No, this is not a VOGUE article that advises you on your work wardrobe. One of the things that graduate school can do better is prepare students to be effective presenters. In my early phase of transiting into marketing functions, one of the biggest adjustments was my presentation style. Looking back, I personally believe that the need of such adjustment was because I adopted the same format used by my peers without questioning its effectiveness. How many talks have you been to in the past three months that made you say “WOW”? In this post, I will share with you some of the key lessons I have learned in presenting to business audiences and resources to help you become a better presenter.
1. Keep It Short and Sweet:
Remember the most interesting talk you have been to? They are engaging because the presenter is compelling and tells a good story, not because he/she can scramble as much data on one slide as possible. So lose the details. No one, especially business executives, really has the time or the interest to hear, for example, how many triplicates you did to collect your data points (except your lab mates and maybe your advisor).
2. Make It Nice and Slow:
Just like dating, you need to “seduce” your audience by revealing only the most relevant bits of your story one piece at a time to keep them interested. If you go into the details right away, you lose them. So, select your key points and present them with cohesiveness. I’d like to remind myself the underlying lesson from the Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” episode¬– emphasize only three points at a time. More than three points, you lose the emphasis. A good place to see engaging presentations is the TED conference. Some of my favorite talks are those that don’t even have charts on their slides.
3. Reversed Slideshow:
In science presentations, the flow of your slides usually follows this pattern:
In the business world, people only care about the key points, which are usually presented upfront, making a typical slide deck flow as the following:
Agenda->Executive Summary (Background/Problems)->Conclusions/Summary (of key findings)->Recommendations/Moving Forward
One thing that business presentations sometimes have that science presentations don’t is the “Recommendation/Moving Forward” section. It usually contains suggestions and strategies for the next step in light of the situation presented. Another minor difference is when including citations in business slides, you use the word “Source” rather than “Reference.” Methods and lengthy background information are typically compiled as appendices in case your audience wants to dig deeper.
Graph and Slide Appearance:
Pie and bar charts are popular in business presentations. Keep them simple so that your audience’s eyes focus only on the most relevant information. Features such as gridlines are not always necessary. There are many resources out there that teach effective graphic presentations. I recommend reading Edward Tufty’s Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative if you have the time. For a shorter commitment, Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen gives good ideas on how to stylishly and effectively put together your slides. I also frequent GOOD Magazine’s Infographics page for ideas. Guy Kawasaki, a former Chief Evangelist of Apple has given lots of talks about effective presentation, especially to venture capitalists. His 10/20/30 rule (10 slides/20 minute max/30 font minimum) is a good one to follow (see part 3 of 4 videos, 4:15 time mark). I recommend watching all four parts of his talk.
Lose Your Decimal Place:
When I started presenting numbers in business setting, it took me a while to let go of my scientist’s tendency to include at least 2 places right of the decimal. This is common in science, but trivial and sometimes annoying in business. Usually, you just round up your numbers to whole numbers, provided that such action does not make a big difference to your audience. For example. a “$5.1 million” revenue can be written as “$5M”. With that said, keep your audience in mind. If that $0.1M difference is a huge deal (say you are presenting to a company whose annual revenue is only $100,000), you might not want to round it up. Use your best judgment, but keep 1 decimal place to the right at most.
Last but not least, no laser pointer, please!
In closing, I’d like to dedicate Madonna’s Vogue to you. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or ask me questions about a specific area of my experience. So here you go. Until next post, strike a pose on your talk.