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The Seven “New Rules” of Business Presentations

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Estimated reading time: 9 minute(s)

“WATCH THE BOSS. THEN DO WHAT HE DOES.”

BAD IDEA

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.

THE BASICS

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?

2Great presentations meld composition and performance seamlessly – like Shakespeare’s play Julius 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?

Image by Ben Heine

Image by Ben Heine

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 copiedhis 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

I cribbed this from Hemmingway’s Four Rules of Writing. What is vigorous language? Action-oriented. Imperative verbs.  And try not to use “ing” words (gerunds), or minimize them as much as possible.

EXAMPLE:

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 CommonsComfight, 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.”

Photo courtesy of H. Kopp Delaney

Photo courtesy of H. Kopp Delaney

FORCED FREEDOM

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

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8 Responses to "The Seven “New Rules” of Business Presentations"
  1. Woody Sears says:

    Steve, I learn with every issue of ExpertAccess, and I am honored that you choose to include my articles. Your amazing 5-minute presentation had me holding my breath, looking at the monitor wide-eyed so as not to miss anything. As I introduce EA to my students and others, I always mention Cincom and Tom Nies. In that way, I hope to help encourage the budget committee to keep your creative energies flowing. Yours is indeed a rare talent, and I appreciate Cincom’s providing the platform that allows you to share it! Best wishes for Thanksgiving and a long, long run with EA! woody

  2. S.Smith says:

    My vote is: eliminate power point. But I suppose that may be too extreme.

  3. Steve~

    Wow and triple WOW ! On this first work week of this new decade I want to thank you for rocking me out of my Powerpoint induced stupor and propelling into the future.

    I am admittedly and to some extent deliberately behind the times, attempting to preserve what’s left of my ability to manage my time, knowing that this is the year to make the moves.

    Thanks for being a steady source of inspiration and a role model for communicators everywhere.

    Happy Healthy and Prosperous (not to mention, rockin’)New Year to you.

  4. Steve,

    I despair.

    I read the first part of your article with great enthusiasm, then my heart sank.

    Like nearly everyone presenting today, or writing on presentations today, you assume that the presentation will use slideware (eg Powerpoint). Yet your first example of a great presentation – Julius Caesar – does not.

    What about flipcharts? Whiteboards? What about props? Skits? What about just _talking_ to the people?

    Sure, slideware can be useful. I believe it is useful about 10% of the time, and severely hinders more often then it helps. Even if your experience is different, why assume we will use it?

    It’s like going to a home supplies store and being told a million tips for using a hammer. What is my problem is a leaky faucet?

    All the best,

    Adam

    PS Your vid is great – but it’s not a presentation. It’s a film, or a set of background visuals that worked well in combination with your presence and the power of silence.

    • Steve Kayser says:

      Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate it. However, differences of opinion we may have one of thm is not the power of story in a presentation. What I used also was not Slldeware. It was SlideRocket. There were props. No flipcharts which are boring – but wjhiteboard when necessary. To you it may not have been a preentation. It was a film? Good interpretation. Either way works.

  5. J. Joseph says:

    Thanks Steve. Your article is just in time as I am preparing presentations for my new business. Also, thanks for pointing to the great resources by Carmine Gallo.

    <>

  6. jerry shawhan says:

    Never again will the budget committee fall for your presentations!!!

  7. mhoffbauer says:

    Excellent points, Steve.Thanks for sharing. I try to use as few words as possible, when I can manage it. For example, instead of a bulleted list (shudder!) of qualities an effective manager should possess, create a slide with a photo of a man’s face with red arrows pointing to his eyes and mouth that say, respectively, “open” and “closed”–two words, an effective image some may actually remember, and they’ll be listening to you instead of squinting at a 250-word slide.

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