technical speaking

Public Speaking Lessons from The Big Short

grid-871475__180What's the one word that's the kiss of death for most presentations? No, it's not BORING. Boring is the outcome. What makes a presentation boring?

The word is ... COMPLEXITY. An audience often dreads having to listen to  technical or financial topics because they  expect to be confused and bored. The technical speaker does have a bigger challenge than most public speakers because of the complex nature of their information.

How does a public speaker use the  KISS formula (keep it short and simple) for technical or financial topics? Let's look to Hollywood to find the answer.

I recently saw the movie The Big Short which is about the U.S. housing crisis that caused the financial collapse of 2008.  Imagine having to explain the financial products and intricacies of mortgages to the average person..How exciting is that?  Yet the movie did a masterful job of simplifying the message, keeping it interesting, and making it stick.

There were at least four presentation techniques that the movie used to explain a complicated topic in a manner that anyone could understand

Set the Stage: Introduce the Problem and Characters The movie began by identifying the origin of the problem long before there was a financial crisis by introducing the man who created Mortgaged Backed Securities. Ask yourself as a a technical speaker, Am I able to introduce the problem and the players in a couple of simple sentences at the beginning of the presentation?

Tell stories. A big mistake in technical public speaking  is to spout a lot of data and hard facts. In the film, the audience learned how events unfolded by watching a well told story.Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Good stories are visual. The speaker creates word pictures that create an experience for the listeners. As a technical speaker, do you allow the audience to learn the sequence of events by telling the story?

Use analogies.The best way to simplify a complex subject is to use metaphors and analogies.The filmmaker created a clever clip of the chef, Anthony Bordain who was cooking a fish stew. He likened Mortgage Backed Securities to having three day old fish.

You can no longer sell the fish because it's not fresh. But you don't want to throw it away and lose money. So you chop it up and add it to the seafood stew. You now have a new product you can sell. Just like the fish stew, the Mortgage Backed Security is a product that contains valued mortgages along with some subprime worthless mortgages thrown in. As a technical speaker, do you employ comparisons, analogies, and metaphors to help the audience relate the content to what they already know? Do you use video clips to demonstrate the concept?

Connect with the Audience. There's a concept in acting called the Fourth Wall. It's the imaginary wall in the front of the stage where the audience sees the action.The actors perform as if they don't see the audience.  In the film, the actors break the fourth wall. That is, they get out of character and speak directly to the camera as if they know the audience is watching. It's often done to explain what 's going on in the scene. As a technical speaker, do you TALK AT the audience or do you share a personal experience? Do you break through the fourth wall of formal speaking to show your humanity? Do you engage in self-disclosure?

What if you're not a filmmaker? Can you accomplish this level of simplicity as a technical speaker?

One of my clients said, "My topic is boring. I speak about compliance,' to which I said, "There are no boring topics-only boring speakers. In the movie The Big Short, the writers  made the housing crisis fascinating and explained financial instruments simply and clearly so that anybody could understand them.

And now technical speakers can take a lesson from their playbook. Use these four techniques to simplify complex content and engage your audience until the very end.