Hari Patience-Davies looks at what we can learn from presentation data.

Everyone has heard the story about how Netflix came up with their version of House of Cards. It was the data that drove the decisions. As Sofy.tv says:

Netflix identified that the British version of House of Cards was watched by many subscribers.  Those members who watched the British version of House of Cards also seemed to favor movies starring Kevin Spacey.

And so an American remake of House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey was Greenlit.

While House of Cards, Netflix and Spacey have all tarnished a little of late, there’s still some great lessons to be taken from this.

Netflix was able to do this because they had the audience data. They knew what people liked, and more importantly, they knew what else people liked and so were able to make connections that led into something entirely new.

I did this with a speech I wrote a long time ago. It was at my last job, and it was for a digital innovation competition. Every year 100s of people submitted one minute speeches about how digital technology could improve the world. The top 100 video entries got to attend an event at a 5* hotel complex in the USA, but the top 10 videos earned the speakers a place on stage to talk for 6 minutes about their ideas.

All the past finalist videos – the top ten – were available to view online, and so I watched them over and over again and considered the data.

I made notes. I still have them. I’ve blurred out the names of the speakers as I don’t own their ideas.

I immediately noted a couple of trends. The most effective of the speeches started with a personal link – something that proved how much the subject in question meant to them. Maybe it was a child or family member facing a medical challenge or disease, maybe it was something to do with their home town or country. The personal connection was established from the off.

The importance of this connection was then bolstered by numbers.

“This is the problem that matters to me,” they said, “it’s something I have a personal connection to. And here’s why it should matter to you – it affects 1 in 7 of us.”

The personal connection and supporting statistics were always established within the first 60 seconds of the 6 minute speech.

Then they moved on to solutions.

Solutions were always presented in threes. Three technologies we can use to do this. Three new ways to use technology we already have. Three learnings we can apply to make this better.

And then, at the end, in the final 30 seconds, the best speakers circled back to the beginning again. “I’ve shown you how we can do this, now I’m reminding you why we should do this.”

Using these insights on speech structure and content, I wrote and submitted my one minute video. I made it to the top ten final, and planned out my speech in more detail. But I kept the same simple structure. To wit:

  • Start with a personal connection
  • Back up that connection with clear numbers.
  • Break solutions down into lists of 3 items needed to deliver it
  • Circle back to the beginning at the end.

I didn’t know it then but I was basically writing the presentation plan template I now teach:

Presentation pa

There are only so many ways to plan out a speech, but a 131 structure – 1 key argument backed by 3 supportive pieces of evidence then remind your audience of that 1 argument again in conclusion – is one of the best.

As a former screenwriter I appreciate structure – set up your characters and their wants within the first 10 pages, there must be an inciting incident on page 30, page 60 is the midpoint, page 90 is the character’s lowest point before rebound in Act 3 – and while it can be dangerous to put all your attention on meeting a timing structure and not on the content you’re presenting, I think there’s a lot of value in analysing what others have done before you.

So if you want to give a TED talk, watch TED talks, analyse TED talks and read books about analysing TED talks.

And once you learn the structure, use it to refine and tweak your content until it flows naturally and easily.

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