I have both given and sat through many presentations over the years. Prior to committing to the web full-time in the late 90’s I was an investment banker and financial adviser to both private companies and state and local governments. I have been a member of Tech Coast Angels, a SoCal investment group and have sat through more presentations than I care to remember. I’ll let you in on a secret. Most presentations S-U-C-K. The audience is sitting around, twiddling their thumbs and counting the minutes until the presentation ends. I’ll let you in on another secret. Almost everyone in the audience WANTS to be blown away. They are looking for the presentation team to hit a home run. To make an impact. To tell them something they don’t already know. To pitch an idea which so unique and clever that they can’t wait to hear more.
I’m not going to give my thoughts here on what I think makes for a good and clear idea that works and is fundable. That’s for another post. Rather I want to discuss why I believe most presentations fail.
What Should We Expect
Show us an outline. Let us know exactly what the rest of the presentation will be about. This also gives us a rough idea if we need to pay attention!
Get to the Point
The audience wants to hear your idea right away. Sure they care about your team, about the market, why your idea is going to make them rich. But none of these things matter if they don’t know what it is you are pitching. Get to the point as fast as possible. Let them know what they want to know right away.
Keep the Slides Simple
So you’re a Power Point wizard. You know how to use the jazziest transitions, the coolest music, beautiful colors and fonts. Save your skills for your children’s sports videos. DO NOT use them for a business presentation. Sure you want the slides to be professional, but too much of anything become counter-productive. If you’re a professional graphic artist (or can afford to hire one), okay, perhaps you know what you’re doing — but then you probably know little about running a business! The reality is that you probably have bad taste and need to keep things simple. Use a common theme in all of your slides. Decide on one simple transition and use it across all of the sides. If you must use music or video to illustrate a point, that’s great, but make sure it works and that it flows seamlessly with the rest of the presentation.
Keep the Slides Simple – Part II
My pet peeve when watching a presentation is slides that include all of the material that the presenter will say. When I see slides like this, I usually read ahead (assuming I have remembered to bring my glasses) and zone out while the presenter reads the slides to me. Please, please, please… only include bullets and summary data and charts on the slides. Steve Jobs often includes only images or symbols in his slides. Why? He wants to surprise you and give a story or some information that is RELATED to the image or symbol. He knows not to repeat what is on the slide.
I have seen Guy Kawasaki speak a number of times and twice heard him give a fantastic presentation on this very subject. He has a fun rule for presentations which he calls the 10/20/30 rules. Here’s a video of the presentation:
Pretty cool stuff, don’t you think?
Rehearse – Get all of the Kinks Out
I don’t want to watch you fumble with the laptop and projector. I don’t feel bad if the sound doesn’t work or if you can’t figure out how to get an internet connection. These are all things that you should have ironed out before giving the presentation. How about skipping any aspect of your presentation that requires an internet connection? If you want to demonstrate an aspect of your business that involves connecting to the internet it’s far better to have everything loaded and cached on your computer. There are many of cheap or free pieces of software that will allow you to fake it. If you’re Steve Jobs and have the resources to get things right, great. But remember that Steve is usually in complete control of his environment. You’re not!
There are many different presentation styles. Some people are naturals and come across as very relaxed. Others have to work at it and prepare much harder. But every GOOD presenter is enthusiastic. Their enthusiasm is contagious and draws you in. If they don’t love their idea, then why should you?
Here’s another secret. Most everyone needs to practice and prepare. The difference between the best and average presenters is usually the amount of time they practice until it looks like they didn’t have to practice. Here’s a really great article from Business Week which discusses what makes Steven Job’s presentations so effective. Notice that the 10th and last recommendation is “rehearse, rehearse, rehearse” and mentions how much rehearsal goes into one of these presentations. Here’s a second article which contrasts the presentation styles of Jobs and Bill Gates. Interesting stuff.