Do you think about time and place when you create your presentations? I’m not talking about the length of time you have to present or the location in which you’ll be presenting. I’m talking about time and place as major orienting factors for your listeners’ lives.
As humans, we have ways of orienting ourselves in the world–ways of making sense of it all. Think about how you tell a story. You probably start with the time it happened or the place it happened. Since these are such important factors in how we experience and share our human history, it’s important to include them in our presentations as well. When we use time and place, we are using narrative elements that feel comfortable and familiar for our listeners. It’s like we are speaking the language of our shared human history.
If you haven’t used time and place markers in your presentations before, here are a few reasons to use them and some ideas on how to get started.
I’m currently reading the book How to Inhabit Time by James K. A. Smith. In it, he says, “Time is like another oxygen of creaturehood…In the same way that air is inhaled and lives within us, enabling us to live, so time is absorbed as history.” In other words, history is not just what happened in the past. It is what we are currently creating. It’s the stories we tell, but also the stories we are creating. And it’s as important as the air we breathe.
Great presentations are narratives too. So they work better if they involve references to time. Here are a few ways to accomplish that in your presentations:
- Use a clear, chronological flow in your slide deck
- Share important dates with your audience (origins of companies, products, or people)
- Illuminate how the past has shaped the present moment
- Focus on how the present moment is shaping the future
- Use a running timeline at the bottom of your slides if it will help the audience to keep track of dates you are sharing
- Keep relating your content to the current moment; tell your audience why this matters now
Time isn’t the only important human orienting feature. Another way we orient ourselves is through place. Place is heavily tied to memory. And we’ve known this for a long, long time. It’s a principle that’s over 2,000 years old. In the book Rhetorica Ad Herennium which was most likely written by Cicero, the principle of loci is outlined. In it, Cicero says we can more easily recall information when it is placed in a familiar background because, in his words, “backgrounds, like wax tablets, should abide.”
While the concept is incredibility old, it hasn’t lost any of its value. It’s still true today. Think of a very happy or a very sad memory. Without hesitation, you can recall exactly where you were, right? But not only where you were, but the details of the room are probably burned into your brain. Backgrounds are often the foundations on which we build our memories. So, when you make place references part of your presentations, you boost your audience’s ability to recall the information you are sharing. Here are a few ideas for situating your presentations in place:
- Make use of maps in your slide decks
- Show physical locations as often as you talk about them
- To help build positive pathos and good feelings, ask the audience to take a moment to recall a place they love
- Highlight the places you share in common with the audience
- Speak the language of home, “inside these walls,” “through these doors,” “within these halls”
- Draw attention to both the reason and place in which you are gathered
- Don’t skip over the settings in the stories you tell, share them in colorful detail
When you include elements of time and place in your presentations, you give your audience “handles” or “anchors” by which to categorize, process, and remember the content you are presenting. This allows your listeners to get more out of your presentation because you have taken time to ground them.
But it also engages them with your presentation on another level, a narrative level. Because when someone starts explaining the time or the place, when someone sets the scene, we perk up. Because we know a great story is beginning.
For more creative ideas to make your presentation content and slides more engaging and impactful, reach out to one of our experts now. We’d love to collaborate with you on how to take your presentation to the next level.