Here’s the Real Deal Regarding Presentations

A large part of my professional life has to do with delivering presentations, seminars and workshops on all kinds of topics, ranging from how to get the millennials to behave in the workplace (or at least civil according to their boomer bosses) – to how to motivate employees without spending a dime – to how to speak to a CFO about that “fuzzy” stuff called human resources, or god forbid, organization development.  Yes, most of my work  has to do with behavior – would you expect any less from the Whisperer?

When I develop my presentations though,  I really try hard to do three important things to hook my audience:  1) impart factual, easy to use information, 2) be creative and interesting in the delivery of the presentation and, 3) use PowerPoint as a compliment to the presentation, NOT be the presentation.

I found that Guy Kawasaki is the total guru when it comes to the art of PowerPoint and using that to your advantage when selling an idea.  Guy was one of the early employees at Apple and has since branched out to the world of venture capital.  He wrote the book, “Art of the Start” after seeing countless PP presentations that were one big block of text and thus, one big yawn.  Guy says that if you’re gonna use PP as a part of your presentation, then make sure it follows what he calls the “10/20/30” rule:

10 slides – this is the optimal number because humans can’t process more than 10 ideas in a single sitting.  Adult learning theory tells us that a single sitting is about an hour.  So, I translate that into no more than 10 slides per lesson or concept that I’m trying to share.  Any more than that is just extra crap that people have to wade through (or read when you are presenting, which means their attention is not focused where it needs to be: on YOU).

20 minutes – the whole pitch should be no more than 20 minutes in length.  If you’re scheduled for an hour, this will give you 40 minutes for questions and discussion.  Think about it:  most presentations are designed to initiate some of type of discussion, whether it is to enforce learning or to make a sale.  Adult learning theory also tells us that adults like to share experiences when learning things; it helps them to process the new information.

30 points – if you have to use any text on your PP, make sure the font, anywhere in the slide deck, is NO smaller than 30 points.  First of all, people in the back of the room need to be able to see it easily.  Secondly, if you make it smaller you’re going to be tempted to just toss your whole presentation onto the slide and just read it.  I swear, other than watching paint dry, there is nothing more boring than watching a presenter read the PowerPoint.  (You know who you are!)   The other thing is that people can read faster than you can talk, which again means they are paying attention to the PP, not to YOU.

I personally don’t respect any speaker who reads his or her PowerPoint.  That’s just lame.  It makes me think you don’t know your stuff.  And, I’m usually right.  🙂

By the way, I also HATE some of the animations PowerPoint has built into its programming.  I personally find it very distracting when people use them and it also makes me wonder what the person is trying to hide (e.g., their lack of knowledge) with all the bells and whistles.  But…I do like using different types of transitions – moving between slides – and at times, I also like using some animation judiciously to help illustrate a point.  The best thing to use though, is your body to emphasize when something  is important.

The bottom line is, what really makes a presentation great?  Being a strong confident speaker, of course, but the tools you use to help prove or supplement your point goes a long way.

After all, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words.


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