A cross-posting of a past post on Don’t Use PowerPoint, lead to a request for tips on how to give a good presentation. There are multitudes of resources on this subject, so instead of giving 10 Steps to better presentations, I opted to take a crack at an unconventional tip.
My Big Tip: Don’t Prepare
In thinking back on what I considered to be some of my better presentations, the ones that jump to mind as the best of my presentations that were also enjoyable for me were those for which I did the least amount of preparation. I know – this sounds counter-intuitive, but stick with me and I’ll explain, especially before Greg chimes in to agree on how unprepared I usually am.
Example #1 – I presented a 60 Tips session with former Utah State Bar President – now Federal Judge David Nuffer. We agreed on which topics each of us would take so there wouldn’t be any duplication, but then didn’t share our actual tips with each other. When we gave the presentation, we saw each other’s tips from a fresh perspective. This created a very fun and thoughtful dialogue on each other’s tips. The interplay between the two of us drew the audience in, getting them very involved in the dialogue as well.
Example #2 – At TECHSHOW 2010, I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Kingsley Martin (genius extraordinaire and founder of KIIAC) on the evolution of knowledge management. At that point in time we knew of each other, but hadn’t met. On our planning call Kingsley made an observation that the best thinking and dialogue for a presentation usually occurs on the planning call. So we agreed not to discuss our ideas and perspectives until the presentation. Like the one with Judge Nuffer, we divided up the list of potential topics. On the day of the presentation we very briefly went down our list to insure non-duplication. The result was much the same as #1.
Example #3 –I gave a presentation last Wednesday at the Harvard Club in New York on AFAs and KM. Since I had already seen the comment from the blog post and had been thinking about this unconventional post, I decided to put it into action. The presentation was actually a repeat of one I had done month’s before, only this time with a different panel of presenters. Instead of reviewing my slides (I did use a few this time) and focusing on what I would say, I listened to the other panelists and took notes. When my turn came up, I used the notes as a spring-board for the topics as they came up on the slides. This challenged me to tie my thinking into the broader theme of the panel from an audience perspective. The result was a more coherent whole for the program. I deemed this a success based on the overwhelming number of good question we received during Q&A.
OK – so technically in these three examples I wasn’t completely un-prepared and did know my topic. But my point here is that becoming overly focused on the slides and/or outline for your presentation can drive a one-way experience for your presentations. When I approach a presentation I view it as a dialogue with the audience. I maintain a clear focus on the audience and their level of engagement. If I see too many blank stares or heads-down on the blackberry, I change things up. Being tied to a practiced set of slides doesn’t fit with this approach.
Bottom-line: Treat your presentations like a personal conversation with the audience. The more involved they are, the more they retain and take away from the presentation. And frankly – the more fun and fulfilling it will be for you.
  • While this post is thought-provoking for any presenter, I think your advice can produce positive results only if you have fellow presenters, who are as invested as you are in the presentation's success.

  • These are some great thoughts on flexibility. Dropping or skipping over a few slides can be easily done, but of course creating new ones during a presentation (unprepared) wouldn’t be so easy.

    Using PowerPoint in trial is also fairly common for Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, but it is generally a good idea to stick to your script in this setting. I’ve seen some good ones, and some really bad ones. I’ve outlined a few tips (originally ran in Technolawyer) for using PowerPoint in a courtroom.


  • Geez, Browning and I have been saying this about our co-presentations for years but we thought we were just lazy!!

  • What did you do differently in the presentations that weren't as good as these?

    You actually did prepare for all these presentations, but in a different way.

    The delivery style of these successful presentation was likely different–either extemporaneous or impromptu–from your unsuccessful presentations.

    Not being prepared is not the way to go. It's HOW you prepare that makes the difference.

    Most likely, you have never learned how to rehearse your presentation properly (which involves finding your own system for this process).

    There can also be an element of experience and fundamental talent.

    The Compromise-of-1850 debates (Senators Clay, Webster, and Calhoun) were all delivered extemporaneously (without notes– and without PowerPoint, of course), but the three Senators had spent a lifetime thinking about their subjects and therefore preparing their speeches.

    Not being prepared and not rehearsing can result in a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease for MOST people.