I’m a regular follower of TED, watching as many of the TED talks as my Mac can take. The talks range from inspirational to informative, and sometimes they are both. Larry Lessig’s recently posted TED talk is fascinating, both for its content and for the way that he uses slides in his presentation. It was a post at Presentation Zen that prompted me to post on some of the techniques Larry uses. Larry is a professor of law at Stanford Law School, an author and blogs on the Lessig Blog.

Larry’s overview of the shifting world of content and copyrights and wrongs is truly thought provoking. The tectonic shift happening around creative commons is something anyone in the information industry should familiarise themselves with. The way that Larry communicates his message is noteworthy. Here are a few things he does that you can easy to apply to your own presentations:

  1. Using visuals to emphasise your emphasis!
  2. Illustrating using parallel stories.
  3. Anchoring key concepts in order to back reference them.
  4. Silence is more powerful that words.

Watch the talk, then read the explanations.

Use visuals to signal your emphasis

This is huge part of what your slides should be about, visually highlighting your verbal message. A slide with one word calls that word out when you speak it. It makes it stick and it makes it stand out. It works for short phrases too. Notice the use of black on white, then reversed white on black in the slides.

Illustrate using parallel stories.

We aren’t always great at getting things when they come at us head on, but we do get a story. Notice how Larry uses the story of flight and trespass, weaving it across into his message. If you want to get a complex issue across, it is easier to explain it in terms of something that is already familiar or that is less complex. Is there a parallel story to the one you want to tell? Tell that first, then link your concepts back to it. People will understand more and remember more.

Anchor key concepts then back reference them

Notice how Larry anchors his points with a word or a visual, then uses that later to reference back to his point. This is a great communication technique. When you make a point, anchor it with a visual or a distinctive phrase. You can then use this visual or phrase to remind people of that concept later in your presentation. It is a bit like creating a short cut or a bookmark that you can click later. Visual anchors make a rapid connection, in fractions of a second. As soon as you see the image of those planes in the last part of the presentation, you reconnect with his first story. Powerful isn’t it?

Silence is more powerful than words

One of the most impactful points I have seen made from a slide was made by not reading or mentioning the last point on the slide. In Larry’s presentation, there is the moment where he puts up a slide and mentions the TED ‘no commercials’ rule. Job done. Not reading a bullet point, or putting up a slide then not commenting on it, actually communicates something. In a smaller audience, it can cause people to ask about it, which is a great dynamic. Silence can be a communication tool.

Larry’s presentation is great, although he doesn’t engage with slides in the way that Al Gore does (see A presentation from Al Gore), which leaves you wondering when to look where. Also his eyes didn’t always connect with audience, but he makes very good use of pauses and word emphasis and is a pleasure to listen to all the same. Compelling content and presentation.

In your next presentation try anchoring your key points with simple visuals  and tell a clear story.