Growing as a presenter

After attending a full-day IBM course on creating effective presentations last Friday, I felt like challenging myself to figure out how to make good corporate-ish presentations. The instructor joked that I could probably give the course, and I laughed and said that the end results would look nothing like IBM presentations. But maybe I can help figure out how corporate presentations can be engaging…

Practically all of my external presentations are non-IBM-standard. I use hand-drawn stick figures, full-bleed stock photography and Creative Commons-licensed images, and very little text. They’re also almost all meant to be delivered as part of a highly interactive session, unlike the stand-alone slide decks that are popular within IBM. I have hardly any speaker notes because I have short presentations with memorable key messages. My presentations are idiosyncratic. They fit my style and my knowledge, but they’re not easily reusable by others.

There are a number of ways I’d love to grow as a presenter.

  • I’m working on learning how to make IBM-branded presentations at least for internal use, using the color combinations and slide layouts suggested in our presentation guidelines. There are plenty of opportunities to practice on the presentations I find internally, and I can fiddle with their logic along the way. I can also practice this in the process of developing some of the enablement material I’ve promised to do in my personal business commitments.
  • I’d like to collect and eventually contribute to examples of good corporate presentations: charts and slide layouts that work well, good flow, good supporting logic… There must be awesome presentations out there. If I can collect them, highlight them, and talk about why they work, then I can help other people learn more about presentation skills. Kinda like Presentation Zen, but with examples that corporate speakers can identify with.
  • Someday, I’m going to learn how to make those ballroom-type presentations that look really more like ads. You know, the quick, punchy, animated presentations like “Did You Know…” and “Smile and Move”. In order to learn how to do that, I’ll need to learn video advertising techniques and new tools. It’ll be fun!

Good presentations help people understand complex issues and move themselves to action. Good presentation skills help speakers structure thoughts, build credibility, and facilitate change. Definitely worth looking into. Who wants to learn with me? =) Send me examples of things you like and why you like them, tell me stories about what you’re learning, and share your tips! =)

  • Slides and presentation delivery are really two separate things.

    The essential question on creating slides is whether they will be presented by someone else. If so, there are two choices: put the content on the slide, or put them in the speaker notes. (Consulting slides are always assumed to be presented by someone else — be it someone senior, or a customer who takes the content forward as a champion).

    Presentation delivery is an art. The best presenter that I’ve seen never referred to his slides, and said something entirely different, yet still wowed the crowd. (I should know, he was presenting my slides, and he didn’t come close to the scripted comments!)

  • That’s true! All the points I mentioned are about slide design. Delivery-wise, I’m working on a host of other ways to improve. =)

  • Rebecca Schwartz

    Everything that I like is more like what you already do (and I also LOVE Presentation Zen) and less like the “corporate-ish” presentations you want to learn how to do. Sounds like Van Gogh wishing he could do paint-by-numbers. Why can’t corporations learn to do presentations with more full-bleed images, more white space, and less freakin bullets, instead? I have a co-worker who asked me my opinion on the template he was working on for three courses in a series, with the brand colors, etc., and it TOTALLY BLEW HIS MIND that I suggested we didn’t need page numbers on the slides. He said “Next thing you know, you’ll be wanting to take the titles off!” Well okay, maybe not today. Apparently the status quo needs to recuperate.

    And then there was that comment someone made online about one of Garr Reynolds’ articles. Something along the lines of “yeah it looks nice but how are people going to retain anything without any content, and plus they need their handouts!” It made me want to cry.

    Having gotten that off my chest, I would love to learn with you to see if we can figure out a compromise. Something that could maybe stand alone as a self-paced tool, but that also does what it’s supposed to do DURING the presentation, which is support and enhance the PRESENTER.

    Here’s one I love that would be “pushing the envelope” but acceptable in some corporate environments (not my own).


  • Rebecca Schwartz
  • One of the things I learned from facilitating technology adoption is: Innovators will go off and play with interesting new concepts, but they’re not good at helping the mainstream bridge the gap. That’s where early adopters and influencers come in: translating, adapting, making it possible for everyone else to move forward.

    Oddly enough, it’s something I also learned as a student, a computer science teacher, and really just a real person. =) If people see me as too different, they often find it hard to learn and take action. (This prompted one of my friends to say, “I hate to break it to you, but she is a HUMAN“. (Yay!)

    So: bridging is key. Or scaffolding, as educators sometimes refer to it. Helping people figure out how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

    My stick figures make people laugh, smile, and understand, but most other people won’t make them for their regular presentations. =) Too radical. And lots of people are already playing with creative presentations, figuring out the next thing, so that’s taken care of too.

    We know that there are plenty of terrible presentations out there already.

    The middle ground–good, ‘serious’-looking presentations–that looks interesting. If I can figure out my personal style and do well, and if I can apply my creativity and passion to this challenge, maybe I can help more people bridge that gap.

    Besides… wouldn’t it be interesting to see what this could be like? What do good meeting-type or tactical presentations look like? Can we do anything to wean people off bullet-laden slideuments? Are there hidden strengths that we can bring out? What surprising gems will I come across?

    It’ll be fun!