What makes an excellent presentation?

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This post is the result of Jacqueline asking some advice for putting together a customer seminar on “Memorable presentations”; as I had the opportunity to say before, delivering memorable presentations is a noble art and a worthy human endeavor for anyone who has the responsibility of speaking in public.

During my years I have learned a few things, and I thought I might as well collect these random thoughts into one compact post. First of all, I will NOT talk about mastering good presentation software, although I think sloppiness is NOT a sign of attention or respect to your audience. If you do not have the time to properly prepare your slides, you might be much better off writing words on a flip chart (this will help you decrese their number, BTW).

So the skinny on presentation software is: yes, I think it’s important. And yes, I think Keynote is far superior to Powerpoint, if nothing else because the minute attention to detail and quality of templates will make your slides stick out. But no, I don’t think an excellent presentation requires an excellent presentation software. Most notably, I do think corporate templates should be banned, as they are designed exactly to make each presenter look the same, a crime worth of the worst punishment.

This is to say that all my notes here are software-neutral, but if you are interested in tips on presentation design, a good book to read on this topic is Garr Reynols’ “Presentation Zen”.


Everybody raves about the great speakers that use no slides and just breeze through their points thanks to their prodigious memory, but what if you actually need or want to put words on the screen? How can you make that more interesting? How can you write a presentation that does not need you? In this example, I tried to use nothing but words and I also tried to build a presentation that would be meaningful even without the presenter.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Technology (with a purpose)

Integrating multimedia has become so easy that now anybody can do it. Which sometimes makes our life as attendees even more miserable because of inane movies and pointless animations. Using multimedia should be with a purpose and not just “because I can”, and clips should be chosen in such a way as to underline the points you are making. In this example, I used short clips to highlight each slide main point; should you decide to use that technique remember it is most effective if the movie clips you select have something in common (i.e. they feature the same actor, or – as in this case – they all come from animation movies)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(showing) Passion

if you don’t feel about what you present, how you’re expecting your audience to? If you are not attempting with all your heart to convince the audience you’re right, how do you expect them to believe you? In those twenty minutes your objective is to talk to both sides of their brain: yes, you need to give them some rational arguments to believe you, but you must also speak to their emotions, and how will you do so without showing yours? Of course, this means exposing yourself to the risk of NOT convincing them. Baring your soul and then having people laugh at you is painful, but it’s the price every effective presenter pays each time s/he goes on stage.


(How do you spatially use your body) – most speakers do not dare to use space for fear of becoming ridiculous; in fact the reason why most unexperience speakers love the podium is because it hides them from the gaze of the audience, Their aim is to become an incorporeal voice commenting the slides. In doing so, they deprive themselves of one of the richest expression medium: their own body. In this example “mad scientist” Clifford Stoll shows us a presentation which is more akin to a ballet as he prances around the stage and uses the palm of his hand as a memopad.


2 thoughts on “What makes an excellent presentation?

  1. The best presentation I have ever seen in my life was Sun CTO John Gage, who held 1200 Jordanians spellbound for 60 minutes speaking slowly and in a monotone and using nothing more than an Open Office text document and Google Earth.

    Not a pin dropped in the room all through – and not one person moved.

    It was the content that had our minds racing to keep up – great insights and thought from a great and prodigious intellect that made us all rethink things.

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