Friday, February 12, 2010

Presentation Tips

We find that people get the most fired up about boring presentations when they have to sit through many of them. So we see many posts like the on below from VCs who sit through presentation, we hear the same thing from yuvaks and yuvatis who have sat through a lifetime worth of lifeless presentations. However a blog reader send us this post to say that change is on the way. Abridged and edited tips below from Both Sides of The Table Blog.

Most people [are not good] at presenting to big groups. It’s a shame because the ability to nail these presentations at key conferences can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to influence journalists, business partners, potential employees, customers and VCs [and fellow satsangis]. So I thought I’d write a piece on how to not suck when you give a presentation. I spoke about this yesterday on Fox Business News. I’ll put up the video when they post it on their website.

1. Show some energy! – No great presentation can be delivered like a conversation. You’re not lecturing to a college class, you’re not at a cocktail party and you’re not chatting with a small group in a board meeting. You’re on stage! People are sitting in their chairs for too long – most of them squirming. Many of them have their iPhones and laptops ready to command their attention the moment that you start sucking. You’re on stage – act like it! Get out of your comfort zone. You need to be an order of magnitude more perky than you would feel comfortable with in a normal conversation.

2. Tell a story – Every great presentation tells a story. Stories have starts, middles and ends. They are human and touch emotions. The bring your product to life. They are not buzzwords or bullet points. Why do people think that buzzwords are going to interest audiences?

I always tell people that if you’re not creative in how you tell stories the simplest way to do so is by telling “a day in the life” of your potential user. Establish the persona of the person who would be using your products. Help us to get to know him or her. Tell us what their life is like without your product – how they struggle. Tell us about the breakthrough they’ll have when they’re using your product.

3. Learn how to structure – Telling a story is one thing. But make sure that you’re structured in the way you communicate. You need to break down your message into key components. It is generally best if you have a “theme” or “thesis” which if the main point you want to get across. You then need sub-themes or “supporting evidence” to reinforce your key theme. These are weaved through your story.

If you’re not naturally talented at good, logical structures you may consider purchasing The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. She wrote the book that inspired the way that people at McKinsey and Accenture do presentations. OK, hold back on your consulting humor. But seriously her book is spot on.

3. Know your audience - I always try to find out something about the audience before I present.

4. Be unique / memorable – Do SOMETHING that makes you stand out. For almost everybody – DO NOT attempt humor. If you’re not already the funniest person you know in social situations you’re not likely to be funny on stage. Nothing is worse than bombing at jokes on stage.

5. KISS – (keep it simple, stupid) The goal of the presentation is just to give the audience a basic sense of what you do and why it matters. Don’t confuse this with a tour-de-force education on the finer details of how your company operations. They simply need to know: who has a problem? how are you solving this problem? why does this matter? how big of a problem is it – really?

So I recommend that you GREATLY simplify your message. The conventional wisdom is that the audience can only remember 3 simple things about any presentation 10 minutes after they’ve seen it. I think 3 might be an exaggeration. You’re there to leave an impression – not to educate. It’s OK to throw in some facts & figures that people won’t remember because giving people numbers helps them understand the magnitude of the problem you’re solving.

6. Summarize – The old line about presenting was, “tell us what you’re going to tell us, tell us and then tell us what you told us.” If you literally do this it will be very boring. But the core idea is right. If you want the audience to remember what you covered you need to be slightly repetitive with your key take-away message. I like to have an “anchor line” which is my big take-away point and have it repeated three times throughout the presentation.

7. Make it visual – Bullet point were the worst thing ever created for group presentations. Nobody wants to read your text on a big screen. If you’re going to do that why not just print out your presentation and leave it on my seat. Far more expedient. You presentation should have almost no bullet points. The way to capture an audience’s attention is visually. Pictures set the image, your voice tells what would have been in the bullet points.

You need to memorize what you’re going to say when each image comes up. If you wants some words to support the image – fine. But make them sparse and make the B-I-G! If you really get nervous and are afraid you’ll forget your lines have one 3X5 cue card in your hands for each slide. Don’t write sentences on the – only key words to help you remember what you’re going to say.

One strategy I often employ. I often do two versions of my presentations – one that has mostly images and one with a lot of supporting text. I use the latter if I send out the deck after the presentation. Sending out a follow up deck with a lot of images is silly – no one remembers the “meat.” But writing lots of words on a slide you put up on a big screen so that later people will be able to understand what you said is also suboptimal. My dual approach solves both needs.

8. Practice! – It was clear many of the people who presented at Twiistup’s Pre-Demo Night hadn’t practiced enough. It is not sufficient to write yourself notes and read them before hand. You actually need to do a dry run in front of friends, colleagues and others. People don’t like to do this because it feels funny “pretending” to deliver a presentation. That’s not you. You’re going to read out your points like it is for real. You’re not going to stop and go out of character and say, “oh, that didn’t sound right. I’m gonna do this page over from the start.” You wouldn’t say that on stage.

There is only one way to know how your presentation will go – to do it in advance. Get real feedback from your listeners. Ask them to be harsh. Better that you know now than in front of 300 people.

9. Stick to your time – If you’ve been given 6 minutes then plan a presentation that can be done in 5. Trust me – whatever amount of time you’ve gone over in practice it will be longer when you’re on stage. And if you’re done a minute early – bravo! The audience will love you. The best way to manage to a time is: a) practice with a stop watch and b) have less slides than you think you’ll need. There is nothing worse than a presentation that runs over the end of the allotted time. Oh wait, there is. A presentation that is CUT OFF because it ran long. And you don’t get to finish your points or summarize at the end. Don’t be this person.

10. Have a “Plan B” – the show must go on – As was evidenced at the UCLA event and at many, many events I’ve been to – there are times when you have technical difficulties. The show must go on. Have a plan b that you can fall back on. Where you planning to demo? Fine, but if it isn’t working you need to call an audible. If it’s a really important show there’s an easy solution. Have a PowerPoint deck with screen shots that you can walk through. Simply say, “Obviously I preferred to do a live demo but I have a deck with screen shots just in case this happened. Whew.”

11. Have someone else drive the demo – Don’t try to be super human. Have somebody else drive the demo. There’s nothing worse than the presenter constantly stopping their speaking to concentrate on typing text, clicking on tabs or futzing with the computer. Have another person that drives the demo. There actions need to be scripted so that you know exactly what’s going to happen. They obviously need to practice just as much as you do. If they do something out of sequence don’t hesitate to politely instruct them. Tell them in advance to listen for your cues in case this happens.

Some final “no no’s”

- “how’s everybody doing today?” – lots of people start with stupid chatter like that at the start of their presentations. It adds nothing. You’re not a comedian warming up the audience. Get right down to business. I hate time wasters at the start of a presentation. You’re already trying to stick to a rigid time plan.

- how many of you “X”? – OK, I already said above that you can ask if people are entrepreneurs, investors, etc. But please don’t say things like “how many of you have ever had problems with Outlook?” or “How many of you are frustrated with Facebook?” or some similar line to prove your point. You never know how the audience will react. If you don’t get the response you expect it ruins your tempo and the audience will start to question your premise. The risks outweigh the benefits.

- don’t turn around and read the screen – ooooh. Big pet peeve. If you don’t put up bullet points this will never happen to you! But it looks really stupid PLUS your voice projects in the wrong direction. Many, many people make this mistake. Yuck.

- never say, “I know this slide is really busy and hard to read” – if it’s so busy and hard to read then why did you put it in your deck? Are you a moron? If you practiced you sure would realize that nobody could read it. People say this all the time. I cringe when I see it happen. It definitely is an IQ test thing for me.

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