Every entrepreneur has to make presentations: to potential investors, to potential clients, to staff. Every entrepreneur is nervous about giving pitches; you are not unique! And yet few entrepreneurs know how to give a convincing pitch.
There are numerous presentation tips and guides floating around cyberspace, some good, some bad. But here are six simple but often overlooked tips that will make sure your presentations are winners, every time, all the time.
1. Why are you giving it?
Every presentation should have a clear objective. Why are you giving it? What do you expect to accomplish? How do you want your audience to act after you finish?
Surprisingly few presentations have a clear objective. But if you don’t have an objective, how do you know if your presentation accomplished anything?
Most presentations are sales pitches of some kind.
This is my company: invest and you will make money.
This is our product: buy it and your life will improve.
So in most cases, the objective of the presentation is pretty clear: make the sale, whatever the ‘sale’ is.
You should start your presentation by clearly stating your objective to your audience. “My name is John Doe. My company is StuffCo. I am here to show you why an investment in StuffCo. will pay you a 10x return.”
Most presentations actually have two or more objectives. Some will be open (“I want to show you how you can save over $4,000 a month by using our widgets.”) but some will be private (I want to show these guys that we are a viable, stable company that will be around in five years). Share your open objectives with your audience but keep your private ones to yourself.
But for all of them, open or private, make sure you have an idea how you will determine whether or not you met that objective after you have given the presentation.
Not having clear objectives is the number 1 reason why so many presentations are ineffectual. An effective presentation is not one that makes the audience laugh or that impresses them with your knowledge of PowerPoint or that is attractive and colorful. It is one that accomplishes its objectives.
2. Use the minimum material
You want to present all the facts, all your arguments. But are they all necessary?
Rule of thumb is to determine and write down your objectives and then select the minimum amount of material that will allow you to achieve those objectives. Maybe you are proud of the fact that you had seven jobs before you started your company, but do you really need to describe them all in detail? Are you sure you won’t give the impression of being a fly-by-night who won’t hang in when the going gets tough?
As you list the items you are planning to present, ask of each one “How much does this contribute toward my objectives for this presentation?” If the answer is “Not much”, drop it.
3. Plan your visual aids
You can easily put your audience to sleep by presenting a series of boring bulleted-point slides. Nothing will stand out on each slide, and no particular slide will stand out from the rest.
Instead, identify each point — or ‘message’ — that you wish to make and then, for each point, think about the best possible visual aid you can use to help drive your message home. Each visual aid should clarify or amplify your message.
Clarify or amplify.
Say, for example, you are an automobile tire recycler. You want to drive home the simple message that 98.5% of all tires, cumulatively, can be recycled, and that they can be recycled in a number of ways. You could use this slide as a visual aid:
In fact, that is exactly what the inexperienced presenter would use, going through and explaining each bulleted point.
But it would be far more effective, and have much more impact, if, instead, you used a series of slides:
To this slide, you would say “Almost everything in a tire can be recycled.” (You don’t have to say “98.5 percent”. The slide does that for you.)
Then, after just a couple of seconds, you would add “In a variety of ways.” …
… “Playgrounds” …
… “Retreads” …
… “in asphalt”…
… and so on, ‘flashing’ each picture for just a few seconds.
This would be immeasurably more interesting for your audience than just the one bulleted point slide, and would do a much better job of emphasizing that almost everything in a tire can be recycled in some way. The total time spent presenting the point would likely be exactly the same whether you used one slide or many.
Don’t be afraid to use something other than a slide. If you are describing an object of some kind, it may be more powerful to have that exact object with you and to hold it up for all to see while you describe it, rather than to use pictures and diagrams. But make sure you don’t get trapped doing this: if the object is small and you have a large audience, they won’t all be able to see it. And if they ask you to pass it round, you are in real trouble, because you have now blown your timing and flow and you have given the audience something to think about other than what you are presenting!
Imagine the impact, however, if at the start of your presentation you reached down and hoisted up a car tire and balanced it on your shoulder for a moment while you introduce yourself.
Nobody would forget that!
4. Keep slides simple
In reality, ‘visual aids’ in most presentations means ‘slides’. Whether you are using PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, Prezi, or some other product, there are a few rules to keep in mind.
Don’t replace yourself
If you display a slide that has complete sentences, your audience will read that slide whether you continue talking or not. A visual aid should never be completely self-explanatory or you remove the need for you to talk to it. Remember: the purpose of a visual aid is to clarify or amplify your message. If, for example, you are explaining what a serif is, you should avoid using a slide like this:
(But if you do use that slide, then when you first display the slide, stop talking and let people read it, because that is what they will do.)
However, a much better slide would be:
In this case the slide shows a serif while you explain what it is. In other words, the slide clarifies the term.
The slide we used earlier to show that 98.5% of a tire can be recycled is one that amplifies the message.
Limit each slide to three items.
The human brain likes things in threes. Ask someone their phone number and they will invariably give it to you as three blocks: 250 855 1209 for example. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Grouping things into threes makes any message more powerful. This has been known since Roman and Greek times.
If it is essential that you use a slide with multiple bulleted points, do everything in your power to include only the three most important facts. That will help ensure your audience retains all three facts. Give them more and they will instinctively mentally select from them and exclude some of the facts. You run the risk that they will retain the wrong facts and not the ones you wanted them to keep.
Make every slide readable
Open your pitch deck. Imagine your computer is the screen on which your slides will be displayed. Display your busiest slide. Now get up from your chair and walk backwards until you are as far away as your furthest audience member will be. Can you clearly see what is on the slide? If not, change it.
It is very frustrating for an audience member not to be able to see what is on a slide. In fact, it is worse than not having that slide at all. The last thing you want is to lose your audience like this.
If you absolutely have to include a busy slide that people may not be able to read, take the time to walk your audience through it. This can often be the case when you are presenting financial information.
In a case such as this, you have two options: you can either split the slide into two, one a summary of the main totals and the other containing details, such as the one above; or you can use the detail slide and walk the audience through it, pointing to each column and item as you describe it. But if you just show the slide for a minute and then move on to the next one, at least one person in your audience will be upset and think you are hiding something.
One way to overcome this is to use the first option — a summary slide and a detail slide — but to hide the detail slide. It won’t appear when you are giving the presentation but if, after you finish, someone asks you to go back to the finance slide and explain some of the details, you can go first to the summary slide, say “This is the slide with financial results that I showed”, and then show the hidden slide and say “Here are details of those numbers. I will walk you through them.”
When you have developed what you think is the full presentation, practice giving it. Then practice again. And then again.
Don’t be afraid to change anything. That is, after all, one of the reasons you are practicing.
If possible, make the presentation to someone who will critique it for you.
Get your timing right. When you give the presentation to a live audience it will probably take 25% to 50% longer than when you are giving it to the dog. Be ruthless about timing. Many presenters are given a specific time to talk; if you exceed that allotment you will be cut off and your presentation will have failed. Even if there is no specific time allotment, make sure you know what your audience is expecting in terms of timing. If they think they are going to sit through a 30-minute pitch and you are still going after 45 minutes, they will become uneasy.
6. Understand the concept of retention
The audience remembers — and hence retains — parts of your presentation and not other parts. You can use this very effectively to your advantage.
One aspect of retention that you cannot control is the fact that any audience tends to retain the very start and the very end of a pitch, in the same way that you often remember the start and end of a movie. So make sure that you start and end your presentation with key points that you want your audience to retain. This is particularly important regarding the end, because so many presentations just fizzle out with a simple “Thank you” and request for questions. No! End with a strong restatement of your key benefits or with some reinforcing idea that the audience will remember.
Your audience will also inevitably retain some parts of your presentation much more than others. You can affect this by varying the pace and embedding key concepts throughout, rather than all at once. Separate your key points with ‘noise’ — relevant but less important material. But make each key point clearly and emphatically so as to maximize the probability they will be remembered and retained.
The diagram above shows two such high-retention points. Ideally, your presentation should contain no more than three such key points.
Implement these six simple concepts and your presentations will soar!
Revett Eldred is a successful retired two-exit entrepreneur who has been giving and teaching Effective Presentations for more than 30 years. He is an advisor to StartupSoft.