The Seven “New Rules” of Business Presentations
November 17, 2013
“WATCH THE BOSS. THEN DO WHAT HE DOES.”
That was advice given to me long ago on how to properly prepare and give a business presentation. Quite possibly the worst business advice I have ever received. The “watch the boss” advice, however, seems to be set in stone for new people coming up the ranks in business. There’s not a lot of time, money or effort invested in training people internally on how to give presentations. It’s sink or swim … and the sinking can get pretty ugly.
WHAT I WISH I’D LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN – BUT NOT FROM MY BOSS
Having seen hundreds of business presentations and given a few myself, there are a few things I wish someone would have taught me in kindergarten. Seven things or “New Rules” of business presentations to be precise. I pass these on to anyone new to the dreaded gauntlet of the business presentation or any grizzled veterans who want to walk on the wild side and shake things up.
Structurally there are two completely different parts to every business presentation – composition and delivery.
1. Composition - is creating, organizing, formatting and structuring the ideas, information, insights and imagery. It’s hard work and hard-thinking.
2. Performance- of the presentation is an attitude, mindset, vision and problem-solving stage performance. It’s hard work, hard-thinking, and should inform, educate and if possible, entertain.
ARE YOU A CAESAR?
Every great presentation I’ve seen states a specific problem, the implications of that problem, then provides a pathway to resolve the problem – and reap the attendant benefits. Simple as that. And as complicated as that.
OR A FLYING STINK-O-POTAMUS?
If a presentation doesn’t state the problem, then provide a vision of a future with that problem solved and the benefit to be expected, it will never be great … or even good.
A presentation that fails that basic but singular task is typically referred to as “A Flying Stink-o-potamus.” Sometimes the “f” is left off the word “flying.”
The seven “New Rules” I propose below mostly involve the composition part of the presentation. If you’re fairly new to business and business presentations, or just don’t want to walk in the same old corporate presentation-crapola anymore, these rules will help set you apart quickly. Might get you fired – but you will be different.
THE SEVEN “NEW RULES” OF BUSINESS PRESENTATIONS
1. NEVER COPY YOUR BOSS
Bad idea. You know why? Because he copied his boss. And his boss copied his boss when his boss was copying his boss back when copying included using scribes and hieroglyphics. Back when a tablets were made of stone. Copying your boss is unimaginative, sycophantic and boring. It’s easy though – and that’s why it’s still the number source of bad presentations. Still… NEVER copy your boss. Think for yourself.
* There are some exceptions to this rule – like if your boss is Ron White (the comedian).
2. WORDS: 0-10 MAX PER SLIDE
In the article “Uncovering Steve Jobs’ Presentation Secrets” Carmine Gallo wrote,
“The average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. In some presentations, Steve Jobs has a total of seven words in 10 slides. And why are you cluttering up your slides with too many words?”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
40 words per slide? That flabbergasted me. I’ve never seen less than 75. Carmine must not get out much.
THE NEW RULE: 0-10 WORDS MAXIMUM PER SLIDE.
3. SIZE: 50-60 POINT FONT
Guy Kawasaki has a 10-20-30 Rule of PowerPoint which was good in its day.
- 10 Slides.
- 20 Minutes.
- 30-Point Font (no smaller than)
But that rule needs updating. Use no smaller than a 50-point font and strive consistently to use a 60-point font. If you do that you’ll automatically comply with New Rule Number 3.
Try squeezing a lot of 60-point font words on one slide. You’ll see what I mean.
4. BAN ALL BULLET-POINTS
Ban it. Beat it. Bash it. Just don’t ever bullet-point it again.
This is an all-out call to ban the bullet-point. Many a good presentation has been bungled by bilious bullet-points being bandied about in a baffling badinage of balderdash. Really.
Step out of the crowd. March to the beat of your own bullet-pointless presentation. Step out of dark and into the light.
Ban the bullet-point. The world will be a better place!
5. TEXT COLOR – BE CONSISTENT
If your text starts out white – keep it white. Don’t have multiple colors of text throughout the presentation. It’s like reading a 3-D rainbow written in Sumerian eme-ĝir. It’s distracting.
Okay, this is a pet-peeve of mine, other people might not mind reading a rainbow written in Sumerian eme-ĝir, but it is distracting to me.
6. USE VIGOROUS LANGUAGE
Instead of “creating” use “create.” Instead of “going” use “go.”
A little thing … but it will make your presentation stronger. It works.
“Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing,” Hemingway said in 1940. “I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.”
7. NO CORPORATE GOBBLEDYGOOK VISUALS
Do not use stock photos. Smiling faces of corporate fakeness. This is hard, I know. It’s ingrained in the business culture as much as corporate gobbledygook, which continually invades good clean page space with too many words drained of meaning. A lot of small-to-medium size companies don’t have access to great visuals so they buy into a stock photo subscription. Do the best you can with what you have.
Try to use brilliant, mysterious, evocative images that stun … and know that these can also be simple and stark, as long as they catch the eye and further the storyline of your presentation. Where can you find such images? However, if you want to check out some free to do whatever you want with images that are pretty exceptional try Unsplash.com. Others you can check out include Flickr’s Creative Commons, Comfight, Stock.xchange, and FreePixels.
8. USE THE PRINCIPLE OF CREATIVE LIMITATION
Limit yourself so you can grow. Both creatively and intellectually.
Robert McKee, Hollywood screenwriting guru and bestselling author of the book STORY, and I discussed the principle of creative limitation in “A Simple, Timeless Tale” interview.
“The PowerPoint presentation is easy, that’s why people do it. But creative limitation means instead of doing something the easy way, you do it the hard way. You take a method that is much more difficult to accomplish. As a result in your struggle as a salesman to accomplish the presentation in the form of a story, you are forcing yourself to be creative. The more difficult you make it for yourself, the more brilliant the solutions you will have to come up with or you fail. And when you come up with brilliant creative solutions to the presentation, the results for the people, for the audience, are stunning.”
These “New Rules” for business presentations force you to become more creative in your presentations.
They free you to simplify.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci
They free you to beautify.
They free you to amplify.
These New Rules can be the canvas you paint your presentation on to deliver the message any audience really craves which is …
“Make me dream, Touch me, Comfort me, Amuse me, Make me laugh, Make me weep, Make me shudder, Make me think.” – Guy de Maupassant