3 presentation lessons from Comic-Con 2012

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First of all, let me come clean. I am not a fanboy of any kind. You won’t see me waiting in line to see the latest superhero, action movie. I own exactly zero comic books. And I’m not a big fan of storylines where most of the action occurs in space.

I say this not to put down these genres (Some of my best friends are geeks!), but to say I’m probably not your ideal Comic-Con audience. (For those of you in the same camp, Comic-Con is annual convention that celebrates popular culture with an emphasis on the comic arts, fantasy and sci-fi, gaming and anime). So, when my fellow content developer, the extraordinary Doug Neff, invited a few of us down to San Diego for the event, I went mainly for the others in the group who were definitely big fans.

I didn’t really think I’d get a lot out of panels on the upcoming issue of blah, blah, blah or previews of such-and-such show. I’d be wrong.

At Duarte, the content development team spends a lot of time taking complex information, distilling it, and crafting it into a narrative that will appeal to audiences. To do this, we find it most helpful to draw on our knowledge and experiences to create simple yet compelling metaphors that make an idea come alive in the audience’s mind. And we encourage our clients to do the same. These ideas are the currency with which you buy your audience’s attention, and they come from the most unexpected places.

A prolific speechwriter once told me, “Don’t be afraid to be interested in anything. You never know when you’ll be able to use it.” And Comic-Con was a great example.

The estimated 144,000 people that attended the convention provided plenty of fodder for the months to come, but if I had to narrow down the wealth of creativity to three key lessons for presentation creation, they would go as follows:

1. Never pass up an opportunity to delight your audience.
There are a lot of audiences at Comic-Con. Some are sitting in chairs at a panel. Still more are walking the halls of and the streets outside the convention center. And nobody knows this last audience better than the people who dress up as their favorite characters and parade around the venue. I learned these costumes aren’t just a way for people to show love for their comic-book crush, but an opportunity to delight complete strangers with the novelty and the details involved with their get up.
People dressed up at Comic-ConAlien vs Predator costume at Comic-Con

People dressed up at Comic-ConGhostbusters costume at Comic-ConPeople dressed as DC Heroes at Comic-Con

Now, I’m not saying show up to your next presentation as The Hulk (although that would be entertaining). It’s all about what would delight your audience. If that’s The Hulk, then so be it. But more often than not it’s an idea that comes from your intimate knowledge of the people to whom you’re speaking.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of a S.T.A.R. moment.
A S.T.A.R. moment is Something They’ll Always Remember. Steve Jobs famously created one when he pulled the original iPod out of his jeans pocket. Brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor carried out another — literally — when she brought a human brain onto the TED stage in 2008.

DC Comics had one up their sleeve this year at their Batman panel. As the discussion of one of the upcoming storylines was going on, a man approached the microphone where members of the audience can ask questions. Questions are usually saved until the end, but this man interrupted the panel, threw his hands up in the air, and insisted that his question be answered now. Turns out this man wasn’t the rabid fan we all thought he was, but the Vice President of Marketing for DC Comics John Cunningham and we were all getting exclusive villain masks from the new Batman series. The crowd went wild, and the masks became a sought after item, selling on eBay for as much as $70.

Entire audience wearing identical masks in auditorium

Posted on Twitter by Scott Snyder @Ssnyder1835, writer of Batman.

3. Investigate everything.
I came to Comic-Con as an outsider, not knowing anything but that I wanted to go to the Glee panel. But the art, the exhibitors, and even the people sitting in line next to me were so interesting, that pretty soon I was grabbing every handout I could, asking people around me about what they were seeing, and taking notes on ev-er-y-thing.

One of my favorite things was the experiential marketing done by the upcoming television event, Coma. They had people traipsing the streets of San Diego dressed as doctors and patients, complete with IV poles. “Don’t listen to the patients,” the doctors said, as their patients staggered around mumbling. “It’s really important that you go to J and 10th as soon as possible.” That’s where the show’s exhibit was located. They even wrapped a hospital bracelet around my wrist with all the pertinent information. Will I watch Coma? I’m not sure. Will I find a way to use that in a presentation? You betcha! Absorb ideas from everywhere. You’ll never know where you’ll use them.