Three Golden Principles for Presentations

moses I’ve been looking at presentations for many years and I have concluded that nearly all presentations suck.

I am astonished that all those hard working professional people out there whose livelihood may depend on delivering an engaging, convincing presentation apparently have no clue about how to do it. And it never seems to get better.

It is so bad that some authorities have recommended outlawing PowerPoint, the most popular presentation creation tool, in the desperate hope that this will somehow make presentations more bearable. This is a little like abandoning Excel in hopes of getting better financial results. The simple truth, of course, is that the trouble is with the worker, not the tool.

There is a lot of good advice out there: reduce clutter, use visuals, tell stories, etc. This is all sensible but seems to have little impact on the millions of terrible presentations created every year.

I think the solution is more fundamental than just recommending certain practices, no matter how effective they might be. It is about changing the mindset of the designer/presenter. So, I’ll take a shot at it and come down from the mountain with a stone tablet. Why not?

I will guarantee that, if you follow these principles, the number of deaths and injuries that occur as a consequence of your presentations will be reduced.

Principle 1: It’s about the audience.

Oh, of course, you know that. Who are they, what do they know, what I want them to do, what is their deepest concern, etc. Simple Sales 101. Right?

No, I’m thinking of something more basic; what it amounts to is that you shouldn’t piss off the audience. It seems reasonable to think that if the audience is not bored, irritated or downright angry with you and your presentation, you may have a greater chance of success.

Angry? How could that be?

Have you heard of “Death by PowerPoint?” – of course you have. A Google search for this term yields more than 8 million hits. It has become universal shorthand for the terrible experience of sitting through a PowerPoint presentation. But somehow, you think this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, I’ll bet that you hate to sit in a presentation audience. Go ahead, admit it.

It has become so fashionable to complain about PowerPoint that you have an uphill battle before you start. Do people groan when you turn on the projector? Maybe you should just give up, sit back and join the majority and bitch about how awful PowerPoint is, or claim that “PowerPoint makes people stupid.” That way, it’s not your fault.

On the other hand, if you have the guts to honestly and sincerely put yourself in an audience seat, you will probably not:

  • Present things that cannot comfortably be seen
  • Present too much stuff at once
  • Present stuff the audience doesn’t need to see, even if it makes you look smarter
  • Expect the audience to read more than a few words at a time while paying attention to you
  • Think that your slides are a handout document
  • Read to your audience
  • And dozens of other abusive acts.

Principle 2: You deliver the message, not the slides.

What’s the most effective tool for delivering your message, you or your PowerPoint slides? I hope to god that you agree that it’s you.

PowerPoint is there to support and reinforce your delivery. In the dim past, we used to call this kind of thing a “visual aid.” Frankly, years later, I can’t think of a better term to describe what PowerPoint’s role should be.

If you follow this principle, you probably will not:

  • Use your slides as a teleprompter
  • Complicate your slides with stuff better conveyed by you
  • Wing it without rehearsal or even knowing your content
  • Refuse to deviate from your slide order, even to respond to the audience

In fact, what you will do is create simple, effective slides and take personal responsibility for engaging and convincing your audience.

Principle 3: There isn’t a third principle.

No one wants to read a post about two principles. It has to be at least three.

3 Responses to “Three Golden Principles for Presentations”

  1. 1 Beatrice July 14, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Although this post is not a PowerPoint presentation. I’m your audience. As for me, I do not like to be called stupid. Read what you wrote: Principle “1: It’s about the audience, stupid.” So maybe this applies to you.

    • 2 pptcrafter July 14, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      I was referencing a comment that prevailed during the 1992 presidential election (“it’s the economy, stupid”); sorry I offended you. Thanks for pointing out the irony.

  1. 1 Reducing Text Overload – Finding the Pony | powerpointy Trackback on August 4, 2015 at 10:37 am

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