5 tips for startups and small business: creating a presentation Mike | May 10th, 2010

There are few things you can do that are more important than delivering a good presentation. Nor are there few things that most entrepreneurs do as poorly. We tend to be dependent on slide decks, but the decks we use are often poorly thought out, thematically confusing, and esthetically challenged. Slide decks should support the presenter, not the other way around, though this is rarely the case and many speakers use their slides a crutch, simply reading to their audience the words on the screen. The rule of thumb should be that the talk should be able to stand on its own, without slides, and if it can not do that, then there is a much deeper problem that a deck can not overcome.

1. Keep it stupid simple. Thematically, visually, organizationally – it is critical that your messaging be clear, concise and to the point. Don’t waste words, don’t waste imagery, and most importantly don’t waste your audience’s time. If what you need to communicate will take the full hour, than by all means do so. But if you can communicate the information in 20 minutes instead, that will be preferable for all concerned. When creating a presentation, I tend to work backwards, considering first what I am trying to impart, and then structuring the presentation around that goal. Here is the opening slide from a presentation Ross and I did shortly after we launched. Sort of says it all, no?

2. Be organized. Like all great narratives, presentations too should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And like a good research paper, they should clearly state the thesis up front, support it with confirming evidence and research, state it again at the end and summarize to tie it all together. So, start at the beginning and work your way to the end and make sure you can defend your assumptions, and that your research is of the highest quality.

3. Make sure the words on the screen are not the words coming from your mouth. Perhaps it is my own pet peeve, but I truly believe that I am not alone on this. I find nothing to be more annoying than watching a presenter literally read the endless bullet points that populate their boring slides. Please, please, please put me out of my misery and use the slides to support whatever it is you are saying – remember that your audience (or most of them, at least) can read and they don’t need you to do it for them.

4. Crowded and dense slides are a reflection of a crowded dense mind. The NY Times recently published a story on the overuse of Powerpoint presentations in the military and used this slide as an example of the madness. When the commanding general of the Afghanistan campaign saw this slide he remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

5. Entertain them. This reflects my own bias, coming out of the film industry, but I honestly believe that it is critical to keep your audience engaged and entertained. This can be done with humor (especially if it is at the expense of your partner, as illustrated by the slide below), with great visuals, but most of all must be accomplished with the content of your presentation, your own communication skills, and by paying attention to the people to whom you’re speaking. When you see them starting to nod out, it’s probably time to move to the next slide.

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  • Kyle Hawke

    Great post. Incredibly important.

    Most important though is to know when you are using slides as a deliverable vs. support for a presentation. If you are going to leave the slides behind, in a hard copy with the audience, you will need more information on the slides than if you are just using them as background during a verbal presentation.

    Other ideas to spice up supporting slides for a verbal presentation:
    - Buy stock photography from istockphoto and cover the entire slide with it in the background. e.g. if your business model addresses three intersecting business trends, use a huge picture of an intersection in the background. Write text over it.
    - Never use clip art.
    - 30 point font or more. It keeps you honest and prevents you from using too many words. 45pt, 60pt font even better.

  • Kyle Hawke

    Great post. Incredibly important.

    Most important though is to know when you are using slides as a deliverable vs. support for a presentation. If you are going to leave the slides behind, in a hard copy with the audience, you will need more information on the slides than if you are just using them as background during a verbal presentation.

    Other ideas to spice up supporting slides for a verbal presentation:
    - Buy stock photography from istockphoto and cover the entire slide with it in the background. e.g. if your business model addresses three intersecting business trends, use a huge picture of an intersection in the background. Write text over it.
    - Never use clip art.
    - 30 point font or more. It keeps you honest and prevents you from using too many words. 45pt, 60pt font even better.

  • Rebecca White

    One of the best presentations I ever attended used cartoons for the slides. Mostly business themed, Dilbert style or New Yorker single panel style. Each one was loosely tied to the points the presenter was making. It gave us something interesting to look at and put us in the right mindset to hear her message.

  • Rebecca White

    One of the best presentations I ever attended used cartoons for the slides. Mostly business themed, Dilbert style or New Yorker single panel style. Each one was loosely tied to the points the presenter was making. It gave us something interesting to look at and put us in the right mindset to hear her message.

  • Renato Gomes

    I recently got to know a new on-line tool for presentations it is a really fresh option to PPT’s. It can be a bit annoying to produce your first “prezi” but once you got fluent it’s just fun. And the best part is that you get rid of all that boring power point animations, doing some really smart movements instead. It grabs the audience’s attention.

  • Renato Gomes

    I recently got to know a new on-line tool for presentations it is a really fresh option to PPT’s. It can be a bit annoying to produce your first “prezi” but once you got fluent it’s just fun. And the best part is that you get rid of all that boring power point animations, doing some really smart movements instead. It grabs the audience’s attention.

  • Scot Burns – Redbarn Marketing

    We had the opportunity to introduce a new client to the market. We did what Rebecca mentioned above. We prepared white board “cards” with animations on them to simply communicate what their service did. They were the hit of the presentation becuase evryone else simply recited what they had bullet pointed on their powerpoint slides.

    From this preentation we decided to build on it and we took it to the next level with an animated cartoon and voiceover. People are waiting and asking when the next one will come out. Here is is in case you want to see… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgnvkZEW3S8

  • Scot Burns – Redbarn Marketing

    We had the opportunity to introduce a new client to the market. We did what Rebecca mentioned above. We prepared white board “cards” with animations on them to simply communicate what their service did. They were the hit of the presentation becuase evryone else simply recited what they had bullet pointed on their powerpoint slides.

    From this preentation we decided to build on it and we took it to the next level with an animated cartoon and voiceover. People are waiting and asking when the next one will come out. Here is is in case you want to see… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgnvkZEW3S8

  • Mike

    Thanks all for the comments and feedback! Some really good thoughts here –
    @Kyle: I love the idea of jazzing up the slides with graphics, but continue to espouse the less if more philosophy of K.I.S.S…. AND the 10/20/30 rule is a great one to remember: keep it under 10 slides, make it last under 20 minutes, and use only 30 point fonts and up.
    @Rebecca: Humor is a great tool and as I point out in the post, entertaining your audience is key, whether it is a group of investors, employees, or conference attendees.
    @Renato: I have been playing with http://prezi.com/ for the last few months since Ross pointed me to it and am waiting for the right opportunity to try it out on an audience. Looks so cool!
    @Scot That is really cool! Great job!

  • Mike

    Thanks all for the comments and feedback! Some really good thoughts here –
    @Kyle: I love the idea of jazzing up the slides with graphics, but continue to espouse the less if more philosophy of K.I.S.S…. AND the 10/20/30 rule is a great one to remember: keep it under 10 slides, make it last under 20 minutes, and use only 30 point fonts and up.
    @Rebecca: Humor is a great tool and as I point out in the post, entertaining your audience is key, whether it is a group of investors, employees, or conference attendees.
    @Renato: I have been playing with http://prezi.com/ for the last few months since Ross pointed me to it and am waiting for the right opportunity to try it out on an audience. Looks so cool!
    @Scot That is really cool! Great job!

  • Ellen Finkelstein

    While I tell people to use the “Tell ‘n’ Show” method, with a short sentence and then a photo, graph, or diagram to show the point, your slides with just a few words on it are great for people who feel challenged by having to add any type of visual. But when people practice using visuals, they do get comfortable with them and are amazed at how powerful PowerPoint slides can be.

    When prseenters speak over a slide of bulleted text, not only does the audience hate it, but they don’t hear what the presenter is saying. That’s because the audience is reading the slide and the brain doesn’t multitask very well. In fact, the presenter’s voice becomes an annoying drone in the background, disturbing the attempt to read (and understand) the slide. How counterproductive is that!

  • Ellen Finkelstein

    While I tell people to use the “Tell ‘n’ Show” method, with a short sentence and then a photo, graph, or diagram to show the point, your slides with just a few words on it are great for people who feel challenged by having to add any type of visual. But when people practice using visuals, they do get comfortable with them and are amazed at how powerful PowerPoint slides can be.

    When prseenters speak over a slide of bulleted text, not only does the audience hate it, but they don’t hear what the presenter is saying. That’s because the audience is reading the slide and the brain doesn’t multitask very well. In fact, the presenter’s voice becomes an annoying drone in the background, disturbing the attempt to read (and understand) the slide. How counterproductive is that!

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