Thursday, 18 November 2010

Presenting is a Privilege

Firstly and most importantly, presenting to people is a privilege.  People have given you their most precious commodity: time.  Be respectful by putting love into the presentations you do.

Presenting has many benefits but the most obvious one is you get to pitch your ideas (hopefully) to tens if not hundreds of people rather than one-to-few, so it provides excellent return on time invested.  Generally I will spend at least 10 hours preparing for every 1 hour I present but if you run the math, the investment is always more than worth it.  Many presenters do up to 30 hours for every presentation.

Interestingly, it seems we humans respond well to both good story telling and beautiful pictures, the two key components of good presenting, making it a very powerful form of communication.  And it is true that the most successful presenters always articulate their message through narrative and carefully crafted stories. 

Design your speech or presentation using the same criteria you use in buying a bathing suit says Joel Hochberger:

"First, it has to fit. Next, it has to reflect your personality. And finally, it should cover only the parts that are interesting!"

My rulebook for presenting:

1. Narrative is paramount.  The best presentations always contain great storytelling.  Malcolm Gladwell relies solely on it.  It is not easy, as Ira says it requires the "Anecdote" and then the salient "Moments of Reflection" to bring in the message.  This post has some great content on storytelling:

2. The 2 E's. The best presentations educate *and* entertain - regardless, you have to do at least one or you have failed.

3. Have a strong opening.  Never apologize and open by addressing the following three questions: What's the problem? Who cares? What's your solution?

An interesting technique I found on the web:
A high-school mathematics teacher was giving a lecture to an intimidating audience: a group of college math professors. Early in the presentation, the teacher made a mathematical error. The professors immediately noticed and corrected the problem. And for the rest of the lecture, they were leaning forward, paying attention to every word, looking for more errors.  look for tricks to get your audience engaged early on.

4. Conviction. Believe what you are telling your audience or dont bother.  Anything is else is wasting everyone's time.

5. Font.  Always use sans-serif fonts (no tails) like Helvatica, Verdana, Tahoma.  Makes large writing easier to read.  I never go under a 20 font and by default use a 34+ font.  Varying font for emphasis is also useful.

6. Ideas.  Try and keep one idea per slide max (think: billboard).

7. Love controversy.  If you have the opportunity, be controversial.  It will force your audience to engage.  An engaged audience, even if they disagree, are the best audience.

8. Question time counts. It shows you respect the people who have been listening to you.  Always leave time for this.  It can be the difference between a good presentation and a great one.

9. Practice.  If you can, record your presentation. You'll discover a thousand horrible, horrible things you never knew about yourself. Now watch it again without the sound. Why are your hands flying around like that? Now listen to it without the picture. Get rid of those ums! 

10. Bullets kill.  Dont ever use them in a presentation.  Ever.  Numbers *can* be okay.  As Rich points out in comments below, it is a nice way to convey a logical thought pattern but I believe it is over used and therefore you should think of better ways of conveying that logic.  There are bazillion better ways than bullets, so rather put the effort in and be different.

11. Method: Billboards or The Stream.  In my view, there are only two successful ways to build a slide deck.  One, which I prefer, is to treat each slide like a billboard.  Short and clever copy with very strong visuals.  The second is the "stream" approach, used by Jobs and perfected by Lessig, it takes several slides to convey a single point and acts like a stream of content, moving quite rapidly through each slide.  Neither approach is better than the other, rather it is what suits the presenter.  Be sure to choose a camp though or you will suck.

Good sites to help presentations - Garr and Nancy are two of the best:


Simon Dingle said...

Nice post dude. I gave a presso to the executive team of a large property development group yesterday and tried out a new approach I have to slides for half of the talk. I think you get two kind of speakers - those who are better having prepared down to every last utterance and others who speak better 'off the cuff'. I fall into the latter camp and while I do prepare (a lot) for my talks, take a more organic path when presenting, depending on the audience and their reaction. So far it has served me well, but the catch was my deck. Now I have a regime that accommodates that to and your post may have inspired me to write something about it.

Unknown said...

I do a lot of presentations and I agree with mot of what you have said, except really the last point, which I think depends a lot on your audience. Use a billboard style or a stream style, agree, but don't stick to that exclusively for all situations. Some audiences do not respond to stream style (my preferred style) while others do. I have used both styles in keynotes and both have been extremely successful. Strangely enough, the more "corporate" the audience, the better the stream style seems to work. Predominantly technical audiences respond OK to streams, but mostly prefer the billboard style. Again, these are generalisations, but with years of experience backing them :)

Most importantly, no bullets. Bullets kill.

Fred said...

Helpful reference to use - thank you.

One thing I've noticed lately is (the slightly obvious point that) many people use writing that is wayyy too small. My feeling is that your 'one point per slide' should be conveyed with a big bold 32+ font.

Rich...! said...

Hey dude,

Great post! A few points I'd like to debate with you though (and one I'd like to add):

10: Bullet points kill. You say don't ever use them. I'd say, don't ever use "ever". In my corporate talks I tend to present a core theme, with three or four points that would help deliver that theme. I do this using a series of anecdotes. However, my last, and by far most written down slide, is a bulleted list that recaps the four wee things". Like this:!/dylanpiatti/status/4897105365704704

Numbers, bullets, dashes, it's all the same.

To me my rule on bullets actually coincides with your point 6. Use bullets only when the sum of the bullets drives one single point.

An example could be:


In this case the list needs to be presented as one idea on one slide, to break it across multiple slides would be to fragment your message. It forces a cognitive demand called 'representational holding" which is a bad thing.

11: Only two ways to design a deck. Dude, there are way more. There's big picture design, where prezi works. There's non-linear, think sales toolbox. There's takashi method (big bold text). Then there's even text heavy methods - a while back we started differentiating "presentation design" with "keynote design" - not everyone is comfortable presenting Steve Jobs style, and job #1 when designing a deck is to enable the presenter -s/he is the presentation.

For more on methods check out:

Then the point I'd like to add:

12 Timing: You're right, presenting is a privilege. People are literally giving you their time. Respect that by finishing on time. If you're given an hour, take not a minute more. It's why Simon's method worries me, sure you can finish anytime, but the random approach may mean that you don't cover all points you need.

Oh, and while you're listing resources, support local:


See you Monday...!

Marcus Sorour said...

This post was a pleasure to read! Thanks Justin. As someone who enjoys presenting, I found the post and the subsequent comments insightful and interesting.

There is no ‘secret sauce’, but there are definitely a few that taste (and look) better than the majority of poorly thought out presentations.

I have learnt from personal experience, as well as from other presenters. I am still learning.

For me, the most important thing is to believe in what you are presenting, followed by crafting a deck with a format and narrative that appeals to your target audience.

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