Fixing Your Boring Presentations Part 2: How Badly Do You Want Your Idea to Live?

In “Your Urban Planning Presentation is Boring. Here’s Why and How to Fix It”, I beat you up about giving boring presentations. So it’s only fair that I go into detail about how to give an engaging presentation along with a real world example.


Boring Presentations Kill

Boring Presentations Kill. Image from

Quick Recap of How to Fix Boring Presentations

  • 10% Fix: Audiences, stop rewarding boring presentations with false praise.
  • 20% Fix: Be passionate about your topic.
  • 50% Fix: Attitude adjustment from “I’m the hero” to “the audience is the hero.”
  • 20% Fix: Use the presentation structure used by engaging speakers like Martin Luther King Jr & Steve Jobs.

The 10% Fix for Audiences is straightforward, so this post will focus on the 20% Fix “Be passionate about your topic.”

Presentations Are About Making Change

To quote Nancy Duarte in Resonate:

We crave human connection. Throughout history, presenter-to-audience exchanges have rallied revolutions, spread innovation, and spawned movements…Many times it isn’t until you speak with people in person that you can establish a visceral connection that motivates them to adopt your idea. That connection is why average ideas sometimes get traction and brilliant ideas die–it all comes down to how the ideas are presented.

How Badly Do You Want Your Idea to Live?

Preparing an engaging presentation is damn hard. This is why passion is so important. If you present about an idea that you very much want to live, you’ll put in the time and effort needed to prepare an engaging presentation. If you don’t care about the idea, you won’t put in the time or effort needed. Simple as that.

How to Come Up with a Topic You are Passionate About

A colleague of mine suggested that I submit a presentation for the Planning & Technology Conference at MIT. There are a number of topics that I could have submitted to present on that are tightly aligned with the theme of Planning & Technology (i.e. geolocation, open source GIS, Census data, etc.). But the topic that I’m most passionate about right now is how to run a successful small business. Starting a small business doesn’t have anything to do with urban planning and technology. Or does it?

Quick Aside: Figure Out Your Current Passion in 60 seconds

What do you read about in your free time? I read Hacker News and Signal vs Noise–resources about running a small business. Honestly (and shamefully), I don’t read Planetizen or OpenStreets blog. So currently, my passion is how to build a successful small business, not hot planning topics. And I want to share my passion of running a successful small business with other planners. The more planners who take the risk and start their own businesses, the better it will be for our industry, for the planners as individuals AND for Cubit as a business.

Convincing People to Let You Speak about Your Passion When It Doesn’t Directly Align with Their Agenda

True, starting a small business (my passion) doesn’t directly correlate with planning & technology (the conference topic). You’ll have to be creative here as well as know your audience. I hate platitudes as like “Know your audience.” But in this case, the platitude fits. With budgets being slashed, jobs lost and non-profit funding & grants harder & harder to get, planners (the conference audience) are very interested in alternative ways to fund their projects. Raising money is an important part of starting a small business and something I’ve done. So with the audience in mind, I interwove the terms planning and technology into a presentation title and sent the following email to the conference committee.

Subject Line: “Presentation Name: 7.5 Easy Steps for Raising $15,000 From Investors to Build Your New Planning Technology Prototype

Body: Several planners I know have great ideas for new technology, but they don’t know how to raise money to implement their ideas. Let me know if you think how to raise money to build new planning technology is a good fit for the conference.”

You Picked the Right Topic if You’re Scared to Hear a No

I was scared that my presentation was off topic and was going to be rejected. I really wanted to give this presentation and would have been a little heartbroken if the committee told me no. These feelings are great indicators (believe it or not) that you picked a topic that you’re passionate about. Face it. Let’s say you pick a topic that’s 100% aligned with the conference theme but that you’re not passionate about. Who cares if the committee says yes to your presentation and then you deliver a typical-boring-me-centered presentation that doesn’t inspire anyone to change? Honestly, you’d be better off if the committee told you no, and then, you didn’t waste your valuable time preparing a boring, unremarkable presentation.

But back to my real world example. Funny thing was that after I submitted my email to the conference committee, I got an almost instant email back from a member of the conference committee saying how excited they were about my topic. Woah! That’s never happened before.

In the end, my presentation was selected by the committee (woohoo!). Then, another funny thing happened. My presentation title & topic didn’t sound like or look like anyone else’s presentation title & topic. I had people reaching out to me before the conference to say that they were shocked that I was going to share “secrets” for raising money and that they were really excited about my presentation. And these people weren’t blowing smoke, because they were telling me concrete things that they wanted to learn from my presentation. Woah! That had never happened to me either!

By interweaving your passion with the conference topic & what your audience wants to hear you can create a presentation that people are excited about before they even arrive at the conference and that you’re excited to spend time and effort working on.

Any thoughts or better yet, real world examples of people presenting about topics they are passionate about? What’s your favorite TEDTalk and why? Let me know in the comments what you think.

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  1. Your Urban Planning Presentation is Boring. Fix It. | Plannovation - May 18, 2011

    […] Speak about a topic that you are passionate about. You’ll make time to do a good job. If you’re not passionate about the topic, say no. [update: How to Convince People to Let You Speak about Your Passion When It Doesn’t Directly Align with The…] […]

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