4 Tips from Companies Who Excel in Presentations

Apple: Eliminate Bullet Points

Steve Jobs was perhaps the most genius speaker, and challenged the way people thought about presentations. Job’s unique presentation style changed the face of keynotes (quite literally to “Stevenotes”) to create some of the most awe-inspiring and unforgettable presentations ever delivered. As Carmine Gallo puts it in his book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Steve “transformed the typical, dull, technical, plodding slideshow into a theatrical event complete with heroes, villains, a supporting cast, and stunning backdrops. People who witnessed a Steve Jobs presentation for the first time described it as an extraordinary experience.”

Steve Jobs never used bullet points in his presentations, even ones that listed product features. Eliminate information on slides and try picking a few key words and pairing it with a powerful and emotion-evoking image. Bullets prompt people to stop paying attention, and detract from your content. A presentation should tell a story, and people do not tell stories in bullets, they tell them in images. An image is worth a 1000 words, bullets are only worth a few words of dry information. As Seth Godin wrote in his ebook, Really Bad PowerPoint, “the minute you put bullet points on the screen, you are announcing ‘write this down, but don’t really pat attention to it now.’” Presenters need to engage their audience for the entirety of their speech, just like Steve, and people do not engage when bullets are present.

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”


TED: 18 Minute Rule

TED talks are streamed more than 2 million times per day. TED has given exposure to some of the best speakers in the world, insight to what presentation styles move audiences, and demonstrated how to persuade and attract attention. One aspect, arguably the biggest aspect, that makes TED talks so addicting, is the 18-minute rule. No speaker is allowed to exceed 18 minutes during a presentation, forcing the most revolutionary and complex ideas to condense into a brief presentation.

Scientists whom have studied the human attention span have found we can usually engage for 10 to 18 minutes before we tune out [1]. That rate, scarily enough, is declining as we are exposed to more technology and social media. TED organizers give presenters enough time to engage their audiences, but challenge their speakers to eliminate excess information. Presenters are forced to pick and choose which of their information to share, allowing them to uncover what is really important for their company or message.

The 18 minute rule also works because audiences can only remain engaged for a certain amount of time; listening to information can be just as exhausting for the brain as thinking about a subject. Dr. Paul King found that graduate students recall more information that is given in a short amount of time.  The 18 minute time allotment gives the speaker enough time to relay the main concept they want audiences to grapple, but also allows audiences to remain engaged. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, or how wealthy you are, TED allows no one to exceed 18 minutes. 

Ted curator Chris Anderson explained the login behind this thinking: It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.


Cisco: Embrace your communication style 

John Chambers believes that all of Cisco’s executives should master public speaking and presentation skills. Ron Ricci, Cisco’s Vice President of Customer Experiences Services states John is “obsessed” with the idea that the effective communication of a brand story facilitates the execution of a company’s road map [2].

When a Cisco executive gives a presentation, employees or customers are asked to give that person a score ranging from 1 to 5, based on delivery and content.  A score of 4 or higher is considered a good presentation. “It’s part and parcel of who you are as an executive,” states Ricci.

“The most important thing we’ve learned is that everyone has an individual communication style,” Ricci explained. “Don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. If you’re an engineer and you like to communicate with facts, data, and logic, communicate with facts, data, and logic. It’s where you will be the most effective. If you’re a conceptual thinker then communicate with analogies, metaphors, and imagery. Authenticity is what creates great scores because it allows you to maximize your strength as a person and a communicator.”

Cisco also thrives on the idea that executives do powerpoint better when they are not slaves to bullet points. “The story is what people really want. Don’t let PowerPoint define who you are. Simplify, put fewer words on the slides,” says Ricci. “Be a storyteller, don’t be a power point jockey” [2]


Duarte: Tell stories

In Nancy’s book, Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, she states that if there are 75 words on your slide, to put it in a document and hand it out. If there are 50 words, it’s really just a teleprompter. Few or no words… perfect. Try and distill it down to one word. A Mnemonic. [3]

“Think of your slide as a billboard on the freeway… 7 words at 65 miles per hour is about all.”

Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences and slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, thrives on the idea that we need to engage our audience through storytelling. Stories resonate with people, and shows the audience that the speaker is human, making them more likely to listen and trust you.

Nancy explains how stories are incredibly important because they demonstrate transformation and humans are hardwired to enjoy transformation, and enable us to connect heart to heart. She states how a presentation should incorporate some report like information but also story structure to keep it interesting. Facts, logic, and research speak to the mind, however stories speak to the heart. By properly meshing the two to create a presentation, you can create a memorable speech and effective way of communicating your ideas. Tell stories in a compelling way, let your humanity out, and you will engage others. She states, “change all of your presentations into wonderful explanations of your idea” and your idea will spread like wildfire.   

Great stories will resonate will an audience, and connects us personally with other people. Incorporating emotion is one of the most powerful ways to appeal to your audience; Create remarkable stories by making people feel, so the audience will remember your ideas and can tell others. Remember to always make sure your story creates a call to action.

Here is a breakdown of Nancy’s input on how to incorporate great stories into your presentation:

1.)   Remind people of “what is,” or what their world looks like today.

2.)   Paint a picture of “what could be,” or what the world might look like if the people in the room adopted the presenter’s idea. This contrast creates an imbalance that the audience looks to the presenter to solve.

3.)   Bridge the gap with ideas about how to solve it. Move the audience back and forth between “what is” and “what could be”

4.)   Give the audience something to do after your presentation that moves your idea forward, but don’t make it a chore – inspire them enough that they actually want to do it.

  1. Describe what she calls the “new bliss,” which is your version of how much better their life will be once they act on your idea.
  2. Show them how it will directly benefit their lives.
  3. Help them visualize what role they can play in solving the imbalance you’ve created.

[1] Source 

[2] Source

[3] Source

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