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I’ve been thinking a lot about presentations lately. In the course of a year, i’ll have the opportunity to impact over 10,000 people in a live presentation arena and plenty more online. Like any craft, it’s my obligation to stay abreast of what works.

Two prevailing axioms that I have always found inescapable and I try to combine in my presentation work:

  • Yes, it is a performance (the sizzle) – a presentation needs to entertain, take people on a ride, embed key messages within a narrative, treat people’s time as valuable and cater to the human need for sensorial stimulation in order for messages to sink in; too many corporate execs deny this reality or simply aren’t comfortable bringing the circus to town. Yawnnnn….
  • It needs to have a goal that is helpful and has lasting value for the audience (the steak) – what’s the point if you’re not inspiring, educating or teaching your audience something relevant, new and practical; too many speakers on the professional circuit miss this mark in pursuit of the personal ego stroke, promotion of  their own nirvana world views or worse, laziness in not customizing their content for their audiences. Remember the presentation is for them, not you.

So what else am I thinking about the art and science of “the prez”?:

  • How is technology changing the idea of presentations?
  • What formats make for the best presentations?
  • Do audiences react differently to different presentations?
  • If we are truly into “engagement”, are “people on stage” the best vehicles for that?
  • How do I get to generate an even better reaction with my key stakeholders “the audience” before selfishly addressing my own objectives ?

Most of the dogmatic wisdom I hear about presentations comes from the professional presenter clique themselves. Make no mistake, they give good slide. I’ve provided examples of my five best presentation sources of inspiration below.

But what seems more annoyingly now more than ever, is the sameness of the well-coiffed school of slide-ology (and yes, that is a word). Conferences are spitting out highly-opinionated and rehearsed orators, they all are using the 60-90 slide, awesome background shots with one sentence prophetic statements, TED-like mantras (admission I do love TED but it’s not everybody’s thing) and “Look at me, look at me” delivery styles.

Is this what we want? Are other people seeing this trend toward style over substance? Quality of visual over thinking? Narcissism over selflessness? Noble-minded opinion over well-articulated theory put into practice?

So I searched for something that these presentation touring band hands would be wise to consider – evidence!

In looking at the last 30 most popular and recently popular presentations on Slideshare (I am making the presumption that a well viewed Slideshare presentation makes equally good live performance fodder). I found some interesting grains of truth. First of all, contrary to the speaker code, I noticed a large range of formats and styles amongst these viral slide hits (no dogs in the bunch – average views for these recently uploaded decks were 14k per day).

First, the quantitative stats on top presentations :

Number of slides: Average length – 57 slides, Range 16 to 147 – Verdict: no direct link to quantity of views/shares Conclusion – there is no rule of thumb for slide length

Number of words on slide: Average words/slides – 27 words, Range 2 to 153 – Verdict: no direct link to quantity of views/shares Conclusion – there is no rule of thumb for words on slide

Quality of Graphics: 8 presentations had truly great, likely professionally done slide work, 5 had good impactfully done slidework likely pulled together by the presenter themselves and 7 had very average looking slides (using available Powerpoint templated formats) Verdict – although it helps and led to more social sharing, there is no standard floor for graphics in presentation impacting views or potential distribution Conclusion – spend less time developing great graphic and more time developing great ideas, provocations, arguments, evidence and results.

Number of Shares: the average amount of shared activities per presentation each day on the four relevant social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+) was 11 per day with a range of 1 to 158 Verdict: the only key skews being towards more emotional presentations (+88% shares vs. average) and higher quality of slide graphics (+49% shares vs. average) Conclusion: no golden rule for getting social sharing of your content, communicate humanly, clearly and desirably and you have a chance.

So if we can’t rely on these numerical rules, what did they all have qualitatively in common?

– A Central Idea – at the heart of what was being presented, there was a solid idea on what was being covered, even better communicated when in the title of the presentation.

What would Davinci Do

What would Davinci Do

– Visual Connectedness – although some presentations were average looking, all slides looked like they came from the same parent.

– Typography – if the fonts weren’t distinctive, they were all clear, bold and designed for impact.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.38.30 AM

– Roadmap/Arc to their Presentations – the more effective roadmap provided, the more views presentation received – some did it through absolute slide consistency, others through a paradigm/model that guided their presentation and yet others did it through numbered lists.

– Recent/Topical Experience – although some dipped into history going back 50 years for context, most of the learning was very recent and up-to-date.

KPCB

– Great Examples – in the majority of cases, the presenters had curated the best examples from their own experience or more likely the “world out there” to emphasize their points.

– Quotes – a reasonable use and justifiably placed, set of quotations from famous/smart people to emphasize the point being made was a frequently used tactic.

– Asking Questions – although not uniformly used, more than half of the decks openly asked questions, either to get people to think or to lead logically to the argument being posed.

What Would Steve Do

– Playful Tone – regardless of purpose of presentation (except for analysis presentations) – slide formats allowed for a bit of humour either explicitly in text or implicitly in pictures.

– Call to Action – many of the presentations had a clear call to action and what they wanted their audience to do and links to contact info.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.59.35 AM

So there you have it. Get the presentation police off your back and use whatever slide format you want by following these general guidelines. Curious to know your favourite presenter and/or presentation format?

Here are some of the best Presentation for Impact ongoing resources:

Presentation Zen http://www.presentationzen.com
Slideshare’s Blog http://blog.slideshare.net
Ethos 3 Blog http://www.ethos3.com/blog/
Make a Powerful Point http://makeapowerfulpoint.com
Duarte Blog http://blog.duarte.com

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