Slide Tips: Everything You Need to Know About Presentations from Forrest Gump (by Scott Schwertly)

April 16, 2008

This post by Scott Schwertly is the sixth in our Slide Tips series.
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Scott Schwertly

Scott Schwertly is an epic storyteller. Today, he owns and operates Ethos3 Communications, an internationally renown and award-winning presentation design and training company located in Nashville, TN. Scott works with a wide spectrum of clients that includes Fortune 100 companies, Silicon Valley start-ups, and various other organizations throughout the world. Scott has a B.A. in Communications and an M.B.A. from Harding University and is author of the blog StoryBored: The Quest to Build Epic Presentations.

Break the rules. When you think about the way presentations are done today, there isn’t much to envy. So be different. Be groundbreaking. Be epic. Be like Forrest Gump.

Forrest GumpThe beauty of the movie Forrest Gump is that there is no real plot and no villains. Amazingly, there isn’t even a major moment of tension or discovery. The film begins with a simple introduction: a feather drifting with the wind and finally landing at the foot of an unassuming man sitting at a bus stop. This is the start of a powerful story – a story that breaks the rules.

As presenters, there is so much we gain from Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 dramatic film that tells the story of a man with an IQ of 75. It details Forrest’s epic journey through life and it’s through these mini-stories that we can gain so much. For starters, you can be successful with your next presentation simply by being different – by breaking the rules. After all, the status quo is boring. That’s the first lesson. However, if you look more closely at the film, you can learn some great lessons about presentations.

Here are five presentation lessons that you can learn from Forrest:

1. Understand that Presentations are Like a Box of Chocolates

Presentations are like a box of chocolates

Guy Kawasaki has a great quote from his book, The Art of the Start: “If there’s no projector when you show up for a meeting, it’s your fault. If your laptop and the projector don’t work together, it’s your fault. If the bulb blows out in the middle of your pitch, it’s your fault. If you start slowly, seem disorganized, and look disheveled, it’s your fault.” Everything related to or surrounding your presentation is your fault. Presentations are a lot like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get so make every effort to prepare and prepare some more.

2. Run, Forrest! Run.

Movement creates emotion. According to a recent study done at UCLA, 93% of human communication is nonverbal. So why do so many people hide behind podiums? That’s baffling since podiums hide 75% of our bodies. Let your audience see you. Move. There is no excuse to be stagnant with your next presentation. Work the room and move. Good news! You don’t have to move around for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours – just the 20 minutes you need to shine.

3. Repetition is the Fruit of the Sea

Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, talks a lot about the importance of three things when giving a presentation – brevity, levity, and repetition. On that note, great presentations and great stories contain repetition.

Repetition is the Fruit of the SeaRemember this quote?

Bubba: “Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp Creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it.”

Notice a theme? Will anyone forget this scene? That’s the beauty of repetition. Apply it to your next presentation.

4. Become a Presentation General

The reality about presentations is that most people think of them as a “got to” moment rather than a “get to” moment. Your presentation is your opportunity to educate, motivate, and maybe even change the world. Unfortunately, most presenters don’t seize the opportunity and their presentation becomes more self-focused than audience-focused. Stay on task. You are there to perform an assignment – to education, to entertain, and to motivate. Be like Forrest.

Become a Presentation General

Drill Sergeant: GUUUUUUMP! Why did you put that weapon together so quickly, Gump?
Forrest Gump: You told me to, Drill Sergeant?
Drill Sergeant: … I’d recommend you for OCS! You are gonna be a general someday, Gump, now disassemble your weapon and continue!

If you have an attitude like Forrest, you may be a “presentation general” some day. After all, your presentation is your one moment to shine. You want that promotion, right?

5. Know What Passion Is

Know What Passion Is

If you don’t remember any of the above lessons than please remember this one. There is a great scene near the end of the film where Forrest tells Jenny, “I’m not a smart man… but I know what love is.” That’s a strong statement. What it illustrates is that your tone and passion for your subject matter is far more important than your content. Your IQ and knowledge of the material is critical, but your level of passion is what your audience will remember.

So what are you waiting for? Take these lessons from Forrest Gump and go break the rules with your next presentation. You may just win an Oscar!