5 tips for startups and small business: creating a presentation

There are few things you can do that are more important than delivering a good presentation. Nor are there few things that most entrepreneurs do as poorly. We tend to be dependent on slide decks, but the decks we use are often poorly thought out, thematically confusing, and esthetically challenged. Slide decks should support the presenter, not the other way around, though this is rarely the case and many speakers use their slides a crutch, simply reading to their audience the words on the screen. The rule of thumb should be that the talk should be able to stand on its own, without slides, and if it can not do that, then there is a much deeper problem that a deck can not overcome.

1. Keep it stupid simple. Thematically, visually, organizationally – it is critical that your messaging be clear, concise and to the point. Don’t waste words, don’t waste imagery, and most importantly don’t waste your audience’s time. If what you need to communicate will take the full hour, than by all means do so. But if you can communicate the information in 20 minutes instead, that will be preferable for all concerned. When creating a presentation, I tend to work backwards, considering first what I am trying to impart, and then structuring the presentation around that goal. Here is the opening slide from a presentation Ross and I did shortly after we launched. Sort of says it all, no?

2. Be organized. Like all great narratives, presentations too should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And like a good research paper, they should clearly state the thesis up front, support it with confirming evidence and research, state it again at the end and summarize to tie it all together. So, start at the beginning and work your way to the end and make sure you can defend your assumptions, and that your research is of the highest quality.

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3. Make sure the words on the screen are not the words coming from your mouth. Perhaps it is my own pet peeve, but I truly believe that I am not alone on this. I find nothing to be more annoying than watching a presenter literally read the endless bullet points that populate their boring slides. Please, please, please put me out of my misery and use the slides to support whatever it is you are saying – remember that your audience (or most of them, at least) can read and they don’t need you to do it for them.

4. Crowded and dense slides are a reflection of a crowded dense mind. The NY Times recently published a story on the overuse of presentations in the military and used this slide as an example of the madness. When the commanding general of the Afghanistan campaign saw this slide he remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

5. Entertain them. This reflects my own bias, coming out of the film industry, but I honestly believe that it is critical to keep your audience engaged and entertained. This can be done with humor (especially if it is at the expense of your partner, as illustrated by the slide below), with great visuals, but most of all must be accomplished with the content of your presentation, your own communication skills, and by paying attention to the people to whom you’re speaking. When you see them starting to nod out, it’s probably time to move to the next slide.

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