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These are the rules of smart presentations

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This post is adapted from “The Big Fish Experience” (January 2016, McGraw-Hill Education), which details the Big Fish Presentations creative process. Kenny Nguyen, one of the book co-authors, is the founder and CEO of Big Fish Presentations, a company whose mantra is “turning presentations into experiences.” He and his team work daily with clients nationwide, from startups to Fortune 100 companies, providing high-quality presentation design, presentation training, and creative video production. Follow him on Twitter at @bigfishkenny.

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Throughout our time at Big Fish, we’ve regularly shared with our clients pieces of advice that applies to all presentations. That being said, we thought we’d share our ten most useful tips in the form of “commandments.”

The 10 Big Fish presentations commandments:

  1. Present what’s in it for the world, not yourself.
  2. Time is not a renewable resource; respect it.
  3. Never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself.
  4. People will always remember the presenter more than the presentation.
  5. Be passionate about your topic.
  6. Tell stories.
  7. Always have a progression that leads to a call to action.
  8. If you think you’ve rehearsed enough, rehearse again.
  9. Engage with the audience when able.
  10. Have fun.

Below are brief explanations of these commandments in more detail:

1) Present what’s in it for the world, not yourself:

These commandments have been created not only from experience, but based on replicating the best presenters with the goal of raising the standard of the best presentations. Here are some common names we thought of when considering who we believe set the current standard:

  • Steve Jobs, entrepreneur/CEO of Apple + Pixar
  • Martin Luther King Jr., activist
  • Benjamin Zander, composer
  • Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook
  • John F. Kennedy, former US president
  • Malala Yousafzai, educational activist

Despite being in different fields, these speakers shared many common traits. For example, they all delivered messages about a higher calling than themselves. This builds trust, and that’s the first rule of any presenter: Deliver your presentation based on the benefit to the world, not yourself. Your audience must trust you in order for them to truly listen. By beginning with the mentality of what’s in it for them rather than yourself, you are more likely to succeed in swaying the audience to believe in you.

How do you build trust? While a lot of it has to do with powerful delivery, it also lies in the acronym C.O.U.R.A.G.E.

All presenters share C.O.U.R.A.G.E:

  • Confident – They truly believe in what they are saying.
  • Optimistic – They give their audience hope.
  • Understanding – They are easy to understand and relatable.
  • Realistic – They are realistic in their vision.
  • Able – They Practice what they preach.
  • Genuine – They are genuine and easy to trust.
  • Engaging – They care about what we have to say.

Every great presenter possesses these traits. In order to improve oneself, one should keep these in mind when building a bond and rapport with their audience. After all, the way you portray yourself on stage is just as important as what you have to say.

2) Time is not a renewable resource; respect your audience’s time.

Audiences can always make more money, but they can never get their time back. Respect your audience’s time by interviewing the event organizer or attendees what they want to hear the most. This will allow you to tailor the presentation to their needs. Avoid tangents and and stick to the outline of points that you believe matters the most to audience. Remember, we all have interesting stories to tell, but make sure you choose the right stories to move your presentation along.

3) Never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself.

When giving a presentation, it’s important to put yourself in the audience’s shoes. The phrase, “Do unto others as you would want done to you” stands true here. If you wouldn’t want to sit through your own presentation, it’s time for a change. Whether it’s because you’re bored or the presentation is outdated, reevaluate.

Note: Big Fish Presentations CEO Kenny Nguyen mentions that he never likes to give the same presentation more than three times, because content should always be evolving. He edits the existing presentation or creates a completely new one. This keeps things fresh for returning audience members and for the presenter.

4) People will always remember the presenter more than the presentation.

This is true that while you may create the prettiest slide deck ever seen, if you can’t present it, it’s worthless. People came there to watch a performance, not watch you click through and read the slides. When building an experience, it’s important to not overlook the delivery portion. Slides should be a visual aid, never a crutch; you should be the focus on the presentation. The slides need you to tell the story.

5) Be passionate about your topic.

If you don’t care about what you have to say, why should the audience care? Find a way to discover what makes you passionate in the subjects you speak about. This passion is essential in portraying positive body language. Once you find that passion, research and learn intricately about your subject.  Use that information to piece together a simplistic and engaging presentation that will inspire audiences to listen to you.

6) Tell stories.

We find stories to be one of the best ways to create meaning and emotion between people. Personal stories break down the wall between audience and presenter by making the speaker more relatable and appear trustworthy.

7) Always have a progression that leads to a call to action.

Always have a call to action in your presentation. Otherwise, why are you presenting? If your presentation doesn’t have a point, you’ve not only wasted your time but also the audience’s time. Build up your presentation on main, concise points as an argument of sorts that expresses why you believe the audience should believe in your call to action. A good call to action should be concise, simple and supported with the points delivered prior to making a decision.

8) If you think you’ve rehearsed enough, rehearse again.

Be sure to practice in advance. This can be the difference between good presenters and great presenters. A good rule of thumb is if the presentation is for 45 minutes; try to finish in 35 to 40 minutes. This will give you cushion room for accidental tangents as well as more time to engage with the audience in the Q&A. We commonly tell clients that rehearsing to the point where you don’t need a slideshow means you are ready. That way, even if the slide deck crashes, the show goes on.

9) Engage with the audience when able.

Engage the audience, ask questions, get them involved in the presentation itself, and always keep strong eye contact. If you are going to be up there for half an hour, share a little spotlight with someone else. Encourage the participants with your warm personality, and you will have won over the crowd. You can even ask your audience, “Have you ever seen a boring presentation? And did you ever think you were going to make it out alive?” Most likely, everyone will raise their hands, and now you have just captured an audience’s attention by touching on a similar experience. Your foot is in the door, now make sure you do not lose it. They are on your side now.

10) Have fun.

No matter what the topic is, have fun with your audience. Add humor. Tell a joke at the beginning to break the ice. Do not be a stiff up there on the stage. Not only will you be uncomfortable, but so will your audience. In Greek tragedy, an audience should always feel a bond between themselves and the actors. This bond is called catharsis — the emotional response that drives us to reading and watching plays over and over again. Tragedies, too, can be fun experiences. Having fun brings an audience together — they have connected with you. If they associate themselves with you, you have already sold them on the pitch. Whatever the case may be, have fun up there.

While these commandments will be elaborated in much more detail throughout the book, we believe these points can get anyone on the right track on what it takes to become a great presenter.

Get ready to create engaging content that can move your audience.