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Passion, People and Principles

Some Principles of Presentations and Pitches

post # 196 — September 21, 2006 — a Client Relations post

When giving a presentation, you can focus on one of three things: your material (we must cover all these slides), yourself (let me impress you), or your audience (let me serve you in some way). Guess which it should be.

Make sure you address the audience’s needs, concerns, wants — not yours. They will give you back what you want if you serve them first.

Nothing is more guaranteed to lose an audience than forcing them to sit in a darkened room watching someone go through a fixed, invariant set of slides, no matter how insightful or attractive. Turn the house lights full up so you can see everyone. Hand out copies of all your slides in advance. Work to EARN your audience’s attention. Don’t try to control their attention – they will just resent it.

If you get through all your material, the presentation is a failure. If you cover your all of your material, you obviously did not engage and were not interrupted enough by the audience’s questions.

Clear exposition is rare and immensely valuable; get all the help you can get. Rehearse with an audience who have been given permission to critique.

When giving a presentation, write down in advance (just for your own benefit) the major points you want your audience to walk away with. If it doesn’t fit on one small card, your presentation is too unfocused.

Don’t underestimate the value of a nicely turned phase: Make it memorable! Try to find the phrase that summarizes the paragraph, the slogan that summarizes the key thought, the restatement that reminds them of your theme. Open with it. End with it.

Agreements? Disagreements? Other thoughts?


Laura Hunter said:

Re: your last two points — a former professor of mine (Lee Heubner) wrote for President Nixon and told us that every speech would come back with a phrase in red grease-pencil, “Where’s tomorrow’s headline?”… meaning, “write me an elegant, memorable phrase that sums up what I’m trying to say so the reporter doesn’t have to think too hard.” Keeping that in mind as I write/edit has certainly helped me keep it more focused.

posted on September 22, 2006

Todor said:

David, thanks for the post! Every day I learn something interesting!

This time the interesting new think I’ve learned is your idea of writing down on a small card the major points I’d like my audience to walk away with.

I’ll certainly give it a try! Sounds promising and very “focusing”! Thanks!

posted on September 24, 2006

Steve Pearce said:

Great principles! Don’t forget stories either. The best way of relating the general to the specific, of making ideas make sense.

One of my favorite quotes:”Scratch the surface in the boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” Alan Kay, I think, of HP.

posted on September 25, 2006

Tim Burrows said:


A good point, but was your professor a slow learner? :)

posted on September 25, 2006

Prem Rao said:

Very true. May I add that the “way “we present probably has more impact on the audience than merely “what” we present.

While we undoubtedly should keep the audience in mind, let’s stay conscious of how we come across to the audience. The impression they form of the speaker largely stems from a combination of non-verbals, tone of voice etc.

posted on September 27, 2006

Leo Bottary said:

Toni Louw, the best presentation training coach I know, shared a story with me that I think about every time I speak in front of a large group. He explained that when he was much younger, he gave a speech in South Africa. He was visibly nervous, but made it through his remarks. A gentleman stopped him as he was leaving the stage and said, “Nice speech, just don’t be so selfish next time.” Toni immediately understood the implication that he was more focused on his own performance than he was on the audience. To hear him speak today, he’s one of the most generous presenters you’ll ever hear.

posted on September 27, 2006

David Koopmans said:

Great post. I recently stumbled across “Beyond Bullets“, a blog (and book) by Cliff Atkinson who has a very interesting approach to constructing presentations (in this case using powerpointm but applicable to all presentations)

He talks about creating presentations as if you were making a movie; you wouldn’t start making the movie unless you had an idea about the storyline, a good plot and a strong script.

I think the analogy is really strong. He has a recorded webinar on his site and some other free tools.

(Oh, and I have nothing to do with Cliff Atkinson or his business, just in case you wondered)

posted on October 1, 2006

Robert Crampton said:

I was a crime prevention speaker and it came to that short stories that where attached to history where most effect for me. The story of the Battle of Midway and how it came about was one I used to make the point “that you as a person can prefrom an effent with your community that will turn the tide and change the coruse of a major action” This can be done in most subject areas. Some one loan action found the new tool or durg that helped man kind, so let us not short change our actions, by thinking we can not make a difterence in our commuity or our government, our one vote can count.

posted on November 20, 2006

Maggie Milne said:

A quick note to keep in mind…Record your presentation and check for “I” disease. Keep your ego on the back burner so your audience connects with your authenticity. Stories are integral to the point that “play” and experimentation keep the audience awake. Even the most pragmatic speech with data and detail can be livened up using quizzes and games interspersed with learning points.

Plus, we can all learn from each other’s style…good and bad!

– Maggie

posted on November 22, 2006