January 25, 2012

Does Your Presentation Suck?

Is this you?

Does your presentation suck?

Yes, probably.  Most presentations do.

Your presentation doesn’t have to suck.  It’s easy to create a good one with practice.  From experience I’ve learned to focus on the 4 S’s and one P.

1. Start

By “start” I mean decide on the one, two or at most three ideas you want the audience to remember after your presentation.  People generally don’t remember more than a few big ideas and they certainly don’t remember details.  Do you remember every word in the last newspaper article you read?  No.  But you do remember the one or two big ideas, like “Greece is screwed.”  Everything in your presentation should support your big idea.  Ruthlessly eliminate anything that doesn’t.  This will take multiple drafts and practice.

2. Story

Human beings communicate through stories, not lifeless facts.  Whatever big idea you’re communicating, put it into the context of a story.  Use multiple stories to show your supporting points.

During my last presentation I wanted to show — not just tell — why “taking responsibility” is an important trait for a team member.  I told a story about how one candidate came 15 minutes early to her interview with me.  When I asked her why, she said “I knew there would be traffic and I wanted to be sure I got here on time.”  I hired her immediately and today she is one of our superstars.  People remember that story and they remember the point much more than if I just said “find people who take responsibility.”

The best stories contain the exact same elements and sequence: situation –> desire –> struggle –> outcome.  Your presentation will be memorable and powerful if you can construct it as a narrative story.  Read this interview with Hollywood screenwriting great Robert Mckee to learn more about storytelling.

I consciously followed the principles of storytelling to write this post.

3. Slides

I think it’s best if you don’t use slides at all.  If you must use slides, keep them incredibly simple.  Only a few words of text in super large (40+ point) font for each slide.

Consider using a simple photograph for an entire slide that supports the idea you want to communicate.  For example, if one of your points is that the business constantly must keep moving forward like a shark to survive, have a picture of a shark on the slide.  For the love of God please do not create a slide like the one above.

Remember — the slides should support you, you should not support the slides.  In a 15 minute presentation you should have no more than 10 simple slides. 

4. Speaker

This is you.

Remember, YOU are the show.  Your voice should be calm, smooth and loud.  Practice pausing between big points for effect.  Your hands should be at your side or making gestures as you speak, not be in your pockets or fidgiting nervously.  Make eye contact with everyone in the room.  Be relaxed.  This will take some practice.  Naturally, the first time you speak in front of a group you will be nervous.  A great way to improve is to have someone video you.  Watch it later and look for ways to improve.

5. Practice (and refine)

Absolutely essential!

Any presentation worth doing is worth practicing.  Grab a colleague and practice as if you are doing it for real.  I guarantee you that you will find rough edges in your presentation that you want to change.  If no one is available, practice by yourself by speaking out loud.  Time yourself.  I practiced five times for my last presentation at the CEO World Forum in Hanoi.  As a result I was able to eliminate ideas, words and slides that weren’t important to my big idea.  Steve Jobs was famous for practicing his big product announcements again and again.

The ability to give an engaging, memorable presentation is an incredible skill that few people have.  It’s also a lot of fun.  Get started on your presentation skills today!

Here are some great short presentations on general tips for presenting:

Watch the presentation below by the master, Steve Jobs.  Pay attention to his body language, his measured voice, his pauses when he speaks.  He is the show, not the slides.

Click here for a fascinating comparison of Steve Jobs’ and Bill Gates’ presentation styles.  Which one do you want to be like?