1. THE BEST PRESENTATIONS HAVE A
Think about what you’re trying to communicate in
storytelling terms: Set up the problem or situation,
and provide an interesting twist or teaser that makes
us want to know more:
- A Big Three automaker had an environmental
issue that was costing them tons of money in EPA
fines. … Surprisingly, this desert shrub turned out
to be the answer.
- To get a fresh perspective on interactive art, I had
to turn away from the computer and start looking
at how birds communicate in the wild.
- Six months ago, our website’s hit rate was declining,
and new sign-ups were dropping off dramatically.
Here’s how we redesigned the site using that
data, and how we’re doing today.
By creating a narrative thread for your presentation,
you can follow a classical three-act structure. In the
first act, we meet the players and the problem; the
second act presents the challenge; the third act presents the solution, resolution or conclusion derived
from the events of act two.
It’s also a good idea to set out your “chapters” at
the beginning of the presentation, to give the audience
some guidelines as to where you’re taking them,
and to give them something to look forward to.
Tip: Screenwriter and teacher Robert McKee
advises presenters to transcend their bullet points and
data charts and tell a story: “People are not inspired
to act on reason alone. … In a story, you not only
weave a lot of information into the telling, but you
also arouse your listener’s emotion and energy.”
2. THE BEST PRESENTATIONS ARE
SHORT, SWEET AND MEMORABLE.
Get a writer—a trusted colleague, or, if you know
one, a screenwriter or playwright. They can keep
you focused, cut out the fat, help you avoid jargon
and clichés, and suggest where to add moments of
drama and humor.
With this in mind, it’s easier to edit your presentation
down to only the crucial signposts you need to
tell the story, without getting sidetracked.
Tip: Venture capitalist and former Apple
Computer evangelist Guy Kawasaki emphasizes the
10-20-30 rule when it comes to making presentations:
Try to take no longer than 10 minutes, use no
more than 20 slides, and no font should be smaller
than 30 points onscreen.
3. DON’T READ YOUR SLIDES. BE
PREPARED, AND PRACTICE OFTEN.
Some people still cling to the old rule of “one idea
per slide, seven lines per idea, seven words per line,”
but this means you end up with a rather big block of
text up on the screen; imagine having to sit through
40 minutes of those.
Your audience starts reading ahead and tuning
you out, especially if you’re using the slide like a
teleprompter; further, to quote Kawasaki, “they will
rapidly discover that you are a bozo, because you’re
If you’re going to read a slide, it should be for
emphasis on an important slide with one or two big
words like “What next?” (Steve Jobs is good at this.)
These are the signposts of your narrative.
So be prepared—know your talking points backwards
and forwards, and how to pare them down
to an elevator pitch or scale them up to a keynote
address. With or without slides, I might add. And
take time to practice.
As you run through your presentation a few
times (or present it to different audiences), you’ll
find better ways to bridge one topic to another, note
places for pauses where you will catch your breath or
take a sip of water. Like a new play that’s in rehearsals,
it takes a few nights of previews to get it flowing
properly, but the results are worth it.
4. THINK VISUAL, AND THINK BIG.
So we’re getting rid of those text-heavy slides, and
good riddance. Replace them with pure visuals—big,
full-screen, high-resolution. These can be product
photos, icons, simple graphs and charts, screenshots,
commissioned or stock photography (from a source
like Jupiterimages.com). Don’t forget about video,
either, as most presentation software now supports
The criteria for creating or selecting images
for presentations are much like those for album or
magazine covers: a single subject, tightly cropped,
facing the camera, with plenty of space for a title.
Choose images that are not business clichés about
handshaking, networking, globes, ones and zeroes,
or anything else that mirrors dot-com buzzwords;
instead, choose metaphors that express something
more human, with emotion.
5. LIKE THE JAZZ MUSICIAN SAID, “IT’S
NOT ABOUT THE NOTES, IT’S ABOUT
Hammering your audience with slide after slide isn’t
a great idea. Leave breathing room between ideas to
let things sink in. Summarize and close one topic,
pause, then open another chapter in your narrative.
Don’t leave images up on the screen longer than you
need them, otherwise they distract; leave some intentionally
blank slides between segments, in order to
return the focus to yourself, the storyteller.
6. DON’T HIDE BEHIND SLIDES: TAKE
THE STAGE AND PUT ON A SHOW.
Start strong. Don’t shuffle on. Walk onto that stage
and treat it like it’s your own living room—in short,
own that space. Don’t huddle like a cornered mouse
off to the side, trying to disappear, and never apologize,
particularly for things the audience doesn’t
know or care about.
Look people in the eyes. Talk to them; engage
them. Be enthusiastic about your subject, otherwise
your audience will never be. The more of yourself
you put into the presentation, the more your audience
will come away feeling energized and positive
about what you had to say.
Get out from behind the podium, get your
hands out of your pockets and use gestures for
emphasis. Unless you’re addressing a large auditorium,
you don’t need a microphone; if you can talk
at a comfortable level to someone at the other end
of a hallway, you can easily address a room full of
people without straining your voice. (Of course,
mics are better if you’re being recorded for a video