Presentation madness

Powerpoint, Keynote, … it doesn’t really matter much which piece of software you use to make a presentation. Trust me, there’s only little the software can do for you to make your presentation better, let alone good.

I get my fair share of practice making presentations since I make a few per week, but I also get to see a lot of presentations at events, with clients, suppliers, etc. The list below is an overview of my rules of thumb for creating good presentations.

The audience

First things first. Who are you talking to? It’s probably what bothers me most at conferences, all too often you see a presentation that is not at all tailored for the event. It’s more about what the presenter wants to say versus what the audience came down to hear.

But this doesn’t only count for conferences of course. Also when you’re presenting to your team, your boss or client(s), whatever the situation may be, the audience is key for what and how you will present. What is it that the listener wants to see? What do they expect? What is the context of this presentation? Trying to understand that is like a third of the success of your presentation.

The purpose

What is the reason for the presentation? What’s the goal? What was the briefing or what are you trying to get out of this? New business, an extra headcount, an extra effort from the team, understanding for a difficult decision, buy-in on a company vision, … How many times do you listen to or read a presentation and wonder: what’s the point? The presentation looked nice and all but don’t ask me what it was about.

What’s the point that your are trying to make? I think it’s important that you define the key take-aways well in advance. They don’t have to be crystalized (there’s room for that later in the process) but you need to have a good idea of what it is you want people to remember after the presentation. What it is you want to send them home with.

What is basically the end of the presentation is something you need to define at the start of making it. It’s where you need to build up to and it’s your first check on whether the presentation is in line with purpose you’re making it.

If you want me to do something, you better make that clear so I know what it is that you are looking for.

What do you need to get there?

So you know what your audience came down to see and you defined what it is that you want them to home with. Next step is to think of all the elements you need to have as key ingredients for your presentation.

Think of it as tearing out magazine photo’s before you can start making a collage. You have an idea of the end result and gather photo’s that you think will help you build a story to get there. With presentations it’s the same. Think of all the things that could be helpful to make your point. Quotes, articles, schemes, graphics, ideas, … and lay them all in front of you so you can see which ones you think you could use most.

Turning it into a story

Start with setting the scene. All too often I see a presentation that jumps right into a topic and only by the 3rd slide you figure out what the presenter is actually talking about.

“Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end.” (Philip Larkin – poet)

This is probably the most important part of your presentation. You know where you want to land with this, but how do you build up to that point? How do you make it so that within the timeframe that you got, you bring your story/presentation in the most powerful way? Will you start with laying down the problem? Or with the conclusion? There are many ways in building a great story and it’s up to you to figure that one out, but make sure you spend enough time on it. Make sure that you cut out all that is not necessary to make your story come to life.

Using post-it notes to lay out a grid of ideas in front of you and order them is a common trick but a really good one, and one that I also use when building more complex presentations.

Design

I love a nicely designed presentation just as much as everyone else. I don’t think it’s key to a good presentation though, it sort of adds an extra quality to it. Too many people seem to think design is amongst the first things to get right – that’s really not how it’s supposed to be. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen at conferences were of the worst design you can imagine… including Comic Sans.

Make sure the fonts are correct, the typo is the same throughout the presentation, the photo’s are aligned, … these are all easy to do and make the presentation from not looking sloppy. A great design doesn’t make it a better story, so make sure this is not where your main focus is. Or let me say it like this – a presentation full of quotes on a photographic background per slide is not a good presentation, just saying.

Check it

It’s ready so give it a swing. Go over it, maybe with a colleague or someone close to the topic, and see what you (and they) think about it. Did they see the point you were trying to make? Was it clear how you tried to build up to that? Did you feel comfortable with the story? Isn’t there anything missing or isn’t there too much you’re trying to say? The stage is a terrible place to figure out whether you made a good presentation or not, so make sure you got that checked before.

Another check that you need to perform is timing. I hate it when people don’t respect their timing, it’s a simple thing but a form of respect that you don’t abuse the slot that you were given for your presentation. Often people give presentations that aren’t specifically tailored to an audience nor a certain time slot and you can tell from the very first minute that that is the case. Don’t do it. If you want your story to come over right, you need to manage it within the time that you got. It’s different for everyone but I mostly count around 1.5 to 2 minutes per slide, which gives 15 to 20 slides max for a 30 minutes presentation (without title or exit slide)

Bonus check

Sometimes the organizer asks the audience to give feedback on the conference and when they do make sure you get the feedback on your presentation. You might learn something from it. And in case it’s a public event, check out Twitter after your talk as well. And don’t just look for kind words, but for what people tweeted about the presentation, see if are the key elements of the presentation, see if it are those things you wanted people to remember (and share).

Good luck.

SMC2009: Marketing Renaissance

For more than 20 years I believe Stichting Marketing organizes the biggest Marketing conference in the country… and I’ve never ever felt the need to go before. For one because the 2 day congress happens to end on a Saturday, but also because I’ve always seen it as a well established marketing congress for well established marketers hearing to hear about … well you catch my drift I suppose. This year I was invited by the organization (thanks to @mediagast) so no reason not to check it out this time.

So I went to the congress, and truth to be told, I had high expectations. I hoped Stichting Marketing proved me wrong about my opinion about the congress, I hoped to see some interesting and inspiring talks and (last but not least) I really hoped to see at least a few speakers that could make that connection between the more traditional way of marketing versus what we’re all supposed to be doing right now. Why? Because there was a window of opportunity given the audience’s background I suppose. And the premise seemed to be right:

“There’s a growing consensus that in times like these not every ‘old rule’ still applies. More than ever, we have to be smart in marketing. Rationalizing our structures or adapting old models just won’t do it anymore. … We have to understand that marketing solutions are not there for eternity just because we’ve successfully used them in the past. Some insights still apply, others are clearly past their shelf life. What we need, in other words, is a true marketing renaissance.”

We kicked off day one in rather good fashion, Don Sull (Professor of Strategy of London Business School) did a talk on “The Upside of Turbulence”. And just as the title already suggests, Don talked about the opportunities you have in times of turbulence, stating clearly there aren’t just downsides linked to it. He showed us he sees to different kinds of ways to deal with turbulence, one being ‘agility’ and the other ‘absorption’. Something he explained using the famous Rumble in the Jungle fight between Foreman (‘absorption’) and Ali (‘agility’). Conclusion of all of this being you got to have both to be able to deal with turbulence in the best possible way.

After a quick stint from Nokia’s Global Marketing SVP (I’m sure he knows what he’s doing but presenting is clearly not his ‘shtick’) we got Jonathan Salem Baskin to talk about the “Digital Plague”.

jonathansalembaskin

I expected quite a lot from this presentation and I think I was kind of severe afterwards to Jonathan when I told him he had missed the opportunity to really convince people. We agree on the main idea of his presentation, saying digital is not just something you do aside it is part of the whole thing. You don’t need a digital strategy, you need a business strategy (just like before) that’s ready for the digital age. Why missed opportunity? Because I don’t think it came across that way to everybody, I think some people will have walked out of that presentation thinking that doing business as usual is just fine. Anyway, that might be just me – I still enjoyed the presentation and we had a great chat afterwards so that’s good :).

Day two opened with Charlene Li, another keynote I was looking out for. Great personality, nice talk and we had a quick chat afterwards as well but nothing new to learn. The talk we had afterwards was related to the work of an analyst and it’s one of the things I still miss in presentations such as Charlene’s – tangible examples from non global high involvement consumer brands. It’s on thing to analyze why Vodafone or DELL have been successful with some of their social media activities, building and implementing your own strategy for a brand of say sandwich meat is something else. Charlene still is one to watch though, don’t get me wrong on that. Here’s Charlene’s presentation btw.

Dan Hill (President Sensory Logic) told us we get way more effect by being on-emotion instead of on-message, playing on human emotions instead of being factual. Nice talk but hardly anything new. And sometimes jumping conclusions – Dan showed some eye-tracking research showing people didn’t look at the ads to then suggest to change the ad placements… now that’s not really what this means right? Then Niraj Dawar (Professor of Marketing, Ivey Business School Canada) talked about “Downstream Innovation”, an interesting talk about re-focusing our innovation efforts into how we deliver products to consumers instead of just on what to deliver. We at Duval Guillaume often also ask our clients about the why on top of that.

Last but not least, our own Geert Noels (Econopolis) closed the congress. Always good to see someone looking at something you know from a totally different angle, this time Geert who is an economist shared his look on marketing with us. You can find his “Marketing lessons from the Econoshock” right here. Just started a conversation with Geert on Twitter about his presentation, let’s see where that leads us ;)

Anyway, that was that. I enjoyed the congress, it was good meeting up with people as usual but I did miss eye-opening, truly inspirational talks… presentations that would have people go home and change the way they do marketing. Maybe next year?

Consumer terrorism

I was rather surprised just a few minutes ago while reading a blog post from fellow Belgian blogger Ine. The post is in Dutch so I’ll translate a bit for you. Ine talks about an email she received from the BDMA – association from Belgian Direct Marketers – about their new congress: “Revenge of the I”. The email has some of the almost standard mumbo-jumbo in there like ‘in ages of consumer empowerment, social networks…’ catch my drift? And that’s all fair to be frank, but then there’s this rather odd sentence saying (and it’s a translation, I’ll do the best to keep the original sentiment):

“During the congress we’ll deepdive into the current era of ‘consumer terrorism’ that is coming up with the rise of digital and social technologies such as blogs, social networks and email.”

Consumer terrorism?! No speakers have been announced yet but I expect to see people from the Computer Crime Unit and others to learn direct marketers how to deal with dangerous bloggers and Facebookers.

Although on a slightly different note, it reminded me of another marketing event/congress organized in Belgium: Customer First… or should I say Digital Marketing First, since that’s what they’ve changed the name to for this year’s event. What’s the idea behind that? Who decides these things? It’s like saying: forget about the customer, this event is about us against traditional advertising and stuff so we have to change the name here!”

In the meantime the Belgian marketing publications ‘MM’ and ‘Pub’ are still as they were 5 years ago, so are their websites (and yes it’s still forbidden to link to MM.be) so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised of all this Belgian Digital Marketers against Consumer Terrorism stuff anyway I guess…