There are gazillion Presentation tips blog posts. Here is the gazillionth and one. All of the stuff you read about not having too many words on slides etc is all still valid, but here are some non-obvious ones for folks looking to graduate from the merely acceptable to the superb.

1. This is a sales call

Everyone is selling something. Themselves, their company, the solution, an idea, a dream. Use a call model to structure your presentation flow (Six Steps to the Perfect Sales Call).

2. Understand your desired outcome

If you are presenting calculus, then you expect your audience to correctly answer the relevant SAT questions. If you are selling a widget, then your audience need to know several things including:

  • What it does
  • Why it is considered better than your competitors
  • How much it costs
  • When they can have it. This point is often neglected. All management presentations need to end with a timeline.
  • That all their concerns have been addressed. Festering objections don’t clear up by themselves. It’s a key part of the sales role to extract all hidden objections.

Design your presentation around the audience being able to answer these questions. Finally, what is it you want them to do? What is your call to action? (hint: if you are in Sales, this means asking for the order).

3. Jokes aren’t funny if you know the punchline

Don’t present all elements of an argument on one slide. People will immediately jump to the bottom and work back. This is typically not the best way to understand the argument and will also be in the reverse order of what they are hearing. Use builds or hide the “reveal” on a separate slide.

4. Presentations are performed not read

There is often a dilemma when people try to create a presentation that they both deliver “live” and also email as a standalone document. Don’t do this. The presentation will either be too wordy and boring for “live” delivery, or incomprehensible to an isolated reader. Some folks manage even to fail on both counts.

Instead tailor the presentation purely as support for you – the main event. For a standalone package consider:

  • Adding notes
  • Adding a voice over (or even a video you can put on YouTube). It’s worth investing in good audio quality with an external mic and a good acoustic environment. I just throw a duvet over my head to remove background noise and echo, although your partner may complain.
  • Creating a completely different text-based document

When emailed, its no longer a presentation, but a document now.

5. Go back to drama school

Make eye contact with everyone in the room. Practice by assembling 20 of your colleagues in a room and present. Start with everyone holding their hands up, and ask them to lower them once they have received your eye contact. Ask them to raise their hands again if they start to feel neglected. This is a good training exercise for a management away day (I know it’s a struggle to find things to do before the bar opens…).

There’s more too – use of hands, posture, voice projection, modulation, working the room. Maybe your team should put on a play for Christmas.

6. No template

A presentation template is the same as a picture frame. In old days it was an essential component to stabilize the canvas, and rapidly converged on the universal “gold with swirls” border you see in musty old art galleries. No longer needed, modern art is typically frameless. The only thing an elaborate presentation template will do is to detract from your content. It will not rescue a boring pitch.

The “template” should be nothing more than a set of standard fonts and colors. No decoration.

7. Use a color palette

Both Microsoft Powerpoint and Apple Keynote include their own and they are all effective. Alternatively your marketing department may provide one. Just don’t try and select your own color combinations unless you have some talent for design.

Don’t overdo color either, or it loses its ability to accent.

8. Google is your clip art engine

Just type in the concept you want and go to “images” on the top bar. Add “icon” to the search bar. Think around the concept too. Rather than showing a literal “tear”, perhaps a handkerchief might be more effective?

Be consistent. If you’re using photos, stick with photos. Icons, then stick with icons.

If you use a plain white background you will have 100x the amount of clip art available to you that you can use seamlessly with your slide layout.

9. No F-16s

Business is a pedestrian occupation, but that’s OK. Resist the temptation to pretend otherwise with shots of fighter planes in your presentation. It wasn’t cool when you were thirteen, and it’s not cool now. Your business/project/idea is not “just the same” as flying a supersonic jet. Really, it isn’t.

Exception. If you do actually drive one of these fighter jets for a living, then use of their imagery is permissible. In this case though, avoid disguising the reality of your trade with business euphemisms like “package delivery” when you mean “bombing”.

F16 Presentation

10. Story is king – everything else is a slave to story

What presenting comes down to is can you or can you not tell a story? If you are able to tell a great story people will forgive everything else. Adversely if the story is weak or not there, it doesn’t matter how pretty it your presentation is or how many freebies you give away. Nobody cares.

Fact: 68% of people remember stories you tell, where as only 5% remember the statistics (Made to Stick) . If all you are presenting is the nitty gritty science behind your idea or product as opposed to the story behind it, your audience will disengage. Relate your story to the audience you are presenting to and keep people focussed on you, not just your slides or what’s happening on Twitter.


Photo used under CC 2.0 rights: Presentation

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