Present Like a Pro

One of the reasons I love my job is my love of public speaking. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to present solutions to my colleagues, business partners, and our customers. In today’s post, I’ll share with one of the most important tools on my Utility Belt. While this tool isn’t high tech, it has been an invaluable in my professional development.

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Apple products, the Apple company, and it’s founder Steve Jobs. In my professional life, I use an iPad Pro*, an iPhone 7 Plus**, and recently added a new MacBook Pro. My entire family uses Apple services such as iCloud, iMessage, and FaceTime to stay connected, and a combination of iTunes and AppleTV have replaced the bulk of our cable subscription.

As much as I adore Apple’s products, I am just as enamored with how they market and sell those products. I remember watching my first Steve Jobs keynote presentation at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2009 where he unveiled the iPhone 3GS. Having recently purchased my first iPhone, I was instantly mesmerized by Steve’s presentation. He spoke about a phone in a way which instantly made sense. He unveiled and described new functionality which made me desperate to upgrade my nearly new phone. It was at this moment that my Apple addiction took over, a cure for which has not been discovered.

Death by PowerPoint

At the same time as my Apple addiction began taking hold, I was undergoing an evolution in my career. I moved from working on solutions after they were sold to presenting solutions during a part of the sales process. As I began this transition, I participated in a variety of technical and sales presentations. This was where I became acquainted with, and fully understood, the term “Death by PowerPoint”. All too often, a technical presentation consists of a large number of Microsoft PowerPoint slides being projected on a large display. The slides are cluttered with a million words all over them, and the presenter then read them to everyone in the room. If a presentation ended, the lights were turned back on, and no one was snoring, it was considered a success.

That’s not my definition of success.

A Journey to Be Interesting

When I started building presentations, I struggled to replicate Steve Jobs work. I asked myself, what makes his presentations so good? Is it the software he uses? Is it the fonts? Is it the animations?

After some research, I cracked the code, and my career hasn’t been the same since. The book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs : How to be insanely great in front of any audience” by Carmine Gallo (Available on Amazon – Click here ) had all of the answers I was looking for, and as it turns out, Steve Jobs’ presentations were structured in a way which is easily repeatable and can be applied to any topic, product, or presentation.

While I’ll share three tips with you below, I strongly recommend reading the book.

Tip One – Tell a Interesting Story

When asked to present to an audience, most people begin looking at a collection of PowerPoint files to find relevant slides. This FrankenDeck is a series of random thoughts glued together, and is a proven cure for insomnia.

To make your presentation memorable, it needs to tell a story. All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Another trait shared among good stories is the presence of a villain, an evil plot, and a hero who saves the day.

When I make a presentation, I start with an outline. Begin by identifying the evil plot in your story, or the problem your audience faces. Introduce the villain to the audience, which is your competitors and how their solutions lead to or make the evil plot worse. Finally, introduce your hero, or your product, and explain how it vanquishes the evil plot.

Tip Two – Practice

Imagine if you purchased a ticket to a play, and the lead actor starts the show by turning his back to the audience to describe the set? This, of course, sounds absurd. Actors memorize their lines, and the set is a backdrop for the story being told by the actor. The same holds true for presentations.

Poorly prepared presenters turn their backs to the audience, reading content from the slide projected behind them.  Your presentation is essentially a bit of personal theater! Just as a play starts with a script, your first steps towards building a presentation starts in Microsoft Word, not PowerPoint. Build an outline of the story you wish to tell, focusing on three “acts”— the beginning, middle, and end. Once you’ve built your outline, expand into a full script. Once you’ve built your script, it’s time to rehearse!

I often memorize my scripts in small chunks, two or three slides at a time, rehearsing until I can deliver them perfectly. I then put them together for a dress rehearsal, where I run the presentation from beginning to end.

This approach delivers three major benefits. First, you be able to keep eye contact with your audience, which is incredibly powerful. Second, you will be able to eliminate the filler words from your speech. No “uhm”s or “ah”s to distract your audience. Finally, rehearsing in this fashion makes your presentation “modular”. When the inevitable last minute request to present a topic comes, you can take the scripted chunks from different presentations and weave them together into a new presentation on a similar, yet different subject matter.

Remember the saying, “Practice makes perfect!”

Tip Three – Build a Set That Compliments You

Once you have a script, it’s time to build a set, which for a presenter means a PowerPoint slide deck. You’re set should have one purpose, and that is to reinforce what you’re saying. Well built slides compliment the presenter, not the other way around!

When building your slides, throw caution to the wind, and remove as much as humanly possible. Use HUGE fonts to limit the number of words on each slide. Replace words with gorgeous high resolution photographs.*** Above all else, remember—remove all bullets, because bullets in a presentation lead to your audience reading ahead instead of listening to you. If you MUST use a bulleted list, make it animated so only the topic you’re speaking to is visible to the audience. However for the love of all things holy, if you animate something on a slide, make sure it’s a part of your script, and add it to your script rehearsal.*****

I hope you enjoyed this post on my “Utility Belt”. You can take away my Mac. Force me to use PowerPoint instead of Keynote. Make me present remotely or in person. The one tool I couldn’t live without is the knowledge I’ve learned from The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. I simply cannot recommend it strongly enough.

* You can find my thoughts on the iPad Pro by clicking here.

** You can read about my iPhone experience by clicking here.

*** I know you really think your slide deck’s theme is off the hook, as my 13 year old daughter may say, but if you put a photograph on a slide that’s what we want to see. Make it full screen and you’ll thank me later.

**** I fully admit, this may be my OCD kicking in, but nothing drives me more insane than a presenter advancing to a slide, stopping their speech and clicking their slide 5 times to complete all animations. If they don’t server a purpose, GET RID OF THEM!


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