Michael Bleau Michael Bleau

Presentations: Keep it Simple

April 1, 2011

Recently I was reminded how quickly one can over-think something seemingly as simple yet as important as a presentation. Case in point: An engineer tasked with presenting to a group of peers who crams 150 slides into a 20-min. time slot. I, too, struggle against this urge to build endless slide decks that are heavy on narrative, packed with bullet points and often contain unnecessary detail.

 Such overkill creates barriers to clear and effective communication. To avoid these barriers, consider the following tips to help ensure that presentations are direct, clear and well-received.

Know your audience and define the purpose of the presentation—entertain, persuade, inform, sell, etc. The topic, purpose and audience will help define the tone and approach for the presentation—light-hearted, formal or somewhere in the middle. 

Also important to consider is the audience members’ level of technical interest and expertise, and their expectations. Every presentation should provide takea value. Distill complex ideas into specific, concise points that the audience can easily remember and take with them. If attendees don’t walk a with value, they’ll forget you and your presentation, resulting in wasted time for all involved.

A good presentation “shows” and/or “tells.” In fact, a presentation deck may not be needed at all. If the presenter can engage the audience through an actual demonstration of the subject, a slideshow may become a distraction. Show and tell allows an audience to experience the presentation in a sensory-rich .

Understand the purpose of the tool. Do not use presentation software as a crutch, acting as a teleprompter from which the speaker merely reads. PowerPoint, Keynote and other slideshow software enhances the presentation, and allows multiple presenters from a company to consistently deliver a common message. But the software is only a tool; the presenter must convey the information contained in the slideshow so that the audience gains value. Resist the urge to splurge on the hundreds of typefaces, colors, transitions and pieces of clip art contained in the software. Design slides with open space, and keep backgrounds, use of color and text simple so that slides look consistent and not distracting.

Tell your story. Present a compelling story, à la Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs and his persuasive, easy-to-follow arguments that follow carefully scripted storylines complete with antagonist and hero. The antagonist might be the shortcomings of current technology, the hero your latest product solution. Follow the “rule of three” (search this term on the Internet).

Connect with the audience. Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and other noted speakers knew the value of thoughtful word selection, and understood how ordinary language could inspire listeners. Consider the power of phrases such as “trust but verify,” “tear down this wall” and “evil empire.”


Choose visuals over copy. Info-graphics offer powerful, engaging tools to communicate information. Develop slides that communicate ideas using informative images or graphics, rather than bullet points. There are plenty of resources available to help presenters learn to prepare good visuals. Search the Internet for the keyword “infographics;” check out Edward’s Tufte’s books on the subject of envisioning information; and obtain a copy of Dan Roam’s books on problem-solving with pictures. 

Technology matters. Technology can play a big role in presentation polish and flexibility. For example, include a simple navigation bar in the presentation so that the material can quickly be adapted to suit a particular audience and its interests. Also, use the right delivery device for the situation. A tablet PC or iPad, for example, with solid-state data storage, provides snappy screen loading and video playback without having to fumble with the slower operating systems and disk drives that plague laptop computers.

Be prepared. Even after mastering all of the concepts described above, nothing can substitute for a well-rehearsed and personable speaker who not only is knowledgeable but who also adapts to the expectations of the audience. MF

Industry-Related Terms: Case, Color, Point
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management


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