more stops but there are fewer changes so it’ll be quicker. Because Jubilee line trains are faster and more frequent. Also, the change between those two lines is only a one-minute walk’ etc. I’m obsessed but I can’t help it, it’s automatic and I’m good at it.

Another British obsession is murder mysteries; Miss Marple and Poirot made grisly murders into cosy little puzzles to solve while sipping Earl Grey and eating a scone.*

See also any kind of magic trick; we are hooked by the card’s disappearance and reappearance, but crucially we want to know HOW it happened.

Reveals and Callbacks

Give your audience the pieces of the puzzle, and let them assemble the thing themselves (keep it simple, though). Andrew Stanton said: “Don’t give them four, give them two and two.” You could:

  • Start with a strong statement and then repeat it at the end, when it makes sense in the context of what you’ve covered in the presentation
  • Show one half of a seemingly irrelevant image at the start and then show the other half to put in perspective e.g. someone laughing – the other half shows what’s making them laugh.
  • Repeat a reference to something throughout and reveal its significance at the end e.g. quotes from a particular film character – at the end have an image of you dressed as that character.

Professor Plum with the Rope

Without giving your audience a problem to solve, you’ll leave them bored. Tell them about the stupid thing you did when you started the project, such as when you:

  • deleted all those files
  • accidentally insulted that investor
  • emailed the wrong person
  • killed the family pet

You can probably think of something awkward; obviously you don’t want to appear unprofessional, but recount the right experience and you’ll challenge the audience to consider the solution and make a connection to them in the process. Ka-pow.

* Which, incidentally, is without a doubt the best way to solve any puzzle.

Related

TED talk: Andrew Stanton – ‘The clues to a great story’

Surprise! Stories are Vital

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