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Breaking the Business Presentation Rules for Better Presentations


I never had a nick name as a kid.  But if I did, it could easily have been “goody two shoes.”


I was by nature a rule follower.  My mom used to joke that she could threaten to spank me and I’d be good for 3 months!


So I empathize with you if you’re that business professional who is thinking, “Gosh, Kelly.  I don’t know that I want to be the first to step away from the ‘normal’ way of doing business presentations.”


Sure, it’s easier to open up the company PowerPoint slide template, add a few bullet points, and call it a presentation.


But if you want to connect yourself and your ideas with your colleagues, with your customers, with your bosses, take it from a recovering goody two shoes.  Sometime to do the right thing, you need to break the rules.  Here’s how to do better presentations by going against conventional wisdom.


The Purpose of Your Business Presentation – Do It “The Audience’s Way”


The standard approach to a business presentation is typically to ask yourself as the presenter, “What do I want to say?”  While “I’ll Do It My Way” worked for Frank Sinatra, it doesn’t work for you or the business audiences you speak to.


The better question to ask yourself is, “How can I help my audience?”  Consider what it is the audience needs to hear.  Or wants to hear.  But from their perspective.


They don’t want to hear about your product.  They want to know how to increase their ranking in google so that more customers will find them.


They don’t want to know the history behind your research project.  They want to know the summary of what the research means and what next steps to take.


The audience doesn’t want to know about you and your background.  They want to know how what you know is going to help them when they leave their seats and head back to work.


Don’t think about what you want to communicate.  Find out what your audience cares about and think “How can I provide information that’s relevant and meaningful to them?”



Your Presentation Slides – Work with the Brain


Can people learn when there are bullet points and lots of words on the screen?  Sure they can.


But if you want them to retain more information…  if you want them to focus on the bigger picture so they can apply what they’ve learned to other contexts, then ditch the bullet points in favor of brain-friendly visual images, one point per slide and only two or three words per slide.


When slides are wordy, the brain has to make a choice.  Either the brain can read the slides OR listen to you the speaker.  The brain cannot do both at the same time.


Studies indicate that the brain will retain the information better with pictures over oral only.  Studies indicate that the brain will retain the information better and apply it to other situations when the slides are visual.  Studies indicate that slides with two or three words and with visual images help improve the brain’s retention of information.


It’s easier to listen and watch pictures than to watch words on a slide and try to listen to a speaker.  Give the brain what works best so your audience will remember and use what you have to say.



Practice Like They’ll See It


Practice does not mean sitting at your desk, looking at your slides and  thinking to yourself, “OK, when I get to this slide, I think I’ll talk about …”


Practice means running through your presentation in the same manner that your audience will see it.


I know you’re busy.  I know there are other things that are your “real job.”  But if you want to make a connection – if you want to reach your audience and have your message make a difference – then you can’t wing it.


To practice, stand up.  Say the words you plan to say out loud.  If you’re using slides, speak and click through your slides just as you will on the day of the presentation.  Don’t memorize your talk.  Speak authentically from what you know.  But practice before you deliver your presentation.  Give your body the muscle memory it needs to deliver the material as you plan to deliver it.  Practice.



Need More Social Evidence?  Go Watch TED.com


If you haven’t heard of TED.com, go take a look at it.  You’ll find a plethora of great speeches given on topics ranging from serious social issues to science to music to design and more.


None of the TED speakers use the default approach to business presentations.  Each of them talks on the subject of their expertise with their authentic voice, non-traditional slides, and make an impact with audience friendly content.


Judge for yourself.  See how you feel after watching a TED.com presentation.


Then ask yourself, do you think your audiences feel like that after watching one of your business presentations?


If the answer is “no,” start looking for ways to move away from the tradition and moving toward a better way.