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How to create a great presentation

September 07, 2018

This is a draft of an article I am working on. I wouldn’t say its complete, but I think most of the ideas are there. Let me know what you think on Twitter where I am @technovangelist.

Recently a colleague came to me with a presentation. He wanted to explain kubernetes to sales folks simply. As I progressed through his slides I got stuck on format and how much information he was trying to introduce in each step.

At work I go through a lot of presentations to review what they say and how they say it. I give lots of comments and they tend to fit into three main categories. If you keep these three things in mind, your presentation has potential for being a great session.

  1. Tell a story
  2. One piece at a time
  3. With a consistent visual language

Tell a story

So what does that mean? Well first, you need to tell a story. There are many types of stories and there are very few presentations that wouldn’t benefit from being told as a story. If you have managed to find that one presentation that isn’t able to be told as a story, you probably have a presentation that isn’t worth sharing. If you want to learn how to tell a better story, I suggest starting with Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. Check out this video from StudioBinder that does a great job of getting the concepts across:

One piece at a time

Now that you know that you need to tell a good story, its important that you don’t try to say too much too quickly. Your presentation is probably broken down into a series of slides. You want to make sure you only introduce a single concept per slide build. OK, maybe two or three, but definitely no more, and really try to keep it down to one. Giving the viewer too much to concentrate on means they will remember nothing. And if you don’t have time to cover everything with only a single concept per slide, you are trying to cover too much. Simplify the presentation and reveal things one at a time.

With a consistent visual language

The third thing to keep in mind is to use a consistent visual language. Don’t use the same width, weight, and color line for separators and borders and arrows. If there is only one arrow, maybe its OK, but usually I see diagrams with 3 or more boxes, 3 or more arrows, and separators all over the place. I spend so much time trying to grok the diagram in my head that I have zoned you out. At the same time, don’t go crazy with colors and fonts. Keep it simple. If you can’t distinguish between all the things you need on the slide at the same time, you have too many things on the slide. And if you are using more than two different fonts with at most two different weights, you have too many fonts. Simplify.

Oh and every presentation package has a bunch of templates. Use them. If you think you can do better than the built in templates, you need to keep one thing in mind. Are you ready? Here it is: You suck at design!! The templates are going to be better. And if you use a template, actually use it. Put your text in the title placeholder. If you accidentally delete the placeholder, create a new slide and put your text in the placeholder.

One more thing

Now there is one more thing you need to have a great session. The three steps I mentioned will ensure you have the right material to talk about, but they don’t guarantee a great session. To get that, you need to practice. Then practice some more. And more. If it’s important (and if it’s not important, why are you doing it) then keep practicing. Practice until you don’t need to look at the slides or the notes. It takes me 25-30 times to get to that point. Yes, that means a lot of practice.

The goal of all of this is to focus on whats really important for your message. And if you do that, I will be able to focus on you. Otherwise everyone zones out.


I would love to hear what you think of this article. Leave a comment below…. Oh wait, I didn’t add that feature yet. So send me a tweet and let me know. I am @technovangelist.

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