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Create A Meaningful Presentation

Eleven years ago, as I was exploring the world of webinars, I wrote a blog post about giving effective presentations. I was recently reminded of it when speaking with a client about creative ways to communicate information captured in large data sets. I just re-read it and thought I'd share it here because I think many of the presentation tips are still valid. Plus, the woman whose approach I was admiring, Nancy Duarte, is thriving! (Uh, hello #67 on the list of Top 250 Women in Leadership and #1 on the 2017 list of World's Top 30 Communication Professionals!) I could spend an afternoon exploring her site and ideas.

Below is my original blog. Hopefully, you will glean a few ideas about how to make your next scary speaker situation (webinar, board update, you name it) less daunting and more impactful. Here are a few quick takeaways for making a presentation meaningful:

  • A presentation shouldn't be a teleprompter.

  • Mind-mapping when crafting a message works wonders...seriously people, give it a try.

  • Edward Tufte and Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen are still fabulous resources.

  • The presentation is like a theatre with the slides acting as the set design, not the main attraction. (From Nancy's original video...wish I could find it.)

  • Get creative using other devices than PowerPoint. Become memorable!

Creating a great presentation - Nancy Duarte's approach | May 11, 2009

I've just watched a webinar by Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design called Creating Powerful Presentations with Nancy Duarte.  She gave it to the vizthink group.  It had so many great components, including don't abandon PowerPoint, but innovate it.  Before developing your presentation don't go straight to the PowerPoint tool...instead, walk away and think of your audience.  Sketch it out on paper, go to another location to change your perspective a bit.  She recommends getting to a more tactile environment and doing things like mind maps (i am a huge word map fan...if you don't do it try it for the next project you are working on.  The site I linked to is just one that popped up on google... I don't even get this fancy with it.  Just put your main idea that you are thinking about in the middle of the page and draw lines out with the ideas...more off of each spoke.  When one gets too big, it can become its own page.  It really helps to get all of your thoughts out of your head onto paper prior to starting an outline.)    

Now, back to Nancy's presentation.  She started by talking about the importance of telling a story which truly helps with your presentation skills. (This reminds me of the webinar audit I had completed for Andy Goodman...who also preaches about Story Telling Best Practices.) 

She is a HUGE proponent of scrapping the PowerPoint template system.  Instead, start the slide with a blank space...get creative.  Use one point per slide.  This idea speaks directly to webinars.  It keeps the attendee engaged and the continual movement of slides is just one of many hooks to be used to keep them paying attention.   Don't fool yourself into thinking that the bullets are to help the audience...they don't, they only help you.  Your presentation shouldn't be a teleprompter.   

Don't miss the question/answer session at the end.  There are a few good topics discussed thereafter in her presentation.  I love the analysis that they use that a presentation is like theatre.  The slides are just the set design.  There are many other "devices" that can be effectively used.  Get creative and become memorable.  This holds true for presentations given via webinar.  I feel like this can be an entirely different post so stay tuned!      

She mentions Tufte (the guru of giving analytical presentations) and highly recommends the often referenced Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen

I look forward to reading her book Slide:ology.  It has received great reviews and looks like it will have a lot of good tips. 


Update 2020: I've updated links and a typo or two as appropriate. Duarte Design is now Duarte. I could not find a working link to Creating Powerful Presentations with Nancy Duarte but her site is amazing and offers plenty of powerful tips. I don't see much on vizthink anymore. Perhaps it has morphed into Design Thinking? I still love mind maps!

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