Your Presentation as a Backpack


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Just go with us on this one: think of your presentation as a backpack.

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  • For those of you I haven’t met yet, I’m Maggie Summers. I want to start with a short introduction about who I am, and why I’m here talking to you.
  • I’ve lived all over the place. I was born in Charlotte --- anyone here from Charlotte??---- and I lived there for a blissful 14 years, until my parents dragged me kicking and screaming to Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, where I went to high school. Of course, Chicago is an awesome place---
  • what with the Bean, deep dish pizza and Portello’s, home of the incomparable Chicago hot dog... but the suburbs are something of a different story, which is why I my love for reading grew exponentially in high school.... I shunned by new kid status by keeping my nose in a book. So after four freezing winters--- and by freezing I mean freezing... we’d go weeks with sub-zero temperatures---- I decided I had had enough and chose...
  • ...the University of Georgia as my escape. Over the next 4 years, Athens, Georgia became one of my most favorite places in the world.... and it’s there that I realized my passion for writing.
  • I chose magazine journalism as my major and worked at Athens’s alt-weekly, Flagpole Magazine, for 2 years, as an advertising assistant, though I jumped at any and every opportunity I had to write. Then three months after graduation, I made the terrifying decision to move all the way...
  • Santiago, Chile, to teach English to businessmen & women-- a job that sounds a lot more glamorous than it actually is. The awful hours, difficult work -- seriously, try teaching English to someone who can’t even pronounce “thank you”--- and low pay all kept me from fleeing real life forever.
  • But we lived to travel, and travel we did... to Argentina, to the North of Chile to see the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world, and all the way to the South of Chile, to Patagonia and to Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world.... But after a year in Chile, real life began to beckon ...
  • ... so I headed home with my tail between my legs to Portland, OR (where my parents now live). As I interned for Portland’s alt-weekly, Willamette Week, I considered staying there for good, but after 5 months of ...
  • rain
  • rain
  • overcast
  • rain all the time, I decided I’m only happy in the sun... and began plotting my return to the South ....
  • ... which is how I ended up here in Nashville on January 1st of this year... and in turn, how I ended up here ...
  • ... at Ethos3, where I’m the resident content writer and blogger. We’re a leader in presentation design and training. We empower presenters to give presentations that can change the world. Basically, our mission is to rid the world of dreaded Death by PowerPoint. I’ve had the honor and the privilege of working with well-known brands like ...
  • Kobo...
  • and even Google.
  • So what I want to do today is share with you the tips & tricks I’ve learned over the last 9 months working with clients like these. I want to give you the tools you need to create a presentation that can truly change the world.
  • So enough about me & Ethos3...
  • let’s talk about how your presentation is like a backpack...
  • it’s about a guy --- the perpetually dashing George Clooney--- who fires people.
  • He asks her, “How much does your life weigh?” He says, Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack...
  • I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life... Start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks... then you start adding the larger stuff... the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now...
  • Now you go bigger... Your couch, your car, your home... I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people... Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office... your brothers, your sisters...
  • You get them into that bag... he says.... Now feel the weight of that bag... Clooney concludes rather bleakly with: “Make no mistake about it. The slower we move the faster we die.” but his message is poignant, and unwittingly apt for the world of presentation.
  • So think of your Presentation as a Backpack
  • Feel the weight of it.
  • Can you carry it easily? Or is it dragging along on the ground behind you?
  • The weight of your backpack -- of your presentation -- will be on your audience’s shoulders when you’re done.
  • Don’t make their backpacks heavier with your presentation.
  • Remember their backpacks are already full.... of people, places, things, dreams, emotions, and on and on.
  • Don’t make them fit something cumbersome & bulky in there. Don’t saddle them with a heavy load. Give them something light and airy that fits in there nicely.
  • Make sure you fill your backpack --- your presentation --- wisely.
  • You only need three things...
  • Preview each point. A compass (to show you where you’re going and where you’ve been) a tent (to enhance and support your content) and a walkie talkie (to deliver your message effectively)
  • Your content is your compass, showing you exactly what direction you’re heading in. It should reveal where you’re going, where you are and where you’ve been.
  • First things first: Simplicity is key. Explain things as simply as possible, so they have the best chance of understanding and retaining it. Take this convoluted sentence as an example: “To gain understanding of auto insurance, you should contact one of our professional, trained auto insurance experts.” Hmm, well I can say the same thing in half as many words: “Contact us to talk to an insurance expert.” Simplify.
  • An excellent guiding principle is Einstein’s oft-quoted gem: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” You’ll lose your audience quickly if you don’t explain information in terms that they will understand, so speak to them on their level. Remember they’re not the experts, you are, so tell them what you know as simply as possible.
  • Use words economically in your presentation… Pretend like you have to pay for each one you use. What doesn’t need to be on the slide? What words can you remove? How can you explain that point in a sentence rather than a paragraph? Try to narrow the main point of your presentation down to a single sentence, and likewise for all of your main points. Tell the audience your information in the clearest, easiest way possible.
  • Say only what is truly necessary. Are there any slides that are extras or afterthoughts? Get rid of them. Only include slides that add something to the overarching message of your presentation.
  • I like to recommend channeling Ernest Hemingway’s writing style when working with your content. Think brief, terse wordage with nothing extraneous or superfluous. Concision is key. Take inspiration from his most famous flash fiction piece, which is only six words long. It goes like this...
  • EXAMPLE: “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
  • Notice how much power and meaning is in these six little words. Find that kind of powerful brevity in your content.
  • Next, remember to tell stories in your presentations. We’re storytelling animals. Most every aspect of our lives revolves around storytelling. Think of all the media you consume (books, movies, TV, magazines– Breaking Bad)...we love them because of their storytelling.
  • **Think of the stories you told yourself on the way here.. Maybe you saw a homeless person --- what story did you tell yourself about their life? lost their family? lost their job? ... Maybe you walked by a beautiful person ... what story did you tell yourself about them? that they’re intelligent, single and perfect for you? We constantly tell ourselves stories in order to live.
  • Stories also help put abstract information into an accessible framework that our audiences can relate to, and stories promote conversation rather than an automatic judgment . Think about presenting a statistic to your audience. They have two options in that case: to agree or disagree. But if you place that statistic into a story framework, you give the audience an opportunity to participate and relate to the data.
  • IF THERE’S SO MUCH STORYTELLING IN OUR LIVES, WHY WOULD WE LEAVE IT OUT OF OUR PRESENTATIONS? It may seem daunting or overwhelming or impossible or maybe it seems like too much work, but your presentation will be so much stronger if you place it into a story framework. Think of it this way: If you don’t anchor your presentation to a story, everyone in your audience will do it for you. People always place information in the context of a story, whether consciously or unconsciously. Take control of where you audience’s mind goes during your presentation. Give them a framework to place the information in; don’t give them room to let their minds wander.
  • And never forget about…
  • THEM
  • Because make no mistake about it: the audience is the most important thing about a presentation. Without them, you wouldn’t be speaking at all. Make sure your have your audience in mind when creating a presentation. What’s in it for them? Why should they care? Be unwaveringly interested in what they want and in what they need. Make them feel important, make it obvious that you are concerned about what they want, and they’ll notice.
  • Next, make sure you pack your tent into that backpack. Your tent is your design. It should support and enhance your content.
  • Less is always more in presentation design because you want to be in a situation where you can speak to your slides.
  • Remember: you’re Batman and your slides are Robin. Everyone needs a great sidekick, but you’re the one running the show. If everything you want to say is on the slide, there would be no reason for you to be there.
  • So a few rules of thumb: Use few words in a large type. Bigger is better.
  • So let me give you a few examples...
  • Like this ...
  • ... and this ...
  • .... not like this ... a classic Death by PowerPoint slide ...
  • or this ... ugh those bullet points ... get rid of them!
  • Break up your content into multiple slides. Don’t be afraid of having 100 or 200 slides. Don’t be afraid of clicking through your slides rapidly.
  • When you’ve completed a full draft, go back through and Detox! Your design. It might be painful… detoxing almost always is. Ask a colleague or a friend to help if you need it.
  • Ask yourself ...
  • Does this slide have any information or imagery that does not immediately serve my objective?
  • Is it bogged down by too many words or visuals? what doesn’t need to be on this slide? What elements are unnecessary? Does that logo really need to be on every single slide? Does that extra line need to be there?
  • And above all, remember … The most important thing is that your design is functional, that the main message is clear.
  • Your tent might be the most beautiful tent ever made, but it’s not going to be any use to anyone if it leaks water whenever it rains. Likewise, your presentation’s design might be the most beautiful thing your audience has ever seen, but it’s not going to make a bit of difference if it doesn’t communicate your main points clearly.
  • Now that you’ve got your compass and your tent, you’ll need a walkie talkie to deliver your concise, beautifully designed message to your audience.
  • The most important thing is to be prepared. Prepare early, prepare often. If you’re like most people, like me, you’re terrified of public speaking. The best way to beat those pesky butterflies is to be as prepared as possible.
  • And that means practicing, practicing and then practicing some more. Our CEO Scott Schwertly recommends practicing 7-8 times before a presentation. They don’t say practice makes perfect for nothing. If you feel prepared, practice once more, then give it a rest until the big day.
  • The big day has finally come… make sure you’ve got the basics covered before you even set foot on that stage. That means checking off a list of mundane, and frankly—obvious--- tasks: Go to sleep early the night before, turn off your cellphone, empty your pockets, go to the bathroom, take a mint with you, etc.
  • Show up at your presentation looking like a million dollars. Guy Kawasaki always says dress for a tie. When in doubt, overdress, and remember you’ll feel as good as you look, so look your best.
  • Know the details of the room you’re speaking in. The more comfortable you are with your surroundings, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking. Also, it’s good to have an idea about minor details like is there a lectern? how big is your projection screen? Will I have a microphone? etc
  • If you have 45 minutes to speak, don’t be the guy who talks for an hour. In fact, if you have 45 minutes, shoot for a 30 minute presentation. Your audience has a maximum attention span of 18 minutes (and that’s probably overestimating), and they’re going to be annoyed if you go longer than you were supposed to. Their time is important. Don’t waste it, or borrow it without asking. **William Henry Harrison example
  • So you’re slated to speak in 10 minutes and your PPT file won’t open on a Mac computer? Well, did you plan for that? Do you have a back up file? Is there one saved in DropBox that you can open on a Mac? Plan for these sorts of blips…. Don’t be the guy who can’t give his presentation because of some technology misfire. It’s no one’s fault but your own. Always have a plan B.
  • This piece of advice tends to really annoy me, as it’s rather common for me to get yelled this in public, on the street, etc… but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not going to berate you to smile, smile, smile, but you should be aware of your facial expressions because they reveal a lot about you. You’ll look infinitely more approachable, accessible and friendly if you slap on a smile. Get excited! Get animated! Enthusiasm is infectious, so pass your enthusiasm onto your audience.
  • And just in case you forgot, you’re a human, not a robot. Vary your tone, use gestures, laugh, smile, cry… whatever. Your audience came to see a real person, so be one. No Mr. Robotic here.
  • While all elements in your backpack are essential, your delivery is nothing less than crucial. You’ve come so far to get to this point–- narrowed down your bulky content, detoxed & beautified your design--- make sure you practice, practice and practice to deliver a clear, compelling presentation.
  • After packing your compass, tent and walkie talkie …
  • How much does your presentation weigh??
  • Feel the weight of that bag...
  • Is it stuffed to capacity? Is there anything unnecessary in there that you can get rid of?
  • Ask yourself: Is it an appropriate weight for the content inside?
  • Remember
  • Your backpack will be on another person’s shoulders when you’re done. Don’t saddle them with something boring and heavy; give them something light and airy to carry.
  • so... PACK IT WISELY.
  • Now that you have all the tools you need to create an effective presentation, join the presentation revolution. Grab a Presentation Revolution pin at the front, and head to our campaign URL FIGHTB.AC to sign our petition against Death by PowerPoint.
  • If you want learn more about Ethos3’s presentation design and training service, head to our website With all that said, I want to thank all of you for coming, and now I want to open it up to some questions...
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