Thursday, July 16, 2009

Presentation Success

I recently sat through a really long presentation. The presentation was full of ideas for change and lots of passion for those ideas, but as it ended, I couldn’t tell you the key themes that were being presented. I couldn’t make an outline of what I just heard. I couldn’t remember most of the key points. The presentation included lots of slides too. Clearly it had been carefully prepared and a huge amount of effort had gone into preparation for this audience. However, it didn’t work for me at all.

Now through the whole presentation, I agreed with the points. I thought it was right on. However, at the end, I couldn’t have reconstructed the presenter’s story at all. Only that change was needed.

I’ve read a lot of material on presentations. I loved most of the points in Edward R Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. I’ve also read Presentaiton Zen by Garr Reynolds and Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson. There is a hilarious YouTube video about PowerPoint Presentations from comedian Don McMillan that must be watched.

I have a style that I use in my presentations that I think works for me. It agrees with many of the ideas in the resources above, but is different in some ways. I tend to put a lot of material on every page and that is one of the key differences from the above ideas which seem to suggest that less is better. I tend to disagree, but none the less, here are my thoughts on how to do a great presentation.

1. Tell a story. You've got to tell a story that the audience can connect with. I've come to believe this a lot more lately and in fact, I'm looking for some great resources on telling stories.
2. Don't use presentation gimmicks. Dumb clipart, sound effects, fly ins, etc. are all distractions from the story.
3. Relate to the audience. Consider their perspective and needs. Solve a problem for them. Get them to invest.
4. Look professional with your slides. Consistent format, no spelling errors (hope there are none here), consistent alignment, fonts, etc.
5. Be Well Prepared. You should know more about your topic than anyone else in the room. By a factor of 50. He who prepares the most wins.

That is pretty much it. Oh, and I saw an amazing new presentation tool that you've got to see.

Comments welcome.


  1. Great points. I usually spend too much time preparing a presentation and a similar amount of time (and probably not enough) paring it down to the essential material in a clean format.

  2. Mark,

    I loved the Simplistic vs. Simplicity slide at I think this is what distinguishes Google from others. They get simplicity. They can simplify the user interface without sacrificing on the feature set. And they do this by integrating search in everything. Why spend time trying to find something hiding in the File Menu when you can search for it?

    Microsoft is also trying to get on the simplicity bandwagon – at least for the UI piece. I love the Office 2007 Ribbon and its simplicity of use. Microsoft is more data-driven when designing the user interfaces. In a blog post titled The Story of the Ribbon, the lead designer, Jensen Harris, talks about how they came up with the Ribbon interface. After collecting a LOT of data on how people actually use the features offered in Office, they came up with a set of what they called "Design Tenets" that guided the decision-making for the new Office UI [1]:

    * A person's focus should be on their content, not on the UI. Help people work without interference.
    * Reduce the number of choices presented at any given time.
    * Increase efficiency.
    * Embrace consistency, but not homogeneity.
    * Give features a permanent home. Prefer consistent-location UI over "smart" UI.
    * Straightforward is better than clever.


  3. Thanks for the information. I marked the ribbon pitch and will take a look! Thanks for stopping by.