How to Create a Truly Great Presentation

You likely already possess the creative talents for a killer presentation.
Owner, Lateral Action
March 22, 2013

“Creativity” isn’t the first word you’d associate with the average business presentation. The phrase “Death by PowerPoint” has been a cliché for years, but sadly the same clichés are being perpetuated day in day out – slides “designed” using hideous templates, crawling with bullet points and paragraphs in tiny fonts, which presenters then read out in a monotone (turning their backs to the audience), using interchangeable meaningless corporate jargon.

I managed to transform myself from someone who was terrified of standing up in front of an audience to an in-demand public speaker and workshop leader. Not only that, preparing and delivering presentations is now one of the things I enjoy most about my work. Here’s how I did it – and how you can do the same:

Treat the presentation as a creative project in its own right.

Here are some tips to help you get started – and to illustrate why your creative talents are the perfect ingredients for a killer presentation.

1. Tap your enthusiasm.

Everyone I’ve ever coached on presentation skills has told me they want to be more confident – but I tell them to forget about confidence and focus on enthusiasm. Confidence can be impressive, but it can still leave an audience cold. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is infectious – it will be hard for audiences to resist your passion.

2. Get to the core of your message.

If you’re an information architect, you’ll know how important it is to present the most important points clearly and simply, only introducing details when people have grasped the big picture and are ready for more. If organizing information is new to you, then here’s the quick version:

Boil your presentation down to three key points your audience must understand.

This forces you to hone your message to its essence, and helps you remember the structure of your presentation (even if the worst happens and the projector fails). It will also make the message more memorable for your audience. 

3. Tell a captivating story.

Next time you hear a presenter say “I’ll begin by telling you a story…” watch the audience – you’ll see them relax into their chairs. They are re-entering the pleasant “storytime trance” they knew and loved as kids. Their critical guard is down, and the speaker has a golden opportunity to engage them emotionally, by telling a powerful story that is relevant to her theme.

You have the same opportunity. Consider the message you are trying to get across. What problem does it solve? What’s the human dimension? Who does it remind you of? Once you have the seeds of a story, practice telling and retelling it until you it makes you laugh, cringe, groan, flinch or grin as you speak. When it affects you like this, it will move your audience too.

4. Wow them with words.

You should never try to get your presentation word perfect, by memorizing every single word – that will only make for stilted delivery. But it does pay to sprinkle it with a few choice phrases and add the odd rhetorical flourish.

5. Keep it simple.

Simplicity – focusing on core themes and eliminating fluff – is the key to a lot of great design, great writing, great music, great dance, and great art of many kinds. It’s also one of the things that makes presentations powerful and memorable.

This is all you need for a truly great presentation:

  • One big idea
  • Three key points
  • One compelling story
  • One idea per slide (and no more than six words)
  • One clear call to action

This was originally published on 99u.com.

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

Mark McGuinness is a coach who helps creative professionals create more, suffer less and attract more opportunities. He is the author of the popular blog Lateral Action and the book Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success