Preparing for your presentations and avoiding ‘death-by-PowerPoint!’
Everyone knows about "Death-by-PowerPoint," especially me, so I knew I had to put some effort into making this presentation something I was happy with.
A while ago I was asked to present to a group of people; some were just starting their journey in business and some had already begun. As well as giving them tips on all the tried and tested social media approaches, one of the tasks was to produce a PowerPoint presentation - not just for me to use to present, but also to produce something for them to take away afterwards and use as a template.
"Read a book on presenting" they said – so I read seven!
When I think back to the presentations I’ve done and seen before, I cringe at the slides and the actual pitch. I knew it was time to step up my game and to start studying the skills I needed to make a presentation great. I believed the best place to start was with some excellent books on presenting.
I love books, especially business books and even more so if they’re marketing related. So, with my project in mind I did my research. The books I reviewed were:
- Slide ology by Nancy Duarte
- Resonate by Nancy Duarte
- Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
- Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo
- The Presentation Coach by Graham Davies
- Lend Me Your Ears by Professor Max Atkinson
- Life’s a Pitch by Steven Bailey and Roger Mavity
To be honest I thought they were all great; I know from personal experience that it takes time, patience and a certain state of mind to put all that you have learned into a book, that's easy to follow and understand.
A desire to teach…
If these writers were willing to share their knowledge and teach their craft, then I should be willing to learn. Let’s be honest, when someone writes a book and they take the time and care to ensure that each page is well presented and communicates its message, then that speaks volumes about the quiet confidence of the person and the business. If they then allow you to download it for free, then that is a huge bonus! After reading these books again and again, it became crystal clear why and how so many people, including me, get presenting so wrong.
Bent Spines & Dog-eared Pages
The two books that really stick in my mind, and have both their spines bent and dog-eared pages, are 'Slide:ology' and 'Resonate' by Nancy Duarte. (FYI - 'Resonate', as I found out later, is also available from the Apple store, however I purchased my books from Amazon). That’s not to detract from the other books on the list, but these two had real, practical guidelines for building and delivering a top-class presentation. (By the way, Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen, and Nancy Duarte are very good friends).
For someone like me who wants to tinker with PowerPoint and present a new message, these two books were amazing. The essence of these books are as follows:
Crafting the flow
'Resonate' explains the principles of storytelling and how great presenters construct their speeches and presentations. It analyses the logic behind the format of stories and as an example, explains the plot sequence behind the Star Wars films to help explain why this particular format works.
So, 'Resonate' helped me to craft what I was saying and put it in the right order.
Choosing the visuals
'Slide:ology' compelled me to think about the images used and how I constructed the slides. The order was determined by the spoken element as I’ve mentioned above, yet bringing it together wasn’t as obvious or as easy as it might sound.
However, by combining the recommendations in both books, I was able to match the right spoken element, in terms of the flow of dialogue, with the right image and detail on the slide. It took lots of iterations to get it to a point where I was happy with the presentation and knew that it would convey the message I had, but it was well worth it in the end.
Saying what you mean
Carmine Gallo’s book 'Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs' was a delight to read, not least because it gave me an understanding as to why Steve Jobs was able to command such a following for his presentations and keynote speeches.
I originally thought Jobs’ skill was something inexplicable, but it turned out to be good ol’ fashioned hard work and practice that made everything Jobs did seem so effortless. If you haven’t seen Jobs present, take a look at this clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=x7qPAY9JqE4) of his Introduction to iPhone in 2007, to see what I mean.
Carmine Gallo also wrote another book called Talk Like TED that shares the stories and training of some of the people who have spoken on TED. It’s definitely worth a read.
'The Presentation Coach', 'Lend Me Your Ears' and 'Life’s a Pitch' were invaluable as all three books, in their unique way, helped to explain how the audience is thinking and how the presenter can set him/herself up for a fall if they’re not careful.
Changing my approach
This exercise forced me to review my overall sales pitch and the words and descriptions I used to talk about salesXchange. For me it was a classic case of “well I know what I'm talking about” and expecting the other person to get it immediately. It’s a good job my wife is such a sensitive critic.
Having studied these books, I had to apply what I had learnt. I adapted my presentation and my delivery and, I can honestly say, I felt more prepared and more confident in the way I spoke about salesXchange. I knew what I was saying made sense to my audience and, having tested it out on other people beforehand, I knew it wasn't just me thinking it was okay.
But do bear in mind that “Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” and when it comes to presentation skills, nothing beats practice, practice, practice. It’s also worth pointing out that the best piece of advice is to complete as many ‘dry-runs’ as you can. This means that when you are delivering your presentation, that no matter who or what interrupts you, you can always pick up the thread and are able to act naturally, calmly and most importantly, authentically, in front of your audience.
Early days and more to learn
It's still early days and I hope to do many more presentations and to continuously improve, adapt and change. But for now, and this first presentation with my newly acquired knowledge, I was pretty happy with my first self-taught ‘coached’ effort of combining words and images.
We need all the help we can get to avoid ‘Death-by-PowerPoint’. We, at SalesXchange, will continue to use these techniques and recommendations as we embark on our own journey with our new “ground-breaking” business idea, that we believe will change the way people do business all over the world.
These books certainly helped me on my quest for the perfect presentation.
About the Author
Nigel is the Founder & Managing Director of salesXchange and has been helping businesses for over 25 years to develop their marketing, technologies and infrastructure to generate more profits, more efficiently. His recent book "Integrate! The Essential Business Technology & Marketing Handbook" can be downloaded from Amazon.