How to design and deliver a great presentation
If you want your next client meeting or new business pitch to stand out, you need to rethink your approach to creating presentations. It involves so much more than the PowerPoint deck itself. The design, preparation and delivery of your story all need attention.
Once you realize that and make some slight adjustments to your approach, you’ll be the most captivating presenter that ever presented.
Most presentations are bad
“I don’t use PowerPoint because those who do rarely have power and seldom have a point,” said Fareed Zakaria to the crowd at Aspen Ideas Festival this year.
He’s so dang right.
Long, boring slides with way too much text are pervasive in business culture. They seem to exist only to suck the life out of the room—and yet they persist. Why does it have to be this way?
It doesn’t. But it takes courage and conviction to shift the norm. It takes someone with an open mind (like you), and a push from someone like me.
Well, consider yourself shoved. It’s time to change the way you design and deliver presentations.
A better way of presenting
In his prodigious book, Presentation Zen, author Garr Reynolds outlines a refreshing approach to developing relevant presentations that connect with audiences. If you don’t have this book, get it after you finish reading this post.
If you already have the book—get the sequel, The Naked Presenter. If you have that one too, maybe you should be writing this post instead of me.
Reynolds is a genius when it comes to presentations, and his advice is easy to absorb. Here are the highlights of Presentation Zen.
1. You are creative
Before you begin outlining your presentation, remind yourself that you are creative. That’s right—even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you are a creative thinker.
Giving yourself permission to think differently is key to developing an engaging story.
2. Restrictions are good
It might surprise you, but limitations can be your best assets when outlining a presentation—much like a great creative brief.
That’s because when you give yourself a framework to stay within, you are better able to channel your creativity. As an example, Reynolds cites the haiku—a Japanese poem with very strict structure (it must be 17 syllables or less). A haiku forces you to push your creativity further.
The same goes for a presentation.
You develop tighter talking points and your imagination can run free when you define the boundaries within which you can be creative.
What if you challenged yourself to create an entire presentation in 10 slides or less? What parts of your story could you cut out? What would have to stay?
3. Plan analog
Create your presentation away from the computer. It’s impossible to be innovative while getting distracted by the size of the typeface or image on the title slide.
Sketch, storyboard and figure out what you’re trying to say. It doesn’t have to look pretty. Focus on telling your story.
Once you’ve got your main points, you can assemble them digitally as slides.
4. Amplification through simplification
Seth Godin says, “No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.” Preach, Seth. Preach.
While not easy—clarity and simplicity make your message more powerful. After you get your story on paper, try to reduce it down to it’s core.
When you’re stuck, think of the Fresh Fish Sold Here adage and take out all the unnecessary information.
5. Telling the story
It’s surprisingly easy to overlook the story itself when developing a presentation. Along the way, we somehow let ourselves believe that bullets and divider slides will tell a compelling narrative. But we all know that’s not the case.
Instead, you have to augment your facts and figures by infusing emotion, credibility and surprise. Do that, and your audience will stay interested and engaged.
Made to Stick is a fantastic book to help you find better ways of telling your story.
6. Practice mindfulness
To capture the hearts and minds of your audience, you must be present—right there, in the room. It doesn’t matter if you have a stunning story and beautiful slides. If you’re not immersed in the moment, how can you expect your audience to be?
In a perfect world, you’ll get so good presenting that you’ll experience flow—a state of mind where everything clicks and you feel completely in control.
Developing a great presentation doesn’t happen by accident. But if you approach it with intention, determination and, most importantly, an open mind—you’ll knock ‘em dead.
Check out the books I mentioned in this post to help get you started, and let me know if you have others that you recommend.