Plan and deliver ― your preparation

“World class presentations require time and focus” ― Nancy Duarte

Rome wasn’t built in one day. Neither will you be able to create a good presentation in a few hours. Crafting a presentation ― yes, even a business or technical one ― is a creative process. A process that takes more than a PC with PowerPoint (or Keynote, or Prezi, or …) installed on it.

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As I wrote in my previous post, it all starts with finding your pitch: thinking about the story you want to tell, the messages you want to convey, and the results you want to obtain. So, don’t start creating a single slide before you have figured out WHAT you want to tell to WHOM, and HOW you’re are actually going to deliver it. Only then comes the ‘packaging’ of your content.

  • Always start with the end in mind. Take a blank sheet of paper and write down (no more than) three results you want to obtain from your presentation. What impressions do you want the people in the room to take home? What do you want them to remember about your product or service? What action do you want them to take after the meeting?
  • Then inventorize your assets: what facts and figures, anecdotes, trivia, case studies, experience, demos or prototypes, etc. do you have on hand that may help you achieve these objectives?
  • Based upon the outcome of the questions above, you may select the most suitable medium for delivering your content, e.g. a traditional slide presentation, a naked speech, maybe supported by video testimonials or — why not — a live demonstration. Note that your choice may also be influenced by the size and composition of your audience, the layout of the room, or the technical facilities you have on hand.
  • Make sure your talk has a begin, a middle and an end. Consider structuring it the AIDA way. As the first seconds of your performance are crucial for grabbing your audience’s attention, choose a catchy title and craft a powerful opening slide.
  • Think visual. Use images to communicate, not decorate. Translate concepts to visual metaphors. Look for compelling ways to conceptualize facts, processes and data. You won’t need artistic drawing skills; a bit of analytical sense and a good portion of creativity will certainly do.
  • Analyze. Surprise. Focus. Simplify. Cut the crap and don’t feed the chameleons. Keep your presentation short and sweet. And when you prepare slides, keep them clear, clean and consistent.
  • Practice makes perfect. Rehearse your presentation as often as needed. In front of your mirror, your family or your colleagues. Or use a video recorder to tape your performance.
  • But most of all, reserve ample time for your preparation. The time you invest in realizing, refining and rehearsing your presentation should be proportional to the importance of your talk, and reverse proportional to the time you will be given to present.

Next week, part 3 of the 3 P’s trilogy: about delivering your presentation. In, the mean time here’s more material to digest:

Replace the lamp

It happens so now and then that, just when you want to start your presentation, a message shows up on the screen behind you that urges you to replace the projector lamp… Luckily for me, the last time this happened, there was an A/V technician around who fixed the problem in a matter of minutes, and I could deliver my talk as planned.

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This incident, however, made me reflect about why we –business presenters and public speakers– are actually so addicted to slideware, and why some of us seem to be completely helpless without Powerpoint, Keynote or Prezi.

  • Surely we’re all part of a visual culture. In our daily lives we are bombarded with a plethora of (static and moving) images offered by billboards, magazines, TV, social media and web pages that “help” us better ingest, digest, and retain information. Illustrations can make things more clear, more visible or more manifest. Children’s books are often illustrated with colorful pictures. The illustrations are as much a part of the experience with the content as the written text.
  • Some speakers (including me) are picture thinkers. I design my presentations on the back of a napkin and, most of the time, I have a graphical representation in mind even before I know the exact words of what I am going to tell. If you’re in the same situation, then make sure that what you show is complementary to what you say.
  • Other presenters use slides because they have a bad memory –at least that’s the excuse they come up with for not spending enough time on preparation and rehearsal– or want to add a level of detail to their story that is too complex for oral transmission. Data visualizations and infographics are good examples of how pictures may add value to words. But always beware of texty slides and bulleted lists!

Next time I enter the stage, I might just ignore the projector (even when the lamp is not broken) and start presenting “naked”…  Stay tuned for a testimonial about the joy of naked presenting in a next blog post!

More reading about visual thinking and slide design: