How To Give A Great Presentation (In Nine Words)

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When I first saw the link on Robbie Wright’s site, I didn’t click on it. But after I saw the link on Colin Henderson’s site<, I knew that I had better click on it. When two bloggers you respect link to the same thing -- pay attention. The link was to a presentation called Shift Happens, which apparently won some award in the World's Best Presentation contest. My take: It’s a very slick Powerpoint presentation, but does that qualify it as a “great” presentation?

It seems I hear a lot more complaints about Powerpoint, and the over-reliance on it in conference presentations, than compliments. Maybe it comes down to how I define presentation, but a slick set of slides, in and of itself, does not constitute a great presentation in my book.

So, once again, I will venture out beyond my realm of expertise (whatever that might be) to offer advice on how to prepare and give a great presentation. And I’ll do it in nine words — the nine words you need to remember to give a great presentation. I will, however, split up those nine words into three bullet points:

1) Tell A Story. I don’t mean “tell a funny story at the beginning of your presentation. I mean “your entire presentation should be a story”. Stories have a plot, and develop over time. So should your presentation. Here’s a template:

Stuff is happening (e.g., people are increasingly using social networking tools, or firms are increasingly investing in [fill-in-the-blank]). But there’s a problem or issue (e.g., people are dissatisfied with the firms they do business with, or firms aren’t achieving an ROI on their investments). There’s a solution (e.g., blogging, social networking, the technology or services your firm provides). Let me tell you about people using the solution. You (the audience) can utilize this solution, too, and here’s how.

Stories within the story are good — they keep people interested in the overall story. But, first and foremost, tell a story. However…

2) Keep It Simple. This applies on a few levels. At a conference I recently attended, a smart guy from a leading ad agency managed to work in every new management concept from the past 10 years into his slides. The audience couldn’t keep track of where he was going with the presentation or what point he was trying to make.

Resist the urge to tell the audience everything you know about the topic. Keep it simple — one major point or theme per presentation. Repeat the theme a couple of times throughout the presentation, and keep relating the various points you make back to that theme. Keep it simple means making it easy for the audience to know where you’re at, and where you’re going with your story.

Keep it simple also applies to your slides. It never ceases to amaze me that presenters will put up a slide with 12-point font. Nobody beyond the second row can read it. And if the people in the first two rows are over the age of 40, then they can’t read it either.

Here’s what happens when you put up a complicated slide: People start trying to read it. Which means they’re not listening. And when they’re not listening to you, it means you’ve lost your audience. Keep it simple. When you have to put up a complicated slide, build it point by point.

The third bullet — and the last three of the nine words you need to remember to give a great presentation — refers not to the slides, but to your delivery:

3) Know Your Transitions. Few things disrupt a presentation as much as when the presenter pauses, clicks to the next slide, turns around to look at the slide, takes a second or two to remember what s/he was going to say about the slide, and then finally says it.

Guess what? In the time it takes the presenter to do that, the audience has already read the slide, and made the decision whether or not to keep listening. If you’re truly telling a story, then your slide transitions should be smooth. When you’ve got a good story to tell, knowing your transitions is easy. You start talking about the next slide before you actually click over to it… so that when you do, the transition is smooth, and the story keeps flowing.

I’ve got other presentation tips (which I’ll post if the feedback to this is good). But if you remember and really deliver on these nine words — tell a story, keep it simple, know your transitions — then you’re well on your way to giving great presentations. And without having to hone your Powerpoint skills.

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