12 Tips for giving great presentations

October 20, 2011 · 11 comments in Social Media,story telling,tech business

In the next few weeks I’ll be talking to a group of Spanish entrepreneurs in San Francisco at a StepOne event and then  participating in Nasscom, India’s largest startup conference.

In both cases, I’ve been asked to speak about how to make a great business presentation. The irony is that these two deals were cut just as Steve Jobs died. Jobs, without question was the best presenter the tech industry has produced to date.

He dressed in a uniform that was decidedly different from others. Thirty years of presentations followed a certain cadence and format, yet almost each of them was memorable, powerful and exciting.

Jobs was one of a kind and not one of you can emulate him. Jobs was one of a kind and the best parts of who he was came out in how he presented.

So my first advice to anyone planning a business presentation is to look, not at Jobs, but at yourself. What are your best presentation qualities? Are you funny? Eloquent? Creative? Whatever qualities you have, you should capture and exploit the way Jobs did.

There are certain tips that I think fit for most presenters. And that is what I will focus on advising these two roomfuls of entrepreneurs. This is a work-in-progress, so please tell me what I might add or remove:

1. Rehearse like crazy. Malcolm Gladwell noted that what most of the world’s most successful people–artists and entrepreneurs share in common is that they rehearse like crazy. If you didn’t have time to rehearse, then you are not ready to present. If you did not prepare the audience will see it. Your lack of readiness will reflect on their perceptions of your product and company.

2. Your product is your star. Almost every tech startup by definition is about a new and hopefully disruptive startup. Introduce your product as early into the presentation that you can. Build everything else: position, opportunity, model, team around product.

3. Simple is best.  Use the fewest, clearest and least ambiguous language you can use. Say as little as you can while still covering all key points. Do not show how hard it was to make. Show how easy it is to use.

In ”Good to Great” by Jim Collins, he tells the 1987 story of Jerry  Kaplan who pitched his idea for Go Corp, the first pen input device. The VCs “Good to Great” by Jim Collins expected to see a prototype, or at least a PowerPoint slide of the photo along with artist renderings. Instead, Kaplan took a notebook portfolio he was holding tossed it into the air and watch as it landed with a loud clap in the middle of the conference table.

“This is my model for the future of personal computing,” he told the stunned investors. It was a move that Jobs would have admired.

He got the money.

The drama was great, but more important he demonstrated in a way so simple and clear, that no one could miss that a wireless mobile small computer was the right direction. It turned out he was right. It just took longer than he figured.

4. Be very aware of who your audience is and what they want from you. Investors wants to hear about how you’ll make them rich. Journalists want a great story. Potential employees want a good home in a friendly neighborhood. Structure what you say for them and not for you.

5. Leave drilling to miners and dentists. The objective of a good presentation is to start a conversation, not end it. Keep your presentation at a high level, customizing it for what your audience wants. Let the details come in questions after you have completed your monolog and get into dialogue. Let your listeners do the drilling on the topics they choose.

5. Cut the crap. In “Naked Conversations,” my book with Robert Scoble, we coined the word “Corpspeak,” referring to the adjective-packed hubris put out by a great many marketing and PR teams. We have all become jaundiced to inflated claims  and overstated claims can cause you lasting damage. Credibility is like virginity: once you lose it, it is extremely difficult to get back.

6. Show your team, culture & spirit. Many VCs tell me that they invest in team more than technology. Team does not mean an impressive list of resumes. It means people who work together, play together and help each other win. You show team by style. It is almost impossible to capture in a PowerPoint. But your apparel–and the words you use–reveal your culture. The components I look for when interviewing or consulting a start up includes:

  • Optimism. In the US, I’ve read that 90% of all startups fail. I like to see a team that really believes they will succeed where everyone else has failed
  • Urgency. All startups have to deal with constraints. Yet, with limited time and money they need to beat competitors to the market and prevail. I just don’t trust entrepreneurs who do not somehow reveal a sense of urgency.
  • Attitude. I can’t tell you just what the right attitude is. But I’m pretty sure I know it when I see it.

7. Paint both a grand picture and a detailed miniature.  When I still had my PR agency, I represented Homestead Technologies. It’s founder/CEO Justin Kitsch started his presentations with: “We are building a company to last 100 years. Now let me tell you what we are doing this quarter.” Brilliant move.

8. Disrupt something. If you are a startup, you need to wedge your way onto a crowded playing field. Your presentation should make it clear how you are going to change the world and why won’t the incumbent can’t stop you.

9. Tell a story. People have told stories in just five minutes that have endured 5,000 years. By contrast, I have seen entrepreneurs spend five minutes on a PowerPoint slide and it felt like 5,000 years. We humans are addicted to story telling and good ones, that illustrate your points, are far more memorable and enduring than all the analytics, metrics, charts and graphs you can jam into a presentation.

10. Personalize. The best presentation story-telling almost always personal. When Robert Carr introduced Framework, an integrated software package of the 1980s, he began with, “I developed Framework so that I could work on a computer they way I work in real life.” The line is much imitated over the years. In fact, variations of it have well outlasted the product.

I consulted Munjal Shah in 2006, when he founded a company called Riya, a photo recognition company, sold eventually to Google. He launched it by describing his difficulty of finding his baby’s photo among thousands in his digital collection. Into his formal launch presentation, he posted the baby picture and stated: “There’s my baby! Isn’t she a cutie?”

For the remainder of the conference people talked about Riya and how you can find photos of people you love. The technology breakthroughs were faded to background, which immensely helped the product.

11. Lighten up. Even seasoned serial entrepreneurs get jittery and intense in planning a presentation. That’s fine, but never let your audience see you sweat. Actors, I imagine, are nervous  before a play opens. But when you start, lighten up. Almost no audience is out to get you. They want to see-and-hear something useful and interesting to them. They didn’t pay the admission price to see you suck. Have fun when you present. It seems to me that in business, fun is vastly underrated for it’s value.

12. Finish early. I have rehearsed a great many companies before they presented to investors, the press and at conferences. I absolutely insist that they finish well short of the allotted time. When you present it will invariably take longer than when you rehearse. You want to talk at an easy, comfortable pace. Rushing will ruin it.

I am only speaking for a short while at both events and 12 points seem like the most I can get in while adhering to my own advice of finishing early. What am I leaving out? What should I add in? Got a case study for me to illustrate any of these points?



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Paul_Brinkman November 6, 2011 at 7:27 am

Shel, I’ve been at it awhile and I have to tell you: this is the best web summary on presentations I’ve ever read. You had me so pumped up that my lovely wife had to hear me repeat each of your bullet points, listen to my running commentary and pretend she was actually interested;-) I will have to watch my future webinar and conference schedule to see if/when you’re on the agenda. Best to you and your endeavors.

shel israel (@shelisrael) November 6, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Paul, Thanks for your very kind review. I am about to deliver these points in a presentation of NASSCom in Bangalore. The worst thing I can imagine is giving a talk on great presentations that winds up being a mediocre presentation. Wish me luck

Matthew October 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm

“Jobs, without question was the best presenter the tech industry has produced to date.”

Wrong. He was, having read is biography, not one to suffer fools gladly, but he was not a particularly great presenter.



shelisrael December 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

Matthew, interesting. To argue that Jobs was not a great presenter you argue that you need to eliminate certain components that were essential to his presentation. That’s like saying if you remove his legs, Larry Byrd was not a great basketball player, isn’t it?

Ivan Chew October 22, 2011 at 10:03 pm

How about “Believe in what you present”? Sometimes we may not always have a great product, or have control over the product or outcomes we’re presenting. This tends to happen if the presentation is an assignment. When I find myself in a situation where the presenter is more of a messenger, I try to find something in there where I can truly say “i believe in it” and can advocate it. Could be an ideal, an idea or learning points, and not necessarily the product.

Eng Ali October 22, 2011 at 7:35 am

thanks for every things.

santiago corredoira October 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Basic principle that sometimes is forgotten: make sure you present your OWN stuff! All founders built their own company’s presentation, but after a while it ceases to be their own creature to start being their consultant’s, mentor’s, friend’s or even lawyer’s…, who have all contributed somehow with paragraphs, ideas or even slides. No problem with that as long as you make sure you understand (deeply and fully) and agree with the other person’s content. Nothing is worse than explaining something you do not understand or defending something you do not agree with.
I will never forget a presentation exercise we did in my recently finished Global Executive MBA, when a professor told a friend of mine: “next time you present, make sure you know what the heck you are talking about!”

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