A Stand-Up's guide to presentation technique

My personal top ten

Business people love my presentation coaching. I'm an actor and stand-up comedian, so they find my approach refreshing as well as highly effective. Here, in a nutshell, is what I teach them:

10 Close the laptop
Do not plan your presentation by opening PowerPoint and typing your first bullet! Instead, spend time thinking about your audience. Who are they? What do they want? What do they already believe?

9 Throw out your material
It’s a huge mistake to start by collecting material. Don’t ask yourself what you have, ask yourself what your audience will need. Avoid facts and figures - choose powerful images, human stories and genuine emotion instead. These “soft” options are proven to be more effective than any hard numbers. And cut every word that is not truly useful to your audience.

8 Take what’s left and cut it in half
Yes, in half, at least. You should never speak more than five minutes - three is better - unless the people are coming just to hear you speak or you are a paid professional speaker. (And if you think your presentation is “just five minutes”, it is probably about 12. Time it, you’ll see. ) Finish early - they will love you.

7 Don’t start at the beginning
Comedians, rock musicians and James Bond start their shows with a huge bang, and finish with a bigger one. In between, they present a sequence of highlights, getting more impressive all the time. This “Boom!-wow-wow-wow-BOOM!!” sequence is ideal for your presentation (and for any service process). So start with a really strong point - your second best one - then drop down and build up towards your very best “BOOM!” point at the end. Take questions at the bar.

6 Burn the beamer
Look, people’s eyes are attracted to light - it’s why we stare at the fire, the telly, the ocean - so if you use PowerPoint you are distracting from the real presentation - which is not your ruddy slides, it is you. Ask yourself: would Martin Luther King or JFK have benefited from bullet points? (Er.. no pun intended. Well spotted, Ms Pollard!)
(If you have a huge room, you might need a beamer. But use it to project live video of yourself, or for powerful images. Avoid wordy slides and lists - if your slide has more than seven words on it, you are in big trouble. And switch it off as often as you can. Hey, try the “B” key!)

5 Set yourself on fire
This is incredibly important - we look at light, so the brightest object in the room must be you. Get a spotlight on you, and get every other light in the room dimmed or switched off - including the beamer. Insist on this.

4 Don’t read
Never, ever, ever read your presentation. It sounds unnatural, and people need to see your eyes to trust you. Keyword cards are ok, but you won’t need to look at them because you have rehearsed so well. You were planning to rehearse (with a test audience) weren’t you? How much is the time of all the people in the audience worth?

-13 Do something crazy
Do something to surprise your audience. Give them a reason to remember you. For example - don’t hand out business cards, but print your number on bundles of €5 notes and throw them at the audience.

2 Get carried away
This is the big one. I don’t care how you slouch, how you stutter, how badly you dress and how much you fidget with your hands - if you truly, utterly believe what you say, you will convince people. Be yourself and let your passion show. (And if you don’t feel passionate about what you are presenting, please go home and stop wasting our time.)

1 Cancel the presentation
Presentations are there to persuade - not inform. Use them to move emotions, and sway decisions. If you just want to inform, then e-mails, articles, web based training, workshops or personal discussions are proven to be better. Too many presentations are information orgies. So cancel them, and do some work instead.

Magic lantern shot from Magic Lantern Show at flickr.
Article previously published in German in the FrankenPower magazine.

Book your own presentation coaching here.
You should follow me on Twitter here.


Jon Thomas, Presentation Advisors said...

These are spot on. I especially like the point about taking your material and cutting it in half. It's difficult for most because they love what they are presenting, but you have to look at it from the perspective of the audience. They probably aren't as passionate as you and probably don't know as much as you, so they can only retain so much information. Also, nobody ever complained that a presentation ended EARLY!

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks Jon, kind words!

If anyone doesn't know Jon's blog, I highly recommend it. He still uses too much Powerpoint, but he will learn. ;)

While you are at it, follow him on Twitter. Always good stuff.