Your Presentation was Bad and You Should Feel Bad
Tell me a god damned story.
It doesn’t matter if you’re spinning yarns down at the bar, or telling your spouse about your miserable little day, or addressing the jury. Tell me a god damned story.
You’re going to invite me to a meeting where you’re going to present. Well then, you better tell me a god damned story.
Here’s a simple test. Will your presentation involve you reading bullet points off of a slide to a room full of people? Then your presentation will suck.
Here’s another way to do that test. Would your presentation be just as good, just as helpful, possibly more helpful, as an email? Then your presentation will suck.
You have not been asked to present something to a group of humans because we can’t read.
Saying words out loud in a room is not the reason you’ve been asked to present.
Saying words out loud in a room full of people does not get the job done.
Or, as Tyler Durden once said, “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.”
You have been asked to present so that room full of people gets something. The problem. Or the solution. Or the proposal. Or the post-mortem. Or even the #@*&ing sales numbers from this quarter.
You know what people just get? Stories. Tell me a god damned story.
Tell it in three acts. Tell it in reverse pyramid journalism style. Tell it as a parable. Tell it as a fable. Include a personified villain. Dim the lights and put a flashlight under your face.
I don’t care.
Engage me. I’m begging you. We all are. We are rooting for you.
So, how do you do that?
When you sit down to prepare for your presentation don’t open up PowerPoint and start making slides.
Try this instead; write out the end of this sentence “This is the story of…”
- This is the story of why new signups are 11% behind pace, and why that’s a bigger deal than you might think.
- This is the story of why our site went down for 93 minutes last week and exactly how many sales that cost us.
- This is the story of how the tiny bookmarking feature is actually the most important part of what’s driving our product right now.
- New signups are growing at 7%.
- There was a down-time event on March 23rd.
- Bookmarking is popular.
Homework: Write your presentation like a story. Like a kids story if you have to. “The evil ad CPMs dropped 10 cents and the people of the kingdom wept.” Figure out what the story arc is. Then get started.
If you’re not going to take Billy’s word for it when he coined “Brevity is the soul of wit”, then maybe you’ll listen when Seinfeld backs him up.
Cadence matters. Pauses in your speech matter. A rough transition between ideas, between slides, between tech demos, it all matters.
But most importantly, no one, not even if your own mother is in the audience, is going to remember every point you make. So keep it short.
Stick to the headlines.
Ask yourself this: if these people only remember one or two points from my presentation (and that’s best case) what would I want them to be?
Figure out what those couple of points are and hammer them home. Minimize the rest. Or lose it.
Got stuff that you absolutely need to cover? Send out a follow up cheat sheet. Tell everyone before hand that you will do that. Let them relax and listen to you instead of trying to memorize you.
Repetition is your friend here. Remember, tell me a god damned story.
Homework: Record yourself giving your presentation. Use notes if you need them but do not stop. Power through it. You’ll feel what’s not working. Then you’ll watch the recording and cringe. Hard. Then do it again.
A Few Notes on Slides (probably more, I can’t help myself about shitty slides)
Repeat after me. I am the presentation. My slides are not my presentation.
Slides exist to help you tell your story.
The slides are not your story.
Slides don’t dictate the pace of the presentation. You do. They advance silently, wordlessly, behind you while you address your audience.
Never turn and speak towards your slides. Need to call attention to something specific in a slide? Use the drawing tools and draw a circle around it. Don’t turn and point at it.
Never ever, ever, read your slides to your audience. They can read faster than you can speak. And they already have.
Death before bullets.
Use Google Slides and system fonts. Never worry about thumb drives and installing custom typefaces.
This is the big one. One idea, one slide.
Got three ideas, use three slides. Slides are free.
Start with 100pt font size. Go larger as you need to.
Use stock photography from good sources. Keep it abstract. No clip art.
Just… just knock it off with the animated gifs. This isn’t a slack channel.
Homework: Go to Unsplash and find some random beautiful stock photos that aren’t too busy. Throw them into your slides. Put huge text over them. You’re already ahead of the game.