How To Give A Great Presentation (In Nine Words)

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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13 thoughts on “How To Give A Great Presentation (In Nine Words)

  1. Hey Ron… good stuff that presenters always need to keep in mind. Let me add two thoughts:

    1.) There’s a great blog on delivering presentations from an expert, called Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds gives lots of good pointers, and even includes links to some wonderful presentation comedy. (Who knew such a thing existed?)

    2.) You are so right that presenters looking back at the screen, and making the transition to the next slide, can be a real problem. That’s why I was thrilled to discover that Apple’s Keynote (competitor to PowerPoint) shows the current slide AND the NEXT slide to the presenter on the laptop’s screen, while showing only the current slide on the main screen. I LOVE this feature! I could not live without it. Not only do I see what’s coming next, I don’t ever have to turn my back on the audience.

  2. Ron,

    Fun post! No statistics though. boo.

    Personally I thought the 2nd place one was better than the first.

    BUT, I like your nine word/three bullet point tips. Very similar to how I approach my topics. Here are the Denise Wymore guide to speakagy: (a word I just made up):

    1. Tell then audience what they NEED to know, not what YOU know.

    2. NEVER read your slides!! (I use a ton of photographs and images in my presentations. In fact, I make sure that if someone wants to grab the hand-outs and go that they will be really messed up. My slides don’t read like a book – they are merely there to entertain).

    3. If your audience pays attention to only one thing in your prez – what would that be?

    See – we very much agree on this. AND it appears we will be speaking at the same gig later this year! Can’t wait.

    Morriss – I agree, Keynote makes PP look like PooPoo.

  3. Colin — thanks, and no you don’t (I watched the OL video of your LIFT presentation).

    Morriss — thanks for pointing out that site. I hit it myself every once in a while. And re: Keynote, I thought that Powerpoint was supposed to have the same functionality at some point. Guess I was wrong. That said, I will say this: A good presenter knows his/her story well enough to not even need to see the next slide. Tell a story.

    Denise — I will cherish this moment. I think this is the first time you and I agree on something. That said, I would tweak something you said: Tell the audience what you know that they need to know. The guy from the ad agency I referred to was trying to tell the audience a bunch of stuff he thought they needed to know (ie, high-falutin’ consulting crap), but because it wasn’t HIS stuff — ie, what HE knew — he bombed. And as I said, there’s a lot more I could have shared. But step one was NINE WORDS. (Maybe you and I could collaborate on an e-book on “giving great presentations”. Nah, we’d never agree on what should be in it).

  4. Ron,

    Oh help. Step one/nine words. See, I can’t possibly follow you if there isn’t a two-by-two chart somewhere.

    I need to defend my “Tell them what they NEED to know, not what YOU know.” You need to know what they need to know – in other words, know your audience! I hate when speakers don’t even bother to do a little research before speaking to a group. I work closely with the folks hiring me to obtain a participant list beforehand and always make sure that I proof the blurb so the expectation meets the delivery.

    I also tell a ton of stories. That’s what prompted me to write my first book. People would always come up after and ask if I had a book – they love the stories. But you’re right – they must be relevant. I NEVER tell jokes. EVER!

    Okay – that’s all the agreeing I can do.

    I gotta go twitter.

  5. Holy sh… (oops, public forum… gotta watch my language).

    Hooray! We agree again. On the jokes. Being funny is good — but telling jokes is not the way to do it.

  6. I have seen both Denise and Ron speak and learned a great deal from both of them. I learned not only about the topic at hand, but I also took pages of notes on how to conduct a worthy presentation.

    Morriss… thanks for the blog references – beneficial new source.

  7. …also see Beyond Bullet Points –

    Again it’s full of the “simple to the point” message. What i found most helpful was the word template which helps you set out a decent deck.

    I’d add one other point. Don’t confuse a presentation with a report. I worked for Accenture for a number of years and Powerpoint was the only tool many people (droids) used. Therefore they wrote reports in Powerpoint then presented them which drove me mad.

  8. One more reference. Best book on speaking/presenting/training EVER — I Can See You Naked by Ron Hoff

    I owe a lot of my speaking success to this book. AND it has lots of pictures in it so it’s a fun read. (well the title should have tipped you off).

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  11. I think it’s worth noting too that this ‘greatest presentation’ was a contest for slideshare and therefore didn’t have a presenter. The slides were the presentation so it had to include more text/content to get its point across.

    With a presenter, I’m a big fan of as little text as possible. Agreeing with Ron’s point of not allowing the audience to read your slide.

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