I have a conference coming up, so I’ve been thinking again about what makes a good presentation. This is a difficult question to answer, and it’s probably easier if you think about the converse at the same time: what makes a bad presentation? Here are a few concepts I’ve picked up over the years.
- Don’t be Boring I’m stealing this from Ben Orenstein of thoughtbot and host of their podcast. It’s pretty simple. To transfer ideas and information, the audience needs to be interested and engaged.
- A Presentation is not a Document If you can convey what you need to convey in a document, then format the information as a document and email it to me; no scheduling necessary. Also, don’t hand out your slides before-hand…or ever. Supplementary materials should be sent after the presentation so people can pay attention during. And contrary to popular belief, your slides should not stand alone. They should enhance what you are saying. If your slides do stand alone, just format them as a document and cancel the meeting (see also #4).
- Clipart No. Just no.
- Bulleted Lists What is the maximum number of bullets per slide? How about zero. I didn’t go to your presentation to watch you read, and I can’t listen to you and read the screen at the same time. If you’re just going to read, see #2 (and beware of infinite referential loops). Also regarding (not) reading, when you practice have a friend randomly turn off the display. Can you keep going seamlessly?
- Slides are Cheap Long, long gone are the days when “creating slides” literally meant creating semi-transparent film for an overhead or slide projector. You don’t need to try to cram everything onto 3 slides. You should not (and cannot) gauge the length of your presentation by counting slides; only by practicing delivering it (tip: use a video camera; you have one on your phone). And bonus tip for managers: never say, “put together a slide for the company meeting.” Instead, describe what information needs to come across, and provide a target duration.
Sometimes you can get over a creative block and ultimately create a more memorable presentation by enforcing limits on yourself. Consider these two formats. (Several cities have events organized around these.)
- Pecha Kucha Twenty slides displayed for twenty seconds each.
- Ignite Twenty slides displayed for fifteen seconds each and auto-advancing.
Here are some valuable resources:
- Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Also the author of Presentation Zen Design and The Naked Presenter. Reynolds is a strong proponent of using full-bleed photographs to help your audience remember key ideas. Beautiful imagery is memorable and enjoyable, and it’s not as expensive as you think it is. (Looking unprofessional and/or being ignored is expensive.) Also, design your presentations in analog; use whiteboards/post-its and get away from the laptop.
- slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. Also the author of Resonate. Both excellent books covering the design of a presentation in terms of effectively conveying an idea as well as designing its colors, photos, typography, and (tasteful) animation.
- Read This Before Our Next Meeting (a.k.a. The Modern Meeting Standard) by Al Pittampalli. In short, make your meetings effective, and don’t have a meeting if you don’t need one. This works for all kinds of meetings, not just for presentations.
- Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. This includes wealth of ideas about ideas. Specifically “why some ideas survive and others die.” A good read, and a good resource for developing any idea, not just for presentations.
- Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki, author of many other excellent books as well. The Art of the Start, in fact is the source of another favorite tip: the 10-20-30 rule. To help your pitch to land: ten slides, twenty minutes, thirty-point font.
And for the scientists and researchers out there who need to present data, look into the excellent books by Edward R. Tufte. These are great, but dense and not inexpensive. Consider borrowing a copy to start or attend his one-day course; it’s really good.
Finally, some comic relief: