E3 On G4TV Shows How-To Deliver a Boring Presentation

While wrapping up the final days of my vacation, I caught a few presentations from 2009’s E3 Conference on G4 TV.

To set the stage for you: each press conference is delivered to a gaggle of industry media, analysts and gamers and each features company executives introducing the latest games and technological advances in design, development and interaction.

What struck me in the few speeches I watched was how bad some of them were. So bad, in fact, that some of them were just plain unwatchable.

The worst came when Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot took the stage (following Joel McHale, host of The Soup) to tell us about his company’s new releases. (His presentation begins at the 5:30 mark).

As some of you know, I spent a little time working as a screenwriter. All movie writers operate by one common mantra: show, don’t tell. Meaning when working with a visual medium, the last thing you want to do is talk about things you can show visually.

Mr. Guillemot really needs to adopt this advice because here was a video game company’s presentation that had no video – at least not in the first thirty-five minutes of an hour-long presentation. The demo consisted of Guillemot rambling on and on (and on and on and on and on) about the new games, innovations, advances and designs…but all we saw was a weak powerpoint presentation with a few static slides and game covers flying in from top to bottom.Where were the games? Where were the visuals? Where was the excitement?

Despite my overwhelming boredom I kept watching because James Cameron was set to introduce the new Ubisoft game that will accompany his film Avatar. Surely, Cameron – one of Hollywood’s most visually-adventurous filmmakers – will show, not tell.

Nope. Standing in front of a huge logo for Avatar, Cameron described the game. He told us about exciting visuals and being able to create your own avatar. He told us about amazing environments and how the graphics blew him away. He told us how much fun it will be to play the game. The whole point of a presentation like this is to get the media and gamers in attendance excited about your new releases. What better way to do that than to show them? To make them want to play the game?

By the end of Cameron’s presentation, my friend Patrick and I were so bored, we changed the channel … and Patrick works in the gaming industry. But, it was so tedious, we simply couldn’t watch any more. I imagine the audience had long-ago turned their attention to their iPhones and iPods as it was probably even worse in-person.

I was pleased to see that other game companies did understand they are promoting visual art. For example, when EA presented their new Grand Slam Tennis, they had Pete Sampras take the stage to play against executives Peter Moore and Thomas Singleton. Seeing people play the game (especially someone like Sampras) makes me want to play it because they are showing me how fun it is.

EA kept this energy and momentum up throughout their presentation with game videos, graphics and a funny clip where Jack Black demo’d his new game Brutal Legend, keeping things light and entertaining.

With each new game a different EA exec came on stage to showcase it. That alone, changed things up and gave a sense of pacing to the 72 minute-long press conference.

After a few brief remarks, each presenter said, “let’s take a look” and showed a brief demo. In doing so, they routinely received applause, hoots and hollers in response to the graphics as compared to the crickets Ubisoft and Cameron faced while describing their games.

I encourage you to watch the difference between the Ubisoft and EA press conferences and tell me which company and new releases were more memorable and exciting.

The execs at Nintendo also got it right when they played Super Mario Bros. on stage while another exec talked through the new features. Brilliant. Give me something to look at while you are describing it.

In order to demonstrate the new Wii Motion Plus, two Nintendo execs played a basketball free-throw contest and really seemed to get into it as they talked smack to each other, getting laughs from the audience.

My point is this: when you give a presentation – any presentation – find a way to show, not tell. Sure, these guys have a head start (when they do it right) because they are presenting a visual and interactive environment. But, the fact is everything can be visual in some way. If your client has a technology that makes grocery store check-out lines more efficient – show me impatient shoppers and film the upc scan with a stopwatch in split-screen. If your client has a way to deliver broadband faster – don’t tell me about it; show me a before and after visual example of the downloads.

And, please – I beg you – do not have powerpoint with a lot of copy filling the entire slide. Show, don’t tell applies to the number of words you say and display. With the abundance of video capturing and editing systems and interactive channels there is just no excuse anymore for a boring speech. Okay, gotta pack to head back home now. Vacation is officially over.

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