Stop presenting, start telling – developing effective presentations

Lou Gerstner, the turnaround CEO of IBM (1993-2002), tells a story about one of his first meetings after joining IBM. At that time, the standard format in meetings at IBM was to use an overhead projector and “foils”. Nick Donofrio, who was running the systems/390 business back then, was at his second “foil” on that management meeting when Gerstner shutdown the projector and said “start talking”.

Most people I know are similar to Nick Donofrio. They come with a 30-50 slides presentation and start pitching it. The problem: Our attention is short and distracted by other things. One hasn’t slept last night, another is busy reflecting on his previous meeting and a third is troubled by his tight schedule that day and the fact that he has to leave the meeting in one hour sharp. The solutions:

1. Tell an interesting story to capture your audience attention

2. Get to the point quickly

Let’s elaborate on that a bit:

Tell an interesting story
We all like stories, since we were kids. We especially like stories we can relate to. Suppose I was trying to sell you a new smartphone. One way would be to provide you with a list of specifications and a fancy slide deck or a brochure. Another way, maybe more effective, would be to tell you “iPhone is great but yesterday I was late to a meeting and I could notify anyone because my battery was dead. That is why I switched to gPhone. Its battery lasts 30 hours”. If you have even experienced a similar problem – I have your attention. A story is usually easier to relate to then a build point.

Get to the point quickly
Most of us prepare a presentation in a logical way. We gradually “build” our arguments until the “grand finale”, the conclusion. There are two problems with that approach and both are related to objectives:

1. The audience wants to know why they should listen to you
2. Your objective is to get the single most important takeaway, which is usually not the argument but rather the conclusion.

A presentation is not always a book: You develop a plot and build tension. Most presentations should be short and even if you have an hour to present, the conclusion should be communicated in the first 3 minutes. Next time try the reverse order: present the conclusion first, your arguments next and finally support/prove these arguments. I’m guessing you will find it more effective.

Don’t forget: It’s about the audience. Not about you.

Next time some more detailed tips.


About shanishoham

After 14 years of General Management and incubating/scaling new businesses & organizations for enterprises (established a $55M mobile business and a $100M/400 employees global division), I became an investor Today I’m a board member/mentor with 5 incubators & micro-VCs and involved with many other private & public incubators around the world. I also founded a VC firm named 2020 and I'm a member with a number of angel groups so i get to see & work with many startups, innovation centers and other parties across the ecosystem. I’m an alumnus of the Stanford Graduate School of business - Sloan Master in Management program, a 10 months intensive program for 57 carefully selected experienced Executives and leaders from all around the world.

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