Are Your Presentations Powerful Or Pathetic? 4 Persuasive Presentation Preparation Tips

Over the past month, I attended three conferences. Each one brought together some of the greatest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Sadly, some of their presentations distracted us from their important messages. A chronic case of PPD (Pathetic Presentation Disorder) surreptitiously sabotaged their agenda.

PPD symptoms abound at technical and B2B conferences. According to Jerry Weisman, presentations coach and author of Presentations in Action, "The way that most business people rehearse their presentations is by clicking through their PowerPoint slides and saying something like, "'OK, with this slide I'm going to say a bit about our sales revenues...and with this one, I'll talk about our path to profitability...and then I'll show a picture of our lab and talk a little about R&D."

Jerry, I feel your pain when I am sitting in the audience! I was agitated enough to ask my friend Guy Kawasaki for advice. Guy's keynote at the Allegiance Summit enchanted everyone. Guy is the global expert on building customer evangelists. He is equally known for his uplifting presentations and just launched his ninth book, Enchantment.

Lisa interviews Guy Kawasaki on the keys to enchanting presentations - 4 1/2 minutes

Here are four time-tested tips—some borrowed from Guy and Jerry— to help you recover from PPD:

1. Follow the 10/20/30 rule: Ten slides maximum, 20 minutes of content, and 30 point font. Design your presentation, knowing that people don't care how many salient points you convey per slide. They want to engage with YOU. The slides serve as supporting documents. Keep that in mind when you are tempted to show your curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting model or process. (Consultants, are you listening?) While watching ING Direct's Arkadi Kuhlmann's presentation from the front row of the Allegiance Engage Summit, I smiled. (Who knew a banker could engage hundreds of technology and marketing fanatics?) Most slides contained just a few words or a photograph. Returning Americans back to savings—ING Direct's mantra—never felt so exciting.

2. Tell a story. Why did you launch your company? What inspired or angered you or motivated you to leave your comfort zone? Share a customer situation that you helped improve—or better yet, share a mistake you once made and how it transformed you. Need examples? Check out Chip Conley's TED talk here, and how Vivian found joy as a housekeeper.

3. Lead the audience to action. Your job is to share a dream and inspire others. Summary pages are NOT calls to action. Incite your listeners to do something differently or to think in a new way. When I keynoted with Marshall Goldsmith in San Diego last year, he did this flawlessly. He invited every person to select an accountability partner and to work on one limiting behavior.

4. Practice and enjoy talking to yourself. Weissman practices his presentation aloud several times while driving to his speaking venue. He admits that "the advent of Bluetooth has made speaking out loud to myself in the car appear less strange to other drivers on the road."

In a world filled with competing media platforms and over-stimulated professionals, it's time for everyone to take elegant, simple presentation design seriously. In my next post, I will provide my favorite resources to help you avert another PPD attack.

Lisa Nirell is the Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth®. She helps companies grow customer mind share and market share. Since 1983, Lisa has worked with Trend Micro, Zappos, BMC Software, Microsoft, IBM, and hundreds of entrepreneurs in nine countries. Lisa is also an award-winning expert speaker, business columnist and the author of "EnergizeGrowth® NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company." To download your five complimentary educational bonuses and sample chapter, visit and register for EnergizeNews.

Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

[Image: Flickr user koke]

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  • Peggy Kulik

    You hit a home run on the PPD!  I am trying to coach two Medical professionals to streamline their presentations I will pass this on.

  • Chris Reich

    Toot.  I teach what I believe is the absolute best presentation class available. I'm humble too.

    You can't always use the "rules" in the real world. Not all presentations are about some wow, cool new project or business. Sometimes you have to deliver the quarterly numbers in white knuckle detail to please the CEO. Sometimes you must build a case for a very negative action such as terminating a few hundred employees.

    I teach that every presentation must be goal focused. Set the goal and then make your case. EVERY word on EVERY slide must contribute toward achieving the goal or that slide or bullet list or image gets cut.

    Sometimes you need 50 slides. Sometimes 1 will do it. And sometimes NONE is best. Give a handout and explain it.


    Chris Reich

  • Lisa Nirell

    Chris, Spoken like a true expert.
    For the purposes these posts, I am focusing on strategies for building compelling, persuasive business presentations. Other forms of presentations will not be included in the series, such as:

    1. financial presentations
    2. scientific studies
    3. "how to" presentations that are highly technical in nature (e.g., how to design a strip build wooden canoe)
    4. (yawn) dissertations

    Thank you for contributing!

  • Chris Reich

    Thank you, Lisa. Those presentations can be built on the same principles---they don't have to be boring but they can't be too over-the-top. I'm working with the hand-cuffed to produce better presentations!

    Chris Reich

  • Christine Maingard

    Good points Lisa. I would perhaps add a few suggestions with regard to PPts that include pictures/images/animation/etc. The 10/20/30 rule is only important when you use mainly text. I sometimes use around 30 - 40 slides for a 45 mins presentation, but these only contain engaging images (and no text) relevant to the key points I am making in my talk. No death-by-PPT here - the audience loves it...
    Christine Maingard, Author of "Think Less, Be More" -

  • Lisa Nirell

    Hi Christine,

    Are your presentations business topics for business audiences?

    In my B2B presentations, I find that every audience member has a different learning style. Some love video; others prefer photos; some love bullet points. I like to mix it up.

    Please feel free to send me a sample presentation at lisa 
    Thank you for contributing!
    Author, EnergizeGrowth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    Experience and practice helps. Also, put yourself in the audience member's shoes. WHat are they going to get from this slide? From that joke? Can they follow?

    Also, I can't emphasize enough the need for Brutal Simplicity. Some people like to use ten words when two will do, I challenge all presenters to find a way to use the two right words in place of ten. 

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Time Management Coach for Authentic Leaders

  • Lisa Nirell

    Great point, David! I find the most brilliant communicators use the least number of words.

    Warm wishes,Lisa

  • Michael McDowell

    Lisa, Great Post. The advice on presentations is one of the great takeaways from Guy's earlier book, "Reality Check." People need to remember that screens, projectors, flip charts, etc are designed to be used  as visual aids. That means they complement the presentation, they don't replicate it. I just delivered a 1 hour presentation last week to a group of about 120. 25 Slides and only 1 had a bulleted list of items on it. I believe it was Slide 24 out of the 25. The entire rest of the deck consisted mainly of single images with a headline at the top. The photo and headline gives the audience an anchor to the "sense" of what is being talked about. It also helps to anchor it in their mind as a takeaway for later. Thanks for a great piece.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Hi Michael,
    I will share some great examples of presentations that reflect "elegant simplicity" in my next post. Would you be willing to send me yours at lisa 
    Thank you for contributing.
    Author, "EnergizeGrowth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company"

  • Lisa Nirell

    Michael, Glad you found this valuable. I am constantly inspired by Guy's style of communicating. I use your presentation strategy as well whenever I lead a keynote session. People get drawn into the topic and are less distracted by "busy" slides. It makes the topic--and me--more approachable.

    Would you mind emailing a copy of your presentation? I would love to see it. You can use lisa 
    Keep up the great work!Lisa

  • magicbeans Incubator

    MB has never officially heard of the 10/20/30 rule! Of course, there are many variations but we think this point is simple and easy to follow. Making sure the message behind the presentation is emphasized- not by text but by well constructed slides and time maximisation. This is an excellent guideline to stand by. 

  • Laura Foley

    In my experience, the "10 slides maximum" rule can be broken by using animation, since it can often take many slides transitioning together to create the desired effect. And I always recommend to my clients that they don't include slide/page numbers, since decks should be considered multimedia presentations, not projections of pages. Also, this prevents people from dwelling on how many slides they've endured.

  • jean

    Great info - thanks for sharing, and to be honest its not the first time tips like this have been mentioned.  However, a practical problem I have everyday is that - not all the presentations I write are to be presented - ideally they would be (face-to-face meetings are always better than sending a ppt over), but realistically this is not always the case (due to client time limitations etc.) And in that case, pictures, 10 slides and only max 1-2 points per slide may not be effective in getting all the necessary points across - or  can they?  Are these tips just for grand, conference, trend-setting topics powerpoints or are there different tips for making the average day ppt better?

  • Lisa Nirell


    My answer is..."It depends." If you are presenting a very complex economic model or matrix, you may need a few extra slides.

    If you really think you are going to get many points across in one slide, I suggest you re visit the objectives of your session and the attention span of your audience.

    Again, every situation is different. For example, when I lead a 2 day workshop, I will have more than 10 slides. When I lead face to face, 30-60 minute meetings, I often nix the PowerPoint, and jump to the whiteboard. I will engage the audience in the discussion. Works like a charm.

    No matter the duration, I stick to 2-4 "Big Ideas" per meeting/session. Anything more than that may require you to design a series of workshops, webinars, live meetings, or presentations.

    If you are truly a master of your topic, you can mix and match the slides, skip several, and follow the energy and needs of your audience. Now, THAT'S energizing.


  • Lisa Nirell

    Hello May,
    I just connected with your PR team yesterday. They gave me a sneak peek into your research. Shhhh...your secret is safe with me (until my article launches and you go live with the news!)

    author of EnergizeGrowth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company