7 Tips From SXSW That Will Make You a Better Presenter

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Written by

Alexa Harrison

It’s that time of the year again: South by Southwest (SXSW). We here in the Silicon Valley can always tell when this annual event rolls around, because the Valley just seems a little less crowded.

SXSW is one of the largest professional gatherings in the world, with 421,900 attendees in 2017. So if you’re an entrepreneur, a professional, or a job seeker you better have your pitch skills sharpened before the event. Comcast NBCUniversal agrees; for their exhibition they setup a life-sized pitch elevator for attendees to practice and perfect their elevator pitch. Visitors could also sign-up to meet with an expert from Comcast NBCUniversal to get feedback on their pitch.

But Comcast wasn’t the only one focusing on presentation skills. When listening to the talks and visiting the exhibits, we noticed a few other presentation principles at play during the event. Here are a few tips to help you craft presentations that move your audience, with examples from the people and brands that have perfected them at this year’s SXSW…

1. Know Your Audience: Pandora Crunched Data From 10,000 Songs to Create Personalized Audio Clips

Pandora is using data to create a more personalized experience. The Music Genome Project uses facial recognition and analyzes the genomes attached to 10,000 songs to create an audio clip that “sounds like you.” For example, someone smiling may be served an upbeat song, while someone frowning could be served a sad song. While that leaves us wondering, what happens to those who want a mood-change, we’ve got to give props to Pandora’s audience-first mindset, which proves that a personal connection is the best way make an impact on individuals.

2. Tell More Personal Stories: Melinda Gates Wants a Radical Redesign of How We Think About the 21st-Century Workplace

Melinda Gates shared her story of being hired at Microsoft during her keynote. She explained she was the only woman in her hiring class, and during orientation, a new colleague picked a fight with a VP at the company. Gates later learned that colleague had been advised to be more aggressive. It was in that moment that she began to question if she could fit into the culture at Microsoft with “abrasive” and “combative” colleagues.

Tying the story back into the theme of her keynote, she realized: “emulating the people around me to be in their mold [wasn’t working].” Gates said, “Maybe I wasn’t the problem. Maybe the mold was the problem.”

Using a personal story from her early days at Microsoft helped Gates evoke an emotional response from her audience, helping them to empathize and understand different points-of-view while reinforcing her main message.

3. Verify That A Presentation Is The Right Medium: Gatorade Created a Shop With a Secret Room Full of Tech-Driven Training Equipment

Sometimes a presentation isn’t the right way to get your message across, sometimes, you have to let your audience figure it out for themselves. Gatorade mastered this idea with their interactive exhibit—the G-Store—a pop-up shop filled with Gatorade products. Attendees use an iPad to interact with products and navigate through the store until they reach seemingly normal refrigerator doors. It’s no normal fridge though, the doors open to a high-tech, neon-lit room that shows how the brand is using technology to help athletes hone their skills. Overall, the activation is aimed at showing people that Gatorade is more than just a hydration company—an idea far better showcased in an interactive way than in a traditional presentation.

10 simple tips for powerful presentations

4. Address Resistance: Google Turned an Austin House Into a Giant, Connected Fun Home to Promote Google Assistant

Persuasive presentations anticipate the audience’s objections and empathize with their challenges. Having a smart house, or any smart device really, has always been somewhat concerning for most people. Users have feared invasions of privacy as well as the somewhat futuristic idea that machines might one day become self-aware. Google aimed to ease these fears by addressing this resistance and turning a home in Austin into a smart house in order to promote Google Assistant (it’s version of Amazon’s Alexa). By seeing how great the smart house could be in real life, attendees’ fears seemed to be eased a little more.

5. Get A Gut Check: What It’s Like Inside Ready Player One’s Oasis at SXSW

In Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the book “Ready Player One,” it’s 2045, and most people spend their time inside the Oasis, using immersive technology. Warner Brothers aimed to bring that experience to life in advance of the March 29th release of the movie, and what better way to do that than creating an immersive world for attendees? With movies, as with presentations, it’s a good idea to host a screening with people who are similar to your target audience in order to receive good, honest feedback.

6. Have A Clear Call To Action: Sadiq Khan shares death threats he’s received, asks tech companies to fight hate, disinformation

When London Mayor, Sadiq Khan read out loud the hateful Tweets he’s received at SXSW, his message was heard loud and clear. Khan was calling for technology companies and governments to safeguard citizens from hate speech, disinformation, and the tech-driven negative impact of globalization. “We know that there is technology that exists, algorithms that can be designed to spot this stuff,” said Khan. “This is not about depriving people of free speech, this is about inciting hatred, this is about things that divide our communities…We simply must do more to protect people online,” Khan said.

7. Hone In On Your Presentation’s Big Idea: Elon Musk and Jonathan Nolan’s Gorgeous ‘Trailer’ for SpaceX Draws Inspiration From David Bowie

Elon Musk joined Jonathan Nolan, creator of HBO’s Westworld, to discuss the future of transportation and how far off pedestrian trips to Mars are from being a reality. Musk and Nolan worked together to create a two-minute trailer from the recent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the flagship rocket of Musk’s private space-flight company SpaceX. Set to David Bowie’s song Life On Mars, the trailer expertly captures Falcon Heavy’s launch.

“We want you to get excited about the possibility of something new happening in space—the goal of this was to inspire you and make you believe that anything is possible,” Musk told SXSW attendees in reference to the trailer. Musk and Nolan relentlessly stuck to their message, and the video moved people to believe that Musk’s big idea, that anything is possible, is more than possible.

Presentations are all about communication, and communication is all around us. SXSW shows that you don’t always need to be in a traditional presentation setting to learn how to give a good presentation.

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