Would your presentation pass these 5 tests?

Have you ever wondered what constitutes a great presentation? Is it the successful translation of your boss’s vague grunts into coherent and comprehensible thoughts? Is it delivering a presentation and not having died on stage? Or maybe it is creating a slide deck that was acknowledged as well done by the audience? The fact is that the yardstick for success in presentations often differs for each and every one of us.

Therefore, the Show & Tell team sat down to ponder this fact – and what that entails is a cup of coffee, a sandwich and a seat along the roadside at the neighborhood café. Here is what we came up with:

It should tell a story

This is a tricky one since many people feel that storytelling has no place in a business environment and that is where most presentations are made. What we would like to argue is that every presentation is a story – it may not be a J. K. Rowling epic or a Stephen King page turner, but it is a story.

When we present, we try to paint a picture for the audience with our slides and our words, transporting them from their point of view to our own. Like all stories, you build suspense, anticipation and then deliver your climactic punchline. When we communicate this is very often what we are striving to achieve – from establishing your credibility to communicating the need for your services to telling your future customer what exactly you can do for them (climax).

It should be easy to follow

Anyone who has ever attempted to draw a mind map would know how cluttered, confused and convoluted our minds are. While the neurological links to each fragment of logic that reside in our cranium make perfect sense to us, very often, to an outsider, they make absolutely no sense.

Therefore, a great presentation needs to take the cobweb of ideas, rationales and conclusions that flitter around our grey matter and place them into a logical series of points that guide an audience from absolute ignorance to enlightened awareness.

It should have purpose

Mark Twain once said, “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare”.

A presentation should have a purpose and a goal it is setting out to achieve – it is not the vessel through which you purge the extent of your knowledge onto your unsuspecting audience. A presentation needs to strive towards a goal and every slide, every image and every word uttered should be crafted towards the achievement of that purpose.

It should be beautiful

Slide design is often a neglected aspect of presentations because “who really cares how good a presentation looks?” The fact is no one consciously cares, but unconsciously, it can influence our entire experience during the presentation.

Attention to slide design proves to the audience that the presenter cares: about her subject matter and her audience. You may have invested years gathering the knowledge needed to present the subject confidently, spent days transferring it into slides and hours practicing the delivery – to have only 20% of your audience embrace your message would be a waste of all that effort.

It should be delivered with confidence

When people talk about great presentations they often cite Steve Jobs as the be-all and end-all of great presentations. The reason that Jobs has left such an indelible mark in our minds is that he delivered his pitch with such unwavering confidence – in both himself and his product. After watching the movies and seeing the neurotic perfectionist we have all come to know and love (or hate), we realise that his self-confidence sprouted from his confidence in his product and knowing the market needed it (even when they didn’t know they did).

Being passionate and believing in what you are presenting helps build your own confidence because then you are selling to one less person in the room (yourself). A story delivered with confidence in the subject matter, in knowing the audience needs to hear your message and knowing that you can help the audience in some way, can be a powerful agent in taking a presentation from good to great.

It is a real challenge trying to analyse the numerous presentations that we have witnessed and identify what was good, bad and ugly in them. But these five aspects seem to stand out in all of those that have made a permanent home in our hearts and minds.