Friday, 18 July 2014

Tips on writing a good conference presentation

Are you fretting about putting together a presentation for an up coming event? Here are some tips based on the experience of sitting through a few and delivering a few and designing a few.  They are geared for market research but I suppose the thinking applies to any presentation.

  1. Images really really do help make a good presentation - but read presentation zen to understand how to use them effectively
  2. Aim to present one thought per slide (you can break this rule if the slide is exceptionally well designed)
  3. Avoid at all possible costs bullet points - this is as much a philosophy as anything - "set your baysian priors to zero", OK you might be persuaded to let one or two creep in but don't start with a presentation that is 100% bullet points!
  4. Is your  main message tweetable? Think about what people viewing your presentations will being doing - some may be tweeting the content so help them by turning your headlines into tweetable messages
  5. Avoid video - don't fall into the trap of thinking adding a video will make your presentation more "dynamic" it usually dehumanizes your presentation.
  6. Don't fret on look and feel too much - yes do your best but, there will be sure to be better designed presentations at the event you attend - the story and how you deliver the content is far more important  - some of the best, most inspiring presentation I have ever listened to have looked awful from a design point of view (um...would it be undiplomatic to name Brainjuicer presentations as an example) - focus on the story and you will be fine! 

Now this might sound a bit pompous advice, but to write a good persuasive presentation I really do suggest you first read up on the basic tenants of Greek rhetoric, in particular Aristotles ideas of Ethos, Logos, Pathos, the 3 ways to persuade. 

You must start your presentation by establishing Ethos which is about building a bond of trust with your audience, then use Logos to which is about making a logic arguments and then end with pathos which is all about drawing out the emotions of the audience.

Often I see pathos being used wrongly at the start of a presentation e.g. kicking it off with some sort of cocky joke or dramatic video from which point everything else seems flat.  Drama and emotion must be saved until you have won the trust of your audience and won the argument then you use it to drive home your message.

Ethos is really about establishing some humanity and connection with the people you are talking to on some level and have written about it in this separate blog poste   

The logos part of the process is the most skilled and it is about identifying the key problems the audience might have on an issue and then outlining your solutions.  Never present a problem to an audience if you are not going to follow with a solution.

Tips for writing the story

  1. Your presentation must tell a simple story that you can recount in a basic elevator pitch
  2. To devise your story really roughly sketch it out first either in your mind, on a piece of paper 
  3. Try writing  your presentation as a story in excel - you will be amazed how effective this is at allowing you to coalescence you thoughts into a simple story - one line of the excel is one slide of your presentation. You can then once you got the basics down, really easily hack it around.
  4. Go on a walk and tell the story to yourself or tell it to yourself as you are going to sleep or driving to work and see if it flows cleanly
  5. If you get stuck telling the story to yourself you have what is known as a story knot - step back from it and try and tell it in a different way 
  6. Test market the story by trying to summaries what you are going to talk about to a colleague 

Content market researchers should avoid

  1. Don't pad your presentation with background stats - I don't need to know about all the details of the sampling techniques, we are all grown up market researchers - that's a given, just jump to the headlines.
  2. Avoid the genero advice trap:  we need to be faster, more insightful and cheaper!
  3. Check if your content fails the mobile phone growth statistics bleeding obvious test:  yes we know more people are now using mobile phones than own a toothbrush! Spouting any statistic we all could have a good stab at guessing or many in the audience has  heard before is wasting delegates time.
  4. If you are going to play to the crowd by highlighting one of the many short comings of our industries working practice, don't you dare propose a proprietary solution that you and only you can use. The audience will want to hit you! 
  5. Don't mention a problem without having a bloodly good solution to unveil that we can all grasp hold of.
  6. Don't tell us you have a solution and then not show us the details or an example
  7. If you are delivering a pure sales message about your great new piece of technology - come clean about it up front
  8. I don't need to be told about how great Daniel Kahneman's work is anymore or need to be explained what system 1 and system 2 is.
  9. Along the same likes, avoid the cliche buzzwords of the moment - in the naughties it was the word web2.0 which drove me mad hearing and this decades most important word to avoid using in any form of presentation is big data and I will let you make you mind up about all the rest
  10.  This is the year of the xxxx!!! mmmm... This is probably not the year of anything (and certainly not the year of the mobile!) Avoid protestation unless you are the chairman of the conference when that task becomes obligatory. 
  11. 100% recycling someone else's ideas already recounted in a New York Times best selling business publication is cheating!  

  1. Try and make me laugh at least once (or at very least a smile)
  2. Use simple examples: tell us your theory and then show us a real example could be seen as the essence of the structure of a good market research presentation
  3. Be prepared to go off screen - Never under estimate the value of a good prop! Most of the show stealing presentations I have seen have used something other than just a presentation to get their message across. 
  4. Admit your short comings and failures in a sandwich between your successes.  You could call this an integrity sandwich - we are much more open to hear about and believe in your achievements if you own up to your failures too. 
  5. Make it interactive - a quiz embedded into your presentation is the simplest way to do this but it can be tedious being challenge to guess the answer if there is no reward for doing so. Come armed with prizes if you are going to do this!
  6. If you are going to get people to do things, make sure its inspiring. It embarrassing to all stand up so if you are going to ask your audience to do this it better be fun or genuinely interesting
  7. Dress rehears your presentation the office first to your staff - they will benefit too by knowing what you are going to talk about 
  8. OK I suppose you better get your presentation spell checked too!  As a class one dyslexic spelling is a challenge to me and often the first feedback I get when I give a presentation is a polite aside about the spelling. To avoid this type of humiliation I do recommend getting your presentation spell checked by a third party.* 

*Admittedly this is not advice I always take myself to the fury of my marketing department and sales team as I would describe myself as a bit of a militant dyslexic and feel I have the human right to make spelling mistakes on my own content sometimes.


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