What presenter species are you?

Throughout my career I have attended many public and private events, listened to many business, technology and product presentations, and seen many good and even more not-so-good storytellers in action.

In Dutch language, we have an expression that says “elke vogel zingt zoals hij gebekt is,” which translates literally to “every bird sings the way it is beaked.” The same counts without any doubt for public presenters, as each individual speaker has its particular style to get his or her message across.


Here’s a list with presenter types I have frequently spotted in the field: the Engineer, the Kindergarten Teacher, the Actor, the Philosopher, the Consultant, the Salesman and the Conversationalist. Note that, although I am describing the male specimens, all the species below have a female variant too ― but some of them, e.g. female Engineers or Consultants are quite rare birds.

  • The Engineer is great in delivering technical content and in educating people. He loves projecting huge PowerPoint files with lots of detail about architectures and product features. He is seldom a good listener and tends to care more about his own solution than about the audience’s problem. As such the Engineer’s presentations are often lacking a clear (commercial) message that goes beyond “look how good I am/we are” and “isn’t it wonderful what I/we have built.”
  • The Kindergarten Teacher is somewhat the opposite of the Engineer. He doesn’t pay attention to (or maybe doesn’t know about…) the details. His performance has all the elements that you may expect from a good storyteller, complete with protagonists/antagonists, a well-built tension and a moral lesson at the end. A kindergarten-style presentation is always nice to listen to, but usually has a bit too little meat on the bone, and at the end of the talk you still feel hungry for the real stuff.
  • The Actor’s main goal it to deliver a dazzling show. A well written story, attractive visuals, and a thoroughly rehearsed speech are key to the success of his performance. We all know that practice makes perfect, but over-rehearsal can also kill your presentation. Overall, the Actor is a great performer on stage, but he’s frequently lacking spontaneity, and will often make a poor appearance when the audience starts asking questions.
  • The Philosopher tends to introduce high-level concepts, ideas or solution schemes. His visuals contain lots of boxes, arrows and clouds. Although his content may be called abstract, holistic or even esoteric, and his talks are frequently lacking a clear structure ― the Engineer would rather call them fluffy ― a Philosopher’s presentation is often well received by corporate strategists. If you have these in your audience, they might be looking for visionary material and food for thought, rather than for the Engineer’s precooked product and solution bites.
  • The Consultant also puts up lots of slides with boxes, arrows and clouds, but that’s mainly because these graphic elements are prescribed by his employer’s PowerPoint template. And you can bet on it that he’s added lots of numbers, tables and charts too, to make his proposition (look) concrete. Don’t expect him to come up with an entertaining story, because being perceived as a storyteller is exactly what (most) Consultants try to avoid at all times.
  • The Salesman doesn’t really care about the story ― and, unfortunately, sometimes not even about the accuracy of the content. Real business is done before and after — not during — a presentation. His slides are generally “off the shelf”, his messages pushy, and his tone not adapted to the audience’s expectations and needs. As they are rather centered on offer than on demand, Salesmen tend to be bad listeners too. As an example, rewatch the video sketch that I included in my “One mouth and two ears” post on this blog.
  • The Conversationalist’s presentation thrives on interaction with the people in the room. You may recognize one when a speaker starts his talk with an open question or a personal anecdote, and has his Twitter ID or his LinkedIn URL mentioned on the title slide. The Conversationalist welcomes interruptions, but then unfortunately regularly enters into discussion with (a few members of) his audience, gets carried away from his presentation topic or story line, and will probably not manage to finish his speech on time. And of course, a Conversationalist loves to continue the conversation during the break.

The list above is neither intended to be exhaustive nor prescriptive. If you have encountered a storyteller with a presentation style that does not match one of the types (or a combination thereof) in the list, or if you are a unique-beaked species yourself, please share it with the readers of this blog through the “leave a reply” box below…

The Bocuse touch

A good story is like a well-plated dish. It follows a recipe with a few ingredients that all blend together. The result is a delight for the eyes, the ears and the brain. A creation that keeps the audience asking for more.

Nouvelle cuisine is a style of cooking that became popular in the 1970s as a reaction to the heavy and calorie-rich French kitchen of that era. Main characteristics of this eclectic way of preparing and presenting food are:

  • Rejection of excessive complication
  • Use of fresh ingredients and natural flavors
  • Smaller portions served
  • No more heavy sauces
  • Strong focus on composition and presentation
  • Experimenting with new combinations and pairings
  • Attention to the dietary needs of guests
  • Interest in new techniques and equipment

nouvelle cuisine

Acknowledging the innovation, elegance and originality of this new kitchen, I can easily draw a parallel with today’s best practices in B2B storytelling:

  • Emphasis on focus and simplicity
  • Dynamic and personalized presentation style
  • Less slides, more story, more interaction
  • No more heavy tables and bullet lists
  • Less time for monologue, more time for dialogue
  • Presentations enriched with images and multimedia.
  • Emphasis on value instead of products
  • Use of new presentation techniques

So, if you want to become the Paul Bocuse of the “nouvelle cuisine of business presentations” then make sure you tell a tasty story, keep your presentations minimalistic, decorate your slides with fresh images and videos, season them with metaphors, examples and anecdotes, and serve them warm to a hungry audience (and keep on reading my blog…)