Presentation Challenges? Choose Passion

Over the past couple weeks I've had a lot of friends (@mattmckee, @joybowen & @kennyconley) preparing presentations for the upcoming Orange Conference. I know they'll be great but not because these guys know their stuff. I know they'll be great because when they talk about their respective areas of influence, they do it with passion.  I know the same will be true for just about every speaker there (mostly because I've heard many of them speak and I don't think most of them know how to share information without bringing the passion).

How do you begin your Prep?

What's surprising to me, however is that our presentation preparation rarely starts with the question of passion. Over the past ten years I've been asking people the same questions about how they begin their prep for presentations – and I mean little and big ones alike. The answers vary but they boil down to a handful of categories like outlines, great titles, interesting facts and key charts that present their data. None of these things are bad things.

It's all about Storytelling

By now you know that I'm a huge fan of stories as a way to anchor any presentation. But don't take my word for it – head over to grab this storytelling manifesto to get more insight. One thing you'll catch quickly is that Margolis and I agree – passion is a critical element of every story you tell.

  • But I'm not suggesting you start by finding the right story to use in your presentation.
  • I'm not suggesting that you start your presentation with a story.
  • I'm not suggesting that you need a lot of stories in your presentation.

All of these things are great ideas and I've mentioned them before.

Start your Prep with Passion

What I am suggesting is that you start any presentation by asking three questions:

  1. If I had one thing I wanted people to remember, what would it be?
  2. Am I passionate about that one thing?
  3. Can I shape my content so that I don't distract from that one thing?

Wait…Passion won't work!

Immediately you'll protest because you don't always get to choose your presentation topic. What if you're presenting on the quarterly finances? What if you can't find your passion for the spreadsheet? What if you've been asked to hold the strategy off-site and everyone has presentations that will bore you to death? What Bregman highlights is that Powerpoint presentations, even well-designed, often create monologues that bore people.

So what do you do, even when your assigned topic doesn't immediately feel passion-friendly?

  • Shrink your Powerpoint to only what you have to put on the screen (like those quarterly numbers).
  • Don't just bring facts – bring a perspective, a point of view, a bias that shapes the content into a story.
  • Make sure it's a story you are passionate about.

I give multiple presentations every week and my slide decks are now about 5 slides. That includes my title and my summary slide. I try to keep the decks short, simple, and with the graphics, depictions, charts, or main points that I want to make. Everything else comes from my overall story or narrative that anchors my message. And I don't need powerpoint to do that.

Passion Benefits

Most of my presentations are not in person. I often present material to prospects and/or customers and often by phone. If presenting face to face can lead to people falling asleep, you can imagine how hard it is to keep people engaged over the phone. That's why passion is what anchors most of my presentations. If you start your preparation with what you're passionate about, you'll note four benefits.

  1. Your passion keeps you authentic. Your authenticity makes you memorable.
  2. Your passion captures their immediate attention. It will also keep them awake.
  3. Your passion is contagious. Watch others get excited about what excites you.
  4. Your passion crystalizes your message down to one point.

So instead of starting by creating an outline, start by asking yourself what you're most passionate about in relation to your topic. Start from there and you'll be in a good place.