David Armano's approach to preparing and delivering presentations

November 29, 2010

Our good friend David Armano is well known for his presentations at professional conferences around the world. User Experience pro and author Russ Unger recently interviewed David about how he prepares and delivers such memorable and influential presentations. David generously allowed us to to re-post the interview here.

Russ: How do you create a new presentation, specifically in the conceptual phase?
David: Presentations are first created in my mind and they don’t start as presentations they start out as fragments, ideas and parts of a story. The pieces of the narrative then show up in a variety of forms. Sometimes in work deliverables, other times in articles and occasionally a blog post or tweet. The narrative begins to take root. Then, when the time is right and all the pieces are scattered in a variety of forms—I begin to pull the master narrative together in the forms of words, pictures and whatever else helps me tell the story.

Russ: What are your "pre-presentation" rituals that help you get ready? Any rituals during the presentation that keep you in the flow?

David: I never, ever do dry runs. What I do is put some notes to the slides or sometimes edit them. I never read the notes—it is the act of writing them that helps me to recall the story. I also flip through slides in presentation mode whether on laptop, iPad or whatever. I need to see the slides over and over again until they are burned into my mind.

Russ: How do you recover from losing your "flow" when you're in the middle of a presentation?
David: Great question, this happens from time to time. Not everyone notices it—but I know when I’ve lost optimal flow. What I do is look to the audience and find someone who is highly engaged. I focus on that person even though they probably never know it. I take that energy and bring it back into the presentation. This usually works and I regain my footing. I often find that I’m only as good as my audience. But I’ve been pretty fortunate to have some good ones.

Russ: How have you combatted stage fright in the past and/or how do you combat it today? What are the techniques you use--not the whole "see the audience in their underwear" stuff, but the real tricks that make it work for you?
David: This is going to sound odd but I typically get very calm before an audience. The larger the audience—the calmer I get. This doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous. I do. But I’ve noticed something interesting that often happens after I speak. I feel the physical effects after, not before. Sometimes in my lower back! After I'm done, I often feel depleted. I like to joke that I’m a “closet introvert” and people never believe me because I’m very social and outgoing. But interactions in public such as presentations and the meet & greets after drain my batteries as opposed to charging them. As for techniques, I have no tricks to offer here, but would suggest that you try to focus your presentations on subjects you feel passionately about. I think that’s probably one of the reasons my stage fright is pretty minimal.

David Armano is a SVP for Edelman Digital, the interactive arm of global communications firm Edelman. He also writes regular industry perspectives for the Harvard Business Review, and is best known for his distinct brand of visual thinking, which can be found both on the Web and in presentations all over the world. You can follow David's thoughts on his blog Logic + Emotion and his SlideShare channel.

Russ Unger is a User Experience Director for the web design firm Happy Cog. He is co-author of the book “A Project Guide to UX Design” and is co-authoring a book on guerrilla research methods with Todd Zaki Warfel due out in 2011. More about Russ can be found on his blog User Glue and his SlideShare channel.