Tag Archives: PowerPoint slides

Pry My PowerPoint Slides from my Cold, Dead Hard-drive

Powerpoint slides
PowerPoint slides are meant for viewing, not distribution.

My PowerPoint slides are proprietary.

I spend lots of time on them.

They have a latticework of subtle animations and overtones that bulk out the size of the file, and I practice with them a great deal to make their presence an organic part of what the audience experiences.

It takes a long time to make slides unobtrusive, you know that, right?

You should.

All of which is why my own presentations may seem to carry a bit more heft than the norm.  And so should yours.

PowerPoint slides constitute my intellectual property.  Not the specific information contained on them, although some of the unorthodox ways I present it could be considered original.

No PowerPoint Slides for You!

The slides themselves are my IP, and often I must refuse well-meaning requests for a “copy of your slide deck” as if it’s just something I hand out to passersby.  Like shareware.

In fact, some folks actually expect to get a copy of my presentation’s slides, which indicates to me how far down that sorry road we have come . . . the presentation is just a formality, really just a formal group slide reading.

Why pay attention if you’ll get a copy anyway?

Uh . . . no.

I believe that this strange tradition of passing out copies of presentation slides just prior to a talk was launched because most presentations feature slides that are virtually unreadable on the screen.

They feature dense blocks of text that assault audience sensibilities.

Hence, the tail began wagging the dog, as unreadable slides required that hand-outs be supplied so that something could be intelligible.

This, of course, has led to mind-numbing presentations, where folks in the audience shuffle and rattle paper constantly as they “follow along.”

If your audience cannot “follow along” with your presentation, the solution is not slide hand-outs.  You have a big problem presenting, and the solution is presentation training.

Stop the Paper-Shuffle!

The slide presentation, ideally, should not be a review source for an audience.  Another document should be prepared for audience review and for take-home, a document that touches on the major points of the presentation and prepared in suitable format.

So when I receive requests for my slides from my shows on presentations, I point people in this direction.

This source has everything I talk about in my seminars . . . and more.  Much more.

More detail, more gravitas, more examples.

And it’s designed to be read at home to help you develop an especially powerful presentation.

No, you can’t have my PowerPoint slides . . . but you can have this.

Touch the Cave Paintings for a Powerful Business Presentation

Touch your own cave paintings in your business presentation
Take ownership of your business presentation and embrace 10,000 B.C. technology

It’s 10,000 BC, and you’ve painted a a detailed graphic on your cave wall for your upcoming presentation.

It depicts your keen analysis of the recent successful hunt.

Now, you offer to show it to your group, perhaps young hunters seeking valuable knowledge.

How would you deliver your hunting presentation?

Would you stand off to one side and gesture vaguely at your cave wall graphics as you give your presentation on how to take down a mastodon?

Would you?

More likely, you’d take ownership.

Own the Business Presentation and Touch the Cave Paintings

You’d step over to the wall and run your fingers over the colored lines.

You’d trace the outline of the images as you shared the story that the painting illustrates.  You’d use the graphic to bring your presentation to life.

Likewise, in your own business presentations today, when you interact with your PowerPoint slides, I suggest that you use 10,000 BC technology – you should  “touch the cave paintings” to meld with your presentation.

Mastodon Business Presentation
Breathe life into your Business Presentation!

Take ownership of your business presentation, and touch the cave paintings you’ve created to flesh out and support your message.

Step to the screen when you’re ready to refer to a chart or a graph.  Orient us to what we’re about to see.  Explain the vertical and horizontal axes so that we can quickly grasp the data.

By stepping to the screen and gesturing, you enhance your participation in the presentation, becoming the animation for the slides under review.

And you preclude using one of the most heinous devices ever created that can destroy potentially outstanding business presentations.

The Laser Pointer.

Think of the Laser Pointer as a Presentation self-destruct button.

That’s right . . . self-destruct button.

Don’t Self-Destruct!

Even the best of us occasionally thumb that laser pointer self-destruct button built into most remote control clickers.

Laser Pointer Presentation Destruction
Lose the laser pointer, Skywalker

But you want to deliver a Laser Pointer Presentation, don’t you?

You’ve waited your entire life for the chance to legitimately use that laser pointer!

Haven’t you?

You’ve pictured yourself be-suited and commanding the room . . . standing back, perhaps with a jaunty posture, as you sweep the screen behind you with the little bobbing speck of red light.  The meekest among us is invested with bombast and hauteur by even the most inexpensive laser pointer.

Don’t do it.

Put down the light saber, Skywalker.

The laser pointer is 21st century overkill technology.  It distances you from your presentation message at the exact moment you should meld yourself with it.

How so?

If something is so crucially important on your slideshow – perhaps a graph or a series of numbers – that you must direct audience attention to it, then step into the presentation.  Gesture to the data with your hand.

Use 10,000 B.C. Technology

Merge yourself with the data.  Step into the presentation so that you, in essence, become the animation that highlights your points of emphasis.  Don’t divide audience attention between you, the data on the screen, and a nervously darting red speck.

Instead, concentrate your audience focus on your major points, touching the screen, guiding us to the facts and figures you want us to internalize.  It’s a cave painting, so run your hands over the cave wall.  Show us what you want us to see with your hand.

Now, I issue a caveat here.

If the screen behind you is so high that you cannot reach it, then you might be justified in using the pointer.

But probably not.

Instead, if you want to highlight or draw attention to your points of emphasis, then utilize the highlighting animation available on most multimedia platforms.

If you’re uncertain what I mean by this, have a look at this brief video:

Nothing is more gratuitous in modern business presenting than the laser pointer.  And few things more irritating than the laser pointer presentation.

Rid yourself of this awful affectation today.  Pledge never to deliver another laser pointer presentation in your business life.

Instead, run your hands over the cave wall, touch the cave paintings to meld with your presentation and communicate with your visuals in especially powerful fashion.

For more on Business Presentations, consult my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Finance Presentation PowerPoint . . . the vast wasteland

Finance students can gain competitive advantage with superior finance presentation PowerPoint
Finance students can gain competitive advantage with superior finance presentation PowerPoint

Whether the presentation class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . or Singapore . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students everywhere with regard to their finance presentation PowerPoint—

“Finance is different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill kumbaya presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Worshiping at the Altar of Numbers

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways.

It’s almost as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.

This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

Finance presentations are somehow harder.

They appear more firmly rooted in . . . well, rooted in the very stuff of business.

Finance Presentation PowerPoint . . . Beware!

But this is an illusion.

Among other problems, the numbers on a spreadsheet are nothing more than proxies for the conditions that gave rise to them in the first place.

Yet folks create and sustain the myth that “The numbers tell the story.”

But the numbers tell no story.

They are mute.

They offer the illusion of precision.  They offer fool’s gold to those who worship at the numbers altar.

The result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

Finance presentation PowerPoint needs presentation techniques more than any other business field
Delivering rilliant finance presentation PowerPoint isn’t difficult . . . neither is is easy

We’re all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

Finance Presentation Hell

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica.

It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations crumble into little more than meeting “discussions” about a printed analysis distributed beforehand.  They’re picked apart by Gotcha! jackals with nothing on their minds except proving themselves worthier than those who might be unlucky enough to be the presenter du jour.

Finance presentation PowerPoint shows seem to offer nothing save the opportunity for public posturing and one-upmanship.

A presenter or group of presenters stands and shifts uncomfortably while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of gotcha questions, usually couched to demonstrate the mastery of the questioner rather than to elicit worthy information.

Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life.  But there’s hope.

Upcoming posts offer solutions to this common presentation conundrum.

Meanwhile, you can find my in-depth treatment of how to wrestle and subdue the finance presentation beast in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World

Avoid Worst PowerPoint
Don’t enter the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide Contest

If you think your business presentation slides are bad (they probably are), latch on to the good news that worse slides are out there . . . in fact, this post features the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World.

But first, your personal slide curse.

Your personal revelation of your own bad PowerPoint slides starts innocently enough . . .

You click the remote and a new slide appears.  You cast a wistful look back at the screen.

You pause.

Perhaps you squint as you struggle to understand what’s on the screen.  It’s almost unreadable.

Your mind reels at the thought that well, maybe . . . this slide actually is awful and should never have been included.

Take heart!

As bad as your slides are, they likely are not as bad as what lurks in corporate America or in the U.S. government.

New York Times Features the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide

Your slides likely will never reach the bottom of the pit, the awful standard set by our friends in the U.S. government, who crafted and actually presented a monstrosity of such egregious proportions that the New York Times featured it on its front page in 2010 for no other reason than that it was an awful PowerPoint slide.

When the NYT considers your slide front page news, that is a bad slide.

The slide was actually used in a briefing to the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal.  It purported to explain U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, all on one slide.

That slide appears at the end of this post.

If you dare, scroll down to this heinous freak of design concocted in a government laboratory and completely undeserving to be shown in public . . . except on the front page of the New York Times as the exemplar of how depraved PowerPoint evil can be.

Our Bad Slides Usually Involve Numbers

We show numbers, lots of them.  And at times we are tempted to believe that the “numbers speak for themselves.”

And so we whip out the tired, useless phrase “As you can see.”

The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that it requires iron will to prevent ourselves from uttering this reflexive phrase-hiccup.

Squint at worst powerpoint
The Worst PowerPoint Makes Us Squint

The bain of “As you can see” is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet of tiny, baffling numbers.

Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.

The audience most assuredly cannot see.

In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.

And that’s why we reach for the phrase.

Because we can’t “see,” either.

We look back helplessly at our own abstruse PowerPoint slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show.

Satanic Spreadsheets

You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers displayed on your unreadable spreadsheet.

Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . .

“As you can see—”

And then you call out what seem to be random numbers.  Random?  Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.

You have not provided the context needed for understanding.  No one knows what you’re talking about.

Your classmates watch with glazed eyes.  Perhaps one or two people nod.

Your professor sits sphinx-like.

And no one has a clue.  You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved.  And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.

“As you can see” Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide.  And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.

It gives rise to the worst PowerPoint slides imaginable, because the incentive to excellence is removed.

This can’t be good.  Not for the audience, not for anyone.

All of this sounds heinous, I know.  And probably too familiar for comfort.

If the best thing you can say about your slides is that they’re not the worst PowerPoint in the world, then maybe it’s time to upgrade your expectations.

You can beat “As you can see” Syndrome with a few simple techniques that we be discuss in days to come.

Dont vie for the worst PowerPoint crown . . . the remedy can be found in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

. . . and here is the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World, as honored by the New York Times . . .

The World's Worst PowerPoint Slide
The World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide

Develop PowerPoint Slide Skill

Develop PowerPoint Slide Skill for Impact
Develop PowerPoint Slide Skills for Especially Powerful Impact

Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who have not developed their PowerPoint slide skills.

And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

Yes, brilliant.

But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute to the creation of an especially powerful presentation.

Or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.

PowerPoint Slide Skills a Necessity

PowerPoint isn’t the problem.  Clueless presenters are the problem.

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping others to hone theirs.

Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art.  You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up.  You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here.  She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it to develop your PowerPoint slide skills.

Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.

Meanwhile, if you want immediate help to develop not only your PowerPoint slide skills, but also your technique of working with your presentation projection, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint.

It’s enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.

For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.

Have a look-see . . .

Presentation Magic . . . YOU Provide it

presentation magic in pills?
There are no presentation magic pills to rescue a lame effort

For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, larded with bullet points, and then rely on some sort of last-minute presentation magic to save your butt?

Wishful thinking that maybe PowerPoint pyrotechnics can save the day?

Perhaps the bravado of phony self-confidence to get you through a painful experience?

Guilty as charged?

Most of us are at one point or another.

And the results can be heinous.

Software “Presentation Magic” Cannot Save You

The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.

There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls “bad slides.”  Nancy says in her book Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations:

“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career.  Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well.  The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”

Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.

Why not?

Who says this is a bad idea?

After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he?  Well, I’m giving it to him.  ’nuff said.

This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document.  This is an incredibly stupid mistake.

One . . . or the Other

Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.

Presentation Magic does not exist
You Create the Presentation Magic . . . not the Software

The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.

Never let one serve in place of the other.

Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.

When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”  [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]

The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned.

It’s a roadmap to disaster.

But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.

And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.

So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.

No Presentation Magic in Your Slide Deck

Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.

Nifty slides cannot save you.

PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.  This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story.  They bomb miserably.

On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men.  You cannot craft a winning film with no story.

Or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.

Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show.  They have no special properties.  They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.

Presenting coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:

“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”

So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?

Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides.  Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.

Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.

If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.

Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

You provide the Presentation Magic
Great Speakers like Malcolm X bring their own Presentation Magic to performance . . . and so should you

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide.  Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen, and you are on your way to an especially powerful presentation.  You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.

And, consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power.  You provide your own presentation magic that arises from your skill as an especially powerful presenter.

Want more on providing your own presentation magic?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Presentation Tips can Sabotage Your Business Presentation

Bad Presentation Tips
The Zombies of Bad Presentation Tips Never Die . . . That’s why they’re called Zombies

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and the zombies of bad presentation tips will be the only survivors.

I say this because I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.

No, we can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely.  These zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Presentation Tips

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.  It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.

The notion that the presenter actually has to change his behavior is not welcome news.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad presentation tips.

Just stop.

And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits.  All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.

Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right.

Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.

But Bad Habits Die Hard

Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.

The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad presentation tips.

This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad presentation tips zombies stalk the land.

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.

For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.  Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.

No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and handwringing.

It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”

This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.

And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.

Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.

Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.

ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  It’s one of the worst of bad presentation tips.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.

Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.  It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.

In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.

“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.  “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.  This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.

“ We’re special,” finance majors like to say.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.  Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques.  Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”

You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6 “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what?  Oh, you counted them, did you?

I assure you that you don’t know.

You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the number of slides you use somehow dictates length of a presentation.

Bad Presentation Tips can Kill your Presentation

Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.  They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.

This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Presentation Tips Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.

It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice.  What’s the use?  Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.

You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.  And on that upbeat note, I leave you with several positive tips from the creator of the Prezi presentation package.  Peter Arvai, Prezi founder and CEO, offers sages advice here.

If you are interested in dispensing with all of these bad presentation tips and, instead, learning powerful presentation skills, I suggest you consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Best Presentation Books for 2013!

One of the Best Presentation books of 2013
Best Presentation Books

It occurred to me to compile a list of the best presentation books to recommend to readers of this blog.

It’s really an obvious exercise, isn’t it?

“Best of” lists are always popular.

To recommend books chock full of presentation wisdom to hone our skill set.  Great advice to lift our presentation to what we all sometimes refer to as “the next level.”

And then the equally obvious thought occurred to me – that list already exists.

The List of Best Presentation Books

In fact, I’m certain that several lists are already out there making the rounds.

And so I do the next best thing in this space . . .

I offer you a list of the 35 best presentation books compiled and judged by giants in the field . . . (and I offer my own view of what I consider to be the top three on the list).  Yes, you can learn something about business presenting from a book.  Quite a bit, actually.

The trick is to find the right book.

My Top Three Best Presentation Books

My personal favorites are Presenting to Win, by Jerry Weissman and Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons.

These three books, for me, capture the spirit, the art, and the craft of especially powerful business presenting.

They advocate change.  You must change the way your deliver your presentations in ways that, at first, may discomfort you.  But they are changes that you must accept to become an especially powerful business presenter.

Best Presentation Books for 2013
Best Presentations Books . . . this one on PowerPoint Slides

The Story Factor, in particular, is strong in transforming your presentations into sturdy narratives that capture an audience and propel your listeners to action.  Consult Annette Simmons for deep learning about the power of storytelling.

A fourth book does not appear on the list.  Actually, it does, but only in a modified form.  This is Dale Carnegie’s The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking.  This is an “updated” version of his classic from mid-way the last century Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.  In my view, the update strips much useful material from the book, and so I prefer the original.

You can find dozens of copies of the original classic for sale on ebay.  This, in my opinion, is the most useful public speaking book ever penned.

Best Presentation books
Best Presentation Book on Storytelling

If I were forced to choose one . . . this would be it.  And My Book?

My own just-published book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, does not appear on this superb list of 35 books.  And so here I offer the most generous and self-aggrandizing interpretation possible . . . it just hasn’t circulated among the cognoscenti nearly enough to have created a buzz-worthy impact.

I know that you, as do I, eagerly await its appearance on next year’s “Best of” list.

Until then, enjoy the creme-de-la-creme of the best presentation books as exemplified on the 2012 list!

 

Better PowerPoint for 2013! — VIDEO

 

Better PowerPoint
Better PowerPoint can Enhance Credibility

Better PowerPoint can be the boon of many a business presentation.

If you correct even a few of the most egregious errors, you can lift your presentation to a much more professional level.

One key to improving is recognizing that you might be part of the problem.  And that like most any musical instrument, you can tune yourself up to play more beautiful melodies.

One strategic way of doing this is to begin broadening your professional perspective.

Your Learning Curve for Better Powerpoint

It’s the process of enriching your personal context so that you become aware of new and varied sources of information, ideas, concepts, theories.  You become learned in new and wondrous ways.

Think of it as enlarging your world.

You increase your reservoir of usable material.  And your business presentation can connect more readily with varied audiences.

You do this in a pleasant and ongoing process – by keeping your mind open to possibilities outside your functional area.  By taking your education far beyond undergraduate or graduate school.  And that process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily.

By doing something daily, however brief, that stretches your mind.  Or allows you to make a connection that otherwise might have escaped you.

Expand Your World for Better PowerPoint?

By reading broadly in areas outside your specialty, you sharpen your acumen in your specialty.  You understand its place, its context.

Read a book outside your specialty.  Have lunch with a colleague from a different discipline.  Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science.

It also means sampling some of the best offerings in the blogosphere on business presentations.

For instance, my three favorite PowerPoint gurus are Nancy DuarteGarr Reynolds, and Gene Zelazny.  Sample their online work . . . purchase their books, as I have.

Their works are invaluable tools of my trade.  If you become a serious business presenter, they’ll become your friends, too.

Light-Hearted Improvement

For a more immediate fix some of the worst PowerPoint pathologies, have a look at this fellow.

In this video, engineer Don McMillan demonstrates the most common PowerPoint presentation mistakes in a way that, well . . . have a look!

 

Bad PowerPoint means an awful Business Presentation

AYCS Syndrome + Bad PowerPoint
Bad PowerPoint is a Debilitating Presentation Pathology

It starts innocently enough . . .

You click the remote and a new slide appears.  You cast a wistful look back at the screen.

You pause.

And then you reach for the easy phrase.

That’s when AYCS Syndrome strikes even the best of us, cutting us down in our presentation prime.

AYCS Syndrome + Bad PowerPoint

“As you can see.”

The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that there must be a school somewhere that trains people to utter this reflexive phrase-hiccup.

Is there an AYCSS Academy?  It would seem so.

The bain of AYCSS is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet or array of baffling numbers.  Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.

And the audience most assuredly cannot see. In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.

And that’s why we reach for the phrase.

Because we can’t “see,” either.

We look back at an abstruse PowerPoint slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show.  At that point, AYCS Syndrome attacks.

Numb and Dumb Your Audience with AYCSS

Finance students seem particularly enamored of AYCSS.

In fact, some rogue finance professors doubtless inculcate this in students.

Financial analysis of the firm is essential, of course.  There are only few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.  Financial data are where you discover the firm’s profitability, stability, health, and potential.

Bad PowerPoint is a business presentation pathology
Bad Powerpoint Can Sabotage Your Presentation

But the results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike.  A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.  It seems important, substantial.

Everyone nods.

Too often, you display an Excel spreadsheet on the screen that is unedited from your written report.  You cut-and-paste it into your presentation. You splash the spreadsheet onto the screen, then talk from that spreadsheet without orienting your audience to the slide.

This is the incredibly awful technique displayed by finance students, in particular, that is accompanied by the dreaded words:  “As you can see.”

Satanic Spreadsheets

You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers.

Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . . “As you can see—”

And then you call out what seem to be random numbers.  Random?  Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.

You have not provided the context needed for understanding.  No one knows what you’re talking about.  Your classmates watch with glazed eyes.  Perhaps one or two people nod.

Your professor sits sphinx-like.

And no one has a clue.  You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved.  And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.

AYCS Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide.  And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.

It can’t be good.  Not for the audience, not for anyone.

All of this sounds heinous, I know.  And probably too familiar for comfort.  But you can beat AYCCS with a few simple techniques that we’ll be discussing in days to come.

The Remedy for Bad PowerPoint can be found in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Just the Numbers? A CLASSIC!

The Numbers Tell No Story in Your Business Presentation
The Numbers Tell No Story in Your Business Presentation . . . YOU tell the Story

Financial analysis of the firm is essential, and there are few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.

With financial data, you can discover the firm’s profitability, general health, and potential.  You can get reasonable answers to the question: “How are we doing?”

But . . .

. . . and it is an especially powerful but.

The results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.

Spreadsheet Hypnosis

Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike.  A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.

A spreadsheet seems important, substantial.  Everyone nods.  As a presenter, you stare back at the screen behind you, at the phalanx of numbers.  You wave your hand at the screen with the words “As you can see –”

And then you call out seemingly random numbers.  Your classmates or colleagues in the audience watch with glazed eyes.  It’s almost mystical.

Perhaps one or two people nod.

Your professor sits sphinx-like.  Some folks shuffle papers, actually digging through a handout you mistakenly distributed beforehand.

No one has a clue as to what you’re talking about or how it actually relates to the real world.

You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved.  And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.  This is quite common.

And it’s Ugly

So ugly.

There is a best way that makes things easier for everyone.

Three Steps:  Orient, Eliminate, Emphasize

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.  If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.  Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you will not talk about.  You strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

If you follow this basic advice, you can improve the finance portion of your presentation immensely and be on your way to an especially powerful presentation.

For more on presenting numbers in the best light, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

More on Those Pesky Slides . . . CLASSIC Video!

PowerPoint is a great tool for our business presentations . . . when we use it correctly

Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.

And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.

PowerPoint isn’t the problem.  Clueless presenters are the problem.

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use.

Have a look-see . . .

You STILL can’t have my slides

No hard-copy PowerPoint slides for you . . .

In what has to be the biggest surprise for me on this blog in the year-and-a-half I’ve been writing it is that the most popular post I’ve ever done, by far, is this one.

Nope, you can’t have my slides attracted an incredible amount of views and sustained discussion on LinkedIn.

For some reason, slide posts get people worked up.

People apparently have strong opinions on the PowerPoint slides they prepare for their presentations and, then, what they choose to do with them.  Hand them out in hard-copy . . . or not.  Hand them out before a presentation  . . . or not.  These choices elicit strong feelings.

My own position is the clear and simple point that I don’t give away my slides.

Period.

Other Viewpoints?

Many folks have offered opinions counter to that . . . for what I consider spurious reasons, or reasons that may have merit on the periphery, but which interfere with the centrally important function of the presentation.

To recap . . .  My slides are not meant to be “reviewed” or read at leisure after a presentation.  I usually prepare a short compendium of main points of my talk and pass that out . . . after the presentation.

The notion that paper copies of an upcoming presentation should be passed out in advance is absurd.  Yes, absurd.

It destroys both power and purpose of the presentation . . . if your presentation is worthy of the name.

Unless the presentation is to an audience whose second language is English, there is no reasonable reason to erode your presentation’s message and power by distributing a distraction.  There is enough competition for audience attention without adding to it.

If people want to take notes, they can use a notebook.

If people want to split their attention and “follow along” on some printout, rustling and shuffling papers throughout your talk, they are destined to be disappointed . . . and may actually enjoy the pleasure of not constantly shifting back and forth from handouts to unreadable screen while listening to someone read slides verbatim.

“Following along” is not part of a good presentation.  If you do your job right, and you have prepared proper visual aids, the audience won’t need a cheat sheet to interpret what you’re saying and doing.

Would you hand out the script of a hit movie beforehand, so folks can “follow along,” or would you rely upon the strength of your visuals, the power of your delivery, and the concision of your script to convey your meaning in a memorable way?

More Generally . . .

While we’re on the issue of slides more generally (and there is much that could be said), there’s this:

If you’re addicted to delivering presentations with quickly produced “bullet point” slides, then you are mired in a highly ineffective – even failed – presentation model.  A look at a couple of superb sources is in order.

Beyond Bullet Points, by Cliff Atkinson and Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte are fabulous resources to transform the most mundane presentations into memorable moments for any audience (at least from the perspective of your visual aids, if properly utilized).

Granted, most of us believe that vast swaths of the presentation activity are open to opinion on this or that technique.  My position on the matter is that far less is open to disagreement than we like to pretend.  I watch and evaluate a minimum of 75 group business presentations and 300 individual presentations each year.

If the point is to communicate in an especially powerful manner the major points of a business presentation, there is a right way to do most of what many still believe is open to debate.

If the object of a presentation is to mimic the boss, to show one’s mastery of arcana, to anesthetize the audience, to conduct a group slide reading . . . then sure, let a thousand “techniques” blossom, and Good Luck and Godspeed!

But if the point is to focus laser-like on a major topic or broad theme and the desire is to communicate this in the most powerful and persuasive manner available, then ironclad principles – call them immutable laws – are available to guide us.

And the First Law is “Nope, you can’t have my slides.”

PowerPoint Slides? . . . No, you can’t have them

Powerpoint slides
Presentation PowerPoint slides are meant for viewing, not distribution.

My PowerPoint slides are proprietary.

I spend lots of time on them.  They have a latticework of subtle animations and overtones that bulk out the size of the file, and I practice with them a great deal to make their presence an organic part of what the audience experiences.

It takes a long time to make slides unobtrusive, you know that, right?

You should.

All of which is why my own presentations may seem to carry a bit more heft than the norm.  And so should yours.

PowerPoint slides constitute my intellectual property.  Not the specific information contained on them, although some of the unorthodox ways I present it could be considered original.

No PowerPoint Slides for You!

The slides themselves are my IP, and often I must refuse well-meaning requests for a “copy of your slide deck” as if it is just something I hand out to passersby, a sort of shareware.

In fact, some folks actually expect to get a copy of my presentation’s slides, which indicates to me how far down that sorry road we have come . . . the presentation is just a formality, really just a formal group slide reading.

Why pay attention if you’ll get a copy anyway?

Uh . . . no.

I believe that this strange tradition of passing out copies of presentation slides just prior to a talk was launched because most presentations feature slides that are virtually unreadable on the screen.  They feature dense blocks of text that assault audience sensibilities.  Hence, the tail began wagging the dog, as unreadable slides required that hand-outs be supplied so that something could be intelligible.

This, of course, has led to mind-numbing presentations, where folks in the audience shuffle and rattle paper constantly as they “follow along.”

If your audience cannot “follow along” with your presentation, the solution is not slide hand-outs.  You have a big problem presenting, and the solution is presentation training.

Stop the Paper-Shuffle!

The slide presentation, ideally, should not be a review source for an audience.  Another document should be prepared for audience review and for take-home, touching on the major points of the presentation and prepared in suitable format.

So when I receive requests for my slides from my shows on presentations, I point people in this direction.

This source has everything I talk about in my seminars . . . and more.  Much more.

More detail, more gravitas, more examples.

And it’s designed to be read at home to help you develop an especially powerful presentation.

No, you can’t have my PowerPoint slides . . . but you can have this.

Work with PowerPoint in your Business Presentation

Work with PowerPoint for Impact
Work with PowerPoint for Presentation Impact

Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to work with PowerPoint.

And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

Yes, brilliant.

But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute to the creation of an especially powerful presentation.

Or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.

Good Work with PowerPoint a Necessity

PowerPoint isn’t the problem.  Clueless presenters are the problem.

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping other to hone theirs.

Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art.  You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up.  You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here.  She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it.

Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.

Meanwhile, if you want immediate help on-camera, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint.  It is enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.

For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.

Have a look-see . . .

The Finance Presentation – Four Words for Power and Impact

Add Power and Impact to your Finance Presentation
Add Power and Impact to your Finance Presentation

In working with your slides in your finance presentation, follow the formula Orient … Eliminate … Emphasize … Compare.

This formula produces superb results every time, especially if you are working with difficult financial information.

As preface to this, on all of your slides, ensure that you use a sans serif font and that its size is at least 30 point.

Your numbers should be at least 26 point.

Finance Presentation Clarity

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.  If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.

Tell the audience they view a balance sheet:  “This is a balance sheet for the year 2012.”

Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Touch the screen.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  This means clicking to the next slide, which has been stripped of irrelevant data.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, orient your audience as to what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide.  This next slide should display only the figures you refer to.

Finance Presentation
Your finance presentation need not be unintelligible

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  Illustrate what the numbers mean by utilizing a chart or graph.

Fourth, compare your results to something else.  Remember that numbers mean nothing by themselves.  Comparison yields meaning and understanding.

For example, think of a children’s dinosaur book.  You’ve seen the silhouette of a man beside a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus, or a Brontosaurus.  The silhouette provides you a frame of reference so you understand the physical dimensions of something new and strange.  You can compare the size of a man with the new information on dinosaurs.

Likewise, we want to provide a frame of reference so that our audience understands the results of our analysis.  We provide a comparison as a baseline.

For instance, if you are talking about financial performance, and you have selected an indicator (such as ROI, or yearly sales revenue growth, or something similar), don’t simply present the information as standalone.  Compare your company’s financial performance against something else.  Do this to make your point and to tell your story.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against itself in prior years or quarters.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against a major competitor or several competitors.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against the industry as a whole.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against similar sized firms in select other industries.

When you Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize . . . and Compare, you create a finance presentation experience that is intelligible and satisfying to your audience.

For more on delivering powerful finance presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The only PowerPoint Guide you’ll ever need

Powerpoint Guide
Choose the Blue Pill for an especially powerful discovery process that can result in superior personal competitive advantage and outstanding business presentations

The business presentation  is an entirely different form of communication than a written document, and thats why you need a reliable PowerPoint Guide to get you through the rough waters of slide preparation.

For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout?

Guilty as charged?  Most of us are at one point or another.  The results can be heinous.

A PowerPoint Guide for You

 The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.  You bear a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls “bad slides.”  Nancy says in her book Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations:

“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career.  Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well.  The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”

Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.

Why not?

Who says this is a bad idea?  After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he?  Well, I’m giving it to him.  ’nuff said.

This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document, and this is an incredibly stupid mistake.

One . . . or the Other

Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.

PowerPoint Guide
Move from 2D business presenting to 3D presenting by incorporating the secrets of this PowerPoint Guide

The presentation – or show – is dramatically different  than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.  Never let one serve in place of the other. 

Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.

When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens:  You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”  [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]

The results are often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing.  It is a roadmap to disaster.

But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.  They don’t tell you what makes your creation an abomination.  So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.

No Magic Pills

Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.  PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.

This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story.  They bomb miserably.

On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects:  See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men.  You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.

Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show.  They have no special properties.

Slides can enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.  Presenting coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:

“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”

So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?

Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides.  Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.

Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.  If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.  Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide.  Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen.  You dump distractors that leech the strength and power from your presentation. 

Consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with the zest that make it especially powerful.

To learn how to craft masterful Business Presentations and deliver them with power and brio, reference my PowerPoint Guide, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Voodoo Presenting: A Finance CLASSIC!

Finance Presenting offers special challenges, but it’s also a chance to increase professional presence

Whether the presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students.

“Finance is different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.

False Certitude, Faux Anchor

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.  And this illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

But this is an illusion. And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

The Bad News

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica. It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.  Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .

“Just the facts”

Exhortations of  “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.

“Just the facts”

Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core.  But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.  It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”  Which facts?  Why these facts and not those facts?

Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis.  Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.  “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.

“The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me.  “We deal in hard numbers.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.  Not only do numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all . . . if numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.

The end result of these presentation shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.  If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the  “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.  It may be useful.  It may be boring.  It may be morale-building.  It may be team-destroying.  It may be time-wasting.  But whatever else it is, it is not a presentation.

“Cut ’n’ Paste”

This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see.  PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.  The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase:  “As you can see . . . ”  The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium. The result?

Slides from Hell.

The Good News

In every obstacle exists an opportunity.  Because the bar for finance presenting is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.  This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid. It should be.  Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.

Build Credibility With a Powerful Presentation

But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.

All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.  If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.

A situation statement must be given.

A story still must be told.

Your analysis presented.

Conclusions must be drawn.

Recommendations must be made.

And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.

If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.

But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentation world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

For more on presenting financial information in a suitable way, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Zombie Advice . . . an Especially Powerful Classic

Beware the Zombies of bad business presentation advice

Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad advice never die.

We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Advice

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.  It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right. Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.  But bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.  The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice. This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.

Let’s Have a Look

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

 ZOMBIE #1     “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it.  From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.  For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.  Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.  No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and handwringing.  It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2     “Make eye contact.”

This old chestnut is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  On the surface, it sounds reasonable, but is such a cliche that we don’t really think about the words themselves.  People don’t really talk this way.  Instead, you “look someone in the eyes.”  You don’t “make eye contact.”  That make no sense.  This gem of a cliche doesn’t tell you how to “make eye contact.”  And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.  Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.  Look individual audience members in the eyes long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.  This connects in a way that is comfortable for all concerned.

ZOMBIE #3     “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way. In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4     “Just the facts.”

Really? Which facts are those? 

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness. “Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.  “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion. This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5     “The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them. “We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality. Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.” You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6    “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what? You counted them?

I assure you that you don’t know. You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use. Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time. They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides. This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you. It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in you own work with sound power presenting principles. You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.

Interested in more? Click here to consult the only book in the English language devoted to business school presenting.

Especially Bad PowerPoint

Bad PowerPoint can destroy your business presentation
Don’t numb your audience with bad PowerPoint during your business presentation

Why is so much Bad PowerPoint out there in the corporate world?

I suspect that the reason for this is mimicry and corporate incest.

In the absence of good habits within an organization, bad habits perpetuate themselves, especially if senior leadership is the culprit.  If the model within a firm is average or below-par, then this becomes the norm.

In this way, bad presenting breeds more bad presenting.

We unfortunately do not license users for competence or require that candidates complete a PowerPoint safety course to ensure that they commit minimal damage.  As a result, bad PowerPoint technique thrives.

Mimicry Breeds Mediocrity

The natural tendency of people is to mimic the boss.  They accept his style as proper.  While this may serve you well as a corporate survival tool, it stunts your personal growth.  Like any principle, it can be followed mindlessly, or it can serve you well if you are judicious.

Such is the case with PowerPoint.  People see “professionals” use this tool in gross fashion, and they copy the bad technique.

They think it’s “the way to do it.”

I’m certain that this is how students develop such bad habits.

Some corporate vice president or successful entrepreneur shows up at your school unprepared to deliver a talk, believing that his professional achievements are enough to impress you.  He or she believes that preparation is unnecessary, that faux spontaneity can carry the day.

They feel no drive to deliver a satisfying talk.

This worthy believes that anything he says will be treated as business gospel.  Who can blame you for copying him and his bad habits?

But bad habits they are, and they span the disciplines.  They run rampant the length of the corporate ladder.  I separate these bad habits and actions into two broad categories – 1) the PowerPoint material itself, and 2) your interaction with that material during your presentation.

Let’s look at that first point.

Especially Bad PowerPoint

Oftentimes, students throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides.  They cut-and-paste them from a written report with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout.

You’ve probably done this yourself.  The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points and which are delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.

There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls bad slides . . .

“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career.  Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well.  The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”

Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to cut and paste graphics from a written report onto a slide.  You then project that slide onto the screen while you talk about it.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”

The results are usually poor, if not downright heinous.  This is what I call the “As you can see” syndrome:  AYCSS.  It’s a roadmap to disaster.

But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.  And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.

So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.

What Makes Bad PowerPoint?
Say no to Bad Powerpoint
Agile interaction with your visuals is essential for an especially powerful business presentation

Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.  PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.

This view is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling computer generated special effects and neglect the story.  The films flop, one after the other.  Yet Hollywood does not get the message.

You can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See 12 Angry Men.  You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about and who are buffeted by dangers and threats contrived by Industrial Light and Magic.

And it’s the same with your presentation.

Likewise, Aileen Pincus, a superb presentation coach, tells us that “Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”

Start improving your slides and your use of them today.  Implement the following three-step remedy.

Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.

If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.

Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide.  Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, tell your audience what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide, which should contain only the figures you refer to.

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

It is incredibly easy to do the above, if you know to do it.  Most folks do not.  But now you do.

Try these three simple steps, and I guarantee that your presentation improves dramatically.

The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting has much more on how to interact in an especially powerful manner with your slides and avoid bad PowerPoint along the way to achieving personal competitive advantage.