Impactful Presentations in 4 Easy Steps

Working at a business intelligence company, I spend a lot of time at conferences and obviously I come across some stellar presentations. The good news is that's its all entirely coachable.

I have compiled our collective experience here at eyeforpharma and the top tips out there into a small guide to make your presentation captivating, informative, memorable and just plain great.

Step 1: Define the core idea and find a narrative

The first thing you need to do is define the one thing you really want your audience to walk away with.

The truth is that you're rarely a one-man show. You might be crammed into the middle of an afternoon session; and even if you're the keynote speaker, let's face it, people don't give you their undivided attention: emails, What's App, Facebook, Twitter, or even just thinking about how what you're saying applies to the project they're working on. Basically, you're lucky if people remember one key thing from your presentation. Make sure you know what you want that key thing to be.

Once you figure out the core idea, you need to find a narrative that will help make your idea come across to people, give your arguments color and make them real. It is important to choose your narrative. Choose your narrative. A few years back, I went to a conference where the underlying topic was pharma business model change. Five different people started their presentations with a Darwin quote"it's not the strongest of species that survive…, but the one most adaptable to change". A great quote and spot on if you're going to talk about how pharma needs to change its transactional business model and move into health solutions. But when you are number five to use it in your opening slide, it loses its effectiveness and you can be pretty sure that no-one in the audience will remember your presentation five minutes after you left the podium. 

You need to make your narrative personal. Tell a story and make it about your experiences (Jamie Oliver does it well in this impassioned plea on obesity  - see below). M3´s President, Michael DePalma, also excels in his presentation Idiot lights, prevention and the Human API). Make it personal - that's the best way of assuring that your presentation is completely unique – even at 3:30 pm on the second day of a conference – as well as grabbing people's attention and getting your points across.


Step 2: Elaborate your arguments and structure (and practice!)

Now you take your core idea, develop it and structure it into a presentation.

When it comes to presentations, less is often more. Skip everything that isn't serving your core idea 100% (one of the things that make a good presentation great, according to Geoffrey James). This means that if you had secondary and tertiary ideas, you might want to save these for another presentation because the risk is that your audience will leave not remembering any of the three.

Instead, take your core idea and break it up into arguments and examples. This means repetition. For once, repetition is a good thing. First of all, people usually need to hear things more than once to actually remember them. Secondly, your argument might be valid in different ways to different people. It's worthwhile giving a few examples from several perspectives to make sure everybody gets it (in 'Talk Like TED', Carmine Gallo talks about “painting a mental picture with multisensory experiences”).

Also, give people solutions. Your audience will appreciate and remember your presentation better if you give them something they can bring home and apply immediately. Your core idea might not be completely solution-driven, but then make sure you teach people something they didn't know.

Another key thing that is mentioned in many presentation guides (for example this one) is the importance of making the presentation fit together. The audience should easily understand why you went from one thing to another. Your narrative can play a key part here, use it to drive your story forward and make it flow.

Finally, when you're done structuring your arguments and making it all fit together, start practicing! Very few people can deliver a great or even good presentation without considerable preparation. It is true of course that with experience, the preparation needed diminishes. But to get there, you still need to put in the work at some point.

Start timing it when you've practiced for a while. A presentation should never, and I mean never be longer than the stipulated time. To the contrary, as Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten describes in his excellent list, don't be afraid to only use 15 minutes of the programed 30 – if it's good enough people will have questions for you to cover the remaining 15 minutes, if it's not good enough, people will be happy you didn't waste their time for the full half hour. According to TED, people can't focus on a presentation longer than 18 minutes anyway. Presentation guru, Guy Kawasaki, talks about the 10-20-30 rule (10 slides maximum, 20 minutes maximum, and 30 font size minimum)

Time the entire presentation, but also parts of it, make yourself comfortable with your material and see what you can skip if needed, where you can jump and mix up the order – play with your presentation, you just might improve something.

Step 3: Build your slides

Aaron Weyenberg leads TED's UX team and he claims that you should build your slides last – and who am I to disagree with him. In any case, it's true. Your presentation needs to stand on its own. The slides should only be a visual aid to your speech, enhancing the images you are creating in people's minds with your narrative and examples.

You can check out all Aaron's tips here. In summary, they are:

  • Create a consistent look and feel
  • Use as little text as possible & make text readable
  • It's a fact that people can't read and listen at the same time. Don't make it difficult for them
  • Use photos that enhance meaning
  • Go easy on effects and transitions
  • For video, don't use autoplay

One last thing before we move on. Use fewer slides than you think. And then remove some more. To talk less than three minutes on one slide is difficult, so do the math and adapt the number of slides to your presentation and time.

Step 4: Presenting

So the big moment is here. You've defined your core idea, woven it together with an intriguing story, you've found examples that will resonate with your audience, you know your stuff so well you mumble it in your sleep, and you've built a kick-ass Power Point to go with it. What to think about when you're standing up there on the stage?

Well, first a few things you shouldn't do.

And then what you should do.

  • Be confident. You know your stuff, you've come prepared, so be confident: make eye contact, use your hands when you talk, and (if you have a portable mic) move around the stage. And if you get stuck, don't worry, take a few deep breaths and pick it up. You'll never give a perfect presentation; there'll always be things to improve so look at each occasion as a possibility to learn and improve.
  • Be entertaining and funny, but no need to entertain and crack jokes. The funniest presentations I've listened to have been given without the tiniest smile from the presenter. Don't make jokes. If you know something is funny in your presentation, say it with a straight face and you'll see that it'll be even funnier to people.
  • Invite the audience to participate. Most presentations we get to make are for smaller groups of people (and with smaller I mean up to around 100-200 people). At least in business conferences the hall is also filled with knowledge and experience - a great presentation not only shows what you know, but brings out the collective knowledge of the audience and uses it to shed light on the issue. Use this great opportunity for interaction and ask your audience questions, invite them to raise their hands and ask questions, talk with them (instead of to them).

One final thought. Don’t forget that it's not about you, it's about them. Your time with the mic is only determined by the value you provide your audience.

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eyeforpharma Brasil 2015

May 26, 2015 - May 27, 2015, São Paulo

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